Listen With Others

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Listener No 4736, New Arrivals: A Setters’ Blog by Avian

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 Nov 2022

[Avian is a collaboration between Brock (Andrew Varney) and Hedge-sparrow (Rob Pinnock)]

AV: When vetting my debut Listener puzzle, Not a Black and White Decision (NABAWD), Derek Arthur commented that it looked like the first of a series. This puzzle was originally going to be NABAWD2. My notes from November 2018 suggest a similar arrangement, with clashes in a R/L format leading to WATERSHIP (Down) and some of the characters from the book appearing, along with SANDLEFORD and/or WARREN being destroyed. A second note refines this to show HOUSING CRISIS as a central band. At the very end of 2019, I approached Hedge-sparrow, a setter whose puzzles on not dissimilar themes I much admired.

RP: Andrew’s approach to me was the first time I had been offered the opportunity of participating in creating a collaborative puzzle. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and, although Andrew explained what he had in mind and pointed me towards his original NABAWD puzzle, it took a while for me to begin to get the hang of collaborative puzzle creation. I remember I quickly created a “draft” puzzle which was not quite in line with Andrew’s concept, but we soon began to work very constructively (even though Andrew had to put up with my “pencil and paper” approach to puzzle construction and deal with lots of photographs of trial grids I sent him!) One of two relevant dates we had in mind for publication of the puzzle was the 50th anniversary of the original publication of Watership Down (November 1972): we hoped that we would be successful in creating a suitable puzzle in time to “reserve” that.

AV: I was impressed that Rob had come up with a grid in about a week after almost 18 months of me sitting on it! His greater experience in setting showed through and he introduced some ideas that I’d not considered, which ultimately shaped the direction the puzzle took. That included the primary concept of “characters” being displaced from the left-hand side of the grid to the right-hand side, thereby overcoming the “housing crisis” rather than necessarily focussing on clashes.

RP: Early trials focused on trying different arrangements and positions for the phrases HOUSING CRISIS, SANDLEFORD WARREN, and WATERSHIP DOWN, as well as considering how to include the names of at least some of the rabbits. In kicking around various anagrams of SANDLEFORD WARREN between us, I discovered LAND FOR WANDERERS, which suggested the idea that the “characters” of SANDLEFORD WARREN could be expunged from the LHS (representing the destruction of Sandleford Warren) and relocated on the RHS (representing the creation of the new warren on Watership Down): in this concept, the term “characters” could then suggest either the actual letters of the phrases, or the rabbits in the story. After further discussion we concluded that, to make the puzzle solvable, the letters LAND FOR WANDERERS appearing in entries on the RHS should: (i) be clearly indicated by the wordplay of clues for those entries; (ii) if possible, appear in clue order. With 16 letters in the phrase, point (ii) seemed to be very difficult to achieve in half a grid: however, Andrew had the brainwave of splitting the phrase into LAND FOR appearing in across entries, and WANDERERS appearing in down entries, and “doubling up” the use of the letters AND appearing in both parts of the phrase. This trick enabled him to come up with a viable RHS with the letters of the phrase appearing in the right order. I had the rather easier task of creating a LHS with the letters of the phrase randomly removed from answers before entry: however, in creating both these grid-halves, we also had to consider the names of the rabbits – which to include, and how.

AV: As Rob mentions, I noticed that AND was repeated in LAND and WANDERERS, which finally enabled us to overcome the “gridlock” by allowing them to do double-duty. Even so, it was still a significant challenge to keep the grid symmetrical apart from the central band. At this point we had the four names HAZEL, ACORN, SILVER and FIVER in the bag, but having re-acquainted ourselves thoroughly with the book in preparation, it felt inadequate not to include BIGWIG and PIPKIN. While I use compiling software as a tool, it was primarily a guide in seeing what was possible. Rob’s coup was working in THERB[L]IG and TH[E] PIP with his pencil and paper to be able to include PIPKIN and BIGWIG in the final grid. Which brings us onto the clues.

AV: We allocated the clues alternately to one or the other of us, then discussing further refinements via SMS, email and a couple of Zoom calls. Writing good right/left clues is not easy, one secret (as per Don Manley) being to disguise the join between the two halves while maintaining a viable surface reading. Much time was spent on this and almost as much on trimming them. We competed to see who could achieve the shortest average clue length, neither of us being renowned for our concision. We had given ourselves an additional constraint: in Rob’s words “we did not want to leave any of the characters behind”, yet of the original eleven who left Sandleford to arrive at Watership, only six were in the grid.

RP: The five escapees not included were HAWKBIT, BLACKBERRY, DANDELION, BUCKTHORN and SPEEDWELL. Since these names could not realistically be incorporated in the grid, we considered ways to include them as part of the clues. With the exception of DANDELION, all the names split into two real words, which suggested that we could try to fit half of a name in each half of a double clue. Using “extra” words to be removed before solving would be too obvious, losing the PDM of finding the names in the grid, so we decided to incorporate them as essential parts of the wordplay. The most problematic name was DANDELION, but Andrew noticed the possibility of splitting it as “D AND E” and “LION”, and this trick enabled us to create a (somewhat convoluted) clue for the entry STEAK DIANE. We gave no hint that these extra names were “hidden” in the clues: they were there as an “Easter egg” for solvers to spot, though we’re not sure if anyone did.

AV: I mooted asking solvers to highlight all eleven characters, but Rob advised against it, bearing in mind some prior controversy related to leporine extra-grid highlighting. The editors kindly allowed us to keep the feature in the puzzle, despite it not being needed for the solution. The final editing stage seemed more involved than usual as we worked with the editors to balance surface reading, accuracy and concision in many of the clues. The title also changed at this point, since the puzzle was no longer obviously a NABAWD sequel. I suggested NEW ARRANGEMENTS, i.e. ‘NEW ARRS.’ (see Grove), reflecting puzzle mechanisms, story plot and leading to WARRENS with N, E removed from the left half and replaced on the right in a different order. To align better with Chambers, Rob recommended the improvement NEW ARRIVALS. As in the Watership Down story itself, the puzzle construction was quite an adventure, involving close collaboration between us and with gratefully-received help from others on the journey. Thank you particularly to the editors for this assistance and solvers for kind words of welcome following the puzzle’s publication.

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