Listen With Others

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Listener No 4740, Imperial Age: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 Dec 2022

Warning is a favourite poem since I came across it many years ago, a view apparently shared by many as it seems to feature highly in lists of favourite poems. I suspect, like me, many people know the first lines without knowing the title or the poet – it was while looking it up for some reason I can’t now remember (it was in early 2019, and a lot seems to have happened since then) that I discovered via Wikipedia that Jenny Joseph was born in Birmingham, my home town, and that the poem was first published in the Listener. Those connections of course immediately suggested a Listener Crossword, and one that could mark the sixtieth anniversary of publication.

My first task was to find the exact publication date, which wasn’t helped by Wikipedia claiming that it was in 1961. Consulting the index to that year’s Listener magazines produced no result, so I tried 1960 and 1962 and found it under the latter. (I then went back and edited the Wikipedia entry to match, not least because I thought many solvers might check there.) That at least gave me a little more time to compose the puzzle, bearing in mind that date-specific puzzles need to be submitted well in advance.

The idea of having Jenny Joseph in purple with a red hat above was my starting point, with the title also being amongst my earliest thoughts. I produced a grid but wasn’t too inspired by it and ended up working on and submitting a few other ideas, including You Don’t Say which appeared as a Listener in 2020. I came back to Imperial Age in 2021 with the date now getting more pressing and came up with the message — Warning which appeared in The Listener sixty years ago — around that time. It was helpful that I thought most solvers wouldn’t know the poem’s title and so the message would seem to be thoroughly unhelpful until the penny dropped and then a clear confirmation, which I always like to see as a solver. I also decided to go for a letters latent grid to generate the message, mostly because I couldn’t see anything more obviously thematic and it’s a device I hadn’t used before. The grid proved easy to generate thanks to QXW: my respect to setters who produce such grids without electronic assistance.

The submission duly went off and I was pleased to see it accepted for the anniversary date with the editors’ customary improvements and corrections. My thanks to them and to all who have provided feedback — I’m glad that it generally seems to have been enjoyed, obviously helped by the affection many have to Warning and that others were glad to have been reminded of it. So a final thanks to Jenny Joseph for the poem and the inspiration.

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