Listen With Others

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Listener No 4741, Map: A Setter’s Blog by Pointer

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 Jan 2023

The overnight ferry crossing to Shetland was, thankfully, a calm one. We spent a little time in Lerwick before setting off on our journey to explore the isles, particularly the spectacular coastal views. We joined the D970 and headed for Northmavine, prepared for the narrow, twisty roads and grateful for the passing-places dotted along our route. In less than an hour we reached Brae where we took a short break. The guidebook promised “a magical landscape” and “stunning cliff scenery” were we to continue northwards, and perhaps later we would see the Northern Lights. So we were back in the car, with cameras at the ready, to confront Mavis Grind, where the Atlantic Ocean could be seen cutting through almost to the North Sea.

We pulled in to admire the little strip of land that joins the Northmavine peninsula to the rest of Shetland Mainland. We talked about the opportunities this geographical feature might offer if it were placed at the heart of a Listener crossword; we pictured a strip of white splitting a grid of blue sea, with the words Atlantic and North Sea on either side. The width of the strip is so narrow – a stone’s throw, shall we say? We carried on imagining …

But enough of this pretence! For me, setting the crossword wasn’t at all like this. It was a different kind of journey. For one thing, I work from home nowadays – at my desk. The landscape I explore is Chambers and the internet. The search for a crossword theme often begins with a play on words. Here, isthmus, a curious word containing four consecutive consonants, was my starting point. It was a problem of pronunciation when I was a pupil in school and a term I learnt in geography alongside oxbow lake, tsunami, and glacier. But now I took it to initiate an investigation and to ask where examples were to be found. Scanning the pages of Google, Mavis Grind (a charwoman in a Dickens novel?) caught my eye and the stories about it were interesting. I looked for ideas for the puzzle and homed in on coincidences: “iSTHmus” and “a stone’S THrow” have common elements; Atlantic and North Sea each have an anagram; Mavis and Grind could easily be clued separately. I also wanted to finish with a puzzle that was compact, as a previous submission had turned out too long, and would not fit into the space provided for the Listener. In the event, I managed to arrange my entries to fit inside a 9×10 grid. Normally, Listener grids contain around 155 cells (rectangular grids in the Listener during 2021 had on average 154.7 cells), so would my 90 cells be acceptable? I needn’t have worried. It was given the go-ahead by the editors who also made several helpful suggestions for which I thank them.

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