Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4614, From Here to There: A Setter’s Blog by Shenanigans

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 July 2020

I suppose this puzzle started life nearly fifty years ago when I went to see the film The Go-Betwen at the cinema. It was based on the 1953 novel by L.P. Hartley (1895–1972) and starred Albert Finney, Julie Christie and Dominic Guard. They played, respectively, the farmer Ted Burgess, Marian Maudsley and the young Leo Colston (a bizarre coincidence!) who is the messenger between the two who are having a secret affair.

Michael Redgrave plays the old Leo and the film starts with his voice-over: “France is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” That’s interesting, I thought, wondering how these differences were going to be woven into a story. I was therefore somewhat perplexed as to why none of the action took place in France! It was some years later that I learnt that the opening line was “The past is a foreign country…”, although exactly when I thought of it as the basis for a Listener puzzle is lost to me.

The basic concept that I would use was straightforward enough, with THE PAST appearing in one of the diagonals and needing to be replaced by a specific country in the endgame to reveal new crossing entries. I wanted every letter needing to be changed, so the likes of Tunisia, Iceland and Germany were ruled out. I settled on THE PAST changing to AUSTRIA partly because, except for the middle letter, all the vowels became consonants and consonants became vowels which I thought might be a challenge for both setter and solver. The initial grid that I had enabled MASH to change to MASU and SURE to IURE. I also liked CORNEA/AURAL changing to CORNER/RURAL. Qxw came to the rescue and provided many suitable grids.

However, even with all the word changes going on, there was not really enough thematic material for a Listener, and so the second part of the quotation came into the mix with “they do things” needing to be entered “differently” somewhere in the grid. Symmetry (can one be a slave to it?) indicated two 6-letter entries, and I went for HOSTED & NIGHTY rather than HOYDEN & TIGHTS.

And so to the clueing. I particularly wanted the clues to require a fairly thematic treatment, and a letter moving from one word in the clue to another seemed a possibility. I also wanted the message to lead the solver to finding the quotation and, if possible, to avoid having the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations given in the preamble. I settled on ODQ, LP Hartley, The Go-Between as the message using 24 of the 49 clues that I needed. I also wondered if misprints in the remaining clues could spell out an instruction like Use quotation to change grid. Luckily that didn’t get very far as it would have been far too vague.

When it came to the clue with the letter Q moving in the clue for THOLOI, I realised what I had let myself in for. I can’t remember what final clue I ended up with, but it was a very complicated compound anagram. I decided to try moving words beginning with the required letter, but that was equally tortuous.

And so a bit of cheating was required. Rather than clueing the word that Qxw had supplied at that position, how about coming up with a more forgiving word? Having toyed with QI moving, I wondered if Stephen Fry could come to the rescue. Perhaps second letters of words could be used. Thus, the clue to TRIN was born: One of three seconds in QI Stephen Fry introduced (4) [(S)T(ephen) (F)R(y) (Q)I (i)N(troduced)]. Not the smoothest clue, but the best I could do.

Time to throw everything up in the air again! How about if the ODQ message appeared in the clues going alternately between the normal clues? All that was needed then was to completely rearrange the grid to ensure than TRIN was the sixth clue rather than the third! A bit more hard work and the final set of clues finally got resolved. One of the sad things about trying out different techniques is that some really nice clues don’t make it into the final puzzle.

After some valuable feedback from my test solvers (I and F), it eventually got sent to the editors. Their feedback was positive but, unfortunately for Roger, he had to make a lot of minor tweaks to the clues since the word-count indicated that they would take up too much space.

Without doubt, this was an easier puzzle than my first, Superpower, which was 18 months ago, partly because it wasn’t a carte blanche like that one. (An interesting little Cracking the Cryptic video from Mark G for that puzzle.) Hopefully solvers found the clueing and endgame entertaining.

As always, thanks to my two test solvers, to Roger and Shane for getting the puzzle into print, and to the inimitable John Green for his work as marker and statistician.

PS It seems that some solvers went for ASSYRIA as the foreign country with MASS and SAYAN (mountains) appearing. I guess that MASH/MASS was an easier change to see than MASH/MASU. My apologies for not seeing this alternative (although Assyria is a very old country). I think it fair to say that the spirit of the endgame was certainly fulfilled by those solvers. If only we’d put “…real words and phrases in The Chambers Dictionary…”.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No 4613, Escape: A Setter’s Blog by Xanthippe

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 July 2020

The inspiration for this one came from my young people. They were suggesting I should visit the local Escape Rooms; as they involve solving puzzles to escape so it would be right up my street. It seemed a good idea for a puzzle.

I decided on riddles for guiding the solver out and the ‘tomorrow’ riddle immediately came to mind. Four six by six rooms fitted well and I decided I’d make the doors 2 cells wide to give me more freedom for moving from one room to the next. Initially, I was going to use known riddles but thought it would be good to have ‘crossword’ as one answer so would need a bespoke riddle.

‘U’ for the solver suggested itself early and had the advantage of being a relatively easy letter to use only once in the grid. I remembered Riddle was a character in the Potter series. I looked it up and found he was in the ‘Chamber of Secrets’ book. As this would need to be a bespoke riddle I placed this in the top left room; with many entries starting there the length of the riddle would be essentially not limited. At this point I had the vague idea of a word play on what a potter does. Later I was pleased to be able to use ‘work’ to refer to the novel too. Although I’d not read the books when I set this puzzle, I have now!

For the riddle in the bottom left, I looked up riddles and came across the candle one, it’s a riddle I’ve come across before but had forgotten. As it was going to be a carte blanche I settled on having two 12 letter entries both across and down; these should help the solver in placing entries. The top half was the trickiest to get in, particularly with 16 letters of the riddle pretty much constrained in the top left. On completion of the grid I realised I’d have to be concise with my ‘crossword’ riddle as only 6 entries started in that room.

Lastly the clues, the slowest part for me. Always written over months – good job its not the day job!


Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No 4612, Family Man: A Setter’s Blog by Duck

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 July 2020

When I go on a long holiday I often take a long book. Having heard about Buddenbrooks from an evening-class tutor when we were studying The Brothers Karamazov (which incidentally I had earlier read in Canada on a long holiday in 1976) I decided to take Thomas Mann’s novel with me on our Rhine cruise in 2019 — I was not disappointed.

I thought of a clue for Buddenbrooks to use in a crossword (one of those ‘obscurities’ to wind bloggers up) but then decided that I could spread that clue out in the clues of a Listener-type puzzle and hide the book and the author in the grid at the same time (highlighting is so important these days!). Originally I added an additional complication for answers intersecting the author’ s name, but it didn’t seem to work all that well with my initial test solver so I ditched it. I was aware that the vetters would find the puzzle on the easy side, but hoped that elegance of clueing would carry me through.

This old-fashioned Duck isn’t totally a Dead Duck just yet. He is still an occasional Listener solver but finds many modern Listeners too hard or too complex to be bothered with — especially as he spends so much time setting other puzzles. Duck can only hope that this entry-level Listener will have given a modicum amount of satisfaction to some. Doubtless the succeeding Listener puzzles will be much more satisfactory for the many wolves.

Happy solving!

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No 4611, 24 Across: A Setter’s Blog by Merlin

Posted by Listen With Others on 5 July 2020

The starting point for this puzzle came when I was playing about with ideas for clues. I realised yellow = chicken and submarine is a kind of sandwich and “Yellow Submarine” and “Chicken sandwich” both had 15 letters. Maybe there was a basis of a puzzle with clashing letters, alternative choices leading to the two phrases. The obvious idea for the clashing cells is a diagonal, but 15 x 15 is too big for a barred Listener puzzle. Maybe a submarine shape and get the solver to shade it yellow, but that did not work. Then I thought Yellow Submarine is a film as well as a song. FILM has exactly the right number of nodes, consists entirely of straight-line sections and has four letters, so I could place one in each quarter of the grid. And it has a tenuous connection with chicken sandwich.

So I started with a 12×12 grid and placed the clashing letters in the appropriate squares. The first thing I noticed was that there were quite a lot of clashes in columns 3, 4 and 9, so I looked for a pair of 12-letters words to go in the symmetrically-opposite columns 4 and 9, using TEA. There were not many words that fitted, but by an amazing coincidence one of the fits for column 9 was Eleanor Rigby! Up to then it had just been a feasibility study but at that point I decided to definitely go ahead. The original release of Yellow Submarine was as a double A-side single with Eleanor Rigby, and I could use that to hint at the theme.

I filled the grid, starting with the answers containing clashes, which proved reasonably straightforward. I deliberately used fewer unchecked letters than usual, especially in the answers containing clashes.

The next task was to come up with a message from the clues. After a bit of experimentation I came up with “Does eight down give hint to theme? The reverse”, which was suitably cryptic. Next I had to decide how to get one letter from each clue. I am very fond of misprinted definitions, which I find tends to lead to interesting clues, so I tried that first. I wrote down the answers in order (with alternative possibilities in a few cases) with the target letters to see if I could come up with a misprinted definition for all of them. I managed it eventually. Eleanor Rigby + E was actually one of the trickiest and another awkward one was cleric + E. There was a long list of clerics in Bradfords but the only ones with an E that could be misprinted were abbé and curé where the accent was problematical.

Once I’d sorted out the misprints, writing the clues was quite straightforward. All that remained was to come up with a title. By another remarkable coincidence, “roll” was one of the answers, which described the other thematic phrase, so I used its clue number as title.

I asked a friend to test-solve it and he agreed “but I’m not spending more than 3 hours on it”, remembering my Sherlock Holmes puzzle from years ago with a fiendish endgame. He didn’t finish it in the allotted time, but I decided to send it in anyway after re-checking the clashes and misprints.

About a year later I was told it had been accepted and the editors had made a few changes. Most of them were minor but they replaced my unsatisfactory clue for cleric by a brilliant one with divine misprinted as diving. Why didn’t Bradfords have divine in the list of clerics, I wondered. They had also changed my clue to “roll”, presumably to make it harder to solve,as it linked to the theme.

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »

Listener No 4610, Tale of the Unexpected: A Setter’s Blog by Lath

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 June 2020

I must say in opening that the whole setting experience has been a real eye-opener to the way the puzzles are “born and raised”. I am so impressed with the meticulous process that leads to the publication and of course to the standards set by the editorial team. The Listener is definitely in safe hands.

I am relatively new to The Listener Crossword, having been introduced to it about three years ago by my new neighbour. He is a long standing fan and just loves the weekly ritual that goes with collecting and solving the puzzle in its entirety. (No outstanding parsing queries are allowed – Quite right I say!) Once I was on board, I became well and truly hooked. It is now an integral part of my weekend and sometimes of course well beyond Sunday evening.

I have never submitted a puzzle in the past to any paper or magazine. Undaunted and thanks to the guidance on the Listener website, I decided to test a few ideas out to try to achieve a puzzle of the right level of complexity, difficulty and enjoyment for the solvers. Eventually, I kept coming back to the clue swapping element as my starting point. I liked the potential hurdle that a number of swaps would present to the solver. It was on Derby Day last year as I was watching the race result being flashed up that the idea of the starting price (40/1 in the case of my puzzle) as the end result of the clue swaps focussed my mind. A big race event was now a potential theme. As it happened, the Derby gave me all the thematic elements that I was looking for.

A bit of research led me to the 2017 race and the long odds that the winner had as its starting price. The name, Wings Of Eagles, (having 13 letters) gave the option of inclusion in the grid. One of the diagonals seemed the natural home for it so that was the start of building the grid. I was mindful of the fact that someone may have already produced a Derby-based puzzle. [No 4244, At Spes Non Fracta by Chalicea about Emily Davison.] That theme was a whole lot more serious than mine so I think there is a reasonable distinction in the topic at its heart. As the grid was being built, I thought of inserting a basic shape of the course along with a phrase that would lead the solver to draw it into the completed grid. Some fiddling around led to the phrase DERBY ONE MILE AND FOUR FURLONGS intersecting neatly with WINGS OF EAGLES on the reverse diagonal. The framework of the puzzle was now in place.

>From there it was a case of completing the words in the grid and developing the clues. The idea of using the first letters of the 10 clues to provide EPSOM DOWNS came later. The original plan was to have the solver to write the whole result below the grid on completion i.e. 18 Wings of Eagles (40/1) Aidan O’Brien (Padraig Beggy) 2017. However, the space restrictions within the page put paid to that. We nagged to retain all of these thematic elements by altering the preamble and by using the vehicle of the dummy clue. It worked nicely I think to produce the trainer and jockey from the letters of the clue, with the horse’s start number being the clue number.

A lot of help and guidance from the editorial team then followed and the green light eventually led to the final puzzle appearing in print.

I wasn’t aware of the provision of feedback and statistics that I was to receive following the publication and submissions by solvers. That too has been fascinating and really underlines the Listener’s enduring appeal to so many followers. It has been a lot of fun to be a part of. I hope my next offering will also hit the spot!

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »