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Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4444, Food for Thought: A Setter’s Blog by Handyman

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 April 2017

In general, I would expect crossword compilers to find ideas for thematic puzzles from a variety of sources, e.g. interesting words from dictionaries, personal experiences and events, historical facts, or simply light-bulb moments. April 1st 2017 being a Saturday was one of those moments and entering “Famous April Fool stories” into Google, the first hit was “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time”. The #1 was called “The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest” with a video clip attached and it was also 60 years since being televised on Panorama.

A suitable theme was born with PANORAMA 1957 along the top producing 12 columns, the last four of which could be made from words with numbers in them. The actual Spaghetti Tree could be illustrated with TRUNK, BOUGH and BRANCH and by splitting “spaghetti” the strands could hang down with 3 of the 4 letters overlapping. Creating a symmetrical grid is priority in my opinion, but without the aid of clever computer programs, I could not work out a way of filling it with 180 degree symmetry, so to my disappointment, I bailed out.

Creating the grid so that APRIL FOOL could be read top-to-bottom enabled the gimmick of letter missing as a result of the wordplay. I notice that solvers get tired of extra letters as a result of the wordplay, but missing letters as a result of the wordplay only works if the grid has these letters in order and so personally I feel the setter has to work slightly harder, even if working out how to create the clue is easier than, say, misprints or letters removed from clues.

The completed puzzle was sent to John Henderson, editor of the Inquisitor, but he already had a puzzle pencilled in for that date. The only other outlet for the Saturday is the Listener, but I was concerned that the theme might not be discernible without the internet, which is a stipulation from the editors (a library is all that should be required). John Henderson kindly contacted Roger Phillips, who solved it and thought the theme was well-known enough for inclusion as a Listener puzzle – even though I had never heard of it before, having being born over 20 years later. I therefore have to thank John and Roger for their joint efforts in getting this puzzle into print.

Solvers’ feedback from JEG seems to suggest it was well received with no major hiccups or ambiguities. It appears that ambiguities create more heated discussion that anything else, but a setter will never deliberately insert ambiguities, only perhaps the odd red herring.

Finally, I draw your attention to the website above and #6 on the list, what seemed like an excellent and comical April Fool’s hoax from Patrick Moore.


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Listener No 4443, Not the Rockies: A Setter’s Blog by Kruger

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 April 2017

The personal incentive to set this puzzle came about 7 years ago when I realised that, of all the barred-grid thematic puzzles I had set over the years, I had not attempted one from either the “Left & Right” or “Printer’s Devilry” genres. (I still haven’t for the latter and seriously doubt if I ever will.)

So I started to give some thought about what would be a novel and suitable theme that would logically be appropriate for Left & Right treatment … and simply drew a blank. Despite chewing it over in my head from time to time, nothing readily came to mind for about 2 years. Then one day I was reading an article in The Times about regional funding for local transport throughout the UK and became rather angry about the figures quoted. (To put my irritation into context, I live in a rural area where already infrequent local bus services stop altogether at about 18:00 every day and with none at all on Sundays). The article confirmed that the more prosperous SE of England was getting the lion’s share of funding and I muttered to myself “this is another example of the north-south divide”. That was the moment of enlightenment.

I then started considering whether a North & South (i.e. Top & Bottom) approach would actually be an acceptable format and convinced myself that is was really just a Left & Right rotated through 90º so should be perfectly OK.

I was keen to get the North-South Divide message somewhere in the grid so decided (against convention) to have an unclued central row instead of a complete barring between the top and bottom halves. To me, this obviously had to have DIVIDE in it and the two main sections would ideally need NORTH and SOUTH hidden in them too.

It then came to me that it would be a good idea to have all Northern entries to contain the letter N (and none with S) and vice versa for the entries in the Southern section. But what about 1D which was the solvers’ inroad to the puzzle? Serendipity provided INEQUALITIES which was not only thematic but also contained N in the top half and S in the bottom. I was also fortunate that DIVIDE in the middle contained neither of the two letters – also thematically consistent. The circled letters anagramming WATFORD were an afterthought which I hoped would add a bit of “tongue-in-cheek” spice to the whole concept.

Then I had to give some thought to a puzzle title that would be both relevant but (hopefully) not a give-away. The Rocky Mountain range pretty quickly came to mind as a continental divide that is in a N-S orientation – albeit a different interpretation of “North-South” to that of the puzzle.

The completed puzzle then sat in my “pending” folder for another 3 years while I tried to decide to which outlet I should submit it and also, I admit, I forgot about it. Obviously, in the end I discovered it and plumped for The Listener where it sat in the queue for another 2 years until Shane & Roger took it on board and hammered it into a publishable condition. (My thanks to both of them – they do a terrific job.)

With the odd exception, my thematic puzzles are usually considered to be at the easier end of the spectrum – especially for The Listener series. I really don’t set out to produce a puzzle of any specific level of difficulty and, of course, degree of difficulty is very subjective in any case. I just hope that “Not The Rockies” provided an enjoyable solve for the majority.

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Listener No 4442, Got Me!: A Setter’s Blog by Towser

Posted by Listen With Others on 9 April 2017

I had the fortune to have had 2 Listener puzzles published and I was casting around for another idea. While idly dictionary-hopping – a habit of many of us I guess – I came across metagrobolise (or metagrabolise) which means ‘to puzzle out’ and was coined by Rabelais. The potential ambiguity over that 7th letter, a 13-letter word meaning ‘what solvers try to do’, and the fact that I had recently been delving back into his works (for sheer enjoyment) were all good omens indeed (and even better – as the vetters pointed out – that my well-omened word contained the letters of Rabelais).

I guessed that 100% of solvers would know of Rabelais and Gargantua, slightly less of Pantagruel, and fewer still of Panurge. In terms of characters I shouldn’t go any further but surely the motto of the Abbey (‘do what thou wilt’) would be known to most even if not immediately seen as Rabelaisian? I decided that metag-etc would be too easy to spot if entered across or down so checked out the 4 diagonal options (settling on bottom left to top right for the cross-checks it gave). Easy enough to fit in the author and the 3 characters, a little harder as to how best to disguise them. I also knew that the final grid would need to meet the average length of answers, the number of unches, and for all entries to be proper words.

It was fairly obvious with Francois – a simple split into Franco and a word starting ‘is’. Similarly, I could split pant / a / gruel but it rather leapt out so I thought about using a clash – possibly santa / gruel or pinta / cruel, etc. Gargantua should split nicely into vinegar / mantua and I’d look at Panurge later.

When clueing goes well it’s pure joy and such was the case for well over half. The others were a bit of a struggle and I had to seek help and return again and again till I was just about satisfied. So I now had a completed grid with 180 degree symmetry and six key words in. How best to let the solver know what they were looking for (without too much grid-staring)?

I chose to use both across and down clues and spell out 2 hints by using the first 2 letters of redundant words. One phrase of 16 letters – ‘do what thou wilt’ in the original French (which appears in the ODQ) appeared to have problems as it would require words beginning yc and ue but yclept and UEFA came to the rescue and I had great fun in adding 8 redundant words to 8 across clues (involving a fair bit of redrafting). All I now needed were 16 letters for the down clues and, luckily, I looked again at Rabelais on the Internet only to discover that he used an anagrammatic pseudonym for publication – of Alcofribas Nasier. What a marvel I thought (as I amended the down clues) – 2 hints but one in French and the other a nonsense name so both would need accurate solving.

I used the title ‘To Puzzle Out’ when submitting but it was changed to Got me! At the suggestion of the vetters (to form the anagram of metagrAbolise with Rabelais). Many thanks to all who gave assistance and especially to the vetters who spent much time and effort in producing the final grid.

Paul Taylor

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Listener No 4441, It’s Dark Up Here: A Setter’s Blog by Colleague

Posted by Listen With Others on 2 April 2017

This is my 7th Listener to have been published and I have never done a blog before. In fact I am not even sure what “blog” stands for. Having read some dire blogs online I can only assume that it stands for Bloody Load Of Guff.

Anyway, I have been persuaded, cajoled, threatened and bullied by Shirley Curran to produce something this time. Incidentally Shirley is a very canny lady. How else do you make sure that you are not photographed at a Listener Dinner unless you are the one taking the pictures?

So, here goes. Once upon a time, a long long time ago (early 2015) I suddenly thought of the TV series “Ever Decreasing Circles”. This was a programme I had enjoyed after The Good Life and thought that I knew well (but more about that later). Anything with a geometric shape in a theme is, in my view, crying out for crossword treatment. I started to muse about the origin of the phrase ‘ever decreasing circles’. I had a vague memory of something but I could not quite pin it down. Some research helped to reveal all.

Flying in ever decreasing circles is what the OOZLUM BIRD does until it disappears up its own a**e. It was also the main plot of the film Carry On Up The Jungle. The author Charles Seife also said ‘Like the mythical oozlum bird, Wikipedia seems to have the ability to fly around in ever decreasing circles until it flies right up its own rectum’.

Thus a theme was developing with two strands – the oozlum bird and the TV series.

Obviously CIRCLE was a key word and so thematic items needed to be included in a circular way. But things are never that easy! EVER DECREASING CIRCLES is one letter too long to be entered in a circular way. So the letter “O” was needed to do duty as a circle. The length of OOZLUM BIRD, on the other hand, was just the right number of letters for its head {OO} to disappear up its rear end {RD}.

Having six O’s replacing “circles” and two O’s in “oozlum” meant a preponderance of the letter but after many attempts at rotating the two phrases it all looked distinctly possible whilst not being too obvious – and finding a word ending in ‘Z’ to boot.

The elements of the other part of the theme – the TV series – also had to be included. I thought it was great luck that two of the characters were six letters long (Howard and Martin) and two were four letters (Anne and Paul). Therefore I could introduce these four names into the grid in a pleasingly symmetrical way. My original idea was to flag up the missing character (Hilda) for solvers to write below the grid. However, at the suggestion of the Vetters, I agreed that this was not really necessary.

All the necessary thematic pieces were then in place and all (!) that remained was to complete the rest of the grid. I do all this manually as computers do not understand me (or is it the other way round?).

I felt that most solvers would be aware of the oozlum bird or the TV series but not all would be aware of both. Therefore, as a hint towards the theme, I decided to include the extra words in eight down clues all of which could precede the word “circle” and the extra words reduced in length by one letter taken in clue order.

Voila! The grid and clues were complete. However, the Vetters spotted another problem. I had carefully checked the spelling of the characters names on my complete box set of the TV series (yes, I know, how sad) and also on the individual notes that came with the DVD’s and, yes, everything was fine. Anne was definitely spelled as Anne. Except that on the credits at the end of each episode it was given as Ann! If you cannot trust the BBC who can you trust? So I had to lose my beautiful symmetry.

I enjoyed the title of the puzzle although others felt it may be distasteful. Just my schoolboy sense of humour I suppose.


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Listener No 4440, Nostrum: A Setter’s Blog by Mr E

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 March 2017

I guess I must have come across the phrase “sea legs” while reading something, and had “C legs, centipede” occur to me. That led me to make up the riddle, “Why is a sailor like a centipede?”. And when such an idea occurs, I naturally wonder whether there might be a puzzle in it.

It was natural to compare this to Carroll’s “Why is a raven like a writing-desk”. And I was aware of the reply “There’s a B in both”, not from Huxley, but I believe from having read one of the Thursday Next books (which if I recall correctly did not include the “and an N in neither” part).

I did not want to put sailor, centipede, raven and writing desk directly into the grid but make the solver work a bit for them. When I discovered that I could use DRIVING TEST with a change of four letters, I decided to put that and RIVEN into the grid. I had once experimented unsuccessfully with a puzzle where pairs of clue-answers had to be jumbled together to make the two entries, and I used that here with PLEASE and DIRECTION becomong SAILOR and CENTIPEDE. As for the sea, Caribbean might have worked but Mediterranean felt good. I was pleased that it was not too difficult for me to fill a grid with the necessary elements, including LEGS properly placed. (I am not one who can make up grids where lots of fancy things have to happen . . . but I have some ideas for puzzles that require such – maybe I should seek a co-setter?)

I decided not to attempt misprints in the clues but just go for the easier ‘extra letter indicated’ to get the messages.

I hoped that the editors would consider the quote familiar enough even though not in ODQ, but they decided a pointer to it was needed; that led to the circled cells with MAD HATTER (which, I did not realize [apologies for that z, I’m American!], was not a phrase actually appearing in the Carroll book). I considered that solving the clues and then solving the riddle felt like difficulty enough; thus I chose to indicate MAD HATTER rather than something less specific like CARROLL.

My hope was that the solver’s path to the end would be something like this:

centipede => 100 legs (what else is there to think about a centipede?)
sailor + 100 legs => sea legs, C legs
LEGS is easily found in the grid
13 more letters needed, sea and C shape, and title ‘Nostrum’ => Mediterranean in a C shape in the grid.

The editors decided that symmetry ‘about a horizontal axis’ needed to be in the preamble.

Regarding specific clues:

14ac I started by defining Elmo as the Sesame Street character; it was decided that that might not be familiar enough, and was changed to refer to St Elmo.
1dn – I have no sense of cricket vocabulary; hope the surface sense (with help from editors) is ok. I do tend to spend a lot of time working to come up with clues with natural-sounding surface sense.
28dn – intentionally phrased to suggest The Raven . (not planned in advance, just happened when writing the clue)

I have not yet seen solvers’ comments, but I feel happy with how the puzzle turned out.

Mr E

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