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Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4581, Transformers: A Setter’s Blog by Yorick

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 December 2019

The idea for Transformers started with a curiosity about words which would remain unchanged after reflection on a horizontal or vertical axis – hence the presence of HOITY-TOITY and BEDECKED. Having some knowledge of mathematical transformations, I decided to try making up a grid with reflected and rotated words, which would therefore present the additional challenge of having crossing letters match their orientation. This was a long time ago and, as happened with all my ideas then, it ended up as a one-third-filled-in grid on a scrap of paper in a buried notebook.

Having decided to resurrect it for my next submission, I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively straightforward it proved to complete the grid, though it took a few tweaks to get the right number of entries of each type. Having decided to group clues by transformation type, and therefore not having the normal order, I decided to dispense with numbers and instead order alphabetically by answer, a variation that I have always considered interesting as a solver. The use of extra letters in wordplay to spell out descriptions of the transformations seemed straightforward, but did raise a couple of issues:

  1. having wordplay different from definition requires more rigour in the wording of clues and, still being rather a novice setter, I gave the editors more work than I would have hoped;
  2. my original descriptions of the reflective transformations were HORIZONTAL FLIP and VERTICAL FLIP, but research revealed that these were open to different interpretations – thankfully I was able to make the change to compass points that retained the same number of letters and removed the confusion!

The idea of furthering the theme by transforming letters in clues was appealing, but didn’t give much scope, so I was glad at least to include it in the switching of “b”s, “d”s and “p”s in the three misprint clues.

I will admit to liking my puzzles to have a bit more challenge than average and, although I wondered if this one might be just that bit too tough, I am gratified that responses I have seen so far indicate that Listener solvers have risen to that challenge – as, of couse, I should expect!


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Listener No 4580, A Game of 11: A Setter’s Blog by Glow-worm

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 December 2019

As I mentioned to Shane when submitting this puzzle, I really hadn’t expected to produce another “Game of…” as I entered my ninth decade, but the spirit moved, and there it was.

It was harder than ever to discover a workable game to develop. Not that there aren’t plenty of possibilities; merely that, as Paddock, myself and others have shown, certain elements have to be available in the original game which are transferable to a thematic puzzle format. Among these is usually the chance to define a term in different ways, sometimes quite removed from each other. Thus, when I lighted upon “Chase the Ace”, I guessed this could be a fruitful path to follow.

The phrase quickly suggested a mini-journey for the solver, “chasing” various meanings of the term, and I realised that the ‘extra word(s)’ route was the way to go, despite its being rather time-worn. I also wanted to achieve two aims: to include some well-known “aces” and to introduce a quotation round the perimeter. Having regretfully set aside The Red Baron, I chose a tennis theme, and off I went to the ODQ.

There are moments in a setter’s life when fate intervenes on his or her side, and in this case I was blest with two such moments. I’d recalled John Betjeman’s fixation with strapping young ladies on the tennis court, and there, in “Pot Pourri from a Sussex Garden”, I found the lovely Pam. This suggested referencing the game’s female stars.

Now — could it be that the number of letters in the quotation plus those in PAM added up to a useful number, like 48? Yes, it might — and I offered up my thanks to the cruciverbal gods. Soon after, whilst thinking about a phrase for solvers to discover at the end, out of nowhere came “A Point of No Return”. More god-thanking!

How, though, to get from the aces to the punning phrase? Solvers would need to identify obvious letters, so I placed them at either end of the “non-quarry” extra words (as Roger named them). I hope solvers forgave the non-symmetrical grid, but the exigencies of the content (especially the perimeter quotation) made it necessary.

I don’t know whether I’ll manage another “Game of…”, but I enjoyed this one, and I hope my friends at The Listener did too. Kind regards to all.

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Listener No 4577, The Gaudy: A Setter’s Blog by Paddock

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 November 2019

I can’t say that I am a particular fan of Morse in either his literary or televisual (pre-Endeavour… or do I mean post-Endeavour?) incarnation, albeit Last Bus to Woodstock is as far as I know the only novel wherein every character shares their surname with a distinguished competitor in the Ximenes competitions of the latter half of the 1960s.

However, I believe that Colin Dexter’s clues for the Azed competitions between around 1980 and 2005 mark him out as arguably the finest precision clue writer of that period, and I was keen to produce some kind of homage to the man known to Azed aficionados simply as ‘NCD’.

Digressing slightly, when I started setting puzzles a few years ago I decided that I wanted my thematic crosswords to be rectangular in shape, to use only real words (and no proper names unless they were directly linked to the theme), and not to require shapes to be drawn in the grid, which would demand far more imagination and artistic skill than I possess. I decided more recently that I would also avoid certain clue gimmicks, such as deliberate misprints, which I felt were overused (not least by me!). These strictures limit the range of my output, but I know that there are lots of less inhibited setters out there to redress the resultant innovation deficit. I also try to choose themes, or treatments thereof, which do not substantially favour solvers who possess relevant knowledge. I didn’t manage to achieve that here (of which more later).

In this crossword I planned to include the pseudonym which NCD used for his puzzles in the Oxford Times, ‘Codex’, and to bring MORSE into the final grid, ideally replacing CODEX, since the latter also means ‘code’. I hadn’t previously seen a puzzle where specific phrases were omitted from the clues, and I thought it could work if the surface readings were sufficiently helpful to solvers. Using phrases of more than two words would have made it well-nigh impossible to write proper cryptic clues that also gave a good pointer to what was missing (eg “Fellow sleuth’s [last seen wearing] hat” could indicate the last letter of ‘sleuth’ being contained by ‘cap’, giving CHAP, but how is the solver to deduce ‘seen’?), and I rapidly rejected the idea of using the first two words of each title, three definite articles adding up to one definite ‘no’. There were sufficient titles for eleven ‘missing phrase’ clues, but six seemed about right, so I identified six words for which I could write suitable clues (this was far and away the most difficult part of the setting process), and replaced the missing words in these clues with ‘# #’ (no lengths being given for the absent words).

I had the PADDOCK/DEATH thing lined up, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the letters of DEATH could be taken from THE REmorseFUL DAY (which features the DEATH of MORSE) leaving REFULY, the constituents of FLEURY. The time had arrived to populate the grid (trying to arrange the six pre-selected solutions so they didn’t cross each other in too many places), write the remaining clues, and submit…

[Spring turns to Autumn]

I don’t use test solvers, so the editors were the guinea pigs. Neither was familiar with the titles of the novels, and the absence of lengths for the missing words caused them problems in the solve. Hence they decided to replace my original hashes with the word lengths in square brackets. I’m sure this was the right thing to do, making the puzzle fairer for everyone, but it did perhaps mean that those familiar with the books (who were always, unfortunately, going to be at a significant advantage) could identify the theme even more readily. As ever, the editors did a great job of improving the preamble and adjusting/abridging a few clues.

Feeling that the thematic aspect would be relatively straightforward to untangle, I had tried to make the clues quite tricky, eschewing lurkers (and homophones, but I never use them anyway), and limiting anagrams to just the non-standard clues. I took particular care to ensure the soundness of these six clues, not wanting to have to rewrite any of them! The editors did raise a question over the use of ‘bodies’ in 27d as a containment indicator, and while Chambers gives one meaning of ‘to body’ as ‘to embody’, the examples given by OED are only as convincing as one chooses them to be. I wanted this clue to work, because the surface gives a clear indication of the missing words, but in hindsight I should have gone back to square one with ‘the dead’. Moral: if you as the setter are having to justify the legitimacy of any element of a puzzle to yourself, then even if it is technically sound it is almost guaranteed to raise questions in the solver’s mind and detract from the overall effect of the puzzle.

The title of the final novel, The Remorseful Day, has its origins in Henry VI, Part 2 (“The gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day is crept into the bosom of the sea”), and subsequently appears in the poem How Clear, How Lovely Bright (“How hopeless under ground / Falls the remorseful day”) by Morse’s favourite poet, A E Housman (coincidentally also much liked by Dexter!). I felt the title ‘The Gaudy’ offered a whiff of Oxford but didn’t give too much away; ‘Gaudy Day’ and ‘The Gaudy…’ were other possibilities which would probably have been no more and no less clear (or lovely bright) to solvers. ‘Crimes to Person’ had a certain appeal, but was rather obviously an anagram and could have given the game away at the outset. Anything that involved ‘Blabbing’ was way too googleable.

My original clues for two crossing entries (26a and 21d) both included obscure words in the wordplays for solutions which are themselves obscure. I had clearly been trying a tad too hard to make the clues tough, as I normally view this type of clue with the same degree of enthusiasm as I do a plate of broccoli. I rewrote both clues, and the new clue to 26a was probably my favourite of the lot – not up to NCD’s standard, of course, but I’d like to think that it might at least have given him a smile…

Paddock, October 2019

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The Gaudy by Paddock

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 November 2019

I was all set to mutter about a setter expecting us to write our own clues (though, come to think of it, that is not such a bad idea – I have an inkling that the majority of setters prefer creating the grid to setting the clues – I remember how we smiled when one budding setter announced that he had some great grids drawn up but was looking for a co-setter to do the clue-writing). However, when I read through Paddock’s clues, I was speedily distracted by the alcohol absolutlely dripping through them and forgot that we had some clue writing to do.

‘Trump’s restricting acceptable drinking vessels at Turnberry (5)’ “Ah, that’s a Scottish indicator isn’t it?” I asked, and the other numpty confirmed that we needed a Scots word for those vessels CUPS around A giving us CAUPS. ‘One may scoff at returning wine bottles (5)’ We decided that the RED was the returning wine and that that bottles (contains) AT = IN, so it was a DINER at Trump’s golf course doing the scoffing and emptying of the bottles. ‘Scots lament only drinking in moderation (5)’ (Depends what we are drinking doesn’t it – it’s a shame to drink one of those fine vintage Taliskers that we were drinking on Lewis a couple of weeks ago in anything other than moderation!) However, we put HO (‘moderation’, as well as an unspeakable US variant) into ONE (= ONLY) and had our Scots lament, OHONE. Paddock hadn’t finished: ‘Titled soak knocked back “medicine” (6)’ One has to wonder what he was drinking but we reversed RET, added MED and entered TERMED. What can I say? Cheers, Paddock!

Those clues we had to partly write ourselves took us much longer than they should have done to twig. ‘Felt revulsion at shifting [3.4] bodies about (5)’ gave us HATED and suggested THE DEAD, but that led me on a wild goose chase. Teaching James Joyce’s The Dead is not one of my most memorable educational experiences but that seemed to be a likely candidate, and a number of other authors (Agatha Christie, Stephen King …) produced likely candidates for our author and series of novels, but it wasn’t until OF JERICHO appeared (Brave Joshua’s first to come out [2,7] after collapse (6)’ [J]ERICHO* less J, that we finally saw the light. “It’s Morse!”

Wiki kindly provided a list and we saw Last Bus to Woodstock, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, Last Seen Wearing, Service of all the Dead, The Dead of Jericho, The Riddle of the Third Mile, Death is Now my Neighbour and The Remorseful Day. All that remained was to fit those extra letters DE that had been omitted from the clue to CODEX into another word to produce that penultimate title. There was only one place to do that and we converted LOATH to DEATH then saw, with delight, that DEATH was now the neighbour of our setter PADDOCK.

We had two new words, DEATH and FLEURY and when we extracted their letters from THE REMORSEFUL DAY, what did we see? MORSE, of course. We had to place him somewhere else in the grid and CODEX was the obvious location and produced only real words. A fine achievement, Thank you Paddock.


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Listener No 4576, Striving: A Setter’s Blog by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 November 2019

I always enjoy it when the Listener grid somehow becomes something else in the endgame, and there have been some lovely examples of it turning into a game board – in particular, I remember Serpent’s “Child’s Play”, which was snakes & ladders, and Rasputin’s “Russian Roulette”, which was chess. With these in mind, I considered other possibilities for games and struck upon Connect Four as being doable. A quick google indicated that it hadn’t been done before.

Initially I thought I might have a central 7×6 group of cells where the game would take place, perhaps with a border around those cells giving instructions as to the game, but relatively soon I realised I could use a full 14×12 grid for the game to take place. I tend to be over-ambitious with these things, so I also had an idea about the four winning discs containing letters spelling out CAPTAIN’S MISTRESS (a new phrase to me, but I liked it), given that there would be 16 letters in both – and, in fact, according to some old notes I’ve unearthed today, I was even thinking about using prime numbers at some stage – an idea that was fortunately jettisoned early on (or perhaps kept for another puzzle with fewer other things happening).

As the plan became clearer, I realised that I wanted to communicate a lot of information to the solver: that this was a game of Connect Four, which columns the discs should be placed in, that solvers had to draw all disc outlines, and that the winning discs should be shaded. I then tried to make a virtue of necessity by thinking up unusual ways for that information to be conveyed, ideally with as little as possible in the preamble (because I didn’t want to give the game away, literally). Having additional words in clues is very common (I’ve done it, one way or another, in all three of my published Listeners to date), but gave an opportunity to use their last letters as well as the first; putting a message spaced out in the grid felt fun and re-emphasised the 42 squares; the gambit of overlapping clues was something I don’t remember seeing before and – even if not particularly thematic – seemed like a nice challenge. In fact, I didn’t have any intention of overlapping them at first, simply planning to use two side-by-side clues, but when I spotted the possibilities of CAPTAIN’S / OVERSEE[r] I thought it was too good a chance to miss. Some were easier than others, and I had all sorts of difficulties getting DISCS / GUNGE to work, but I was pleased with WINNING / ZENNIST. Did I grin slightly at the thought of how this puritanical clue would go down on this site? Possibly… and, as a teetotaller, I was glad to be able to emphasise the beauty of tea in a later clue.

For the actual moves in the game of Captain’s Mistress I started by playing a game against myself, making placements that I genuinely would – albeit with a bit more emphasis on creating rows of three that would then be stopped by the “opponent” – and, while I had to change this around a bit in order to get some clues to work, I’m pleased that I didn’t have to alter too much, meaning that the game itself ended up being fairly realistic – as well as ending on the final possible move. Finishing on column B meant hiding a number of extra words ending in B towards the end, and while this wasn’t too tricky, I did spend some time trying to think up an appropriate word beginning with I and ending with B: eventually, after exhausting what Chambers had to offer, I remembered iMDB (the Internet Movie Database) and incorporated it into what turned out to be one of my favourite clues.

Thanks as always to Roger & Shane for their sterling work in the editing process, which – as always with mine, it seems – involved a lot of shortening clues for space. The most egregious offender might be 23a, a 13-word clue for a 4-letter word, but in my defence it was so I could sneak in a name-check for my twin brother Simon. The other major editing change was the addition of the hint about CMSFWD, which was fair given that I’d not given any hint there at all, and the puzzle was already pretty tough without requiring any full-on cold-solving. I was also glad that the editing team were happy for me to use ‘spare’ instead of the usual ‘extra’ to describe additional words, which was necessary because I couldn’t get EXTRA to work in the grid. Perhaps surprisingly, though, given that a message took up a quarter of the cells in the puzzle, this was the easiest grid-creation I’ve done for any of my Listener submissions (published and unpublished).

Thanks also to Apt, who test-solved the puzzle for me and gave invaluable feedback. As well as helpful points about a number of clues, he noted two of the weaker aspects of the puzzle – a final twist where PIUM was changed to FOUR to intersect with SQUARE (from SQUAME), which he correctly identified as being unnecessary and a bit of a damp squib; and the puzzle’s title, which at the time was Spares & Squares. I must admit that was partially a ruse on my part to back-up my use of ‘spare’ in the preamble, and not really needed. After a while I came up with Striving – IV in STRING, or Four in a Row – which I was much happier with.

Final thanks to John Green, who I’m sure (having had a fascinating conversation with him at the last Listener dinner) won’t mind marking a lot of puzzles with circles drawn over them.

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