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Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4596, CRNT: A Setter’s blog by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 March 2020

Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. Robin first appeared in 1940, the Flash in 1956, Spider-Man in 1962 and Iron Man in 1963. I first appeared in 1985, and I mention all these dates, tongue-in-cheek, because I know that the superhero theme is not of interest to all Listener solvers (and also that I’m bringing down the average age of Listener setters a little), but my point is – there’s been time to get familiar.

Actually, this puzzle was in part my revenge for all the poetry I’ve had to look up over the years. I’m a fan of superhero movies – I’ve also dabbled in the comics a little – and I thought that, if I’ve got to google the works of Robert Browning, John Keats, William Blake et al, it’s only fair that I point the Listener community towards Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne & Barry Allen. Also, the Superman emblem is familiar, I think, to almost everyone – there is a case to be made that he is the most iconic fictional character of the 20th century – so even those solvers who can’t tell their Captain Marvel from their Wolverine should still be able to enjoy that, I thought.

The idea of converting alter egos to superheroes was a fairly obvious one – although the mention of ‘disguise’ in the preamble came very late in the day – but I wanted to do a bit more than that, which is where the idea of highlighting the famous S came from, even though I wasn’t initially sure how to go about achieving that. An early attempt to have every cell in it as an S was always doomed to failure, and stabs at spelling out a message were not very hopeful, in part because of the non-linear shape. Eventually I hit upon the idea of using letters from KAL-EL, which helpfully gave me a couple of vowels and a couple of consonants to work with, and I started by trying to enter superhero names in the grid with those constraints, and without being too obscure. In the end I only managed five, with HULK not quite managing to make the grid, which was a bit disappointing but probably inevitable (and I was fortunate to be able to get AIGUILLETTE across the middle in the pattern I needed). Understandably, most solvers seem to have back-derived the answers to the thematic clues after entering the superhero name, rather than solving the clues first.

Using additional letters in wordplay is a tried and tested technique, and not particularly imaginative, but I’d never tried it before so it was partly a personal challenge to see if I could do it – particularly as I wanted to avoid using extra words yet again. It’s a fun technique and I can see why it is so often favoured – it also allowed me to get a further nod to the superhero genre with Thor being involved in 12a, and reference to my beloved Beatles in ‘Improve Let It Be’.

The title seems to have left a few people scratching their heads, so for anyone still scratching: it’s Clark Kent without the letters from Kal-El (which, in case you haven’t googled, is Superman’s birth name). I came up with it when I noticed the large crossover between the two names, and I thought that I should have a reference to the mild-mannered reporter somewhere in the puzzle – I was considering changing the title, but was reassured when one of the editors spotted what the title meant before discovering what to highlight, and it helped his journey through the puzzle.
One last point that went possibly undetected by all: Superman’s birthday is (usually) 29th February, hence the date of publication. Tenuous, perhaps, but may have raised a smile somewhere.

Thanks to my test-solvers (Apt & Trelawney), the editors and of course to John Green.

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Listener No 4592, Graven Image: Link to a Setter’s Blog by Phi

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 February 2020

Phi’s setter’s blog can be found at his own web site: Graven Image by Phi


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Listener No 4591, 1899: A Setter’s Blog by Ares

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 February 2020

I’ve ony been a Listener convert for the past two or three years and then started to wonder what it woud be like to compile one. My first couple of tries were rejected; looking back, I think they were so bad I’m surrpised they were even looked at! However, it was now on my bucket list.

Last year was the International Year of the Periodic Table and, as an erstwhile chemistry teacher, I took an interest in the various promotional activites. Then I thought of writing a crossword using elemental symbols. My first attempt (to my utter embarrassment) contained two non-symbols as I’d convinced myself they were for two of the newer elements. For a while I also used D (although an accepted chemical symbol, it does not appear in the Periodic Table itself). Fortunately, with help from the editors, I was able to correct these points.

My pseudonym comes from the fact that friend and family consider me a placid person yet my forename derives, apparently, from the Roman god of war – so I simply took the Greek version.

I now have the bug! I have a second submission in the system and am working on yet another one.

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Listener No 4590, Bros: A Setter’s Blog by Vismut

Posted by Listen With Others on 9 February 2020

A lifelong fan of Gerald Durrell and his books, I have Fillets of Plaice on my bookshelf. Chapter One describes how, when sitting on a beach in Corfu with a large bottle of retsina, Gerald discussed with his brother Lawrence what to call his compilation of stories. Lawrence who had recently published his own compilation of letters called Spirit of Place suggested Fillets of Plaice.

I was immediately struck by the fact that the titles and first names of these books and brothers in combination had the same number of letters and tried, unsuccessfully to begin with, to make this work for me and the puzzle. As a setter of these puzzles you find yourself counting the number of letters in words all the time. You may be reading a book (4), a paper (5), a menu (4) or watching the television (10), whatever it is you’re counting the letters.

A number of attempts later and with advice from more experienced setters like Chalicea (8) and Mr E (3, two words) and after several weeks the puzzle was ready to go. Further amendments from the Listener editors gave it some polish. Many thanks for the help everyone.

Meanwhile back to the Durrells. What a family this was and what a magical world Gerald Durrell conjures up in his writing. If you haven’t read any of his books other than My Family and Other Animals you’ve missed a treat

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Listener No 4589, Progress Report: A Setters’ Blog by Tibea

Posted by Listen With Others on 2 February 2020

As editors of the Listener crossword, we have an eye on its history and feel some responsibility to celebrate its interesting milestones. Seeing that the 1500th crossword since the demise of the BBC magazine The Listener and the consequent migration of the crossword to The Times was approaching, I (Kea) wondered about how to mark it.

Doodling around, I pondered THOUSAND AND A HALF as a slightly less obvious way of indicating the number, and found that if written in a 4×4 square it looked like it could be hidden in a grid with words reading naturally both across and down. Then, to flesh out the thematic context, THE TIMES LISTENER similarly arranged also looked promising. So I constructed a grid with those two blocks opposite (SAND and LIST serendipitously forming opposite grid entries), focusing on generous checking in the two thematic areas, and avoiding an excess of short words that often occurs in over-constrained grid fills. (The result, a 12×12 grid with 36 entries of average length 6.33, is typical of those produced by Azed.)

The next step was how to make a puzzle of it. My first thought was normal clueing (as it was to be the second puzzle of the year and we didn’t want it to be too complicated) with the solver having to find and highlight the message, but that felt too basic, not “Listenery” enough. So I thought of jumbling the 32 letters in the grid, clueing the jumbled forms, and having the solver sort the letters into the final message. At the time I wrote, “It’s pretty contrived, though if the initial arrangement could be an apt anagram of THOUSAND AND A HALF THE TIMES LISTENER it might work.” My first anagram attempt was IN A FLASH THAT’S A THUNDERED MILESTONE, referring to The Thunderer as a nickname for The Times, but it was clearly not good. A few days later I found LAST OF LINE UNDERNEATH THIS MASTHEAD, which I was much happier with, though I wondered if solvers might take it as an announcement of the end of the Listener crossword in The Times.

The next question was whether it was solvable. If the clues for the affected entries (pleasingly, exactly half) had normal definitions but wordplay for the mutilated initial forms, then solvers might be able to complete the final grid from the definitions alone, without ever seeing the initial anagram. So I decided to try switching the definitions around, at the risk of making the puzzle harder than I wanted. My co-editor Tiburon and I then split the clues and wrote half each (taking special care to make the wordplay for the mutilated entries as clear as possible), before comparing notes. We then asked Dimitry (a former Listener editor) to test-solve it for us, which allayed my fears about its solvability and led to a useful preamble change clarifying that the first message was about The Listener masthead and not The Times.

The consensus among the comments we received with solvers’ entries was that the puzzle was tricky to start but got easier, and as a whole wasn’t as hard as it first appeared, which was a relief to me. And for any solvers still unclear about the Listener crossword’s history there’s a lot “more information at”, as the solution notes always say.

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