Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin

Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4460, Four and a Half…?: A Setter’s Blog by Sabre

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 August 2017

The bizarre Longfellow quote came to light while browsing the ODQ, and its seventy-two bees immediately brought to mind a 12×12 grid with half the entries B. How to arrange this? Clashes seemed an easy way: but 72 clashes? I did ponder such, though it seemed a little unfair. But if every B resulted from a clash, a more serious problem would be that the solver could assiduously fill every such cell with a little furry black and yellow bee, and Sabre draws the line at this sort of effort. A compromise of 21 genuine B’s (enough to draw a solver’s attention) and 51 clashes was the end result. The consistency of clashing letters being two apart was intended to aid solvers and soften the trauma of a large number of clashes.

Now, how to ensure solvers correctly solved the riddle, since the solution is not given in Longfellow? Thus enters BLOB/BLOT and the “bathtub” clue: my psychology tells me a solver would at first sight solve this as BLOB, then be puzzled by a B-count of 73 in the final grid. The original submission did not mention this ambiguous clue, but the vetters felt this unfair, and that it should be signalled. I am glad this was done, the wrath-quotient might have been considerably greater otherwise. The vetters also pointed out the use of this quotation in a puzzle by Elgin in the Magpie in 2006 (“Prithee Pretty Maiden”), with a very different interpretation of the theme.

For the record, Four-and-a-Half is also a solution to the riddle if the negative square root is taken.

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »

Listener No 4459, Shock Treatment: A Setter’s Blog by Serpent

Posted by Listen With Others on 7 August 2017

Off the top of my head, I can no longer remember what inspired me to set a puzzle about baldness. I’m a lazy solver and set puzzles I’d like to solve, so I tend to use themes that don’t require much recourse to reference books (including dictionaries). The basic ideas for Shock Therapy – having some letters leave the grid, having those letters spell out the condition ANDROGENIC ALOPECIA, and replacing the resulting gaps with synonyms of WIG – came pretty much simultaneously. It was convenient that the combined lengths of three obvious wig synonyms was equal to that of the condition.

I decided to use a circular grid with the centre containing the condition and the synonyms, the idea being that the central region would represent a bald spot. Each radial element of the grid would contain two entries, with the outer entry providing an extra letter with which to build the wig synonyms and the inner entry losing the last letter to form the condition. (My original working title was Hub Caps, with the wig synonyms being “caps” for the central hub. I changed the title to Shock Therapy following feedback from my wonderful test-solvers David Thomas and Norman Lusted, who have each solved every barred puzzle I’ve compiled.)

The main obstacle was finding a grid-fill so that (i) replacing the condition with the synonyms would leave real words in the grid, and (ii) the grid didn’t contain too many obscurities. Not surprisingly, given the constraints, even the excellent Qxw software failed to find a grid-fill, and this even after I had relaxed condition (ii) and opted to use the ukacd.txt dictionary instead of my usual custom (and limited) dictionary.

It was at this point that I decided to use jumbles for the answers in each inner radial entry and revert to my usual dictionary. (I convinced myself that using jumbles was reasonable thematically, perhaps indicating “damaged” hair from which bits were breaking off; I leave it for the reader to decide whether I was deluding myself!) I also redesigned the grid to increase the amount of cross-checking (given the additional difficulties the jumbles would cause the solver). Despite the substantial amount of cross-checking, Qxw was able to find a grid-fill easily and it was now a matter of iteratively improving the selection of entries. The solution grid I submitted to the editors is shown on the left.

In time, Roger wrote to me saying he’d solved the puzzle and the idea was fine. However, and it was a big however, the circular grid was a non-starter: unlike many circular grids, the inner rings didn’t share cells with two or more of the radial elements, thus making the cells in the inner rings impossibly small for many solvers to work with. Moreover, the cells in the outer rings were excessively large (and thus wasted precious “real estate”).

Roger made the brilliant suggestion of “unwrapping” the grid, to form a rectangular grid, and inverting it, with the inner and outer radial entries becoming the upper and lower column entries, respectively. This had the effect of the letters of the condition being lost from the “head” of the grid, which was entirely consistent with the theme. Even so, the clues, all 54 of them, needed some judicious trimming in order to fit the puzzle into the space available. Roger’s help and experience was again invaluable.

Posted in Setting Blogs | 2 Comments »

Listener No 4457, Polo: A Setter’s Blog by Apt

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 July 2017

The precise origins of this puzzle are a bit hazy to me, but I remember playing with the concept of an apposite message appearing in the grid in an infinite cycle, in various convoluted and in retrospect obviously impossible ways. I found Hofstadter’s law just by trawling the quotations on the Oxford Reference website looking for nice ones with a vaguely sciencey flavour, and it seemed to fit the bill. I remember solving Raich’s 2009 puzzle on the similar ‘Parkinson’s Law’ (with WORK expanding in the grid to fill the “time available for its completion”).

After several grid designs and attempted fills, I settled on the circular shape which seemed to work well with the infinite loop theme, with the quotation running round the perimeter. Some of the unchecked cells in the irregularly-shaped perimeter look a little odd but the grid hung together overall, with decent entry lengths and unching as far as I could see. The quotation needed a bit of rephrasing to fit in the right number of cells, but since it was going to have its tail lopped off and attached to its head it didn’t seem unreasonable to change a few other words. With assistance from Crossword Compiler and QXW I managed to get a fill that didn’t seem to have too many obscure answers.

I chose misprints in the definitions to hide the HOFSTADTER’S LAW message, providing a pointer to the theme. I can’t say that using the incorrect letters rather than the corrections was much of a deliberate decision — I was most of the way through the clues before I realised I was doing them the unconventional way and wasn’t minded to go back and change them! In general I think using the corrected letters is preferable since it’s easier as a solver to tell you have the right one, but I don’t think a bit of variety every so often does any harm.

Clue writing was a slow but not too painful process. Most clues didn’t need any special gubbins which helped, but some of the misprints were a bit of a challenge. I must thank Ken Clarke for getting himself re-elected and therefore not inadvertently ruining one clue.

With everything finished I sent the puzzle to a couple of test-solvers – eXternal and my dad, thanks both. Feedback seemed good and after a few tweaks it was ready to go. I’ve been solving the Listener for many years, originally learning the ropes with my dad and now solving with my wife (and still my dad at Christmas), so I was never going to send my first puzzle anywhere else. I’d already settled on the pseudonym Apt, which I use for my website (free puzzles!). It comes from my Twitter handle @aPaulTaylor, which in turn comes unsurprisingly from my real name Paul (A.) Taylor, and the fact that with such a common pair of names I can hardly lay claim to being the Paul Taylor. The puzzle sent off, I forgot about it as it made its way through the Listener’s eye-wateringly long submissions queue (it took longer than I expected, even taking into account etc…)

As may have been fairly obvious, solvers were originally supposed to provide the title I AM A STRANGE LOOP, written in the hole in the middle. This requirement was quite rightly removed by the editors, since non-internet-enabled solvers shouldn’t be expected to hunt through the library for what was essentially an ‘extra’ for the puzzle. I hope most solvers did find the book though and so understood the ‘strange loop’ of the title (also, the grid looks like a polo mint — I don’t know if anyone noticed this).

At the time of setting I hadn’t actually read any Hofstadter, and still haven’t Godel, Escher, Bach, but I’m currently reading I am a Strange Loop, and am pleased to discover it’s full of the same sort of ridiculous recursion as embodied by Hofstadter’s Law.

Setting my debut Listener has been a great experience, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of having a go. I hope Polo is the first of many!

Paul (Apt)

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No 4456, Shady Characters: A Setter’s Blog by Malva

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 July 2017

To be honest, the idea for doing a crossword came from my next door neighbour. He’d been setting them for ages, under the name of Dripper, or something like that. I only got to know about it a couple of years ago when he fell into his compost heap. Luckily, I heard his cries for help and after I’d dug him out and removed most of the worms from his hair, he told me about his crosswords. I’m not sure why. He could have been delirious. Anyway, he invited me in for a cup of tea and a chocolate brownie his other half had made (it was stonkingly good) and then he showed me one of his crosswords. I have to admit, I couldn’t make head or tail of it at first, and even after he explained they were all about gardening and that one of the answers was a tree I’d never heard of, I still made some excuse about having to hose my soffits and left.

But, as he would have said, the seed had been sown and over the next few months, I tried to do the Listener crossword every week. I slowly became more adept at it and eventually I could solve at least seven or eight clues in every crossword (apart from the maths ones) and I knew loads of completely unnecessary words like esne and learned that Spencer couldn’t spelle to saive his lyphe.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to have a go at a crossword of my own, which only took about four months to complete – compared to the 30 minutes it took most solvers to complete. Shady Characters went a lot more smoothly, mainly because Roger rewrote about 80% of the clues for one reason or another and being a stickler for detail, he also rejected my inclusion of the lilac crested baldicoot on the grounds that no-one would have a lilac crayon and it might offend the follically challenged solvers as well.

After publication, there were two further delights to enjoy. Firstly, I got paid for it and secondly, John sent me a selection of comments from solvers. Most of them were quite complimentary and one guy was particularly chuffed (or choughed) (or chiffchuffed) because he’d had a red-necked phalarope and celeriac mash in a Reykjavik restaurant the day before the crossword appeared.

So now all I’ve got to do is come up with another idea.

Um … er … ah …. how about … um ….

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »

Listener No 4455, Silence: A Setter’s Blog by MynoT

Posted by Listen With Others on 9 July 2017

I came across the sentence (not phrase) in Chambers, and it gave me the idea to have some blank entries.

It was convenient that it could be split into two equal halves. Also Chambers gives as the meaning (not the translation) as “silence gives consent” which gave me the title. I then put the two halves in the top and bottom rows and added some bars. I then asked Sympathy to fill the grid. I removed words I didn’t like or that were too difficult to clue and tried again. After doing this another couple of times I was reasonably satisfied, and went ahead writing clues, about which I can remember nothing. This was some time ago and now I can’t solve many of them.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »