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Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4719, What’s My Line?: A Setter’s Blog by Hawk

Posted by Listen With Others on 31 Jul 2022

I don’t remember where I first read about the Bézier curve, but it rang bells as an ideal construction for a crossword. All that was needed was some logic for the lines, and linking identical cells seemed to be appropriate. I had the option of using horizontal and vertical locations, but figured I could hide the theme better if I used a diagonal. It also resulted in a more pleasing curve.

I needed to avoid any duplicate letters in each location, and also had to accommodate clashes. I started with the bottom row, which forced the letters along the diagonal, then tackled each clash in turn, which drove most of the bar locations. I was lucky to find the 11-letter words, as these helped boost the average entry length.

I tried to make the clues moderately challenging, as there were many over-checked entries, particularly in the NW corner, where there were no clashes. My favourite was  4 Down, Having uncovered nostrils, restored lung harmony (11), as it gave a good surface reading for a real stinker of a word. This clue made it past the vetters unscathed, but some were amended, largely for concision.

I’ve seen feedback from solvers who thought it was unnecessary to include the computer applications. I’m generally not a fan of additional twiddles myself, but I was keen to add something here to highlight the curve’s practical significance. If you’ve ever appreciated the beauty of car body shapes, or indeed anything manufactured during the computer era, then thanks are in no small part due to Pierre Bézier, who helped develop the automated design and manufacturing tools and techniques during his 40 years working for Renault. He was not the first to discover this curve, however. He independently created an algorithm first devised by Paul de Casteljau, who worked at Citroën. Bézier died in 1999 at the age of 89, and de Casteljau died in March 2022, at 91 years.

To me, the Listener Crossword is all about revealing a theme of interest. Without its practical applications, the Bézier curve, like many other topics in pure mathematics, would be little more than a pretty abstraction.

Both vetters mentioned that the construction reminded them of string art from the 1970s. Although aware of the toy, I hadn’t really considered this in the context of the puzzle, and in retrospect, I could have hinted at it somewhere. One vetter also remarked that all those lines might make it difficult for the marker to check the letters underneath. I hope everyone left their letters legible, otherwise I’ll have to change my setter name to Mud.

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Listener No 4718, Linked: A Setter’s Blog by Vismut

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 Jul 2022

Once again I have to thank day time TV for the inspiration for a puzzle. “Haven’t you got anything better to do?” I hear you ask. The answer to this is “yes” so it is lucky that I have a very ancient Mum and a not quite so ancient husband who take note of these things when they see it on Bargain Hunt, The Antiques Road Trip, Flog It or some such. I have a very long list to work from now.

The grid design for this one was pretty straight forward once I saw that key words had two consecutive letters in common, so thank you to the crossword compiler Gods for that.

I could see from my draft grid that it might be possible to get the correct number of answers to start and end with the same letter and link the clues in line with the theme to give “Mary Macarthur” and after a bit of juggling the grid was finished to my liking.

I then amused myself and hopefully you by linking the remaining clues in the same way to form “there is no message here”. Little things eh?

After a few weeks writing the clues, (a couple a day you understand, not solidly sitting at my computer. In fact I usually think up clues when I can’t go to sleep instead of counting sheep and it works! I’m soon snoring away. The bonus is that sometimes I even wake up with a half decent clue) the puzzle went off to be tested and for this one it was Hedge-sparrow and Dysart. Valuable input from these two before the puzzle was submitted. My thanks.

There was the Women Chainmakers Festival the weekend this puzzle was published which you can find out about here if you want to go next year: Women Chainmakers

Mary Macarthur was an amazing person setting a great example to all of us by fighting for some very basic human rights. You can find out more about her here: Mary Macarthur

I hope you enjoyed the puzzle and my thanks to the puzzle editors too who always give my puzzles a bit of polish for which I am very grateful.


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Listener No 4716, Venation: A Setter’s Blog by The Ace of Hearts

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 Jul 2022

This was my second submission for this puzzle because the first one was fatally flawed (I had “Piltown” instead of “Piltdown” as one of “the circle of men” in one of the ring lights. The original version of this puzzle was also submitted before the checkers had advised me that they thought the “letters latent/cyclical entry method” had been played out and to try something different. So with this in mind I thought I would try the extra letter in clues gimmick, with answers entered either forward or backward for the re-worked puzzle. I wasn’t sure if this was possible or not, but the only way to find out was to try it.

First step was to open the powerful and free “Qxw” crossword construction programme, which I always use for circular grids. As the definition for “Tinchel” has 38 letters, I created a grid with 38 radials (my original idea was to create a 39 radial grid with “Tinchel” as one of radial answers, which could then be highlighted, but because “Tinchel” has 7 letters, it would mean that all the radial answers would have to 7 letters and as a result the grid would probably big too big to fit into the paper for publication and would be rejected for this reason) and put “Tinchel” into one of the circular lights.

In the innermost ring I created 12 cells (I think the maximum number of cells for this ring is 12 or 13, anymore and the cells would be too small for visually impaired solvers) and put in 3 four letter synonyms for deer. These lights were to remain unaltered during the grid fill as I felt if I had to alter any of the other ring lights in the outermost and third rings I could do so with minimum disruption to the grid overall. I selected only forward and reversed for the possible answers for the radial lights and worked my way round the grid putting in “Tinchel” first and then (by trial and error) fitting in synonyms for men in the other circular rings. This all went smoothly for a while, but I did meet problems near the end when the last few synonyms met the first synonyms and my options were limited, but I persevered and with a bit of juggling, got there in the end.

Next up was the preamble and the clues and as is the norm now there were a lot of alterations to be made to make them clear and fair, although some were just minor tweaks for better surface reading and space saving.

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Listener 4715, Singles Only: A Setter’s Blog by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 Jul 2022

Usually when I come up with an idea for a crossword, I either work on it until it’s complete or I get far enough to decide that it’s not workable (at least, not for me, or not in the form I want it) and give up. This was, I think, my first exception, as I first tried to make a crossword that became a sudoku a few years ago, before putting it temporarily aside and returning to it in early 2021.

The twin (ahem) problems in creating this puzzle were: (i) how to get letters to change to numbers; and (ii) how to tell the solver to complete the sudoku. In my early attempts I was going for a fairly simple replacement in the grid – A = 1, B = 2 etc. – and double-letter cells on regular points of the main diagonal that spelled DO SU DO KU. It wasn’t working, though, for several reasons, not least because I hadn’t figured out a nice way to tell solvers to shade rows and columns, and to convert letters to numbers, and to get rid of all the numbers above 10.

Fast forward a couple of years, and the last few puzzles I’d worked on had all involved clue restrictions – e.g. particular letters missing, or messages spelled out with the first and/or last letters of clues – which had been fun, but tricky to write. I’d decided that, whatever my next puzzle would be, it would not have clue limitations: just free rein to write clues however I wanted them.

Well. I think it’s fair to say that I went back on that decision. Revisiting the sudoku idea, it struck me that a letter’s position in its clue could be converted to a number – and how hard could it be to pull off that kind of thing off? A few weeks or months later, as I tried to write a clue for PERSUADER (with an extra T in the wordplay) where the first R was in 4th place, the first S was in 13th place, the first A was in 17th place, the first P was in 19th place, the first E was in double digits, and there wasn’t a U… I realised I’d been a little naïve. Certainly the toughest clueing challenge of my setting career (see picture for an idea of this process) – and, if you want a fun exercise, I invite you to compose your own PERSUADER (+T) clue with those restrictions. Comment box below!

As an aside, the reason for the slightly convoluted language in the “letter’s first position…” instruction was that I wanted to be as clear as possible that solvers should only be looking at letters: on previous occasions where we’ve been directed to look at, say, tenth position in a clue, I’m never sure if numbers, punctuation and spaces are included in that.

Oh, and as another aside, I hope you’ll forgive me for the egotism of including COLIN as an answer in the grid. My only excuse is that it organically got to the point where my only choices were COLIN / AMIS or COLON / AMOS, and by that stage I thought I might as well go for it. As my friend Stu pointed out, 4 down in the Jumbo opposite was TWIN, which felt appropriate.

Taking the decision to make it a jigsaw construction came relatively late in the day, and in fact I sent two versions to my test solvers: one in conventional format and one as it was published (I was briefly tempted by carte blanche but decided that was a step too far). My reasons for settling on jigsaw were that it delayed the arrival of the instructions, and equally importantly I thought it detracted from the final sudoku appearance if there were lots of smaller numbers littering the grid. While I appreciate that this made the puzzle very difficult, with a lot of cold solving, I was comfortable that there was precedent. And, after all, who doesn’t like a challenge?

…which brings me onto the comments. I’ve previously written puzzles that have been very well received; I’ve written puzzles that have had some gentle criticism (some of which I’ll even admit was justified); and I’ve written one or two puzzles that have been almost immediately forgotten by everyone who solved them – but I’ve never written a puzzle that has proven as dramatically polarising as this one. A few people have been in touch to say some very nice things, and several commenters I’ve seen have ranked this as amongst their recent favourites. Others… have been less fond. An early comment I read used the kind of language I tend to reserve only for waiters I’ve actually seen spitting in my food (or for numerical Listeners), and while none of the others were that overblown – or poetic – it’s fair to say that the name Twin has been cursed in a few households up and down the country of late. I harbour a suspicion that solvers who are also setters are more likely to be in the pro- camp, but it’s just a theory.

Which of these two groups to address? Well, let me say a genuine and heartfelt thank you to the first group; to the second group, many of whom found the difficulty a bit much, I can only apologise. Let me direct your anger towards the correspondent who wrote a lovely letter about my last Listener puzzle, saying it was very nice but could have done with being a bit harder.

Speaking of past Listeners, Singles Only is somewhat of an homage to Mixed Doubles by Shackleton, my favourite Listener crossword of all time (I’ve not yet received the bundle from John Green, so I don’t yet know if anyone has picked up on this). While my own effort shouldn’t really be spoken of in the same breath as that masterpiece, some of the similarities may have tugged at people’s memories: the shading of rows and columns to make a simple grid; a difficult grid-fill that gives way to a relatively trivial puzzle (I deliberately made the sudoku on the easy side, mostly because we’re not a sudoku-solving community); even the title hints at the connection. If you’ve not done that one, please do seek it out.

Finally, thanks as ever to my test solvers John, Paul & Stu; thanks to John G for his sterling efforts (hopefully a slightly easier marking job this week than usual); and thanks to the editors Shane & Roger for coping manfully with a practically uneditable puzzle.

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Listener No 4714, Run to Seed: Link to a Setter’s Blog by Phi

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 Jun 2022

Phi’s setter’s blog on his recent Listener can be found on his own website at Run to Seed by Phi.

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