Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4626, Pot Plant: A Setter’s Blog by Karla

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 October 2020

Pot Plant is my first foray into barred thematic puzzle setting and my first submission to the Listener slot. I have been setting as Wire for the Independent for the last couple of years having come up through Big Dave’s Rookie Corner. I am also a contributor to 1Across magazine.

Two esteemed colleagues have been an invaluable source of support. Alberich kindly tested my first draft and rightly pointed out that my first grid design had serious flaws. I had to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch. Encota tested my second draft, providing excellent guidance especially on ironing out my over-use of links for the themed clues.

The idea came while watching the World Snooker Championship on holiday in the Lake District. I had thrown a copy of the Saturday Times into the car before setting off with a view to trying to solve one of the Listener puzzles for once. Glancing from the (largely empty) grid to the TV screen one rainy afternoon, I started to put the ideas together.

I had wanted to represent the colours/ triangle of reds/ pockets somehow but decided to keep it simple for my maiden voyage. Another idea was to have ‘snooker loopy nuts are we’ as a hidden message in the grid. Then ‘clue tips’ and ‘cue tips’ jumped out at me which felt ‘Listener-ish’.

After that, straightforward devices to identify the colours and the ONE FOUR SEVEN. I tried to shoehorn in undefined entries: NUGGET, HURRICANE, WHIRLWIND etc as nicknames but I could not get them in whilst keeping to the grid rules. In hindsight, I should have tried to incorporate a nickname angle some other way.

Posted in Setting Blogs | 2 Comments »

Listener No 4625, If P Then Q?: A Setter’s Blog by Mr E

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 October 2020

There’s not lot to say about this one. For some of my puzzles the idea sits in my mind for months or years until I think of a good way to execute it; but for this one, almost as soon as I thought of using the line [If all is not lost, then where is it?], the way forward was clear.

As for filling the grid, my first thought was that I would need to resort to some jumbled across entries; but I decided to see if I could get a good fill without jumbling and was pleasantly surprised that it turned out not to be all that difficult.

I did not want to clue ALL in the wordplay nine times so the decision to let the wordplay refer to the entered form for the clues with omissions was easy.

And that’s about it, except to say that I was unaware that COVID appeared in row 9 of the grid. It was mentioned by a number of solvers in their feedback but was completely unintentional.

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »

Listener No 4622, Kew Knowledge: A Setter’s Blog by Brock

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 September 2020

Watching butterflies and birds

Solving Azed 2469 (see Azed Slip 2469), which was a Spoonerisms clue-writing competition puzzle, led me in October 2019 to ask the question “When is Spooner’s anniversary?” as I had in mind that a thematic Listener related to his life might be fun to set. Scribbled title ideas at that point included “Line Manager” (i.e. Professor of Queue Knowledge). My alma mater is New College, Oxford, and I often suffer from unintentional muddles of words and ideas as Spooner did, e.g. asking “Did you put the butter back in the oven when you finished with it?” as well as actual Spoonerisms.

The butterflies strand of this puzzle was also much in my thoughts, as I’d enjoyed taking part in the UK Big Butterfly Count over the summer and had recently installed the iRecord Butterflies app on my phone. I can highly recommend it as an enjoyable and relaxing activity whether in your garden, a park or the countryside. See Our garden seemed to be teeming with insect life that summer, helped by the mix of wild flowers (weeds to some), herbs, plenty of sun with small patches of shade around the trees and shrubs. It has pained me ever since to see so many gardens being paved or gravelled over around our village, as well as mature hedges ripped up; I suspect there is more loss of habitat proportionally than in the Amazon Rainforest. Having many insect visitors over the summer was probably what led to so many birds in the spring, so I have since been enjoying bird watching too, not just the flutter byes.

The puzzle itself came together relatively easily, with the natural steps being:

  • Creating a viable grid with FLUTTER BYES and as many butterflies as possible, mostly from Chambers.
  • Deciding the number of thematic Spoonerism clues I needed to give the Spoonerised question from additional letters in wordplay and tweaking the grid.
  • Regridding again to fit in SPOONER.
  • Regridding one last time to make WASP OONER work rather than just SPOONER. This last step was actually the trickiest from the grid view-point as I’d already got a lot of thematic material to try to work around.
  • Setting the clues, starting with the thematic ones and then all the others.
  • Trimming the clues to keep them concise and as straightforward as possible (an attempt to address two criticisms of some of my clues in the past).

I enjoyed including some thematic clues and several other insects in the grid in addition to the butterflies.

I was very grateful to the editors for purifying my Spoonerism clues especially, many of which were still inaccurate as Spoonerisms, despite my averaging more than a day to set each of these. My original submission title TINY was also changed to KEW KNOWLEDGE for the same reason.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No 4621, True: A Setter’s Blog by Piccadilly

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 September 2020

Having had the basic idea for TRUE, I tinkered with the wording so that the solution would be a rectangle. I put bars into the grid and decided on some of the number/letter equivalents so that I could do a few clues to give the solver a gentle way in. That was the easy bit.

Next I assigned the rest of the letter/number values randomly and set about the rest of the clues. Finally (the tedious bit) I checked that the puzzle was unambiguously solvable.

Why do I set numerical puzzles? Firstly I don’t hate setting them, only solving them; secondly it’s nice getting paid for them.

I submitted TRUE on 18/04/20 and it was accepted for publication on 5/07/20 – could that be a record?

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »

Listener No 4619, Six-pack: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 September 2020

Sometime last year I decided that it was about time I returned to my own subject of physics for a puzzle. Casting around for possible ideas, I read an article on the Standard Model of particle physics, which classifies the various fundamental particles (of which the famous Higgs boson is the most recently confirmed example), and describes the relationships between three of the four fundamental forces of nature (the missing one being the gravitational force). The thought came that quarks – with their different “flavours” of “up”, “down”, “top”, “bottom” “strange” and “charm” (or “charmed” as Chambers would have it) – could form the basis for a puzzle, with different answers being entered in accordance with the different quark flavours.

When I was studying physics in the late 1970s / early 1980s, the concept of quarks was still relatively new, with definite proof of their existence having been achieved not so many years before. These days, most people (thanks to Stephen Hawking and others) are aware of the term “quark”, and have at least some notion of what a quark is, so I hoped that the subject wouldn’t be too esoteric for a puzzle.

In diagrams and discussions of the Standard Model, the six quarks are often paired as up / down, top / bottom, and strange / charm. This suggested the idea of using sets of “double” clues, with one set for each of the three pairings; and for each double clue, the two answers entered in a manner representative of the two flavours for that set (e.g. top / bottom = top or bottom half of the grid, up / down = answers entered either going up or down). For the strange / charm pairing, the term “strange” suggested jumbled entries, and with a bit of a stretch of the imagination, so could “charm”: however, I really wanted all the entries to be real words, so I decided to try to make the answers for this set anagrams of other real words that would form the entries. I decided also to include the “corrections to misprints” gimmick in the clues in this set to yield the term “flavour” as a hint to solvers, with the idea in my mind that these clues would constitute the “charm” group (although the puzzle didn’t make this explicit).

Additional constraints were that I wanted the different flavours to appear thematically in the final grid, along with the theme-word “QUARKS”. Oh, and also somehow to acknowledge the two physicists, Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig, who independently proposed the existence of quarks in 1964.

Writing everything down like that makes it seem like quite a lot of stuff to fit in, but anyway, I set to work trying different grid lay-outs and different entries that would give me UP, DOWN, TOP, BOTTOM, STRANGE and CHARM in appropriate positions and formats in the grid: for the latter pair, GARNETS and MARCH were obvious anagrams for the jumbled entries representing their flavours. I’m not quite sure why I decided on the 14×11 grid format – I think it was probably because I wanted the theme-word QUARKS to be at least horizontally central (hence an even number of columns), but found a 12×12 grid too restrictive (and I’m not really so keen on 14×14 as a rule). In fact the grid construction was not so onerous as it might be imagined it would be: I found that the jumbled entries, despite the need for them to be anagrams of other words, gave quite a degree of flexibility to the grid construction, and the final grid (which always grows “organically” with me rather than being fixed at the start of puzzle development) actually turned out in the end to be reasonably “Ximenean” – sadly a characteristic I don’t always manage to achieve!

At some point during the construction process I decided that the names of the two physicists could be derived by solvers by unjumbling letters from indicated cells in the completed grid, so I just needed to ensure that the necessary letters – including Z and W – were present somewhere in the grid.

With a completed grid, I turned to the process of writing the double clues, and this proved to be quite tricky. Each double clue needed to yield a pair of answers whose grid entries were appropriate to the pair of quark flavours represented by that clue set: however, I didn’t want it to be obvious that each double clue from Set 1, for example, yielded one answer entered in the top half of the grid, and a second answer entered in the bottom half – I felt this would give the game away too easily. So my first version of the puzzle had no indication of where any of the answers went, other than the fact that – within each set – the answers to the first part of each double clue were in “normal” order. Spare a thought, then, for LWO’s very own Encota, who somehow – in these almost impossible circumstances – managed to test solve the puzzle (and, even more remarkably, is still on speaking terms with me! 😊) As always, Tim gave me some very helpful comments and advice, as a result of which a much better – and fairer – final puzzle emerged, which was duly sent off to the Listener editors.

The thought of the reaction this puzzle might get still gave me quite a bit of angst, but in the end, I think it went down fairly well with solvers. The two main points of contention seemed to be: (i) the difficulty of understanding the preamble; (ii) the large number of different dictionaries referenced.

Regarding the first of these points, Tim – in his test-solver’s notes – had indicated that the preamble to my original version of the puzzle could be made clearer. I duly set about writing what I hoped would be a better preamble: I think it probably was a bit clearer than my original, but it turned out to be roughly the same length as this blog! Roger Phillips, in his review of the puzzle, managed both to clarify the preamble further and shorten it to the published length; but even so it still took a bit of careful reading and thought to get clear in the mind. Hopefully it didn’t put too many solvers off.

For the second point, I was rather shocked when Roger pointed out to me that the term “side lobe” isn’t included in any “standard” dictionary other than the OED. In my work as an engineer / physicist in a large automotive company, the term “side lobe” is so familiar to me that, when I saw it was an anagram of “obelised”, I used it without even thinking to check that it was included in dictionaries. So, along with the other Collins and ODE references, it wasn’t too good: but thankfully, Roger kindly let it go. In hindsight, I should have omitted the ODE reference, since “Foggy Bottom” also appears in Collins, and this would have reduced the number of dictionary references to two, rather than three. However, I didn’t: hopefully, again, nobody was too put off by my dictionary mania 😊.

Chalicea told me a lovely story about Murray Gell-Mann that – if nothing else – proves (if ever such proof were needed) that he was a human being as well as one of the great minds of physics. Gell-Mann coined the term “quark” for the fundamental particles he postulated the existence of from an obscure reference (one of many!) in James Joyce’s novel Finnegans Wake. It’s interesting that another of Joyce’s works – Ulysses – was the topic of the previously published Listener puzzle – I’m not sure if this was a deliberate juxtaposition on the part of the editors!

As always, my thanks go to the Listener editors, Roger and Shane, for their unstinting efforts in getting these puzzles ready for publication each week: and to the many setters and solvers who have sent me generous and kind comments regarding Six-pack – it really does mean a lot to me, so thank you.


Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »