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Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4708, Diamond: A Setter’s Blog by Karla

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 May 2022

The room in which I do my setting I share with my piano. It also happens to be where the first glass of wine is consumed as Adele and I look out into the garden. One such evening I idly wondered whether I could represent a piece of music in a grid. (Of course, I thought that was terribly original at the time and since have realised that I am by no means the first). ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ seemed the natural fit as I figured non-musicians might be able to recognise the ‘pattern’ of the tune even if it were written down as a series of dots on paper.

So how to represent the tune in the grid. I could see three options:

  • Grid to represent keys on a piano: this it what I had in mind at first. But of course, the tune can be played on any instrument. And on a keyboard, the tune can be played on differing combinations of white and black keys depending on the key signature. More complicated than I thought.
  • Grid to represent a stave: but how would I represent lines and spaces? Maybe by cells and gridlines. That felt messy.
  • Grid to represent musical intervals: this felt better in that it removed the problems of different instruments and key signatures.

The third option ran the risk of being less obvious for non-musicians who may be less aware of semitones/tones (and I think that has come out in some online comments). Therefore, TWINKLE was selected as the thematic word in the grid and DIAMOND for the title: sufficient nudges in the right direction, I hoped.

The ‘music’ and ‘star’ themes for the extra words was suggested by Wan and I would like to thank him for his support and guidance in the development of this puzzle. And a big thanks to Mr E who helped me with fitting the pattern efficiently into the grid (I had been trying to put the first sequence in the upper half, the second in the lower) and for additional advice. And finally, I would like to acknowledge the help of Neil Shepherd (Alberich/ Klingsor) who looked through the puzzle in it’s final stages for me. News of his passing came yesterday. RIP Neil. You will be greatly missed.

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Listener No 4707, An Overt: A Setter’s Blog by Awinger

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 May 2022

‘The bare necessities’ just popped into my head for no good reason one day. Singing the third line – ‘forget about your worries and your strife’ – it occurred to me that that would work as an instruction to drop letters from clues, and the idea for a Listener puzzle was born.

My first idea was to base the puzzle around the second line of the song. The original grid had 5 necessities, 5 types of bear (brown, sun, black etc) and 5 words that can follow ‘simple’ (fraction, time, ton etc), only one of which that survived into the final grid – ‘interest’. This first grid only had Baloo, Mowgli and Kipling (which was horizontal across the middle), intersecting at the L in the middle of the grid.

I then thought about getting ‘Jungle Book’ in as well, given that also had an L towards the middle. I knew I was going to need a bit of luck to get the four different elements to work, particularly with the words around the L. I came up with the orientation that gave me ‘pea’, ‘iga’, ‘oip’ and ‘ogi’ around the central cell, which looked vaguely promising, particularly when I found ‘loipen’. ‘ogi’ led me immediately to ‘yogi’. This sent me towards trying to use other cartoon / puppet talking bears and the final idea took shape.

I always find it is a struggle to get the word length up to the required 5.5, and this puzzle was no different. I looked for a while at leaving the central cell empty and tried to get two 6 letter words across the middle. ‘Ebooks’ worked fine on the right. I toyed with ‘CGJung’ on the left but a brief enquiry to one of the editors confirmed my view that this would not be acceptable. So Cajun / Gie / Books it was, and I managed to find an extra couple of letters elsewhere to get the average length up.

Having completed the grid I noticed that it contained every letter except Q – the thematic material contained J, W, Z and K and I had only been able to make the bottom left corner work with X and V. I know some people aren’t big fans of puzzles that use every letter, and I don’t plan to make a habit of it, but I thought I would have a quick look to see if I could wedge a Q in the top left corner. A short while later I had ‘requiems’ and ‘quoth’ and the grid was done.

As usual, I took my time with the clues, partly because where a letter is being dropped from a clue I like to try to make the surface read reasonably well with and without the letter. I also tried hard to avoid issues that had caused clues in my first couple of puzzles to require amendment. I was pleased to see this worked fairly well, with a significantly lower number requiring amendment by the editors.

I struggled to come up with a good title. I submitted the puzzle with the title US AT AN EE (must, fate, want, need). The editors pointed out that three of these overlapped with grid entries and came up with ‘An Overt’ instead, which is obviously much better. As usual thanks to the editors for the improvements to the clues (and title) and to the solvers for their kind feedback.

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Listener No 4706, Pedestrian Destination: A Setter’s Blog by eXternal

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 May 2022

I’d organised a thematic series of EV (Enigmatic Variations in the Sunday Telegraph) puzzles with some setters, with each of us taking one of the continents as a basis for a theme over six weekends at around the time of the Tokyo Olympics last year. Once five had been allocated, I was left with South America. I was quite happy about this, as I have visited the continent a couple of times and much enjoyed my travels.

As is often the case, I was out running and thinking over an idea for ‘The South American One’, when it came to mind that a couple of places in Peru which I visited had the same number of letters (LAKE TITICACA and MACCHU PICCHU). Furthermore, THE INCA TRAIL leading to the aforementioned Incan destination also had 12 letters. Of course, 12-letter thematic names can very nicely be incorporated in standard-sized barred grids, so I knew I had the beginnings of my theme.

When I researched this more fully at home, I realised I had attributed one too many Cs to MP. I cursed my rotten luck but soon realised I could use it in the top row of the grid as an 11-letter entry and have the 12-letter THE INCA TRAIL going from the bottom with one letter per row and finishing on the top line in the single cell beside MP. I could then use a gimmick to generate LAKE TITICACA, as an introduction to the Peruvian theme; a letters latent device with one letter per column dropping to the bottom to spell out the first location seemed a nice way of doing this.

I liked the idea of THE INCA TRAIL meandering up the grid and being revealed by the solver, so changing one cell per column/row to create this effect seemed like the way to go. If I could create non-words from the letters-latent residual entries which had one-letter misprints of real words, then it might be possible for solvers to make deductions to generate THE INCA TRAIL. I used Qxw to create a grid and found that the idea was possible using a letters-latent answer treatment combined with the free-lights facility amending those residual entries to real words. On the whole, I chose entries which had more obvious corrections such as INTERNET becoming INTRNT and thus making the correction to INTENT quite obvious, so that solvers would be able to get quite a few letters in the trail and be able to deduce the rest with the diminishing number of columns/rows available. There didn’t seem any need to flag this otherwise with some sort of message from the across clues or anything, so I just left it with the one gimmick in the down entries and normal clues.

I knew that the grid constraints weren’t too onerous, so I decided to look for a relevant entry that MACHU PICCHU could replace. I must have come across CLOUD FOREST somewhere and did a search of that and MP which confirmed the link of the biome with the location, so I chose that as the end of the trek where the destination would be revealed. In the end, this extra feature did really take the average word length of entries right down to lower than I would like, but still at an acceptable level. I thought alluding to the locations being in the same country might give too much away in the preamble, so I decided the Andean link would be the theme rather than Peru, in the end. The title ‘Pedestrian Destination’ alludes to the fact that walking the Inca Trail is a thing, but also hides the Andes in plain sight.

Some time after completing the puzzle, I realised I had used the same letter-falling device as Eclogue had used in ‘The Australasian One’ which (for boring editorial reasons) had to be in the week before or after this one in the EV. I had asked the setting team of the other continental puzzles to consult each other and not use similar device in their puzzles, as I prefer to give EV solvers variety each week. I couldn’t really use this in the EV and break my own rule and I’d sent off puzzles for my Inquisitor slots that year, so I sent it to the Listener and asked Gaston to write ‘The South American One’ for the EV, in which he coincidentally included Lake Titicaca! Thanks to the editors for publishing it and to solvers for the feedback which was very positive.

PS I think I hid the alcohol quite well, but I expect Shirley sniffed it out.

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Listener No 4705, Latitude 10: A Setter’s Blog by Puffin

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 Apr 2022

I had wondered about the efficacy of using “opposites/antonyms” in clues for some time* so, when in 2015 I had submitted and reserved a publication date for my one and only puzzle “Sharp Work” (No 4472), I started to develop the concept. The very word “opposites” always calls my attention to the oft-used phrase “opposites attract” and consequently “opposite poles attract” from the fundamentals of magnetism. This led me to visualise a BAR MAGNET (with its poles appropriately positioned) in the centre of a grid, the use of antonymic definitions in one of the clue groups and the axiom in the other. My initial title was ALLOW REPELLENT, “opposite” to BAR MAGNET.

My overambition and inexperience in both clue and grid construction was soon exposed so, fuelled by my frustration at the unexpected postponement of “Sharp Work” for a year, I put it down for later consideration and – dare I say it – neglect. However, after watching the fantasy “The Terror” on TV, I became fascinated with the 19th century explorations of the NW Passage and Antarctica and Michael Palin’s very readable book “Erebus” offered up a huge amount of material on the searches for the two Magnetic Poles. This led me to look for a means of deriving Ross’s full name from the clues.

Problems with clueing and grid construction persisted so I sought help from my regular mentor/checker, a frequent Listener setter. As a result, the “extra letter in wordplay” device was employed in both sets of clues and the Ross element of the theme was enhanced by unclued names associated with him, appropriately positioned in the grid. EREBUS and TERROR sprang to mind (two ships and two Antarctic mountains named after them), BOOTHIA is the peninsula on which Ross raised his flag (and named it after the gin manufacturer who sponsored the expedition) and FRANKLIN towered over everything with his huge participation in and influence on all the explorations.

Finally, with polar exploration now more prominent but “opposites” still the central theme, I changed the title to represent the “opposite” of each of the (approximate) latitudes of both Magnetic Poles (80o).

There was one feature of my original clues which displeased the Editors. I had overlooked that, when using the extra wordplay letter device, it is necessary to avoid any suggestion of identity/equality when linking wordplay and definition. For example, my original 1a was “Uneven glue in my cap makes rope with soft centre”; the final version has no linking word. More experienced setters may recognise this syndrome. A lesson learnt.

Despite having been a solver for over fifteen years, I am still astounded at the dedication and assiduity of John Green in his checking and compilation of feedback and statistics, so this blog gives me a chance to say A BIG THANK YOU to him for all he does for us mere mortals. Also to the Editors for their 24/7 commitment and their patience and feedback when taking on clues such as mine; and finally to my long suffering mentor who, probably unsurprisingly, prefers to remain anonymous!!


*I had overlooked that Kea, no less (!), had used opposites in 4226. There hadn’t been one for some 20 years before that!

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Listener No 4703, No How: A Setter’s Blog by JFD

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 Apr 2022

Another serendipitous beginning. I have known the phrase Revenons a nos moutons for what seems like forever, without ever knowing where it came from. At some point last year, I used the phrase in  conversation in the sense of “let´s get back to the point” and, when I was asked about it, I realised that I didn´t know the answer.  I had always lazily filed it away in my mind under Voltaire  (presumably confusing it with Il faut cultiver notre jardin). A quick trip to Brewer’s put me straight and suggested a Listener theme, with some of the characters ‘returning’ to (their) sheep.

The title came next. The lawyer’s advice to his client, and the manner in which it comes back to bite him when he tries to get his fees, struck me as not only very funny, but also reminiscent of the ‘no comment’ response in criminal interviews on TV.  My first puzzle, Potatoes, also had a French theme and a title which used it in a punning way, so it was a short step from No Comment to No How. 

With all these constraints, the grid pretty well filled itself although, once I saw the potential for BAAING, I had to try to get ANSWERS into the same column. While I would have preferred more sheep, there was little enough freedom in the grid and so I had to content myself with fitting in as many thematic clues as possible and constructing a preamble designed to intrigue, while delay in the PDM. My original hidden message was the title of the play, but the editors rightly felt that this was too obscure and over-dependent on the internet, but fortunately the extra words device I had used meant that it was not too hard to adapt the clues so as to spell out the ‘judge’s instructions’ instead.

Once more my thanks to John Guiver (Shackleton) for test solving the puzzle for me and for editing some of my more contrived clues. 


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