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Archive for the ‘Setting Blogs’ Category

Listener No 4696, Mint Sauce: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 Feb 2022

The idea for this puzzle arose from one of my previous Listeners – You Don’t Say. I was pleased with the serendipitious discovery that Gelett Burgess, the subject of that puzzle, was credited in Chambers with coming up with the word “blurb” and was able to use that as a clue in the message. That got me thinking about whether coinages might make a theme in their own right.

Fortunately, the CD-Rom version of Chambers allows for full text searching (unlike the app – unless someone knows something I’ve been missing), so I was able to come up with a list of 21 coinages/attributed-tos to play with. I decided early on that these would be clued as an anagram of the word plus its inventor, with the rough idea that each clue would be combining two elements into one new item would be vaguely coining and so thematic. That was then naturally continued into the device for generating the message in other clues.

Some choices were then constrained by that thematic device – Quark/James Joyce was a challenging anagram with a Q, K and two Js (“Ay, queer Jock jams” was the best I could come up with and didn’t seem good enough to me). Tiggywinkle and planxty were both tempting entries, but Chambers is cautious about their attribution, so I thought better of them. Of the remaining eighteen, I could get ten into the grid and reckoned that was a fair balance of thematic/non-thematic clues.

With hindsight, I wish I had not included “avoision”. My submitted clue anagrammed avoision/Institute of Economic Affairs (Is a mafioso act officious intervention?). Fortunately an eagle-eyed editor spotted that Chambers actually credits the Institution of…. Chambers is wrong, as it really is the Institute, but as Chambers is the reference for the puzzle and all other anagrams use the name exactly as given there, there seemed no alternative but to go with Institution. I thought that might raise some comments, but if anybody did spot it, they’ve been kind enough to let it pass.

My thanks to the editors for further improvements, and to all who’ve been kind enough to comment online and with entries – all feedback is greatly appreciated.

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Listener No 4695, Betrayal: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 Feb 2022

Having been asked for a setter’s blog, I guess I’m going to need to try and remember the process – increasingly difficult as the old brain cells continue to race beyond their allotted three score years and ten.

Anyway, the original inspiration for the puzzle is not too tough to recall, as I do like to generate the occasional puzzle which offers solvers the chance to sharpen their crayons – and what better subject than a work by Rene Magritte, (alongside Maurits Escher) my favourite artist. I doubt that I could ever manage a suitable representation of anything produced by the latter, so the nice simple ‘pipe’ seemed an obvious candidate.

The process was, in theory, going to be straightforward – place a set of letters at strategic points in the grid, then assign colours to them. I also wanted to get the Magritte text into the grid, but could see no way to do that without an ugly jumble of answers near the foot of the grid to generate the necessary words. A bit of thought, and it became obvious that the text was going to need to appear outside and beneath the main grid. The cleanest way to achieve that, so it seemed, was on a one letter per column basis – which immediately fixed the necessary grid width at 18 cells. That then allowed me a height of just 8, or possibly 9, cells in order to stick to a typical Listener sized cell count.

With the grid shape determined, I then sketched in an approximate representation of the pipe which then fixed locations for the key letters. Past experience had already told me to forget symmetry, so I just proceeded to insert a few words with certain letters in appropriate locations (and consequently excluded from non key areas).

Of course, the other requirement was to find a way to tell solvers which letters to colour in. My previous ventures had used the vaguely relevant letters of the title (‘Paint my old LP’ for the Yellow submarine, ‘Must put a ghost back’ for a Halloween pumpkin) or another phrase (‘Hi hi hi, in bad traffic I fly’ for Rudolph the red nosed reindeer). That’s where things went a bit pear-shaped (or pipe shaped?). I just could not make anything remotely useful from the jumble of letters I had used to form the pipe. I therefore decided that I’d just have to dump them into a hotchpotch message and oblige solvers to unearth the whole lot in order to do the shading. Apologies to anyone thrown by the confused looking message that emerged from the clues – it was not intentional, but quite possibly helped to prolong the agony for those who enjoy to struggle.

I seem to recall that I had to very slightly modify the shape somewhere along the way due to constraints of where the letters were falling, but overall everything seemed to come out OK without too much tweaking. At some stage I decided that I’d have to use brown with grey (rather than the original’s black) in order to allow entered letters in solutions show through better. Poor John Green has a hard enough time without my obliging solvers to all-but obscure their efforts – and I know he’s going to be annoyed with me anyway for generating a puzzle with so many unchless entries. Sorry John, I know you don’t approve – I’ll try to do better if there’s a next time!

When submitting my final effort, I did make the tongue-in-cheek suggestion to the editors of a preamble hinting at a need to enter the caption in script -as in the painting – but suspected they would not want to invite another ‘buried hare’ controversy. They wisely opted not to.

My original title for the puzzle was ‘Treachery’ but it was felt that it was too direct a pointer to the painting’s title (‘The treachery of images’), so ‘Betrayal’ was consequently substituted. I did suggest that – as it was to appear in panto season – we could use ‘Oh yes it is’. That was politely declined as it was felt that my suggestion might open a philosophical can of worms.

Anyway, feedback received to date seems to be generally very favourable, so I’m pleased that it has been well received. Sincere thanks to all who have taken the trouble to comment – it makes everything so much more worthwhile for the setter.

~~ Fin ~~

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Listener No 4694, Follow the Directions Again: A Setter’s Ramblings by Artix

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 Feb 2022

Sometimes things just fall into place; sometimes they take time. This one was a bit of a slow burner. I hadn’t had a puzzle in the Listener series for a while and had nothing to send them which I thought ‘worthy’ enough.

And then one Monday night, at the start of the essential weekly quiz trinity of Mastermind, Only Connect and University Challenge, I suddenly remembered the hue and cry all those years ago. I was only 17 at the time, had taken my “A” levels that summer and then passed my Cambridge entrance exams. And then on to the scene came Fred Housego, with just one “O”-level to his name, a London cabbie, astounding us all on Mastermind. I (and the rest of the nation) were gripped: 18 million people watched his triumph just before Xmas 1980. It made the front pages of the papers. He became a celebrity.

And so how could one commemorate this, the most watched “final” since 1966 (and only next to be outwatched by Dennis beating Davis on the black)? The first inkling of an idea came: how the word TAXIDRIVER was so beautifully suited to be converted into the word MASTERMIND.

But that wouldn’t be enough, surely? So, let’s develop the TAXIDRIVER theme even further. Any other famous cabbies? Perhaps, not, but the much admired Scorsese film of the same name that I’ve watched multiple times over the years (I was too young to watch it when it came out but my eldest brother, a film buff, soon made me go to see it … he was really into it) … but what a shame that ROBERT DE NIRO is one letter longer than FRED HOUSEGO … but maybe we could have an element of deception, the film being the red herring, the cabbie the true goal?

Several grids later, I was happy(-ish) with the outcome. Along the way, I’d started upon and then rejected YOU TALKIN TO ME being replaced by TOWER OF LONDON along the bottom row; maybe squeezing the two letters of DE into one cell so that they could be overwritten by Fred H; and quite a few other ideas… and then, lying in bed one morning, I struck upon the idea of a sequel to my earlier Follow The Directions (Westward Ho!) Listener. Seemed truly apt… as that’s what taxi drivers do (most of the time) … follow directions ….

But if it was going to be a Listener, it’d need a clue gimmick … and maybe a tad more … why not follow the directions, modify them, then follow them again? … both leading to plausible solutions … gimmick could change them from DOWN to ACROSS and the “A” and “R” of tAxidRiver/mAsteRmind were already there in place! So “A” and “R” could be part of AcRoss … which would have to be found in grid … which had to be rejigged (yet) again to make neatly symmetric circled cells …

… sometimes, I do wonder whether setters are normal people or not …

… but okay, so I’m happy with the grid. Know what I want to happen. Manipulations required. Two journeys, different directions, leading to a TAXIDRIVER becoming a MASTERMIND

I spent a lot of time wording the preamble. Really carefully. Off to my testers – who gave back terrific feedback, for which I thank them enormously. And great encouragement. They liked the idea. Of course, a few clues were too Artixesque, too “out there”, so I had to temper them down a bit (or render them solvable, as my testers would tell me).

Off to the Listener editors: oops, rather more of my clues were too Artixesque for their liking. A number of simplifications, concisions, adaptations, … And much discussion, back and forth, forth and back, about the exact wording of the preamble…. It did change in the end, but not so materially. Anyhow, many of you have already solved the puzzle, so I am glad it wasn’t undoable… and I do hope that you all enjoyed the journey(s) as much as I did!


Geneva, January 2022

[I hope that ‘Ramblings’ is not going to be the new LWO word for ‘Blogs’. Ed.]

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Listener No 4693, Location, Location, Location: A Setter’s Blog by Agricola

Posted by Listen With Others on 31 Jan 2022

The original inspiration for this puzzle was my re-reading of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, with its gothic personifications of different London Underground stations, including my favourites, the Seven Sisters. Gaiman has been promising a Neverwhere sequel featuring the sisters for the last five years, and I had hopes of writing a puzzle to coincide with its publication. Unfortunately, the novel has still not appeared, and anyway, I realised that combining features of the plot with all of the other components I planned for the puzzle would be far too ambitious.

It also turned out to be too ambitious to include the names of the six sisters in the grid without jumbling, if I also wanted to include the synonyms for the other two stations and the Victoria Line. For me (and perhaps for solvers), the jumbling is the least satisfactory part of the puzzle, and I did spend a lot of time trying to make the names fit, but I don’t think it’s possible without a jumbo-sized grid.

Other than this, my main challenge was deciding what thematic material to leave out, because the Pleiades have fascinated so many different people around the world. In many cultures, the star group is associated with female characters, and there is easily enough material for a puzzle just about Matariki and her daughters (Aotearoa), the Napaljarri Sisters (Australia), the Krittika (India), or the Volosozhary (Ukraine).

One day, perhaps, I will write my own sequel.

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Listener No 4692, Whodunnit?: A Setter’s Blog by Kruger

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 Jan 2022

According to Dave Hennings’s excellent Crossword Database, “Whodunnit” has been used on eight previous occasions since 1989 as the title for a thematic barred puzzle – four of these in the Listener series alone. All but one of these has centred on the nefarious deed of murder or some other means of untimely death and all have naturally had different thematic treatments. I’ll be amazed if the title doesn’t feature again at some time in the future.

I started on my own version of the theme a few years ago based on the Cluedo® board game which was a great childhood favourite. Unfortunately I was beaten to it by Ranunculus in January 2016 (as EV1210) so reluctantly had to abandon the idea half way through compiling it.

During the numerous Covid-induced restrictions and lockdowns of 2020, I started watching box sets of various TV detective series and (apart from eventually making me quite adept at guessing the various culprits at an early stage in such shows) this resurrected the urge to set a puzzle based on crime. Naturally, using the title “Whodunnit” was inevitable. But I needed a novel method of using the theme rather than the “who killed whom with what and where” approach. So, in an all-too-rare moment of inspiration, I hit on the idea of replacing the names of detectives in the grid with the actors who played them.

Which detectives to use and how many? As any setter will testify, substituting grid entries while maintaining real words is no easy task so I decided that four (of reasonable lengths) would be the most I’d be able to manage. Even with only four, and despite much trying, I regrettably found it impossible to maintain any semblance of grid symmetry while also maintaining an acceptable average entry length and unch model.

I thought that there had to be four criteria for which detectives to use:

  1. Both the detective and actor had to be of the same word length to allow grid substitution.
  2. They should be reasonably well known.
  3. The same actor should have played the part throughout.
  4. It would help if their names had alternative references to disguise the theme.

An extensive Google search came up with only four possibilities (though I may well have missed some) – Bacchus, Frost, Wycliffe and Taggart. While the first three fitted all the criteria, Taggart unfortunately did not meet criterion 4, but I felt there was little I could do about that.

The detectives obviously had to be entered into the grid in the first place to allow substitutions to take place. Therefore, having them as unclued was not practical but using wordplay only was. I also thought that giving clues in alphabetical order of answers was an additional way of delaying the identification of the theme.

With the odd exception, my thematic puzzles are usually considered to be at the easier end of the spectrum – especially so for the Listener series. I don’t set out to try and produce a puzzle of any specific level of difficulty and, of course, degree of difficulty is very subjective in any case. I just hope that my version of “Whodunnit” provided an enjoyable solve for the majority.

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