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Listener No 4653, Descent: A Setter’s Blog by Gnomish

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 Apr 2021

Shirley Curran’s blog (another excuse for a celebratory tipple – cheers!) reminds me again of earlier adventures in crossword compiling. My first was published by Derek Harrison under a different pseudonym (Ea). Then things got interesting – the second of the Magpie puzzles gained some small notoriety for containing a remarkable error in the treatment of the theme. I missed it, the editors missed it (possibly befuddled by my previously displayed competence) but solvers were happy enough to point it out, usually with great politeness. Maybe A Gnomish Published In Error (or similar) was duly emblazoned on the front cover of a later issue.

The long break I’ve had since has not been spent manually filling Descent’s grid with its jumbles, and I find it hard to account for why I stopped solving and setting. The Rake’s Progress descriptions have occupied that 14 x 11 grid in exactly those positions for all that time – it was the disruption caused by the pandemic that got me looking at it again.

Its inspiration probably came via the Stravinsky opera (I’m a musician) and the fact that a family member is an academic for whom Hogarth looms large. The coincidence that every scene description has an R or an E is not wholly remarkable, but was enough to get me going.

A sense of the rake’s “progress” seemed essential to do justice to the theme, with the descriptions participating in the descent in their narrative/numbered order. It proved impossible to retain row order for the descriptions in the desired eleven-row grid (four for RAKE plus seven for the subsequent stages) having settled on the scheme involving the R and E of RAKE.

This was the puzzle’s second version, as the previous one proved far too vague and difficult to be suitable. I’m very grateful to the solver who struggled through it.

FALLING THROUGH was chosen over CHALCOGRAPHIST as it enabled a thematic clue. The working title was Rogue’s Gallery, and Slippery Slope the other title considered. Descent seemed simultaneously more neutral and more arresting.

The editors tamed the submitted preamble and, after a last-minute appeal, reinstated an aspect of it I hadn’t handled well, doing so with great skill. Many clues, for a variety of reasons, were tweaked or rewritten by them. Thanks to them and also to the people responsible for QXW, without which I could not have produced this puzzle. It’s a very powerful piece of software, and a pleasure to use.

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L4653: ‘Descent’ by Gnomish

Posted by Encota on 23 Apr 2021

What a great challenge! Thanks Gnomish!!


Tim / Encota

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Descent by Gnomish

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 Apr 2021

I wonder how many others thought that the ‘Descent’ was somehow going to be into Dante’s circles of the Inferno – but it was not to be. We read the lengthy and complex preamble with some alarm – jumbles, extra words to be removed, initial clue letters to be used numerically – this sounded like hard work and it was, as we soon had solutions to all the normal clues with eight sets of extra words including RUN IN, BINGO-HALL, BIN, IN LIMBO and SEX PARTY – all sounding rather like justification for a descent into the netherworld – but a sadly under-peopled grid..

Gnomish, I found, by looking on Dave Henning’s crossword data base, is setting his first Listener crossword with two Magpie crosswords to his (or her) name almost twenty years ago. (Magpie plug – we were surprised to read in the Magpie introduction, this month, that there are only about 200 subscribers. There must be about 400 Listener solvers who don’t participate in the monthly joys and agonies of Magpie solving – six puzzles ranging around Listener quality and including – that’s the agony bit for me – one numerical puzzle each month).

There was our grid with a great yawning gap in the centre that had to be filled by anagrams of EITHER, DARWINIAN, SEMEE, ORNIS, SELF-STARTER, FALLING THROUGH, CANEBRAKE, ARRAIGNMENT, STOAE, REGROUPING, GREYHEADED, RUSHEE, KITS etc. The task looked impossible and we sat back and poured a stiff drink. Drink! What did I say, I haven’t even checked that Gnomish is allowed admission into the Listener Setters’ Elite Oenophile Outfit – he/she left little doubt with the wedding reception and sex party and, of course, ‘Indian princess has 250 for noon aperitif (4)’ was really promising. We put K into RAI producing RAKI for those 250. What can I say? Cheers. Gnomish!

We had highlighted the initial letters of the clues that were not producing jumbles and didn’t have extra words to be extracted, (Q I J T N W B W R K M N Z). The other Numpty sneaked off to prepare supper (yes, a modern man) and left me fumbling through the solving of ‘distances between’ which, fortunately soon produced a convincing A RAKE’S P…. I wonder how anyone managed to solve the jumbles without the help given by that!

Of course, the Internet supplied the rest (with a rather boozy tavern scene – lots of alcohol there too!) and we could see where WILLIAM went. HOGARTH took a little longer as we still needed to realise that those eight scenes; HEIR, ORGY (more alcohol, I suppose!) ARREST, LEVEE, PRISON, MARRIAGE, GAMING HOUSE and MADHOUSE, could go into the middle of rows or cross barriers and combine elements of clues (like M/A/DHOUSE). In the end, it wasn’t too difficult though, and what an impressive construction. Thank you, Gnomish!

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Listener No 4653: Descent by Gnomish

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 Apr 2021

This seemed to be the first Listener from Gnomish, but a check in the Database shows that he has a couple of Magpies to his name, albeit nearly twenty years ago. One of them was graded C, the other D! I wondered where this would fit on the Magpie scale.

There was certainly a lot going on in the preamble, including some jumbling of entries. Luckily we were told that they were limited to those entries passing through asterisked cells.

CHERUBS, CREE and RAKI got me going with unjumbled across entries, so a quick switch to the downs and EDAM, INKBAG, HAJ, ERASER and URIEL got me under way. Now I like my food, but Baking a mashed bit of squid (6) really didn’t get my juices flowing! 12dn was a bit tricky with More than one period [wedding] photograph frames poet’s upper half (9): SEPIA (or PIC) looked a possibility, and TENN(yson) was a bit elusive but finally gave SEPTENNIA. The long entry opposite also took a bit of time with Following [reception], despot has retired outside (9) giving RESULTANT [RET around SUTAN]. All these extra words were proving very distracting!

There were a lot of people in the clues today: the Queen (twice), Schubert, Charlie, Olga and Henry Jack, and not forgetting Oliver’s Japanese girlfriend. We were also treated to some foreign travel with the Hawkeye state (Iowa), Mozambique, Nebraska and Mecca.

There were a couple of really tricky clues, at least for me, 6dn being the toughest to unravel: Becoming greater again has ended for women recovering from military setback (10) with REGROWING having W replaced by UP for REGROUPING. 29ac also had me wondering: Trial arrangement with Institute for Energy backing core group (11) had ARRANGEMENT with I replacing the second E and then the middle three letters being reversed. My favourite clue was probably Carrier bags put to some purpose gave shelter (6) leading to HOUSED [HOD around USE] with a possible sad reference to a homeless person.

Eventually, the normal entries were done and the initial letters of clues without extra words could be unravelled: A + Q(17) + I(9) + J(10) + T(20) + N(14), etc soon gave A Rake’s Progress and Wiki obliged to give details of William Hogarth’s series of eight scenes of a man’s Descent from wealth to insanity. His eight steps enabled the grid to be rejigged: HEIR, ORGY, ARREST, LEVEE, PRISON, MARRIAGE, GAMING HOUSE and MADHOUSE with WILLIAM (column 4) and HOGARTH finishing it off.

Thanks for an enjoyable puzzle, Gnomish. Probably a C/D on the Magpie scale.

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Listener No 4652, 8 × 8: Link to a Setter’s Blog by Phi

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 Apr 2021

Phi’s setter’s blog on his recent Listener can be found on his own website at 8 x 8 by Phi.

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