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Posts Tagged ‘Iain Banks’

‘Forgotten Middle Rows’ by Encota: a Setter’s Blog

Posted by Encota on 5 March 2017

I’d like to position my Iain Banks – themed puzzle very much as a celebration of his life, by quoting from his (I think only) non-fiction book, Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram, where he is delighted to be getting paid to do a tour of Scotland’s Distilleries – and his friends keep ringing him up with dialogue pretty along the following lines…

From Raw Spirit:
‘Banksie, what’s this about you writing a book about whisky?’
‘It’s true.  They are going to pay me to drive round Scotland…whatever, visiting distilleries   and drinking whisky.’
‘So it wasn’t a joke?’
‘No, not a joke.’
‘And you’re sure it’s not a dream you’ve, like, mistaken for reality?’
‘Definitely.  I have a signed contract.  Want to hear it rustle?’
‘Just wanted to be sure.  So, you’ll be wanting help with this…’
I suspect it’s at least partly how he’d like to be remembered!

I’ve been a fan of Iain Banks’ work for many (tens of) years now and have looked forward every year to a new novel or science-fiction (speculative fiction, if you prefer, SF) novel.  Still can’t believe there’ll never be another.   It would have been his 63rd birthday in the week of publication (16th February), had he not only made it into his late fifties…

I was always intrigued by the story that Iain’s father had meant to register him at birth as Iain Menzies Banks but forgot.  Iain Banks later chose to adopt his Forgotten Middle Name for just the one genre of his novels, namely his SF works, publishing these as Iain M Banks.

I always love a puzzle where the device and the theme are somehow related.  So could I create a puzzle where in one (SF) direction letter Ms needed including in some way, and in the other direction Ms had to be subtracted?   I looked through all the possible IB titles (almost 30) and selected three SF ones for the Across direction – MATTER, THE ALGEBRAIST and SURFACE DETAIL.  I then picked the three non-SF novels for the Down answers – COMPLICITY, CANAL DREAMS and STONEMOUTH – which originally contained a letter M that could be removed for entry in the ‘non-SF’ direction.  Of course I needed to hide MENZIES somewhere in the grid, too.

I then required a set of word- or phrase- pairs that allowed an M to be added or subtracted: ABLE and AMBLE, for example.  I had these word pair buzzing round my head for weeks!

In picking the Title I also added Rows as a synonym for Banks.

I double-checked that IB had sold enough copies to justify his inclusion in a Listener – i.e. that it wasn’t in the ‘cult’ category.  Selling over a million in each of his genres seemed to more than justify that OK.

I was very fortunate to have the help of some very experienced setters and solvers during the review process (Shirley, Darren and Steve – thank you!!!) who helped me translate a novel idea from ‘early draft’ form into something very acceptable.  Add to that the finesse of the Listener editors in the final reviews and I was delighted with the result – thanks Roger & Shane!  And apologies if I have forgotten anyone!

The view looking up from my computer chair – A (top-shelf) Row of Banks*


Tim / Encota

P.S.  *I understand there are at least a few Iain B fans amongst you – extra Bonus Points if you can spot which two books are elsewhere (one on a different row and one elsewhere in the house).  And the PG Wodehouse novels in the photo are there entirely coincidentally – no Rosie M Banks connection intended 🙂

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Forgotten Middle Rows by Encota

Posted by shirleycurran on 3 March 2017

encota-iain-m-banks-001Encota is a new name in the Listener but we have just struggled to the end of his numerical crossword in this month’s Magpie and, of course, he is our fellow blogger on Listen With Others (and no doubt equally frustrated to have to rewrite blogs that we wrote during the last three weeks because of some crass, imbecile of a hacker who wiped out our Word Press work together with that of thousands of others). I know that I began my comments on his ‘Forgotten Middle Rows’ with my usual search for his right of entry to the Setters’ Dinner Tippling Club (though I didn’t need to as we sat at opposite sides of the same table last year) but he reassured me with his first three words ‘See red liquid risen above the surface (7)’. That wasn’t just confirmation of Encota’s place at the bar, it was a first hint of what the thematic treatment of clues was going to be. We had an anagram here – ‘liquid’, but were being given only six letters of it and clearly needed an extra M to give EMERSED.

There wasn’t a lot more alcohol, just a MUG in 14ac, a BARREL in 35ac, a STIFF in 41ac and a BAR SOCIETY in 2dn. but cheers, anyway Encota.

However, as we scanned the clues and solved ‘The quality of being male of female produces a ting (3)’ Obviously SEX that has to produce [M]ating, then ‘Rat is on the telephone port near [M]ed (5)’ CAD + IZ (“is” heard) we realized with delight that we were adding an M to the wordplay of every clue. We happily worked our way down the clues finding places where we could add an M – some easy: ‘Fine area paired with [M]other Asian city (7)’ = OKAY + A + MA, and some not so easy: ‘Woman, alive and prospering, roughly in As[M]ara’s skirts (5)’ = A(smar)A around ISH, giving AISHA who, we are told in the Chambers ‘some first names’  appendix is ‘Alive and prospering’.

Onto the down clues and consternation, as there weren’t many places where we could add an M. However, it soon became clear that here, we were removing an M. ERS had appeared as the solution to ‘Emprise regularly provides fodder (3)’ but that is EPRISE regularly. The task is easier here (though it must have been a challenge for Encota to find all those Ms to add or remove without giving too much away to the solver). We steadily continue our grid fill and soon have enough letters in place to spot THE ALGEBRAIST and SURFACE DETAIL, two of the across clues that have no definitions. That rings a bell and Wiki confirms that they were written by Iain Banks . ‘Iain Banks (16 February 1954 – 9 June 2013) was a Scottish author. He wrote mainstream fiction under the name Iain Banks and science fiction as Iain M. Banks, including the initial of his adopted middle name Menzies’.

We have a few of his novels on the bookshelves but I had never realized that some had the middle initial and some didn’t. Of course, completing our grid is rendered easier now.  A check of his works tells us that MATTER was a sci-fi work and we are given COMPLICITY, STONE MOUTH and CANAL DREAMS as mainstream fiction. Clearly we must do what the preamble tells us and treat those thematically, omitting the M. We learn that the ‘adopted’ middle name, MENZIES was forgotten by his father when he was registering the child’s birth. We have to remember to highlight it but that is not too difficult as there is only one Z in the grid, prompting us to that upward diagonal.

hares-001Nice one, Encota, that teaches us something we didn’t know. Thank you.

Oh yes, the HARE! Well he must have found a mate and done what hares do, as there were a number of candidates in Encota’s grid, even if none of them were in straight lines.

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