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22 Across by Calmac

Posted by shirleycurran on 18 July 2014

Black Hand Gang 001I can add one to my tally of Listeners where we have guessed the theme before filling a cell. Well, hands up those who logged in to the Times site convinced that they wouldn’t fail to commemorate this hundredth anniversary of the opening of that conflagration that probably affected about half of the more elderly Listener solvers in one way or another. Apart from the photos on mantelpieces, when we were small, of ‘Billy who went down on the first day of the Battle of the Somme’, we women began to escape from total male domination (even if you lot still dominate the crossword world) as a result of it all.

The size of the grid was the next hint. A couple of years ago, I dabbled with this theme, convinced that it had great potential, and abandoned when long words like GAVRILO PRINCIP, FRANZ JOSEF, BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA, MILJACKA and SERBIA didn’t make for a very comfortable grid. So congratulations to Calmac that he persisted and even made them come together – no, I can’t say harmoniously can I?

With this rather dismal theme, there had to be a bit of Listener setter tippling amongst the clues but could I find any evidence of Calmac’s membership of the club? Sadly, no! However, for Numpty solvers, there was a lovely preponderance of anagrams and hidden clues. We started at the bottom right (such a good place to start!) and within minutes, had TEEN, SUMAC and PULP in place, so leapt to the conclusion that GAVRILO PRINCIP was going to fill that unclued light. Logically, his victim would fill the other unclued light at 1 down and we tentatively slotted FRANZ FERDINAND in there.

BOSN was our next lucky find and we surmised that it was going to be part of BOSNIA and soon I was hard put to write as fast as we solved. In a little over an hour, we had a full grid, with SARAJEVO completing that vertical column.

The late Enigmatic Variations Editor, Mr Leonard, in one of his gently encouraging messages to me, said ‘Attempting to get a misprint into every clue is biting off more than most setters can chew (or words to that effect). Leave it to the top setters and adopt a more generous device.’ I was reminded of that advice as we found one or two really forced misprints ‘Deaf eater’ for the Koala ‘leaf eater’, ‘Plant that’s brown for dyeing’ for ‘plant that’s grown for dyeing’ but have to admire the almost convincing set that Calmac produced.

Of course, there was a bit of Numpty head scratching, as our extra letters had spelled out ‘HIGHLIGHT TWENTY-TWO CELLS SYMBOLICALLY’ but the first part of the message was ‘Gobbledygook NEAR RIVERSIDE’. ‘Mask word by jolly ref’ (6) was holding us up but eventually, we decided that had to be a clue to VERMIL, which Chambers told us was a kind of bright red (giving VEIL round RM), so our last misprint told us that EVENT OCCURRED NEAR RIVERSIDE. That was clearly a prompt that our twenty-two letters were going to be the river and the city, and, of course, that added up.

‘Symbolically’! Well, they made a cross, didn’t they and that black cross was the symbol of the Black Hand Gang; but black? Can you ‘highlight’ in black. I can see some sparring ahead if that is the requirement and half the solvers have used the pink or yellow highlighter that came to hand.

Well, it was speedy, topical and a rewarding solve. Many thanks Calmac.

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Listener 4300: 22 Across by Calmac

Posted by Dave Hennings on 18 July 2014

Calmac’s last Listener was back in 2011. The subject then was metrical feet (a phrase which probably causes the French apoplexy!). This week, some nice simple definition misprints, an isolated cell to complete, and a place to find.

Listener 4300Off to a good start with 1ac FORDS (‘wadis’ for ‘wades’) and 5ac Rates fancy device for delivering colts (5) TASER, although I wasn’t too sure whether the corrected definition was ‘device for delivering jolts’ or ‘device for delivering volts’! Whichever, TASER was the subject of a recent Inquisitor where I discovered that it stood for Thomas A Swift’s Electronic Rifle. I was surprised then, as I was here, that it isn’t in the hardcopy of Chambers, is in the softcopy version as Taser©, and is in the ODE as taser US trademark.

Having got the first two across, I failed with the third Nick in Perth where sun is hidden in smoke (5). That was hardly surprising, since the misprint could be with ‘nick’ or ‘smoke’ and Perth could be the one up north or the one down south. (It turned out to be CRAIG: neck in Scotland and RA (sun) in CIG (smoke, ie cigarette).)

I tried a few of the downs dangling down from the top line and got them all except 2 Rare northern ruminant that controls gorse (4). This turned out to be a simple (!) two meanings, with ‘gorse’ for ‘horse’, although rein for reindeer was a bit unusual.

I then proceeded with a pass through the rest of the across clues, but they proved to be a bit trickier than I had hoped. However, by the time I finished, the unclued entry in the last column ended PR···P and it seemed that we were dealing with the events that sparked the First World War. Unfortunately, I thought that Princip’s first name was Gustav, so was unable to complete the down entry. It also looked certain that the first column would be FRANZ FERDINAND. Stupidly, I failed to examine the central column… after all, it wasn’t unclued, although it did contain that pesky isolated cell.

I completed most of the bottom half of the grid and then the top half — who said you had to do things in a logical order? I must confess that teasing out the last few clues took a bit longer than I expected given how well the early clues had gone. My favourite of a fine bunch had to be 42dn Stink at Oval: first umpire disallows boundary (six) (5) for STUMP (‘stick’ not ‘stink’; firST UMPire missing the outside six letters), and I’m annoyed that I din’t get it on my first reading of the clue.

And so, the corrected misprints gave Event (yes, a taser is a device for delivering volts) occurred near riverside; highlight twenty-two cells symbolically. I wondered how symbolic things would turn out to be. It was at this point that I read the central column and filled in the missing O to give SARAJEVO, BOSNIA.

Well that was fourteen cells to highlight. I had another eight to find. A bit of googling was required to investigate the exact location of the assassination of FF and his wife. (Princip’s first name had also been revealed as GAVRILO.)

Listener 4300 My EntryI had always thought that it occurred at the bottom of the steps of the city hall, but that was just where they started the ill-fated journey. It transpires that they were shot by the Cumurja Bridge which crosses the River MILJACKA. So there were the remaining eight cells for highlighting, R being the abbreviation mentioned in the preamble, and the J already accounted for in SARAJEVO. Symbolically simply meant in the shape of a cross.

Thanks to Calmac for a fine puzzle: an excellent grid, as well as some excellent clues.

May I also take this opportunity to recommend the recent BBC dramatisation of the run up to the start of hostilities, 37 Days. This had a truly star cast, headed by Ian McDiarmid as Sir Edward Grey. It made chilling viewing.

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Listener 4299, Godly Mix-up: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 July 2014

I started thinking about this puzzle in early 2010. The main features of the final version were there from the start – a 10×10 grid with the PI IS 3 POINT in row 1 and TO 80 PLACES in row 10, with the 80 decimal places of pi in between. Well, almost – my original 80 digits ended 899 and it was quite a while (see below) before I realised that the rounding to 80 places meant they should actually end 900. I had in mind from the beginning that clues would produce clashing cell entries and that these would somehow decode to the ten digits to provide the final grid fill, with a further decoding required to produce the top and bottom row messages.

All that remained was to produce an initial grid fill that would lead to the above. I had a number of attempts over some months to find combinations of groups of letters which would produce enough valid across and down entries to fill the entire grid but I couldn’t make any of them work – I could get some of the way there but would then find chunks of space that just didn’t seem to provide any further means to progress. I abandoned the idea and worked on what seemed a more promising one, which produced System Analysts. When that one went off, I spent some more time producing Lawbreaker. With those both in the Listener queue, and more than a year after the original idea, I decided to take another look at the pi puzzle.

Looking at it afresh, I was immediately struck that I had never really thought about how to get from the groups of clashing letters to produce the required numbers. Obviously some sort of key was required and after a bit more consideration, using the title as a key seemed a good way to go. So, a ten letter title was required, with no repeating letter. Some internet research produced some possible candidates: methodical, aneuploidy, co-equality, educations, chloramine, scathingly. However that meant pinning certain letters to certain numbers and as some of the numbers appear more often (9 the most, then 3, then 0, 2 and 8 equally), the vowels often ended up attached to less useful numbers. So initial attempts at grid fills foundered, but with a bit of persistence I did manage to make “scathingly” work – 23 across clues, 22 down clues and all 100 cells filled.

I thought about it for a while and decided I didn’t like it – there were a lot of 3 letter answers, average answer length was just 3.8, and number 7 had a group of four letters associated with it and I would have preferred all of them to have either two or three. I had at least got every letter of the alphabet in, but some only once, and some of the clashes appeared only once, so it felt like I was asking a lot of solvers. Actually I was asking even more: because I didn’t want clue numbers cluttering up the grid which would end up containing a lot of numbers, I had left the grid as a carte blanche so solvers would have to work out where entries went too. It was at this point too that I realised I had the pi digits ending 899 rather than 900. I was able to fix that with a couple of grid entry changes, but the whole thing was feeling like it was a bit of a mess! The only upside was that the 899/900 ending addressed a concern I had that a solver who spotted 14159 … in row two might be able to just write out the numbers of pi to submit the solution without having solved the majority of clues (Or so I thought, until I saw Jaguar’s LWO blog!)

So another try – what about a two word phrase, if one word isn’t working? Flying shot, stamp hinge, crying wolf, crazy quilt – all tried, none producing anything better. Then “stormy wind” – that produced a grid with 41 entries, average entry length 4.0 and all 100 cells filled. It felt reasonable enough that I wrote the clues for the puzzle, including a hidden message to encode the letter groups. “Mess” was one of the entries, so I made its clue the only normal clue, with a suggestion in the preamble that it provided a hint (as a synonym of “pi”).

Despite getting to this stage, I wasn’t happy on reflection. There wasn’t enough checking of clashing letters, some letters still appeared only once and solvers still had a carte blanche to contend with. “Mess” was beginning to seem only too apt. And I wasn’t happy with the title – it was just too arbitrary and wasn’t even a proper phrase. So I gave up again.

But I came back to it again after a while. Maybe the mess synonym for pi had percolated a little, because I started considering whether synonyms for pi could form a title. Maybe “crazy fonts”? Saintly fog? Godly snafu? Prig symbol? Holy figure? Moral type (with the missing tenth letter group being zero)? “Godly mix-up” seemed to be the most promising …

But I couldn’t get a grid to work with it. With across and down entries, I couldn’t even find a way to fill all 100 cells. Time to cheat then – who says entries can’t go left as well as right, up as well as down? I tried some of that, and it was getting more promising. However, now I’d given myself more leeway, I felt more of an onus to produce a grid that gives solvers a fair chance – so I decided every letter of the alphabet had to appear, and had to appear at least twice. Also every cross-check within the letter groups had to appear at least twice, so not being able to solve just one clue shouldn’t leave the solver stumped. With those constraints, even four directions proved not to be enough, especially in the corners of the grid. So now I decided to allow myself diagonal entries too. With all that in place, I was able to produce a grid with average word length up to 4.5. I was reasonably happy, having met the requirements I set myself and with the title giving some PDM potential.

So time to write some clues and work out how to tell solvers what needs to happen. Using superfluous words to create a message had been used by another Listener puzzle around this time, so I shamelessly stole that idea but decided to do it in only half the clues to make it a little trickier. Using the resulting grid as a key to produce the final stage seemed an obvious device and one that hopefully wouldn’t give the game away to solvers until they reached this stage. That did mean the superfluous words had to give two messages, the first to use the title as a key to encode the letter groups as digits zero to nine and then secondly to use the grid numbers to find the right letter in each clue, which produced the third message to recode seventeen cells in top and bottom rows. I still didn’t want clue numbers appearing in the grid but I didn’t think I could justify a carte blanche where solvers had to deduce not only the starting point of entries but also which of eight directions they went in, especially given the number of clashes – so I provided co-ordinates around the grid, with clues giving the starting point and a direction. A few weeks of working on clues to work within those constraints and it was done, just two and a half years after starting work on the original idea. I pressed the send button on the e-mail and waited.

A month later, I got an e-mail but it was to request some revisions to System Analysts, which had then been submitted over two years previously (and overtaken by Lawbreaker which went in a year later and had got through to publication relatively quickly). There was about a month of discussion over six of the clues on that one (quite a high proportion out of only sixteen!) and then that was good to go.

Forward about fifteen months, and the first feedback arrived. You may have already spotted from the above that changes were needed. Some of the superfluous words weren’t clear and neither were the two resulting messages. And the co-ordinate system for locating grid entries was deemed unnecessary. As ever, the feedback was extremely helpful , especially in suggesting that the first step (using the title as key) could be given in the preamble. I took on board the issues with superfluous words and ditched that device in favour of the more usual extra letter in wordplay. This just meant rethinking the message and then rewriting every clue (and I thought six out of sixteen was a high proportion earlier!) which took a few weeks as it coincided with a busy work period. A few more revisions and – as ever – a number of improvements from both editors resulted in the published puzzle. I’m very grateful to both editors for their feedback and help.

It just remains to thank all those who have commented on this site and others and of course via John Green (whose marvellous compilation of the feedback and report on errors makes setting a Listener feel even more of a privilege). I’m glad that most solvers enjoyed the challenge but I’m also grateful for the various steers on how it could have been better.

Stick Insect

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Listener 4299: Godly Mix-up by Stick Insect

Posted by Jaguar on 11 July 2014

I came to this one rather later than usual, having spent Friday evening treating my Mum to dinner and a visit to the Grand Theatre in Leeds to watch the hit musical Wicked. I think I first heard about it through a Listener a couple of years back, Flying Tortoise’s Good to Go, Listener 4208, but had never seen it myself. Well worth a watch, I should say!

It’s been an interesting 2014 year of puzzles so far. The run of puzzles over May/ early June saw a whole set of rather tough puzzles that (with the numerical in particular) probably brought several all-correct runs to an end. Safely negotiating that (I think!), I then came up against the surprisingly tough hurdle of Nibor’s puzzle, with at least two answers with alternate spellings that would also fit. ATOC or ATOK? Well, let’s check the wordplay. Oh, it’s A+TOK[ay]. Glad I thought to check that one… wouldn’t want to mess up my run this year by a silly mistake! … oh, it’s TUCUTUCO? Ah, drat! Of course it is (CUT<+UT+UC+O’). Why didn’t I check that one too? Berk. Oh well, I’ll have to try again next year…

I did have the chance to glance at this puzzle on Friday anyway but apart from recognising a few anagram clues it was only around Saturday afternoon that I finally got to starting this. Digits, “(roundly) accurate”… I wonder if this will be something to do with pi (π)?

The state of my grid before I'd noticed the ?4?59 in the 2nd row, having just entered PROYN (Roy in P[e]n).

The state of my grid at the point when I noticed the ?4?59 in the 2nd row, having just entered PROYN (Roy in P[e]n).

For those who don’t know I’m a mathematical physicist by trade and I’ve been interested in numbers and their properties for long enough that I know π to twenty places as 3.14159265358979323846 (almost by accident — I’ve never actually tried to remember it), and so after a while I had solved enough in the second and third rows to see the emerging digit pattern ?4?59???35??????3… and voila, it does look like it’s π after all!

I become even more certain when I check the letters on either side of the 4, see that so far I have “N” and “O”, and determined earlier that these two belonged together and would be entered as “1″… no way that the 14159 is a coincidence. I wonder how far it goes in the grid… google “first 100 digits of pi” and, as I fill in the resulting sequence, I see that it matches the scattering of clashes I have perfectly. The pattern becomes 08998… after 80 digits which would appear to round to 0900 in that ninth row (which at this point was looking like …GEGG). So I suppose this must be π to 80 [decimal] places. No prizes for guessing what will go in the tenth row, then… TO 80 PLACES fits nicely enough and would certainly complete the “roundly accurate statement”. Which means that I just have to work out what the top row will say exactly.  I suppose it will have to run something like “Pi equals 3.”, but then it would be odd to have a cell entered as a decimal point. And then that 5th cell in the top row is a “3″. So perhaps “PI??3POINT” is better? Oh, and 1E was KISLEV so that would make cells three and four read IS…

So I have a final grid that seems to work, but having skipped about half the clues and with still no idea what the extra letters will spell out. Should I now go back and fill in the gaps? That would mean solving some fairly tough-looking clues… but I already have the answer. Well, probably. But I have enough in the top row to confirm the idea there, and the bottom row can’t be anything else really.

So, I suppose I’m done then. I wonder what lay behind all of the numbers, and how you were supposed to get there.

Interesting philosophical question here: is a puzzle complete when you have the final grid, or when you have completed all the steps to get there? I suspect it’s the latter really. Still, no harm in taking a short-cut when you can see one. And it’s nice to see π appearing beyond just 3.142 or something. (That said, these days I almost take π=1 for all the care I have over its value…)

I conclude this blog with a few of my favourite π facts:

  • Decimal places 358, 359 and 360 of π spell out “360″.
  • You can get a 99.5% accurate estimate of the number of seconds in a year by saying that it’s “ten million times π“.
  • Once you’ve got to the 39th digit of π, the corresponding error in measuring the volume of the entire Universe is no more than a single atom. The remaining few trillion digits we know are as a result utterly useless in actual calculation!
  • There’s an argument for making the number 2π, or tau, τ=6.28318… the more fundamental unit, since this is the number of radians in a full circle rather than just a semicircle. Indeed, in many cases π appears only in conjunction with the number 2 anyway. So now you know.
  • Americans have taken to calling March 14th (3/14 in their weird calendar) “π day”.  So next time it’s March 14th, at 1:59pm, celebrate π day with your friends! Or go for τ day on June 28th instead. Or go for neither.

4299 final

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Godly Mix-up by Stick Insect

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 July 2014

Stick Insect, stage 1 001I have been quietly deciding that it was time I stopped writing LWO blogs and even doing and sending Listener puzzles. After using my self-kicking foot over the TABU/TAPU error then committing an even worse one by not checking my TUCOTUCO/TUCUTUCO solution, I decided it was time to pass blogging into the capable numerical hands of our newest blogger; Jaguar. Then Holy Cow! One like this comes along, and my enthusiasm takes an upward leap.

Our enthusiasm after about two hours of solving easy clues was at an all time low ebb (so many generous anagrams – obviously the editors said ‘You have to keep the clues easy or the solvers will abandon in despair!’ – and we nearly did) we had an almost full grid, an almost complete message and no idea how to proceed. I had noticed with disappointment that Stick Insect’s clues contained lots of food: fish, old-time dish, rechewed food, chewed up duck, fruit, and cooked fig and date, but only ‘old drinking cups’ and not much evidence of membership of the tipsy Listener compilers’ club.

TEA came to our rescue, and when we keyed in the groups of letters that had been emerging (BRM, SGJ, FTY for example) we were able to complete the missing words and finally solve our last few clues and work out the digit value of C, Q and V. We had realized, early on, that GODLYMIXUP was going to code to 0123456789 (Well, we were more or less told that weren’t we?)

Establishing the value of the trailing Q,V and C meant that we could allocate a digit to every letter and, not realising where Converted to digits 001this was heading, I amused myself by performing that task with colour coding, to see whether some sort of penny-drop moment emerged. Well, it didn’t, but I got a fairly pretty grid, (not being a mathematical genius, the obvious didn’t strike me at this stage – I wonder how many people in the avid solvers know their Pi digits well enough to have seen where this was taking them!)June2014 080

However, we had teased out a very useful message from the extra letters in the clues. DIGITS KEY A LETTER FROM EACH CLUE: FOR NEXT STEP READ ZERO AS TEN.

Stick Insect Pi 001It was midnight by now and the mind was slowing, so I spent some fruitless time attempting to take letter 6 from clue 1, letter 6 from clue 2 and so on – which gave me gobbledygook. Numpty floundering often produces this from Listener solves.

Then it all suddenly made sense when I applied the first digit in the grid to the first clue and so on and teased out yet another message: IN ROWS ONE AND TEN, RECODE SEVENTEEN CELLS AS LETTER FROM GROUP.

With only seventeen out of twenty letters from groups to use (or so it seemed) TEA was not going to help us with this task. However, we could see PLACES at the end of the message and POINT at the end of the first row and, with amazement, understood where this was leading us:

Pi is 3 point 14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620900 to 80 places.

Yes, I got out my ‘Easy Sums for Numpties’ and checked that my grid was correct. This was absolutely astounding, Stick Insect!

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