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Aft by Nutmeg

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 August 2015

Nutmeg Holmes 001Nutmeg! That produced an instant smile. Anything compiled by Nutmeg is sure to give pleasure, be it in the Listener, EV or IQ series, in the Magpie or in the Guardian. Her Magpie Porkies was one of my all-time favourites with its delightful use of the AA Milne line ‘The more he looked, the more Piglet wasn’t there’. Her name is frequently in the top five in the clue writing competition in Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre: she was placed second in the last set of results. (And she gets a special smile from me as she is one of the very few lady setters of advanced thematic crosswords.) So what does she have in store for us this time?

A very short preamble – that can be the harbinger of a fearsome crossword. She speaks of a ‘few’ thematic answers that are clued by wordplay only, of a ‘few’ cells where letters from across and down answers clash and ‘must be replaced by a single dot’. That is intriguing. We solve 16 across first, ‘Stellar student’s briefly off course at the outset (7)’ (ASTRA(y) + L) and immediately notice that clue lengths are not always the same as the number of available cells, so happily, we can at once identify the suspect entries.

Of course, I have scanned the clues to confirm Nutmeg’s membership of the Distinguished Listener Oenophile Society and she confirms it with good taste, ‘Lose market’s top source of malt whisky (6)’ (M(arket) + ISLAY). We spot a few clues connected with jewels and food and the rather randy clue, ‘Indian open to any sex, a lot of wives wanting male (6)’ (BI + HARI(m)). Hmmm!

Solving is steady and enjoyable and the first penny-drop moment comes very quickly when HOLMES fits into the first of the unclued lights. “Ah”, says the other Numpty, “then WATSON must be 27 down and ADVENTURE will fill 17 down.” (We already had most of the letters.) Now we realize what we are going to colour, as we have BEECHES, BAND, LEAGUE and CARBUNCLE in the grid. We are going to have to invent some way of colouring those ‘copper’, ‘speckled’, ‘red-headed’ and ‘blue’. By my reckoning, assuming that only the ‘head’ of LEAGUE is coloured red, we need five more cells for a further treatment, in order to reach the 26 cells of the preamble.

We complete our grid fill, with a bit of a struggle in the top right hand corner, where we have that rather strange clue, ‘A single record recalled hosts knowing man’s name (6)’ That has to be the ‘One six-letter answer’ that ‘is entered in an unorthodox form (indicated by the wordplay) to as to suggest one adventure of Homes and Watson’. I LP reversed hosting HIP gives us PHIPLI, which is, of course, a jumble of Philip and suggests ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, so all is hunky dory – except for those dots.

We have understood that we are replacing the beginnings or ends of words with a dot, where clashes occur, and a moment’s thought reveals that these give SEE(thed)/(Lin)D (producing SEED), (a)ST(ral)/(Bih)AR(i) (producing STAR), BLEE(ders)/(se)P(tic) (producing BLEEP), SPL(enetic)/(overw)EEN (giving SPLEEN) and BLACK(en)/(tea)BALL (giving BLACKBALL). I look up PIP in Chambers and am delighted to find that those are the first five definitions for the word. So, with a smile, we put dots in those cells and colour them orange.

Many thanks, Nutmeg, great fun.



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Listener No. 4357: Aft by Nutmeg

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 August 2015

Nutmeg has set some tricky little Listeners in the past, but they have always been a joy to solve. Recently, we’ve had the Knights of the Round Table, mobile phones, and the Grand Old Duke of York. This week we had a sneaky little 3-letter title that gave absolutely nothing away, and some thematic answers clued by wordplay only. Oh… and just for good measure there are some clashes. Actually, there are “a few”, but I’m really not sure what that means: 5, 10, 12?

Listener 4357On with the solve. 1ac was HOB, but, like the title, a puny three letters. Perhaps 4 Salary increase sharply cut by northern timber producer in SA (9) would give me more of a helping hand. Answer: No. HOB will have to give me the start I need. Unfortunately, 1dn is unclued, and, although 2dn Unlikely to change word for “wing” in dictionary? (9) is probably O······ED, it escaped me until a bit later (OPINIONED).

3dn Article, concealed in bed, nurse finally removed (4) was straightforward wordplay only, but in what way might BAND thematic? Musical, perhaps. 5dn Supporter keeling over, one sent up in hearing of Scots judge (8) looked like it was ARBITRAL, but it took me some time to work out the wordplay (BRA< + TRIAL with I moved up).

8, 9 and 10 gave me BIHARI, OPERON and MISLAY, although somehow BIHARI had to fit into a 5-letter space. All these enabled me to get WAGENBOOM for the South African tree, and it seemed that I was destined to get the top of the grid finished first. 16ac ASTRAL also had too few spaces in the grid. I reread the preamble to see if it gave a hint as to what was going on with these clashes. Although it didn't say, it looked likely that more than two letters were involved. That may give ARTS or RATS or STAR represented in the one space and replaced by a dot.

Onward, and a few more in the top left and bottom right, and HOLMES and WATSON were soon spotted, together with ADVENTURE at 17dn. So we were in familiar territory this week, with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Only an hour in, and the theme was cracked. When the grid was complete, The Copper BEECHES, Blue CARBUNCLE and Red-Headed LEAGUE were there for the taking, but I needed to go elsewhere to remind myself of the unorthodox entry of PHIPLI, The Man with the Twisted LIP, as well as The Adventure of the Speckled BAND.

That source also enabled me to see what was going on with the dots I had in the grid… The Five Orange Pips. The letters in each of the clashes spelt words giving five of the six meanings of pip in Chambers: SEED, BLEEP, BLACKBALL, STAR, SPLEEN.

Listener 4357 My EntryI also needed Google to confirm 19ac Merkel’s former self, say, for whom scandal’s out of bounds (4), specifically that Angela Merkel was originally from East Germany and therefore an OSSI. Among many other fine clues, I liked the surface reading of 30ac Toerags from Delaware held by violent rebels (8), and the sneaky definition in 34ac Di’s singular daughter returned to court previously (4).

Colouring pencils by my side, the grid was soon ready for dispatch to St Albans. So thanks to Nutmeg for an enjoyable and very picturesque puzzle. And thanks to the editors for the latitude allowed in colouring and shading.

And the sneaky little 3-letter title? Nope, haven’t a clue!

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Listener No 4356: Mashonaland by Raffles

Posted by Dave Hennings on 14 August 2015

Last week, I mentioned that Raffles had an EV puzzle in November with the same Nancy Mitford U/non-U theme that Aragon’s Listener had last week. This week, Raffles pops up with the first Listener of his/her own.

Thirteen answers have something in common dropped from their definition and must be entered in accordance with a thematic quotation. The remainder have an extra letter generated by the wordplay which spells out a contradictory quotation.

Listener 43561ac English Christmas turned essentially more commercial profit, from the 19c stage (12, two words) looked like (E CHRISTMAS)* + OR, but, not surprisingly, I couldn’t get it. The next few clues gave me a good start though, with 10 MESSIEST, no… MUSSIEST, 12 GASP, 13 CONTADINA and 14 URSULINE. The last two were thematic (no extra letters) and looked like the definitions were “country ” and “sisterly ” respectively. However, we were looking for nouns, so it was simple to deduce that the definitions were missing their feminineness. They also needed to be entered thematically, in the style of one of the quotations we were looking for. Since they were the same length as their entry. it could be that they just needed to be jumbled.

Dropping down the right side of the grid, I got 17 ORLE, 9dn OPPRESSION, 26ac AO DAI and 20 SOPRANO, this last also being thematic. A trip along the bottom of the grid and up the left gave me a fair smattering of answers, although precious few definite letters. However, the extra letters given by the wordplays had given me Th·l·dysn·t·or… and it looked like we were in MARGARET THATCHER territory with “The lady’s not for turning“. She was trying to peep out from two NW–SE diagonals on the left of the grid, so I got help with some unsolved clues when she was complete. This quotation also confirmed that the other clues were jumbles, ie were for turning.

Well that was the second quotation sorted, and a trip to the back of Chambers was required to find the first. Taking a guess and looking up lady accidentally helped me quickly find la donna è mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto. The English translation is given as “woman is changeable”. I needed to get the grid finished in order to see that this speaker in the leading NW–SE diagonal (“three words, not all using thematic spelling”) was DUCA DI MANTUA.

The two women that I had not heard of before were the long entries at 1ac and 33. 1ac didn’t come close to having an anagram of CHRISTMAS, but was ELEONORA DUSE (E + NOEL< + [m]OR[e] + AD + USE), a 19th century actress. 33 had a nice surface reading Designer X (anonymous) cuts thin backing poorly (12), which I’m sure that Elsa SCHIAPARELLI would never have done.

Two more clues that I particularly enjoyed: 26ac Jedi Master wearing first-class Oriental costume (5, two words) for AO DAI ([Y]ODA in AI), and 20dn Society hostess leaving husband for National Opera’s lead singer (7) for SOPRANO (S + OPRAH – H + N[ational] O[pera]). I also liked 5dn Painted nails refined in big old bird (8, two words) for MONA LISA with its nicely disguised “definition”.

Listener 2015-07-25 #4356 EntryThe last hint given by the preamble was that the remaining ambiguity was resolved by a dot in the third row. This obviously wasn’t a · but A DOT in the jumble of CONTADINA, ie INCNADOTA. The title was a simple anagram (Mash) of La Donna (onaland).

Schadenfreude used the Thatcher quotation back in December 2007 with Listener no. 3960, Misprinted Choice. That was when I learned that it was a twist on a Christopher Fry play, The Lady’s not for Burning.

So thanks to Raffles for an enjoyable puzzle and a relatively straightforward week.

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Mashonaland by Raffles

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 August 2015

Mashonaland? We had to begin by looking that up and it took us nowhere except somewhere not very helpful in Africa. Just a 12 X 12 grid and a preamble almost as long as the across or the down clues – there weren’t a lot of those! We have met Raffles a couple of times in the Magpie and once in the EV, so he is not a completely new name but this does seem to be a Listener début. (He or she? This seems to be a month for female crosswords, we’ve had Artix’s Dames and the Mitford sisters – are the ladies finally getting a look in? After we had completed our solve, it did seem as though the editors had decided to have a ‘ladies’ month!)

Is he/she applying for Listener Setter Topers’ Club membership? A quick read through the clues and I find not a trace of alcohol but there are a few promising clues and we begin with the obvious anagrams. CONTADINA leaps out at us. ‘Country and action dancing (9)’ and this is quickly followed by MARGHERITA, ‘Great harm I wrought (10)’, SIGNORA, ‘Surprisingly arousing, not posh (7)’ (though, rather ambiguously, this could have been SOARING) and ‘Society hostess leaving husband for National Opera’s lead singer (7)’ (S + OPRA[h] + NO – giving SOPRANO).

La donna è mobile

La donna è mobile

What a fine Numpty red-herring! ‘This has to be something operatic, she foolishly declares – Gounod, Wagner, Puccini or Verdi – there are contadini and Margheritas in all of them. Well, yes, maybe, but that wasn’t much help when, a couple of hours later, we had BACCHANTE, URSULINE and MONTESSORI to fit into our scheme!

What did quickly become clear was that we were able to enter normally any of the clues that were producing an extra letter but that these ladies had to be jumbled in order to fit into our grid. Groan of despair. How I loathe jumbles. They do seem to be rather a setter’s cop out, though, looking at the final grid, it is perfectly clear that Raffles would have been faced with a difficult task had he/she attempted to fit those ‘speakers of the two quotations’ into real, unjumbled words.

What is even more surprising is that Raffles was able to construct a grid that ultimately removed all ambiguity about the placing of the jumbled letters. I am not sure that I can see why the hint about putting ADOT in the third row was necessary since ambiguities seemed to be ruled out by the unches, which demanded identical letters – but perhaps one of the other bloggers will explain that.

So we had to laboriously work our way through the jumbles, one by one, eliminating the intersecting letters as they were confirmed. We know at once that this is going to be a time-consuming struggle but we also know we’ll have a few of this ilk to solve each year.

THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING was the first quotation to appear, and, sure enough, MARGARET THATCHER appeared in the diagonal, happily removing some of the ambiguities. We had wondered how SCHIAPARELLI could be jumbled to fill three unches, when there were two As, two Is, and two Ls but no triple letter – and what a find – ELEONORA DUSE, with three Es to fill 1 Across. Raffles must have gloated when he spotted her!

It took the Internet to give us ELEONORA DUSE, the first name that comes up if you ask it for ’19c Italian Actress’, and, of course, we were almost there. MONTESSORI, MARCHESA, MONA LISA, TELLUS and URSULINE had now appeared and we realized that any Italian lady would serve our purpose – so much for my theory about opera – and yet – who said ‘La donna è mobile’? We hunted for Guiseppe Verdi … and found DUCA DI MANTUA in the leading diagonal and he allowed us to complete our SCHIAPARELLI jumble. Not Mantova, but MANTUA, so that explained the words ‘not all using thematic spelling’.

Very demanding solving but it must have been even more demanding setting. We were left with the title and smiled when it broke down into MASH or SHAM LA DONNA. Many thanks to Raffles.


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Shorthand Crosses by Aragon

Posted by shirleycurran on 7 August 2015

Mitfords 001What a preamble! I almost threw my hands up in despair as we were told that we had two different ‘classes’ of clue and that some of them led to a ‘thematically reduced’ grid entry. Then there was a poet’s name and an essayist whose family the poet wrote about. We had to use a couplet of his verse to adjust our grid and highlight names that would then appear. Of course, the prompt was there in that word ‘classes’ but I was too numb from reading all of that to jump to the obvious conclusion.

Looking back, I realize that the first two lines of that preamble were a work of genius: what a superb explanation of the status quo with ‘…divide (unequally) into two classes. Class I … the (more common) Class II. There’s the hoi polloi putting the plebs where they belong!

But that smile came later. Nothing to be done. Take a deep breath and begin solving. A very sober set of clues – not a trace of alcohol, but a few more hints. There’s a ‘Nationalist politician’ (as an afterthought, could that have been Oswald Mosley?) a nanny, quite a lot of profit, gold, silver and capital. It’s the simple clue ‘Gold that we own’ (2) that gives us the way into the crossword. That has to be O[U]R with the U ‘thematically’ removed. A couple more clues like that: ‘More fetching reflecting a bit of stretching’ suggests C[U]TER, and ‘N. African dish informally for salad vegetable’ suggests CO[U]SCO[U]S and we realize that one ‘class of clues’ is going to lead to words with missing Us. Could we be in the world of U and non-U and wasn’t that notion popularised by Nancy Mitford?

Now that rather cryptic instruction makes sense: ‘Solvers must follow the thematic features of the Class 1 clues to read the name of an essay that explains the difference between the classes, and its author’. As the other Numpty continues to solve, I rather laboriously attempt to highlight all the ‘u’s in the clues (missing half a dozen on the first read through) then marvelling at Aragon’s brilliance in fitting four into the clue ‘Pursuing horse tire us out: hairy (7)’ (H + TIRE US* = HIRSUTE) and slowly teasing out what followed the thematic features – the subsequent letters – to get ‘The English Aristocracy: Nancy Mitford’.

Great: so now we know which are our ‘class II’ clues – the ones with no ‘u’s in them. And it seems that those are the ones that are going to have ‘u’s removed from their solutions too. A brief smile at the words ‘more common’ applied to the rest of us who were not of that self-indulgent pack of pretentious, pampered, toffee-nosed socialites, and we begin to hunt for clues that have two ‘u’s removed from them. Yes, we have B[U]ST[U]PS, A[U]G[U]STA, DISC[U]RS[U]S, D[U]MD[U]M, [U]LM[U]S, NA[U]R[U], [U]S[U]RESSES and CO[U]SCO[U]S. The first letters conveniently (and so cleverly) spell out Betjeman (who else? He was a passionate admirer of one of them wasn’t he and proposed to Pamela twice – why on earth did she choose Mosley!) Much though I loathe the whole shemozzle surrounding the Mitford lot, I have to admire what Aragon is doing with the U and non-U concept.

Of course Google provides me with the verse and, sure enough, we are at once able to cryptically apply the words of the first couplet. (I am glad I didn’t have to do anything with the next couplet – I haven’t a clue what it means! I hope someone will tell me what Cavalcades and Maskelyns are – cigarettes? Horses?)

“The Mitford girls, the Mitford girls/ I love them for their sins/ The young ones all like ‘Cavalcade’/ The old like ‘Maskelyns’/ Sophistication blessed dame/ Sure they have heard thy call/ Yes, even gentle Pamela/ Most rural of them all.”

We had already seen JESSICA, UNITY, PAMELA, DEBORAH and DIANA almost appearing in the grid and now that we replace THEIR SINS with I LOVE THEM, three of the names appear. There’s a head scratch before we recognize that there is another ‘for’ in that couplet and that we have D GIRLS in our grid, so, replacing D GIRLS with THE MIT resolves the other two anomalies and gives us JESSICA and UNITY. Of course they were all related to NANCY, the authoress, so she doesn’t need to appear – and we have our fifteen changed letters. This is fabulous compiling.

Until I heard that there was a flawed grid printed in the Times, this seemed to be a rather splendid example of a Listener crossword, though we did have one slight doubt. ‘Barney, when Britains evenings are lighter, meeting Penny (4)’ seems to me to be ambiguous. Chambers defines both BUST-UP and DUST-UP as a quarrel or brawl (thus a barney) and DST (just like BST) can be defined by ‘when Britain’s evenings are lighter’. Obviously, the compiler and editors have put that Britains in italics to prompt us towards the BST version but I am willing to bet that a number of solvers will go for the DST option and if they are marked wrong (or if the BST crowd are) I am sure there will be a real barney.

Great stuff, anyway. Many thanks, Aragon.

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