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Listener No 4525, Market Square Fable: A Setter’s Blog by Charon

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 November 2018

History. Never my favourite subject at school. In fact, I tried to avoid it whenever I could. But I did learn a couple of historical facts: that our town, Melton Mowbray, was where the phrase “To Paint the Town Red” originated, and that Richard III was a bad man. All these years later, we live in a world of alternative facts, where it seems Richard III wasn’t all that bad, although I think he hogged that disabled parking space rather longer than necessary. And, as it turns out, claims for the origin of the famous phrase are numerous. This is why I’m glad I chose a mathematical route for my career, where facts are more reliable and enduring.

Mathematics was also my entry point for The Listener Crossword, tackling the numerical puzzles whenever I came across them, rarely spending much time on the seemingly impenetrable wordy versions. That was, until I found myself with a bit more time on my hands, a couple of years ago. I gave a few of them a real effort, eventually solving one or two, and then I was hooked. So much so that I decided to try my hand at setting a Listener puzzle of my own. I can’t remember the exact thought process that started this puzzle, but doodling with various ideas, I eventually discovered that “Melton Mowbray Pork Pie” could form a rather pleasing large square at the heart of a grid. The old familiar phrase came to mind as a possible addition, and remarkably it would fit, if I used the “paints” tense, and linked it in the bottom right. So I felt I needed something at the top left for balance. Looking on-line for inspiration, I came across the connection with Spring-Heeled Jack, which I don’t think I had heard before. And, well I never! It’s the right length and fits in the top left of my grid. Serendipity. (When I was researching for references later, I discovered that Henry Beresford’s link to Spring-Heeled Jack is mentioned in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.) At this stage I came up with the title “Fable” to link the pork pie and the old story, and started work on filling in a 13×13 grid.

After much effort, I was able to fill the grid, but the cross-checking wasn’t satisfactory, so I decided to start again, from nearly-scratch. I was reasonably happy with the left side, but completely scrapped the right side. One of the entries I had on the left was PELE, and musing about whether I could fit his full name into the grid led to the final form of the puzzle, because once I discovered that EDSON ARANTES DO NASCIMENTO could be linked with the pie, I had to have it in my grid. As a result, I had to switch to a 14×13 grid if I wanted to keep some of my earlier work, and I modified the title, to emphasise the relevance of the squares.

I managed to get this new grid filled in, with what I thought was a reasonable amount of cross-checking, and sufficient average entry length (even discounting the longest entry), so moved on to the clues. The fact that Pele ended up as clues 4 and 5 was coincidence, not design, but I spotted the possibility of linking them together with the inclusion of “foreshortened”, which, together with the anagram for 4, are my favourite clues. The final polish for 4 was when I changed “supreme” to “par excellence” in order to have 24 letters on either side of “curiously”. Is it just me, or does anyone else read this clue and see an image in their mind of “Christ the Redeemer”?

I had tried to get some local references into the puzzle, first as grid entries, then as clues. The historic buildings “CORN EXCHANGE” and “ANNE OF CLEVES” wouldn’t find a place for themselves, though. I did succeed in crowbarring Anne of Cleves into one of the clues, but that didn’t make it past the editors, so I was left with just the mention of Waterford in the clues. On my recent trips back to the town, I have noticed that there is a yellow sign for a new housing estate: “Waterford Heights”. The legend lives on.

Having submitted my puzzle at the start of the year, and hearing that there was quite a queue, I sat back to await the editors’ fearsome judgement. As a first offender I think they have treated me with leniency, and it is a great feeling to see the puzzle make it into print. So, thanks to the editors for their efforts in getting my puzzle published, as well as all the other Listener puzzles that I have enjoyed tackling. And thanks to the good people of the town, I hope that at least one of you has managed to connect the dots.



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Listener 4525: ‘Market Square Fable’ by Charon

Posted by Encota on 9 November 2018

When I first solved this one it looked like three windows, or Windows.  Was this a MicroSoft <-> MS <-> Market Square link, somehow?  Um … no.

I loved the pair of clues for the Pele and the footballer known by that name:

4. A footballer par excellence curiously mentioned a cross and a stone (24, our words) unscrambled quickly to EDSON ARANTES DO NASCIMENTO, and

5. Hawaiian volcano goddess who, you could say, is foreshortened? (4) for PELE (homonym for “4, shortened”)

I hadn’t heard of Spring-Heeled Jack but the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and Paints The Town Red worked well for me.  Aside: what was that Clint Eastwood film where the latter happens?

Short of time this week.  Many thanks to Charon for a very enjoyable solve.  Next week I’ll spend more constructing my homage to Shark’s excellent Quads III.

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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Market Square Fable by Charon

Posted by shirleycurran on 9 November 2018

A new Listener setter! We met Charon in a February Magpie but his (hers) isn’t a familiar name so we print this rather unusual grid with a touch of trepidation. What no bars? (Yes, of course I looked for a few bars to make sure Charon could be admitted to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Elite and he barely made it with only a hint of Scotch in his penultimate clue) ‘Scotch bonnets that are mouth stingers primarily (4)’ gave us the initial letters of TAMS. Mouth-stinging Scotch wouldn’t go down too well, but ‘Cheers’ anyway, Charon.

‘Each grid entry traces the outline of a square, clockwise or anticlockwise, finishing in a cell adjacent to its start.’ That sounds like an original device and clearly Imposed constraints on Charon as his/her clue lengths have to be multiples of 4. Of course, I attack the ’24, four words‘ first and it produces EDSON ARANTES DO NASCIMENTO (anagram of ‘mentioned a cross and a stone’). We can see that PELE is at clue 5, ‘Hawaiian volcano goddess who, you could say, is foreshortened (4)’ so we suspect (wrongly, of course) that we have already spotted the crossword’s theme – that fabulous soccer player.

My first attempt to create the grid is a total disaster as I put Pele one column too far left, to fit him in with RADIO-ELEMENT. Then I decide that the first letters of solutions are not in their clue number cells and that suggests a nightmare of a struggle ahead, but the light dawns; I complete DO NASCIMENTO to the right of his opening cell and we are underway.

These were generous clues, but they needed to be, as we were hoping to fill all but eight cells in order to be able to see what had to be three more words, or groups of words, giving us ’48 cells spelling out a perpetrator, what he does (giving rise to an idiomatic phrase) and a product from the place where he does it’. We had more than eight empty cells when we broke off for dinner with four clues to solve. INIA should have been obvious, (it’s one of those crossword staples like TEES, BRAS, ASTI and TSETSE isn’t it?) and the clue spelled it out, ‘Bony protuberances held by one Australian (4)’ IN + I + A. GAINSAID was almost as obvious, ‘Gets feudal tax challenged (8)’ = GAINS + AID but it had us head-scratching.

‘Concerned with whether Highland spoils (4)’ (was that another sneaky clue about Dalwhinnie, one of my favourite malts – the one from the highest distillery? Of course it doesn’t spoil but I believe the Angels get a bigger share than usual, because of the height the distillery. Hmmm! the way it disappears from our bottle, they must be in there somewhere.) That just gave us RE + IF = REIF and the Big Red Book tells us that is a Scottish word for spoliation.

We are left with ‘Jazz fest for some leaving Waters when mature’. Newts, toads, and frogs are a speciality of mine (we have little singing toads, Bombina Variegata, in our ponds and the newts show up in hundreds) but that EFTS (another crossword staple) was cleverly hidden with the ‘Jazz’ anagram indicator and that Waters with the capital letter leaving Woodstock or wherever it was. However, our grid was full.

We looked in the obvious place and there was SPRING-HEELED JACK. We could see MELTON MOWBRAY PORK PIE too but hadn’t the slightest clue about a link. What a blessing Google and Wikipedia can be! I do wonder how solvers who stick strictly to the BRB and pencil and paper manage these obscure endgames. Of course, we found out that he PAINTS THE TOWN RED, so we highlighted in red with thanks to Charon for teaching us something new.


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Listener No 4525: Market Square Fable by Charon

Posted by Dave Hennings on 9 November 2018

This was Charon’s first Listener, although he did have a sneaky Magpie B-grader earlier this year. A pretty empty grid greeted us this week, with just 45 clue numbers in a 14×13 grid. Intriguingly, answers were to be entered in the shape of a square, either clockwise or anticlockwise.

1, 2, 3… neatly solved, although only the first letter could be entered in its numbered square. And then the clue that everyone will no doubt remember: 4 A footballer par excellence curiously mentioned a cross and a stone (24, four words). The anagram indicator was obvious — curiously. But was the fodder the first half of the clue or the last? Both consisted of 24 letters and we were told it was four words.

The clue to 5 would give the game away Hawaiian volcano goddess who, you could say, is foreshortened? (4). Well… it might have for you, but not for me. I suspected it was PELE as the Hawaiian volcano goddess (there can’t be many), but the rest of the clue stumped me. Perhaps that was because I had always assumed that Pele was his surname, with his first name being Pedro or Mario or Gustavo. The wordplay in the clue was superb, needing to be read as 4 shortened to reveal EDSON ARANTES DO NASCIMENTO. Unfortunately for me that took a bit of time to straighten out!

The rest of the grid was teasing yet entertaining and I finally had the eight empty cells that the preamble told me that I would have. I suspected that finding the three unclued entries that would complete those squares would be a doddle. Luckily, it took me only (?) 20 minutes before I spotted Jack Spring-heeled, which sounded plausible. Wikithingie enabled me to reveal that it was SPRING-HEELED JACK and filling the remaining slots gave PAINTS THE TOWN RED and MELTON MOWBRAY PORK PIE.

Very satisfying, but nearly spoilt by my initial grid being highlighted in yellow, as I normally do, rather than an “appropriate colour”.

Thanks for some good entertainment, Charon. I’ll look at a pork pie in a different light in future.

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Listener No 4524, A Little Night Music?: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 November 2018

I love owls. Perhaps, given my pseudonym, that’s surprising – after all, owls are not averse to scoffing the odd hedge-sparrow or two when they can get them – but it’s true, nevertheless. Although we live in a city, I and my family get great delight from hearing tawny owls calling at eventide from the local park, and just occasionally catching a glimpse of one when walking our dogs there.

So, as I sat at home a few years ago, recovering from an operation, the idea of setting an owl-based Listener crossword came to me. My initial thought was to base the puzzle on British owl species, of which there are seven – five “native” (tawny, barn, little, long-eared and short-eared) and two which either breed in Britain (European eagle owl) or which have been known so to do (a pair of snowy owls lived and bred on Fetlar in the Shetland Isles between 1967 and 1975 until, in the winter of 1976, the male sadly disappeared). There are other occasional owl visitors, but these are not regarded as British species.

I can’t remember exactly what made me think of linking the puzzle’s theme to Shakespeare’s poem Winter in Love’s Labour’s Lost, but however that happened, the lines “Then nightly sings the staring owl, tu-whoo: tu-whit tu-whoo.” seemed quite apposite. The phrase tu-whit tu-whoo, having twelve letters (at least as it appears in Chambers – in the ODQ’s rendition of the poem it occurs as tu-whit tu-who, hence the reference to “Chambers spelling” in the published preamble), seemed like a good bet for use in a 12 x 12 grid, and the remainder of the phrase from the poem, together with the name Shakespeare, gives forty-six letters, a suitable sort of number to use in a one-letter-per-clue gimmick of some sort.

I still like using main diagonals in my puzzles, so I started off with a 12 x 12 grid and the phrase tu-whit tu-whoo inserted in the SW-NE diagonal. As I considered what to do with the owls, I had the idea of disguising the owl names in the grid by crossing them with the tu-whit tu-whoo phrase (the letters of tu-whit tu-whoo made this possible for at least five of the owl names), and then changing the letters at the crossing points to make new words. Solvers would then need to re-create tu-whit tu-whoo in the diagonal (with help from the lines of Shakespeare derived from the clues) to reveal the names. This concept was arrived at within about half-an-hour of drawing the blank grid: the next two weeks of my recovery period were then spent trying to get the idea to work.

There were several constraints which made this quite tricky. All seven owl names (some of which are quite long), needed to appear in the final grid, along with tu-whit tu-whoo in the diagonal; I wanted to ensure that all words were real, both before and after changing letters in the completed grid; I needed to have exactly forty-six entries to give one letter per clue for the derived phrase; and there were the usual Listener Crossword grid construction rules concerning average word lengths, numbers of unchecked letters in entries, etc. I particularly remember swapping the positions of “tawny” and “snowy” (crossing the diagonal at the two w’s) many times to try different grid constructions. At last, something very close to the final grid was achieved. There was a subsequent small adjustment when I noticed that the five letters discarded when forming the phrase tu-whit tu-whoo along the diagonal could almost be arranged to spell the term “madge”, a dialectal name for the barn owl: a bit of rejigging made this possible so that these discarded letters could also be used thematically.

The final result was not perfect: there were too many “fully checked” entries (ideally there shouldn’t be any of these), and the average entry length was a little low. I spent a long time trying to improve on these aspects, but with little success. I think a 13 x 13 grid would have an enabled a more elegant grid construction, though the twelve-letter tu-whit tu-whoo phrase would not then have fitted so neatly. Despite the grid’s deficiencies, the Listener editors kindly let it pass.

Cluing always takes me a long time. Typically, I achieve something close to a full set of clues within a couple of months of compiling a grid. I then read through them, realise there are several I’m not happy with, and begin a long process of amendment or rewriting until I’m finally (reasonably) satisfied. In the case of A Little Night Music, this process continued over a two-and-a-half year period between the original grid compilation and submission of the puzzle in the summer of 2017. I suspect I’ll never get a job compiling daily crossword puzzles! And despite all that effort on the cluing, it turned out that I’d made a right pig’s ear of it. For some reason, I decided to use the “extra letter in word-play” gimmick to generate the lines of the poem from the clues. This is a device I’ve rarely, if ever, used before (actually it’s a device I’m not really very keen on, so I don’t know why I decided to use it in this puzzle), and I erroneously constructed several of the clues so that their “wordplay with extra letter” bits were directly “equated” (via link-words such as “is”) to the definition without the extra letter. However, with much assistance from the editors, the offending clues were rewritten, and the thing was done at last. I hope that the final puzzle was one people enjoyed solving.

I perhaps should add that I am, of course, aware that only one of the so-called “protagonists” could really be the one calling tu-whit tu-whoo outside greasy Joan’s window (and that the “madge” is not that one). However, I rather liked using Shakespeare’s poem as an aspect of the puzzle, and limiting the owls to the tawny alone would have meant that the thematic content was rather thin!

As ever, many thanks to the Listener Crossword editors Roger and Shane for their tireless efforts in getting these puzzles ready for publication every week.

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