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Listener No 4667: Classicist by Gorrag

Posted by Dave Hennings on 30 Jul 2021

Another new setter this week, although fast forward to having solved the puzzle and I’m guessing it’s a not-so-new setter in disguise. Of course, the preambulatory “writer who died this year” was unlikely to be John Le Carré (or even David Cornwell) being too obvious. It would certainly prove to be an unusual theme to tease out, and that would come after some tough clues to resolve.

Luckily the tough clues came after the slightly less tough perimeter clues. REASON (hidden), ENIGMA (anagram) and FORTY-FIVE (2 meanings) were solved quick enough, but requiring to be encoded using some thematic words they just stood down the side my worksheet going nowhere.

Fast forward to the penny drop where NIBO• and BA•TER led me to the answer. All this was via my favourite clue 11ac Loewe oddly dismissed Lerner after initially hearing feedback on radio? (4) for HOWL [Lerner becomes Learner; (L)O(e)W(e) + L after H(earing)]. The thematic writer was Robin Tristram BAXTER who set nineteen Listener puzzles under the pseudonym NIBOR, many with a musical theme. I read of his death over at the Crossword Centre message board. I think I’m lucky to know the names of a fair few Listener setters, real names as well as pseudonyms, and this certainly helped.

The precoded perimeter entries were words from Nibor’s puzzles which the Listener crossword website listed. The letters required to be added to the non-perimeter clues gave “(O) death where is thy sting” (from I Corinthians 15) and hinted at seven wasps that needed adding to the perimeter answers to give the perimeter entries. Thus:

  • REASON it Out + hornet
  • ENIGMA Variations + digger
  • The FORTY-FIVE + cuckoo fly
  • SYMPHONY in Four Movements + ruby-tail
  • TROUT Quintet + mason
  • Home and AWAY + gold
  • SAFARI + bembex

The finished grid had NIBOR and RT BAXTER in the shape of a cross with RIP underneath.

Thanks Gorrag, whoever you are!

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Classicist by Gorrag

Posted by shirleycurran on 30 Jul 2021

We read the preamble with dismay. There seemed to be rather a lot to take in; seven words from titles from the published work of a writer who died this year, thematic items of the same length added mathematically to each of those to produce the grid entry and in all the other clues, a letter omitted with 15 of them to be inserted to the solution word in the grid and the remaining ones giving a hint to the thematic items.

We haven’t encoutered Gorrag before and initially suspected that he (or they) must be a newcomer but that suspicion was soon dispelled – a couple of old hands here. Could they remain in the Listener setters’ oenophile outfit? ‘Like a go with patient type not finishing bottle? (6)’ It wasn’t much of a bottle! We put VIAL after the unfinished ‘patient type’ JO(b) to give JOVIAL and decided that was ‘Like a god’ giving us an initial D for our message.

Things improved with the next clue, ‘What a surprise to receive first of rewards in Spanish town for win (5)’. JEEZ went round the R of rewards and we had a town for wine (not win) JEREZ, giving us an extra E. We found ‘red’ (Jarool – that timber) and a lot of Scots (surely malt?) later in the clues – ‘Manly nurse in WWI for a lot of Scots (6)’ We already had an I in that light when we added CAVEL (mainly the nurse CAVELL who was executed in WWI), producing the Scots word for a lot cast. It sounds as though Gorrag reserve their place at the bar. Cheers!

The writer we were honouring gave us the penny-drop-moment. Of course, I had already searched Wikipedia with the words REASON, ENIGMA, FORTY-FIVE, SYMPHONY, SAFARI in titles by an author who had died this year – and drawn a blank, but as we coloured the letters we were squeezing into those words R T BAXTER appeared and crossing that name NIBOR – the pseudonym of our good friend ROBIN, the Listener setter who died this year.

Dave Hennings‘ Crossword Database didn’t give us titles containing all of those words and we realized why. Nibor was setting as long ago as 1975 and the Listener site gave us 19 crosswords beginning with REASON and finishing with SAFARI in 2014. We last met him and his wife, Stephanie, at the Listener Setters’ Dinner in Windsor (he very kindly drove us back to London where we were staying, close to his Balham home, with our son).

We still needed another hint for the Classicist and when those 15 letters had said R T BAXTER RIP, we were left with the letters DEATH WHERE IS THY STING. Sting? That was why we had managed to tease out HORNET, DIGGER, CUCKOO FLY and RUBYTAIL from the mathematical calculations. (We had also found BUM-BEE which is a stinger, but fortunately those thematic items’ letters, OX UNDER LORRY, insisted that we use BEMBEX, which, like the others and the MASON and GOLD, is a wasp). What a fine tribute. Thank you Gorrag.

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Listener No. 4666, Octet: A Setter‘s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 Jul 2021

Growing up in urban Luton, I remember my Mum, particularly during the winter months, regularly hanging a net of peanuts on the washing line: and very quickly, the net was full of blue tits eating their fill. These were not the anti-squirrel, anti-pigeon, antibacterial, scientifically-proven bird-feeders of today: they were simply net bags full of peanuts, and the blue-tits and great tits and others came in their droves to feed from them.

These days, Catherine and I have a number of the modern, scientific bird-feeders in our suburban Birmingham garden, and we do indeed get some birds visiting them. (Or rather, we did, until our next-door-neighbours acquired a couple of cats: the cats are lovely, but unfortunately, they tend to discourage other creatures. So whilst next-door’s cupboard-under-the-stairs mice have now moved into our cupboard-under-the-stairs – and who can blame them, poor little things – and the humane trap deployed, nearly all our garden birds, sadly, have flown.) But for anyone of a certain age who has an urban or a suburban garden, it’s impossible not to notice the decline in the number of garden birds compared with 50 years ago, and this includes our resident blue tits and great tits and other titmice, even though (according to the 2021 RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch) they’re actually doing reasonably well compared with many other species.

So my love of, and concern for, our British birds and other wildlife, mean I often return to this source of inspiration for my crossword puzzles, and I do hope the puzzle-solving community will forgive me for it.

Anyway, on with the blog for Octet. The idea for the puzzle was suggested by the fact that the word TITMOUSE has eight letters, and there are eight different titmice native to Britain: although, as the preamble to the puzzle hinted, two of these – the LONG-TAILED TIT and the BEARDED TIT – are tits in name only, and actually belong to other families. Exploring this a little further, I noticed that the letters of TITMOUSE occurred one-by-one in the names of the different titmice in positions that would enable the formation of new words by substitution of alternative letters (e.g. CRESTED -> CREATED). Reversing this process was therefore the basis for the puzzle: to have solvers discover the TITMOUSE theme through the clues (from corrections to misprints in eight definitions), and having done so, to use the letters of TITMOUSE to alter entries in the grid (always leaving real crossing words, which is the expectation these days) to create the names of the eight British titmice.

Several years ago, I had a puzzle published whose theme was British owls, and solvers were required to shade the names of the owls in the final grid. Unfortunately, I neglected to indicate (in the preamble, or elsewhere) that the theme was actually British owls: as a result, solvers quite legitimately found all sorts of other owls in the grid (sea owls, desert owls, Tasmanian three-legged owls, and any number of others 😊), at least some of which had to be accepted as legitimate in submitted solutions. It was a little embarrassing for me. Still, I learned my lesson, and as a result, made sure that in Octet I established the “British Isles” context, this time through pairs of extra letters appearing in six other clues.

On that basis, I formed my puzzle grid, created my clues, wrote my preamble, and that was that. Except, as is quite typical with me, it wasn’t. I decided I didn’t like the fact that, to create BLUE (for BLUE tit), for example, solvers had to replace the unchecked third letter of BLEE (an archaic word meaning “complexion” or “colour”) with the “U” from TITMOUSE. I asked myself: “Since the letter to be replaced is unchecked, why wouldn’t I (as the setter) just use the obvious ‘blue’ in the grid, rather than the obscure ‘blee’?” And, not being able to answer myself convincingly, I decided to start again, this time trying to ensure that any grid entries requiring letter replacements to create the thematic names, were not themselves too obscure.

In the second “final grid” I came up with, seven of the eight letter replacements that were required to create the names of the titmice also formed new crossing words, the exception being MARSH (formed from HARSH) whose first letter H was unchecked. I rather cravenly decided I couldn’t quite face starting yet again to try to get all eight modified entries also forming new crossing entries, so left it at that, and submitted the puzzle to Roger and Shane at the Listener. When Octet’s turn for review came, they kindly agreed to its publication, and after a few final edits, it was ready to go.

Following publication, I received a number of kind comments about the puzzle, and I really do thank the solvers who took the trouble to write these, either on-line or to me personally: they are very encouraging and are much appreciated. One consistent comment was that the puzzle was relatively “easy”, certainly as far as Listener puzzles go. This surprised me a little, as I hadn’t realised that was the case: I certainly didn’t deliberately make it so (though neither was it intended to be at the super-tough end of the scale!) Still, perhaps it’s no bad thing to have a simpler puzzle now and again, and hopefully it still gave enjoyment.

Finally, as ever, many thanks to the Listener editors, Roger and Shane, for their unstinting efforts in getting these puzzles ready for publication each week.

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Listener No 4666: Octet by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 Jul 2021

Most of Hedge-sparrow’s puzzles have had a floral or faunal theme. Last year’s, however, was quarky so I wasn’t sure what to expect here. There was no hint in the preamble but the clueing technique had two adjacent letters being dropped in some clues and eight others containing a misprint, the corrections giving a thematic word.

Although 1ac Big bloomers in government projection following cuts (12) got me nowhere (it would eventually be G + LOBE + F + LOWERS), most of the clues were very forgiving yet solid, and the grid was finished in just under the hour. There were a lot of entertaining clues, including 10ac Bogs trapping black and grey wolves (5) [LOOS around B] and 23ac Defunct orbiting body — innards of Telstar reassembled by the French (8) for SATELLES [(T)ELSTA(r)* + LES]. 42ac had humour in spades, Liverpudlians, maybe, regularly amused? Yes sirree — delirious (12) for MERSEYSIDERS [((a)M(u)S(e)D + YES SIRREE)*], but 14ac brought me down to earth with a bang with Brexit rapidly destroying pound: that’s the price that must be paid (3) requiring Brexit to lose the Br such that exit rapidly = FLEE [- L = FEE].

The correction to misprints spelt titmouse and the dropped letters gave British Isles. Thus we were indeed in faunal country, more specifically avian. The definition of titmouse in Chambers begins “a tit…”, so I guessed we were looking for varieties thereof, and that turned out to be a little bit tricky but good fun.

Hats off to Hedge-sparrow for a very clever grid construction with most of the cell replacements that revealed the types of tit requiring what I can only describe as double-crossing changes! By this I mean that LOBOS/BOARDED had the O changed to E to give LOBES/BEARDED. Likewise, SPACIER/WALLOW became SPICIER/WILLOW and DEMEANE/CREATED became DEMESNE/CRESTED.

Very satisfying. Thanks, H-s.

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Octet by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 Jul 2021

After our long struggle last week, it was a relief to see Hedge-sparrow at the head of this crossword. “Aha, birds” we said. “How does he manage to keep producing crosswords on the same theme?”

Of course, as usual, he included a fine sprinkling of alcohol in his clues, no problem retaining his Listener Setters’ Elite Oenophile Outfit entry ticket. ‘After scrubbing chamberpot, Pointer hides port inside (8)’ A bit of a shame to store that port in a scrubbed chamberpot, but we removed the PO from POINTER giving INTER and hid the RIO (that old chestnut of ports for compilers) inside to give INTERIOR.

Then it was barrels, ‘Export barrels before English city goes short (5)’ We put the B before a shortened version of LEEDs, giving us BLEED which suggested that we were going to extort, rather than export the barrels. We already had a T when girasol gave us a sTone with inner glow (misprint for shone) and an I when ‘Some prisoners had escaped tents (6)’ A ‘hidden’ clue giving us SHADES or tInts (sounds rather like the TINTO – the red wine we can buy here!) TITS looked like our likely birds.

‘Hot drink – unlimited rum (3)’ sounded as if he was mixing rum wth the barrels of malt and the port, but we removed the limits from TODDY and got ODD = rum. What a drunken orgy – and which compiler can resist the Italian wine? ‘Italian wind blasting harbours (4)’ It had to be ASTI harboured by blASTIng. It also gave us another misprint. It was Italian winE. Cheers, Hedge-sparrow!

By now, we had the remaining letters of TITMOUSE and pairs of removed letters had spelled out the ‘thematic context’; BR IT IS HI SL ES. With a full grid, all that remained to do was to change eight letters in the grid and find an octet of birds – the ones we see every day nesting in our birdboxes and mobbing the bird table in winter. (The grandchildren have given me a ‘Bird Buddy’ as a birthday present – still to come as it is in the project stage but apparently it has a widget in it that photographs the visiting bird and tells my iphone what it is. I fear mine will say’blue-tit/ coal-tit/ long-tailed tit/ great-tit/ more of the same’ – but they were a lovely theme. Thank you Hedge-sparrow.

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