Listen With Others

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Listener No 4518, Game Box: A Setter’s Blog by Poat

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 September 2018

My previous Listener was number 4422 in October 2016, based on a hunt for the golden jewelled hare of Masquerade – solvers were required to ignore various false trails, and highlight the word HARE hidden in the preamble. I’ve set a few crosswords over the years, but none generated such controversy as this one. Personally I remain proud of it and wouldn’t change a thing, but I do acknowledge that a lot of would-be solvers were frustrated and annoyed by the surprise denouement, as indeed many of them expressed quite trenchantly online at the time.

The elusive creature is still frequently mentioned in internet forums (usually as “that bloody hare”); it featured regularly in Shirley Curran’s solving blog for over a year; and it was commemorated in chocolate form at the Listener dinner in March 2017. I don’t mind a touch of notoriety, but it did start to get a bit much.

So I thought my next Listener submission should include GOLDEN and HARE prominently as a rueful nod to all that heartache. Playing around with Chambers, I realised the words could both form part of different ducks. A hunting or shooting theme came to mind, so I started the search for apposite quotes to embellish the puzzle. Not much in ODQ, but internet research came up with a very suitable line from Wodehouse. It can also be read as a playful appeal for solvers not to be too harsh on setters (luckily I have a thick skin).

I’m not sure how other crossword setters operate, but I have a spreadsheet listing dozens of sketches for puzzles that may come good, alone or in combination, many years later. This theme seemed to tie in with a long-standing idea, the old Waddingtons game Black Box: entries could at a stretch represent guns taking pot shots from various points at their targets, some ricocheting here and there if not making a direct hit. So I set to work on a grid fill, this time unaided by setting software (which cannot handle the entry method as far as I know).

Earlier attempts included appealing answers like NORMAN BATES, SUGARGLIDER and KAHIKATEA, but they came along with too much short fill, or either insufficient or excessive cross-checking. I decided to allow re-entries, so that shorter grid components like NOS, ERS and HAS could form segments of longer words, and eventually ended up with the final format. Then the habitually laborious process of writing clues, though it seemed harder than ever to come up with coherent surface readings thanks to the combined answer threads.

Research into the quote delivers a cautionary tale about trusting the internet. Virtually everywhere online, it is said to originate from The Adventures of Sally, but a full-text search failed to confirm that. Instead here is a fuller extract from the Wodehouse short story, Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court:

“He had got thus far when he perceived that the young woman was aiming at him something that looked remarkably like an air-gun. Her tongue protruding thoughtfully from the corner of her mouth, she had closed one eye and with the other was squinting tensely along the barrel.

Colonel Sir Francis Pashley-Drake did not linger. In all England there was probably no man more enthusiastic about shooting: but the fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”


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‘This is not the HARE you’re looking for’ aka ‘Game Box’ by Poat

Posted by Encota on 21 September 2018

Thanks to Poat for a challenging and enjoyable puzzle.

SCAN0518 copy


There were several sub-clues I particularly enjoyed:

  • I damn Foucault’s concept (4), [for IDEE];especially
  • Wise or foolish – which mixing Roofies with this could be (6)
    [for OWLISH – fantastic dual definition and subtractive anagram]and the quite brilliant
  • one in the wings, advancing Othello’s end … (4) [for IAGO – fabulous!]

There appeared to be a possibility for the ‘glancing contact’ with the obstacles not to work as the physics might suggest – and so I spent more time than I should really have done on ensuring that the 90 degree turns were as expected and not some ‘random corner-turning generator’.  The latter luckily proved not to be the case!

The beginning of the PG Wodehouse quote, “THE FASCINATION OF SHOOTING …” appeared without too much pain: the focus was then very much on the specifics of the words in the Preamble, especially “ten targets of a specific kind”.  Sounds like singular ‘duck’ rather than ‘ducks’, I think?  So when, initially, I only found 59 cells covering the ten duck, I wondered what Poat had had in mind.  There were options for pluralising (up to) three of the duck – HARELD (ho ho, by the way!!), GOLDENEYE and SHIELDRAKE – though one of the three didn’t automatically pop up in the electronic BRB I did half-wonder if ‘Chambers is the primary reference’ was perhaps being taken rather seriously. Other adjustment options included DRAKE vs SHIELDRAKE but that didn’t free up the appropriate 61 cells either.

Eventually I realised my mistake – I’d initially gone with BALD as a type of DUCK and not BALDPATE.  The extra cells at ‘TE’ made up the shortfall and all was sorted – I hope!

From again re-reading the Preamble there didn’t seem to be any need to add bars and I wasn’t sure if the position of the six obstacles were required either.  As some bars were crossed by the duck I left those out; and I gently dotted in where the obstacles were, in case it was of any interest.

Teasing seasoned solvers with 2d’s HARELD (i.e. those who solved Poat’s last Listener, where some readers might recall there was ‘some debate’ about the location of a HARE) was funny.  Thanks again to Poat – I loved this!


Tim (the setter Encota)

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Game Box by Poat

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 September 2018

The other Numpty said at about noon, “What are we going to get tonight?” and with an uncanny premonition, I replied, “It must be time for another Poat crossword.” And there it was. Even as I printed it, I could hear the pad of tiny hare paws (hopefully not in the preamble!) That little HARE who appeared in the searcH AREa in the preamble of Poat’s last crossword has made Poat a Listener legend and caused disarray and desolation in over half of the solvers of that crossword. We have been pursuing him ever since (and he did appear in the one about the HS2, only to be then run-over by the train) but finally, in despair, we let him head off for his hols at the start of this year. (Blackpool, I believe!)

We start solving and there he is! Clue 2 ‘Hubristic racer to try finding energy at the end (4)’ That’s a reference to The Tortoise and the Hare fable, isn’t it? The proud speedy hare being defeated by the diligent, plodding tortoise, and ‘try’ is HEAR with the Energy moving down in the clue. So Poat is honouring his little hero – or is he?

And does Poat retain his admission ticket to the Listener Oenophile Outfit? Of course he does. We find three solutions to ‘Seen up in expensive bar venue, Frank’s wine spilt by queen with old love for romance (5:6:3)’. In fact that ‘bar’ seems to be a legal reference to VISNE which is reversed in expENSIVe, then WINE* with ER gives us WIENER, the German sausage, and the initial letters of With Old + O (love) produces WOO, for ‘romance’, and we’ll have to drink to the little hare’s safe return, so ‘Cheers, Poat!’

Of course that gave us 14 letters that would stretch right across the grid, as did ORA/IAGO/PARITOR, ETIOLATE/OCTETS and CITHER/LETRASET so we had a starting point for our gridfill. We worked out how to enter HASTEN/WOOLCOMBERS in a total of four different columns and established the position of our first obstacle. AERIEST and FLATTERING clearly had to go off at 90° angles and they gave us our second. And so it went on. With an almost full grid and a second putative HARE appearing at the foot of the tenth column, we sussed that THE FASCINATION OF SHOOTING was to fill those alternate perimeter cells. SURELY NOT! Was this going to be Poat’s attempt to wipe out, forever, the memory of the little beast? OWL and TERCELET had appeared. Was Poat going on a rampage ‘MADCAP POTS BAG LOADS’?

We have to express a strong objection. Such violence, together with scurrilous terms, sexual references and all the rest of the forbidden guff, should surely be banned from Listener crosswords!

With a full (or almost) grid, we had to fit those letters into the gaps and realised that, in order to place all 18, we would have to use the six cells containing obstacles. This was a demanding but enjoyable endgame to produce ten targets and at first the little HARE seemed safe as they were not animals at all but sitting ducks that appeared: SHIELDRAKE, SMEE, POCHARD, GOLDENEYE, SCAUP, SCOTER, EIDER, BALDPATE and wisely beating a retreat, one I hadn’t heard of, a GARROT. That made nine ducks. The potential HARE in column ten becoming just another duck.

Surely the goldeneye, scoter, eider and pochard are protected birds. Frankly, this will not do. Google tells me that the hare is only protected in Scotland. That doesn’t seem fair.

Number 10? What can I say? Mrs Bradford tells me that a HARELD is a duck, so Poat has brought the little fellow back, just to convert him into a duck and shoot him. Shame! I rest my case!


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Listener No 4518: Game Box by Poat

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 September 2018

I’m normally fairly good at remembering a setter’s previous puzzles and normally start each blog with a summary of their recent oevres. This week, however, my mind went a complete blank, pretty much like the grid which was a sizeable 14×14 without bars. No doubt Poat’s previous puzzle would come to me before this blog is posted.

Here, we had an interesting entry device whereby each clue led to one, two or three answers which were entered inwards until it met the edge of the grid or an “obstacle”. At first, I wasn’t sure whether inwards included diagonally. It soon became clear that it didn’t.

The first clue (excluding See 23 at 1) was 2 Hubristic racer to try finding energy at the end (4) and completely eluded me, but luckily 3 Unusually sportsmanlike, foregoing free pass to keep for Boris (7) was more forgiving with KREMLIN, and 4 was similarly straightforward Sturgeon’s intending change of title before new government (7) for ETTLING.

All in all, the clues were good fun, especially the likes of 12,29 Secretly broadcast opener of Two Ronnies (8, two words) for INTER NOS. There were also some tricky ones, such as 15-2 Young McGill student? Cheeky with a change of heart, showing internal transposition, straight to this point (5;6) leading to FROSH and HERETO (HE-TER<-O).

Once the grid was finished, apart from a few empty cells, the perimeter yielded THE FASCINATION OF either SHOOTING or, more likely I thought, SHOPPING. Unfortunately, Google didn’t have anything exciting for the latter although predictably it had lots of images of shops and also, less predictably, a discarded shopping trolley.

In fact, the puzzle was based on a quotation from P.G. Wodehouse’s The Adventures of Sally: “The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” But what were the ten thematic elements that we had to find in the grid. Having seen some disgusting images of armed white hunters standing over dead elephants and lions, I hoped they were not the targets.

Seeing GOLDEN EYE, soon enabled me to narrow my search down to types of duck. The empty squares in the grid, including the six “objects”, had to be filled and the ten ducks highlighted. This was fairly straightforward given the letters provided by the preamble, MADCAP POTS BAG LOADS: GOLDEN EYE, EIDER, SCAUP, BALD PATE, GARROT (backwards), SCOTER, HARELD, SMEE, POCHARD and SHIELDRAKE.

Good fun from Poat, thanks. But as the envelope to St Albans slipped from my hands into the letterbox, I realised that I hadn’t actually gone back and solved clue 2.

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Listener No 4517, In Transit: A Setter’s Blog by Agricola

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 September 2018

I’d originally planned the publication of this puzzle to coincide with the anniversary of Cook’s arrival here in Aotearoa, but then I realised that back in the Old Country, the commemoration of his journey was more likely to happen on the anniversary of his departure. That meant that I had to stop daydreaming and get something down on paper to send to Roger pdq. It would really help if the Royal Mail could send us puzzle setters details of their commemorative issues a couple of years in advance, but I suppose that just isn’t a priority for them.

I’m still learning to have realistic expectations when planning a puzzle. My original idea was to combine Cook’s voyage with that of Māui, who fished the North Island out of the ocean and left it behind (along with his canoe) for Cook to “discover” many centuries later. Of course there just isn’t enough room to do that in a realistically sized grid. The other constraint, if I wanted my map to be realistic, was that I couldn’t reference too many significant points on the Endeavour’s journey: most of them are all scrunched up in the middle of the grid. That meant that I couldn’t make any reference to Australia — I’m so sorry about that 😉 .

I did spend a long time thinking about the correct form of the code word: HMS Endeavour or HM Bark Endeavour? Perhaps the latter is more correct, but I worried that it was also more obscure. I was finally convinced by re-reading Patrick O’Brien, who assured me that any boat with three masts was entitled to be called a ship, so HMS it was.

Many thanks again to Roger and Shane for all of their help in getting the puzzle up to scratch. They did – quite rightly – rule out one of my clues for using a neologistic anagram indicator: “Prickly Ned’s end on Game of Thrones cut”. If anyone can find a way of making this work then I’d love to hear from them. Also, in case you were wondering, I don’t have any plans for another Playfair puzzle (well, not for a while anyway). Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

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