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Listener No 4424, Fieldwork: A Setter’s Blog by Ferret

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 December 2016

I have been asked to write a setter’s blog for ‘Fieldwork’ but there really isn’t much to say about this puzzle. Fieldwork came about after the Listener editors expressed an interest in receiving some easier puzzles. I was walking in Rutland by the side of a field of BARLEY and the word FALLOW came up in conversation in the context of crop rotation and I wondered if there were other six-letter crops I could rotate in a grid.

The puzzle was a private nod to the late Roddy Forman (RADIX) who helped and encouraged me when I started setting. He loved symmetry in puzzles and this one gave me the opportunity to symmetrically place the various types of modification. Also, the clues to the symmetrically placed five-letter answers gave the first letters of the unclued crops and the clues to the symmetrically placed six-letter answers gave the final letters. In his own puzzles, Roddy was insistent on AT LEAST Ximenean unching so that was another thing for me to aim for in the grid construction.

Having chosen crops with the letter pattern unch, A, R/L, R/L, vowel, unch, unusually for me, I produced the grid first. The main aim being to allow the required rotation to take place with the minimum disruption to crossing entries. I then completed the grid fill. I didn’t know at that stage whether I would use CARROT or MARROW but in the end C and T proved easier than M and W to insert into clues as misprints.

The puzzle nearly didn’t get off the ground because I was worried about the use of the theme words. Although CROP is defined in Chambers as ‘to cut short’, I felt that ‘to crop’ implied to shorten by cutting from the top, as animals do when grazing. To crop a picture involves removing the edges so, despite the Chambers definition, I was very unsure the puzzle would be accepted when I had used the word to mean – cut the ends off answers. In the event neither the editors nor any commenters on the puzzle mentioned this so perhaps I worried unnecessarily; although personally, I wouldn’t use crop in the wordplay of a clue to mean shorten.

ROTATE is regularly used in wordplay to mean reversal so I was not worried about that. My slight doubt concerned the existence of the phrase CROP CIRCLE. The title fieldwork did not help differentiate between the two phrases but the preamble was worded to make it clear that theme word X is a verb and theme word Y is a noun. One could not “apply CIRCLE (Y)” to an answer to get the entry, and CROP CIRCLE/CIRCLING is not descriptive of what happens to the unclued entries. I just had to hope that by including FALLOW as one of the unclued entries, the correct phrase would present itself to solvers.

It was only during the editing phase that I learnt that The Times online cannot cope with subscripts, so in the clue to DEAMINATE, ‘remove NH2 group’ became ‘remove nitrogen-hydrogen group’. On the day of writing this setter’s blog, an article in The Times online used the word astrology when astronomy was intended! No wonder quality scientific reporting is so scarce in The Times. But before I get into a rant, I’ll finish.

Thank you to all those solvers who took the time to comment on the puzzle. And a big thank you to Shane and Roger, the editors. Unless you are a Listener contributor, you cannot know the care they take to polish and perfect the puzzles in the Listener series, but like me, I’m sure you are grateful they care as much as they do.


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Fieldwork by Ferret

Posted by shirleycurran on 2 December 2016

crop-rotationThe pseudonym Ferret conjures up fears of ferocious mustelidine battles (mainly based on Magpie experiences) so there was a hint of trepidation as the Numpties downloaded this wee thing with its very economical clues, but we were delighted by the clarity of the pre-ramble and immediately identified four clues in each quadrant that needed special treatment and the one that was unclued, that was to be completed by the corrected misprints from two others in the quadrant.

We have seen Ferret, glass in hand at both Listener and Magpie events (time for a Magpie plug – if you were the moaner who complained that this was one to attract new solvers and too easy for you, the Magpie provides six more Listener-style puzzles each month including one numerical one – Oh no, did I mention those anathematical monstrosities – and do we suffer one next week? … misery!)  but I did still need to confirm Ferret’s admission to the Listener Setters’ Drinkie Elite – and scanned his clues.

Disaster, what do I find? Some soft cheese, ‘Inclined to eat small volume of soft cheese (9)’ a normal clue that gives us PRONE around VOL O = PROVOLONE, ‘Foul-smelling assorted salami sandwiches taste of mace (7)’ SALAMI* around M[ace] = MIASMAL (What a superbly deceptive clue with that verbal  use of ‘sandwiches’ disguised as someone’s olid packed lunch!). There were fish and mutton too, ‘Finally trap fish in dune, slippery with its skin still on (8)’ [tra]P + EEL in DUNE* giving UNPEELED, ‘Buff fellow consumes mutton (4)’ (of course that led to DON round EM giving DEMON but it was at once clear that we had to dock the last letter as only four cells were available; so in went DEMO).

There was a copious drug use (or abuse), ‘Decided a long time ago to give up ecstasy after heroin became difficult to obtain’ (HARDGOT though the word play foxed me) and ‘Cherished a desire for something mood changing: dope and a bit of horse (5)’ DOPE + H[orse]* = HOPED (with our first misprint, a G when Mood changed to Good). And the alcohol?

‘Very good daughter gets a fizzy drink in Disneyland (4)’ (yet another superb surface-reading with that subtle transition from word play to definition) – SO + D + A. I suppose I have to give Ferret the benefit of the doubt. He’s hardly going to drink that soda without a shot of whisky is he? Cheers Ferret!

Our grid is almost full as we have immediately spotted with delight that the five different clues in each quadrant are placed symmetrically so we know where to look for those that are to be entered in reverse (LOOT, SODA, FEER and RIAS) and the ones to be curtailed (SCULL, EARLY, DEMON and BERET) and as we ferret out our eight misprints and slot them into the spaces in the unclued lights we have a delightful penny drop moment when four ‘crops’ appear (well, three and one that ‘isn’t’) GARLIC, BARLEY, CARROT and FALLOW.

Suddenly light dawns and instead of looking for some dubious phrase like ‘cut back’ we understand that oh so appropriate title. We are working in the fields – we CROP and ROTATE.

I loved every minute of this solve with its thematic unity. The late Roddy Forman who coached so many of us in crossword matters used to insist that the device used had to relate to the theme. It would be difficult to give a better example than this one. Many thanks Ferret.

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Listener No 4424: Fieldwork by Ferret

Posted by Dave Hennings on 2 December 2016

Ferret’s previous Listeners have been based on the old British Rail logo (no 4207, Loco), Pete and Dud’s one-legged Tarzan (no 4257, A Short Entertainment) and the Origami staircase from Swing Time (no 4319, Feature Film). This week, a two-word phrase would provide the theme.

listener-4424The preamble was very busy, but basically each 4-, 5- and 6-letter word lay wholly within one of the quadrants; two would need modification (according to the theme), two had misprints in their clues and the other was unclued. The remaining clues were normal.

For a bit of fun, I decided to tackle the normal 7-, 8- and 9-letter words first. I was pleasantly surprised at how many I got. PREMIER, FULL-TIME, TETANIC, MIASMAL and UNPEELED were the acrosses which I plonked in fairly quickly, followed by REAPING, HARD-WON (?), ARMHOLES and AIRBUILT down. 20 minutes in and feeling happy.

Next, I decided to try and ferret out (no pun intended) the misprints. 1ac HIRAGE and 5ac SLOPE were next to fall followed by GRIFFIN, OVERREACH, PROMISORS and HOPED. I was getting annoyed at missing the entries that needed modification before entry, but that was soon rectified with 5ac SODA which looked as though it became ADOS in the grid. I also realised that HARD-WON should have been HARD-GOT. Next came 21ac BERET which looked like it needed truncating to fit the B and E I already had. RIAS at 26 becoming SAIR confirmed the anagrammy entries and 24dn EARL[Y] confirmed the choppy ones.

I sat back mildly contented and tried to come up with the thematic phrase:

– Clocks changing (wrong time of year)
– Chop and change (too many words)
– Chop around (a bit vague)
– Irish stew (clutching at straws)
– Short change (now that’s a possibility)

listener-4424-my-entryThe rest of the grid came together fairly quickly once I had identified the two methods of entry, and the two misprints in each quadrant enabled GARLIC, CARROT, BARLEY and — ah-ha!! — FALLOW to appear. CROP ROTATION was obviously the theme, and I tried moving the four unclued entries clockwise. Some new words were revealed, so I knew I was home and dry (although it didn’t stop me checking other rotations).

Thanks for an enjoyable puzzle, Ferret. It wasn’t as tricky as your previous Listeners, but it was one that I could explain to a non-crosswording friend over a couple of pints to give him an idea of our fascination with these beasts.

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“Fieldwork” by Ferret

Posted by Encota on 2 December 2016

What a beautifully elegant puzzle!  Ferret has picked four six-letter words suitable for clockwise crop rotation in the puzzle, BARLEY, GARLIC, CARROT and FALLOW, whilst ensuring all changes are still words – very smart.  But also the four ‘rotated’ entries have 90 degree symmetry, as do the four ‘cropped’ entries – impressive, a superb grid.

There were some great clues: to share one, I particularly liked the apparent verb tense mismatch in 30a.  With the clue:

    Decided to dispose of son’s means in Scotland (6) ,

would it be ETTLED [being SETTLED without the S(on)], or ETTLES [Scottish for means]?  Of course one misprint was used to bring the tenses back into alignment – means change to meant – and all was sorted.

One or two words in the grid – especially TETANIC – looked ripe for a single letter change and, in this case, so it was.  Perhaps I wasn’t the only one to wonder if Ferret had at any time been an owner of the bike known as the MIRAGE MOPED that might have appeared at 1?  OK, it was just me!

For the correct answer have a look at Shirley’s and Dave’s blogs.  Alternatively… in some form of parallel universe and for something a little more mystical, first mix yourself a drink.  Specifically knock back a SODA (i.e. ADOS back to SODA in the grid), then off we go….

The aim, in my surreal world of CROP CIRCLES, is to determine in which REGION is the point at which mystical forces converge (and so find the hidden item).  The process is as follows:

  • Stage 1: Locate the Crop Circles – these are all the letter Os in the puzzle.
  • Stage 2: Seek out the ‘ley lines’ created by connecting these, with straight lines as in the diagram.


  • Stage 3: It is then trivial to locate where those forces are concentrated (see diagram).  Rumour has it that if you dig in the REGIONS (27a) with the TOOL (25d) provided, you will find the location of a buried golden hare.  I knew it would turn up if I kept looking.  [editor: Tim, I think you’ve got your puzzles muddled here!]


OK, the diversion above isn’t actually true as such – but it felt slightly plausible.  I think?

Thanks again Ferret for a very elegant gentle puzzle.

cheers all

Tim / Encota

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Also read this…

Posted by Encota on 25 November 2016

Phi’s wit showed immediately in the very first clue (which I suspect Shirley will mention – can’t think why🙂  ).  It initially appeared like a strong contender for “Pedents Corner”, as it included the spelling ‘whisky’ preceded by ‘Irish’!  But no, of course this was Phi’s gentle way of nudging us into noticing that one or other of ‘Irish’ and ‘whisky’ was out of place and thus a likely word to be removed before solving, as per the Preamble’s instruction.  This was going to be fun!

Aside: I’m currently watching Series 3 of Black Mirror, that brilliant-but-scary Charlie Brooker view of a dystopian near-future tech-laden world.  Some grisly, thought-provoking stuff.  I’m picturing a final scene, with a final decision to be made:

Sit loads: hear last radio.  She also has tried to share dials, as this ordeal is old as Earth.  I herald a toss: “Heads or Tails?”

OK, the above is pretentious garbage.  But one thing that does surprise me about the phrase HEADS OR TAILS is how many plausible ‘anagrammed phrases’ it reveals.  We’ve already seen ‘I HERALD A TOSS’ as the appropriate anagram so cleverly used by Phi down the left-hand-side of this puzzle: for those with a spare few minutes over the weekend (or should that read seconds for this audience?) feel free to try these ones:

  1. Graham Norton maybe (8,4)
  2. The crew’s demise (7,5)
  3. Perhaps three-in-four drastically reduced to one-over-the-eight, say (5,7)
  4. Places to buy specific perennial garden plants (6,6)
  5. Lost the plot?  (4,4,4)
  6. 2001 computer’s minor planet? (4,8)
  7. A possible problem for Fallen Angel? (4,8)
  8. Cut off tall pointed London landmark (7,5)
  9. Didn’t find that prize in Kit Williams’ Masquerade (4,4,4)
    [this one is LOST SAID HARE]
  10. A rare scratch? (8,4) and
  11. What this blog could be named, if only I was paid for it (8,4)


Back to the real subject – this super puzzle.  I know I’m a novice when it comes to Listener crosswords – but is the clue type ‘Two Definitions of Words that differ by only one letter plus Wordplay for only the Common Part’ Phi’s own invention?  Certainly these sorts of clues were new to me and fabulous they were – thank you Phi for introducing me to them.  I do look forward to seeing them in use again sometime soon!  Here’s one example:

Persistent psychiatrist introducing singular punishment (7)

Definition 1 = persistent -> LASTING
Definition 2 = punishment -> LASHING
Wordplay = S(ingular) in LAING (psychiatrist) = LASING

and, as I enjoyed them so much, here’s one more:

Encourages busy store to stock unknown screws (7)

Definition 1 = encourages -> EXHORTS
Definition 2 = screws -> EXTORTS
Wordplay = X (unknown) in STORE* = EXORTS

And there were six more to enjoy, all delightful.

For me, the SW corner went in first, though solving 35ac (correctly) as SEA GODS then immediately entering SEA DOGS was a great way to slow me down!  Luckily it soon became obvious what I had done.  Last quadrant in was the SW: 36ac’s Scots downpour had me thinking it was PLASH not BLASH for ten minutes or so.  Once I spotted BLAS(e) for ‘…unimpressed because of familiarity, mostly‘ then all became clear.

There was one plural not directly provided by my (admittedly slightly older 2014) versions of Chambers, namely 11d’s GIRRS.  The third definition under gird says (Scot): ‘A hoop (also girr)’ but girrs doesn’t automatically appear in my WordWeb Pro version (bought this year) as the plural.  I suspect it’ll be updated soon enough.

I felt Phi had been particularly clever in picking words to fit the two phrases, i.e.
I__H   (IrisH) etc.
Picking either the Head or Tail of each word revealed the two 12-letter phrases: I HERALD A TOSS and HEADS OR TAILS.  The skill here as the setter of course was to pick words that would also fit suitably unobtrusively into the twelve chosen clues – no mean feat and done here brilliantly, I felt.

And finally, the Title.  Fairly straightforward this week, at least with hindsight: ‘bit’ as a coin helps create a clever pun.  Overall – great fun.  Thanks Phi!

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