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Listener 4728: Bream by Check

Posted by vaganslistener on 30 Sep 2022

Check’s first Listener, and what a beauty! (Not to mention being a Numpties’ Delight as the theme emerged…) I was pretty busy with professional duties to do with the death of our late and beloved Sovereign, and it provided a cheerful contrast to come home to after the sombre occasions.

The title didn’t at first give anything away, but the preamble was clear and concise so I started at 10a looking for the message from the missing letters.

That device was handled very well indeed. So 10a itself, “Rupture in fantasy land, losing leading duo to ale” (6) lead to HERNIA, parsing as NARNIA – NA + (M)ALE. Of course I liked and spotted 21a “Top scholar’s proem recalled aged book” (5) giving HOSEA from HO [(s)top] + S(cholar) + AE<; and 25d “Murphy’s word of regret on endless yarn” was fun once I’s stopped looking for potatoes and found OCH [changed to OOH later], as much Irish as Scottish, from O + (a)CH(e). Clues like this need careful construction and a dollop of imagination to both set and solve. The downside is that sometimes they do defeat me at least until I have gathered the missing letter, or crossing letters, and can spot the word and reverse engineer the parsing – but that’s part of the point of a crossword.

The note on grid entyry lengths and indication of blank cells will have flagged to old hands that some entries were shorter than the spaces allottted to them, but once that was accounted for (and realising that the extra letter when added made another real word) meant the solve was then a steady one. As MIX appeared at the beginning of the message, I started to think “recipe” (I do a lot of the cooking these days), and BARLEY was looking likely, so BEER was likely to be the product. Pattern searching the bottom line prodUVED BREATHALYSER as a “Nina” and gave the B of BEER, and for once the wordsearch for the further steps was easy as WORT was “decanted” and replaced by HOPS, GLUCOSE turned in ALCOHOL, and CARBON DIOXIDE filled in as the by-product.

The only clue that really bothered me was 19a “A duke escaping death secures antique to pl(a)y ruler” (8) where the answer was obviously EMPERISE – or was that EMPERIZE? I think the parsing was to remove D(uke) from DEMISE and wrap it round PER for “to”, but why does PER=TO, and why did the editor leave the A in at the beginning. I’ve probably missed something, but feel the DEMISE anyway is likely to be right and have stick with the S.

That left just the title to understand and anagramming as usual “fermenting” perhaps) we get AMBER, the traditional colour of Aussie ‘nectar’ or beer.

I see MARSALA was slipped in too for those who prefer the grape to the grain, so happiness all round as long as the bottom line is avoided… Thanks Check, and we look forward to more.

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Bream by Check

Posted by shirleycurran on 30 Sep 2022

Check seems to be a relatively new crossword setter. I find, in Dave Hennings’ crossword database, that he has compiled a pair of EVs (I wrote the hints on Big Dave’s site for one on ‘All You Need Is Love’) and an IQ. There is an ambitious pre-ramble here. It’s a lot harder for a compiler to omit a letter from each clue than it is to add one to the wordplay leading to the solutions. Of course, it’s harder for the solver too.

These were going to give us a message that would lead to ‘four steps in a process’ that we must ‘enter sequentially in the grid’ and then we were going to find and highlight the four-letter product and use a ‘by-product to fill the remaining blank cells’.

‘Bream’ suggested fish to us and it anagrammed to AMBER. “Maybe it’s something to do with gems”, I said, “Or ale – Amber is beer in Australia” said the other Numpty. That prompted me to check that we could admit Check to the Listener setters’ oenophile outfit and, of course his very first clue ‘Rupture in fantasy land, losing leading duo to ale (6)’ earned his place. We removed the first two letters of NARNIA and put the male ‘HE’ there to give us a HERNIA and an added M. Yes, a tough clue, and it went on like that!

The alcohol ‘went on’ too. ‘Wine runs accepted by the French (6)’ Gave us an extra I when we put ‘ruins’ MARS in front of A(ccepted) and the French LA giving us MARSALA. So at this early stage we had already raised our G and Ts to Check. Cheers, Check – see you at the bar somewhere in the south-west next March maybe!

The bottom half of the grid filled fairly quickly and we soon had the rather strange BREATHALYSERS as the only word that would fit that unclued bottom row. As the message emerged, I began to fear that Check was rather overdoing the booze. Our last clue in was LOADED! He surely was ‘under the table’ by this time. ‘Old Bill lies motivated under the table (6)’ We were not sure how we got the N needed for the message out of this after we had opted for O AD as the ‘old bill’ but by now we had four instructions: MIX IN MASHED BARLEY, DECANT WORT, ADD HOPS and FERMENT SUGAR.

We had a number of blank cells. Now we understood why ‘numbers in brackets are the lengths of grid entries’ – we had a completely empty top row and gaps on the bottom row. We also understood that we were brewing BEER which appeard as a diagonal at the bottom left. We put the CARBON DIOXIDE at 1 across creating new words, and completed our bottom row by mixing in the ‘mashed’ or jumbled BARLEY! Nice!

The other Numpty gave me a lecture about fermentation and brewing and prompted me to replace the sugar or GLUCOSE with ALCOHOL. He reminded me that we had been invited to smell the WORT during a visit to an Islay distillery and that we were being asked here to decant the WORT and add HOPS, so BELLWORT became BELLHOPS. What an impressive compilation, Check – absolutely swimming in alcohol! I suspect that a few solvers will be ‘under the table’.

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Listener 4727 Not Again! By Dysart

Posted by vaganslistener on 23 Sep 2022

Good: another puzzle from Andy Stewart. No, not the musician, but Dysart, who has set a long list of them in all the usual barred crossword outlets since 2006. His last Listener was 4683 last October which took us to Mount Olympus. Where will we be going this time?

I was very slow off the mark finding out, mainly because there was a lot else going on, but also because I was misled by the talk of symbols, and finding a PLING (!) in 21a/12d, started to think that (not again) it was a puzzle based on a maths equation.

Not so. Once I got some focus and concentrated on extricating the message from the extra words in the down clues (solving some and guessing others) I found that THAT’S BASIC SPELLING THAT EVERY WOMAN OUGHT TO KNOW, and Mr Google quickyl completed that telling us that A KISS CAN BE A COMMA A QUESTION MARK OR AN EXCLAMATION POINT, as explained by Mistinguett. So – COMMA, QUERY and PLING symmetrically disposed on the fifth row down, and probably three kisses (which turned out to be SMACK BUSS and PECK) similarly arranged in the bottom half of the grid (as they nearly were).

That speeded things up immensely and soon Roald DAHL (author of KISS KISS, to be entered below the grid) emerged as one unclued entry, and (with a bit more pondering) PLAY IT SAM as the other, referencing A KISS IS STILL A KISS, the second line of “As Time Goes By” which was what Sam played in Casablanca.

The wordplay-only clue was 1a INTEROSCULATE (“kiss” in a particular sense), and 44a “Elderly English suitor, clipped badly? Hurtfully!” contained the three symbols from row 5.

A “fruit salad” sort of theme, then, blending diverse examples of the theme into a tasy whole, with high quality clueing to back it up the rich thematic offering. Thanks Dysart, and I’m sure we’ll not be saying “Not again” when we see you next time.

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Not Again by Dysart

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 Sep 2022

What will Dysart be up to this time? His themes vary enormously. We’ve had a wonderful crossword (Magpie, that one) on the world’s rarest stamp, and one on the snake that came to D H Lawrence’s waterhole (Magpie too) as well as his last Listener on the Mount Olympus gods. ‘Not Again!’ is intriguing – but it certainly doesn’t refer to alcohol consumption. As usual I search the clues for evidence of that and only find the curiously repeated ‘porter’ in a couple of almost adjacent clues. Well, cheers, anyway, Dysart.

What we do find fairly quickly is the one clue that ‘consists of wordplay only’. ‘Dog briefly stopping to bury bone departed (13)’ leads us to put together CU[r] OS INTER and LATE, giving INTEROSCULATE. That’s rather a complicated word for KISS.

PLAY IT SAM appears down the left hand side of our grid (probably) and that would explain the title ‘Not Again!’ so we have a potential theme, that song from Casablanca:

You must remember this 
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh 
The fundamental things apply 
As time goes by 
And when two lovers woo 
They still say, “I love you”
On that you can rely 
No matter what the future brings 
As time goes by.

‘A kiss is just a kiss’. Roald Dahl’s Kiss Kiss used to be on our third-year reading list (the students revelled in some of those gruesome stories) so we see who the writer of the other unclued light is, and what to write below our grid and we are left with those clashing letters to sort out. TELECOM and LAMA give us COMMA (,); SALIQUE and HOARY give us QUERY (?); and TRIPLY and BOINGED give us PLING (!). Then we find three KISS words: POMACES and ASKING give SMACK; ABUSION and TASER give BUSS; and EPEES and OCKERS give PECK.

We have a quotation THAT’S BASIC SPELLING THAT EVERY WOMAN OUGHT TO KNOW. (Why ‘woman’ I wonder!) We need the Internet for this and find that Mistinguett said: “A kiss can be a comma, a question mark or an exclamation point. That’s basic spelling that every woman ought to know.” So there we have it.

We wonder whether we have to convert those three characters to Xs (yes – we spot ‘character’ in clue 31 ‘Simpsons character plugs face of islander (6) APU went into PAN to give PAPUAN) since, according to Minguett they can be kisses, but the preamble says that the quotation ‘explains why the three other symbols are different’ so we opt for three characters and three kisses. Thanks for the fun, Dysart!

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Listener No 4726, Red Applause: A Setter’s Blog by Crash

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 Sep 2022

After 50+ years of attempts at solving The Listener Crosswords (and earlier Azed, Ximenes) I thought I would try my hand at setting. ‘Red Applause’ was my fourth submission to The Listener (the first also being a 50 year anniversary puzzle, for the moon landing in 1969, which admittedly fell far short of The Listener standards) and first published. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Listener vetters, particularly Shane, who has been unbelievably diligent in offering help with my education as a prospective setter for The Listener.

At first some apologies. Requiring solvers to ‘colour’ white on a white background is my ‘faux pas’, not an oversight unfortunately as I was well aware of the requirement I was imposing. Luckily all attempts at differentiating between the ‘black’ and ‘white’ chess pieces have been accepted. A second apology is necessary in that most, if not all, were forced to seek help from Google, not only to confirm the topic, but more specifically to confirm the last move made by Fischer, albeit that the instruction for the move was accessible. As commented by some, precisely how to execute the final move on paper (or cutting and pasting) can lead to ambiguity, another apology needed, but again all attempts at representing the final move have been accepted provided that the wQ is shown at f4. Chess aficionados or not, solvers were anticipated to be aware, or seek out, the chessboard nomenclature such that the square f4 was identifiable. As pointed out by some diligent observers, constraining the ‘circles’ to the 8×8 central portion (within the 12×12 full grid) gave an early clue to the chessboard construct, for which I have no apology merely taking this learning for subsequent puzzle setting. A final apology: as with several other puzzles from time to time, a requirement for solvers to erase most of a filled grid after much hard work at solving clues is unfortunate, albeit necessary to reveal or lead to an endgame task.

After failing miserably with an attempt at a moon landing anniversary puzzle in 2018/2019, in early 2021 I set to find a new memorable anniversary sufficiently far in advance such that I could compile a puzzle and through the vetting process to get it in the queue at just the right time (in this case) for a July/August 2022 publication. I am myself not a chess aficionado, but in 1972 I was very well aware of the historic Reykjavik matches between Fischer and Spassky and this proved ideal given the lead time.

For those who are not familiar with the details of the Fischer-Spassky matches, and the strained US-USSR relationship at the time, it was massively out of character for Spassky (USSR) to have stood and applauded Fischer (US) for his win in game 6, which brought me to the title of ‘Red Applause’. It was not until I started this blog that I found the Youtube video “The Applause” | Fischer vs Spassky | (1972) | Game 6.

There is also this link at World Chess Championship 1972: Game 6 (Fischer vs. Spassky) to play each move or fast-forward to the end of the game and indication of the final move. It occurred to me that I could present solvers with a small endgame task, more than just the static positioning of pieces. What followed proved to be a substantial challenge as a setter.

For those of you who are not familiar with setting crosswords, letters like Q, K, and B are to be avoided like the plague, and in this case an additional 9 P’s all in the confined space of an 8×8 grid (within the larger 12×12 grid) plus the ‘K’ in Spassky forced me to consider entries both forwards and backwards in the grid (which as an aside provides a nice extra challenge for solvers). By happenstance I ended up adding another Q (SQUARE/QUEASIER) so I have only myself to blame!

The challenging tasks I set for myself were:

  1. To compile a grid with the end game clearly represented (including the names Fischer and Spassky – symmetrically and on the correct side of the board), and the only way I saw to do this was to require solvers to delete all filled cells except for the letters/names as shown in the solution
  2. To compile clues in such a way that I could offer instructions, on the one hand to require solvers to erase only those filled cells necessary, and secondly to signal solvers to make the final move – this led to both misprints/corrections in clues and clue endings as signals.

I began with the final grid and worked backwards. I had to reach beyond Chambers for PEQUOTS, RIMPLE, and PAIR UP and whereas the latter two were known to me and probably most, I learnt some interesting history when researching PEQUOTS (these folks originated in Connecticut, not too far from where I live)

Clueing eventually proved more difficult than filling the grid. Misprints/corrections proved to be relatively easy to manage, however as I had chosen to compile an instruction using clue end letters I realized that I set myself the task of clueing 4 A’s, 3 I’s, 2 F’s 1 V and 1 Q as last letters in clues. Here again an apology and some words of gratitude. The clues in Red Applause include more than the usual number of place names (driven largely by the clue end letter requirements), to those whose saw this as atypical and strained, my apologies. During the vetting process wherever Shane/Roger edited my initial clue submissions, they too were constrained with these same clue end (and misprint) requirements (e.g. QUM where I had used WUM – both obscure although QUM less so). Kudos to Shane/Roger for their exemplary editing, particularly to help with the surface sense of my efforts. STARTRAP proved quite tricky to define (particularly with a needed misprint MEALS for MEANS), and yet I am particularly happy with the clue to 9. down and the inclusion of Popeye/Spinach eater. I tucked away for future use Q = a drug (trichosanthin), and E = a person on the dole.

A big thank you for those who took the trouble to send letters, e-mails etc + comments on and, not only offering kind words but many with constructive commentary (+ some criticism hopefully addressed above).

A final observation/learning. Those more experienced and/or diligent solvers clearly scan the puzzle/preamble/clues at first looking for macro signals (here the 8×8 grid where the circles are located was admittedly a dead giveaway). I will not only be more diligent myself as I tackle the weekly puzzles but bear this in mind for my next offering, which coincidently is about to filed!.

Crash was an affectionate nickname for my mother who passed in 1992.

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