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Listener No 4522: August Break by Aedites

Posted by Dave Hennings on 19 October 2018

Last year, Aedites used a slightly well-known quotation as his theme — you know, that one from Hamlet! I wondered if this week’s theme would be equally famous.

Every clue contained a misprint, and 1, 6, 8 and 12 down were all top-to-bottom 11-letter entries. 1 Taunton dean comes to farm form, without any comments (11) was a straightforward anagram leading to UNANNOTATED. It was only when it went in that I found that no across entry started in that column. However, I did notice that the entries on the other side of the grid had entry lengths that were double what was available.

I wondered if the instruction to be revealed by the misprints would require us to wrap the grid around into the form of a cylinder with entries on the right of the grid wrapping round to the left. NUMNAH at 20ac put paid to that since it didn’t meet with an N at the beginning of its row.

5 Wasp Wash underground for all to see involved in Italian police scandal? (11) was another easy down entry with those nice Italian police beginning SB… and leading to SUBIRRIGATE. 8dn and 12dn, the other 11-letter entries weren’t solved particularly quickly — ELECTROTYPE and THRASH METAL. 21ac ORNITHOSAURS across the middle (right then left) did help.

It was only when I got to UNPLUMBS at 35ac that I sussed what was actually happening. Entries on the right continued in their diagonally opposite spaces. In the case of 35ac, that was at 1ac. That sorted, the grid came together reasonably quickly.

There was still a bit of a hiccup for me though. I had guessed that the first part of the instruction from the misprints read Enter in the grid. Of course, this bore little relationship to the corrections that were actually required in the clues, and anyway it seemed a somewhat trite thing to say. It took a bit of time for me to see that we needed Explain the grid followed by highlight eleven letters.

Thus the grid represented a MOBIUS STRIP opened up. This is (à la Wiki) “a surface with only one side (when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space) and only one boundary”, a discovery attributed to August Ferdinand Möbius (1790–1868).

Thanks, Aedites. Good fun.


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August Break by Aedites

Posted by shirleycurran on 19 October 2018

‘Strange title’ we said, ‘since we are almost at the end of September’. Of course, at that point we were not aware that the crossword was celebrating a German mathematician who died 150 years ago (on 26th September, 1868).

I particularly enjoy Aedites’ crosswords and have been happily solving one or more every year since we began to attempt the Listener so I really don’t need to check his adherence to the Listener topers’ outfit but I do a quick run through the clues anyway and find that they are rather sparse as far as alcohol is concerned. ‘Soft malt extracts work (7)’ is all I find. I suppose the ‘soft malt’ must be the ‘gentle spirit’ from the highest distillery, Dalwhinnie, rather than one of the peaty island malts. Oh dear, we solve the clue and decide there has to be a misprint in it and that this is a ‘soft male’ – he ‘MILKS OP’ so is a milksop. Hmmm! Well cheers, anyway, Aedites.

Fine clues, these, and solving goes along steadily until we have the centre columns of the grid filled with three of the 11-letter clues giving us a useful skeleton for the grid. ‘SBIRRIGATE’ made us smile. ‘Wasp underground for all to see involved in Italian police scandal (11)’ We put a U into what must be the Italian version of Watergate, and decided that ‘WasH underground must be SUBIRRIGATE. ‘Taunton dean comes to farm (that had to be Harm – an anagram indicator) without any comments (11)’ gave us UNANNOTATED, and with ELECTROTYPE, we soon had all but those curious unclued, half words at the left hand side of the grid in place.

I fed a few letters into TEA and that gave me ‘ORNITHOSAURS’ for ‘Cold-blooded fliers and sick authors in irons clanging (11)’, so  it had to be another misprint in an anagram indicator, cHanging AUTHORS and IRONS (rather a clunky surface reading in that clue, I am trying to picture authors and prehistoric flying beasts clanking about in irons – but I know that these long specialist words can be tough to clue).

Fairly early on, we had worked out that the message told us to EXPLAIN THE GRID HIGHLIGHT ELEVEN LETTERS but the remaining six divided words had us head-scratching for a while as we hadn’t yet spotted MOBIUS STRIP down that diagonal. However, a break for dinner and a new look made all fall into place. Of course, if we treat the grid as a MOBIUS STRIP, FAST joins up with DAYS, HAIR with TAIL, RAS with TAS and so on. What a fine final touch. Thanks to Aedites.


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‘August Break’ by Aedites

Posted by Encota on 19 October 2018

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August Ferdinand Möbius was a German mathematician, immortalised by his one-sided surfaces formed (in the simplest case) by taking a strip of paper, twisting it once and then fastening the ends together.  This one-sided shape then has more interesting properties than you might first imagine.  Has everyone tried cutting one down the middle lengthwise, as a simple example?  Or cutting down its length but in a width ratio 1:2?  Or inserting multiple twists before fastening?  All good fun I can remember trying over half a lifetime ago …

In this week’s puzzle it seems to be being used to instruct the words starting horizontally on the right to finish horizontally on the left, in the 180deg rotationally symmetric locations.  Going with this approach appeared to be right, and it let the eleven-letter phrase MOBIUS STRIP appear diagonally down, starting at 2.

To visualise it some more, I envisaged it being solved on a piece of acetate and then formed into a strip after one twist.  This allowed the words to be seen joined up with the letters in the correct order but with some inverted.  I experimented with inverting some letters in the original grid but I couldn’t find a combination of inversions that worked both Horizontally and Vertically, so decided I must be overcomplicating it and stopped there.  I am going to feel a twit when I find out I’ve missed something!


Tim / Encota



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Listener No 4521, Translate into Spanish: A Setter’s Blog by Cagey

Posted by Listen With Others on 14 October 2018

Look at me Ma – I’m a blogger!

Early last year, I looked up ‘glorious revolution’ on Wikipedia as it had been mentioned on the radio [usually radio 6, and although Stuart Marconie seems to have a massive general knowledge (x-ref Round Britain Quiz. It is a shame they are moving him (and Mark Radcliffe (get well soon)) to Sat morning, when children’s lessons in swimming, guitar and gymnastics preclude much listening (aurally and crosswording), I suspect I hear it on some transient radio 4 listening]. Having virtually no knowledge of history (I stared out the window an awful lot at school, and history was, at its best, shamelessly dull in lessons), I had thought it was in the far East, so surprised it was in England. After reading the Wikipedia article I scanned back up to the top and saw the disambiguation thing mentioning the Spanish one. As I am more a numbers person (enjoying Listener numericals/logic ones as well as Magpie ones and Cross-numbers Quarterly), I saw the similarity of the numbers and wrote the coincidence down on a post-it note for above my desk and for future use…

When I had time I returned to it with a vague notion about exchanging or “revolving” the middle two digits (maybe an exchange of central columns where some answers are part numerical to change the grid between displaying antagonists of one revolution into the other). But when it came to create the grid for this, it was clumsy and complicated, and I was fairly convinced that, whilst people may have heard of the English one (except me!), they may not have heard of the Spanish one, so had to be very careful about which way I moved things around. The participators in the revolutions also seemed to have rather inconvenient lengths of names. Glorious revolution seemed too long for one answer, and was clumsy across two. It was also proving very difficult to create the required number letter mix to give the date. In short it was not working.

Eventually I just thought why not just have Glorious revolution as one big across answer. Once I had it written across the top of my paper, I then wondered how long 1688 was in letters as in my head it seemed about the same length. So I started to write underneath. As I was writing it, I realised that the two dates must be anagrams of each other. (This seems to me obvious on starting to write, but when I have explained this to non-crosswordy people they look at me rather blankly — maybe it is just us who think like that!) I got more excited (and a bit shaky) as I neared the end of writing it as it was amazingly the same length! (Is there a setter’s equivalent of a PDM? (An AM – Aberdonian moment? when we pick up the penny).

The idea was then effectively formed. Go from something that was almost glorious revolution (Glorious Revolt UION, was a very early pick – enough to be very, very noticeable but annoyingly not quite there), and use the unclued date at the top to anagrammatise and correct a different line. Then I looked at grid size, it was very wide so needed to be relatively short (top to bottom), and working on 13×13 = 169 and 180×10 is 180, settled on 10. Using scraps of paper, I wrote down the 3 required letters for each column and moved them about, based on constraints of fixed positions, in order to find a combination that gave me a few words in the initially mixed up row – to disguise what was happening – two rows of unchecked cells would have been very obvious. Found that Nous and Tori could be formed. Aesthetically I wanted the two rows to be next to each other, because I wanted to draw people’s attention to that area. I put all this into the initial grid, 18×10, and put the two rows in just below mid-way down as this put some distance between the top (constrained) row and the other constrained rows (this helps in setting), and avoiding the bottom, as constrained letters at the end of words are difficult too. Even with this set up, once I had put in the existing blocks in a symmetrical pattern there was still an awful lot of constraints on the grid, especially having 2 almost fixed letters right next to each other, and the relatively small height of the grid bring the top row constraints closer. (I am sure there is an interesting study to be made of constraints and distances between and word lengths… I have always used constraints to help solve puzzles as well as approximately place thematic things in other people’s puzzles, as there is often a forced distance expectation between a constraint and a second constraint.)

In order to keep up average word length, I put in a few long words top to bottom and spread out from there. Having a lot of forced blocks in two rows, soaks up a lot of the available unching per word, and also I needed to have some way to distinguish the ambiguity, and initially given the already heavy constraints this had to be a rather short word, or in the row with lots of blocks. Tried using ISABELLA, and a few other thematic words, but simply could not get a grid to work. Eventually settled on the word Pact, as it allowed a reasonably quaint turn of phrase in the blurb, it was short, and could fit it into the grid. I also could not find an 18-letter word or phrase that would fit along the bottom of the grid, that allowed word length to be high enough. There were just too many constraints, so had to break symmetry there (rats!). I was determined to keep as much symmetry as possible, as this was probably going to be a carte blanche as there was so much grid moving so did not want numbers and things, and basically that is playing fair, especially as there is a lot of vertical blocks in two rows, which is something that could make a carte blanche difficult to solve.

I have used automatic grid fillers before, which in one Magpie crossword I set left me with a swear word smack bang in the middle of the grid as well as an ass and a vulva in close proximity. Was not happy at all with that and wanted more control. So avoid these if I can and finally only needed help from word wizard to fill the word Glaceing – which I think is the worst bit of the grid. I checked the percentage unching and word lengths as I went along and this was reasonable, even if excluding the top row.

 I thought it was a strong enough idea for The Times, so in consequence I pulled out a lot of stops on the clues (over an hour a clue is what I estimate) to try and give them neat surface readings and some originality. I may have over-complicated them and made a few too difficult for carte blanche setting, but some were deliberately easy to try and make building the grid fair for everyone.

I chose to hide whole words in the clues for the required instructions, as I have already written crosswords with extra single letters and am writing very slowly one with letter substitutions that is proving very difficult. The original message was vaguer, but got great feedback from Artix (thank you very much), who suggested something a little like it now is (and suggested the high and light split- which I thought was great), which I managed to further rearrange to give the current message, keeping one instruction to the across clues and one to the down clues. I wondered if the 180 was actually too well hidden (and not to my mind technically a word), but the Editorial team at the Times cleared that up later with the way they altered the blurb to make it clear about information separated by spaces, which alerts to the solver that it will not all be words, making it fairer. Artix suggested some changes to some of the clues, some whole new clues, (including the ORAN clue) and suggested a second solver before submission, Shark, who provided more excellent feedback (and again much thanks must go to Shark) and more clue feedback. The editors at the Times also did clue editing, rewriting a few, but correcting grammar and tenses in quite a few (x-ref what I have written so far), and they also must receive a huge amount of thanks.

The clue that I am most proud of is RIOTS. I realise that riots and revolutions are not exactly synonymous, but had thought of the clues around about the same time as getting the idea and it evokes the whole theme. It changed format during the process, with some testers wanting it as “Is history filled with such misguided revolutions”, and other wanting it as “History is…”. Those two first words flipped around an amazing amount during the setting! I was also happy with my clue for IDLE [“Fled naked after I had run out of gear?”].

I always send my “preferred version” to editors and of late have started to send clue alternatives when I have these written as well. I note that almost without fail the editors tend to choose the alternative over my preferred. So for a moment might I mourn the loss of:

Maybe E.P. dropped from band on the fringe (4)

… where my alternative was…

Side-splitting cartoonist creates illustration of nobleman (4)

… which became…

Noble cartoonist making sides split (4)

… which I admit improves it, but I have a soft spot for the ropey original.

A few people have complimented the TETRA clue. I have wondered what that type of clue should be called … a DIY run on, like the final one for NEON. The clue used for NEON was actually a variant on a clue in the very first crossword I wrote (unpublished), whose clues all gave answers on a theme and whose clues all lacked definition. That one read “The middle four of 11 (4)”. I used the idea of 11 in a different crossword I did in the Magpie (A Journey from B to A, I think), where the clue was: “My description of 11? (4)”. I like to try and reference previous clues and play with them, although it can be tricky to do. The clue for Neon for this one was originally “Element central to 11?” But that did not get passed Artix (or maybe Shark), and I had to change to “Element central to Pushkin’s novel”, which later (and I cannot remember when) got extended to the final form — “Pushkin’s novel in verse”.

Anyway, finally it all came together and then came out, and seems to have been enjoyed by people, which is the intention. Thanks again to Artix, Shark (test solvers) and the Times editor (Roger Philips) who were essential in making the puzzle come together as well as it has. Thanks also to John Green for tireless marking (and this must have been a scunner to mark, without many real words at the end) and forwarding feedback. And thanks to everyone who has fed back to me.


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Listener 4521: Translate into Spanish by Cagey

Posted by Jaguar on 12 October 2018

I can’t remember when my last blog was. A quick glance through the archives suggests that it was well over two years ago. In the intervening period I’ve barely touched Listeners, but readers may excuse me this lapse when I point out that I’ve been working on, and now almost completed, a PhD instead. Just a few minor corrections left and then it will be Dr. jim42078 or something.

But anyway. Cagey’s first-ever Listener brings me back to blogging, at least in part because I happen to know him personally — a fact that also explains why I even bothered attempting this one, which would mark my first attempt, let alone completion, of a Listener in months. Needless to say, a carte blanche is an ambitious puzzle to start off solving.

Thankfully, however, I’ve been keeping up with the Jumbo on the opposite page, and daily cryptics, just enough so that some level of cold-solving wasn’t quite beyond me. There was also a certain amount of luck, perhaps, that 1dn SAAMI (AAM in is<) and 35d SNIGS (signs*) were generous enough clues, with answers vital to start the grid fill off, even if the answers are fairly obscure. I’ve long-since lost track of how things proceeded from there, but certainly it was mainly the left-hand side of the grid that fell apart first, and at some point a few hours later I had finally decided that the unclued 1ac was SIXTEEN EIGHTY-EIGHT. “Isn’t that when the Glorious Revolution was?”, I thought, and sure enough that neatly explains the reference to William of Orange in 39dn. Oh, and look, there’s the event itself, stretched across the grid! The wonderful GLORIOUS, err, REVOLTUION. People in the 17th century probably didn’t know how to spell, to be fair to Cagey,  so I forgave him this obvious and shocking lapse* in construction and tried to finish the grid off.

But what of those instructions? I’d guessed early on that 29ac’s reference to “columns” was fairly blatantly nothing to do with the clue, but it took a good deal of searching to confirm that, say, “years” in 47ac and “180” in 42ac (a clue I still haven’t fully parsed, but it can be nothing else), were what was required to complete the instruction to pretend that Cagey actually meant 1868, and yet another silly lapse in setting** had led him to realise this only after putting 1688 across the top.

Grid completed, and brief trawl through “1868 in history” on Wikipedia later, I learned that the Spanish had stolen our idea of having a Glorious Revolution, throwing aside Isabella II for some reason (possibly because Glorious Revolutions sound so fun). How nice of them, at least, to wait until the year was so neatly related to 1686 by merely swapping a couple of digits.

In any case, now it was clear why Cagey couldn’t spell, and we had to rearrange the columns such that the seventh row read Glorious Revolution in the right order, whilst also ensuring that the first row had the right date for the Spanish edition.

When it comes to rearranging letters in large groups, Notepad is surprisingly handy, so one grid transfer later (and reflection to make the rows read as columns and vice versa), it was time to play around to get the right date. Not easy, because any fool could see that it’s going to be hard to get the “G” of Glorious to the start when it’s meant to be at the middle…

What happens next can best be described as sheer dumb luck. I stopped cursing at Cagey*** long enough to have another go, and then discovered that I could get “Glor” at the beginning in the seventh row after all. How weird. But never mind, following it through and at last the Glorious Revolution (Spain) is there in all its correctly-spelled glory, running proudly in the … eighth row?!

Yes, in a brilliant stroke of luck, flicking away from the grid of letters and then back, I’d managed to focus on the eighth column by accident — where, of course, hidden in fine style were the letters of “Glorious Revolution” all over again, jumbled up in just the right way so that you could spell it correctly this time. How nice! A “PACT” appears somewhere in the fifth row, too, just to resolve the ambiguity between a couple of Es in the E-heavy date.

A fine debut by Cagey, whose previous efforts have been hidden in the more niche publication of the Magpie, but at last he has reached the dizzying heights of Listener stardom. And, in the process, he has dragged this blogger out of his long slumber.



**more sarcasm

***See above notes.

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