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Listener No 4578, Trick or Treat: A Setter’s Blog by Deuce

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 November 2019

The B-Word

First of all, profuse apologies to all those of you had hoped to escape the dreary repetitions of the daily news to find some escape on the puzzle page. The B-word finds its way into everything these days; there’s no escape.

The idea for this puzzle came fairly naturally. Beleaguered as we all are by the endless politicking on Brexit, I noted a strange symmetry in the legal aspect of what was going on: the continentals attempting to extract the UK from their body of law as much as vice versa.

Most crucially for a cruciverbalist, the excision in both cases involves exactly two letters, “EU” and “UK”: two pairs of letters which, a quick Chambers check showed, occurred in a decent number of English words.

Two more ideas helped make the concept complete. The half-and-half flag that has been so recently beloved of picture editors struck me as a workable grid. And of course I wanted to use the former prime minister’s excellent catchphrase; the B-word entered the OED in late-2016, albeit with a more helpful definition than simply BREXIT MEANS BREXIT.

Then comes the trick of cramming as many of the theme words in as possible. Sadly delights KABUKI, PUKKA SAHIB and BOOZE-UP fell by the wayside, leaving REUTERS, REUNIONS, DEUTERIUM, NEUROLOGY on one side, JUKEBOXES, DUKEDOM, LUKEWARM and GREAT AUKS on the other. (I briefly thought about mixing the two, through EUKARYOTES or LEUKOCYTES, but that took the complexity too far).

Sadly this phase also saw the original ambition curtailed. Jurisdictionally speaking, the left side of the grid should of course be half a Union Jack. But a grid can only be constrained so much; tucking in the diagonals made the insertion of further words unworkable. And I felt a St George’s cross could sort of be passed off as legitimate political commentary on a decision that divided the Kingdom (even if, by rights, I should have included a Welsh dragon into the grid: answers on a postcard for how to do that).

Crosswording on contemporary topics always presents a risk the theme will end up out-of-date; bear in mind I started this one some time in mid-2018. In this case I took a punt that Brexit would still be in the headlines; and I think I won it, even if 31 October proved not to be what it once was. Fortunately I managed to avoid citing the personalities who have rather disappeared from the picture, such as DAVIS; BARCLAY would as it turns out have been a better correspondent for BARNIER, but was at the time unheard of.

From what I can tell 1ac proved critical to solvers: those who saw the word REUTERS and worked back would have a big clue from the get-go; others didn’t get there until later.

From the limited feedback I’ve been able to glean, I gather some were left scratching around trying to find some yet more hidden level of meaning within the grid, after spotting FARAGE and JACOB REES MOGG. I take the point it would have been better to say those names “found,” rather than “hidden”, in the grid, given that they were hidden in plain sight: still, simplicity is nothing to apologise for; it’s often a synonym for elegance.

The original title for the puzzle, DOUBLE STANDARD, would perhaps have made it clearer what the aim was, but was rejected as the same play on words had been used in a a recent Listener puzzle, Harribobs’ International Standards Organisation; I must admit I didn’t think about the implications of this for the endgame until too late.

Most of all I’m thrilled to be included, for the first time, in the illustrious company of Listener setters. To be honest, I only tried getting into setting after hearing the excellent Desert Island Discs with John Graham, Araucaria, who confessed to Kirsty Young that he, like me, was not much of a solver. I can on a good day finish the FT daily, but a Listener is beyond me; I had always assumed that this would have excluded me from setting, in the same way my lack of footballing prowess excluded me from being England manager.

So thanks to all for your feedback! I’ll still never be England manager.

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Trick or Treat by Deuce

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 November 2019

With Halloween just around the corner, we wondered whether Deuce was a kind of Guy Fawkes in disguise planning to get into the basement below the current government and … No, enough of that … I scanned his (her?) clues to confirm that this apparently new Listener setter earns a place among the Listener Setters Oenophiles and sure enough found ‘Glasses swirled with essence of tequila – cucumbers in the drink? (8, two words)‘. That sounded quite hopeful (until we ‘swirled’ or anagrammed those GLASSES with (teq)U(ila) and found that the cucumbers were SEA SLUGS). Not an auspicious start but “Cheers!” anyway, Deuce. Hope we’ll see you at the bar at the next setters’ dinner – you will have the honour of the slugging.

Clue lengths told us which eight words were to be altered thematically before entry in the grid but those eight words were almost the last we entered. The ‘definition followed by its speaker (title and surname)’ appeared much sooner. “?REXIT? – surely not that!” said the other Numpty, but a moment later, there it was again ‘BREXIT MEANS BREXIT PM MAY’ and we had the theme after about an hour of solving.

The grid filled quickly now with a few smiles along the way. My favourite clue of the week was certainly ‘Neglected any one of the consonants in spelling “flan”?’ That gave us F or L or N didn’t it! Lovely.

BARNIER appeared next from those clashes and he seemed to be occupying the stars on the EU flag that we see being waved, daily, outside Westminster by Mr Loud. I was misled, here, by that word ‘analogous’ and imagined I had to mirror those stars in the other half of the grid. We already had those two, oh so popular politicians, FARAGE and JACOB REES MOGG in our grid but the penny didn’t drop immediately.

And I had cause to rejoice too, as it is almost two years since we said a sad goodbye to Poat’s little HARE who went off for his long holiday (and so many friends have wondered if he had really been shot) but  what a pleasure to see that he is safe, somewhere in Europe  (on the fifth row of the grid after Barnier is ousted – welcome back, little hare!)

We still had to alter those eight answers. D[EU]TERIUM came first, quickly followed by N[EU]ROLOGY, and when we realized that the D[UK]EDOMS were Cambridge and Edinburgh, all fell into place, with J[UK]EBOXES, L[UK]EWARM and GREAT A[UK]S abandoning the EU side of the grid, and R[EU]TERS and R[EU]NIONS being exiled from the UK. Thus we extracted the UK from BARNIER’s side of the grid and took the EU out of the clutches of FARAGE and REES-MOGG.

Well, many thanks to Deuce. (We are really wondering now who the D[EU]ce could be though it is fairly clear which side of the grid he belongs to – and does he believe he has been tricked or is in for a treat when all the shenanigans are over?) This was a gentle bit of fun and left us plenty of time to go to a lively bonfire birthday party at the Rugby Club in the neighbouring village – though there is driving rain and a howling gale in the Yorkshire Dales, where we are just now, and I suspect that the bonfire will not be lit and maybe not that other Westminster one either – if only!




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Listener No 4577, The Gaudy: A Setter’s Blog by Paddock

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 November 2019

I can’t say that I am a particular fan of Morse in either his literary or televisual (pre-Endeavour… or do I mean post-Endeavour?) incarnation, albeit Last Bus to Woodstock is as far as I know the only novel wherein every character shares their surname with a distinguished competitor in the Ximenes competitions of the latter half of the 1960s.

However, I believe that Colin Dexter’s clues for the Azed competitions between around 1980 and 2005 mark him out as arguably the finest precision clue writer of that period, and I was keen to produce some kind of homage to the man known to Azed aficionados simply as ‘NCD’.

Digressing slightly, when I started setting puzzles a few years ago I decided that I wanted my thematic crosswords to be rectangular in shape, to use only real words (and no proper names unless they were directly linked to the theme), and not to require shapes to be drawn in the grid, which would demand far more imagination and artistic skill than I possess. I decided more recently that I would also avoid certain clue gimmicks, such as deliberate misprints, which I felt were overused (not least by me!). These strictures limit the range of my output, but I know that there are lots of less inhibited setters out there to redress the resultant innovation deficit. I also try to choose themes, or treatments thereof, which do not substantially favour solvers who possess relevant knowledge. I didn’t manage to achieve that here (of which more later).

In this crossword I planned to include the pseudonym which NCD used for his puzzles in the Oxford Times, ‘Codex’, and to bring MORSE into the final grid, ideally replacing CODEX, since the latter also means ‘code’. I hadn’t previously seen a puzzle where specific phrases were omitted from the clues, and I thought it could work if the surface readings were sufficiently helpful to solvers. Using phrases of more than two words would have made it well-nigh impossible to write proper cryptic clues that also gave a good pointer to what was missing (eg “Fellow sleuth’s [last seen wearing] hat” could indicate the last letter of ‘sleuth’ being contained by ‘cap’, giving CHAP, but how is the solver to deduce ‘seen’?), and I rapidly rejected the idea of using the first two words of each title, three definite articles adding up to one definite ‘no’. There were sufficient titles for eleven ‘missing phrase’ clues, but six seemed about right, so I identified six words for which I could write suitable clues (this was far and away the most difficult part of the setting process), and replaced the missing words in these clues with ‘# #’ (no lengths being given for the absent words).

I had the PADDOCK/DEATH thing lined up, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the letters of DEATH could be taken from THE REmorseFUL DAY (which features the DEATH of MORSE) leaving REFULY, the constituents of FLEURY. The time had arrived to populate the grid (trying to arrange the six pre-selected solutions so they didn’t cross each other in too many places), write the remaining clues, and submit…

[Spring turns to Autumn]

I don’t use test solvers, so the editors were the guinea pigs. Neither was familiar with the titles of the novels, and the absence of lengths for the missing words caused them problems in the solve. Hence they decided to replace my original hashes with the word lengths in square brackets. I’m sure this was the right thing to do, making the puzzle fairer for everyone, but it did perhaps mean that those familiar with the books (who were always, unfortunately, going to be at a significant advantage) could identify the theme even more readily. As ever, the editors did a great job of improving the preamble and adjusting/abridging a few clues.

Feeling that the thematic aspect would be relatively straightforward to untangle, I had tried to make the clues quite tricky, eschewing lurkers (and homophones, but I never use them anyway), and limiting anagrams to just the non-standard clues. I took particular care to ensure the soundness of these six clues, not wanting to have to rewrite any of them! The editors did raise a question over the use of ‘bodies’ in 27d as a containment indicator, and while Chambers gives one meaning of ‘to body’ as ‘to embody’, the examples given by OED are only as convincing as one chooses them to be. I wanted this clue to work, because the surface gives a clear indication of the missing words, but in hindsight I should have gone back to square one with ‘the dead’. Moral: if you as the setter are having to justify the legitimacy of any element of a puzzle to yourself, then even if it is technically sound it is almost guaranteed to raise questions in the solver’s mind and detract from the overall effect of the puzzle.

The title of the final novel, The Remorseful Day, has its origins in Henry VI, Part 2 (“The gaudy, blabbing and remorseful day is crept into the bosom of the sea”), and subsequently appears in the poem How Clear, How Lovely Bright (“How hopeless under ground / Falls the remorseful day”) by Morse’s favourite poet, A E Housman (coincidentally also much liked by Dexter!). I felt the title ‘The Gaudy’ offered a whiff of Oxford but didn’t give too much away; ‘Gaudy Day’ and ‘The Gaudy…’ were other possibilities which would probably have been no more and no less clear (or lovely bright) to solvers. ‘Crimes to Person’ had a certain appeal, but was rather obviously an anagram and could have given the game away at the outset. Anything that involved ‘Blabbing’ was way too googleable.

My original clues for two crossing entries (26a and 21d) both included obscure words in the wordplays for solutions which are themselves obscure. I had clearly been trying a tad too hard to make the clues tough, as I normally view this type of clue with the same degree of enthusiasm as I do a plate of broccoli. I rewrote both clues, and the new clue to 26a was probably my favourite of the lot – not up to NCD’s standard, of course, but I’d like to think that it might at least have given him a smile…

Paddock, October 2019

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The Gaudy by Paddock

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 November 2019

I was all set to mutter about a setter expecting us to write our own clues (though, come to think of it, that is not such a bad idea – I have an inkling that the majority of setters prefer creating the grid to setting the clues – I remember how we smiled when one budding setter announced that he had some great grids drawn up but was looking for a co-setter to do the clue-writing). However, when I read through Paddock’s clues, I was speedily distracted by the alcohol absolutlely dripping through them and forgot that we had some clue writing to do.

‘Trump’s restricting acceptable drinking vessels at Turnberry (5)’ “Ah, that’s a Scottish indicator isn’t it?” I asked, and the other numpty confirmed that we needed a Scots word for those vessels CUPS around A giving us CAUPS. ‘One may scoff at returning wine bottles (5)’ We decided that the RED was the returning wine and that that bottles (contains) AT = IN, so it was a DINER at Trump’s golf course doing the scoffing and emptying of the bottles. ‘Scots lament only drinking in moderation (5)’ (Depends what we are drinking doesn’t it – it’s a shame to drink one of those fine vintage Taliskers that we were drinking on Lewis a couple of weeks ago in anything other than moderation!) However, we put HO (‘moderation’, as well as an unspeakable US variant) into ONE (= ONLY) and had our Scots lament, OHONE. Paddock hadn’t finished: ‘Titled soak knocked back “medicine” (6)’ One has to wonder what he was drinking but we reversed RET, added MED and entered TERMED. What can I say? Cheers, Paddock!

Those clues we had to partly write ourselves took us much longer than they should have done to twig. ‘Felt revulsion at shifting [3.4] bodies about (5)’ gave us HATED and suggested THE DEAD, but that led me on a wild goose chase. Teaching James Joyce’s The Dead is not one of my most memorable educational experiences but that seemed to be a likely candidate, and a number of other authors (Agatha Christie, Stephen King …) produced likely candidates for our author and series of novels, but it wasn’t until OF JERICHO appeared (Brave Joshua’s first to come out [2,7] after collapse (6)’ [J]ERICHO* less J, that we finally saw the light. “It’s Morse!”

Wiki kindly provided a list and we saw Last Bus to Woodstock, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, Last Seen Wearing, Service of all the Dead, The Dead of Jericho, The Riddle of the Third Mile, Death is Now my Neighbour and The Remorseful Day. All that remained was to fit those extra letters DE that had been omitted from the clue to CODEX into another word to produce that penultimate title. There was only one place to do that and we converted LOATH to DEATH then saw, with delight, that DEATH was now the neighbour of our setter PADDOCK.

We had two new words, DEATH and FLEURY and when we extracted their letters from THE REMORSEFUL DAY, what did we see? MORSE, of course. We had to place him somewhere else in the grid and CODEX was the obvious location and produced only real words. A fine achievement, Thank you Paddock.


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Listener No 4577: The Gaudy by Paddock

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 November 2019

Paddock’s third Listener hit us this week, following on from a game of Battleships in 2016 and Ovid’s Metamorphoses last year. Here we had an interesting clueing technique with phrases from book titles had to become part of the clues signified by their word lengths in square brackets.

The first such clue that I got was 14ac Brave Joshua’s first to come out [2 7] after collapse (6) where what looked like HEROIC with J(oshua) gave us of Jericho as the book title bit. I’m afraid I’m not an expert on that Oxford detective, but I recalled that one of the books was [checks Wiki] The Dead of Jericho. That revelation came fairly early in my solve, but little did it help me with the other book titles that we’d need. I knew that the last was going to be The Remorseful Day, but that belonged to the endgame.

A few clues stood out for me:

15ac CODEX Against banning new “adults only” book that hasn’t been printed (5)
CON – N + X (with the wordplay for DE omitted
19dn SEEDCASE Judge going over statements to court accepts conclusion of Raymond Burr, maybe (8)
SEE + CASE around (Raymon)D
22dn FLATLET Low-rent accommodation (7)
One clue made me shudder with its reference to some bloke:

7dn AXOIDS      Figures old Tory leader no longer supports a vote (6)
O + IDS (say no more) after (A + X)
And so the restored clues gave us:

14ac HEROIC Brave Joshua’s first to come out [The Dead] of Jericho after collapse (6)
35ac LENSES Loony [Last] Seen Wearing extreme pair of ladies’ glasses (6)
6dn WORDLESS [The] Silent World [of Nicholas Quinn desolated, being short of energy (8)
10dn TRACE Spot one’s Last Bus [to Woodstock] close to midnight, heading north (5)
27dn HATED Felt revulsion at shifting [Service of All] the Dead bodies about (5)
33dn ARMS Limbs are beginning to suffer around marathon’s [The Riddle of the] Third Mile (4)
Finally, the DE from CODEX moved to the LO of LOATH to suggest Death is Now My Neighbour (or at least Paddock’s at 30ac) and the letters from DEATH, FLEURY and MORSE (replacing CODEX) gave us The Remorseful Day.

Thanks for the entertainment, Paddock.

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