Listen With Others

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Listener No 4587, Of Course: A Setter’s Blog by Malva

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 January 2020

I have to admit it came as a pleasant surprise to learn Of Course would appear during the festive season, and for a few deluded moments, I even considered the possibility of my puzzles becoming as much a Christmas tradition as watching The Guns of Navarone, picking up the poinsettia leaves that start dropping off 30 minutes after you get it home and wondering if there’s any connection between inadvertently forgetting the binmen’s Christmas box and finding our wheelie bin up a tree at the end of the road.

Realistically, I suppose there’s not much chance of my puzzles becoming a seasonal staple, so I’ll just have to content myself with the traditions I’ve helped establish over the years. Like us hosting the Boxing Day extended family bash for a good while, in which, spookily enough, words featured large in the post-prandial games.

There was the dictionary game, where you had to come up with definitions for obscure words (you can tell how long ago it was by the fact that you could say polenta was a South American burrowing rodent and everyone reckoned that was spot on). Then there was the letter game, where you had to compile a long list of things beginning with a randomly chosen letter, but that had its own holly-hued headaches, especially when Aunty Olga would have a nuclear strop because she insisted Yugoslavia began with a J, which was a tad irrelevant because the chosen letter was F, and Uncle Russell had already given himself three points for Fasso, Burkina and no-one wanted to play after that. Usually, by about seven, there had been enough cross words to fill the other 51 weeks of the year and the assembled crew trotted off and we were just left with about six hundredweight of washing-up and not a single morsel (or ort as most solvers would say) of uneaten food apart from a bucket of Cousin Helen’s homemade chestnut stuffing, which I eventually used to waterproof the porch roof where a couple of the tiles had slipped.

OK, so Of Course won’t be setting any Yuletide precedents and probably a proportion of solvers will be hoping I at least follow New Year tradition by resolving to create just one more avian puzzle at the most – obviously to be completed using a feather quill and delivered to John Green by carrier pigeon. But then, who makes resolutions any more?

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Listener No 4587: Of Course by Malva

Posted by Dave Hennings on 17 January 2020

Malva is the ornithological version of Dipper the Gardener, his previous puzzle with its migrating birds appearing less than a year ago in March. Here we had the answers and the clues being altered thematically, half one way and half another.

Cutting a long story short [Pun intended? Ed.], the thematic adjustents consisted of losing the last two or three letters of words. This seemed a bit vague to me, but assumed that all would be made clear later.

My favourite clue, due its novelty, was 7dn 4/13 + 2/3 + 3/4 + 1/6 is example of sum[ach] (4) for RHUS. I wondered if Malva thought this would be accepted by the vetters — or was it their clue?! And thank goodness he didn’t use this technique in his clue for BANDOLEONS! I also liked some of the thematic adjustments, like pass[age], fun[gal] and aster[oid].

Reaching the endgame, I must confess that the link between the title and the missing letters didn’t jump to mind. After all, losing two or three letters is not quite the same as scoring fewer shots, golf being a game where fewer is better! It needed me to find ALCATRAS in column 4 of the grid with its definition in Chambers telling me it was “a name applied to several large water birds, such as the pelican, gannet, frigate bird and albatross”. Kerching! And there in row 10 was ERNE the Eagle.

I have only ever seen one person at my golf club get an albatross, a rare feat indeed: as we left the green of a par 5, a ball rolled up and into the hole — from 220 yards away. One lucky teenager!

Slotting the SARDINE under the grid finished the puzzle. Thanks for the entertainment, Malva. I’d have been mortified if I hadn’t got there.

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Of Course by Malva

Posted by shirleycurran on 17 January 2020

“Malva” we said – does that mean birds? (Or birdies? But we didn’t think of a golf course ‘Of Course’ at this stage – that came after rather a lot of head scratching when we had a full grid, a sardine and a couple of large birds attacking it at almost midnight.)

I didn’t really need to confirm Malva’s right of.admission to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit as I believe he earned that earlier this year. However, I did my customary hunt and there was ‘port’, ‘Lett succeeded hiding in part of harem in port (6)’. By this time we had understood that we were removing two or three letters from the solution or from a word in the clue. We opted for LETT(er) in ODA, giving ODESSA. Not much port there. A more convincing quantity of GINS was upturned in ‘Count fish traps backwards (4)’. We decided it was a COUNT(ry) fish, a SNIG. A rather muted “Cheers, Malva”. Clearly there might have been a few EAGLES and ALBATROSSES but no hole-in-one, when Malva would have had to buy a round for everyone in the clubhouse but we’ll settle for the port and gins.

Filling the grid became easier as we progressed and long words like NYSTATIN, HEPATICA and SPATTERDASH and BANDOLEONS were offered to us by TEA or Crossword compiler using the letters we had, but it was the short words like HAFT, FIAT, SORRA and TETRA that proved to be the most difficult, since we didn’t have the reassurance of word length provided. Still, we soon had AR, IDE and NS as the alterations for the three italicised clues and those jumbled to a SARDINE.

That creature  might not be happy to see either of the ‘examples of a strand in the theme’. We could see a potential CAT, an ERNE and an ALCATRAS in the grid but it took us a long time to suss that two of those were an eagle and an albatross – so the penny dropped – they were what were clipping off the tails of the poor sardines, or being two or three below par ‘of course’.

An interesting new device, Malva. I must remember next time a grid is giving me trouble – just choose a few long words and chop the ends off when I get to a bar. Many thanks for the last Listener crossword of the year.

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L4587: 'Of Course' by Malva

Posted by Encota on 17 January 2020

A neat puzzle with an infuriating endgame!

I had a bout of thickness, where I had no idea what the Title was referring to. So I visited the Nineteenth Hole for inspiration …

After too long, it turned out I was on a golf course. That achieving two or three under being called an Eagle and an Albatross I did know. Spotting them in the forms highlighted above – in particular ALCATRAS – was much, much harder!

Finding the additions in the clues was fun,
e.g 35d. Prune aster to wrap in waxed cloth (4)

With a couple of crossing letters and the definition ‘to wrap in waxed cloth’ it was clear that the answer was almost certainly CERE. But why?

Realising that ‘aster’ was actually ‘3 under’ and should have been reading ‘asteroid‘ made it clear. The clue really read: Prune asteroid to wrap in waxed cloth (4)

So, start with CERES, prune off the S and we’re sorted. Good fun!


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4586, Square Deal?: A Setter’s Blog by Tiburon

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 January 2020

I find the toughest part about compiling to be coming up with a suitable theme. I envy those who tell me they have long lists of potential puzzle ideas and not enough time to implement them. Perhaps having more time on my hands will help the creative juices to flow…

I had long had the idea for a puzzle based on the standard Tangram pieces. A search of the Crossword Database (thanks to our host!) confirmed my suspicion that this ancient Chinese game had not featured in the Listener (the one previous outing had been a Pieman puzzle in Magpie in 2005). I liked the idea of requiring solvers to dissect the grid and rearrange it into something thematically appropriate. I can’t really remember when the idea of a Christmas tree finale came to me, but I felt it would be nice to aim for a festively themed puzzle (at the time, I had not yet tested Pointer’s puzzle!) for a change. I found a suitable Tangram tree online and set to designing the puzzle.

My first problem was how to give solvers the necessary instructions to cut up the grid and to reassemble it correctly. I thought of presenting dots at the intersections of the Tangram shapes in the blank grid, but that felt like a cop out. Maybe I could devise some gimmick to lead solvers to place such dots, but that felt quite convoluted. I then noticed that most of the ‘cuts’ would be diagonal and thought of using two-letter cells to be divided by appropriately oriented diagonal lines to give solvers guides to the lines to be cut, but I suspected that would end up with a very complex grid fill and the cut between the parallelogram and the small triangle could not be indicated this way as it ran along gridlines. This is when I came up with the idea of matching letters to enable the reassembly and having those letters identified by being omitted from wordplay. The pesky ‘trunk’/‘pot’ didn’t align perfectly with the rest of the tree, which forced the slight exception to the instructions. I found that judicious placement of these ‘key’ letters provided very little optionality with the cuts, so I could now proceed to producing a grid.

I had already decided to give hints to the final submission by delivering TANGRAM from the clues. I then thought of the carol O Christmas Tree (possibly a subliminal nudge from the Pointer puzzle?) and decided to deliver the original German title O Tannenbaum for further slight misdirection. I then decided to give a seasonal message in the assembled ‘tree’ as a final flourish. The slightly less British MERRY was forced by giving easier letters than HAPPY to accommodate in the grid.

The grid fill was still quite tricky, given the constraints I had set myself (particularly the fully checked two-letter cells), but after half a dozen or so attempts, I was satisfied with a grid that had some interesting words to clue. I tried hard, but was unable to remove the slight flaw of two entries each needing to contain two unindicated letters.

The really enjoyable part was cluing the puzzle. The clue gimmicks I had decided upon left four normal clues, so I decided to use them to ‘bracket’ each of the three words delivered by misprints. Over the course of about two weeks (I was still working) I completed my first draft set of clues. I was delighted to spot some serendipitous misprints such as “finally accepted” and “food like savarin”, but struggled with others (eg, OCTET and AULIC). I spent a further week trying to polish these before having the puzzle test-solved. Then it was off to Roger after a few more tweaks and he agreed to publishing two festive puzzles in the run-up to Christmas. I also have him to thank for the title and the solution artwork.

I did have qualms about how fiddly the task would be for some and the difficulties it might pose for our inimitable checker John Green. In the end I hoped that the final pay-off would outweigh the inconvenience. Feedback I have received suggests it just about did.

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