Listen With Others

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Listener No 4646, Life: A Setter’s Blog by Hawk

Posted by Listen With Others on 7 March 2021

“Life” was my first published crossword – I’m not connected with another Hawk who set an Enigmatic Variations puzzle in 2018. I was confident the puzzle would be fun to tackle, as it’s the kind I enjoy solving myself, and I’ve since received some very nice comments – notwithstanding what people here might post! I’ve heard that Listen With Others is a tough crowd 🙂

It was based on an unpublished puzzle I devised about 10 years ago. Its 25 clues were pairs of synonyms leading to two words, where the solver had to deduce that one of the answers had a different letter inserted into the middle of the other (eg Tarmac/Fugitive leading to Runway/Runaway). As the final step, the solver had to construct question 26 by reading alternate inserted letters, and then solve that. Well, adapting this was the idea, but the crossword drifted somewhat from this blueprint. I realise now that Listener crosswords, like shopping trollies, develop a mind of their own.

Using different centres as a theme, I thought of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – a quote that handily appears in the ODQ, so it couldn’t be rejected as ‘cult’. The 29 letters didn’t lend themselves to a grid figure immediately, but the Valentine’s Day heart allowed me to do this neatly inside a 13×13 grid. It was just possible to compile a symmetrical grid, and one attempt handily resulted in 50 entries. I couldn’t avoid the two under-checked five-letter entries, unfortunately.

I initially chose double clues to keep the overall word count down. I’d originally planned to have the extra words in a particular order so clue 26 was derivable in some way from their centres, but this would have been too restrictive. There was however enough freedom in the choice of extra words to have clue 26 hidden elsewhere within their letters. An additional misprint in each paired clue would keep the theme and mechanics hidden for a little longer, and, as I hate long grid searches, I hid the required figure in circled cells.

The preamble instructions for all these gimmicks were eating into my 500-word target, so I tried to be concise with the clues. This may have been to the detriment of their surface readings – “Like James Joyce after a session on the Guinness”, someone later described.

I had just missed a Saturday Valentine’s Day, but thought the one on Sunday in 2021 might be acceptable, and submitted the puzzle in November 2019, well in advance. The vetters’ reports were positive, but they rewrote some of the clues for style, as I had unwittingly placed too many of the extra words at the intersections between the two clues. I love the Pelé and Metamorphoses clues, but we have to thank the Listener editor for those.

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Listener No 4646: Life by Hawk

Posted by Dave Hennings on 5 March 2021

A new setter this week with a pseudonym that made him or her seem somewhat fearsome. Quite a long preamble faced us and clues listed in pairs for entries symmetrically placed — mostly. That last bit sounded a bit odd until it became apparent from the grid that this referred to the two middle entries across and down.

There was a lot going on in the preamble, starting with the grid representing a metaphorical container. That sounded ominous and might need some lateral thinking which age is making more and more difficult for me. With regard to the clues, one of each pair had an extra word with the other containing a misprint, not necessarily in the definition. Unlike some, I like misprints, but the extra word feature might make things very tricky. The corrections would spell out a thematic quality shared by the extra words.

I liked the first clue, Swimmers discover around 100 German war bombs — reconstructed fandangles — no good leaving for beach dweller (8; 8, two words), partly because there was a hint of a surface reading with swimmers and beach dweller, but overall sounded like gibberish (although it made me smile). Luckily the second sub-clue (?) was an easy solve: SAND FLEA (FANDANGLES* – NG). Of course, I had no idea whether it went in the top or the bottom row.

The trouble was that that didn’t seem to have a misprint or an extra word! Was Hawk being a bit sneaky by having the extra word between the two sub-clues (?), in this case bombs? Time would tell.

A few clues on and nothing else got solved so I tried 2,37 Priest in Sri Lanka meeting queen and king; colonials walk with enough in attendance, without question (5) to see if that could fix SAND FLEA. Part 2 could be QUORUM – QU or better still, QUORATE – QU giving talk as the corrected misprint. As for the first sub-clue (?), it is a mystery to me why Sri Lanka still keeps the IVR code for Ceylon, its old colonial name rather than change to SL or SRI or something. Anyway, CL it is and CLERK went in at 2dn.

SKYWAYS and BASUTOS came next at 20,34, and things started moving in the right direction although somewhat slowly. That said, it was all good fun trying to disentangle the extra words and misprints.

There were some interesting and entertaining clues along the way. 7,40 Mother of gods, allow odd divine inspiration: unknown bencher found after week in House of Lords (4) seemed an awfully long clue for two 4-letter words — LETO (LET + O, misprinted old) and HWYL (Y after W in HL) with bencher being the extra word. As well as 1,48 (see above) with its excellent misprint of war for car, my favourite was 6,26 Products of hairy leg found in piles cream; prince once again calls farm labourers (8) (STILTONS/PREDIALS), mainly because it just made me laugh!

All the political references did not go unnoticed either: visionary government (where?), election plunder (here?) and lay peerage in the House of Lords.

And so we had the misprint corrections spelling out Centres differ and Third letters. It was finally clear what disparate words like decitizenised, slaughterer and dehydrators were giving us: taken together, their centre letters were all different but needed their third letters — Mystic carnival, queen caught to give us the clue to FAQIR which provided the missing letter Q.

All done bar the end bit. Unjumbling the circled letters in the grid gave CARDIOID so we had to find a heart shape which would trace out part of a film quotation “describing the selection”. My main concern was that there were 29 cells that gave this. Normally, such highlighting or drawing would be symmetric, but 29 implied that it wasn’t. One thing I did notice was that there were an awful lot of HWs and WYs in adjacent cells in the grid. Coincidence? (It would indeed turn out so.)

Before analysing the grid, I decided that my first port of call was the ODQ. Well that was depressing, since life had over four columns of references in the index and heart had nearly three. Luckily, help was at hand with my fifth edition rather than the much later eighth. The older version has a number of “Special Categories” such as Epitaphs, Last Words and Mottoes. More importantly this week, it also has Film Lines, and it didn’t take long to find the quotation from Forrest Gump: “My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get.”

All this was somewhat annoying since Forrest Gump is one of the films I was planning to watch again during one of these lockdowns, but sadly it’s still waiting. I have heard the quotation before but whether watching the film would have enabled it to be recalled for this puzzle will remain a mystery. And so a line was drawn through the 29 cells spelling out the last part of the quotation, and joining them up to form a closed loop and a complete heart.

All in all, a very enjoyable puzzle. Thanks, Hawk.

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Life by Hawk

Posted by shirleycurran on 5 March 2021

I believe this is Hawk’s first Listener. We muttered about the rather long pre-ramble and the fact that clues were double. “There’s no real need for that!” said the other Numpty but, of course, solving showed us that they were a useful device to combine the two clues, like ‘bombs’ in the first pair, where the extra word appeared between the two and improved the surface-reading of the pair: ‘Swimmers discover around 100 German war bombs – reconstructed fandangles – no good leaving for beach dweller (8;8 two words)’.

There’s an almost convincing surface-reading there of 100 buried offshore bombs that risk wiping out the fellow who has some sort of shack on the beach. We found the SAND FLEA first, by anagramming ‘fandangles’ less NG (no good), then worked out that SCOPELUS was SUS C around OPEL, a German Car (not War), so that BOMBS had to be the extra word that seemed to be part of the first clue but really gave the extra word for the second. And indeed, we struggled just as long and hard with most of the remaining clues, fortunately getting some idea of solutions as our grid filled and being able to work backwards to solve the complex clues.

A new setter. Does he qualify for entry to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Elite? Gloom settled as I read through the clues and I’m afraid there isn’t a lot of hope for Hawk unless we can somehow accept those’dehydrators’ that appeared in the penultimate clue. By the time we got there, we had sussed that the corrected misprints were spelling CENTRES DIFFER and THIRD LETTERS, so that DEHYDRATORS was only in the clue to give us a central R. Yes, expecting a message, I copied those extra words into a list only to find that, like the chocolates in Forrest Gump’s box, the centres did indeed differ with a mere 25 combined clues producing all the alphabet except Q.

So we remove DEHYDRATORS from ‘Antelope express carrying fish from the south supports European cook over coal fire (7)’ and, overlooking the extremely odd surface reading, decide that SASSABY (one of the many antelopes who make their way into crosswords) is ‘express = SAY’ carrying an upturned BASS, and that the ‘supports’ are, as usual in crosswords, BRAS (when they are not TEES) with European Rook Over producing the ERO of BRASERO. Hmmm. Not a lot of alcohol there, but no doubt we’ll be meeting Hawk again before Covid allows us to have a Listener setters’ dinner so we may be able to squeeze him into the elite at the bar.

We had realised what was going on at this stage and CDAOIIRD in the circles, had unjumbled to CARDIOID so we had to draw an appropriate St Valentine heart in our grid. Finding the quotation ‘YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA GET took us a moment but we were more flummoxed by how we were going to put the missing Q – the one that was goig to be the ‘centre’ of the ‘five-letter word that completes the set’. We considered QUEUE and even QUEEN but eventually had to use FAQIR (a word that, intriguingly, is not in Chambers, though FAKIR -the ‘mystic’ and an alternative spelling FAQUIR are – FAQIR clearly should be). Of course Queen (or Q) was ‘caught’ by a ‘fair’ or carnival in the cryptic clue MYSTIC CARNIVAL QUEEN CAUGHT.

What an impressive compilation. Thank you Hawk!

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L4646 ‘Life’ by Hawk

Posted by Encota on 5 March 2021

I read the Preamble. My first thought: “What a monster!” Metaphorical containers (Schrodinger, maybe??); 2 clues side-by-side (I enjoyed co-writing some of those last year for The Magpie, under the {SHARK+ENCOTA}* -> Shakenactor pseudonym). Plus here we have misprints in one half & extra words in the other. Then letters highlighted in the grid in cells, and then drawing curves and then film quotations!!! Crikey!

And as usual, the giant hint in the Title went straight over my head. It was only when I pondered over where those 29 cells in a closed curve might be that I began to get what the subject actually was.

“Life … is like a box of chocolates …” Now how exactly does that quotation end? I had a look round the grid and decided that, since 29 cells were required, then the diameter of an equivalent circle would be approx 9 cells (+/- a bit to allow for the cycloid), and so the letters must be somewhere about there. It soon became clear that it was “…YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA GET”. And, like Toby in that Topic advert, it was ‘funny how I remembered right at the end’.

The ‘almost’ symmetrical nature of a box of chocolates was a nice touch. In our case each pair of chocs/clues had ‘different centres’. Very neat!

There was a slightly worry for us poor solvers where the CLOSED curve needed to be drawn: luckily it only took a little bit of artistic licence at the top of the heart to ensure the curve was closed and so all was well!

This took me well into Saturday, having started Friday evening, so definitely one of the tougher ones of the year so far for me – fantastic!

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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L4645 ‘Fire Alarms’ by Chen

Posted by Encota on 28 February 2021

LWO co-blogger Chalicea (Shirley Curran) and I had been musing over creating a joint Listener for several years.  So we were delighted to see ‘Fire Alarms’ finally in print!

As is often the case with thematic crosswords, at least for me, much of the total time is spent choosing a theme.  In my view the ideal themes are those where what has to be adjusted in the puzzle or its endgame has significant thematic relevance.  I had been thinking about some possibilities – perhaps just after a visit to a nearby decommissioned Suffolk airbase, just inland from Bawdsey Manor where much of the WW2 work was done on radar, where friends are working on restoring some interesting aircraft (but that’s another story) – and the idea of deploying CHAFF as part of an endgame to protect military aircraft from detection by enemy radar was born.

So what, in this context, is CHAFF?  In more recent times much use is made of the term ’stealth aircraft’.  In the design of these, much is done to reduce the amount of radar waves reflected from the aircraft back to enemy radar receivers, so making them less detectable.  Surfaces at ‘odd’ angles, energy absorbing layers and more are used to minimise the amount of wave energy returned to the radar.  Now imagine trying to do the opposite – to maximise the power reflected back.  Ignoring why for a moment, what might you do?  Some answers include using a substance that conducts electricity well and making items of a length that maximises reflections – typically half of the wavelength of the signal used by the radar.  In its simplest form CHAFF is huge numbers of such strips deployed from a moving aircraft, so that any radar trying to detect those aircraft gets many more reflections from those strips than from the aircraft themselves, so making the aircraft far harder to spot – i.e. the difficulty of separating the wheat (the aircraft) from the CHAFF (the… umm … chaff).  Of course those reflections are from places in the sky where there aren’t aircraft, so giving the aircraft themselves significant protection.

Now who might I approach to co-author a puzzle about CHAFF, invented by a certain Joan Curran?  Let me think for a moment …

… so, one moment later, I proposed the idea to her daughter-in-law and off we flew.

Representing short metal Aluminium strips as AL (fully capitalised here to avoid confusion with Is) gave us much scope to design clues with words with and without ALs in them.  It seemed fun to design clues where the definition gave the answer and the wordplay the letters without those ALs, such as in 14d’s Stale beer (7, two words). Here the wordplay ‘Stale’ encouraged the solver to PEE (oh dear.  BRB2), whereas the beer was P[AL]E [AL]E (which had much the same effect).

Our logic for the thematic part went as follows: 1) Initially the four famous WW2 bombers, the Handley Page HALIFAX, the Avro LANCASTER, the Short STIRLING and the Vickers WELLINGTON are made clearly visible by the reflected radar waves, highlighting them in the sky. 2) Then they deploy CHAFF and suddenly lots of small AL(uminium) strips are floating about in the air.  These are then equally highlighted by the radar’s waves, resulting in a very confused final image for the radar operator.

In summary, four loaded bombers traversed the grid and, using ECHO of RADAR WAVES were highly visible. Solvers were informed that CHAFF was DEPLOYED (the Al – aluminium – strips that confused enemy radar) and were instructed to SHADE ADDED AL GREY. With the four aircraft and the 14 examples of AL in the grid, this required the shading of 55 letters (grey, for the convenience of solvers, though silver in reality).

At one stage we considered asking solvers to highlight every AL in the grid, whether reversed or diagonally placed, or…  However, this ended up a bit too confused even for us.  I did also quietly propose that we use ICANN, the Internet naming and numbering corporation in place of ICENI in the endgame to allow CURRAN to appear in the final grid but I was overruled by the modesty of (Joan’s son) Charles and Shirley. 

We worked as a real team on this and it was a delight – co-developing and refining the grid, with Shirley demonstrating, as ever, her superb skills in this area, plus jointly working on the clues.  We used a shared online spreadsheet (if you are thinking of co-creation of a puzzle and haven’t tried it then I can’t recommend this highly enough) for the clue development, keeping track of changes etc.  An excellent setter helped us with a test-solve and we were ready to submit.

A fabulous feat of engineering which can’t get enough ‘airplay’, in my mind.  If you are interested in reading more then you may find this link interesting:

Tim / Encota

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