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Listener No 4529, St Hubert’s College: A Setter’s Blog by Oyler

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 December 2018

One greedy cat and a snail on drugs by Oyler

How many narrative style mathematicals have there been in The Listener Crossword since it moved to The Times? To save you the trouble of going to the website and trawling through the years I’ll tell you. It’s two and both were set by Polymath. A Harrowing Time L3477 in 1998 had 1078 correct entries and Pyramid L3632 in 2001 got 889 correct entries.

The crossnumber genre has a couple of techniques for clueing entries namely letter/number assignment and number definition. In order to make the latter type more interesting setters would introduce a theme and use a narrative in that this would hopefully appeal to crossword solvers as there was more reading to do and elements of humour could be brought in. The narrative also helps to eliminate various possibilities from lists of numbers or sets of solutions. The classic is Little Pigley Farm that first appeared in The Strand magazine in the 1930s and subsequently in many other publications usually without attribution or acknowledgement that it had appeared elsewhere – even The Listener fell for it and published it in 1949 as L988. In that puzzle solvers have to discover the closely guarded secret which was the age of the farmer’s mother-in-law! That puzzle also goes under the title of Dog’s Mead in some publications. Another puzzle that appeared was in Mathematical Pie and entitled The Egg and solvers had to work out the age of the egg. That puzzle used a grid that looked like a face and had bars as well as blocks. In 2001 issue 27 of Tough Crosswords published Aunt Auguta’s Will by Tangent which also appears in his book Cryptic Cross Numbers by John Enock. A further book Fun With Figures by L H Clarke contains 5 narrative style crossnumber puzzles. The narrative type of puzzle isn’t as common as you’d think although there are some examples on the internet.

After I retired in 2013 I wrote an article for the Mathematical Gazette about setting crossnumber puzzles. It was whilst writing that article that I realised I’d never set a narrative type puzzle before and set about rectifying that situation. The result was t20 which appeared as EV1118. Of course I got totally carried away and continued with many others of this style mostly with a sporting theme. The results can be found on Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre for a snooker themed puzzle and The Magpie for a golf one. All of the others have appeared in CQ under the pseudonym of Moog – got to get a prog rock reference in somehow! The book Challenging Crossnumber Puzzles by Oyler and Zag also contains Who Stole The Ascot Gold Cup? which was set for The Listener Dinner in Harrogate in 2015. Copies of the book are still available and details can be found at

I must have been watching lots of repeats of Morse or Lewis with all the colleges when I had the idea of using a fictitious college as the theme for a narrative type puzzle and it was set shortly after the appearance of t20. As I mentioned above a number of the others of this style that I’d set involved sport and this proved to be a stumbling block for some solvers who were not au fait with cricket, golf, chess and snooker! Tangent’s puzzle also mentioned above involved a clue that was someone’s PIN so I decided to use that for the dénouement.

Strangely I started with the title by looking for the patron saint of mathematicians and found St Hubert. I went with convention and used a blocked rather than a barred grid. David Scott Marley set a puzzle for CQ entitled The Book Signing which was a narrative type puzzle but he used a barred grid instead as this provided a much better fit for what he required.

In previous puzzles I gave solvers the choice of two dates as the way in and they had to find the correct one. Regardless of which date it was though solvers would always be able to put in 2 or 3 digits into the entry. This time I decided to use the date the college was founded and have it in the 17th century so that 16 could go in immediately.

Of course colleges have quadrangles and I decided to use this, having not just one but two quadrangles, one a square and the other a rectangle that was linked to the other in some way. The nice thing about Imperial units is that the conversion factors aren’t just powers of 10 and as I was at school when Imperial measurements were still used I went for lengths in feet and yards. (One of my physics teachers at school was a young chap called Mr Tomlinson and he delighted in setting problems involving obscure units, his favourite being furlongs per fortnight!)

So the quadrangles have an area and a perimeter and having a clue that asks for the perimeter of the Great Quad in feet and another which asks for the area in square yards means that the perimeter must be a multiple of 12. Using the 6 from the date as the middle digit for the perimeter clue means that only nine cases need to be calculated as the entry is a multiple of 4 it has to end 0, 4 or 8 and it has to divide by 3 so the digit sum must be a multiple of 3. So we have 360, 660, 960, 264,564,864, 168, 468 and 768. By making the area of the Great Quad a 4-digit entry rules out 360, 264 and 168. I wanted it to be 864 with 5184 as the area. One of our cats Tango, sadly no more, appeared in t20 and I felt that the balance should be redressed and that our other cat Flo should appear. Now Tango’s prey of choice was of the feathered variety whilst Flo (Fibonacci) prefers fur and as the puzzle was set in a college it would no doubt have a cat. Having the cat catch a 2-digit Fibonacci number of mice would fit well as it would remove 960 and 768 from the list. That still left four possibilities and I realised I could give information in the preamble as well that solvers would use and by having it divisible by its number of factors forced the entries 864 and 5184 with the cat catching 55 mice.

How solvers go about solving a puzzle is entirely up to them and some may have looked at 2-digit numbers greater than 31 that were divisible by their number of factors. Those numbers are 36, 40, 56, 60, 72, 80, 84, 88 and 96 then multiplying each by 12 gives only 72 and 80 as possibilities.

Puzzles of this style have a lot of reading involved and it is easy to overlook some deductions that can be made. I decided to use two PINs in the puzzle, one for The Master and one for his wife with the second one having to be written below the grid. Having both as the product of 3 distinct 2-digit primes limits the choice somewhat and using three that were grid entries and clueing them as factors of the entry that was the Master’s PIN would see if solvers would twig that those three entries had to be prime numbers! With so few possibilities solvers could deduce the wife’s PIN from the preamble alone in that two of the 2-digit primes had to differ by 24. The 17/41 pair fail in that multiplying by 11 or 13 yield an impossible final digit for 16ac and the 34/47 pair is too large. In retrospect maybe I should have chosen the 17/41 pair with different clues as solvers assumed that you had to be over 18 to get married which is not the case in Scotland where it is 16.

In puzzles like these you can inject a bit of humour and so with it being set in a college I thought of various shenanigans that could occur. Having a bursar imprisoned for tax evasion, both the Master and his wife being unfaithful to one other and a snail race in Imperial units I hope did the trick. Obviously there had to be a clue linked to alcohol to appease one blogger and what better than to have it at the College anniversary dinner. Cheers!

I did a cold solve and sent it away without any test solvers being involved. If I had then they would have picked up on a few omissions in the preamble like forgetting to mention that the measurements were in yards. I now use test solvers.

My original puzzle was written in the 3rd person however the editors changed it to the 1st person presumably due to space constraints and added the Time Travel department, a name for the snail as well as giving more information for 13dn. That information was required in order to eliminate the possibility of 16ac being 43507 and testing if it was a prime in that its factorisation is 139×313 which takes a long time to get with a basic scientific calculator. Now I know that solvers will just have gone ‘ Alexa – is 43507 a prime number? ‘ or used Google but the rules are the rules and a standard scientific calculator is all you need and is all that is used for the pathway that’s published on the Listener site. If you choose to use a computer or use the internet then that’s entirely up to you. I personally use my Casio calculator that has a factorisation function and cost less than £10.

Reading the various comments that appeared on some sites it seems that the introduction of the Time Travel department muddied the waters somewhat which was not the intention. It may have been better to say that the puzzle was found in the college’s archives instead. However I only thought of that once I’d read the comments.

My thanks go to the editors for having the guts to publish this bit of whimsy and finally the star of the puzzle, the college cat examining the fan mail that was much appreciated by both of us!



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Listener No 4529: St Hubert’s College by Oyler

Posted by Dave Hennings on 7 December 2018

It had been nearly two years since Oyler’s last Listener, Can’t You Do Division? similar to an old Rhombus puzzle from the 60’s. I couldn’t recall an earlier Listener with this sort of theme, although there was an EV puzzle, also by Oyler, t20 based on a cricket match. (Sadly, I failed on that one, but luckily it wasn’t my blogging week.)

Here, bizarrely, we had a bit of time travel at St Hubert’s with a Master creating a way of remembering the security code for his wife’s bank account. Now this obviously put the date he wrote it sometime post-PIN days, which I would guess is in the mid 1960’s. With the added knowledge that the college had a time travel department, all sorts of things could be going on.

Anyway, as is usual with a mathematical puzzle, I had to start again when I had options for 15dn, the number of years since the college was founded, a square and multiple of 1ac. With the clue for 1ac The number of college graduates nominated for Nobel prizes in the 20th century, a factor of 14dn, I assumed that the Master was creating the code post-20c. but the only one that seemed to fit was 1995.

Of course, with the time-travelly bit, anything could be going on, and I eventually assumed that someone had sent Whitaker’s Almanac, or some such, back from the 21st century. A bit of a red herring with the time travel, I thought.

Still, it’s always nice to have a different mathematical and my reworking didn’t take too long. As expected a fun puzzle and not too tricky, so thanks, Oyler.

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St Hubert’s College by Oyler

Posted by shirleycurran on 7 December 2018

I dread those three-monthly numerical crosswords and downloaded this one by the king of the numerical crossword world with immense trepidation, then saw all those perfectly normal clues and heaved a sigh of relief. Years ago, one of the Listener editors told me that solvers are not very fond of this combination of text and numerical crosswords. I have no quarrel with it and there was a fine description of a truly scumbag college to delight us together with all those figures to work out. Yes, it took us until after midnight as I (using the Internet) landed on a list of five-digit primes that didn’t include the one we needed, and we left it rather late in our solve to calculate the three potential ‘bank security codes’ at 14d, one of which would confirm that the master’s wife didn’t produce 19 children, that the college had 19 Nobel nominees in its ranks and 37 post-grads.

Of course, it was Pheidippides, the speedy snail, who produced the whoop of joy at about midnight, when all our speculation and calculation was confirmed and I have no issue with him, but must severely castigate Oyler for publicising such a disgraceful seat of drunkenness and debauchery. Yes, of course I checked the alcohol content of the clues and was appalled when we learned that 699 bottles – almost certainly of the finest quality – shall we guess about 50 pounds a bottle? – were consumed at a single dinner. That’s 35,000 pounds. Nearly three times the Master’s annual entertainment allowance. No wonder his bursar spent over two and a half years in prison for tax evasion. They were probably in drunken cahoots (but cheers, anyway, Oyler!) Somebody has to fund all that boozing and we guessed they must be charging hefty fees from all those overseas students (yes, we did wonder for a while, whether they comprised part of the undergraduate/graduate body or had to be counted separately).

Fibonacci, the cat, seems to be the most effective of the whole bunch of them, but 55 mice! (Some were probably rats). With 54 non-academic staff, and probably even more academic staff, the staff-student ratio of this vermin-ridden place is totally skewed and the domestic staff, who should be shifting the snails, mice etc. are probably slewed with all that wine – certainly not doing their job – but spending their day with stopwatches timing snails round the quad. I ask you!

Or is that how the Master spends his day? The other Numpty declared that he should be fired for gross moral turpitude. 39 years old and he had already fathered two or three bastard offspring before baby-snatching a wife twenty years his junior, a kind of Lolita, just about as randy as he is with her own sprog or sprogs in tow. And what do they do? Produce ten more ‘in or out of wedlock’ (seducing pretty students?)

The whole set up is shady. With all those ‘graduates’ from a body of merely 349 students, something is fishy. There must have been about 140 graduates a year over the 361 years of the college’s existence so something is going on. Are they in the business of awarding shady postal doctorates for a fee? Shame, Oyler! It won’t do.


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Escapee by Dysart

Posted by shirleycurran on 30 November 2018

I’ve been producing crosswords on the First World War poets for the last few years and worked feverishly to create some to commemorate the Armistice since this weekend is the centenary of that longed-for moment. Wilfred Owen is my particular favourite of those poets, with Sassoon a short step behind and it is difficult not to be moved by those words from Binyon’s The Fallen that we will br hearing in tomorrow’s services, ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old … at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember’. MacCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ and Brooke’s ‘If I should die …’ are classics, even if later attitudes have denigrated that early patriotism and optimism Brooke displayed. Jeremy Paxman, in Great Britain’s Great War, writes a most instructive analysis of how a century has adapted our attitude to those dreadful events of 1914 to 1918.

So I was expecting a crossword in some way related to the centenary of the Armistice and we had solved for only a few minutes when those letters we were adding to across clues began to spell out I AM THE ENEMY YOU KILLED (my friend), possibly the most moving of all Owen’s poems, though the saddest must be Futility, and the most shocking Dulce Et Decorum Est, with its graphic reaction to a gas attack. For me, almost the saddest moment of the whole war was the doorbell ringing at Owen’s home to announce his death, as the Armistice bells celebrated the end of it all.

Of course, finding the quotation from Strange Meeting made this a speedy solve for us, though we were puzzled by 1ac CO?F?CT, until we realised that this was the clue where the Escapee was coming into his own, ‘It seemed that out of battle I escaped …’ the first line of the poem. We removed I from CONFLICT and all was well. This was perhaps a precursor for the cryptic manipulations of 26 letters that were needed for the completion of our crossword.

‘A later work that features the first work (Strange Meeting) and others by the same author’…  Friends are performing in Britten’s WAR REQUIEM this weekend and those misprints in down clues obligingly spelled out that title, so that we were able to interchange the letters of SLOB and WRITTEN producing OWEN and BRITTEN in the grid. All that was left to do was the highlighting of 26 letters.

One of them EMITEGN* for a strange or anagrammed MEETING was immediately obvious but I had to read about the nine poems included in Britten’s Requiem to work out what the other two to highlight could be. EDISON was obviously the next (Are you sure? Ed.) as that unexpected proper noun in the crossword clearly had to be there for a reason. How clever! We read it the other way up and got NO SIDE and the BRB tells me that is ‘The End’ (of a rugby match). Obviously this clue has no side if it is cryptically sending us to THE END. The next that we saw was obligingly EXTENTH* (THE NEXT with ‘War’ functioning as the anagram indicator). So we have our three and I get out my highlighter. “Hang on!” says the other Numpty. “They add up to only 20 cells. We have a problem!”

So we head scratch. ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH took longer. We could see that the ‘Doomed’ could be an anagram indicator but I had a bit of an issue with ANOTHERFMLAD* on the third row of the grid, as that anagrammed to ANTHEM FOR LAD, whilst the archives show very clearly that Owen and Sassoon, in their discussion of the title, were discussing ‘youth’ as a state of being or a collective term for all those lads, not just one lad. Of course, Dysart had foreseen this and ’26 letters’ made it clear what was required and those words in the preamble removed my worry ‘the titles of … two others used in the later work’. Yes, Britten’s script refers to A doomed youth, justifiably focusing, possibly on Owen. So we abandon poor EDISON and highlight the other three.

What a fine tribute. Many thanks to Dysart.

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Listener No 4528: Escapee by Dysart

Posted by Dave Hennings on 30 November 2018

As someone pointed out last week, I was a tad premature, so let’s try again. Like three others before him (Schadenfreude, Hedge-sparrow and Chalicea), this was Dysart’s second Listener of the year. The first was a dreadful puzzle A Dreadful Puzzle, all about phobias.

Here we had all but three across clues needing a letter to be replaced before solving, but not in the definition. The first thought that came to mind was, for some reason, Moby Dick. Lots of messages to be revealed here, both in the clue messages and in the grid endgame — none would be about the whale and his protagonist.

As expected with Dysart, the clues were tricky but enjoyable. The messages from the across clues and downs were slow to reveal themselves, especially the downs since they needed unjumbling. Eventually we had “I am the enemy you killed[, my friend]” in the acrosses leading to the Wilfred Owen poem, Strange Meeting, a meeting in Hell, and further clued by the three extra words in the across clues: interestingly unusual encounter. The first line of this poem is “It seemed that out of battle I escaped” and required CONFLICT to be entered as CONFLCT at 1ac.

As for the downs which had a misprint, 29 Team turning to inventor with guest to develop sound recording? (6) initially befuddled me. Did Edison really guess at developing sound recording. Well, of course not — it was a quest to develop it! Thus the misprints read MUAEWIQRER. Given we were in Armistice weekend, the WAR stood out, and REQUIEM soon followed, a masterpiece by Benjamin Britten.

I then indulged in a lot of googling, primarily being sidetracked to various sites for further background reading, and sobering it was. I had seen WRITTEN in one of the diagonals, and it didn’t take long to swap its W for the B in row 8 to give both BRITTEN and OWEN in the final grid. The final step was to identify three of Owen’s poems from Britten’s work. Strange MEETING was obvious in row 5, but ANTHEM FOR Doomed Youth in row 3 and THE NEXT War in the bottom row took a bit more ferreting out.

Thanks for the excellent puzzle, Dysart, and for the tour of Wilfred Owen and Benjamin Britten.

Postscript: In the course of my travels, I discovered that the latest copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (8th Edition, 2014) bought a year ago, has reduced the number of Special Categories highlighted in the index from twenty to just eleven. These include Opening Lines, as well as Closing Lines and Last Words. They may well have initially disappeared in earlier editions. The extracts are probably all available in the main index, but I think it’s a shame that the categories have been lost.

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