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Archive for Jan, 2008

3962 – Disappearance by Phi – Setter’s Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 Jan 2008


There isn’t much in the mechanics of this puzzle that needs particular – or even any – explication. What’s interesting about this one – for me, at least – is the voyage from original idea to final implementation.
The puzzle, as such, goes back 10 or more years. We’ve been members of RSPB (and, here in NZ, the Royal Forest and Bird Society) for a good long time, long enough to discover the IUCN Red List. (I can’t quite see how, even in French, IUCN equates to World Conservation Union, but apparently it does.) That’s the list of endangered species, and there are subsets for each country. For a long time I had the UK list stashed on a handheld, and was toying with clueing RAREBIT, entering RARE, clueing STERNUM, entering SUM – and lo, the BITTERN, in danger of disappearing, actually does so.

The curious thing about this is that I can remember the diagram I had in mind. Those of you who owned the original AZ book of crosswords may remember the contribution from Ozymandias (Azed himself, as it happened) – a 12×12 grid effectively consisting of nine 4×4 grids, which were linked by virtue of some entries being 8 letters long. I have a feeling that my intention was to lose a bird (it was always going to be based on birds, not anything else endangered) in each 4×4 square plus an extra letter, the extra letters spelling THE RED LIST. And yes, I do notice that there are 9 4×4 squares and 10 letters capitalised just there – this may be why I was beached.
The other odd thing about this memory is that it is very strongly linked with a Mike Rich puzzle – but refuses to adduce any further details about the puzzle in question. Can anyone help out? The one scrap of memory that I have suggests that Mike used a grid very like Ozymandias’ but it refuses to clarify further.
Anyway – fast forward ten years and half the world. I’m in Auckland Museum looking at huia feathers. The bird became extinct as a result of the Duke of Edinburgh (no, not the current one) whose 1905 visit prompted a good deal of Maori ceremonial wear, in which huia feathers featured prominently. The bird was hunted to extinction, its last definite appearance being in December 1907. That rang the anniversary bell, and the fact that the phrase ‘Huia today, gone tomorrow’ leapt into my mind led to the puzzle following, more-or-less fully-formed. (I did consider none tomorrow – which, to be frank, is actually what first occurred to me – but I thought two amendments might be too much.)
The only real addition was the inclusion of the unchecked pair of endangered birds – the plight of the kakapo is reasonably well known, while that of the kokako is not so familiar. I was slightly spooked when they declared the South Island kokako extinct (none seen for 60 years) in January 2007, as I was writing the last few clues. The North Island version is merely almost extinct.
I also wanted 1 across to be thematic in some way. The Cox and Rathvon puzzles in the Atlantic Monthly (sadly now only available with an online subscription, and I can’t quite bring myself to subscribe almost solely for the puzzle, which is easy by Listener standards, but generally an inspiring gem of technical ability) – sorry, that was rather a long parenthesis, I’ll start again: The Cox and Rathvon puzzles in the Atlantic Monthly regularly had a first clue that referred to the theme, and often the title. Well, I’d ended up with WITNESS-STAND – splendid for having a triple S in the grid, but not otherwise extinct bird-related. I was rather pleased when the clue turned out to have an abandoned nest in it.
I did also consider adding a pair of 6-letter answers – OTHER ECHOES – for my own thematic satisfaction. (You wouldn’t have been expected to highlight them!) One of the poignant facts about the huia is that, while it is extinct, its song lives on. Several expeditions were mounted to track one – or several – down in the years after 1907. A young Maori from the 1915 expedition went into a recording studio as an old man some decades later, and recorded his imitative call of the huia, which he’d been employed to use. It’s a sad little set of notes – a little upward run, followed by a drop to the starting note. The NZ composer Eve de Castro-Robinson took that recording, transcribed it for violin, and used it as a main theme in a ‘fanfare’ called Other Echoes. (The other main birdsong she uses is the South Island kokako.) The music takes the form of the bird-calls being slowly swamped by an unrelenting crescendo representing modern life, before that recedes and the huia’s call leads the music to silence. It works absurdly and touchingly well.

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3962 – Disappearance by Phi

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 Jan 2008

Spread Your Wings…. or My Melancholy Blues

Sunday – Late Start. Last Listener of 2007! I wish that I could be sitting here, one puzzle away from being all-correct, but unfortunately Italian boots, French plurals and a couple of stupid transcription errors mean that I have had a worse year than last year. It's not surprising in some ways, as it has been a very busy year, and several Listeners, notably towards the end of the year, were ones that I really rushed through and didn't have time to check before sending off. So, first resolution for 2008? Well, that will be to spend a minimum of one hour checking my solution before submission. Unless it involves sending in a blank grid, or something similar.

So, it's Phi this week. I did know that in advance, I must confess, as have been promised a setter's blog for this puzzle. So let's see what we can do with the solver's blog. I've been laid low with a bad throat and chest over most of Christmas, and am only just starting to feel human again, so hopefully this isn't too tricky. So,what is it? A cheerful New Year message? A second festive puzzle?

Nope, it's a melancholy anniversary. Oh. Each clue is two clues side by side. I'm used to seeing that gimmick occasionally in Azed puzzles, but don't remember it in the Listener. So, each side of the grid looks the same, and can't tell what goes where until get the log answer at 1A. So let's press on!

Pause for mouthful of Christmas cake. And off we go.

1A. It's nest's abandoned? Stick around – one should get evidence from this (12, two words). Is that an anagram of ITSNESTS surrounded by a synonym for stick? I would assume so. Not much chance of getting that without some checkig letters… although it does look as if most of the letters of WITNESS are in that one. Which would fit in with 'evidence' in the clue. So, *ITNESS*, with a spare ST to fit in somewhere. WITNESS… Well, must then surely be WITNESS ST… WITNESS STAND, surely? A stick is a wand. Or a wand is a stick, sorry. Would one get evidence from the witness stand? I wouldn't have thought so. Surely it is the witness that gives evidence, not the stand itself! And maybe it would be better if one would GIVE evidence from this. So, WITNESS STAND. Off to a roaring start, as that is a key entry. So on we go.

OK, let's look at some of the other clues. Try to keep to clue order. Hmmm. well, 10A has to be an anagram at the start:

10A Sweet stuff in elaborate trance…. must be NECTAR, simple anagram. Can't tell which side it goes on. 

Can't get much else from the across clues yet. Let's try the downs.

2D A rise in men garbling verses… must be an anagram. SENARII are verses (ah, the ever-expanding vocabulary of a crossword solver comes to my aid!). So MEN is an extra word. This must go on the right, so NECTAR must go on the left. Hurrah!

And that's it for a first pass. Not very good, but hope from having 1A. Hmm. Let's have a break and go and see what's on TV.

Not sure if that was a repeat or we had recorded it, but just rewatched the Extras Christmas Special. Fantastic stuff, especially the bit with George Michael on Hampstead Heath. Genius!  It is now quite late, but have solved a few more. Just glanced at 5D and solved those on the second pass. 

…board partially laden demanding teriyaki (5)
just had to be a container with the strange 'teriyaki' at the end coupled with the 'partially', and this is ENTER with an extra word of DEMANDING. And this was ENTERed (ahem) on the left. So the right-hand 5D had to start with N. Poverty must be NEED, and from there thought of NEEDLE. Quick check in Chambers gave NEELD as an obsolete version of NEEDLE. So, not too bad there. 

The top half is filling up nicely, though. HAULED and RAFALE at 8A turned out to be reasonably straight forward, and then got WISHINGS, IHALER, STERIGMA without much trouble. Bottom half is still a bit of an issue, though. I really like how Phi has hidden the message from extra words, though. If it is straightforward clue order then it is much too easy. As you can't tell what is on the left or the right sometimes when have solved both parts of the clue, it seems pointless trying to interpret the message until the grid is much fuller. So will press on.

Monday, 9.30am – New Year's Eve. Where has my (almost) fortnight gone to this Christmas? I was relying on this fortnight to make myself relax and feel better. I am almost praying to go back to work! Am sure that feeling will have changed by Wednesday, however. A fantastic first few days back, having to go to Liverpool on Wednesday 2nd, Kent on Thursday 3rd, and then up to Newcastle on Friday. Plus points? Bit of an achievement to get out on a chargeable day on January 2nd. Oh, and there will be little traffic this week, as sensible people (and schools) aren't back till next week. But, on the minus side, it's a tough few days back in the saddle, and I will be *very* tired come the weekend. Sigh. And thus back where I started in terms of stress 😦 Oh dear.

Still, looking forward to the appearance of Magpie 61 tonight (visions of a Magpie editor sitting, finger poised on mouse, as the chimes of Big Ben fade away, waiting to e-mail out Magpie 61 at one second past midnight). Unfortunately I know it isn't true, as Chris Lear used me to test his 'timed launch' service on the Magpie site. Oh well. Hopefully an early appearance though for the puzzle, as tonight is the traditional Lancaster family New Year's Eve Trivial Pursuit evening. I'll have to start watching out, because after many unbeaten years, Tom might start to put me under threat soon. Hmm. Am I 'competitive dad' from the Fast Show?

Anyway, have been up since 6.30 this morning (“Daddy! Wake up!” at that time. Five year-olds have no concept of sleeping in). And have made good progress. About half an hour ago I realised that I had TODAY, ALSIKE, RATAS and APOCOPE on the left-hand side going down, leaving me with ?AKAP? at the left-hand side 18A. Which, after a brief trawl through Chambers for AAKAP?, BAKAP?, etc, looks as if it has to be KAKAPO, an extinct – well, endangered – New Zealand bird. Hurrah! Well, not hurrah for the Kakapo, but you know what I mean. Hurrah for myself for not using TEA at that point, which would have saved me five minutes. And therein lies an argument.

Let's take 1A. Interpreting the clue as I did, I could have easily just opened up TEA and typed in something like:

*(;ITSNEST)* & * * & ????????????

to give me two-word entries, 12 letters long, containing an anagram of ITSNEST. And I would have got WITNESS STAND very quickly. And yes, I know that I could have just amended the little boxes to search for 12 letter entries rather than typing in ????????????.

Then, let's take 18A, where I knew that the answer was ?AKAP?. So, I could equally as easily have opened TEA and typed in:


and got KAKAPO. But instead, I thumbed through Chambers, looking under each letter for words with that string from the second character onwards. Of which there were only ever going to be a couple, tops.

So, a question to the anti-TEA brigade. Is using TEA always unacceptable? I would argue that, whereas using it for 1A would not be particularly fair – and not very fair on Phi, who would have worked hard to come up with that clue – using it for 18A under those circumstances would have been. After all, TEA in that case was doing precisely what I did manually in Chambers.

I don't know… I have used TEA in the past, I sometimes do (when particularly stuck), but am trying to use it as little as possible. Hopefully this is what other solvers do.

Anyway, still only Molly and myself up, and using similar logic, 18A must be KOKAKO. Has anyone other than me read Peter Straub's fantastic book, Koko? Recommended. This is KOKAKO though, not KOKO. Mustn't digress any longer. Grid almost complete.

Aarrgghh! The family stirs. Here comes Emma. Time to put the crossword down. Only four or five clues left to solve. I was about to look at the extra words and see what message they might give. Confused by the unclued TODAY at 14D. I think the other unclued entry must be at 9D, but need to sort it out.

10.15am – Right, I've made about a hundred bacon sandwiches for people, and the study is my own again. I have been (for the last time this year, hopefully), officially an idiot. 9D must be TOMORROW, so we have TODAY and TOMORROW as unclued entries.

And, the message from extra words looks as if it must be HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW. Which fits in with the disappearance theme. Let's see…..

10.30am – No, not HERE TODAY GONE TOMORROW. Rather HUIA TODAY GONE TOMORROW. And Chambers tells me that a HUIA is a New Zealand bird, related to the crows and starlings, now probably extinct. Hmm. So Chambers is 'almost certainly over-optimistic' …is the bird actually extinct? All this fits in rather nicely with Phi's emigration to New Zealand. Let's look at Wikipedia….

Which tells me that the last sighting of the HUIA was on 28th December 1907. And this puzzle was dated 29th December 2007. So close! Still, I suppose that 'HUIA YESTERDAY GONE TOMORROW' wouldn't have worked. And 'HUIA YESTERDAY (BUT 100 YEARS AGO), GONE TOMORROW)' would have been even worse!

So let's polish off the last couple of clues… 9D – ?RA?EROS must be BRASEROS, which I think has something to do withh burning people.. check in Chambers, and that works. What else? That's it! So, grid complete. Emma's now in the shower, so going shopping must be imminent. What do I have to do? Something must be highlighted and something erased. Hmmm. Highlight HERE and remove TOMORROW? Surely not. Well, there's been a KAKAPO and a KOKAKO in the grid (disappointing lack of DODOs – unless you count the solver, ha ha), so is there a HUIA in the grid?

10.40am – Yes, there are two. One diagonally NW/SE from the H of SHORTS, and one diagonally NE/SW from the H of ARRAHS. So, surely one has to highlight the HUIA on the TODAY side, and remove the one on the TOMORROW side. Not very symmetrical, but nice enough all the same.

So, that's the year done (subject to checking). I hope not too many people miss seeing the HUIAs – some solvers might not bother looking beyond TODAY/TOMORROW, I would have thought. Thanks to Phi for a nice puzzle to end the year  – and a good reminder of the problems facing the environment as everybody gets ready to release millions of nice fireworks into the air, all of them burning oxygen and pumping out carbon dioxide. Etc, Etc.

Has it been a good Listener year? Well, not for me personally, but have been some good puzzles. I won't be voting for the Ascot Gold Cup, but who I would vote for? Probably my fellow Chris, Charybdis, and his fantastic On Air. Probably Sabre for A Paradox, A Paradox – just somehing a bit different, and well executed. Probably Mr Morse, Bandmaster, for Roadies. What else? Oh, I'd have to look back. Only 36, but a mind like a sieve.

Another year without Elgin, no Mr Magoo, no Pieman, no Merlin… some of the best setters missing out there. Oh well, hopefully they are all to look forward to for next year.

Thanks to all my fellow Listen With Others bloggers for their efforts this year… and I hope that the blog readers have enjoyed it. Here's to a good, a successful, and an all-correct 2008.

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3960 – Misprinted Choice by Schadenfreude

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 Jan 2008

Saturday, 7pm. Forty-nine Listeners ticked off, three still to come. I’m cautiously optimistic about my record this year: as far as I know, I’m correct, but then I never properly check the published solutions and don’t keep copies of my submissions, so who knows what idiocies I’ve committed along the way. All will be revealed by that nice Mr Green in a couple of months. Meanwhile, here’s that nice Mr Schadenfreude, surely one of the most prolific setters around at the moment. I've always rather liked his puzzles, fair and elegant, and it was one of his about an old Goon Show song five years ago which gave me my first Listener pen.

So, here we have a symmetrical 14 x 14 grid and a simple, run-of-the-mill preamble. Some misprints and some clashes. Starting at the top, then: 1a is Nuns are quiet after Mass (4). The wordplay gives MASH but they’re not nuns as far as I can find. Or buns, or nans. However, I’m trying to get out of the habit of plugging away at stubborn clues while there are still plenty untried, so I’ll hasten on to the next one and assume this’ll sort itself out in time.

5a isn’t obvious, but 13a is easier: Love goddess takes the place of mother in Man of Straw (5). (What, precisely, is that surface about, by the way? Am I missing it?) O + [goddess] + N = ‘of straw’ so the goddess is ATE and the first answer goes in the grid. Or at least the unchecked letter does; the others may yet clash. There’s a clear misprint in 1d (Coots caught hiding in seaside trees (6)) where ‘coots’ is so uncrosswordy it must be coats or boots or cooks or something, but I can’t think of any seaside trees just now. 2d a nice easy AHOY, with a misprint of ‘ranker’ for ‘tanker’ and the first clash.

Assuming MASH at 1a, then 3d is ST_ _ _: Jock’s pale yellow fiddle with echo, no depth. Hmm… ORGUE is yellow + fiddle + echo, but that’s only an obsolete portcullis… no, it’s good old STRAE, the fiddle being a strad rather than the more popular gu. That crosses with OVERSEE, simple at 19a. Now 15a is _OR_ _ _: Potent dope found in small boat. We all know COT as the standard small boat, so COR_ _T = potent, or perhaps patent. And after a second or two it’s potent, and COGENT, so another clash. Making these seaside trees _OC_O_ but no clearer.

4d raises a smile (This could bear the name of a local in New Cross (7)), if only because it’s nice to see my little unloved part of London get name-checked in the Listener. (I think I live in Brockley, but the taxi drivers insist it’s New Cross.) Anyway, it’s INN SIGN, which I’m slightly surprised to see given specifically in Chambers. It gives a third clash, all of which so far are on the leading diagonal. And no cell on that diagonal is unchecked, so I’m betting that’s where they all lie.

17a has second letter S… ah, well I can count the legendary Irish lovers I know on the fingers of one finger, so in goes ISOLDE. And 17d has second letter R but a clash in the first cell if my assumptions are right: Horrible German meeting King John turned up with a touch of yaws (6). G + R + OOL + Y is, to my consternation, in Chambers as a portmanteau word combining ‘gruesome’ and ‘grisly’. Did someone really need to invent that? Harrumph.

The four consecutive clashes on the leading diagonal are O/H, G/R, I/G, S/I. Aha – thought it was about time for a CHRISTMAS puzzle. That’s my bet anyway, which makes these seaside trees begin with a C… well I never knew coconuts came from the coco tree. So that’ll be ‘Roots’ as the misprint, I suppose. Further education comes from 20d: apparently the ten is an honour in bridge. Now 23a is S_ _OG_: Smoke almost obscuring old comic’s feet. Almost STOGEY around O is a comic’s feed, OK. Though I’ve never really been happy with ‘obscuring’ used like this: it just doesn’t seem to make sense, somehow, in a crossword grid.

Now then, one choice of clashing letters is going to give CHRISTMAS, but the other choice so far would give MAGGIE. And THATCHER does fit in the rest of the diagonal. But what on earth has that woman ever had to do with festive, Christmassy crosswords? Oh well, press on: 28a is Without my backing enjoy more crazy fighting with spears (7), a clear anagram of ENJOORE… Jeroneo? REJONEO, would you believe, the art of bullfighting on horseback with lances.

These clues are pretty good but a bit on the easy side, I think. (Which is fine, my masochistic needs are currently being satisfied by the two Mash puzzles in this month’s Magpie.) ELUDE at 7d crosses with ENEMATA, a little-known (to me) plural of enema, at 21a. I’ve decided to fill in all cells not on the leading diagonal. 8d ends -EN: Two pounds a tree (5). Bah. Trees, like fish, could be anything. 14a is a help, though: Bold golfer’s not going round (6) – absolutely all golfers are Ernie Els as far as crosswords go, so we’ll have NELSON as a hold rather than a bold. So the tree was ASPEN, and a neat clue as it turns out. Nice and easy COQUETS at 9d.

UNDER follows at 18a, but I can’t see any way into 10d at all: Black language interrupts the other service (6) just isn’t resolving itself into its separate cryptic chunks for me. And I’ve been working at 5a on and off for a while: Busy party chief with no time to deliver a sermon (9). With a slap of the forehead I now see it’s an anagram, and PREACHIFY, which I should have had ages ago (although I don’t think I’ve seen ‘busy’ as an anagram indicator before). RED LETTER at 6d. Hang on – hang on – RED LETTER means it can’t be CHRISTMAS in the clashes at all, dammit. Bang goes that idea. OK, so we’ve got MAGGIE T and CHRISTO, so Christopher Someone… or other. Hm. The only misprints in clues I’ve got are HLADRT… and… the penny… slowly… drops. Gotcha. The Lady’s Not For Burning, or Turning, written by Christopher Fry and bleated by Maggie Thatcher. Actually I can’t find it in my ODQ, but I’ve only got the fourth edition, and it must be right. Excellent.

So that makes MAST, not MASH, at 1a, ‘nuts’ being misprinted as ‘nuns’. Should be a breeze to finish off the clues now. FREE at 10d, and YGDRASIL is the Norse tree at 11d. (Chambers rather intriguingly says it comes from drasil meaning ‘horse’, which is a bit odd for an ash tree, isn’t it?) GAED at 16a, and the service at 10d was IBADAT, with IT rather cutely clued as ‘the other’.

Oh, very clever Mr Freude. Just spotted the trickery at 2d: the misprint could be either B or T, banker or tanker, so both quotations are given. Round of applause there, I think. Moving on, TATT is easy but 26d is irritating: You can’t have any fun with this dislocated in a head-on (9). Must be AHEDONIAN, being someone impossible to have fun with, but Chambers won’t let me have it. Oh, and anyway the Thatcher/Christopher clashes mean it can’t be that, so it’s… ANHEDONIA. Of course it is. SERAI and THALI, and then one of the best clues so far: Charles Stewart, father to queen Eleanor (7). A most satisfying build-up of PARNELL.

Over half the grid filled, and it’s going speedily. I put in ACRE at 36a and – crossword-trained eyes always checking the diagonals for messages – spot CENTENARY going up the non-leading diagonal. (Following diagonal? Off diagonal? Does it have a name?) Check Christopher Fry in Collins, and sure enough he was born in 1907. So I guess that means Fry’s in and Thatcher’s out. Splendid. Just to knock off the bottom two corners.

Quick work now. There’s a neat anagram of BROWN COAL at 52a (Low carbon volatile fuel) and a slightly peculiar clue at 39a: Belted earl has to be seen in finest restaurants (7) It’s TEA SHOP, with ‘belted’ as a misprint for ‘bolted’, which is functioning as an anagram inidcator. Is this ‘bolted’ as in ‘moved very fast’ or ‘hit hard’? Either way it’s not wholly convincing. And there’s another new anagrind at the crossing 24d: ‘blind’ (meaning, I suppose, drunk) which is better.

Last corner, get a bit cross with 46a: Food for the castle officer on account (6). It must be POONAC, which is a sort of cake, but that leaves PO = ‘castle officer’. A castle is, historically, a large ship, and a Petty Officer is a naval officer, but that’s too tenuous to be truly sound. Frowning, I fill in a few more answers, before spotting that the misprints in clues means it must be ‘food for CATTLE’, so it’s actually OK (assuming one feeds oil-cake to cattle, which I can’t be bothered to confirm). The last one to fall is a terribly fiddly build-up for AEOLIC at 37a: Very old language incorporates the essence of Polish dialect) AE + O + C with LI inside.

Done. That was a neat and enjoyable one: I had two moments of realisation, fell into and climbed out of a few traps, and had no doubt at all about what to do at the end. Pretty classic stuff to end my year’s bloggery. Still waiting for a properly hard one to end 2008, though. Thanks Schadenfreude.

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