Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Archive for February, 2008

3968 – Babes by Aedites

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 February 2008

By Daniel Goldberg

Well, this is my first ever blog. Foolishly responding to Chris’ request for expressions of interest I was apparently the first and so am honoured with the first ‘guest blog’ spot. Well, since I am adding this intro later I know how rambly and non-sensical the below is. So, here is just a brief introduction then to let readers know what kind of solver I am. This will hopefully be useful context.
I’ve been having a go at the Listener for about 7 years now, seriously for perhaps 4 or 5. I’m a 3-6 wrong per year kind of guy, it seems. But I wouldn’t class myself as a natural in any sense – finishing is often a slog and PDMs come painfully slowly. I do not own TEA but I do have Chambers on the computer. Generally, I will try to have a bash at the crossword in front of the telly with Chambers in book form and Bradford’s. Then, towards the end of the week I will gravitate to the computer.
As it happens, this solve coincided with an awful week, in terms of pressure (too much) and time (too little) at both home and work and I am afraid this has flavoured the blog. My apologies (especially to Aedites) for this. But I have tried to be brutally honest throughout. Here it is:


Crises – home & work, as predicted. Finally settle down ~11:30PM on Monday. Preamble. Shortish. But contains a kick. Could mean that hardly any entries can be entered definitively before the quotations are identified. And the quotations can’t be found definitively until the entries are made. Gulp. And it occurs to me (after only a few short seconds) that uncertainty is increased – not just be uncertain mode of entry but also uncertain location – presumably groups of 3 are entered anywhere within their group. Maybe, maybe not. Preamble is not clear about this. Let’s hope not. The clues had better be easy! And the stupid quotations can start anywhere! But at least once it’s over, it’s over. There does not appear to be anywhere to go once the quotations etc have been found.
Don’t usually do this but I’m going to look up Aedites on the Listener website. Ah. Dr Covey-Crump. A name I recognise (doubtless, all readers knew this already). Oh. Lots of previous. 3900 Dropouts – I remember that. Nice. A bit fiddly. 3876 Grandfather. Oh yes. Bassoon. Seem to remember some controversy about shape on that one. 3834 Sketch. Swallows and Amazons. Hmm. Another controversial drawing in that. 3814 Call Changes. Yes, remember that one too. For some reason it took me ages to get campy-thing I seem to remember it was one of the last combinations I tried (systematically, rather than sensibly). 3781 One or Two? American states. USA highlighted. I remember that one too. 3750 A Faulty Calculator. Can’t remember that specifically – too tired to go and find it. 3710 Minefield.  Remember that. Good fun. Can’t remember the last (first) two – 3663 The Missing Saint and 3567 Special Agent’s Cipher. I’ll probably have a look some other time. But at least I cracked all the ones I can remember, so that’s heartening. Must have faith. It’s all psychological. Deep breath. Let’s go.
[Subsequent research reveals that I did complete 3750 and 3663. I have 3567 in my files but did not seem to attempt it – I only started the Listener in 1999 and by May 2000 was probably only completing 1 in 3 or so]
Group 1. Nerve gas. Only one I know with 5 letters is SARIN. No way I can squeeze the square peg of the clue into that round hole. But convinced it must be a 5 letter nerve gas. Probably ending UN. Quick look in Bradfords reveals TABUN which seems to fit the bill. Chambers confirms this as a nerve gas. American check = TAB, not USVET or AVET as my brain kept coming up with. Goldberg 1, Aedites 0. A good start – just 47 to go. Let’s try to get Group 1 sorted.
Regularly. Let’s try every other letter of PLAYSTOTEAM then. PASOEM. Nope. LYTTA. Could be. Yes. Chambers says yes. It’s G2, A0 and in record time. Crack on. Feeling less tired now.
Cave. Almost always ANTRA. Books are NT. Could endless space by ARA? Nope, not that I can find. Hang on. On checking (rule 1. Always doubt oneself) ANTRA is a cavity. ANTRE is the cave which means AREA – A. Bingo.
Group 1 is now done. Now if one goes in and one goes out and they are adjacent in a shared radius then the first 3 letters of one = the last 3 of the other. No 2 of my 3 has this property. In fact, no 3 of LYTTA is any 3 of TABUN or ANTRE. So, TABUN and ANTRE share the radius (having T, A and N in common), which means that members of the group are entered in any order. Not good news. However, the start of the one going out IS the same as the end of the one going in. The only candidate for this is the letter A. Also, ANTRE is the one which has the T, A and N at the start or end.
So. Upshot of this is. ANTRE is entered in one of the 1st 2 bays, going out. TABUN is entered in the other, jumbled (well, either ANTBU or ANTUB). And LYTTA is entered in the 3rd bay going in. Not too many options and at least this pins one of Group 2 pretty well, I’d have thought. And 3 out of 3 clues so far.
Pencil something in (well, pen for LYTTA and ANT). Hmm. Hard to write in options. Seem to have EBL, EUL, BEL or UEL in the outer ring. Too early to be of much use yet, not knowing where the quotation starts.
Note to self:  is the order of clues within each group totally random? Ie might the 1st one always be the jumble, 2nd inner and 3rd outer? We’ll see. Moving on…
Group 2
Card Game. Far too many of these. WHIST springs to mind. Seven. Could be VII. Pieces for I.  3 letter word for pieces. VI???. Bradford gives VIDEO as a 5-letter game. Nope. I’ll return to this. G3 A1. Damn.
Volunteers. TA. And one of my words begins ATT or ends TTA or has the letters A, T and T. Promising. BITTA. Nope. Bradford under drop, 3 letters. Nothing promising but after trying some –TA words GUTTA spring to mind. Not that I really know what it means, just thinking of drops of rubber. Chambers…. BING! And it was a coincidence. That gutta comes from Malay! But gut can mean clean out, although out of interest I look it up and see that the words “clean out” are not used. “extract what is essential” is sort of opposite in meaning – removing what you want, not what you don’t want. “reduce to a shell” is not exactly cleaning out (although the concept of cleaning could just about be contained in that “etc”). But more clearing out. “take the guts out of”. Well, I’m imagining slicing open a chicken and pulling the guts out. And then cleaning it. Not really “cleaning out”. “to remove the contents of” is not “cleaning out” either. Perhaps “clean out” doesn’t quite mean what I think it means. Nope. Chambers gives only the 2 ‘obvious’ meanings. Crosswords can sometimes be frustrating to a literally minded chap such as myself. But I’m pretty sure it’s GUTTA. And chances are high that it’s an inny. 4-1
Rarely pay. An obscure word for pay. Well, chances are I don’t know it. French coin. SOU? But it’s actually “from French”. So perhaps –Fr? Come back to this. 4-2.
Not a successful group – perhaps Aedites was playing with me 1st up.
Group 3
Right. Good start. AS in UKE. UKASE straight away. Classic crossword word. 5-2
Seaweed. NORI (haven’t had Japanese food in ages). NIORI or NOIRI. Nope. Need more seaweed. ALGA? Oh. ALGIA as in neuralgia? Is precisely what it says on the tin. Naughty, naughty, given that it’s not a word.
Last one looks like a hidden. Thumb, thumb, thumb. But perhaps not. Saskatchewan. SK? Yup. Bradford gives SKEGG. BOMB = EGG. 7-2 and group 3 is done.
But Houston, we have a problem. UKASE and SKEGG share SKE. But ALGIA does not begin or end with S or G. Oh, of course. It doesn’t even share the innermost letter. So. SKEGG goes out, UKASE jumbles and ALGIA in.
Group 4
IC or AC in SPA? SPICA fits the bill.
Otic swellings? Don’t know any. Distressing? Probably too tired right now. Come back to this. But something begins or ends AIG-/-GIA.
Pips. Before food. That’s a Latin thingy. AD? AT? AC. That’s the one. Cibum. Dixie Dean. Latin teacher. Then Crusher Usher – possibly the best teacher I ever had. Although wouldn’t last a second with the child protection issues these days. So. ACATI? Nope. Pips. Bradfords gives ACINUS, so plural, presumably, ACINI. AT=IN. I hate these small ones! Yes.
No G to be seen so this gives ACINI and SPICA sharing. ACINI out, SPICA mixed. So Otic thingy must be in and end GIA, not surprisingly. Oh no. I’m wrong, possibly. Could be SPICA in. Otic thing mixed. Latest score: 9-3. Pretty good. No sign of quotations emerging yet – possibly a THE in the central ring. Must get more clues.
Group 5
Can’t see any of these straight off. I’m now quite tired and just looking for easy ones.
Group 6
Alternately looks like a giveaway. But it isn’t. Perhaps it starts TA. Silk? Bradford doesn’t have what I’m looking for but does have TASAR = TUSSER = silk for a dress. So actually TAS+AR. Fits rather too well with RASTA since they are anagrams.
Small trench? Don’t know any. SOWN in the middle = OW.   ???OW = small? Can’t think. I should go to bed but I always find it hard to when the game is afoot.
Group 7
Pharonic measure. Certainly don’t know any of them. RE + MEN? Yes. First time.
Strangely rimed is surely an anagram – can only be DIMER (think POLYMER with only 2 bits). OK, I’ll look it up. Yes.
Shakespearean word for challenge. Who knows? In whatever manner? It’s not quite A LA, is it? Surely that’s a specific manner. ALAEG? Waste of time. HOW? HOWEG? No. Oh. AS. AS and SAY. ASSAY. Chambers says yes.
Group 8
Grey coin? Nah. Laters.
Spanish hamlet? Anagram of ADEAL. ALEDA? ALDEA? The latter.
Stomachs. Nothing = O. We’ve had OMASA a lot recently. MASA sounds like African dough. Oh Mexican. And I thought I was so clever.
Group 9
Really tired now. Each extremely variable would doubtless be PERVE in Private Eye. But where’s the definition? PER, EA, EVERY? EVER + Y? I think so.
Leak. Five English should be VE. Grouse. Can’t think. Bradfords reveals PEEVE. LEAK = PEE. Perhaps this IS Private Eye.
Ordinary = O, I would think. Smooth stone. OPAL? JADE? Why Smooth? Shame. Odium? No, that’s hatred. Bradford doesn’t help. It’s 18-9 to me.
Group 10
Lots of options. But OFF + ED seems to work. OFF as a verb sounds Shakespearean rather than American to me but Chambers confirms that our cousins over the pond, divided from us by our same language do indeed habitually use this construct in their slang.
Jaguar = OUNCE. U Thant, of course, always helps me to remember Burmese gentlemen. I’ve been teaching the boy names of big cats, beyond the 4 that most children’s books give (never know what’s going to be useful on Who Wants to be a Millionaire 2018). OUNCE is on the list.
Anagram of FREED. DEFER. So Put off is the definition.
Group 10 is the easiest group so far.
Group 11
Attached – don’t like the look of
Club. Iron? Mashie? Niblick? Wood? And or cum + er or um? Nope. Later
Moral significance? ETHOS seems to fit the bill.
It’s 22-11 and I seem to be on a pretty good ratio of 2:1 for quick solving. Would that I could do this for all Listener clues cold!
Group 12
Avoid. Too many options so I’m going to ‘avoid’ this one for now. The fact that I could even think that that was worth saying shows that I should be asleep right now.
Kentish division. Rings a bell. Rape is Sussex, no? Late? Stick. What’s that Indian thing. I’ve seen policemen whip people clambering up the sides of buses. Lathi. How’s that going to work? Curtails? Lathi-something? Oh. Got it. LATHEE – E. LATHE. That’s it.
Rob. EER back about IT? Nope. How about EVER about I. Reivers? Aren’t they Scottish robbers? Seems so. Now. How is it=i? Perhaps it’s reave? Chambers supports it=a so let’s go for this.
Group 13 (we’ve just got new neighbours at 13. Apparently, they were put off by the number but overcame their worries. Wonder if it affected the price. And if we had 8 digits (surely 10 is biological chance) it would have been 15. But perhaps it’s the 13-ness (ie the 1111111111111-ness) rather than the 1 followed by the 3, although that’s what I conceptualise when I think of 13, rather than a group of 13 things. But it’s bad luck ‘cos of the last supper, isn’t it, so actually their house would be damned whatever the base. But it isn’t damned. It’s just a number, for goodness sake. Perhaps I’m thinking about this too much).
Admit. ENTER = RENTER – R? Golly. That was a pure guess but it turns out that RENTER means exactly what it needs to.
Black. Anagram of WEALD. Too many possibilities for now.
More colours. Note to self. Don’t mention colours to Chris (he’s a bit funny about it for some reason). That’s OCHRE, isn’t it. Can’t think of ?OCHRE, though. UMBER? A bit more promising. DUMBER? That’s me, not Bill. Can’t think of any.
Move through rest quickly. One sweep then bed.
Branch? Nope
Broad and slow manner? Sounds like LARGO to me. Lar is a god, isn’t it. Domestic (pl Lares more common). + GO. Yup. I’m convinced.
Spenser’s covering. Couldn’t guess without more help. E in something?
Lose letter in river? Too many options for 1AM
Shine? L in CHAFF? Too many letters.
Steel? Too late
Mosstrooper? Huh? A freebooter. Freebooter? Huh? Later
Old saddle?
Last clue. Rice upsets = ERIC + A = ERICA (if you’ll forgive my Carol Vorderman letter arithmetic).
So. End on a high. And so to bed. Fairly pleased. Slowish but making notes really slows you down (tho’ the thought of (relatively) public humiliation perhaps sharpens you up). Roughly two-thirds done though ratio decreased towards the end. Night, all.
Right. It’s the following evening. Beloved family is downstairs baking a cake. Well, one small contingent is baking a cake; a numerically larger contingent is sticking to the essentials such as bowl-licking-out, distribution of messy foodstuffs around kitchen, placement of small pieces of egg-shell into mixture, etc, etc. I’ve snuck upstairs for what I hope will be a productive half hour.
After the ramblings of last night (this morning) I hope I am a bit more clear-headed. Now that the dust has settled I can see that I have got through a fair number of clues but have not completed many groups. Group 10 is done.  OFFED & DEFER share so DEFER out, OFFED in or jumbled and OUNCE vice-versa. Damn. I much prefer Groups 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 16 which at least all share a letter. Perhaps I should concentrate on these.
OK. Group 4. Just need these otic swellings. Nothing yet.
Group 8. Grey. Coin of little value. Brafords gives various 5 letter greys, one of which, LIART, Chambers confirms as a coin of little value. Unfortunately, it also gives LYART or LIARD. Looking more carefully actually shows that LIARD is the only spelling supporting both meanings, although setters occasionally seem to use alternatives for all meanings (or perhaps I have misunderstood). Anyway, LIARD is the only one which shares 3 letters with ALDEA. In it goes. ALDEA out, LIARD jumbled, OMASA in. This gives ASA for part of ASSAY in Group 7 so it is jumbled, DIMER in, REMEN out. That helped! But there still seem to be a lot of options for letters in that outer ring.
Predictably, especially with getting notes together, etc, half an hour got cut to about 10 minutes. So back to midnight vigil and intense tiredness. I can’t see work relenting for the next few days and I want to get this done before the weekend. So, it’s on to the computer. Disadvantage; less satisfying. Advantage; I can type this blog straight in! Let’s get a few of the ones I’ve been pondering.
Group 13. DWALE. Never heard of it.
Group 15. LEMEL. Should have thought of LEME really.
Group 15. TULLE = TUILLE – I (i = i’ = in. Always miss this)
Group 16. SELLE (ELL in SE – should have thought of the construction)
Group 11. WEDGE – definitely should have got this, even if asleep!
Group 12 EVADE. AD in EVE. No excuse for not getting this, either.
So. Group 12 falls. Tho’ it doesn’t give up its secrets easily. EVADE is out or jumble. REAVE is in or jumble. So LATHE (thanks to the E, at least) is in or jumble. Oh yes. That means that EVADE is certainly out. Talking about it helps.
Groups 9 and 11 would give me a really solid SW wedge.
Group 9. OHONE. Of course, that’s what a hone is. Never heard of OHONE, tho’
So, as with 12, OHONE is in or jumble which means that EVERY is out. And OUNCE shacks up with OHONE, sharing ONE. So OUNCE is jumbled and OFFED is in. But OHONE could still be either. So many possibilities. Sigh.
Now. Group 11. ETHOS has no D. So it chummies up to LATHE in 12, sharing THE. So, WEDGE is jumbled (thankyou D). So ETHOS is out and missing one is in, ending in (2 from WEGE)D. So ??WED, ??GED, ??EED seem likeliest. Attached directions to former hazard. SEWED? Yes! Chambers gives WED as wager (obs). At last. No longer solving clues cold. Always a bit of a relief. In it goes (in two senses).
And back in 12. LATHE is jumbled so REAVE is in. Big wedge now. 5 and 6 looking bare. Can I complete 6? Small trench… Nope. Nothing is coming.
Now I’ve solved 35 of the 48 – only 13 to go. But this outer quotation is a mess. I am still unsure about the location of many of the letters, both side-to-side and also in-and-out (ie if it is not clear which answer is jumbled). How about some of the others. The central ring goes TT?EGI???MADE{ON}FWHA?????? Now I don’t even know whether it is clockwise or a/c. But some sense can be made of this now. MADE OF WHA{T} stands out. THE GIN IS MADE OF WHAT? Is that worth a search?! Nope. It wasn’t. How about the inner ring. Oh. I’m so stupid. They ARE clockwise. Anyway. ASA?RAEDE??? How can this show as many as 4 examples! Could they be some TLAs? (Three Letter Acronyms). Nothing is standing out. I should solve more clues.
Oh. Group 13. Probably TENNE = TENNER – R. Cue controversy about meaning of ‘tip’. Clearly, Aedites likes heraldic colours. That helps. ENTER and TENNE share… damn. ENT, ENE or ETE. DWALE is paired with a Group 14er, not LARGO, the only one I so far have. It would be good it DWALE were jumbled…
Good. Bradfords gives ARMIL for bracelet, confirmed by Chambers. A branch is an arm. LI twisted. in = I again. This must share with LARGO, LAR, so LARGO out, ARMIL jumbled and missing one in.
Now ENTER and TENNE can’t BOTH be jumbled so there must be an E or a T (can’t be R) in the inner circle. Spenser’s covering ends E or T. But there’s no T in DWALE. So it’s E. So TENNE is in or jumbled. ENTER is out or jumbled. DWALE is in or jumbled.    So ENTER is out. So TENNE is jumbled and DWALE is in. So Spenser’s ridiculous word ends ALE. Chambers soon reveals VEALE (= VEIL) = E in VALE. Should have thought of that.
Just one each in Groups 15&16 and I’ll have Group 7 right round to Group 1. 10 to go overall.
Lose letter in river. Just too many options for definition and construction. Let’s look up lose. Not as many as I thought – LEESE announces itself. ES inside LEE. That’ll do. So. LEESE and LEMEL share LEE. So LEESE must be out, LEMEL jumbled, TULLE in. This means it must share with SELLE (in or jumbled), leaving ERICA (out or jumbled) to share with Mosstrooper. Oh. A sneaky search reveals RIDER as a straightforward double meaning. So it is jumbled.
I now have most of the inner circle: RAEDEELEASA? Still makes no sense.
But the central circle reads: MADE OF WHAT ARE LITT?E GI???
YES. The PDM. What are little girls made of? If my memory serves, it’s Sugar and spice and everything nice. That (coupled with “babes”) certainly wouldn’t get past the child protection people. Thankfully, Listener editors are more sensible. I remember coming home from school one day and saying to my mother, “Little girls are spiteful. Little girls are sly”. Couldn’t understand the sugar stuff at all, although the attraction certainly increased with age. Anyway, the quote adds to 30 letters. Hmm.
Right. With that L from LITTLE in place I can see that Card game etc in Group 2 is SOLOS. How could I have missed “pieces for one”?! Also, Rarely pay is SOLDE (SOL+DE). So. One of SOLDE and SOLOS is jumbled, one out. GUTTA in.
Just 5 clues to go now. Optic doo-da in 4. All of Group 5 (!). The small trench in 6. Right. Distressing = tragic so TRAGI, those funny things by the entrance to your ears. Who’d have thought? So. TRAGI jumbled, ACINI out, SPICA in.
Now. This is where I find it so difficult. I should stop now, go to bed and spend another hour on this tomorrow when, chances are, I’ll finish it. What I tend to do is stay up until I finish it, thereby destroying the rest of the week sleepwise. Nope. I’m off.
Right. About 8PM on Wednesday and I’ve snuck in for a quick half hour. It’s pa-in-law’s b’day today and we’ve been downstairs partying (on chocolate cake, shortbread and Werther’s Originals). I feel a bit guilty ‘cos I should be out playing badminton but I’m not feeling 100% (while the wife and son no. 1 are considerably below 70%, I would estimate). Anyway. That inner circle. It does make sense read as girl’s names; viz Rae (dim of Rachel), Dee (dim of any girl’s name beginning with D), Lea (a cow!) and Sal (dim of Sally), though I haven’t got that L yet. Must be right, I suppose, although there doesn’t seem to be any deeper significance and this is somehow far less satisfying than the central ring. But at least they are little girls.
So. We have L?R?? twice and L?L?? twice, one in, one out and one jumbled and one other. Right. The City is LILLE (happens to be French but ILL in LE). Likely candidate for out. Damn.
Some judicious searches reveals CRAWL as a double meaning for pen (lobster enclosure – I always wondered what they were called) and stroke (as in swimming). Which makes it a jumble, leaving ??RAL for calf. Lo and behold. SURAL means “about the calf” (of the leg) while LARUS is the genus of gulls. Group 5 falls leaving just this small trench in Group 6. Unfortunately, with RASTA and TASAR being anagrams of each other and one starting and one ending with an R and both having SAR adjacent I think there is no way at present of determining directions, jumblicity, etc. (was this deliberate, I wonder?) So it’s LIL?? either way or a jumble.
[Some time later]. Well, it seems to be RILLE. Certainly a small trench and the centre of DRILLED which means sown. I’m afraid I don’t like clues like this – I’m never certain about their uniqueness. Anyway. It’s a jumble so RASTA out and TASAR in. That’s it. All clues done. Will stop now, do some (proper) work and try to sort out the outer ring later in front of Newsnight to take my mind of Paxman. Yes, I know – I could always simply not watch Newsnight, but then how would I get the Listener done, stoopid? And why am I already rambling at only 8:30PM?
It’s now Thursday evening, Valentine’s Day, appropriately enough. I’m not wining and dining the missus ‘cos she’s under the weather. I’m afraid that I fell asleep on the sofa just before Paxman (or whoever) came on – woke up in a sweat at 2:30AM and blundered upstairs. So the attempted completion had to wait until just now. I had already spotted SUGAR at around 2 o’clock (ie position) but this really just hindered me since I took ages looking for spice, then kinds of sugar and kinds of spices before realising that it was a quotation, silly. I then spent ages cussing and swearing about the numbers of different possibilities for letter positions. Finally, the adjacent D and V (at 10 o’clock) followed by things that could only really be OM, OI or IO gave me VIOLETS after which the quotation came almost immediately. And then the realisation of the day. D’oh.
Just one small problem – my logic was wrong in group 2 – GUTTA was not an inny but a jumbly. I had missed the fact that SOLOS (being a palindrome) could be in as well as out. Double D’oh. Although doubtless philosophers will argue as to whether the group does really conform to the constraint fairly. (It did occur to me whether a jumble which left the letters unchanged or exactly reversed would count as a jumble too – I seem to remember this issue occurring before).
So. It’s hard to analyse this one objectively since I’m having a bit of a tough time of it at the moment – work is not brilliant, the family is under the weather and I am permanently tired. The clues were (thankfully) easy enough for lots of cold solving. The PDM was nice without being an epiphany. The inner circle was OK without being totally convincing and I found the outer quotation a bit fiddly. But in a different week I am sure I would have found the whole puzzle charming. So sorry, Aedites, for not being at my brightest and best. If it’s any consolation, noone will be reading this far down! Thanks for the puzzle and I hope anyone who’s still reading enjoyed my first ever blog.
It’s about a week later and retrospectively, and under far less pressure, I can see that I have been really hard on Aedites. I think fear of public failure also played a part.



Posted in Solving Blogs | Leave a Comment »

3967 – Lots to Find by Franc

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 February 2008

My first blog ever and with notepad beside me I sit down on Friday evening to try and crack the Listener which I have printed onto a single sheet of A4. I love the Listener for its wonderfully varied themes. Plus as a result of the range of setters it has a constantly changing style. I don’t know Franc but as I subsequently discovered from the Listener website we usually get one offering a year. Well the preamble is at least understandable (not always the case with the Listener), though solving clues where an unknown substitution occurs might be tricky. Let’s hope there will be a few easy ones of that type. Plus for a third of the clues I can’t enter anything until I crack the theme which, guessing from the preamble is confirmable in Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I have Chambers, and Bradford’s by my side and now fetch Brewer’s before I begin. Well obviously the best thing to do is start on the clues and for some reason I’m going to start at the end; I often find 1a to be very difficult and usually thematic; also the clues sometimes get a bit easier further down the list; plus they are for shorter words.


36d I guess is some sort of money but nothing leaps out at me. 35d a three word clue, must be CO/LT which Chambers confirms can mean beat. I didn’t have to replace a word in the clue and it had no extra word so I can’t enter anything in the grid yet. 33d is the hidden RITT with ‘symphonic’ extra. First word entered and I write an S in the space in front of 33 to build up the “original source”. I have no idea why, but at this point I scan up to the top of the clues and see 13a, another three word clue giving BEE – again no change in the clue or extra word so I can’t enter it. COLT and BEE are both fauna and now I see there are lots of animals/birds in the clues; chicken, goose, dunlin, calf, hawk, kitten, pochard, swan, finch, pig. The puzzle is called lots to find and I wonder if I’m dealing with the collective noun for those animals.  That would give me two sets of words. I look in Brewer’s, under nouns of assemblage, and disappointingly see rag of colts and swarm or grist of bees. Both collective nouns are the wrong number of letters for the replacement so perhaps I’m wrong. Plus I vaguely recall the theme has been used before.


Below bee is 14a, another three word clue, a straightforward two meanings, duck. Surely this is not a coincidence. This time Brewer’s yields the collective noun PADDLING; I’ll pencil it in. I can’t make anything to do with collectives for clues with chicken, goose dunlin or calf in them which is a slight worry, but 30a cast of hawk means FLORET is the answer. So it must be collective nouns or nouns of assemblage or nouns of multitude according to Brewer’s again – never heard of that one. I now waste ages looking through entries in Brewer’s because it’s full of gems and I always get sidetracked. On the opposite page to nouns of assemblage, “Nothing like leather” is a bizarre entry. ‘Yes, let’s protect the city with leather, we’ll just slaughter all the animals so we’ve got no food for the siege, spend weeks tanning all the hides and surround the city with them. That should keep the besiegers out! Sorry I just realised that will mean nothing unless you’ve got a copy of Brewer’s. If you haven’t you must buy one, it’s fantastic for wasting time when you should be decorating or cleaning the car or solving the Listener of course. Coincidentally it is cited as confirming the theme for this week’s Spectator ‘All Together Now’ by Columba.


Back to the Listener and still concentrating on the animals, I see 24d – AFF displacing ch in charm of finch gives AFFARM for vow. Surely that should be AFFIRM which would mean it is chirm of finches and there it is confirmed in Chambers. Well I’m now certain of the theme and assume there are other collectives for colt and bee which will emerge. Presumably I will soon also encounter the collective noun first and have to change it to the animal (always in the singular I note). A quick look and I guess 37a troop of monkey minus K – money something, MONEY BAG.


I live in Brockley in London and through his Listen with Others blog entry I discovered Duncan Horne also lives in Brockley. We met for the first time in a local pub the night before I solved this puzzle. Coincidentally, Franc is a setter Duncan should remember because I see he won the prize for No 3702 Letters from America by Franc. In the pub, Duncan told me he dislikes using aids other than Chambers. Well I have to say I don’t. Quite simply I can’t spend too much time on crosswords otherwise I’d get nothing else done. So I do have an extensive reference book collection which I have built up over the years, often appropriately bought with crossword prize money – a form of investment for future puzzle solving.


So at this point with Brewer’s not providing the goods, I google nouns of assemblage and end up in Wiktionary’s lists which has a very helpful alphabetical search by collective noun or member of the group. But I still find nothing for colt and loads of possibilities for bee, six of which will fit. Only cross checking will determine which one, if any of them, it is. But it does yield wedge of goose so 16a is PLEDGE.


OK I’ve got six firm entries, it’s time to become a bit more methodical and see if the cross-checking will help. I start in the bottom half. 32a is sine in buss giving business of FERRET(s). There’s an interesting coincidence here. In a previous career I was in the Royal Navy and on two occasions I became Commanding Officer of HMS FERRET. So when I volunteered to write reviews for Listen with Others, the image I chose was a ferret; and here is the word appearing in the grid for my first blog. Very satisfying and it is surely a good omen for the year ahead. 28d gives DESYNE with ‘National’ extra. 39a is LOANS with ‘Kentucky’ extra. 27d is THREAP with ‘angry’ extra. 36d is SOU (just under half of sounder of pig(s) – thanks wiki). 38a is wolf giving ROUT as the entry. 41a is OPENER with ‘outdoor’ extra.


The extra letters are now ____K_O____AN_S_ and I’m suddenly very glad I wasted time on Brewers because I remember an entry under Nouns of multitude which turns out to be Booke of St Albans. Though that is 15 letters so it’s probably Book… Then I see the setter has been very kind and I’m able to deduce all the potential extra words from their initial letters and rapidly solve 21a, 25a, 31a, 26d, 12d, 7d, 6d, 3d, and 1d confirming Book of St Albans. It also means that all the remaining clues involve the collective noun replacements one way or the other.


Now I could go on to describe the order in which I solved the remaining clues, but essentially they were all the same. Identify the collective noun or its member within the clues/answers. I suppose the key here was to have the correct source to check them and we were told the Oxford Dictionary of English (2005) would be helpful and I’d like to think they were all in that reference, whether the main body or an appendix. I don’t know because I didn’t check. I confirmed all of them in Chambers, Brewer’s, through the internet or in the case of two in the OED which I bought in the compact 2nd edition when it was first published. These two I’d deduced from the letters left over from the helpful phrase A SETTER THINKS BREWER GOLD, ED. One was a DESERT of lapwing and the last collective noun I confirmed was for the very first clue I solved, 35d a RAKE of colt.


I find this crossword very difficult to rate because I spotted the theme very early and hence got a head start. I think it was average Listener difficulty because it took me an average time to solve even taking notes for this blog. But I have to say I did thoroughly enjoy it. It was high in thematic material. Two thirds of the clues or their solutions have thematic content and the remaining third of the clues being used to indicate a thematically related source. I found the clues to be fair and sound though I can’t say any particular clue stood out for me. The surface of more than a few (I’m not going to list them) was weak but then it often is in many crosswords. But I can’t be too critical because I tend to look for possible cryptic interpretations straight away and frequently miss the surface in my hurry to get the clue solved and something entered in the grid.


If my method for tackling this puzzle seemed a bit random in the beginning, I agree with you. I frequently jump around hoping to make connections and tumble the theme as quickly as I can. It most certainly does not work every time but I got lucky here. However no doubt before long I will be writing a humiliating account of how I completely missed the theme and failed to finish the crossword and then read how everyone on the crossword centre message board thought it was the easiest crossword for months. I’ve been there before so it can happen again. I did make a promise to myself to be completely honest writing these blogs but I hope I won’t have to put it to the test! 

Posted in Solving Blogs | Leave a Comment »

3966 – Mercury's Whereabouts by Dysart

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 February 2008

Take Hartley..?

Saturday, 7.30 am The New Listener Year has begun, and already it’s going better than last year, when I fell at the very first hurdle thanks to a stupid transcription error. And in accordance with my new principles, I’m not starting the puzzle on a Friday night, but sticking firmly to using only the paper version to avoid similar problems. (I'm pleased too that since I started writing this blog I’ve discovered that I got Class right – was worried about this one, Candice was an oddly limp finale…)

So, Dysart. If I remember correctly, last year (or the year before?) Dysart had a great debut with his King Lear puzzle – I even wrote to him via JEG, which I don’t often do – so I have high hopes here. Reading the preamble, there’s certainly plenty going on – based on a novel, extra letters in across clues, thematic order to down clues with extra words and the answers needing treatment, and finally characters appearing in the grid. We’re only going to be able to put in across answers for a while – plenty of blind solving to be done here.

On a quick scan through the clues, 18 across is the first to fall: A love’s abandoned after onset of fit of depression must be FOVEAL with an extra S – the ‘abandoned’ sticks out too obviously as an anagrind. Soon after we have Lord deprived of power tries working – most unnatural – again, ‘most unnatural’ sticks out as a helpful definition, and with an anagrind next to ‘tries’, I’m immediately looking for …IEST. And there it is, EERIEST plus R.

But having felt pretty pleased with those 2, that’s pretty much it on a first go around for the acrosses. I suspect that Reinforcements blown up in lane – life lost is an anagram of IN LANE LIFE LOST but with one of those being an extra word. Probably not LOST as we’ll want the S for the plural. So LIFE or LANE… Nothing immediately strikes me, but I’m no master anagrammer.

Depressingly, a second, slightly more careful go through the across clues (admittedly, while weighed down with kids) also fails to yield much inspiration. I have a strong feeling that 1 across (Going back in time, one has first taste of Chilean wine) ends in –IC, but I can’t think of a wine that ends in –IC. Could be BARSAC, I suppose…

3 pm Back from an impromptu trip to the zoo. Spent most of the time chasing Leo and Flora who were constantly heading off in two different directions. You’ll know it’s us if you see a tiny giggling figure tottering past you gleefully, followed about two minutes later by a jogging adult shouting ‘Can you see the other one?’ over their shoulder.

Bishop leaves bribe; moderation’s followed by extremes of luxury. Dreadful! might have BRIE or RIBE in it, and I also suspect it’ll end in LY (extremes of luxury). That’s likely, in fact – with ‘dreadful’ as the definition. OK, then. So that leaves us with moderation, and a word meaning bribe missing B or RR. Bradford’s, please. We have HO as moderation. ..HOLY. And a bribe is a BUNG. UN(G)HOLY.

I’m now out in the garden, following Leo around the place as he enjoys the fresh air. Again, I may not be able to give the thing my absolutely undivided attention, but this is not proving a straightforward puzzle. No crossing answers and not a lot of blind solves unlocking themselves. Is the poet at 21 across an anagram of ‘hearts’? Nothing in the Bradford’s list, but maybe I have to work harder than that..? 30 across (Europeans from north-east, fast talkers (extremely)) must mean Europeans – NE..TS? Can’t think of a European with six letters that looks like that, though.

I think I need to check out the down clues a bit more seriously. That anagram from before – so it’s INLANELOST or INLIFELOST. STIFLE? something…? If I were to play the odds here, INLANELOST is more likely simply because of the F. –TIONS at the end? That leaves LANEL. NELLATIONS? No. But Bradford’s has ‘tenaille’. TENAILLONS? Yes, there it is in Chambers. So, extra word of LIFE. And there’s a TEN in the answer – might that be significant? I’ll look out for numbers in other down answers. Incidentally, we obviously have to do something to increase the lengths of the down answers – either by adding words or replacing sections with longer strings of letters.

Elizabeth succeeded after introduction to kick turn was unsuccessful in winter resort. Elizabeth is highly unlikely to have anything to do with the definition, so let’s think about winter resorts. Something comes after ‘introduction to kick’, so let’s assume K as a starting letter. That immediately makes me think of KITZBUHEL – but that doesn’t make sense. KLOSTERS does, though. K – LOST – ER – S. No number in that answer. Extra word of TURN. Together with LIFE – and looking through, we also have as potential extra words BOUT, SHOT, KICK, TRY, DEAL. Is something to do with games – all of those have a link to games (with LIFE being a ‘turn’ in a video game). Yes, and there’s MOVE too. And GO would be the extra word in Seven out of the south go east, breaking up part of a ring perhaps. An anagram of T-OUTH-EAST? ETAT SHOUT? HOT STATUE?

9 pm Looking at the very short across clue …like this old lover’s grave, I think I may have something. SO for ‘like this’ – and LEM(A)N for lover – makes SOLEMN. And the Europeans are Europeans from the north-east and are LETTS (the fast was LE(N)T).

Also, although I’m not totally convinced by the clue, I think Movement having distinct energy? Energy’s dissipated is GREEN – as in the the Green movement, and an anagram of ENERGY – i.e. GREEN plus Y. It’s not rock solid, but seems good enough.

In the downs, I think I can see NAMASTE in (Kick) a chap standing up half sober – it’s a form of greeting: A MAN reversed on STE(ADY). So, looking for patterns in the down clues, we have TENAILLONS, KLOSTERS, WHITE RAT, NAMASTE. (I should have noted that I also solved Animal’s violent (bout) with heartless tamer as WHITE RAT). Well, they all have TE in them. Could that be notes? We’ll see – let’s see if the pattern sustains…

If GREEN is right, then we have the letters GNY together in the extra letters. I can’t, off-hand, think of a word with that sequence of letters, so I’m going to assume that one word ends –GN – which means almost certainly there’s an I in front of that. Bones and front of skull found in rocks near Lyme Regis perhaps. With the I in my mind, and ‘bones’ in the clue, I think of INCUS and ILIUM – INCI – S or ILIA – S. A quick Google of Lyme Regis, which I remember has some distinctive geology so it shoudn’t be too hard to find. No indeed. LIAS would appear to be the answer. Let me just check that it appears in Chambers. Yes indeed (no mention of Lyme Regis there though…). OK, so that’s interesting. With LIAS and LETTS we have a double L in 12 down – and although there’s an S higher up, I wonder whether we’re looking at an altered version of TENAILLONS there? And you know what, KLOSTERS would fit (with some extra letters) in 13 down.

With an L from the theoretical KLOSTERS, I can have a guess at Inclined to give gratuity lodging in “Milton’s Rest” – gratuity is almost certainly TIP and Bradford’s gives me ALT as rest (probably should know that by now, actually) so that’s ATI(P)LT.

OK, so I’m now in that peculiar theoretical world where I have a number of potential answers based purely on what might fit without any reason why, but the hypotheses are helping me solve. If I’m right about TENAILLONS, we’ve got N and S as starting letters for Rushing sailors charge after Manx cat? and Being sick – messy could be messier respectively. Not that seems to be helping me much. Sheesh, this is as slow as I’ve been on any Listener in a while. Not easy at all.

I think I should try to tackle more of the down clues though, as it does seem as if they are likely simply to have something extra added to them rather than any major alteration, and might therefore get more crossing letters. Settling on Certify growth of PEP investment? Yes, according to report; no, on inspection, I hit Bradford’s on ‘certify’ – could it be NOTARISE? Yes – NOT A RISE – clever… Extra word of PEP. And it looks like NOTARISE could fit at 4 down, with V-M in the middle. VIM? Yes, there’s Vim in (e)down. Pep and vim? Yes, (e) is DEER, with Vim as extra word. And there’s ZEST as well. LORING. So there’s the link with the extra words – vim, zest, pep, go, kick… OK, that feels like a mini-breakthrough. Nevertheless, I’ve been at this for a few hours and have filled almost nothing of the grid. Bedtime, I think…

Sunday, 9 am I wake up with an idea about the ‘thematic order’ of the down clues. I’m pretty sure from last night that we’re talking about VIM inside NOTARISE in 4 down. But what I’m thinking is that this is the 5th down answer and vim is the extra word in the fifth clue. Which is indeed correct. Interesting.

I don’t have much more time to reflect on this as Leo and Flora have come down with chicken pox (concurrently, thank God). At least this explains why they’ve been in such terrible moods recently. But we had promised Rozalia a trip to the Natural History Museum, and she has already put on her dinosaur T-shirt, so I’d better make good on our promise – but obviously we can’t all go now. Actually, I’m rather looking forward to a father-daughter trip out without two tiny shouting companions. I’ll take the paper, but no Chambers or Bradford’s.

Throughout the day, in between visits to the animatronic T-Rex and the mocked up Kobe earthquake, I develop a pretty solid working hypothesis for the puzzle. I’m wrong about TENAILLONS – where it goes, that is – as it’s fairly trivial, having identified the extra words, what the lengths of the down answers need to be. That double L must be part of SPELL, which means NAMASTE as the only 7 letter answer there. I’m also wrong about GREEN – I think it may be LARGO – CLEAR GO with the E removed and with the C as an extra letter. DEER must be at 23 down – DETURNER – which means that 33 across begins with N. Being castrated, the ultimate cut, gets the highest note. NEUTER becomes NEUTE. NETE? I’ll check it when I get home, but I think that’s a note.

NAMASTE also gives us an E, not an S at the start of the 36 across. Which must be EMESIS, as in ‘emetic’, an anagram of MESSIER with an extra R.

8 pm Supper done, we’re settling down in front of the TV. I have a number of films I need to watch for work – there’s a whole bunch of remake possibilities that have come to us. There’s The Nanny, The Fallen Idol, The Go-Between and Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, which is the one I plump for, as that and The Nanny are the only ones I can take seriously as remakes – not sure the other two should be touched. So here comes some period French criminal slang…

3 down has LIFE in it, leaving LI-AT in the middle of it. Could that be TAMIL reversed upwards – CLIMATE? Look it up in Chambers – and we get CLIMATURE – region. A cure is an oddball, apparently.

And interestingly an ASCENT is a going back in time. 1 across has been bothering me for a while. Turns out I was wrong all that time ago with the wine thing. It’s TENT. I think 34 across is TORRENT, but I don’t know why. The fruit is P—O or P—B and Bradford’s suggests PEPO (new one on me…). That’ll be it. PE(A) POT. Extra letter of T. THE PAST. Hang on a sec, this is very peculiar. THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY… Yes, that’s it. The opening of The Go-Between – how odd, given my potential choice of film this evening. OK, so that makes sense of what I had already deduced but not explained about the down clues. A synonym for ‘go’ goes into the middle of the words.

Let me have a scout around for the principal characters. I remember that it’s LEO, of course, who is the actual go-between. Can’t remember the lovers now – Mary, is it? No, says Wikipedia, it’s MARIAN and TED. Can’t see them anywhere in the grid.

I hammer out a few more clues rather painfully (PLATH – it wasn’t an anagram of HEARTS), TECH (I thought that was ETCH for so long), NESTLING, ONEGA… Eventually, after the longest time (I really want this puzzle to be done now, it’s 10.30 and I want to go to bed), I decode PLEONS at 7 across which has to be (a) one of the oddest words I’ve had in a while, and (b) one of the tougher clues in the puzzle. Parts of crab, or lobster possibly, I nearly chucked in pool, once, which I believe breaks down as ON (shortened ONE) in PLESH, with the H as the extra letter. But there’s my LEO, anyway. Now, what’s he going between…

11.30 pm Dysart, you swine, I’ve finally spotted MARIAN split into half, one going up, one going down. Which makes (b) PLEONASTE, another fantastically difficult clue – Seven out of the south go east, breaking up part of a ring perhaps. Especially sneaky giving seven as a word rather than a digit, and obviously impossible until 7 across is solved, and that wasn’t going to happen quickly. And I’m sure that LEO in PLEONS is a deliberate red-herring.

Still, an ultimately enjoyable puzzle, one that was very difficult to break into but once that major leap had been made, was rather more straightforward but never easy thanks to some pleasantly (and at times unpleasantly) tortuous cluing. Best puzzle of the year so far (although I enjoyed Solitaire too) but we’ve barely started

Roll on Listener Fest 2008. o-Go-d night.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

3966 – Mercury's Whereabouts by Dysart – Setter's Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 February 2008

The idea for this puzzle came to me shortly after I’d compiled my first puzzle, Deal. The novel has always been a favourite of mine, and the Joseph Losey film, starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, scripted by Harold Pinter, is a delightful adaptation. The title invited cryptic treatment so I set about compiling a list of approximate synonyms for “go” and constructing a grid; at that stage my only worry was that I could waste a lot of time for nothing if the theme had already been used before in The Listener.
From the outset I decided to make it tougher than Deal, though I didn’t intend it to be as tough as it eventually turned out to be. While I was working on it, Gos’s Witness Protection was published, with a tough set of clues and jumbled entries that were moved in the grid, and I think this suggested a standard of difficulty for my puzzle.

I felt that the best route to the novel was through the memorable opening words of the prologue, “The past is a foreign country”, and this dictated the choice of 24 across or down entries. The quotation is fairly familiar and is in the compact version of ODQ, conveniently indexed under “past”, “foreign” and “country”. This meant that solvers struggling after solving only a selection of across clues might have enough to recognize one of these words and check in ODQ.
My first grid was symmetrical. Initially I experimented with words that could become new words with the insertion of synonyms for “go”, but this proved to be too severe a constraint and I quickly abandoned the idea, but it did give me “whereabouts”, thus supplying the title of the puzzle. With greater flexibility in the words to be used and their precise placement in a selection of across and down entries, I soon had a usable grid. However, after writing a complete set of clues I became conscious of what I regarded as a flaw: some of the synonyms for “go” that I’d used were verbs, but the definite article in the novel’s title, cryptically interpreted, really demanded words that could function as nouns. I therefore scrapped everything and started again. Now the task became far harder as the choice of suitable words was far more limited. With the other constraints of a central block of 12 cells in which LEO was sandwiched between MARIAN and TED, and the need for exactly 24 across clues, I found it impossible to produce a symmetrical grid.
I decided to place the “goes” in the down entries to avoid overloading across clues/entries with abnormalities; it was at this point that I decided to limit myself to 13 words and 13 down clues. Even with the luxury of an asymmetric grid it was still not easy, and I had to experiment a lot, shifting the “goes” around. One of the most problematic features of the final grid for solvers is the number of unchecked letters in PLEONASTE in the central column. Other experimental grids I produced all exhibited this problem somewhere or other. In the end I decided to risk it with the editors, writing a clue that provided all the necessary letters in the reference to 7 across and the letters of EAST, but I fully understand any solvers who found solving the clue a frustrating experience, especially if they hadn’t solved 7 across or didn’t make the connection. I tried to compensate elsewhere by making the checking as generous as I could. Twelve of the across entries have no unchecked letters, and most of the 8-letter or 9-letter answers to down clues have no more than 2 unchecked letters.
Initially the down clues were presented normally and it was my intention that solvers should enter synonyms for “go” wherever they would fit. However, that presented some possible ambiguities where there were unchecked letters; I could have given solvers an anagram of unchecked letters, but it struck me as more consistent thematically to use the extra words in the clues. At the time I placed the words wherever they best fitted the surface of the clue. Now, in hindsight, I think I should have tried to ensure that all the extra words were placed within the clues (i.e. not at the beginning or end) so they would be “between” in the clues as well as in the grid. As it is, in three cases the synonym for “go” starts the clue. It’s not something I noticed until shortly before publication date.
Some of the extra words were tricky to disguise in the clues, and this may have led to some oblique wordplay or definitions. Where possible I wanted the meaning of the word in the clue to be unrelated to its thematic meaning. Thinking of the household cleaner when I incorporated ‘vim’ in the clue for ‘deer’, I saw that the latter was just the first five letters of DETERGENT minus T; the old chestnut of “does perhaps” for ‘deer’ suited the surface nicely, so I eschewed originality and used that as the definition. ‘Pep’ was another word that was difficult to incorporate into a clue without sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. Once I turned my attention to “spell” I couldn’t resist using “spellbinding” for a container clue; I thought the editors might object, so I added a preamble warning and offered two alternative clues in which ‘spell’ was a separate word; the preamble warning was enough to satisfy them.
Once I’d written the clues it occurred to me that an extra element to the puzzle could be the presentation of the down clues in a sequence matching the occurrence of GO words in each column, left to right. My intention wasn’t really to add difficulty for it’s own sake, but to create a penny-dropping moment when solvers realized what was going on. I’m not sure this was successful since it would appear that for many the penny dropped very late in the solving process, or didn’t drop at all. This is probably the one feature that adds most to the difficulty of the puzzle and had I realized how tough it was going to be I might have dropped the idea, but after it had been test-solved without too much difficulty (by a very accomplished solver, it must be said) I decided to submit it in that form, adding a note to the editors at the end of my solution saying that if they felt the disordered downs made the puzzle too hard I would not raise any objections to a normal sequence. Since that offer was not taken up I assume the editors were happy to have a tough puzzle to schedule.
The only significant feature of the puzzle that the editors changed was the highlighting requirement (a change that I was entirely happy with). In my original submission solvers were required to highlight LEO only; the intention was to make solvers look for a justification for choosing between the vertical LEO in the centre and the horizontal one in the north-east corner, but both the test-solver and the first editor highlighted the central LEO (presumably on the grounds that he is the central character) without noticing the other characters. Incidentally, the existence of MARION as well as MARIAN was coincidental, not a deliberate trap. If it had been a trap I don’t suppose anyone would have fallen for the wrong spelling at the highlighting stage, since MARION and LEO share the O, so it would have been neither elegant nor justified.

Posted in Setting Blogs | 1 Comment »

3965 – Solitaire by Xanthippe

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 February 2008

Friday 18th January, 8.00pm Download the puzzle and find enormous grids, so, some work to do to reduce it to a single side of A4, my preferred format – grids 7cm square will readily accommodate two letters per cell. Also, the preamble states that the thematic word should be written below the solitaire grid not above (since amended to above in the online version).
Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates so I presume that we have a female setter here – especially welcome as a comparative rarity in the crossword world. I have always found her puzzles to be firmly on the easy side but with some fine constructions – notably a Sudoku based EV in August last year.

The renowned Leon had three Listener puzzles entitled Solitaire (I only saw S III), all based on the card game, and the formidable Lip Service (No.2566, Sept 1980), which includes a game of peg solitaire and which attracted no correct entries. But back to the present: the preamble is quite a mouthful but it is clear that we should start with the Key grid.

9.00pm It takes me about an hour to complete the Key grid with the method of entry reminiscent of Jago’s Listener, The Crooked Man, last March. Here are some comments:
>           A favourite clue: Representative group imbibing new American drink that should help things move (8, two words) senna tea – N in SENATE + A (American). Nicely misleading with representative looking to be the definition at first: (N + A) in SET.
>           Ella gives us the sole pair of pegs that are identical (L,16 & 18), resolving possible ambiguities with the entry of egresses and redeem.
>           Coll – L for O in COOL.
>           I consult Chambers Crossword Dictionary (2006) a good deal more often than Bradford’s (5th edition) these days but it has no entries under smallpox. Bradford’s has two: alastrim and the required variola.
>           Renata – A + TAN(N)ER (all rev). I can’t say that I have ever come across tizzy = sixpence before.
The grid complete, the 27 pegs are revealed:
Putting them in alphabetical order might help with the entries in the second grid:
I shall leave it at that for tonight.
Saturday, 11.00am I wonder why we were given answer lengths for the Key grid but not the Solitaire grid. I can’t see that it would have given too much away to have the lengths for both. Anyway, it doesn’t really hinder progress and the second grid is complete well within half an hour.
Using the Key pegs I speculate on the entries with the first six being (in order):
coat – scam – revelational – Larry – nada – amniocentesis
Coat gives us the first move: O to jump AT and, if correct, we already have four of the five unknowns: AM, O, N and D.
Some further comments:
>           4ac ton – (S)TON(E) I would say that the metric ton has all but disappeared – from UK usage at least.
>          5ac revelational – REV + ELATION + A (they) + L I like the use of they here: They left after clergyman with euphoria of divine communication.
>           11ac emolumentary – (U + L) (rev) in MOMENT all in YEAR (mixed)
>           13ac ladies – DIE in LA(V)S Gives us the final unknown: DI.
>          5dn redeem – (TH)RE(AT) + MEED (rev)  Redeem was also found in the Key grid but with a different entry.
>         8dn Larry – L for R then RR for LL in RALLY The puzzle’s third name with Ella and Renata.

So, the five unknowns are AM, O, N, D and DI, surely giving us the pleasing dénouement of a solitaire diamond in the centre.
However, we must play the game as a check and I waste a good half an hour ‘playing’ it in Excel only to go wrong somewhere – much easier to use a fresh grid, pencil and rubber!
The removal of: S, EM, V, RE, I and LA are those specified by V, H, H, H, V and V in the preamble and alternatively could have been indicated by movement N, W, W, W, N and S.
As expected, diamond is the thematic word with the final D ending up in the middle of the grid – so, all finished at 12.48pm.
Post Mortem Well, I shall probably only remember this as being the one with peg solitaire that I could do (unlike Leon’s) it being another great construction from Xanthippe but again very much on the easy side.
I should think that she looked for an alternative for that second L, probably spending hours on it, but all in vain and it was possibly the same for the second appearance of redeem.
I am strongly in favour of preambles that don’t give too much away and would have preferred working for the VHHHVV, perhaps by having directional indicators concealed in six clues. As an alternative, since we knew the first 27 moves, I had a look to see if the correct options could have been deduced while playing the game. By playing two grids simultaneously, I found that it was indeed possible, especially with the wrong options for S, V and RE resulting in the very next move being blocked. The longest deviation (10 moves) came with O jumping LA horizontally although you could see long before the 10 moves were completed that O was then stranded.
During this exercise it became apparent that it must have taken ages to construct the grid. Perhaps Xanthippe was not too worried about the duplicates after all but adding any more pairs would soon have made defining a unique path a nightmare of complexity. It is a shame that there was practically no doubt as to the final outcome and that all this effort might have been bypassed with the highest confidence.
I would recommend this as a puzzle to introduce newcomers since it has many features that illustrate how the Listener stands apart from the regular back-page cryptic. Hopefully, there will be some for whom this is their first successfully completed Listener and for that alone it has to be commended.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »