Listen With Others

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3965 – Solitaire by Xanthippe

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 Feb 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:
 
AT EL T S U OL EM DE ME V NA NT RE I IO L C L LA ES IS AN CE AR A RY R
 
Putting them in alphabetical order might help with the entries in the second grid:
 
A AN AR AT C CE DE EL EM ES I IO IS L L LA ME NA NT OL R RE RY S T U V
 
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.

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