Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

3967 – Lots to Find by Franc

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 Feb 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! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: