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Archive for Feb, 2008

3965 – Solitaire by Xanthippe – Setter's Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 Feb 2008


My inspiration for the Solitaire puzzle was the 2006 Listener dinner (my first) during which I had an enjoyable evening with Bandmaster, Aragon, Elgin, Adam and Dumpynose. During the evening Adam asked us to guess the size of the smallest Listener grid ever published. Apparently, it was a 2×2 maths puzzle with 2 clues one either side of each row/column. I wondered whether a puzzle where the answer was essentially a single filled square was possible. Appropriately, Adam featured in the clue for nada in the final puzzle.

Having alighted on solitaire it was clear that cells would need to have different letters and this would only be achieved with both single and paired letters. At this point, I wasn’t sure how I’d indicate the play but decided the final few jumps and the central letter should be thematic. Diamond came to mind particularly as it could leave the final D in the centre (the only other letter I seriously considered for the centre was an O). Next an on-line trawl for methods of solving solitaire and there are a few (all were tried at one point or another). Working backwards I determined where the final 7 letters needed to start to spell out the theme word (the first jump had to be DI so as not to get repeated letters but after that 6 single letters were possible or various combinations of single and doubles). This gave a fair amount of scope, particularly with rotations. Normally, once an idea suggests itself, I get the grid fairly quickly but with this puzzle I still had no joy many hours and months later. Reluctantly, I put it to one side and wrote other puzzles.   
A year on and we were booked for the next Listener dinner when I got called to Australia at short notice. Armed with the Chambers and lists of solitaire solutions I decided to have another go at the grid. More hours and still no joy. On my return the jetlag was bad and I couldn’t stay awake after 8 p.m. and woke like a lark at 3 a.m. Four more mornings on the grid and still no success – it was becoming an obsession and I considered adding bars (horrible) or allowing repeated letters. Then the next morning it happened and I praised the Scots for the deil! I checked the grid and was disappointed to see I’d got two els but knew I’d have to live with that. Solving through the two els came out with one other letter in between and therefore no ambiguity (I guess if they had been together it might have made solving a little harder).
Next the key grid – my driver for this was as small a grid as possible. Time spent on this was similar to an average puzzle, considerably less than the solitaire grid. Having spent so long on this puzzle I decided that solvers would have to forgive the appearance of redeem in both grids (the vetters certainly did). Having two grids the same size was serendipitous and I only realised on seeing the puzzle laid out in the paper.
Finally the clues, which are never a quick process for me, and then off to the vetters. A long silence followed and I feared that it was not well received. Thankfully it was the email that was not received.
When I solved the puzzle I used pencil and an eraser which made a mess – the vetters both printed out two copies and cut the pegs out to play the game which is a much better method. Many solvers pointed out that you could get the solution without playing the game, something that I’d never considered. What a clever devious bunch you solvers are – however I believe most played the game. I think crosswords, like life, are a journey not a destination although on this one, I was very pleased to arrive!

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Listener 3964: Class by Gioconda

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 Feb 2008

And off we go again. After Mr Hastie’s nice relaxing opener to the year, here’s Gioconda with Class. I’ll always remember Gioconda as the setter who made me read Pilgrim’s Progress for a Listener some years ago – I forget the puzzle’s name, and reading the whole thing wasn’t strictly necessary, but I read it anyway, and its sequel, and I’ve remained grateful. It’s Saturday evening, about 7pm, and I’m one mojito down with a Gibson in front of me. My house is hosting a fifteen-year-old girl’s birthday party later this evening so I thought a stiff drink or two would be in order.

Rather wordy preamble here, though nothing that causes immediate panic. I’ve a good guess what’s going to happen to the tall, short, average and disrupted answers, though I’m less sure about the fat and thin ones. Well, starting at the top, the first clue is Spy rubbish in Southern Spain (5). So that’s S + [rubbish] + E = spy… STATE fits the wordplay but not the definition. Come back to it. Next: City is on state soil (5) – bah, states again. Isn’t there some efflorescent soil in India, or something? I forget, and anyway there are too many multi-possibility crosswordy words in this clue for a quick solve. Can’t do the next either, gymnasts’ moves being something of a closed book to me. Some Scottish nonsense follows, and then Bible version is French adult scriptures (7). It’s maddening; I know this word but it’s not coming out. Can’t do the last clue in this set either.

OK, perhaps I’m not in the best frame of mind to do this. Let’s just skim speedily down the clues and knock off what’s obvious.

Got one: EMURED at 17a in Set 2. It needs extending somehow to fit in the grid, but does a crossing E help at 5d? Yes, it’s SNEERS with a misprinted E in the clue. And does 7d have a U in it? Way of escape back to front for birds (6). I live in a mews, and of course the first thing I did when I moved in was to look up the etymology, so I know MUSE is a way of escape, making this one EMUS. Which seems to want extending by two letters to fit the grid. Hmm.

18a begins R: Steer erratically for old harbour (5). REEST? No, nor RESTE: it turns out to be RESET, to be shortened in the grid by a letter. 14a has second letter E – well, Girl returns bud (4) is one of those clues that could lead to practically anything, so no help there. Nothing else follows from SNEERS, so back to a whizz down the rest of the clues.

Thanks to the Grauniad’s ‘Readers Recommend’ music blog I discovered Johnny Cash’s ‘The Mercy Seat’ earlier today, and it’s been trotting round and round my slightly fuddled head for ages. Most off-putting. With the half a brain I have left I can see EPOCH at 37a, and bridle at Seeing spot in Gabon (7) at 11a which looks a completely circular clue to me: [spot] + ING = seeing. No way in there. 24a is STUD, to be extended by a letter, 1d REHEARSAL to be shortened, and 28d is AUTOCUE, again to be shortened.

The old creek GIO pops up again at 36d. Steers Home Secretary round wood (5) is a straightforward HELMS, which fits the grid and has no misprint in the clue that I can see, so I’ll note it down as a ‘disruptive’ clue to be jumbled. Same for ROSTER at 40a. Enticed by trumpet boy (5) at 13d is LURED (learning three-letter words for Scrabble has been a great help for Listenering), and 3d DEXTROUS is easy. 26d is Alloys tangled nest to pillar (6): is ‘pillar’ absolutely always without exception ‘lat’ in crossword clues? Seem to be, and this is LATTENS. DOGGERS, JUMARS, AIGLET and NASCENT finish off the first run through the clues, and now it’s time to go and be useful in the kitchen.

Sunday, 9:30am. A little woozy. Rather a boisterous evening, as I recall, but everyone was well fed and boozed. Prosciutto, bresaola and Veuve Clicquot, then tagliatelle with smoked salmon and cream and capers and wine and onions, then cake. More cocktails. There may have been dancing. Fortunately I have nothing to do today except reading and washing up.

Now, what’s going on with Class? DOGGERS at 21a must be disruptive (jumbled). 21a and 24a both imply 1d is REHEARSA, so has its last letter removed. 1d and 13d (LURED) together give me ELUL at 16a, somehow extended by a letter, though I can’t see how that fits with a shortened DEXTROUS at 3d.

Nothing’s clear, but how about a few guesses. Average and disruptive clues are no problem. If a word’s one letter too long, remove that last letter and call it short. That works with REHEARSA, AIGLE, EPOC and AUTOCU… no, but then JUMARS and HELMS have no hope of fitting in the bottom right corner. Hmm. The -ENS end of 26d fits with the beginning of 37a so would make 38a end IN: Queen and Empress given drug in poison (5). After a minute or two of brain-dredging I remember RI = ‘Queen and Empress’, so this is RICIN, which we’ll call disruptive.

Set 5 is all done except what must be the ‘average’ clue. Looking at the answers, another scheme comes to mind: how about, ‘thin’ = remove one letter from inside (so LATTENS goes to LATENS), then ‘fat’ will mean add one letter to the inside, short = drop a letter off the end, tall = add a letter to the end. The only problem with that is my EMUS at 7d, which is two letters too short for its light. A little thought fixes the problem: I’ll call it EMEUS instead. Splendid.

Things begin to fall into place now. Jumbled entries with two unches all have double letters, so no trickery going on there. AUTOCUE must be thinned at the A, U or T otherwise there’s an ambiguity with EPOCH. Putting in a few more answers, I now see that the apparently circular 11a isn’t as bad as I thought: it’s EYEING, where an eye is a spot on an egg. (Though why they don’t just call them ‘spots’ I couldn’t say.) But how is it fattened, given that the inserted letter is unchecked? There’s something else going on here…

41a Directions for letters? (5) is presumably ESSES, but not my kind of clue: I’d hesitate about putting it in without crossing letters. Got some momentum now: TONSURE goes in at 25d thinned (or tonsured), and SMIT fills up that corner. 1a was STATE, having ‘Say’ misprinted as ‘Spy’, and those scriptures were of course the Zoroastrian AVESTA. ENCLAVE goes in disrupted at 27a (though what sort of surface is Surround lake in space hollow, by the way?) and that gives CANNERS crossing it.

Oh, now I see. A breakthrough, which I should have had ages ago: within each set, what’s removed from the thin gets added to the fat, and likewise with the short and the tall. Well, that’s a help, and makes the puzzle that bit neater. So in set 6 INMATE gets fattened by a T, and at last I can work out what 1a is going on about. Dances with bent dowagers losing gravity (6) is clearly an anagram of DOWAERS (and has a neat surface) but it’s taken me this long to turn it into the Bohemian REDOWAS.

It’s turning into a bit of a logic problem now: if this one gets thinned then that one gets fattened so that one’s TABU so that one’s TASSE… Looking at the end of the preamble, the correct letters of misprints form ‘the first name of their teacher’. I have CANDE + 2 other letters, and my money’s on CANDIDE. I haven’t read it but I know the Bernstein version pretty well, and there’s a teacher in that, isn’t there? Best of all possible worlds, and that sort of thing? Yes, I think I’ll have Candide. Am I going to have to read Voltaire to finish this? Half of me hopes so.

So 8d Note beginning of turning spool (3) has a misprinted I making it ‘spoil’, so good old RET making its umpteenth appearance. LAND, MEAL, MELODISE all make themselves known – the last after quite a struggle; I must have forgotten that ‘mise’ was an outlay (as well as a payment to a new Lord of the Marches in the county palatine of Chester, of course). And the gymnast’s move was a LUNGE.

Oh dear. 2d Observe hat on organ lover is EYELID, so it’s a misprinted C so it can’t be Candide. Bum. Well, I don’t know what’s going on with this name. Three clues left to get, all in set 2. GEM and ECARTE come easily enough, but 6a is a tough one: Old name of theatre is put in plaster frame (6). It’s jumbled in the grid, and it’s EREN + two identical letters. PREPEN, or something?

I’ve come to a standstill. This is hard: I don’t know (a) the teacher (Candice fits but makes little sense), (b) the swaps of EPOCH/EMURED, REDOWAS/JUMARS and EYEING/AUTOCUE, and (c) this blasted old theatre. Focussing on the last of these, eventually out pops TENTER. The teacher’s niggling: Candide’s teacher was Dr Pangloss, I now remember, but I just can’t get Candide from the misprints.

Later that same day, and as so often a fresh look does wonders. I now spot that the fat kids get their extra letter in the middle of the word, and the thin ones lose theirs from the middle. Must have been half-blind not to get that sooner; would have filled the grid hours ago. Well, it’s done now. And I suppose there’s nothing for it but to say CANDICE. How is that thematical? She’s a C-lass, I suppose, but even so it seems a bit feeble.

In the evening I do a quick double-check of the misprints and write CANDICE below the grid. I’ve stopped being cross at this, and decided that you need to approach it in the right frame of mind. It just isn’t one of those puzzles with a blinding flash of realisation where the overarching thematic nature of everything suddenly becomes clear – it just does exactly what it says in the preamble, seven sets of six clues, answers entered in a fiddly but appropriate manner, and a name appears at the end. Simple as that. I suppose it’s only my jaundiced palate that wants more. So, not a sparkling puzzle for this solver, but I can imagine myself completing this as my first Listener and feeling chuffed.

(Post-solving note: I gather the 2007 all-corrects have already had their letters of congratulations. So all I can say is: Dammit to St Albans and all points north. I’ll find out where I slipped up in a few weeks, I suppose, but I’m a tad peeved just now. Unless, of course, my letter's lost in the post…actually, now I think about it, that’s the only possible explanation. Must be. Stands to reason. Bah.)

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