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Archive for May, 2008

3981 – Lip Service by Sabre

Posted by Listen With Others on 30 May 2008

Sitting in the garden on a glorious Friday with a mojito in one hand and a Sabre in the other. I've half an hour before the evening's jollities start, which should be time enough to make a little headway. We have a two-sentence preamble, where the first sentence gives clear and precise information about the coding used, but the second seems otiose: “Information to ensure completion of the grid is provided by the principal diagonal”. A trained eye should be looking at the main diagonal as a matter of course, surely. I do hope that's not giving too much away; I like my Sabres to be difficult. We’ll see.

Doesn’t look like there’s anything funny going on with the clues, so dive in with 1a: Swimmers returning wrap up well outside (5). Easy enough to parse: ‘well’ is SO, ‘wrap up’ is END, and the swimmers are ODNES. Or orfes. Or… or something along those lines.

5a, 10a and 11a all stand firm against my attacks. 12a is more promising: The entire state, head height (7). ‘The entire’ is T+ALL, ‘head’ is NESS, TALLNESS is height, making ‘state’ superfluous and the whole thing one letter too long. So perhaps there is some tomfoolery in the clues? Could 3d have a T in the middle? Headgear has woven mill finish (5). If it’s the same gimmick, that’s HAT + jumble of ‘has’ = either ‘mill’ or ‘finish’. No, nothing doing. Hum.

The first one falls: ERNES nicely hidden at 6d. Then 13a is Start to trap river fish (4). If the last two words of the clue were interchanged the answer would be TIDE. Does something similar work for that TALLNESS clue? No… back to fish-hunting then. TURE. TEXE. TUSK. That'll do, a tusk is a torsk, a coddy thing. So this 3d has a K in it, and it's quite brilliant: the hat is a SHAKO, with KO clued as ‘mill finish’. Now that’s what Sabre’s for. Superb stuff. And of course 12a is ALLNESS, where ‘head’ in the clue was an instruction, not a noun. (He likes fooling around with parts of speech, does Sabre. ‘Weed with dead leaves ripped off’ was a classic from some years ago. [Answer: WIDDLED.]) That'll do for now. Time to go and be sociable for the rest of the night.

9am, Saturday morning. Another scorcher, and the roses are loving it. The carnations are flourishing, the anchusa is rocketing skywards and we’re having to eat sage with every other meal to stop it taking over the garden. Back to the puzzle, 2d ends U_: Could be personal inventory here (5). ‘Inventory’ is SUM, so MESUM? …MYSUM? No, ADSUM, meaning ‘here’ – another fine clue. 16a has an excellent surface: Special essence of woman’s body. SOMA, with not a padding word anywhere.

RATOOS comes easily at 9d once I've looked up ‘boomer’, and 11a is _AS_: Bill’s back escapes sudden pains (4). At first this looks like a word for ‘sudden pains’ minus a word for ‘back’, all meaning 'bill'. But on reflection, probably not: such indirect subtractive wordplay doesn’t seem very Sabrish. There's a very neat clue for OFFISH at 1d (Cool, owning ferret (6)), making this informative principal diagonal begin ORSSO – which is not immediately enlightening. And after HORSETAILS at 20a it's ORSSOT, so I guess it's encoded too. Sigh.

The trickiest clue for me in Sabre's last Listener involved having to anagram 'Guildenstern's heart' to get INTERLUDES. This time I spot the idea more quickly at 17d, Psychiatrist breaking a large person’s heart (9), and in goes ASPERGER. The ‘sudden pains’ clue at 11a is now FAS_, but I just can’t get it. Checking ‘fast’ in the big red book yields nothing, but on the same page is the Scottish FASH meaning ‘pains’. The cogs turn for a minute before I spot that it’s ‘flash’ without the L.

The top right is friendlier, with AISLES crossing SLOE (Bush running late, one hears is nice) and EEKS. 8d is EGRESS making 10a look very much like SHEARLING, an answer I’d never have got without a few crossing letters. But 5a is hard: Act well worth esteem (6), _E_A_E. I try to wrench BERATE to fit the clue but I can’t convince myself. ‘Rate’ is ‘esteem’, and rather amazingly ‘worth’ is ‘to be’ – but ‘berate’ is hardly ‘act well’. After some minutes' mental anguish I come up with BEHAVE, Chambers confirming ‘have’ = ‘esteem’. That was sneaky.

Anywhere else 24a would be a stand-out clue: Nice thought, bride exchanging rings (4). That’s IDEE, and a beautifully natural and misleading surface. GUAR at 28a (simple anagram, difficult definition) and 22d is SEALCH (Silky lace slips embraced by mum – as well as good surfaces he’s got an eye for the definitions, this chap).TEHRAN slots into the bottom left.

32a is Sires a sort of 10ac (9). If this was almost anyone else’s puzzle I’d probably be fooled, but as it's Sabre my first (well, nearly first) thought is to play around with 'tenacross' until ANCESTORS appears. Funny how you change your game depending on the setter. I make good progress in the bottom right now, with MASK, AMOK, SNAKES and OKRAS coming pretty quickly. (I thought OKRAS was excellent: Jake lacking height spots plants.) I shouldn't quote every clue, but those for EMIT and THIN both raise smiles of admiration.

21d throws up the surprising fact that an undertaker used to be an EDITOR. And 26d is fiendish – Advisors work without fee on lawyer’s terms (5). Five years ago that would honestly have taken me a day to unravel, but I’m in the Sabre Zone now, and GENRO doesn’t take more than a minute. And I finally remember the blasted OPAHS and tuck them in at 1a. (Checking Chambers, I see that they ‘constitute a family of uncertain affinities’, which makes them sound a bit untrustworthy.)

Six left, including both the three-letter ones. HAUSA takes ten minutes, but after a barren half-hour I decide it’s too hot to persevere, and spend the rest of the day getting sunburnt instead.

Sunday, 8:30am. We seem to be in the height of summer and it's only May. A fresh look at the puzzle gives SPRINGALDS at 22a – well, the fresh look gave SPRING_ _ _ _ and Chambers did the rest. I don't feel too bad about that, though, as neither spalds nor springalds were in my vocabulary. That completes the diagonal (ORSSOTNGMMRS) and one of the unclued entries (HLESELAT). Now 4d is _ EL_ _TI_ _: He must ring Charlotte's doctor. At once! Why the full stop in that clue? 'At' must need a capital letter, I guess. So is this an old word for astatine? I don't know any old words for astatine. No-one knows any old words for astatine. In desperation I trawl through HEL in the book: HELICTITE fits the grid but not the clue… but there's HELVETIUM. I should have thought of He = Helium, but 'Charlotte's doctor' for VET was always going to beat me.

Right, three left, let's knock this off before lunch. I don't normally like to have a Listener take up much of Sunday. Tchah, if I'd have bothered to look up 'nuts' at 18a I'd have had ENS long ago. And HUI and INANITION finish the job. Wonderful clues all round: whatever the theme, it's already a fantastic puzzle. Now, what's this code all about?

First, try to unscramble the diagonal. If S is a vowel then it's E or O. If S = E, then the unclued entry HSHS is MEME, NENE or TETE – assuming we're looking for words at all. The last Listener I simply couldn't finish was Sabre's 'Fireworks' a few years ago, which involved cracking a similar replacement code, if I remember rightly. I spent hours going through Chambers looking for words with the same letter pattern as something that turned out to be bloody Popacatapetl. Grr.

Anyway. The unclued entries here don't use all the letters of the alphabet. Is there a rule behind this code, or is it just a random replacement for a selection of letters? If HSHS were TETE then every letter moves 12 places along. That's promising, and makes the diagonal ADEEAFZ… no, perhaps not.

Why are there three SH pairs forming a diagonal in the top left of the grid? And why are there four OK or KO pairs in the bottom right? Why, yet again, is KEA in the grid? What, precisely, does 'occur' signify in the preamble? LITTLE RABBIT would fit the diagonal. So too would LITTLE DORRIT, which is much more likely. That would give _T_T for the four-letter entry – er, UTUT = DODO? Are we back in Wonderland again?

The only given letters used in the code are A, E, GHI, LMNO, RSTU. That's 13 letters out of 26. Is that significant?

Although 'Little Dorrit' wouldn't be information, exactly, it would be a hint. Perhaps I'm reading the preamble too closely, but I'm going off the Dorrit idea – not least because it gives nothing sensible for the other entries. Hm, this isn't as gettable as I'd hoped. Put it aside and go for a long walk to see Eltham Palace.

Sunday, 9:30pm. I don't think there's anything hidden in the grid. You can always find coincidences if you look, but I remember reading somewhere that Sabre doesn't use software to fill his grids, so it's probably not going to be stuffed with thematic material a la Magoo. Perhaps the diagonal is three words, corresponding to the three unfinished unclued entries?

Monday. Can't remember the last time a Listener spilled over into a weekday. I list all the words I can think of fitting HSHS, from ANAN to YOYO. Nothing really works with 'general suggestions', or indeed 'lip service'. The diagonal isn't giving much either: the only phrase I can come up with which fits a four-letter word is WHO OWNS SAPPHO. Dear oh dear. DROOD fits the start of the diagonal. The Harry Mathews novel TLOOTH does, too.

Tuesday. The principal diagonal isn't specified in the preamble as being encoded. Might it, somehow, not be? It has twelve letters in all but only six distinct ones. The whole grid contains every letter except J, Q, W, X, Y and Z.

Wednesday. The unclued entries are of increasing lengths: 4 letters, 5, 6, 7 and 8. The first and last are fully checked. Oh, what's going on here? Why is 19a EEKS when EELS is a better word? Why GUAR rather than GEAR? Do all the coded words begin H? Two of them end in AT.

Thursday. All the letters of 'General suggestions' are in the unclued entries, except the O which is in the diagonal. So 'general suggestions' do 'occur' in the unclued grid entries (and the diagonal, but that's a minor point). Don't know what to do with that idea though. What fits HLESELAT? Proforma. Racecard. Firerisk. It's an anagram of ALL THESE… oh, I don't know what I'm doing. Dammit, I'm going to have to relax my standards and use a computer. It's either that or trawling Chambers. The only site I know of is something called Chris Johnson's Word Finder, but it seems to do the job.

I like DICACITY ('raillery, banter'). POTATOES fits rather neatly too. POTATORY. TENONERS. URETERIC and URETERAL are less likely, I think. MISUSING. OILSLICK. HATSTAND. AIRBRICK. AIRDRIES. ERGOGRAM. EXOTOXIN.

Not much time to spare for Lip Service on Friday and Saturday, but this damned code dogs my every waking moment. Nothing hangs over one like an unfinished Listener as the deadline approaches. I'm liking the idea of NONO as the four-letter word, as it means 'an impossibility, a non-starter'. Perhaps the whole thing's a joke.

Sunday morning. I've tried all sorts of ideas over the last week, most of them too silly to write down. (The given letters of the code make THE MINOR GAULS, or possibly MOTHER ANGLIUS.) Now I'm harbouring doubts that I'll crack it at all. Still, for the first time in a few days the house is silent and I have solitude. And a nice cup of tea. And I'm thinking

POTATOES is a good, sensible word. Fits with PAPA for the four-letter one. General suggestions occur… information is provided

Actually, POTATOES and PAPA do fit with LITTLE DORRIT if you code the diagonal backwards. Encode it, I suppose. What does that make the rest? PR_ _M, PR_ _ES and PO_ _ _R_. I'm trying not to get too excited here, but there's a scintilla of an iota of the first spark of something approaching hope. Flinging myself wildly towards the ODQ, I turn to Dickens.

Poultry, prunes and prism. 9:47 on Sunday morning. I don't think I've ever been quite so overjoyed to finish a puzzle, or so relieved.

Once I've come down, I'm able to admire the simplicity of the idea. And, of course, I'm sure that everyone else will have seen it in five minutes. Why didn't I go straight to the ODQ when I spotted Little Dorrit? I got hung up on the code, and I tried to read too much into a straightforward preamble.

Splendid stuff all round. Thanks to Sabre for a truly great puzzle.

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3980 : Closed Doors by The Tall’n

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 May 2008

A 13 x 13 grid and 58 clues means I have to resize everything to fit on one page but that done I enjoy reading a clear preamble which means little to me thematically. So initial letters extra words in the across clues will lead me to a location where the (50 letter) notices lie. That’s a lot of letters and they presumably put many constraints on the grid hence the large number of shorter clues and 15 clashes.
 

Setting to work on the across clues to try to get the quotation, I can’t get 3a. Crossing it are a pair of …/… clues – my least favourite.5d While swallowing the French drinks…is a straightforward LE in AS giving ALES. 6d …Will’s old woman introduces amateur card game is A in TROT giving TAROT. So what exactly is the point of the …/…? Each clue is independently solvable and the solutions have no link with one another. Bah! Now 3a is ??AT? but I still can’t see it. Same goes for 8a and 14a but 15a Removing odd bits (ie removing odd letters) of soil, archaeologist spies ancient jug leads to OLPE with archeologist as the extra word so I can write A in front of 15. I can’t solve 16a,17a,18a, or 19a but 20a Unusual stories getting Jock’s happiness back is SEIL reversed giving LIES and U from the extra Unusual. 21a and the only Hindu ritual I know is SUTTEE which is lucky ‘cos that’s the solution with a very cleverly worded clue – After first legal action’s lost I support Hindu ritual. TEE after SU(I)T with first superfluous. I like the construction of that clue a lot. 23a English author forgets French friends is clearly AMIS with forgets superfluous. So I have the consecutive letters UFF in the quotation but no idea what it is.
 
As I’ve got 20a above 23a I look at what crosses them. 9d “Superfine” – – expression of admiration about piece of music. OPUS suggests itself and I work backwards to the wordplay SUP O reversed. So there is a clash between the S of OPUS and the L of LIES. I can’t recall ever having seen superfine being used for SUP before in a crossword. And why the two dashes? I think it is a recent change in style with the Listener. I noticed the same thing in Gos’s Huge Ruin, Symbolism by Wasp and Mango’s City Tour. But I think it has disappeared in the two puzzles after this one. Can anyone enlighten me? 10d Networks give comeback to broadcast about film is RETIA, ET IN AIR reversed. 11d Goddess immediately appears in one Scottish…is ATHENE and the clue doesn’t have a surface sense without … linking to 12d which I can’t get yet. (Another clash between ATHENE and AMIS.) The letters from these three downs help me solve 8a …rural England’s fare with no cooking as FORANE (anag fare no) and England’s as the extra word. Also 17a Do emirs in harem fancy big awkward girl is MAUTHER; UT (do) in anag HAREM with emirs extra – again very clever deceptive word order. These two acrosses enable me to get 12d …drama with American girl swallowing drug for intellectual perception NOESIS (E in NO SIS); 13d Newspapers say replacing priest’s going… EGRESS (eg replacing P in PRESS) – very tricky; 8d ? unsatisfactory, put in basket for a priest FLAMEN (LAME replacing A in FAN. A clever word order again but spoilt for me by the horrible linking to the previous 7d Fruit invaded by frost extremely… TOMATO (MAT in TOO). These answers in turn get me 25a Lock expertly, and anxiety doesn’t begin TRESS (S from STRESS) with expertly extra. I now have a complete top right corner and  ?E?A?E??UFF?E as the start of the quotation. I hazard a guess L must go between the UFF and E which in turn leads me to guess SHUFFLE as a suitably themed/crossword sort of word. ODQ gives me nothing productive under shuffle but has the familiar (familiar to me from Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch!) ‘shuffled off this mortal coil’ and checking the main entry gives “when WE HAVE SHUFFLED OFF THIS MORTAL (COIL)” from the “To be, or not to be” Hamlet soliloquy. I was a professional Stage Manager after I left the Navy and I’ve seen at least 8 productions of Hamlet and worked at the RSC, so it will come as no surprise to you that I then guessed the whole theme. RST closing at Stratford; and notices for Shakespeare’s plays staged by the RSC on the doors of the RST, the last one to be staged there being Coriolanus (googled). Presumably the plays including Coriolanus are arranged in a coil. Once again a lucky break for me with the theme – very lucky considering I thought shuffle was the thematic bit whereas it was Shakespeare and coil.
 
As an aside, I won a theatre related Listener back in 1989. No 2999 UHLAKHPT by Keslit which involved playfair code squares and the names of four London theatres, the title decoding to Playhouses by Apex. (Thank you Listener Crossword site.) {Are the brackets necessary?}[Is the full stop in the right place or indeed necessary?]
 
Anyway, armed with the quotation I quickly identified the extra words in the across clues. Though this did not mean the rest of the puzzle was a pushover. Through 25d From pasta I take a small portion for Ian (TAIT hidden) and 26d Wife’s gone in to revive Frenchman (RENEw) I gained entry to the bottom right corner. I won’t detail every clue but I liked the following. 50a Ascot races – – John welcomed this chance to get rich which took me ages to realise (even knowing Ascot was extra) was LOTTO ie TT(races) in LOO (John).
29d Impressive person retired with worried screech ULULATE (LULU reversed on ATE). 30d Mature maiden erected incomplete guttering for hall MEGARON (AGE M upwards in a down clue, on RON(e)). What I like about these clues, and there were many more examples, was their economy and the clever change of word order to lead astray the solver.
 
Clues which held me up the longest until I had enough letters to guess were:
46d Without justice non-gypsey left prison GAOL (GA(J)O + L)
47a Match umpire’s upset after girl’s pronounced offside LUCIFER (umpire extra) (REF reversed after sounds like Lucy)
31d Someone important turned up, retaining Oval ground for one Russian physiologist PAVLOV (VIP upwards with an anag of Oval replacing I)
19a Special greeting needed for a heroic performance (heroic extra) S + HOW. I don’t why this took so long, perhaps it was the fact that three of its letters were clashes.
6d …Will’s old woman introduces amateur card game TAROT (A in TROT)
32d Fool with rubber erases Kelvin Crescent LUNULE (LUN(k) + ULE)
 
Having completed the grid I had fun shading MERCHANT OF VENICE, CORIOLANUS, HAMLET and TITUS ANDRONICUS in the form of a spiral rather than a coil – but that’s a minor quibble – placing RSC very cleverly into the three diagonal boxes. (I did remember to shade only Coriolanus in the submitted grid but my working copy shows the spiral.)
 
I really enjoyed this puzzle. I know some of the surface readings were not exactly brilliant and there were far too many …/… clues which seemed unnecessary to me but that said I liked this setter’s clueing style. I liked the theme and its execution and I liked the unambiguous preamble. I knew what to do and I knew when I had finished.
Thank you Tall’n.

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3979 – Huge Ruin (Remote) by Gos

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 May 2008

A Guest Blog by Colin Blackburn

I'm one of those Listener solvers who checks the Times website far too often on a Friday afternoon. This Friday was a rare exception, having
just sat an OU number theory examination in a faceless hotel near Newcastle airport I had retired to Newcastle city centre to wile away the afternoon in Blake's coffee house. The one afternoon when I really need their free WiFi to be up, it's down.  I resign myself to enjoying a
couple of pints in the Newcastle Arms with the Independent puzzle. A
couple of pints turns into a meal on the way home and the Listener is,
for once, relegated to Saturday morning.

Freshly printed out I have Huge Ruin (Remote) by Gos. Gos is a name I
recognise but it seems I failed to submit Gos's 2007 and 2006
puzzles—I don't know why. So, “dramatisations of two works,” appear in
the grid and, “a third,” in the title. The title looks like an anagram
but I'm not sure about the parentheses. I assume 1a and 37 are the two
phrases containing the dramatisations but it isn't entirely clear from
the preamble. The clues are given in alphabetical order of their
answers—at least that gives a little extra help when cold solving.
What doesn't help is that only some of the clues contain misprints,
hopefully they'll be easy to spot.

The first clue looks promising: bamboo = CANE, bring the final A of
panda forward and that gives have ACNE = spots, excellent clue too. “Fun
to be had regularly with Sophie Keaton (4)” it turns out PEAN is 'fur'.
That gives me my first misprint. Scanning back up I see REAP, simple
initialisation and a second misprint. Then GIPSY, another set of
initials with Y on the end. “Strife occurring from misplaced trust (5)”
This must be an anagram. Aha, STRUT = stride, vaguely, and that gives me
another misprint. PEAG, OLEIC and ENRANGE stare me in the face, the last
one literally so.

Now I have a few answers maybe I should think about the key answers I'm
going to need to start filling the grid. I had assumed the grid was
symmetric but on closer inspection it isn't quite. There are three 8
letter answers, two intersecting and two running side-by-side for a
couple of letters. “See endless loving all over the place and turn into
a story (8)” looks like an anagram of SEELOVIN, ha, NOVELISE. Looking at
“In Hareem, a sex hormone one gets right away (8)” ESTROGEN emerges from
the anagram but as this is the US spelling a misprint of Hareem to
Harlem is needed to justify the answer. Nice clue, other than the
uppercase H which gives it away a little.

The third one isn't as obvious yet, though “Rocket” is ripe for
misprinting. DELI, SANG, RUIN (anything to do with the theme?), CRUST,
CLIO (which must be a down light), CLAPPER and UMPS all come from
another scan through. I now have several misprints, GPLROD. If I knew
what order they appeared it would help. I have a glance through a list
of authors…EDGAR ALLAN POE! He fits. I just need to find a few more
misprints to confirm one way or the other. RINGLET and ICED give me a
couple of As, things are looking good.

I tentatively fill in ESTROGEN at 19 since it allows GIPSY at 21. This
places NOVELISE at 18 and so I have a couple of letters in 24 and it
must start with at T. I lightly fill in a few more answers using the
ordering of the misprints to help. This places STRUT at an early across
light which I just can't make fit. Okay, I'll solve a few more clues and
see how it goes.

Then MANNA gives me a second D, not so good. Double checking it must be
right, An Nam is an old French protectorate in what is now Vietnam, food
(from fool) must be the definition. Okay, maybe it isn't Poe. Then I get
my breakthrough, the third 8 letter word is RIVE in TIRE. A completely
new one on me but it fits and gives me a third A. Maybe I should review
STRUT since I can't place it in the grid. It seems it's not a misprint
at all but STURT meaning 'strife'. So, Poe's back in the game.

It's now a plod through the remaining clues using what I've got in the
grid. Sketching in CRUST at 26 and seeing HARRIED for 1d help a lot.
Harry'd indeed, terrible pun. With a few letters in 1a and 37 I take a
break from the puzzle to check out the works of Poe on wikipedia. What's
noticeable is that the short stories and their dramatisations, often as
Corman films, have slightly different names. HOUSE Of USHER fits at 1a
and TOMB OF LIGEIA fits at 37. Neither are quite the right titles but
for now I just use them to help complete the grid. The rest of the clues
fall into place fairly quickly once the restrictions of the alphabet,
the grid and the last few misprints are considered. I did like “Look out
for them reportedly giving a bit of color in Hollywood (5)” for CECUM.
Very nice homophone and clever use of US spellings in the clue and answer.

Now I just have to work out what to do to finish this off. I realise
that the HOUSE OF USHER fell but the TOMB OF LIGEIA didn't rise, even if
LIGEIA did, sort of. Still, swapping the two entries seems to leave real
words in the grid so I guess this much is right if not completely clear.
Looking back at the title I play around with the letters and find IN THE
RUE MORGUE, 'murdered' this would produce the letters in the title. Why
the parentheses though? And do I need to do anything else to the grid or
is this third work not considered a feature of the grid? And, why wasn't
the title based on a third Corman title, that'd have been a little
neater if the title isn't anything other than a title.

Oh well, I'll post it and hope. On typing this up it turns out that I
forgot to post it! I carried the completed puzzle with me on a work trip
to Paris and a cycling holiday in the South Downs. I had to send it on
the closing date, maybe JEG will be kind to me on this one.

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3978 – Symbolism by Wasp

Posted by Listen With Others on 9 May 2008

Friday 6pm As with my last blog, I’m back in Oxford visiting the grandparents, this time for Passover – which means the house is full to bursting with children. It’s rather fun, actually, and I do cause something of a stir with the preposterous set-up I need to print up the Listener. For some reason my Mac is not keen to talk to my mum’s computer, nor is her computer keen to pick up the Listener page, so I have to have both computers up and the printer hooked up – and all on the landing floor because the twins have gone to bed in the study.

So, it’s Wasp. That’s two of the Listen With Others team represented this year already – clearly I must try to get into compiling if I’m to keep up. I very much enjoyed Wasp’s last puzzle (the Cluedo one), and the preamble makes this one look fun. Thematic clues, altered answers, thematic highlighting and a missing element.

The first clue that leaps out is In Paris, the badge is yellow with its fairly obvious indication of LE or LA. Can a badge be MON? Yes. So that’s LEMON. Now, does the ‘is’ count as an extra word, or is this one of the altered answers. Incidentally I now see that there are two unclued answers – are the altered answers perhaps the ones that cross these?

2 down stands out as a pretty clear ‘extra letter in wordplay’ one – Wash deformed navel has to be LAVE + N. An L, then, at the start of Artist paints scantily clad models around Sweden. An anagram of PAINTSCLAD and S, with scantily as an extra word? Yes, that would appear to be LANDSCAPIST.

4 down I think is STEER (with STEE(L) being ‘staying power’) and 5 down (Ed cleans up these days) looks like it should be an anagram of EDCLEANS – CALENDS with an extra E. The next couple of down clues aren’t immediately obvious cold solves (7 down may be PAINT, but I can’t see why), but 9 down splits pretty clearly into wordplay and definition: in Put bracken around most of betel inlay I think we’re fairly clearly talking about a word meaning ‘inlay’. Isn’t that INTAGLIO. Not sure how that would add up. Let’s spark up Bradford’s for the first time. Aha. TARSIA. TARA is definitely bracken. Let’s try for the betel bit – that’ll be SIR(I).

We’ve got –EL– in 12 across. Held out in city lodgings. Anagram of HELD plus I. DELHI. Lodgings as an extra word so that can go in the grid. That puts an H in 6 down. Nick’s after a hundred dollars win. A – C – [T]HIEVE. Which is a nice word to get as it gives us three starting letters. Not that I can immediately get any of those clues. I assume 11 across starts with CAR, 14 across is highly unlikely to be an extra word clue as there are only 3 words in the clue. However, I do think Drains jug on board is SEWERS (EWER in SS) – but we can’t put it in as it’s an altered entry.

INTROIT, HYDRO and DORY are all fairly straightforward clues to fall next. 34 across – Care of the most recent alliance in European coinage – might begin CO… but I can’t quite see it yet. Going back up one, though, This crystalline mineral species could be formed by developing prerosion looks like it should be a compound anagram. If species=SP, then it’s an anagram of REROION. With two words. IRON ORE would be it, then. Chambers confirms. An extra word of ‘crystalline’.

The extra letters in down clues looks like LETTER or LETTERS – which would mean that PAINT might involve PA[T]IN – yes, that works. And Bradford’s helps me with the old language (which must begin with at least two out of the three letters of ETA) – it’s TAINO.

Saturday, 11.30 am That was as far as I got on Friday night. My brother and I take an absurd quantity of children (ours and others) out for a surprisingly cold walk. I bring the crossword with me, but it’s an act of absurd optimism. When they’re not trying to throw themselves into the duck pond, I do manage to see that I missed the obvious yesterday and that 11 across is definitely CARTA with an extra ‘barely’. We’ve got S . . BL as the extra word letters. Not a clue.

Back at home, I realize that Wasp, as is his wont, has made sure that there’s medical material in this crossword with 34 across: Care of the most recent alliance is actually a neat definition for NEONATOLOGY, and some nice wordplay too (NATO in NEOLOGY). So as well as starting with S-BL, the extra word letters end in A-CE. Which feels like there should be an N in there. Theory about new Louisiana religion. LA for Louisiana. ISM around it. ISLAM.

18 down (A flower and fruit wrapped in tissue) ends in –IMA. By one of those fortunate coincidences, I recently set a clue (in my first compiling attempt) for the word TELLIMA, so it’s the first thing I think of with ‘flower’ and those letters. LIM(E) in TELA seems to work to justify that. Do we have RELOCATED as part of the message from the down clues?

5 pm Haven’t had a lot of time to concentrate on this puzzle, but I don’t feel it’s unlocking as easily as I feel it should do, given that the clues, though often good, aren’t fantastically difficult.

I wonder if Ss move in the affected across clues? STUDD(e)LE in 8 down certainly suggests that the S in SEWERS is in the wrong place. Thinking about Ss gives me ISSUE for 21 across. And SISKIN is a bird in 21 down (S(o) – I – SKIN) (with another moving S in ISSUE?). MANTIS too (16 across) has an S. There could be something in this.

Midnight Okay, so it’s not Ss that move, because 29 across is SEOUL (homophone for ‘sole’) and Ordered engineers to hear house is THEATRE. I’m not getting any closer to the overall theme (mainly because I’m getting these affected words which don’t help with the hidden messages) but before I turn in for the night, I get ASPERSE, UVULA (another medical clue) and AMYLUM. ONE LETTER RELOCATED has to be the message.

Sunday, 8.30 am Having slept on it, surely the thing is that not only is there a letter relocated in the relevant across clues, the ‘missing element’ to be highlighted is probably a letter, missing from the across clues sign. I think it’s a fair assumption that the two unclued entries form part of it. So with two vertical bars, we’re talking N? H? M?

And there it is. To form the M, I can see MAIDEN in a v-shape between the two. And the unclued entries must be MONSIEUR and THOUSAND, both Ms.

OK. A few last clues to fill in (which my notes are pretty sketchy on) and we’re done. Turns out the M is missing from SEMBLANCE (presumably another ‘sign’ or symbol).

Well, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I’d hoped I’m afraid, and not as much as the last Wasp puzzle. It’s very well formed, and has a real classic feel, all of which I applaud, but I think it suffers from having come after a run of really outstanding puzzles. I feel guilty not being whole-heartedly positive about a fellow LWOer, but there you go. Sorry, Oli.

Friday 9 May, 11 pm Looking at the solution, I must admit to having missed the point of the title (Symbol Is M) which makes it a more satisfying puzzle than I had fully appreciated – it justifies the choice of M, which I had been confused by until then. Kudos, Mr Grant (I take it you are a Mr as you’re a surgeon – if it’s Dr, I apologise…)

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Listener 3977: City Tour by Mango

Posted by Listen With Others on 5 May 2008

Friday evening, 7:15. Feeling tired and end-of-weekish, so having a lazy evening with the Listener and the golf. Scratch myself to shreds tying up the stragglier roses against the windy weekend ahead, manage to put my back out making a cup of tea, and settle down with another Mango. It hasn’t been so long since their last Listener – indeed, I think I blogged it – and they’ve had a fair number of Magpie outings recently too. But no complaints from me. There are some setters I can have too much of, but Mango isn’t one of them. This one’s a 12 x 13 grid with a long and scary preamble. One word has to be moved to the right before solving 32 clues, and I’m not even going to try to understand the rest of it. Let’s see how far I can get before the Masters starts.

Heading straight to the bottom, for no particular reason, with 37d: Where weighty metal pours in without resistance (4). Move ‘weighty’ after ‘in’, perhaps? Or can we move parts of words, like ‘weight’ or ‘eighty’? Not easy, and ‘Where metal pours in’ doesn’t look much like a definition. Come back to that: the next one up is Heine’s told stories in lyric form (4). Oh dear, I’ve never read Heine. He’s on the list of Authors To Be Read, of course, somewhere between Ovid and Somerset Maugham. Leave that for now, but there’s a nice easy anagram at 34d of TABI, a Japanese sock with a separate bit for the big toe.

So 42a begins I: Milton’s popular with foremost of literati – yes, entirely (4). That’s the old INLY, which Chambers doesn’t actually specify as being Miltonic, only poetic. Has Mango read Milton, or is Milton now a generic poet, as Ian is a Scot? Anyway, in it goes, and 38a begins A: Jaunty creature of overpowering charm, but not feminine (4). Can’t see a word to be moved here, so how many charming creatures do I know… basilisk? Medusa? Siren? Ah – fairy to AIRY. Good.

40a is an obvious anagram of ‘towable’ minus the W, and Queen Mary was a… a bloate? No no, a boatel, more usually spelt botel I think. Dreadful word. So 23d now ends –RAL. Climbing Kazakhstani peak by a river with two channels (8). Clearly means ‘with two channels’, and the river is probably the Ural, but I can’t offhand think of any Kazakhstani peaks. Shameful, I know. But if it is the Ural, then 35a would have second letter U: Totally powered by fission, navy requires uranium (7). So that’s [NU] + [totally] = ‘powered by fission’, but I’m coming up blank. I could trot through NU- in Chambers, but I feel like doing this properly, it being a Mango. That would make 22d end –NION, so TRUNNION. (Very good clue, that: Run bat in – not out with ‘Run’ moving.)

TRUNNION crosses with a subtractive anagram of SNATH at 30a and a hidden ARIEL at 26a, who’s not only Shakespeare’s airy spirit but also a Popian sylph, a toucan, a petrel, and a satellite of Uranus. And so this climbing Kazakhstani peak is now BINAURAL, which (after a bit of a struggle) means that BIN is the climbing NIB, and the Ural must be partly in Kazakhstan. I expect everyone else knew that. 16d is _ _ _E_T: Evil demon accepted release with it (6) Evil demons, as far as I know, are devs, afrits and rahus, none of which help me much here. Nothing else comes from the letters I’ve got in the grid, so let’s head off elsewhere.

6d is a simple SANS, crossing with the anagrammed Mexican TAMALE at 12a. 10d, second letter E, looks like a splendid clue (Level crossing in Stratford? (4)) but as I can’t get the answer I’ll suspend judgment for the moment. 9d, Riverside denizen’s stylish lead up river (8) looks gettable: ‘stylish’ is ‘fly’ if you’re American, plus ‘lead’ jumbled and R = FLYALDER. But Chambers won’t let me. Oh, but 15a is the oft-seen URDE, so it’s the more acceptable ALDER-FLY. Wandering about a bit now, looking to pick off the easy ones: 27a is ABELE, crossing SUBSET and THE CRADLE. 19a is _S_RT: Hence psychology test question, right? Much to my surprise, QSORT is in the book.

Now I’ve got some momentum, the bottom right corner comes easily: VEAL, SUNBED, ROBES, ABRUPT, DISTASTE. And we have our first group of four consecutive letters from the moved words: DPMT. Not a great help, but progress of a sort. SOBERER, OASES. And I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to twig that ‘powered by fission’ is NUCLEAR. Fool. Oh, and that Heine clue was LIED, and rather good too. Metal turns out to be poured in a GEAT, giving the last group of four letters as HRHW, which according to the preamble I’m supposed to find helpful. Something about King William, perhaps?

Not much to get now, but still no idea what the theme’s all about. I should have thought of AFREET for the evil demon, which makes 28a NEVADA. If HR/HW refers to the co-ordinate system around the grid, it gives the letters ES. Er, Edith Sitwell? Probably not, but the Masters has just started so I’ll come back to this later.

Over the next couple of hours there’s enough dead golf time – filled with Gary Lineker blathering about nothing at all – to let me finish off the grid. It’s slow work, but I do appreciate the way this gimmick makes it basically impossible to get the theme before you’ve finished the grid. 1a was pretty nasty: Goes to pot filled with meat balls essentially, and a bit of fish battered and deep fried (8). Not the most elegant clue, and difficult to deconstruct even when you know the answer’s FALAFELS. The middle of the grid is the last to be filled, with UKASES, SUCCUS and PIECED. The only answer I’m not happy with is 8d: Hurt dear little monkey? Doctor’s determined (8). It’s MARMOSET: MAR = hurt, SET = determined, but is MO really ‘dear little doctor’? Don’t understand that at all. Anyway, the grid’s filled and my eyes are straining. Leave this to the morning.

Sunday. Done the clues, now for the theme. Where to start? Well, we have eight groups of four letters, which are presumably connected to the co-ordinate system around the grid. The eighth group, HRHW, is supposed to be helpful. Going from HR to HW in the grid gives EVADAS, which isn’t immediately relevant. How can all these co-ordinates relate to only three words? And, thematically, what could require seven moves? Do we have a musical theme, perhaps? EV/AD/AS… not another Enigma Variations puzzle, surely?

Now I look more closely at the groups I can see a short sequence: MVGT leads to GTDR to DRKV. But there’s nothing more: none of the other groups fit with each other. How exactly should we read these co-ordinates? Is, say, MV the start position of the first letter, and GT the end position of the last? Are there seven moves for each of the three words, or seven moves in total involving three words altogether? Why is KEA in the middle of the grid? What city? What tour?

Be logical. The first group I have is BREV. BR is the L of ORAL, which could be moved to leave ORA, which is a word. OK, good start. EV is the Q of QSORT, which can also be removed to leave a word.

The first letters in each co-ordinate pair imply that only rows B, C, D, G and M are involved. Looking at the top left corner, we can remove letters in rows B-D to leave some real words in the Downs: LATHY could become LAY, FAUNAS to FAS, ERROR to ER or ERR. We could move LAR, TOUR, DHANO and be left with real words. Or LA TOUR… a-ha, Latour… is this a winey puzzle? Can I see ‘Grand vin’ or ‘Chateau’? Not just now, no. Oh, but the city could be HANOI rather than the non-existent DHANO, I suppose.

After ten minutes’ staring at the grid, I spot the error. 11a was Mark exam lost at start of lesson (4) (ORAL), in which I moved ‘exam’ to the end. Which works perfectly well, but so too does moving ‘mark’ after ‘exam’, making the first sequence BRMV, which fits with the third group MVGT. And on the same line of thought, 8d must have ‘Hurt’, not ‘monkey’, moved. (So the definition of MARMOSET is ‘dear little monkey’? It’s little, yes, but clearly I’m missing something. Hrmph.) This gives four separate sequences BR-MV-GT-DR-KV / CQ-HS-LU / DP-MT. Good… but I still can’t see what’s going on.

LARTA could go from row B, leaving MALE at 12d… but then 6d would be a non-word. LAR could go, or better LA, which could be the city of ‘City Tour’. And TOUR must come out from row C, ending up at LU making TOURED… yes, this is working… following the BR sequence has LA making NUCLEAL and SUBSEA… 17a must be left as SOME so DHANOI gets moved… which would make NOIL, GEIT and ROROS in the bottom left… OK, I think we’re there. LA TOUR DHANOI. Qu’est-ce que c’est?

Five minutes later, and LA TOUR DHANOI has moved very prettily from the top left to the bottom right, leaving real words in a jolly neat bit of grid construction, and 18 blank cells as required. And the helpful last group HRHW is, oh I don’t know, King William or Edith Sitwell or something. Well, I could send this in now – the highlighting’s optional and I’m sure it’s right – but I’ve no idea what it’s all about. ‘The creator of the theme remains unchanged throughout’ – I can see BASEY unchanged, but that’s all. I give in, I’m going to have to Google.

[One Google later] Righto. La Tour D’Hanoi, E. Lucas, rings on top of other rings, all quite brilliantly worked through in the grid. Yes. Spend a minute or two just looking admiringly at the completed puzzle. It’s a lovely grid, with a high standard of clueing and one or two outstanding ones, and a theme which couldn’t possibly (could it?) have been spotted before the setter wanted you to. Clever and enjoyable from start to finish. Puzzle of the year so far. Thanks, once again, to Mango.

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