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Archive for July, 2008

3989 – Key: Cutting by Lavatch

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 July 2008

A Guest Solver's Blog by Simon Long 

At this year’s Listener dinner, I found myself suggesting to Chris L (before I’d even drunk anything) that it was about time I tried my hand at writing him a solver’s blog. My allotted time now seems to have rolled around, and I’m confronted with the prospect of solving a puzzle and taking notes at the same time. Not sure how that is going to work, but we shall see…

Thursday night – let’s have a quick check at The Times site to see if the link is up. Yes, it is – ‘Keys : Cutting’, by Lavatch. Not a new setter – I recognise the name. A quick glance through the archives on The Times site reveals ‘Fallout’, from 2006 – the puzzle about Oppenheimer’s quote from the Bhagavad Gita. I remember enjoying that one, not least because it was one of the few Listener quotes I recognised without having to look it up – let’s hope that bodes well for tomorrow.

Friday, 4:02 pm, and the puzzle has gone live. Time for a quick look at work (it’s a slow afternoon) – print out my customary two copies, and let’s have a squint.

Very long preamble – one of those puzzles where it seems quite complex, and I’m sure it’ll make more sense as I get some answers, so I won’t worry too much about it now. Wordplay for some across answers is letters latent (the rest are presumably normal), and paired down answers with one extra word between – nothing too nasty there, so let’s look through the clues and see if there are any easy ones. Dig around in desk drawer for my trusty Rotring Quattro pen (very useful for Listeners, as it contains a pencil, a ballpoint and a highlighter), fire up Chambers CD-ROM (much more subtle than sitting here with the hardback open – although I do keep an old copy at work) and get cracking…

8 down – “In sea that’s turbulent, plant…” must be ANISE – Chambers confirms that’s a plant, so INFOLDS is the extra word there. We’re off.

Ten minutes later – nothing else yet. Hmmm – slow progress here. “Saintess tortured, ie, lacking…” must be an anagram of SANTSS with a latent letter – something to put out the flames? Extinguisher? Candle-snuffer? Can’t think of anything.

12 across – “Scandinavian city’s old and stupid” OSLO? O + SLOW? How does that work with 6 letters though? And it’s got an N in it from ANISE. Stockholm? Malmo? Copenhagen? Helsinki? Tampere? Running out of Scandinavian cities now. Ah – O + DENSE – is Odense in Scandinavia? According to Wikipedia, it is – third biggest city in Denmark. So no letter latent there.

6 down – “Footy games with lover of Scotland…”, O as the second letter. A memory stirs of a previous Listener where “footy” meant “of the foot”. PODAL? Fits – how does the wordplay work? Various combinations of PO+DAL don’t seem to produce anything meaning “games” – come back to it.

26 down – “…wide rolling dale and wooded country” – that must be WEALD, from W + DALE*. Extra word of THROUGH.

9 down must be a drink. “In Earth” must be IE or INE, and “climbing” gives EI or ENI, with “sunshine” in 2 or 3 letters around it. Sunshine? Can’t think of any synonyms for that.

30 down – “One unfortunately suffering game finishing early, one-nil”. Must end IO – need a game in 4 letters. Polo? That would give POLIO – is that one suffering from the disease as well as the disease itself? Check Chambers – yes it is – extra word of NERVOUS. Mind you, gives some odd final letters for the across clues – an O and an I. Must be latent letters at the end.

20 across – “After mixture is safe, ion undergoes hydrolysis” – must be an anagram of IS SAFE ION with a latent letter. Must end –ISES, which gives me AFION at the start, but I can’t make anything of that at the moment. I’ll need some more crossing letters.

28 down – “might force soldiers to produce some armour”. Soldiers must be OR – ah! VIS+OR, giving MIGHT as the extra word.

7 down – “Famous Hungarian” – BARTOK? LUGOSI? Can’t think of any others – there was that Listener with famous Hungarians as a theme a year or so back, but I’ve forgotten who they all were.

32 down – “Anglican clergyman – a bit of demonic spawn”. Might be a container, but I can’t see anything inside “demonic spawn” – so it must be D + “spawn. “Clergyman “starting with D – DEAN? EAN means “to give birth to” – that must be it. Probably ANGLICAN as the extra word, then – makes the first part “to chatter” around E. GAS for “chatter” – GAES is “proceeds” in Scotland. Both parts of that one are done then.

24 down – “Georgia following long Russian river” – GA for Georgia. There’s a River Volga – must be some other Russian rivers ending GA, but I can’t think of any.

2 down – “Pilots destroyed marine” is an anagram – AIRMEN. Should have seen that ages ago. NUCLEAR is the extra word in there then.

Well, it’s now 5:20, and time to think about heading home. 8 clues solved in about an hour, albeit with work-related distractions. Slightly above average in terms of difficulty then, but I’m making steady progress…

6:30, I’m back at home, and back at the puzzle. Trying to crack either of the two 10-letter down answers, but without much luck so far. Wonder if the second half is something meaning “figure” and an anagram of DEATH+RATE+R, but I can’t see anything.

I’ve got NANMIT as letters in the theme word, with 5 more to get. I could try guessing at them – not sure it would help to crack this bit yet though. I’ll give that a bash if I get stuck on the clues.

I do try to avoid any reference works other than Chambers where possible, but I’m going to have a shufti in the atlas and see if I can find any Russian rivers. Bloody map in the Times Mini Atlas is far too small – check online. Ah yes – PINEGA – that fits with PINE for “long”. Looks like the extra word is IN then.
Hmm – just looked at the theme word again. NANMITI—-. Something like


Right, back to the 10 letter words. DEATH+RATE+R – “figures”? Perhaps it’s geometric figures? Something HEDRA – ah yes! Eureka! TETRAHEDRA. Gives me an O in the theme word, too. That means that the other 10 letter down must be a writer, I guess.

31 across – I’ve got EE–I-. Clearly letters latent. “Sheep” might be EWE, minus W for “weight” giving the EE. So a dog from –I- – can’t think of one at the moment, but it must mean “estate”.

33 across – now I know it starts with a D, it must be DAHL + S, to give “pulses”. No latent letter. This four word phrase must be pretty short – 18 across clues, and two at least don’t provide a letter.

23 across – why do I think that’s APPEASEMENT? A for Austria, MEN for “people”, N for “leader of Nazis” – no, too many Ns. Something like that, though – looks like an &lit.

37 across – AD-IR-O (guessing that 27 down ends in I for “island”). I’m becoming increasingly unconvinced about POLIO – maybe it’s wrong? Because that could be ADMIRAL, which is a rank.

27 down – something ending in I, parts of a crustacean. “Sound of water”. Hmmm. PALPI leaps into my head – that was in some other crossword recently – a Magpie? PLAP – that’s the sound of water dripping, and PALPI are sense organs. Excellent – the bottom right corner is coming together.

35 across – has PO in the middle, which is a river. L–I for a city? Could be LIMA if POLIO is wrong, I guess – LIPOMA? According to Chambers, that’s a “fatty tumour” – sounds like a growth to me. Again no latent letter though, and it means POLIO is likely to be wrong.

POLIO must be wrong – let’s lose it. D’oh – 37 across is a compound anagram – ADMIRAL and SEEN giving “marine’s lead”. POLIO is definitely wrong, then – but yet again no latent letter. Are there any words in this phrase?

31 across – I’ve got -AI- for “dog”. Not a strong point, dogs. Or is it dog as a verb? TAIL? EETAIL? What might that be? Two words for “estate” If that’s the case, then 21 down has an L in it. “In any way” – AT ALL? Is “a tall” one who is “hardly to be believed”? No, but TALL is “hardly to be believed”, so A is “he”. One more letter for the theme word – a B from BRITAIN. Mind you, I’m no further ahead, as I lost the N when POLIO vanished. Just for the hell of it, what have I got now? NIAMITOB— Not looking like MAINTAIN any more. ABOMINATION? Right number of letters – means I need another A, another N and another O. NERVOUS could be an N. Hmmm.

22 down – what the hell does “affreusement” mean? An online French-English dictionary gives “terribly” – ah, it’s an anagram indicator. Must be SALE* – ELSA, I reckon. Bung that in – gives an O for my ABOMINATION. Can’t think of any word that goes after ABOMINATION, though. Worth a quick look in ODQ though…nope, 3 entries, and nothing that looks reasonable. Can’t be right. Quit trying to short-cut it, Long – solve the bleedin’ clues!

16 down – “Friend’s thrown away money” meaning “personal”? 5 letter word for “friend” with an M in it? Can’t think of one. Ah no – it’s “personal” with “friend” thrown away – INTIMATE less MATE giving INTI, which Chambers confirms as a Peruvian currency.

It’s 7:30 – time to put the dinner on. My Friday night routine – toad-in-the-hole with HP Fruity sauce, and the Listener – been the same ever since I subscribed to the website. (Before that, it was toad-in-the-hole, HP Fruity sauce, and mindless television…)

Right, sausages now in oven and batter sitting to rest. If INTI is right (and it looks it) then the one about hydrolysis isn’t an anagram, as it starts with a T.

Aaargghh! 6 down isn’t PODAL, it’s PEDAL – PE is games, and LAD is a lover in Scotland. But hang on – that makes ODENSE wrong. What the hell is going on here – ODENSE must be right, and so must PEDAL – so there’s a clash? Pencil in PEDAL for now. Don’t tell me there are clashes in the grid, please – they’d have been mentioned in the preamble, surely? Or was ODENSE a trap like POLIO? Or was POLIO right – I haven’t managed to find anything else that fits. Although – POLIO would fit where PEDAL goes and vice-versa….


I’ve just read the preamble again – “either clue can come first”. How much of a fool do I feel now? No wonder I couldn’t get anything to fit! You saw it here first, folks – the current holder of the Salver makes a beginner’s mistake by not reading the preamble carefully enough. Out with the rubber and let’s move some stuff around. GAES never looked good with a G at the end of 1 across, for a start – let’s swap that with DEAN. INTI and ELSA want to swap as well – that makes “hydrolysis” an anagram again. What a week to make a cock-up like this – it would be when I’m blogging it, wouldn’t it? I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as stupid as that while solving before. I bet Simon Anthony never has this trouble…

OK, that all looks a bit more likely. Is 23 across – the one about Austria – ASSASSINATION? Right number of letters if the S is latent – AAINATION. Must be something …NATION for “people” ANSNATION? ASNNATION?

If it is NATION, then 14 down ends in O. AT ALL fits where I have it, so that is the one about an “autocrat”. “Number Ten is leading” – NO at the end, TEN in front – what’s a TENNO? Ah yes – emperor of Japan – sounds like an autocrat to me. Bung it in.

20 across – the hydrolysis one. I’ve got SA-NI—-. Must end ES – SA-NI–ES, with OFI to add. SAPONIFIES – something to do with making soap? I’m sure that involves hydrolysis – and Chambers agrees! Our first latent letter, a P.

18 across is T—L-ON Something about a fortification – why do I keep thinking TENAILLON? Let’s look it up – “ a work to strengthen the side of a small ravelin”. Thanks, Chambers – that’s very clear. What’s a ravelin when it’s at home? Actually, doesn’t matter – “fortif” in the headword is enough for me. (Never noticed that Chambers flagged that before.) So TEN (“number”) + ILL (“wrongfully”) + ON (“assigned to work on”, I guess) – A is latent.

Means I know where PINEGA goes – had to erase that one earlier. Looks good for AIRMEN at 2 down as well – pencil it in for now.

So I’ve got AP-TI— for 29 across. “Note”? Might be time to sneak a peek in Chambers Crossword Dictionary. APOSTILLE looks good – can’t fathom the wordplay yet, so I’ll pencil it in and see if it helps.

36 across is E-G— (not A-G— as it was for most of the evening…) so that must be EDGING. HEDGING? Latent H? Chambers has hedge as “to guard” – that’ll do.

Dinner must be ready by now – 8:40. Have I really been at this for over 3 hours?

Right, back again. A brief culinary digression…

All these celebrity chefs publish recipes for toad-in-the-hole, and they are, without exception, rubbish. Most involve too many eggs, and end up the texture of leather. So, here is the definitive recipe – bear in mind I’ve made this every Friday night for about 15 years, so I know what I’m talking about…

Get a metal baking tin, preferably non-stick. Rectangular is best, about 30cm by 40cm. Put a pound of Tesco’s Finest Pork & Herb sausages in it, along with a large splash of vegetable oil (or a lump of beef dripping if you’re daring.) Put it in the oven at 200 degrees C (180 degrees if fan-assisted) – no need to preheat, just bung it in from cold.

Put 4 oz of cheap plain flour into a glass jug. Add a pinch of salt, and break in an egg. Add about a quarter of a pint of full-fat milk, and whisk to a smooth paste – the best tool is a French whisk, those things that look like a big metal spring. Once you’ve got a smooth paste, add another quarter pint of full fat milk and whisk like mad to get some air into it. Leave to stand for 20 minutes, by which time the sausages should be browning and the fat should be hot.

Rapidly remove the pan from the oven, pour in all the batter, and quickly return to the heat. Leave for about 25-30 minutes, until the pudding has risen and is golden brown. Remove from the tray and serve with lashings of HP Fruity sauce. Vegetables are unnecessary. The quantity above serves one, with a couple of cold sausages left over for breakfast on Saturday.

I should add that I owe my success at the Listener entirely to the above recipe… Well, that and the fact that my beloved other half has the patience of a saint and understands that any attempt to engage me in meaningful conversation on a Friday might is doomed to failure.

And now, back to the puzzle.

19 down is -I-L–I-, and the last letter is from the anagram of SANTSS, and the A has already been used, so it’s either S, T or N. Either a musician, or something to do with disintegration – pass.

13 across is TR—AL Might mean “specific” – TRIVIAL? Does that mean specific? According to Chambers it does. RI is religious instruction, but not sure about the rest. Hmmm – pencil it in for now.

17 across – looks like it might mean “confirm”. Another peek at Chambers Crossword Dictionary offers REASSURE – lose the Rs to give EASSUE, E + ASSUME less the M. That looks good – a latent R.

6 across must start in P and end in E, with a French name in the middle. Noble? Peer? No idea.

4 down – “man” seems to be BO on an all-too-regular basis, and with the hypothetical V from TRIVIAL, I’ve got BOV-I-. “Source of drinks” – well, it looks like BOVRIL, but VRIL can’t be a word. Blimey – according to Chambers, it’s an “electric fluid”. Never come across that before. So TRIVIAL looks more likely.

11 across is -I-O-E. Acting is A, so AI-O-E – “inspiration” – something to do with air? AIRHOLE? ROLE is a part, so it is A+ROLE with I in it, and a latent H.

3 down is -RI-N— Might be a musician – Brian someone? Adams is too long, and I think he spells it Bryan anyway. How about Brian May? He’s well-known – I’m not a huge Queen fan, but I do know who he is. BRAIN (“hit”) with A (“alto”) deferred gives BRIAN, but I can’t for the life of me get MAY from “electronic number”. But what does that do for my Austrian votes – A-ANATION, and it would have to be an N for leader of Nazis. ANANATION? Not sure where the other A comes from, either. Hmmm. Must be Brian someone…

Ah – ALAIN is a 5 letter French name that fits inside 6 across – PALAINE. Looks like it is missing a T – I know PALATINE is a hill, but is it “noble”? Ah yes – a noble invested with royal privileges. So that’s a latent T.

7 down is now LE-A-. King must be LEAR, horse must be heroin, so H – was LEHAR a Hungarian? Vague memory of him being a composer – check with Wikipedia, and yes, he was.

9 down is NE-U-, and it might have “sunshine” around the edges backwards – SUN is all I can think of (not a great synonym), which means it’s NE-US. I thought E was earth, but this looks like it might be NEGUS, which is indeed a drink. Ah – GE is Earth with a capital E – sorted.

15 across is HI-G-, and it might be a tennis player. I know nothing about tennis (or any other sport, come to that), but I’ve heard of someone called Hingis.. Is that how you spell it? Wikipedia again – and yes, that is how you spell it and she does play tennis. So without the fifth letter it becomes HINGS. I’ve got TH as the two previous letters in the thematic phrase, so is it a latent E? HINGES? “Service points”? No, it’s “points” – so HINGIS drops the fifth letter of SERVICE, which is still an I. Good stuff – most of the top right is done, and it’s just gone 10pm.

So, my thematic phrase is now THERAP, an O or S from APOSTILLE, and an H towards the end. THE ???? OF ???? – that would make it an O from APOSTILLE, and an F from EETAIL. Is there such a thing as a FEE TAIL? Yes there is – it’s an estate. So it is the THE ???? OF ???? – might be THE RAPE OF something, which sounds like an ABOMINATION. I think I’m getting warm.

So if it is APSTILLE – that’s STILL inside APE, so that works. Still haven’t justified TRIVIAL, but if we assume it is BRIAN, then 1 across is -ABB-D. Must be a G for German at the start, and then has to be E – if I’m right about the phrase, then there is no letter latent. GABBED? Second definition – gab is to brag, or to crow – so that works.

Is it THE RAPE OF THE something? Sabine Women is the only thing that rings a bell, and that’s two words. But if it is, then SAINTESS less IE has a latent E. S-A—, and I have NTSS left to use. It’s a plural, so it must be S-A–S – no idea.

Haven’t looked at 38 across yet – DA-E— Chambers Crossword gives DAG as a pistol, which looks good – DAGE—, and might have a latent T. Hmmm – nothing likely in the DAG… entries in Chambers.

What about 10 down? E-SE-S-E–, and might be a writer or a director. Famous film directors – let’s have a look in Chambers Crossword Lists. Of course – EISENSTEIN – Battleship Potemkin etc. Should have got that without looking it up. Has to be right – I’ll justify it later.

What about the theme – it has to be THE RAPE OF THE something. Let’s try Googling it – 360,000 hits, but the first suggestion is THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. Rings a vague bell. Hang on – Lock, Key – that looks good. Something like ABOMINATION with LOCK after it – has to be COMBINATION, surely – does that work? Yes, and it means that I’ve gone wrong somewhere in my letters, as I can’t see a word starting with C in the last pair of clues – hang on, yes there is, “called”. Excellent.

OK, so I’ve got a theory about the theme that seems to hang together. Let’s see if we can finish the last few clues.

BRIAN ENO! Not May! E for electronic, NO for number – that was inexcusable. Far more talented than Queen’s plank-spanker – really should have got that faster. Puts an N into ‘Austria’s people’ as well, which is good.

19 down – must mean “Nature’s disintegration”, then – -I-L–I-. Must start BIO, and end IS – BIOLYSIS sounds good, and it’s got an unknown (Y) and a soprano (S) in it. Is it a word, or have I made it up? No, it’s good – B for black, LIS for flower, something about IO – I’ll check it later.

25 down is -L–N-, and so must end in a T – PLIANT? That sounds like “easy to manage” to me. I inside PLANT – is that a shot? Yes, that’s fine. Nearly all done.

38 across must be SNASTS with a latent E. SENASTS – no. SNEASTS – no. SNASTES – that’s it. Candle-snuffers. Never heard of it before.

So 34 across is DA-ESAN – something STAN for an Eastern republic? Think I’ll use TEA now – no point looking up place names in Chambers. D*STAN gives DAGESTAN – never heard of it, but Wikipedia says it’s a republic in the Russian Federation. Good enough – I’ll worry about wordplay later.

Let’s say it is TRIVIAL – all we’ve got left is the Austrian clue. Can’t see that yet. OK, let’s deal with the denouement.

The Fear – both words capitalised. My personal contribution to the Listener solver’s lexicon – the term for a completed grid and a sense of bewilderment as to the final step that lasts for more than an hour. Common in puzzles by Dimitry, amongst others. However, I’ve got a number of likely-looking leads on this one, so we’ll try to keep The Fear at bay tonight…

I have THE RAPE OF THE LOCK and COMBINATION LOCK – so COMBINATION LOCK is the key. “The Rape Of The Lock” is by Alexander Pope, according to Wikipedia – that is the same number of letters as across the grid, and the line with the Austrian clue is A?NNATIONPOPT – that can’t be coincidence if I have to fit a thematic name into the grid. Too many letters in common. So what do I have to do?

It’s a combination lock – you must have to slide columns up and down to make words. Do you slide all of them, or just some? Presumably the letters wrap at the top and bottom.

The preamble references the last line of the poem – let’s look that up online. “And ‘midst the stars inscribe Belinda’s name.” The letters of BELINDA are available in the central columns – ignore the outer three on each side. I’m really close now – what are the stars?

Ah! TRIVIAL THINGS across the grid – from the quote on the Trivial Pursuit box – “What mighty contests rise from trivial things” – I remember that was by Pope. So I need to shuffle the columns to replace TRIVIAL THINGS with ALEXANDER POPE, and see what we get. Bit of scrap paper needed.

I haven’t got an X in the 4th column. The Austrian clue must be ANNEXATION – let’s put that in. X for vote, of course. Multiple possibilities for A and E in a few columns, but most are unique.

Half the columns filled, and I can see BEL appearing near the bottom. This must be right…

So, I’ve got –EM BELINDA IN-, and multiple possibilities for the first and end letters. Stars – -EMIN- – has to be GEMINI, surely – does that work?

Of course it does – bloody brilliant. So the denouement is GEM-BELINDA-INI. What a superb puzzle – easily in my top three for the year. Both a clever construction and a pleasure to solve. It’s just gone 11 pm, so that’s about 6 hours all in. One use of TEA, and a few lookups in Chambers Crossword Dictionary, and a Google for the theme – not too bad. Tomorrow morning it’ll be time for my usual rigorous checking, but it’s now time for a check of the newly-published solution – the Little Bo Peep puzzle – and then some mindless TV before bed…

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3988 – Travel Agents by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 July 2008

Friday 27th June, 5pm Yet another Listener debut, where are they all coming from? Have the established setters gone elsewhere or just dried up? There again, perhaps it is only the name that is new although Hedge Sparrow is no longer hyphenated in Chambers (since 2003).
The preamble doesn't make much sense yet but the down clues are normal, with the now usual superfluous letters, so I might as well get stuck in there:
·        1dn After mixing less rust follows as a consequence It doesn’t quite work with follows plural but I enter lustres + S as a rather clever semi & lit. Naturally, I always complete the grid in pencil – I wonder if everyone does?
·        3dn vowing + OV + O + OWING
·        4dn Eve + R
·        6dn Iris + C RIC(E) IN IS
·        2dn economics + H NOMIC in ECHO + S
·        17ac starts with TNI…, which won't be a real word

·        25ac grower + orchardman or one scattering seed ROW in GER
·        28ac Sium + here I in SUM
At this point I see that the entry at 13ac (sash) could be sower (one scattering seed), which turns out to be correct and the puzzle is virtually over as a contest. If we are to have real words throughout then lustres (1dn) must be wrong and it is amended to results + S.

Tidying up the loose ends:
·        The message revealed by the down clues is Shortcuts for space-time travel
·        The name of the thematic entities is Wormholes (NW-SE diagonal – to be highlighted)
·        Call time (21ac) is the familiar two-word phrase not found in Chambers
All complete at 9.30pm but I spend a further half an hour checking that all the wormhole splits are accounted for. Rather like last week's (Fizz Buzz by BeRo) this is a tedious business and I probably wouldn't bother if I were not writing this blog.
Post Mortem
So, an enjoyable and fine debut from Hedge-sparrow but apologies for having made such light work of it. If it is any consolation, while I can remember several from last year, I can only readily recall one debut Listener from prior to 2007 and that is Mr E's incredible And One Has Two: An Archaic Alphabet (No.3721, May 2003) – it is the subsequent puzzles that generally make a setter's name. It was unfortunate that the method of across entries so closely mirrored those in Reappearance by Poat although this time the shifts were at random and always resulted in real words. It would be interesting to hear of the experience of anyone who did not attempt Poat's puzzle.
Did the puzzle have thematic integrity? As it happened, Heather Couper's 30 part narrative history of Astronomy, Cosmic Quest, was playing on Radio 4 as I solved this puzzle. We reached part 25 with no mention of wormholes so they might remain a subject of conjecture. Hollywood likes to depict them rather as electric waterspouts, full of light and off course sound:

If they are to have finite length then why were no letters cut in two? “H” might be cut to two “I”s, “W” to two “V”s, “F” and “E” to “I” and “O” and “Q” to “C”, etc but it is all very subjective and unsatisfactory – there would have been complaints. We can happily conclude that the split words were set immobile in space for some impenetrable reason.
I am on record as saying that I don't read clues as such but did note that we had the return of single letter wordplay for some of the 27 superfluous letters in down clues:
·        3dn (O) Nothing (or first of Owing)
·        4dn (R) Right
·        10dn (F) Following
·        26dn (E) European
·        31dn (I) Current
·        33dn (E) Base (or last of Pie)
However, I think that we should be able to forgive this in a debut.
I shall finish with some general comments:
·        -lier appears three times moving within the grid
·        I liked the confusions in some across clues: orchardman or one scattering seed for grower (25ac)
·        play (sport) or bagpipe composition (port) (40ac)
·        blank panel or put in sphere for orb (44ac)
·        removing unwanted growth (47ac) or removing tare (48ac) for weeding

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3987 – Fizz Buzz by BeRo

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 July 2008

Sherbert Zing…

Saturday night While chicken cooks very slowly in the world’s least efficient oven, I’m peering at a tiny BlackBerry screen and transcribing this week’s puzzle clue by clue. We’re on holiday in Galicia with a few friends (seven children under five – not everyone’s idea of relaxation. Not my idea of relaxation) and flew out yesterday morning so had no chance to buy the paper. I’m wondering whether it’s worth the effort of the transcription – I could wait till I got home and do the puzzle in the paper. I wouldn’t spend hours copying out a grid and the copying the answers back into the paper (and probably making a mistake). And my friends wouldn’t think I was a peculiar obsessive. Still, I think the boat’s sailed on that one.

Copying the grid is always the most aggravating part of copying out a puzzle. Fortunately I brought a print out of an old crossword (when I can, I’m working through the old Listeners archived on the website) and I can trace the grid from there. So that’s done. And in the end, copying out the clues is a good way of reading them through once before solving.

So, BeRo. I do vaguely remember solving BeRo before in the Listener, but out here, there’s no particular way of tracking that down. The preamble seems straightforward enough, and a fun idea. I remember playing fizz buzz at school, not that that really seems relevant. And it wasn’t a drinking game, obviously. A quick run through of the alphabet gives us E G J N O T U Y as the pertinent letters.

5 is the first clue to fall. A fairly clear compound anagram in Practise Mahler – not hard field of study. MAHLER less H = REALM. And one of the 8s is another anagram: A myth action? Could be! Some fiddling gets TITANOMACHY, a word I don’t absolutely know exists, but I have read the word ‘gigantomachy’ somewhere before and so it seems a plausible guess. Still, it has a lot of ‘active’ letters, so very hard to estimate an entry method for it (REALM being a bit more straightforward). I rather enjoy these kinds of puzzles that involve a little bit of theorizing and pencil work with the grid fill. Brings a great sense of satisfaction.

Nurtured mixed-up lad in quality of confidence looks like it will mean something to do with confidence, ending in –DAL. Can’t think what at the moment, though. CLAY seems to be right for churchwarden, and can CYNIC mean dog-like?

Sunday, 6pm A full day with beach, pool and barbecue. A chance to settle over the crossword now. Looking at the end of the clues, it’s fairly obviously BRAN concealed in ‘part of Alhambra? Never!’. And NORN is the nice answer to It’s Fate – no choice? – N OR N. Can I enter those two, given that they probably intersect? I need to establish how the rules of this work. BRAN doesn’t have any shift letters, but the perimeter has to come into play whether it’s across or down.
With NORN I can eliminate a lot of possibilities and come up with:

– ON

If that’s right, then the 38 answer that is PIER (At last, trump that is run provides bridge support can’t go down, so it must be an across clue turning upwards and then going left at the E. Oh no, hang on a sec, I’ve actually read the preamble properly now. Clues can go in any direction. So hang my original suppositions.

I get ZONE, DODGER (food, apparently, thanks to Bradford’s), IDEA (another concealed clue), and Bradford’s also provides me with COSEC, LAISSE and DENVER BOOT, a euphemism for ‘clamp’ I hadn’t heard before. Generally, the clues are not proving quite as hard as the worst, which is lucky as it’s proving to be pretty much a cold solve so far.

Anyway, the L of LAISSE (which I think might be entered conventionally downwards) means that REALM goes one of two ways and we have two potential starting letters, L for 13 and M for 9. And 9 looks like it should be MYRIAD. And of course, 3, which I’ve been looking at for ages (I know nothing about a lot of small broken images being destroyed) is not an anagram of IMAGES+SMAL(l), but means the breaking of images and is I-CON-O-C-LASM.

So we’ve solved a lot of clues now but I’m not doing a great job of filling the grid. Maybe I need to start making some assumptions about the grid fill and see where that gets me. Let’s start with REALM, where the options are limited, and LAISSE which almost certainly goes downwards. Which gives us a place for CLAY, MYRIAD and HAIRY (’poilu’). So 7 might begin with AY? AYMARA is the one… And SPEAR would fit very neatly for Pierce is brilliant, which I really should have got before.

Monday morning Theoretically we’re getting ready for the beach, but as it’s a minute’s walk away and we don’t really have much to take with us, I’ll sneak a quick look at the puzzle and see if the morning brings any new insights. Which it does, seeing the light with the rather fun clue Amphibian causing two changes in direction in golf meaning FROG. And Special exercises about title bar put back means ‘special’, which is PECULIAR. PE + C + U + RAIL reversed.

Monday afternoon A lovely day on the beach and lunch in the garden. The youngest children are having a sleep, and we have a chance to relax a little (the elder children have got a very complicated game going on involving cushions and pieces of paper).

Trying after hanging is disturbing wordly fad would appear to be an anagram of WORLDLYFAD, meaning a trial after the punishment has been enacted, I would assume. I can see LAW in WORLDLYFAD. Which leaves us ORLDYFD. Forddly? Lydford? Dylford? We’re on holiday with a lawyer and I ask him if any of those names mean anything to him. Which they don’t. Turning to technological aids confirms that LYDFORD LAW is the one we want. I’m now beginning to piece things together in the grid. COSEC is a solid answer to Chief of Staff, Executive Committee, abbreviated function but would appear to check itself in the way it’s entered. I wonder if that’s part of the rules.

Also, glory in Bradford’s gives us ICHABOD, which does fit with the wordplay: In church, absent man has deserted. I suppose it must mean ‘the glory is departed’ somehow but I can’t check it. I’m happy to go with it for the moment. And incense in Bradford’s gives ONYCHA. And incidentally, I finally get round to looking up ‘series’ which gives us CONCATENATION for A series of dependent things to show man’s outgrowth (CON + CAT + ENATION), something I probably should have got a while ago. That’s going to be a wiggly one to enter.

Still, getting the long clues is probably worth doing as if I can fit them in, they reveal a lot of the grid. It’s nuts, etc, tossed far as allowed – did for energy reads a lot like an &lit clue, namely an anagram of FARASALLOWDD. Which is not the world’s trickiest anagram – WALDORF SALAD. That would seem to fit in with LYDFORD LAW nicely, so I think I can enter that with some confidence given that there are few ‘active letters’ in it.

The grid is really taking shape now –and I can begin to make more standard crosswording assumptions looking at available letters and making guesses about the shape of words. SENA for example now occurs to me as an answer for Army without single piece of ammunition where I hadn’t seen it before, thanks to the letters that I can see. I’m still somewhat troubled by Some that appear as crane raises building without them. THOLOS, possibly?

Unfortunately, and with apologies to avid readers (hah!), my notes now drift off into nothing. I blame the quiemada to which the charming local restaurant owners invited us – a flaming brew of home-distilled ‘aguardiente’, sugar and lemon. Like a very alcoholic cough syrup – I rather preferred the aguardiente itself, which was a very smooth grappa, really. Anyway, none of it helped me take care to note what I was doing with the crossword.

I know that the very last thing I got was SERIEMAS (i.e. it wasn’t THOLOS or anything like that), but before that the grid had been pretty much filled and I had concluded that the second thematic word was DRAIN (that was simply by looking at unches) and that first word almost certainly began with C. CHAMPERS followed as a guess soon afterwards, which I was pleased to confirm. Nice to have a little extra thematic element given that there was little else in the way of surprise in the puzzle. But despite that, highly enjoyable to solve – and a satisfying conclusion.

Hasta luego.

PS I should put an apologetic shout out to Fresco too, whose puzzle Politics I was meant to blog as well but I was foolish enough to agree to blogging during the Cannes Film Festival. I just about managed to solve the puzzle, but that was about it. I remember struggling with it quite a bit at first, and the French message in the extra letters meant early guessing was not straightforward. Fortunately, I am a big Marx Brothers fan and in the end MONKEY BUSINESS and DUCK were enough to clue me into the theme, by which time I had enough of the grid filled to see the shape of MARK BROTHERS in the diagonal. So far so straightforward – but it still took me ages to work out the message and complete the grid. But I will admit to being fairly distracted – and once more, sorry Fresco for not blogging more completely.

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3986 – Terminal Suspension by Schadenfreude

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 July 2008

Saturday evening. After a busy day, the entertainment in the couple of hours before dinner will be provided by the ultraprolific Schadenfreude and the rather oddly-named “farmer's” cocktail: two gins, one dry vermouth, one sweet vermouth, a dash of Angostura bitters, stir with ice, strain, drink. Not one for daily use, perhaps, but every now and then it hits the spot. I'm currently immersed in 'Islet' by Pieman in the latest Magpie, a twisted piece of concentrated evil, so here's hoping for an easy Listener.

Well, it's a slightly convoluted preamble, which I'm not sure I can bring myself to understand fully just now, but it looks like you have to remove a letter from either the clue or the entry. And highlight fifty cells! So it's one of those with lots of thematic gubbins hidden in the grid, which I guess explains its asymmetry.

Kick off with a randomly-chosen 31a: Sexual excitement ruins Sheila's pick-up (short of energy) (3). In crosswordspeak, Sheila is an Australian and Australians spend their days driving around in utes, so this is RUT with an extra I in the clue. The constraint whereby removing extraneous letters leaves real words, while admirable and certainly better aesthetically than leaving nonsense, does make it much easier for the solver to spot. So 32d begins U – oh, I've just seen that the given entry lengths basically tell you whether the extra letter is in the clue or the answer. Helpfuller and helpfuller. 32d is an easy CURIAE, so C goes up top.

22d, Some hot, turbulent, thoroughly violent film (9) is a neat clue for SHOOT-'EM-UP, although until now I thought they were only computer games. 25a informs me that LETO was Apollo's mother, a useful nugget which I'll have forgotten before the end of the puzzle, and ALDIS LAMP is another gimme at 20d. This looks like it's going to be an untaxing one – which I'm not complaining about in the slightest – so let's start again from the top and see if we can't knock it off this evening.

And indeed, much of the top left pretty much fills itself: RARER, NAME, PROA, MONOLINGUAL…. It's not that the clues are pointlessly trivial – in fact in many ways they're classic examples of how to write a good, clear, fair cryptic clue – but they're far from fiendish. Just as I'm picking up momentum, though, my presence is forcefully requested in the kitchen to put the marinaded veg (green peppers, red onions and mushrooms) on skewers to be barbecued with the pork ribs.

While the coals are heating up (never rush a barbecue, and always wait until the coals are glowing embers, not flaming, before introducing the meat) I potter along with Schadenfreude a bit more – GYNIE, NEAR GALE, UNAIMED – until it begins to look like LITTLE BO PEEP is lurking along the bottom. No idea why, but if so… yes, that would give MEWL, WOO and EMEU in the bottom left. (Quick gin and tonic at this point, and I'd like to recommend the 'Fever Tree' brand of tonic, available in Waitrose, purer and less sweet than Schweppes.) Back to the top, LEAPT, GASPY and BEASTIE all come without too much of a struggle.

11d has been bothering me for a while: Bird with lines on head (7). (Again: a nice plausible surface reading and a clear construction.) WRY is the obvious start, but the tempting WRYNECK doesn't really work. Chambers offers WRYBILL, which I originally discounted as I couldn’t see how 'bill' = 'head', but a more concerted effort now reveals the sense of 'bill' as in 'Portland Bill' as in headland. Now the misprints in the Acrosses are looking like BODY AND TAIL, which doubtless will make more sense shortly.

A few more fall, including the rather neat 5d: Flashy type close to girl? Indeed, in back seat (5). The 'a' in 'seat' is superfluous, giving TULIP, which I didn't know meant 'a showy person' but now that I do I'll use it with abandon. Chambers also tells me that TULIP is derived etymologically from 'turban', which seems worth knowing.

INTEMPERANTS, MUSCATEL, GANGREL, ENSEAM, SINUOUSE and TIMESHEET slot themselves into place, and the top row is now forming itself into something like WEEPING BIRCH, though heaven knows why. I'm assuming it is Little Bo Peep down the bottom, but I can't remember more than the first two lines of the rhyme. I know she had some sheep, and then for some reason she lost them and didn't know where to find them, but I forget how the plot develops after that. And crucially, I don't remember where the weeping birches come into it. Hmm. Oh well, GRIOT at 14d and time for dinner.

Sunday, 8am. My idea of going back to Schadenfreude after dinner was pretty much doomed from its inception. However, it's a nice bright morning, and I'm throwing caution to the winds and writing in both WEEPING BIRCH and LITTLE BO PEEP. Don't understand why (a shepherdess under a tree?) but it gives me SPRAT and RIMUS. So the last six Acrosses, whose corrected misprints are supposed to spell out a thematic example, are MU_MO_. Um.

I think I'll call the other misprints 'Body and tail in each column'. (I'd idiotically had E as an extra letter in 1d, which held me up with the message.) After BASICITY and YAHBOO I have the bright idea of looking up MU_MO_ in the book, and out comes MUSMON, which is a musimon, which is a moufflon, which is a mountainous Corsican sheep. 37a, Tense game ending in this Ionian town (4), is either TEOS or TRUS but I have no atlas to hand. After ANNA and INDENE I'll assume TEOS and check later.

So, what's this all about then? We seem to be looking for sheep in each column whose last letters spell Little Bo Peep. But what's the tree doing up there? Ah – just seen the note in the preamble about the putative TEOS at 37a, 'can be found in an entry near its alphabetical position'. Sure enough, after a little searching, it's under Teian, and it's where Anacreon came from too. But why is it TEOS? Why do we need an O in that unchecked cell when there are plenty of other letters which wouldn't require an extra clause in the preamble? It must be thematically necessary, so… yes, there we are, Soay. OK, got it: the line 'wagging their tails behind them' now surfaces from my infant memory, and explains the title. So: Ammon, sheep, ram, teg, bident (a new one for me), Soay, hog, lamb, argali, urial, and the outsides are ewe and… pause while I count up fifty cells… mug. Bingo.

Later in the day, I Google the rhyme and find four extra (pretty forced and tedious) verses on Wikipedia, one of which explains the rationale behind the puzzle. All a bit peculiar really, but I suppose these extra verses must be in some reference book, or perhaps well-known to everyone but me. Overall this was jolly good example of an easyish Listener, with good (some very good) clues, a fiddly but not brain-twisting gimmick, and a lot of grid action at the end. The sort of puzzle one hopes will hook a few nibblers.

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