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Archive for Aug, 2008

3993 – Argentum by Radix

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 Aug 2008

Friday 1st August, 7.00pm For once a setter that needs no introductions with this his eighth Listener since 1994 although of late he has appeared more frequently as one of the Mango triumvirate. Radix has always proved to be a daunting challenge and I failed with two of the previous seven (A Jigsaw Puzzle and Kid’s Stuff) one of my worst records with any setter. The Listener used to be the highlight of my week with many puzzles taking a week or more to crack but I wouldn’t say that now and this is due in some part to another of Radix’s works – the magnificent A Chessword Puzzle that was the Crossword Centre’s puzzle for July 2004. It was clear that this had been set with the Listener or equivalent in mind and rightly or wrongly I have never forgiven the editors for nearly denying us this gem. It took me the best part of two weeks to complete so technically would have been a Listener failure for me but then I consider myself a slow solver. I still remember it as one of my favourite puzzles of all time and another Radix, Bunged Up, is not far behind.

But back to the present if only for an instant: when did we last see a Playfair puzzle? A quick look through the files reveals Countdown to Re-entry by Shackleton (3887, July 2006) by a coincidence another of the Mangoes. I have always liked the way that the elusive key looks so obvious in a page full of Playfair trial squares.

The preamble is fairly concise but means little yet so let’s get started on the clues with that intriguing onomatopoeia:

  • 20ac A simple anagram of wham giving us mwah (smacking as in kissing).

  • 31ac Another simple anagram, of Crete, giving erect (upright).

  • 26dn Ta-ta (goodbye).

  • 36dn Per (by) reversed giving rep (salesman) or vice versa per.

  • 25ac Anagram of trench-feet minus ch (surgeon) gives enfetter (I meant to hobble). Trench feet is not hyphenated in Chambers (2003) although was in earlier editions.

  • 5dn Anagram of melinite giving the mineral ilmenite.

  • 1dn Con + sider = consider (deliberate).

  • 22ac Dis – two definitions: Detective Inspectors and treat with contempt.

  • 6dn N + AS = nas (an old word meaning was not). Antisubmarine is another not hyphenated in Chambers (2003).

  • 2dn Wharfs (piers) – W + RF (république française) in HAS.

That is a quarter of the clues solved in an hour or so, which I would say was not as tough as Radix can be. However, I continue to make steady progress and have all the clues solved before 11pm.

The message appears to be:

In four pairs, both words must be permuted similarly and one then encoded.

My normal practice is to add an asterisk to any clue that I have doubts about and I have six such clues:

  • 35ac I have entered neural (bone) but it is only vaguely a bone in combination with plate or tube.

  • 39ac Slipover does not fit the definition – to escape the notice of.

  • 19dn the fool appears to be superfluous although the quotation marks give “play the fool” a certain unity.

  • 21dn Headlong does not fit the definition – dolichocephalic type.

  • 27dn The wordplay, HYD(E) + RIA(L) gives the entry hydria but the definition appears to be for Riyadh – it’s capital there (SA). Riyadh/hydria are anagrams so this must be what the preamble means by wordplay always leads to the entry.

  • 33dn I have never heard of Ronnie Rat (rats) but the Internet has. This time the definition (brilliant) does fit the entry (star) so this is very doubtful.

Taking Riyadh/hydria as the template I see that the anagrams overslip and long-head do fit their respective definitions so are these six of our eight one-word answers:

Riyadh/hydria overslip/slipover long-head/headlong?I spend the rest of the day trying to find the key to encode Riyadh as hydria, overslip as slipover etc but it doesn’t seem possible. I once stayed up until 4am completing a Listener and vowed never to do so again so call it a day at my usual bedtime of 12.30am – sleep often aids inspiration.



Saturday, 11am But not this time. Life is too short to spend all day on a dénouement but here is a review of what I have:

  • The six answers are all anagrams and the entry cannot be the defined word Playfair-encoded with the same key (I am not ruling out the possibility of four keys despite the preamble). Nevertheless, is the Playfair key something like anagram but without repeated letters?

There are some oddities in the preamble:

  • crucial message A reference to the permutation being crosslike?

  • eight one-word answers Why is this specified? There is only the one two-word answer in the grid – camino real.

  • something in common Something old, something new …?

  • The same Playfair key applies throughout Most clues seem to be perfectly normal, bar the extra word.

The title, Argentum, might or might not be Playfair-encoded but it is an anagram of argument (a possible keyword that I try in vain).

The day is not totally lost when my Muse comes to the rescue with the following:

  • 33dn is a normal clue – pear (brilliant).

  • 35ac is a fourth thematic clue, ulnare (definition bone); neural (wordplay and entry).

Sunday, 12 noon I now consider neural/ulnare slipover/overslip headlong/long-head and hydria/Riyadh as the eight words to be paired off. I find four of the five four-letter chemical elements (not zinc), referencing the title, but they were obtained without a satisfactory method.

As a last resort, I go to Quinapalus’ Playfair Breaker and enter aefc befc … zefc as the ciphertext. I do the same with ahpl bhpl etc. Nothing likely turns up until beep, where the key mince words returns hint. Q’s Playfair Breaker isn’t perfect and the vital key only shows up under beep and was nearly missed but it was fairly easy to deduce the others knowing half the word and I eventually also find sign, talk and news, which are all synonyms of one another.So the grid is complete by 4.30pm:




However, I feel little sense of achievement in having used such an appalling method to complete a grid that I barely understand.

Post Mortem This is what was missed:

The eight words were slipover, headlong, hydria, neural to be paired with the grid opposites winsomer, consider, wharfs and sprent.

As OVERSLIP permutes to SLIPOVER so WINSOMER permutes to OMERWINS, which encodes as WINSOMER.
As LONG-HEAD permutes to HEADLONG so CONSIDER permutes to IDERCONS, which encodes as CONSIDER.
As RIYADH permutes to HYDRIA so WHARFS permutes to SAFWHR, which encodes as WHARFS.
As ULNARE permutes to NEURAL so SPRENT permutes to RTSNEP, which encodes as SPRENT.

The crucial message: In four pairs, both words must be permuted similarly and one then encoded seems almost totally unhelpful in indicating this and the words to be encoded are not even real so I will be astonished if many solvers complete the puzzle using the intended method.

As it was, I was right off track by assuming that the four unclued words were permutations from the eight, the same as those encoded according to the message. I freely admit that this looks ridiculous with hindsight.

I have said in the past that I prefer preambles that don’t give too much away but feel that this could have been better worded – a crucial message about eight grid entries and in addition, four unclued words … must be Playfair-encoded – for example. If the message had then alluded to symmetrical pairs then I think that this would have been a much better and more enjoyable puzzle.

The only two-word answer, camino real, has no anagram that I could find and its pair, enneagonal, does not decode as a jumble of itself so I see no reason for having one-word answers mentioned in the preamble.

The title, Argentum, is also not encoded but its anagram, argument, has the synonym theme according to Chambers Crossword Dictionary or does it just loosely suggest mince words?

The entry at 5ac, winsomer, is interesting to consider. As a regularly formed comparative it is typical of many of the words that we come across in puzzles in that few native English speakers would dream of using it – it just does not trip off the tongue. The syntactic form, more winsome, would be most people’s preference as is evidenced by invoking Chris Lear’s Trial by Google – “more winsome” beats winsomer by 6780 to 1270. Even then, I had to go to result 35 to see winsomer used in a normal sentence – most results are dictionary entries.

Early editions of Chambers Words used to list all possible word endings after each entry, useful if you are ever unsure of a plural form say. So, under the 7-letter words we have: winsome -r, -st. It is one of the reasons why I keep my raggedy copy, another being that I am genetically incapable of throwing anything away.

To sum up then, an easy crossword that was completed by a gimmick that was just too obscure for me. Therefore not particularly enjoyable and I regret not getting to play around with the Playfair code properly. If I had a magic wand then Argentum would have been the CC’s puzzle for July 2004 and A Chessword Puzzle Listener No.3993. For those who have not seen it, it remains available with solution at the Crossword Centre under Puzzle Index.

To end on a positive note, the relationship between those four pairs of words looks nothing short of miraculous, easily matching the wonders that Sabre might come up with as he so often does. Would it be unfair to suggest that this was computer aided design? I am not complaining, for while the computer has been accused of making life too easy for solvers it might also benefit with the setting of some spectacular puzzles.

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3991 – Flower Arranging by Dipper

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 Aug 2008

Friday evening. Deeply relieved to see the correction for last week’s puzzle; I’ve left it unposted for a week, agonising over whether I can justify AIR = REMEDY or whether it’s a terribly cunning trap. But it was just a terribly cunning typo, so all’s well. And today it’s Mr Dipper with another one of his botanical entertainments. Are there any other such prolifically single-theme setters, I wonder? Dipper’s name at the top of the puzzle doesn’t cause too much consternation – they’re normally pretty unconvoluted ideas, though not trivially easy. I’m fiddling around trying to set a puzzle of my own at the moment, which is proving fruitlessly frustrating so far. It seems to use a quite different set of muscles than solving does.It’s always nice to see a single-sentence preamble. So I guess some flowers are removed from the answers and some are jumbled within the grid? We’ll see (it says). First up: Compere introducing desperate character before turning on old hoofer (12). A compere is an MC or possibly an EMCEE, the desperate character will be DAN, so it looks rather like MDANCER. Something thematic going on here. Do the crossing letters help? 1d isn’t transparent, but 2d is POLDER which doesn’t work with 1a at all. Hum.

11a is Foregoing any working, city certainly ill-prepared for standing charges (17). Clear subtractive anagram of… LECTRICITY? Gotcha: Statice, being (apparently) a sort of sea-lavender, gets cut. It’s looking like 1a and 11a are entered normally but 2d gets jumbled. If so 4d has an N and a C in it somewhere: Catholic, maybe, for the time being (5). That’s a really very neat clue for NONCE. And 5d is a simple FINDERS, also jumbled.

So how about: answers with flowers in have the flowers removed before entry, and anything else gets jumbled? Let’s go with that. 7d raises an eyebrow: Allow her to take two-handled drinking bowl (3), if only because we had CAP defined the same way last week. Skim over a couple of unobvious ones until ARIA, presumably jumbled, at 8d. So far, all the Acrosses have the flowers cut and all the Downs are jumbled, is that it?

9d: Digestive fluid achieving a twenty-fold reduction in food in stomach (5). CHYLE and CHYME have the same etymology, which doesn’t necessarily make the clue flawed, but it does rather lessen its elegance in my eyes. There’s an original bit of wordplay for me at 10d (GESTALTS) which uses po = pole; Chambers confirms it but leaves me wondering what walk of life needs to abbreviate ‘pole’… Swinging back over to the Acrosses and some more flowers, 13a is the old PI PINKERTON, here without his PINK. Are all the flowers going to be cut from the top of the word? That would be a nice, gratuitously thematic touch. Ah, but no, 16a is KE(ROSE)NE.

1d takes a good five minutes’ struggle: Catch about a thousand in contest (4). Who knew that to kep was to catch, or that a kemp is an old reaping contest? Not me, anyway. If I’m right that only the Acrosses have flowers cut then 12d is jumbled, and as it has two unches it must have two letters the same: Certain part of fish. It appears in Northern river (8). Doubtless it’s just a result of doing too many crosswords, but clues involving fish or rivers are becoming something of a bête noir for me. This one’s DEFINITE.

Now I’ve broken the back of this and got some momentum, the clues start to fall without too much resistance. O[SCILLA]TE and LOW[LILY] add their flowers to the arrangement and the grid takes shape. 29d is worth picking out: Broadcasting endlessly on radio channel (5) is excellent for DRAIN. But I wonder if it’s a weakness that you don’t have to see the flowers in order to enter the answer? 35a, for example, is wholly checked and ALED, but the clue (Frightened Welshman?), while neat, leaves me none the wiser about what’s been cut. But most are clear enough, and an iris, an erica, a weld, a stock and a flag get added to the increasingly cluttered display.

Now 20d puzzles me. (Which I suppose is the point.) Flattered old French artist in speech (6) must be CLAWED with the obsolescence not indicated, but I’ve always pronounced the painter as if he was ‘Clode’. Have I been wrong all these years? Dear me, Chambers implies so. So concerned does this make me that, later that weekend, I resort to Googling mp3 pronunciations – and it seems that your genuine Frenchman has it sort of midway between ‘clawed’ and ‘clode’. Which sets my mind more at ease, but does make me wonder if it’s a good word to use as a homophone in a clue.

Back to the puzzle, it seems that all the double-unched jumbles in the Downs have two pairs of repeated letters, which if intentional is pleasingly clever. I’m working on getting the grid filled without worrying too much about the flowers; I’ll work them out later. DIS[ASTER] AREA, MARSH[MALLOW]S and ACC[RUE]S are the last three I find before finishing the grid. Nearly finishing, anyway: there’s an ambiguity at 31a which can’t be resolved without the flower. Ring involves one soprano that’s alarming (6) could be either DISING or TISING… but I think I’ve had enough floweriness for this evening.

Saturday morning. See if a little concentration can’t knock this one on the head. After an awful lot of racking my brain eventually comes up with the ORRIS of the morris dancers at 1a. But 21a could be almost anything: the grid entry is CALL and the complete flowered answer means ‘rousing sound’. A bugle is a plant, but ‘bugle-call’ is hyphenated and the clue specifies two words. Bah. A slog through Chambers resolves 31a as DIS[MAY]ING, and another finally provides H[ALOE] EFFECT. I can’t say I’m revelling in this bit of the puzzle, but one has to be thorough in these things. Dredge up IDA [LUPIN]O from some back lobe or other. And Aled was AL[ARUM]ED, I suppose.

This is taking far too long, and if they don’t come to you in a flash they can hardly be worked out. With three left I’m resorting to the RHS Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers for inspiration. IN[VIOLA]TE, yes of course. 26a was Container I would fill with old narcotic substances (11), which I have as TINOID and very nearly leave it at that, having exhausted all the flowers I can think of and run out of ideas (and interest). But I persevere and aren’t I glad I did: it’s [CANNA]BINOID and the container was a bin, not a tin. That’s as close as I’ve come this year to getting one genuinely wrong (as opposed to making silly mistakes, which I’m sure have been plentiful). And finally I decide it must be BUGLE-CALL and damn the hyphen.

Well, I made a bit of a meal of that one. It’s actually a neat grid; I suppose all the wholly-unchecked answers aren’t really a flaw if no entry is actually a word. The flower-hunting got to me after an hour of it, but all in all this was another polished Dipper with some nice clues and some very neat thematic touches.

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3990 – I know My Place by Syd Lexis

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 Aug 2008

Before I down loaded this puzzle I checked the solution to Fizz Buzz by BeRo and immediately became confused. What’s all this about highlighting the unchecked letters? I look at my copy of the puzzle and see no reference to highlighting in the preamble. Did the preamble get changed after I downloaded it? How unfair I thought. I went to Derek’s site and there is no angry exchange on the message board about a poor preamble. So I went back to the Times site and see I missed a whole paragraph of preamble – yes the one about highlighting. I now remember I thought it odd at the time that the crossword was not very thematic – just a strange entry method justified by Fizz Buzz. I had expected mistakes to be made by entries failing to turn at the required letter and a drink being inserted, but none of it. The really odd thing is in checking my grid entries I drew wiggly lines through the letters to ensure I had correctly positioned them. It would therefore have been a job of seconds to highlight the letters with only one line through them; but it was not to be. So I hit my first incorrect this year through a stupid mistake. Not untypical of me I have to say but annoying nevertheless.

After carefully downloading the whole of I know My Place and reading the preamble which means nothing to me yet I set about the clues, starting at the end.
43d is MIR two mngs
41d is AIL, I in AL
39d I twig after looking up Anthony in C is RUNT, un in RT
Crossing them is 42a is alternate letters giving IMBUE with B unclued.
B lies on a diagonal as do the unchecked cells so maybe unclued letters are on diagonals.
As a check I look at 44a, a long entry crossing both diagonals. It is clearly an anag of doings stain meaning names but that is 11 letters not 10. It is DESIGNATIONS but only the E is unclued not the last N as I was expecting.
Going back to the downs.
38d is DITA, DIT plus A
with three letters in it I go for 46a which is STARETS, STARTS around E.
37d is ETAT, 36a is GED, 35d URDU(U on the diagonal is clued), 33d TEMSE with M(on a diagonal) is unclued, 45a is DELF and 40a is REMANET with M unclued as it was in TEMSE.
Now I’m going to cut this short because I found the cluing very straight forward and with a few exceptions worked my way up the grid until it was complete taking about three hours in total.
And then?
Well I had the unclued letters Y?URYY?B and I?URYY?ME on the diagonals. I chose this way round to read them because of the symmetry of URYY and the top to bottom reading of both but I could be wrong.
Certainly, these letters meant nothing to me so I had something to eat and came back later when it still meant nothing.
I tried googling various letters in different orders and eventually under URYY space ME found a reference to Two wise… and thence via another google to the completed YYURYYUB ICURYY4ME which fitted with the preamble. It was a relief because even when I found it, I didn’t recognise the rhyme. I had never encountered it before. (The next day I showed the letters to a friend and it meant nothing until I said it out loud when they remembered seeing the puzzle as a child. Thank goodness for google because I would never have got this without it.)
So overall I think I found this short but sweet. The cluing was fair and the denouement fair too even though Syd was very nearly YY4ME. Now, do I have to highlight anything?

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