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Archive for September, 2008

3998 – Squaring The Circle by Centigram

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 September 2008

Thursday evening, London, sunburnt. Just back from Mallorca, where I took Centigram (though not Chambers) with the intention of doing him on the beach between swims, and I did actually have a quick look at him on a mountain between Valdemossa and Deia, but my idea of actually doing the thing on holiday was never going to happen. So now I’m back home, and really ought to get this knocked off before the next Listener appears tomorrow.

And it’s another ‘Squaring The Circle’! This’ll have to do something very special indeed to beat Sabre’s puzzle of the same name in The Magpie last month, which was one of my all-time favourites. (I get the feeling no-one else loved it quite as much as I did, but perhaps they’ll come round.) It’s an original idea, the circular gimmicks crowbarred into a square grid, and I always like barless puzzles. On the face of it the preamble seems to give away more than it needs to – are the asterisks really necessary to indicate the jumbled clues? Couldn’t we be left to work out that the quotation is “clockwise from word 1”? But maybe that’s just my masochistic streak, and one of many reasons why I’ll never make a crossword editor.

So, kick off at the top with Cloak with ceremonial headpiece or the equivalent. ‘Or the equivalent’ is too uncrosswordy a phrase not to be in Chambers, and sure enough it’s OTE. And the only thing I know about Truman Capote is that he’s a cloak, so that’s that one done. So 7 has a T in it somewhere: Warning: the Earth’s distorted. A simple enough THREAT. This feels like an easyish one – they’re probably softening us up for 4000 – but one mustn’t drop one’s guard.

4 has a letter from ‘threat’ in it somewhere: Traveller’s language – almost the last to be translated. I remember SHELTA from previous crosswords, but it throws up an interesting editorial decision in Chambers. The 2003 definition, ‘a language used by travelling people in Britain and Ireland’, has by 2008 become ‘a language used by the Travelling People in Britain and Ireland’. Been a bit of lobbying there, I fancy.

This is definitely an easy one – an observation, not a denigration – and the top right corner comes together in a few minutes. The quotation isn’t immediately obvious, though, as the ‘circle’ clockwise from 1 reads C U/A IS N/O LRS. Which isn’t English, at any rate, and I wonder if the quote is going to be two concentric circles read together somehow – one letter from one, one from the other, or something.

Oh, hang on, ‘AT THE ROUN’ appears in the second circle, and the preamble specified from word 1, not from the first letter. Right. DRUIDS and DEARTH in the bottom right make it probably ‘at the round’, and a dive into the ODQ comes up with John Donne. And there’s ‘OUR TRU’ in an inner square. Splendid. The whole quote goes in, and now just to finish off the clues.

Which doesn’t take too long. I know that sounds like a bit of a cheat when you’re supposed to be blogging it, but there’s really very little illuminating to say about the solving process here – which, I repeat, is absolutely not a comment on the quality of the work. Indeed, the clues are easy because they’re completely fair and well constructed, and filling in the grid is amusing without being a struggle. But it’s finished in under an hour, and the round earth’s imagined corners spell… LURS, I suppose. Yes, that’ll do. Lur, as well as being a jolly useful Scrabble word, is also the name of the best occasional character in Futurama (the ruler of Omicron Persei 8, if I’ve spelt it correctly).

A fine grid. Fair, clear, concise, neat, and with a cracking quotation. I can’t help feeling that LURS itself is a bit of an anti-climax, though: it’s a slightly obscure word, and were the angels really likely to be blowing Bronze Age trumpets?

Speaking of which, and because I’ve nothing much more to say about the puzzle, can anyone suggest why Donne began with that line? I mean, the phrase ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners…’ just seems a little over-specific, somehow, particularly in the context of the poem and the whole sequence of the Divine Meditations. On top of which, surely there were seven trumpeting angels. How could seven angels be arranged neatly at the four corners of the earth? There are four angels at the corners of the earth in Revelation, but they’re just there to hold the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree, they haven’t got trumpets. What’s the textual justification for the numberless infinities of souls arising at the blowing of four angels’ trumpets? Shall I shut up?

Thanks to Centigram for a nice neat puzzle, and for making me read more of Donne than I meant to.

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3997 – Big Holes by Elap

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 September 2008

Friday 29th August, 8.00pm The now traditional annual puzzle from Elap has arrived at last, eagerly anticipated as ever, at least by me. Once again we can see that there is a theme to unravel, which used to be a comparative rarity with the numerical ones.
I’ll get straight down to business and note that we have factorials this time, another rarity and useful to consider first since they increase in magnitude so rapidly. With no indication to the contrary, I shall assume that we are to work in base 10:

14dn Q = (V-OU)! (4)
7! is the only 4-digit factorial so V-OU = 7 and Q = 5040

6dn TJ + LP + O! (7)

11! has 8 digits so O = 10 (16ac)

3dn W = 3T = 3O + T (2)
T = 15 (29ac), W = 45, 27dn TTT = 3375
32dn U = TO + 2T (3)
U = 180, V – OU = 7, V = 1807 (28dn), 32ac H = 18 (21ac ends in 8)
23ac P = O + 2U (3)
P = 370
1dn OOE + 2V = 100E + 3614
So, 1dn must be of the form ??14 and E = 1? (13ac)
The grid now looks like this:

I stall for a while at this stage but then spot 26ac:
26ac OY + OK + A = 10Y + 10K + A = ?3??1
A = ?1 or ??1
2dn H + A + TH = 288 + ?1 = ??9
E = 19, 1dn = 5514
35ac AUU + PQ + U = 32400A + 1864980
A = 51, 101, 151, 201 or 251
R (36dn) = 3?
7ac OO + EU + R = 3520 + R= 355?
1ac EYY + O + E + A = 5?4??
2dn 288 + A
There is only one fit for A and Y:
A = 51, Y (8dn) = 53, 1ac = 53451, 2dn = 339, 35ac = 3517380
38ac TO + OK + U + V = 2137 + 10K = ?5?07
K = ???7
11ac KEY + W + Z = 535????
Z (31dn) is <1000 so KEY must be in the range 5349036 to 5359843
K = 5317, 38ac = 55307, R = 33, Z = ?15, 5dn 2E + 2R = 104, 26ac = 53751, 7ac = 3553
11ac = 5355079, Z = 815, 37ac AY + U + V + Z = 5505
I wonder if there is anyone still reading. Gregson stopped reviewing the numerical puzzles once the Listener site began giving the full solutions. I should imagine that most solvers would be interested in the entry point to see if an easier route was possible, as would I be, but after that it is probably not so interesting. Perhaps it is just you reading Elap. Well, I am in your debt for all of the hours of first-rate entertainment that you have provided over the years so shall continue with my solution for a little longer:
23dn TAW + G = 34425 + G = 351?5
G in range 690 to 770 step 10
17ac TAW + TG = 4?0??
G = 710, 23dn = 35135, 17ac = 45075
15ac CO + E + 2C = 12C + 19 = 4???
C in range 332 to 415
4dn RW + C + 2V = 5099 + C = 55?7
C = 408, 4dn = 5507, 15ac = 4915
21ac COX + O + H = 4080X + 28
Must end with 8
7dn AB + G + B = 52B + 710 = 391?8
B = 739, 7dn = 39138, 22ac B + 2A + 2R = 907
30ac M = THE + V + X = 6937 + X = ???8
X ends with 1
22dn OX + HR + X = 11X + 594 = 9?7?
21ac = 4080X + 28 = ??4???8
X = 771, 22dn = 9075, 21ac = 3145708, M (30ac) = 7708
And the grid is almost finished:

And so it went with the grid complete bar 6dn and 19dn when I call it a day. I have yet to look at sorting the letters and just have the alphabet at the bottom of the page with the found values beneath.
Saturday, 11.00am The grid is soon finished with L = 400 but I have the feeling that the hardest part is yet to come. I can see that there is no 2 or 6 in the grid or in the numbers assigned to letters – perhaps the sum of the 44 grid entries will have to be decoded and N will appear as 26 or 62. The letters have the following values: A = 51, B = 739, C = 408, D = 514, E = 19, F = 515, G = 710, H = 18, I = 543, J = 883, K = 5317, L = 400, M = 7708, O = 10, P = 370, Q = 5040, R = 33, S = 738, T = 15, U = 180, V = 1807, W = 45, X = 771, Y = 53, Z = 815.
Putting these in order of increasing value reveals:
Something of a surprise. Had this method not revealed a message I would have tried sorting the numbers as if alphabetical: 10, 15, 18, 180, 1807, 19, 33, 370, 400, 408, 45, 5040 etc. But this reads: OTHUVER PLC W QADFY KIGS BMX Z J!
Up until now I have been using just pencil, paper and a calculator but I use MS Excel to add the 44 grid entries – it is quicker and avoids errors:
37819173 or upside-down ELIGIBLE to be written below the grid:
All finished at 2.16pm.
Post Mortem Well, perhaps a more straightforward finish than we have come to expect from Elap but a puzzle that was every bit as enjoyable as his previous offerings. I certainly hope that Elap has as much fun setting them, which is by far the more difficult side of things as I see it.
Let’s have a closer look at the LCD numbers:

6 looks to make a better G, albeit lower case, when turned upside-down. I wonder if there were technical reasons for using 9 rather than 6 in the puzzle?
The title, BIG HOLES, represents the eight numbers, 53704 918, that were used. An alternative title could have accounted for the remainder: Half-a-crown Discount.


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3996 – Half a Ton by Llig

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 September 2008

I’m late starting this week having just returned from Hampton Court. A friend was visiting London so as it was a nice day I suggested the four hour trip up river. A nice picnic and half a bottle of wine passed the time until we arrived at the palace. Palace tour, a spot of puzzling in the maze, a wander round the gardens and a cup of tea in the sunshine completed the afternoon. Anyway it is 7.30pm before I download this week’s offering from Llig. I hope it easier than Argentum by Radix, the solution of which I check first. Phew what a battle that was. Like many I found the final step very hard to make. I got there in the end but it could well have been otherwise. Thankfully I didn’t have a busy week at work. And so to this week; not much to say really but here goes.


Parts of the perimeter and a number of clues are connected.
I wonder what is in the rest of the perimeter? For a change, no misprints, no encoding, no special clues or method of entry and no letters emerging to spell a useful message, just normal clues and normal entry. A quick scan of which shows they all have a musical theme though what that has to do with the title is for the moment a mystery to me. I decide to start with the downs to see if I can get some letters in the perimeter. With a bit of luck the words will begin in the NW corner.
1d It’s sickening as Jenufa collapses, lacking force and justice
A straight forward anag of ‘as Jenufa’ minus F and J giving NAUSEA.
2d Aristophanes’ satire remained a supplement
WAS PS is the satire concerned.
3d Put through Enigma perhaps, Elgar begins adding various notes round cipher
Must be ENCODE. Surely various notes isn’t N,C,D,E. Yuck, I hope I’m wrong.
4d Playing ocarina with no ordinary contralto bit in Abuja
anag of ocarina minus oc giving NAIRA. Is Abuja in Nigeria?
5,6,7d can’t do.
The perimeter starts ?NWEN
8d A light-hearted act in Verdi dominates
DIDO hidden. Looking at what crosses the answers I have got:
9a Beethoven’s ninth is included in miscellany that’s suitable for Pineapple Poll perhaps
ANA– seems to be ANANA – that’s a very long and weak definition.
12a Some not attracted by Rolling Stones savaging music
Anag of music – MUSCI which I seem to recall is a moss – I like the definition here.
14a Abduct alto at start of Seraglio, tune follows
-SPOR- must be ASPORT which I can’t remember encountering before.
The level of cluing was fairly easy so to cut a short story shorter, using cross checking to the max I progressed quickly through the clues down the LH side. With the musical theme in mind I saw Vaughan Williams emerge. Wikipedia gave me On Wenlock Edge. The rest of the clues all came out very easily and Wikipedia again provided Serenade to Music. Half a Ton presumably refers to 50 years since RVW’s death. Total solving time was 90 minutes. So this has to be the easiest Listener for a while but still enjoyable. My only grump would be the only thematic material in the grid was the perimeter. This meant the clues had to be thematic; some by referencing RVW’s works (hence the preamble reference linking the works in the perimeter with the works in some clues), but also by giving them all a musical twist. This in turn put considerable strain on some definitions.
For example
One might participate in Carnival of the Animals – TENREC
…that’s suitable for Pineapple Poll perhaps – ANANA
Possible venue for Oxford elegy – ORIEL
But that apart I still enjoyed it. Plus it did mean that a friend I have been encouraging to take on the Listener managed to complete it. So patently a good puzzle for new solvers. The bonus was I had lots of time to spend in the garden and psyche myself up for next week’s numerical. This is the first year I am attempting all four. I never used to bother as they cause me such angst and so little pleasure but writing these occasional blogs has made me persist with puzzles I might previously not have bothered with.


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3995 – Other Times by MynoT

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 September 2008

Best of Times or Worst of Times? by Andrew Varney


When in April I posted the following comment on the message board of Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre website, concerning weekly discussions of the Listener crossword,


Perhaps if we all wrote blogs there would be more feedback on clues. Maybe I will (we should) start trying to write a quick message to file at the time I (we) send the solution off then copy and paste it into the message board at the later date?


little did I realise what I might be letting myself in for!



Now on the evening of Friday 15 August, I take a glance at the Times website, see MynoT and a complicated looking grid and think aaaaagggh! (… well, I did only say possibly to doing this week’s blog!) I should explain that having just got back from family holiday a few days earlier, and being due to fly away on business in less than a week, I am not sure whether I will be able to make a decent attempt at this week’s puzzle. My best guess is that I will end up doing it on the plane to California.


Saturday morning

I printed my ‘rough’ copy off the net and bought The Times this morning (for the neat ‘send-in’ solution), but get my first chance to look at it at all while waiting to have my hair cut just before midday. Let’s read what it’s about.


Second week in a row with no word lengths. Worked out easy enough in the end last weekend though. Not quite sure what “no entry spans any space outside the grid” means, but it will probably become clear. Two clues for each radial and one unclued. But the lengths? And why the central dot and does it mean something? Why is it included in the count of the rings?


Well, that’s as far as I got in the short wait to have my hair cut. Three hours later, en route to an ‘allotment festival’, I have my next chance. Since I have new glasses, as of yesterday, I am excused the driving until they are broken in. Only five minutes or so, but this weekend I have to take every chance I can get!


First look at the clues and I do not like the surface readings of many of them at all. What have fish (even little ones) got to do with diaries!? (Later when I get to them, I can accept this for the extended clues for the rings, but I am not impressed with many of the radials.)  First thoughts –

1.      Urn? Rare one = ‘un’? but surely that is local one, not rare one. Plus an anagram of cumin. Small fish = fry, tiddler, sprat? Logs for diaries?

2.      First part means nothing to me. Then ‘ka’ in ‘set’ or ‘tela’?

3.      At uni = ‘up’? or could it be curtailed space at uni = qua(d)? ‘squarp’ seems a possibility worth checking in Chambers later.


Another hour and half later, sitting in the playground near the allotment while the children play. I find it’s often a good place to read or to work through some clues, with less interruption than with the children at home. But today my wife is with me, so I’d better not get too engrossed: she’ll be expecting some conversation.

4.      Can’t see anything

5.      Ditto

6.      Second half looks like something in STET, sextet? but Oscar = O

7.      No ideas

8.      Zilch

9.      Got one. LIZ – no – LISE (EliSabeth) around A1 = LIAISE. And then Gabon’s IVR = G and the (large) marble is an ALLEY giving ALL(E)YING. Need to check variants at home.

10.  Blank

11.  An anagram without ‘at’, i.e. of ‘cor medic’? Cannot think of any parties matching this. Second part looks like it is a peculiarity of dialect, perhaps ric(h) in A is m = ARICISM. I cannot get it to make AMERICANISM. It would need an extra word for MEAN. Another to check in Chambers later.

12.  The first part looks like an anagram of ‘gradation’ but aren’t there too many letters? We had an indirect anagram earlier this year, but it would certainly be unusual. The second part must be ___IOT.


That’s as far as I got, including the journey home. Just two definite answers is not especially good shape by Saturday night, but with almost no uninterrupted time spent on it and only half the clues swept over, it has been known to be worse!


Very early Sunday morning

I’ve been woken up with a nightmare. It was all related to an incident with an overly aggressive man about a parking space outside the library yesterday morning. It affected my wife and children badly at the time, but obviously had an effect on me as well, causing my subconscious to superimpose similar incidents from my youth.


Might as well take another quick look at the crossword to take my mind off it. At least it should provide some uninterrupted time. Looking back at my previous ideas:

1.      I now see that it could be an anagram of rare I/a + cumin. This suggests to me something along the lines of ‘incineration’ and Chambers confirms CINERARIUM. Too many letters? OK, now I see, ring 8 can have two or more letters per quadrant.

3.      No SQUARP in Chambers.

6.      Sextet in Chambers leads to sestet where I find SESTETTO.

9.      ALLYING confirmed, with ALLY as the variant for the marble rather than ALLEY as the variant for the verb.

11.  It’s an anagram including ‘at’ (silly of me not to see immediately), DEMOCRATIC. I cannot see ARICISM in Chambers. (But just over an hour spent in total so far now, and it’s not looking quite so bleak.)

12.  Bradford’s gives STRADIOT for the horseman. In the light of my discovery of the number of letters for ring 8, I have another look at anagrams of ‘gradation’. Using an old copy of Chambers Anagrams saves me a trawl through the big red book; it yields INDAGATOR.

With my mind diverted from worries about aggressive people and failures to get anywhere with a crossword I am solving ‘in the public eye’, it’s back to bed for the last few hours kip.


Sunday evening

Half an hour so before bed, so let’s have a look at the rings. It’s been a wholesome family weekend before I go away on business for a few weeks, but it’s meant I’ve had even less time than normal to spend on crosswords. Burning myself on the toaster freed me from washing up this evening, but there were still other things to do. So with a thumb plastered in aloe vera, here we go with the rings:

2.      ‘Prison room’ = ‘cell’ but ‘pot’ could be lots of things and ‘from’ wouldn’t make ‘tropical tree’ the definition as I’d expect. Can’t see anything obvious in Bradford’s.

3.      At length soft mountain ‘Soft’ = ‘p’ or ‘B’. ALP. OK, now I see what it means about the answers not being outside the grid. Thus I’m looking for short words here. Berber, not active, on tower ‘Berber’ = Moor, Saracen? Bradford’s gives TUAREG – without A RE this becomes TUG (tower). In Hammemet encountered god Next part looks hidden. No not a god, simply MET as encountered. Then DEITY, FRY come immediately from god and varied diet: unknown and young cook. Could supplies rumps with a bit of nettle be FUNDS? Yes, fud is Scottish for the buttocks!

It’s been half an hour now, mostly spent on 2 and the first part of 3. I suspect it is necessary to spend this time cold solving, though, with such a grid and jumbled entries.


The existence of shorter words in ring 3 makes me rethink ring 2. It’s probably CAN for pot in prison, but could be JUG or possibly even other solutions. Room from tropical tree? SAL is a tree, but not in Chambers as an alternative for SALLE as the room. Can Bradford’s help? Ah, BEN rings a bell and sure enough (in Chambers) it’s a Scottish (inner) room. I’ll have to be careful with these two answers. There may well be other possibilities.


Middle of the night Monday/Tuesday

I have come down with a nasty bug in the last 24 hours. I am meant to be on a long-haul flight on Thursday morning and there is still so much to do in preparation. Not being able to sleep, for now I will settle for a Lemsip (not in Chambers, but lends itself to a simple anagram) and the Listener crossword. As you might expect, I’m not really in the frame of mind, but I see ENVOI at the end of the ring 5 clue (end poetically in green void), after a bit of work UNSEAMS (anagram minus E in us) for among us unfortunate seamen having avoided European rips in the past, and then INSURES drops out of Sunrise at sea makes certain. The Lemsip is beginning to work!


If the clues for the rings are so easy to solve, then maybe the radials are easier than I first imagined and I just need some uninterrupted time. Glancing back, I immediately see 7. JET PLAN E for aircraft design in black English and is it ROSEANTS for flower gets insects in turbans? No, I just thought ‘rose’ because of the association with English; Bradford’s gives TULIPANTS for turbans.


Back to ring 4, Note loud American Henry is FAH. For opening church in East End, ‘eche’ is not an opening in Chambers, but PREVE is an obsolete version of ‘prove’, the solution to to show First Lady after Prince declined, so has money must go with the former part of the clue. In English baron’s plot, ‘plot’ looks like it could be ENGINEER, but I can’t see how the ‘baron’ would work. Wait, I’ve got something wrong here; ‘declined’ is in the wrong place to indicate an obsolete ‘to show’, so instead I’m looking for the solution to declined English baron’s plot, which is EBBED.


After a little more sleep, I am up again in the night. This time I see that the solution to the horrible ‘fish in diaries’ clue at 1. is quite simply DIABLERIES, although until I checked I was not familiar with the blay/bley (‘the bleak, a small fish’; the entry at ‘bleak’ is more descriptive).


At this stage, I decide that I need some crossing letters. This requires me to start looking at word and entry lengths. Starting with radial position 1, in ring 2 only BEN fits, leaving CAN for position 7. Word lengths mean TULIPANTS must be central, but 2 letters in ring 8 from T, P and L do not work for radial position 9, so instead of CAN, JUG must be the answer in ring 2. I am glad I spotted this as an alternative answer originally! Was this a trap or an oversight by MynoT?


I also put in DEITY and FUNDS in ring 3, but decide I need further answers to proceed any further. So to 6 radially: After endless study three notes make dreary. De(n) press? Despair? That’s what I’m feeling now. What on earth are three notes? Triplet? Surely not ‘detriplet’? A lot of staring, thinking, checking Chambers and Bradford’s follows, but with little progress. REANIMATE (anima in rete) for soul caught in network to return to life does not help with four letters in the quadrant at 12 that I can see. I look at the letters I have for the thematic answer at 7 and think SUICIDAL! Fortunately it does not work. As I realise that I am looking at the wrong word anyway, I also accept that my fever’s back and go to bed.


Tuesday and into Wednesday

I am off work, and in between sleeping and suffering bouts of fever, I have enough lucid periods, dosed up on paracetamol and ibuprofen, to complete the puzzle.


On the Tuesday morning, I manage AMBERFISH at 2 before realising that what I already had would have resolved the four letters in the quadrant there anyway. One of the key moments is soon afterwards when looking at the letters in 7 radially. Not much is likely to fit GE—-[N,P]AL. I spot GERMINAL and guess that perhaps the theme is all related to seasons (it sort of fits the title and shape of grid).


Checking the definition in Chambers leads instead to months of the French Revolutionary Calendar. I suspect there are 12 months, giving all the thematic radial words. I hunt in vain for a list of them in the single-volume encyclopedia on the bookshelf, so search on Chambers CD-ROM instead. Now I am looking more closely, I realise that I have just put in the seventh month at radial position 7, and quickly confirm that all the months fit in at their relevant radial positions. I had put in THERMIDOR for the eleventh month, but my panic on discovering the alternative FERVIDOR is averted when I see it would clash with DEMOCRATIC. Rings 3, 7 and 8 can now be filled in completely.




I fill in some more, based on what I have already solved. With the crossing letters, the answers start to come quickly: DESOLATE (the three notes are ‘so’, ‘la’, ‘te’; that’s very good), LIONESSES (anagram), DORICISM (‘one’ refers to the party in the first part of the clue to give ‘do’), CRAG (‘cr.’ for creditor, not ‘lender’ as I had been assuming), ALNUS (since now not looking for ‘silver tree’ but simply ‘tree’), CHASM (got this from definition and took a while to see how it works, (ch. ’as M)), ALEVIN (Youngster having two drinks? like that clue) and SEALION (heraldic meaning).


I suddenly think, when looking at FRA –, this could be FRATERNITE, EGALITE, LIBERTE (or rather the other way around, of course). This probably occurred to most solvers as soon as they saw the French revolutionary theme. I can blame the fever! From then on, it’s just a matter of tidying up the loose ends. I was stuck for a while on 3 radially, trying to see how RHEUMATISM could fit (maybe it stuck with me because of achy limbs). I loved the clue for PENALTY (Fine as way back for one in compassion, LANE reversed for I in PITY) when I finally saw it!


Now as I type this up almost a week later, I am not away on business but still ill at home. Here are my thoughts in general about the MynoT’s puzzle. It was a nightmare to check when transferring to the ‘send in’ copy, but had a well constructed grid with just the right number of unches. In terms of solving, the experience was generally positive apart from some poor surface readings (and my circumstances). Yet another French-related theme – how many have there been this year? But I’d much prefer this year’s French to last year’s Latin!




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