Listen With Others

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Archive for February, 2009


Posted by Listen With Others on 20 February 2009

I’d like to thank all setters and solvers who have contributed to Listen With Others in its two guises, but unfortunately due to a change in circumstances I do not have time at the moment to dedicate to running the site and as such will not be posting any more blogs. It’s unlikely this change any time soon, so apologies to both readers and bloggers for this.

If anybody would like to take over the maintenance of the site, please let me know and I will happily pass on logon details for the site administrator to you so that you may invite new bloggers and post blogs.

If this does not come to pass, then thanks again to all contributors and readers over the past three or four years, and I encourage you all to read George’s Heard excellent George vs The Listener blog.

Chris Lancaster

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4017 – A Knotty Problem by Homer – Setter’s Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 6 February 2009

Leafing through Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable in search of themes for a new crossword, I’ve come across the entry for Gretna Green Marriages, which looks like it might be suitable. Straight away I can imagine a grid with GRETNA highlighted in green, so that’s a good start, even if it’s rather obvious. And maybe SMITH could be shaded in black? I can also see that ELOPER would be a partial anagram of TOLL-KEEPER, so maybe I can do something with letters E,L,O,P,E,R contributing to TOLL-KEEPER, or the other way about. But there’s a rather nasty T,L,K,E left over. What could that make – KELT? Isn’t that the same as Celt? Yes it is, and I see that it’s also a salmon, and a type of black and white cloth. Hmm. Well, you sometimes eat salmon at weddings, don’t you? Maybe not. LICENCE, PRIEST and BANNS, not being needed at Gretna, look ripe for removing in some way, to resolve clashes or something.

I’d better check the database set up by Dave Hennings before I go any further, to see if the theme has been used before. No, it doesn’t seem to have been, and I can’t find anything in the Listener database either, so that’s good news. This looks like it might lead to something, but I’d like to do a little more research into the theme first, and a few days away next week will give me an opportunity to do this.

It’s a dull September Thursday, and I’m now on the M74 driving north after a few days break in the Lake District.

Arriving at the outskirts of Gretna now, there’s a building on the right which looks a bit like a Community Centre, with a large car park almost full, and a sign outside saying MARRIAGE ROOM RESTAURANT. They’re claiming that well over 10,000 weddings were conducted there in just a few years. Is this it, I wonder? It doesn’t look like the photographs which I’ve seen. But no, this isn’t it. The road sign ahead is saying Blacksmith’s Shop 1 mile, so I’ll keep on going. I wonder why couples would have bothered going the extra mile when they could have stopped here? Maybe the layout of roads was different in those days, so that travellers approached from the other side of the town. And isn’t “going the extra mile” something from the Bible? I wonder if that could be used in some way. Probably not.

Anyway, let’s press on. All the way through Gretna and out the other side, in fact – and there it is now, straight ahead of me. There’s a bit of a detour to get to the car park, which isn’t very full at all. There’s a field on the other side of the fence with some rare breed cattle and sheep, who seem to be watching my every move. You’d think they would be used to visitors by now.

Oh, look – there’s a couple about to get married – how exciting! There doesn’t seem to be a big crowd of people with them – are they running away together, I wonder? She’s got the full white wedding dress on, so they don’t exactly look like they’ve been rushing to get here, but it seems a little odd that they’re more or less on their own.

There’s a small museum and visitor centre here, some shops, and a restaurant opposite. I can see a couple of tourist coaches arriving, so think I’d better head for the restaurant before they arrive – I don’t want to get stuck in a queue behind them. I’ll pick up a paper on the way, which will give me a crossword to do. Maybe that will give me some cruciverbal inspiration. I hope it’s an easy puzzle, as I don’t have a lot of time to spare and want to be back on the road again in an hour or so.

Well, apart from one answer (which is probably obvious but I can’t get it), I’ve managed to finish Phi’s puzzle in the Independent while having my tea and scone, so I think I’ll head for the museum now. The couple getting married are still here getting their photographs taken – no, wait a minute. The bridegroom had rather more hair the last time that I saw him, so that must be another pair on their way to get married. I wonder how many weddings they have here in a year? It must be quite a lot, if this is a typical day.

I’ve been round the museum now, which didn’t take a lot of time, but it was very interesting nevertheless, and I’ve learned quite a bit about the history of the place. And by the time I came out, a third wedding party had arrived. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m wandering through a film set. But it’s time to get back on the road now. The tourist coaches which arrived after me have gone, no doubt on their way back across the border again. I’ve seen three different weddings in the short time that I’ve been here, and it all seems a bit surreal. I haven’t had any more ideas about what to do with my puzzle, but I’m glad I came anyway.

I’ve decided to have a grid which will be split into two areas by a dotted line, which will represent the border between England and Scotland. I’m going to have to sacrifice geographical accuracy to keep it simple, as the border actually runs more North-South than East-West locally, but having Scotland to the left and England to the right doesn’t look right. So it’ll be a horizontal border running East-West. Solvers are going to have to remove “licence”, “priest” and “banns” from the top half of the grid, as they aren’t needed in Scotland, and the letters of “elopers” are going to move away from “England” the bottom half of the grid to fill an unclued “tollkeepers”. Gretna will be just across the border, to be highlighted in green.

“Elopers” and “England” both have seven letters, but the nasty alignment of the two E’s means that I can’t use clashing letters in the grid. I think I’ll have answers which would need two letters squeezed into one cell, forcing some letters to move away. I can use the same gimmick for the words to be removed.

It would be nice to have T-L-K-E-E-S as the unclued entry, but I’d have to do something with the E and S left over, and the only thing that I can think of is to use these to make hu(s)band and wif(e), or maybe witness(es). But looking at how much thematic material there is to be fitted in, I think that would be just too much. So I’ll stick with T-L-K—– as the unclued entry. It isn’t in Chambers, but it is in Brewer all the way back to 1970, and before then everything else is there. So I think I’m OK with that.

Here’s where I’m going to position the thematic letters.


I’ve been using up all of my spare time over the last few weeks trying to fill the grid, but it just isn’t working out, so I’m going to try a different approach and have the thematic material in a different arrangement. I’m also going to have the doubled-up letters in unchecked cells, so that I’m not forced to have both Across and Down answers with doubled-up letters, as I think this is too restrictive. Let’s have another attempt:


Well, that was better, and after some more changes to the positioning of the thematic material, I’ve arrived at what I think will be the final grid, with licence, priest and banns removed from rows 2, 3 and 6:


It’s been a long struggle, and I’m relieved to have got something which I think is just about passable. The asymmetry is annoying, but I’ve tried to retain as much symmetry as I can. I’ve managed to find a place for FIDO, which is going to be clued along the lines of “helping to see the light” with I DO, in the hope that it provides a subliminal hint to solvers who are really stuck, though I doubt if anyone will notice. I’ve managed to get two “Scots” in the top half of the grid, though one is mutilated when licence is removed, and in the bottom corner there’s a cluster of cells which, with a bit of imagination, could make a jumble of “Carlisle” before the elopers move north. I’ve also put my initials more or less centrally. I can see an accidental “loch” in the final grid, and no doubt some eagle-eyed solvers will spot some other unintended patterns, as they did with my last puzzle. So, it’s now down to writing the clues, which I hope to finish in good time, as I want to finish this one off and move on to a theme which is crying out for “Carte Blanche” treatment…

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4016 – Motion by Samuel – Setter’s Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 February 2009

The idea for Motion came about entirely thanks to the setter Pieman. I was solving his E-graded puzzle ‘Is in the Magpie, and found at a reasonably early stage that an entry going across the top of the grid was DIVISION BELL. This, coupled with the fact that the title was a homophone for AYES led me to think that the theme was a vote in the House of Commons.

After about ten hours further struggle, I realised that I was wrong (I won’t reveal the theme here, in case anybody who hasn’t previously solved Pieman’s extraordinarily difficult puzzle fancies a go at it), but I was left quite fancying the idea of a puzzle using my incorrect guess as a theme.

The next thing that struck me was the phrase ‘AYES TO THE RIGHT, NOES TO THE LEFT’. This had several possibilities, both in terms of clueing and entries into the grid. I recognised that the phrase had come about as MPs filed into either the left hand side of the division lobby or the right hand side of the division lobby to vote, so perhaps I could have DIVISION LOBBY down the centre of the grid, with AYEs on its right hand side, and NOes on its left hand side. DIVISION LOBBY conveniently had 13 letters, so this meant that the grid would be either 12×13 or 13×13. DIVISION LOBBY, rather than being revealed by the rest of the fill, would be an unclued entry so that solvers would have to ‘enter the DIVISION LOBBY’ at the relevant down entry. All good stuff so far.

So, AYEs to the right of the division lobby, NOes to the left, and what else? Well, a result would be nice. So how about either THE AYES HAVE IT or THE NOES HAVE IT? Preferably the AYEs, as this seems more positive, and might leave solvers in a more cheery mood. It would seem sensible to have solvers enter this going across the grid, as both THE AYES HAVE IT and THE NOES HAVE IT also had 13 letters. This led to the first problem. Ideally, this would intersect with the DIVISION LOBBY in the centre of the grid, but this wouldn’t work. The middle letter of both THE AYES HAVE IT and THE NOES HAVE IT was S, so it would have to intersect with the S of DIVISION LOBBY. So, unless I had other 13 letter answers correctly positioned, the grid would be asymmetrical. Would this be a problem? I wasn’t sure. So, it was time for my first time out from thinking about the puzzle, and I took a break of a few days at that point so that things could percolate in my subconscious for a bit.

After what turned out to be a break of a couple of weeks, I came back to the puzzle. I knew that it might upset solvers, but if an assymetrical grid was the only way forward, I didn’t see that being a problem. Lack of symmetry might be ideal, but I think it’s okay to sacrifice it if there is no other way to set the puzzle – as long as the rest of the puzzle is nice and tidy, which hopefully this would be. So, THE NOES HAVE IT would have to intersect with the S of DIVISION LOBBY, and I would just have to make it as symmetrical as I could.

In the intervening period, I’d also thought of a thematic clueing gimmick, such that a letter in one word in a clue had moved to the left or right of the word in which it was situated, and had to be moved back. Of course I couldn’t use ‘left or right’ in the preamble, so ‘beginning or end’ would have to suffice. My initial thought for locating AYEs and NOes in the grid had been just to have instances of them that solvers would have to highlight, but I then thought that it might be a nice thematic touch – and add slightly to the difficulty – by having words containing AYEs and NOes as entries, with the AYE and the NO moved to the left or right of the word on entry. The only challenge then would be to fit as many of these in as possible, and to ensure that the numbers were the same on each side.
The quest for a fill began, starting with an (almost) symmetrical grid in which the two key phrases were appropriately positioned. After a few days playing with Sympathy, I had come up with the following:


I was happy with this, and decided to start writing clues. The clueing device that I had selected made this a pretty serious challenge. Having started to write clues at the start of July 2007, it wasn’t until September that these were finished. I was particularly pleased with the definition of DONNOT as a ‘fine gentleman’ at 12A, although I recognized that this might be difficult for solvers to resolve. A couple of the shifted letter words seemed a bit obvious when reading the clues, but I decided to leave ARMY shifted to become YARM at 11A, simply because we live about 10 miles from Yarm. The original clue for DAMN at 31D also included a tribute to the setter who unknowingly provided the error for the puzzle:

Edification at first for pie man? ____! (4)

Unfortunately the use of ‘pie’ as an angram indicator was to fall foul of the editors, so this never saw the light of day.
The precise wording of the preamble came last. I decided against using the definite article in the sentence ‘On entering 5 down….’ as ‘On entering the 5 down’ would ruin the misdirection that I was aiming for. Also, despite what some of the feedback for the puzzle would later suggest, there was no intricate or deep rationale behind the resolution of the motion. ‘The phrase at 18 across resolves the issue, as well as describing the final outcome’ did exactly what it said on the tin, or so I thought. Without this phrase in the grid, the motion (ie the vote) is tied at 5 AYEs to 5 NOes. Entry of 18 across, THE NOES HAVE IT, provided the 6th NO to win the vote, and announced the result of the Motion.

The last stage before sending the puzzle off to John Grimshaw was to have it test solved. In contrast to many of the comments received after publication, my two test solvers, both Silver Salver winners, found the puzzle very tough indeed. I’m very grateful to their time spent solving it, which is as ever much appreciated. There were some clue rewrites to come out of this, as well as the discovery of one faulty ‘motion’ in a clue, that had somehow slipped through the net, and then it was off to the editors.

When I heard back, it was to find that the puzzle in its current form wasn’t quite acceptable, because of the two entries at 23A and 25A that were four letters long but with 2 unches. Fortunately these had been added reasonably late in the fill, so as to help the unching of crossing entries, so it was simply a case of removing bars from the above grid to reveal BRIE and EVER, renumbering the grid and clues, and then writing two more clues.

There were also five or six other clues to rewrite, four of which were ‘motion’ clues, and it took our Scottish holiday over Easter 2008 to sort these out.

The puzzle returned to the editors shortly afterwards, and that was that. When it came to publication, all I hoped that it would be without the controversy of my first two Listeners, Hunt and The Cause of Much Pain, and I’m very happy that this was largely the case.

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4016 – Motion by Samuel

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 February 2009

Having a stab at the Listener is getting to be a habit with the junior coffee break Sun 8 by 8 team. We liked the look of Motion from the start and bumbled our way to 16 solutions in the first hour. HAIRNETS started us off (do all those Listener aficionados that we read about head straight for the anagrams as an ‘easy’ way in?) That, of course, gave us the method for moving and finding the letters (SKELL to KELLS), though we wasted time attempting to see which words could have moving beginnings or ends. (Too many!)

We were already troubled by CRUXES not intersecting with BAYEUX, and by the peculiar configuration of ?OPIA where we needed PIANO, but we didn’t draw the obvious conclusion.

There was a certain satisfaction with this one, as we were able to build the grid up steadily with no major bouts of frustration, though we had a fine red herring when 1 across seemed to produce NO NAPS (related to Antes, or bets, and No naps in the sense of covers and bets).

DIVISION LOBBY leapt into place, and, with it, THE NOES HAVE IT. Then, with habitual junior coffee break team dullardry, we were stuck. Were we expected to replace NO with IT? The 27-letter description of the motion was a rather odd jumble of letters (we are, sadly or happily, at the solving level where we find the solution then have to somehow relate it to the evidence – are we alone there?)

We slept on it and I woke in the middle of the night muttering ‘AYES TO THE RIGHT, NOES TO THE LEFT’ and with astonishment, worked out that it had 27 letters. Now we cockily decided that we could finish but, of course, the real work was yet to come.

Some of those elusive AYES and NOES were already in place. CANOPY, SNOB, E-LAYER and GNOME came easily, but what a struggle to find VILAYETS. The real stinker was DONNOT (“What has a ‘do nowt’ to do with a fine gentleman?” we fondly asked – of course, Chambers gives us the answer.)

So there we are again – success! We found Motion particularly rewarding because so many words intersected, giving us confirmation for clues we had solved. As usual, we were astounded at the ingenuity of the setter performing the mental gymnastics of shifting all those AYES and NOES, and, as usual, we wonder how the regular Listener solvers manage to keep on performing what, for the 8 by 8 coffee-break team is a real struggle. Back to our 8 by 8s!

Shirley Curran

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