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Archive for April, 2009

Listener 4028: Indication of Height by Mr E

Posted by erwinch on 24 April 2009

If I were to be asked to compile a list of the best ever Listener debuts that I know of there is one that would immediately spring to mind: And One Has Two: An Archaic Alphabet by Mr E (No.3721, May 2003), which had an unusually high number of incorrect entries, 109 of 253 or 43%.  Subsequent puzzles were disappointing by comparison but with this his 4th Listener I think that Mr E has produced another cracker and one that will certainly cause solvers considerable anguish.
 
The crossword part of the puzzle proved to be unremarkable despite a formidable preamble.  The numbers 1 to 9 in order readily appeared in row 3 and once the 3×3 key was spotted it was clear that YOU the solver were playing nine holes of golf against MR E.  The appropriate outline shapes appeared in the bottom half of the grid as BALL and HOLE linked by PUTT and represented the final shot of the game to be played by the solver who was currently on SEVEN (33ac) shots for the hole.
 
Is there a solver out there who did not immediately think to move the hole one square to the left?  Holes might be moved when redesigning a course but surely never during a match, even a crossword one.  And then there was the dilemma of what to do with the L in the adjacent square – would debris from the new hole be used to fill the old or should it be left blank?  I thought that the punning title Westward Hoe! would have been a nice way to indicate that the hole and L were to be swapped but neither solution was convincing and at this point alarm bells should have been ringing.  Nevertheless, I elected to swap the L (what the ell!) and this was my solution:
 
4028-solution-a
 
As for the loose ends, I thought that the title was just a reference to H = 8 and by association with 33ac G (Golf) = 7 giving us the theme.  Also, despite finishing 27 over par, Mr E had overestimated this solver’s ability in the game.
 
Should you ever aspire to one day lift the Silver Salver then there is a cardinal rule that must be learnt: if you have any doubts whatsoever about a solution then it is certainly wrong or at least not what the setter intended (alternative solutions are very occasionally accepted).  I can’t think of an intended solution that did not look so blatantly obvious that you wonder how on earth you could have previously overlooked it.  It was exactly the case here when a day or so later a friend pointed out that realistically the only shape that was going to move in the grid was the ball.  Mr E’s putative scorecard was correct up to the final instant – the ball was describing a perfect parabola until passing through the second T of PUTT when it suddenly swung to the right and into the hole, an extraordinary dénouement!
 
4028-solution-final
 
I tried to draw my ball in the hole to scale: the ball, no less than 1.68″ in diameter might have an apparent diameter of 1.5″, 4″ down in the centre of the tapered base of the hole, 4.25″ in diameter – I wonder if people with exceptionally large hands have trouble getting the ball out?  The symbol of a circle within a circle was an ancient representation of the sun but it might also be a reference to the title and indicate height if considered as contours on a map:
 
os-contours 
So, my first failure with the Listener for some years (I do not submit entries) but a splendid puzzle and it is great to see Mr E back on top form.

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4028: Mr E’s Height (or Tee for Fore)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 April 2009

It’s bad enough when you fear the worst, faced on a Saturday or Sunday with a Sabre or Kea puzzle that you just know is going to be the end of an all-correct run. But when Mr E pretty much seems to be telling you that you aren’t going to solve this one, it’s justification for a major panic attack, especially when you’ve (again!) been unable to start solving until the Thursday!

Well, at least it’s not a carte blanche, nor are jumbles involved, and the dreaded word Playfair is nowhere to be seen. However, it seems that there are a whole load of clashes betwen across and down answers, and numbers will be required in 36 or more cells at the end. And ‘one clue answer is defined in the context of the puzzle’ … eh!? The only hope is to solve the clues and all will probably make sense.

A quick scan through the clues confirmed my worst fears: precisely 8 solved! Luckily these included TORTILE, SUPERDUPER (it just came to me) and LOOPLINE (John seems to have made a few appearances elsewhere recently), all acrosses in the bottom right. STULL was then easy, given I had the middle three letters, and 32D was obviously BERET. I needed Google for this one, initially assuming Ernie’s friend was Eric, never having heard of Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street (waaaaaay after my time).

And there I stuck, with only occasional short jerky movements forward. It didn’t help that ‘Aristophanes’s ending’ lodged in my head as E for ages, and ‘Break pole with it’ cries out PIOLET, unless you see the (5) first and an anagram doesn’t even occur to you until you reread the preamble and are reminded of the two cells where the parentheses for contributing clues don’t match the lengths of the answers.

The top half of the grid, not surprisingly, took forever. All those clashes in one area of the diagram. I should have got INCUBATING much sooner, but faced with ??CT?DPDT?, nothing came to mind (yes, I know, ‘brooding’; but that synapse had stopped firing). I assumed that at least some of the crossing letters would be correct, but in the end the top right corner pretty much needed cold-solving. It was only when I realised my Aristophanes mistake that I got TRIPY and then INCUBATING. The letter differences of the clashes indicated that row 3 might contain 123456789, and with a few other clashes positioned, it seemed they formed a 9×4 block.

I finally got all the numbers and looked for a significant 3×3 region, initially in the numbers themselves. Then YOU, which I’d noticed earlier but not attached any significance to, drew my attention again, and I saw PAR above it and my tormentor MR E underneath. It seems a game of golf has been played. A look at the scores shows that it will be all square at 64-64, since Mr E thinks my performance on the green is rubbish. However, my BALL finds the HOLE with my final PUTT, and I walk off with an 8 not a 9. An EIGHT!! And 63 for 9 holes! I wouldn’t have liked to be playing behind these two hackers (sorry, Mr E, but why such huge scores?).

Although I was pretty sure I’d finished by Saturday evening, I hung on to my entry until Tuesday as I hadn’t resolved everything to my satisfaction. I assume that 33A had the definition in the context of the puzzle: ‘Before final play, what you lie next to’: SEVEN being your score on the final hole before the final putt. ‘HOW do you lie’ is the normal expression. I wouldn’t have minded, but I totally failed to rationalise 27D, and wondered if this had the sneaky definition. I vaguely thought it might be two cryptic meanings, one referring to the stack of three numbers 36-64-64 in the right-hand column before the final adjustment, but was hardly convinced. And has anyone deciphered the title?

In the end, I sent in my entry with some nagging doubts.

All in all, this puzzle was a real toughie for me. It probably took 7 or 8 hours over a couple of long sessions plus a few brief visits … time enough for a couple of rounds of golf (or if you’re Mr E, one round).

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4027: Centigram’s Performance (or What’s that in the Road …?)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 17 April 2009

For a variety of reasons I seem to be starting the Listener later and later in the 10-day solving window. The main reason I suppose is a big change I’m having to make to the Crossword Database, but more on that at a later date. Anyway, I didn’t start Centigram’s puzzle until the Thursday, and I knew Friday and the following weekend would be busy, so I guessed I’d better get a move on.

‘Across answers must be entered in jumbled form.’ Oh, joy!! Now I know that there are a lot of you out there for whom this is a total turn-off. Personally, I don’t mind them, but they do present quite a challenge. Not, however, when you may be racing against time. For example, 13A, POSITIVITY, even if you got it early in the solving process (which I didn’t) helps very little with solving the down clues that go through it: being able to position the three Is in the unchecked squares gives some feeling of progress, but not much.

All in all then, this could be a bit of a toughie with all its cold solving. Although I remember Centigram’s Squaring the Circle last year with its John Donne quotation, my memory isn’t good enough to recall whether it was an easy puzzle or not. I suspected it was about average, and hoped this would be the same, perhaps three or four hours.

The first pass through the clues gave about a dozen answers, most of them going down, so an unexpected bonus there. 2D CANNACH, 3D LECTURES, 6D SLY and 18D HOTTER were among these, and 1D SPAE followed shortly. So 25A starts THE…. Very useful! And the initials of extra words seemed to start HEROD. So that could be Herod the Great or any one of the other Herods around early biblical times. Luckily however, the answers, although not coming thick and fast, did start to fill the grid at a reasonable pace.

Then, in one of those moments of looking vacantly at the grid, THE SEVEN VEILS appeared, and that was danced by SALOME (passing through the top barred-off square). According to my Oxford Companion to English Literature (4th ed. £2 15s and still going strong), half her relatives were those variously named Herods. Looking at the extra words again, they eventually spelt out Herod’s Brother’s Daughter followed by Dance. The final outcome appears with the head of John the Baptist (J) in the other barred off square, with the rest of him appearing at 25A, changing most of the crossing down words into different ones in the process. And under his head is the CHARGER.

A fine puzzle from Centigram, with an excellent theme, well implemented and some good clues; one of my favourites: [Cretan] god — one used in old day name (4).

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4027: Command Performance by Centigram

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 April 2009

The 8 X 8 quickie team became quite excited, this week, when, by noon on Saturday, we had a filled grid with Salome and the seven veils in place. The jumbles of across clues left us with answers that fitted the definitions and were checked by down clues, but, as usual, we had quite a lot of doubt about wordplay that had led to those answers.

12 ac. gave us MELONS or LEMONS (and clearly, it made no real difference which we selected, since S went into the blank space in either case) but we hadn’t spotted the ‘for’ that meant ‘in the place of’ and told us to lose an O from MOONS and add EL. Obvious to you experts, I know.

In 22ac. I still don’t know why CORNET is Homer’s lace, but it is a ‘headdress’ and the letters were confirmed by the second stage of the puzzle.

We thought the clueing was lovely but not easy at all. Take ACINUS, for example. Once we had found a word that fitted with the ‘pip’ of the clue, we still had to sort out that ‘CIN’ was a heard offence in AUS and thus contained in AUS. Clever!

As usual, we scratched our heads for a while at this stage. There were so many Vs, that we decided we should be able to find seven veils orthogonally, horizontally or multidirectionogonally and remove them (leaving an ugly white space at the bottom!) – and that something like THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE would leap out at us. But it was not to be!

The denouement was delightful and astonishing. ACOLYTH had shown up when I was checking the spelling of ACOLYTE and that gave me the clue – and what a surprise when the entire line (with the two required exceptions at H and I) yielded real words and poor, beheaded John the Baptist. This was magic that makes all our struggles worthwhile. We slotted John’s head into its place and found a CHARGER under it.

We haven’t been tackling the Listener crossword for very long, so we are not amongst those who are choosing their favourite out of their last all correct ten years (and, sadly, never will be) – but, for the newcomers, Centigram’s Command Performance undoubtedly ranks among the stars – and we devoted only one whole day to it. But it doesn’t have to be dastardly to be good – does it?

Shirley Curran.

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4026: Zero’s Elitism (or Top of the Morning)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 10 April 2009

A quick check of the Crossword Database shows that Zero has produced some really good puzzles over the last three years. My favourites have been ‘Lay — Out’ with that blasted map of Italy that I made a pig’s ear of; ‘What’s It Going to Be’, an EV puzzle that combined the mechanics of a FRUIT MACHINE with A CLOCKWORK ORANGE; and ‘Proceedings’ an Inquisitor that was based on the Carry On films and included OOOOOOH MATRON hidden in the grid requiring highlighting. ‘Elitism’ looked as though it was also going to require some jiggery-pokery in its last step, and fear of failure loomed large in my head (as it does most weeks).

So, on to the clues: a mixture of omitted letters in the wordplay and extra words in the clues … no indication as to which was which of course. Oh, and some normal ones as well for good measure. A quick scan through all the clues resulted in a grid with about half a dozen words in it. This is going to be tough, methought. I’m not sure exactly how long it took me to finish the diagram, but it was significantly longer than the 90 minutes or so that Enigmatic Variations seems to be taking these days (thankfully, otherwise I’d have bars before my eyes).

Suffice to say, some great surface readings, especially the four involved in a bedroom romp and surfing the net once all the sex has been removed. Real novelty in some of the clueing as well, such as decreasing amounts of ‘when nutruition’s available’ to give WHENUA, a Maori word for land.

A short detour here, aimed primarily at novice solvers. It’s something I’ve only started doing in the last year or so, but a short note to the setter enclosed with a puzzle is much appreciated. I think both positive and negative reactions are accepted. John Green forwards them all, but please put your name and address at the top, otherwise John does it for you, and he has enough on his plate. Many setters reply individually to such comments … an added bonus. While I don’t do this every week, I try and make a point if I have time, and especially if a puzzle has been particularly satisfying.

So back to Elitism. And with the grid finished, the omitted letters from each across clue in order gave MAEECECRMDER with another nine meaningless letters in the downs. But then that’s not what we were asked to do. It was the letters involved, so doing a quick highlight of them in the grid revealed only fourteen actually involved, top to bottom: MAEEECLECRMDER (if only I’d done it left to right I’d have saved 20 minutes). Nothing sprang to mind, and the thought of another latin phrase began to worry me. Eventually, however, all those Es began to fall into place, and CREME DE LA CREME finally popped into view.

And, of course, cream rises to the top. Two options here: all the letters in the column rotate round to put the phrase in the top line, or each of the letters moves to the top with the others falling like sand in an houglass thus filling the empty cell. Sometimes (I’m sure it’s masochism) I do what I think is the wrong one first: so I did a couple of diagrams before getting the correct grid with THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE in rows 5 and 8. A bit further down there was BRIGHT AS THE SEA, whatever that may mean. And there’s still those extra words to explain.

Although I knew I now had all the elements for a correct solution, it’s always a good idea to understand everything, and this took a bit of time. So who wrote the book? Muriel Spark, and Chambers list of first names gave the meaning of Muriel as ‘bright as the sea’, and all the extra words are definitions of ‘spark’. Finally, the end of chapter 1: ‘”If only you small girls would listen to me I would make of you the crème de la crème”‘.

An excellent workout from a setter whose puzzles you can really look forward to.

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