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Archive for May, 2009

4033: Beat It! by Lavatch

Posted by shirleycurran on 29 May 2009

Yet again the junior coffee break eight by eight team set off at full tilt – full rattle – (and, five days later struggled to an unmerited successful conclusion). “Beat it?” says Mr Clever, “That’s going to be Gunter Grass’s ‘The Tin Drum’. We solve one of Lavatch’s crosswords every three weeks or so in The Spectator and, despite struggling for a week with his last year’s Christmas offering, generally enjoy his clueing and cope. Off we go!

Following the tin-drum hunch, we concentrated on the asterisked clues and ‘Cat and Mou..’ and a bit of googling soon gave us ‘Dog Years’ and the hero, Oskar. Straightforward, we thought. We should know better by now!

We were completely upside down and back to front, since we now had to work backwards from our titles to the omitted letters in the definitions. Easy? Had TERGIVERSATE and LITHOLAPAXIES not slotted into place, I fear we would have abandoned as we were gazing, as usual, at an empty grid for far too long. We were looking for some sort of ‘goAd’, when the extra A had to complete ‘pocket Again’ (14a.) We still don’t understand the clue that used our extra S in 39d. (Poet’s pace of time remained a year out – is it STAYED losing AY and meaning Spenser’s STED for OUST? Help Denis please!)

It was fairly obvious that we were going to black out GRASS and draw a drum with the lines that constituted five words but, oh dear, the second stage – finding those extra letters in the wordplay. It must be all credit to Lavatch’s definitions that some of our wild stabs proved to be correct, but, in each case, we struggled to sort out why.

We had drawn a handsome little drum, and it seemed to have a cryptic T where Grass could be blacked out, long before we found our fifth drum word (TAIKO) and that finally solved our total mystification over CONKIEST (though that was some sort of superlatively interfering busybody!) Oskar went into the obvious place, though there was a bit of doubt about COMETO (some new kind of missile?) However, we were hopelessly at sea with the oddest set of ‘words’ formed by the extra letters – SPRATINA? BNIKRO? OTEAB?

Our grid made perfect sense (to us at least) and the extra letters corresponded exactly with the 29 letters that had to come out to draw those lines. Is that what the word ‘indicated’ in the preamble suggested, or should we have been able to see some kind of ordered words within those letters? Either way, this kept us busy for ages, and perhaps the 8 X 8 team is writing a fail blog! – Thank you, anyway, Lavatch, for a fine puzzle with the great pleasure of drawing the triumphant little drum.

Shirley Curran.

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4032: Disorders by Phi (Setter’s Blog)

Posted by phiology on 22 May 2009

It’s odd blogging the setting of a puzzle, because now I think, as I set: ‘What will I say in the blog?’  Do film directors think, as they shoot: ‘What will the DVD extras be?’ – I rather suspect so.

Anyway, for once I can be reasonably certain about how an idea came to me, though the exact date escapes me.  I was clueing another puzzle and had Bradford’s Crossword Dictionary open at a relevant page.  My eye drifted from verso to recto and I noted the list of ‘Diseases’, and all the ones named after different physicians.  A cartoon caption floated into my mind – two men rushing into a doctor’s office, one exclaiming: “I’ve got Bright’s disease – and he’s got mine!” (in the back of my mind, this is associated with S J Perelman, or at least Groucho Marx – just checked [yes, now, for the blog, not when I was setting]: it’s both).  ‘Wouldn’t it be odd,’ I thought, ‘to have a hospital ward where each person had a ‘named’ disease?’  And from that the puzzle was born – I jotted down a visual simulacrum of the grid layout on the top of the sheet of paper I was working on, and went back to Beelzebub.

Later I listed out suitable names – I was particularly pleased to see that Aujezsky’s was veterinary in nature, as I was sticking to the human hospital image.  I was careful to exclude Alzheimer (didn’t like the look of that Z) and I was careful to select only ‘Diseases’ – no ‘Syndromes’ or the like.  Lou Gehrig went in because it was an ailment of Shostakovich (Dimitry is not the only one with a passion for his music).  I sketched out a 12 x 12 grid (oh, look, HOSPITAL WARD has 12 letters and could go down the…ah, yes, what middle?) – anyway, that wouldn’t do for another reason: everything was on odd rows, and the bottom row was sort of dangling free.  So – 13 x 13: no still not right – too many long-named physicians.

After a bit of trial and error, the 15 x 8 shape emerged, with just HOSPITAL down the middle and Alzheimer reinstated because that L was now beautifully placed on the central column.  The ‘dangling row’ was solved by means of staggering the names in a sort of rotational symmetry (this also gave me a little extra leeway in gridding).  I wanted one jumbled entry that could only be solved by spotting the theme, so one answer (HOUR ANGLE) had to have no repeated letters, but multiple unches, while its opposite number (RENASCENT) had to have the same letter in each of its unches, because it didn’t cross a physician’s name.  Then a quick count of the normal entries, to determine the concealed phrase (whose exact form would be decided by the number of letters I’d have available).  Around this point, the title came to me, and I also sketched out the preamble.

I put it on one side for a day or so, then got it out and bemoaned the inclusion of PUZZLE-HEADS.  A dreadful word to clue, I thought, followed almost immediately by ‘But it could go like this…’, whereupon I wrote the clue you saw in the puzzle, and put it away again, for such luck cannot hold…

The advantage of posting this only after the solution appears is that I have received your comments, which are mostly positive.  The principal online comment at the moment (0830 NZ 23 May) is that there was no indication of the number of thematic items.  Well, there was in the first preamble, and I took it out, and replaced it with a complex statement about the symmetrical location of the hidden answers.  That I couldn’t get into a form that I felt someone wouldn’t complain about – they’re symmetrically located but not symmetric as such, and even if it was precisely worded, I felt some would head off in the wrong direction.  So I left the symmetry to emerge and trusted to people discovering it as part of the solving process.

The main cause of concern in written comments is that OUZO is not a wine, and I have to plead guilty to that one.  I have tried both retsina and ouzo and I have to say that the former I found more or less undrinkable – and the latter entirely so.  It isn’t an excuse, but I do feel, in the circumstances, that confusing them is understandable in one who’d rather not remeber either.

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4032: Disorders by Phi

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 May 2009

Having spent several hours working through Chambers and reading up all sorts of deadly, life-threatening diseases, the Junior coffee break 8 x 8 team is feeling decidedly out of sorts – we imagine we’ve got them all, including the ALZHEIMER’S that hit the PUZZLE HEADS on the bottom row.

We did our usual wild Friday evening rush and felt smug as the clues fell like skittles. BRIGHT, INTUIT, TAHITI, SHIAH, SAD, MIRE, TRIGS, GATE, TWITE, BANTU, WRACK. “WRACK?” I hear you think. Well it seemed to fit the clue at 5d superbly – ‘Seaweed a method of raising water (5) We had a rack and pinion raising system holding up the W of water and what a disastrous red herring that led us into! With excitement, we worked out that we could change one letter and produce disorders – BLIGHT, WRECK … but that soon turned into a blind alley.

Phi’s puzzle was an immense challenge for the newcomers. Even with sound understanding of some of the word play (I underline some), we simply couldn’t fit the solutions into the grid. However, it slowly dawned on us that if SHIAH and TRIGS had to cross TAHITI and GATE, then the disorder must be simple anagrams. Oh no, NOT JUMBLES AGAIN! This meant that we had to cold solve and rely on the words with the extra letters to give us a way in – but that isn’t much use if you have only about ten and they read ER..SO….ED ..DIS..A…S.

That was almost ‘disaster’ and time to quit – but we chipped away at it for three days (YES – I know some of you do it in three hours!) and a kind of pattern appeared – could it be diseases? Could that P in the centre of the puzzle be part of a HOSPITAL? Finally some progress – PAGET, LOU GEHRIG, KAWASAKI and now ‘BRIGHT’ took on new significance. With joy I shouted ‘I’ve got ALZHEIMER’S – provoking a dour response from the other half of the team.

There have to be a few red herrings for the junior coffee break team and that WRACK at 5d led to a most satisfactory DOWN’S (which is a congenital disease in Chambers) but that completely threw us for that top left corner. Does this sort of diversion into a railway siding never happen to express-train solvers?

And so we struggled and struggled, slowly teasing meaning out of those long jumbles. Yes, we worked backwards, finding the diseases – CUSHING’S, ADDISON’S and POTT’S, then attempting to make words and fill the gaps in our across lines – RENASCENT (where, for a long time, we had RESURGENT, which almost fitted the word play), HOUR-ANGLE and, last of all PUZZLE HEAD. I was quite shocked to learn that a PUZZLE can be a slut!

I enjoy that final stage of getting out the highlighter and colouring the words (especially when it’s coloring a complete forgery, as we did last week). But did we find them all? Are there some strange diseases called ACTSNEDO’S or ONSNITSA’S. We’ll have to wait and see.

A tough one for us, but thank you, Phi – it kept us busy even if it has left us with severe hypochondria.

Shirley Curran

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4031 – Much Ado About Nothing – Setter’s Blog

Posted by clanca1234 on 18 May 2009

I’d had the idea of doing a Colorado puzzle for quite a while, intending to identify the grid with the rectangular shape of the state, and to use ‘COLOR  ADO’ as a highlighting instruction.  The problem was that I couldn’t find a famous person or other source of thematic material which related to Colorado, so I put the idea aside for a while. It was only much later that it occurred to me that I had neglected Wyoming, and that I could still make use of Colorado as a neighbouring state. When I discovered Pollock was from Wyoming ideas fell in place very quickly. First, being famous for his drip paintings, I (perhaps naively) thought that I could depict pretty much any streaky random set of colours and represent this as a Pollock (more on this later). Secondly, I soon saw the possibilities of CODY as (a) the basis for a seminal clue (COD=POLLOCK) and (b) the way to indicate the interpretation of the grid as a state. Later I noticed that I could force the solver to show they understood this by having CODA as another entry. This would require, of course, that (across) clues could not be numbered or in clue order, and this put paid to an earlier idea in which I would relate Jackson Pollock’s numeric designations for his paintings to clue numbers (for example Summertime is designated as 9A) . 

As a matter of course, I checked ODQ and found the quotation which would allow me to confirm the theme by applying the quotation to some paintings (I understand that this quotation is unfortunately not in some earlier editions). I still wanted some additional way of specifying the Wyoming interpretation of the grid. I couldn’t do this by a misprint message, as these were going to be for instruction and the painting names; after a fair amount of playing around with different ideas, the sequence of paintings culminating in [W]INTERPHONE[Y] emerged as the winning idea.

 When I set about creating the grid, I wanted it to be as accurate as possible geographically, and I based the 11×15 grid on the true aspect ratio of Wyoming. I then placed Cody as accurately as possible within the grid. (Rather gratifyingly, I notice that a poster on the AnswerBank message board did check out the cartographic accuracy). I had a bit of flexibility for the length of the painting instruction and consequently the number of down clues. The number of across clues was fixed by the painting names. I wanted to get as many ADO’s in as possible in a reasonably streaky sort of way, but still have a pleasing grid with good unching. In general, when I am constructing a grid, the ideal is to have a Radixean unching model in which the number of unchecked letters is a non-decreasing function of the length of the entry; this has to be balanced with having good words (not too many inflections), no excessively long connected set of bars, and reasonable average entry length. Usually it is not possible to do this with the other thematic constraints (in this case CODY, CODA, INTERPHONE, a fixed number of across entries, and a healthy smattering of A’s D’s, and O’s) , and something has to give. But on this occasion, and after a lot of playing around in the excellent Sympathy package, I came up with a final Radixean grid with a pleasing 7:8 ratio of foreground to backward cells, and with the correct number of clues.

By necessity, across clues could not be numbered, so I gave these in alphabetic order of answer. I made the down clues in standard clue order to make things a bit easier for the solver to get started, but I didn’t put clues numbers in the down clues/entries so as to maintain the aesthetic effect of the painting. I decided on RED/GREEN/BLUE as suitably seasonal colours.

In Mango puzzles (Mango consisting of Steve Mann, Roddy Forman, and myself), we always try to use thematically coherent devices for spelling out messages. In Shackleton puzzles I have taken a different tack, preferring instead to primarily use the ‘misprint in the definition’ device. It’s reasonably tricky for the setter as most of the time just finding a misprinted definition with the right correction is difficult enough; trying to mould it into a sensible and entertaining clue is very time consuming. However, I think that this type of clue is hopefully fair enjoyable as there is the double satisfaction of solving the clue and spotting the misprint, and the misprint is not in some arbitrary place in the clue, but locates the definition. I usually take a very long time to compose such clues, doing it over several weeks, and constantly reviewing ideas, fine tuning clues, discarding old ideas if necessary (never becoming too stuck on a particular idea, however promising ), and trying to make the surfaces as reasonable as possible.  Sometimes finding a misprint for a particular answer seems completely intractable, but I’ve found that if you’re patient and throw enough ideas up in the air eventually one of them will land nicely. I don’t generally worry about ease or difficulty of the clue; just try to find the best clue for the word – this will generally yield a good spectrum of difficulties.

The puzzle was originally called ‘Forgery’ (I’m relieved I didn’t stick with that title since, as one person has pointed out, ’fake’ (= pretend piece) is more accurate than ‘forgery’ (=counterfeit). But I had also been toying with using ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ as the title. I had slight reservations about this for two reasons. First that it might increase the possibility of the solver submitting a correct solution without understanding everything (by assuming that ADO from the title was the correct order for RED/GREEN/BLUE). The second reason was that I didn’t want to suggest that I was being disparaging about Pollock’s paintings (in fact one correspondent, tongue-in-cheek, took the title as reassurance to quell his concerns about the somewhat random nature of the final painting). However, in the end, the title seemed too good not to use.

Most of the feedback has been very positive (‘an entertaining load of Pollocks’) with solvers appreciating the sequence of PDMs;  some have very been generous in their praise, and I thank them for that.  A handful of solvers have objected to the final result as being not very Pollockesque which is a fair enough comment, though I did try to make it as streaky as possible, and perhaps if you look at it from a distance it might be a closer representation. It would have been a more reasonable representation if solvers had been allowed some artistic license to ‘paint’ streaks rather than ‘color’ cells, but that would have created a big problem of interpretation for John Green, and I didn’t raise this possibility with the editors. A final thought here: for Pollock, painting was very much in the action and process of creating the work of art rather than the end result, and hopefully that mirrors most solvers’ experience in creating their Pollock.


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4031: Shackleton’s Much Ado (or Painting by Letters)

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 May 2009

Yet again, the Sun junior coffee break easy clues team has reached the final ‘Aah’ moment but what a struggle! The great irony is that before the page was even printed, Mr Clever said ‘Probably Jackson Pollock’ – but it took us three days to come back to that conclusion.

For two of them, we just stared at the grid and made hostile, almost abusive comments about the blank rectangular space with just my tiny down clue numbers, pencilled-in across clue lengths and one or two sad clues – the obvious ones (and there weren’t many of those) – ‘WELL-TO-DO’, ‘CARAVAN’ and ‘DOOR TO DOOR’.

For the newcomers, it was the added complexity of the misprints that caused the difficulty, but one final, desperate thrust produced a clear lead. There seemed to be an excessive number of Os in OVOLO, DOOR TO DOOR, and NODDY and an astonishing complete row of As in ADAYADAYADAYADA (an inspired dictionary find that gave us renewed courage). Obviously something to do with Much Ado (My favourite play – first junior 8 x 8 red herring into Messina, Beatrice and Benedick – but not the worst detour!)

Fortunately it was raining so we were not tempted out onto the golf course to try one of Mr E’s putts (Listener 4029 q.v. – we’ll buy one of those putts any day!) We laboriously worked through the clues having immense difficulty, especially with the short ones. ‘Conservative women’s chamber and passage’ (4) led to CODA but it took us forever to see the misprint in AND/END, since ‘passage’ seemed adequate without a misprint. It was only after we had completed the endgame that we made some sort of sense of ‘Father advanced name for daughter’. Are we right with NADA, not a sou?

The charade – hmmpf! It was the ‘red, green, blue’ part that showed up first and great joy to guess (yes, another junior team guess) that we were going to a state somewhere in the US south – color ADO? By this time, our grid was almost complete and we could see that colouring roughly 77 cells would be possible, but we had a queer jumble for the two paintings – UMMERTY HUMPTY DUMPTY or something like that. Then tragedy struck – CODA – CODY. That had to be the ambiguity in entering two of the across clues – but how to resolve it.

Time for another junior team red herring! Erwinch’s advice last week should have been heeded. if you have any doubts whatsoever about a solution, then it is certainly wrong or at least not what the setter intended. For a good hour, I trawled through Wikipedia and Internet documents on Buffalo Bill Cody and, of course, the fact that he chose Colorado for his grave didn’t make the herring any less appetising.

As usual, we were almost at midnight when those nasty little short clues (‘Person aching/acting to cook Eastern recipe’ – DOER, and ‘Find/fini dead person – DONE) made sense. French is our other language and we should have seen ‘fini’ first, not last – but who would expect it to be in Chambers’? We finally returned to our starting point with curtailed SUMMERTIME and AUTUMN RHYTHM (except that we had ‘what/chat’ and not ‘gave/have’ as our misprint in the YADA clue – is seemed fairly convincing!) – and the SEAM that came off the beginning and ends of the paintings nearly led to a third red herring – some Seamus Heaney creation?

Finding that delightful WY abbreviation round INTERPHONE was one of those moments of disbelief – however did Shackleton do it? Yes, we wanted to put Jackson Pollock’s CODY as near those ‘absent letters’ as possible but Erwinch’s warning rang in our ears. There had to be a better reason than that. We had to find that other interpretation of the grid.

It was despair, not a stroke of genius, that led us to take out the atlas and look for Cody – sheer joy to find it nestled in that top left corner!

The colouring was fun – but I am sure that will be cause for a little bit of grumbling from the old hands. My forgery looks rather like a Pollock – and I suppose it serves the purpose of proving that solvers have CODY in the right place on their mental maps. Thank you, Shackleton, for a stiff challenge and lots of rewarding moments.

Shirley Curran.

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