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Archive for July, 2009

4042: Charybdis’s Weight Problem

Posted by Dave Hennings on 31 July 2009

Firstly, let me say that I have never met Charybdis, so I don’t know if he’s thin, fat or indifferent! Whichever, he is one of my favourite setters, and I enjoyed blogging his Enigmatic Variations puzzle on fifteensquared which appeared the same weekend as this Listener puzzle. Following comments against that EV puzzle, I did a little analysis of how often setters have their puzzles published in the three main series (Listener, Inquisitor and EV) very close to each other. I repeat my results here: There have been 5 occasions where a setter has had two puzzles on the same day, a further 7 where they have had 2 puzzles on the same weekend, and 25 more where they have had puzzles on consecutive weekends. I believe this is the first time a setter [ie Charybdis] has had a puzzle in all three publications over consecutive weekends (unless anyone knows differently). Loda leads the field for stats 2 and 3.

The following day I had to amend the 7 on the same weekend to 8 to reflect Raich’s puzzles in the Listener and EV. Anyway, I digress …

… and I do so again here! In my blog for Brimstone’s numerical Listener 4036 with its baseball theme, I confessed to not having checked my Listener solutions since the previous numerical, 4023 Pentominoes. I have often experienced the horror of finding that I’ve made a stupid mistake in a puzzle and my all-correct run has come to an end. This leads to having to start the long climb up the annual-stats hill all over again. The worst was when I found I’d made a mistake in the simplest of puzzles in February last year, so another ten months before I can even start the climb. (As it was, last year was a misery for me and I ended up outside the ten-correct and better.)

Having said all that, I have decided that I am going to start checking my outstanding Listener solutions, and, because I’m a masochist, I’m going to drag it out for longer than I need to, and just check one a day until I’ve caught up. So here is my result of Listener 4024: An Additional Symmetry by Waterloo. This is the one where you had to enter clue numbers correctly oriented in their squares and draw in the bars, ample opportunity for a stupid error. A few palpitations as I checked it, and according to my copy, all I can say is that I think I got it right. However, it is more than possible that I made a transcription error when I filled in the grid I submitted. I really do sympathise with John Green having to check this one; I hope he got some help.

So enough digression, back to this week’s blog on How to Put on a Little Weight, almost certainly to be more of a test than the EV puzzle, which I completed in about 45 minutes. Extra words in clues are usually good fun, and less of a struggle than extra or missing letters, and the middle letter(s) would reveal a quotation. Plus there are eight unclued entries. As has been my wont recently, I read through all the clues in order, doing the ones that didn’t take much time. This week only about a dozen fell into that category taking about 20 minutes, including a nice, albeit easy, clue starting ‘One of Elgar’s variations’ for REGAL. Another ten minutes and ten more clues. The bottom of the grid was taking shape. ‘Ruffian’s perturbing outrage …’ had TUAREG spring to mind before finishing the reading ‘… decidedly non-U’ to give TOERAG. Strange that five minutes later I did stumble across TUAREG, the Saharan nomad at 12dn.

The next stage of the puzzle proceeded fairly quickly, including TARTAR, with each RAT being reversed individually, and LOSSES (‘Unfortunately [advanced] sclerosis regularly taking two out of three fatalities’) where the ‘two out of three’ refers to the letters taken from ‘sclerosis’ (ScL, ErO, SiS) before being anagrammed.

Another half hour sees about two-thirds completed, and the unclued 49ac and 20dn appear to be BACARDI and WALNUT. Strange drink! The quotation seems to have ‘confers more happiness’ and ‘of a new star’, so no joy for me there. SKULL and ULLING are two of the last to be solved, and ALMONDS, TAFIA, CHERRY and PEACH, added to BACARDI and WALNUT, result in two lots of RUM, NUTS and FRUIT … sounds like a cake. The remaining two unclued entries give SAVARIN-BRILLAT, a French gourmet (I’d not heard of him), and the entry in Chambers under ‘savarin’ gives the yummy-sounding cake.

Finally, there is his quotation about the discovery of a new dish beating the discovery of a new star, which puts the French obsession with cuisine (sadly) in its place. OK, compared to the number of stars in the universe, there can only be a finite number of new dishes, but surely each star is a wonder of creation (non-religious, in my view) whereas a new dish, apart from being somewhat subjective, is hardly noteworthy, especially given the number of people living in poverty. (Sorry if I’ve started taking this blog too seriously!)

So food and astron… hold on, 39ac is ASTRONOMY and there’s that sneaky G in front of it to give GASTRONOMY. That G is the central one of five letters, that must be RIGEL, a star or ‘new discovery’ in the words of the quotation. It takes a few minutes more to find CHARGER, POORI, EWER and BOWL crossing RIgEL, and these dishes (‘new and happier’ discoveries) get highlighted.

As I write this blog, I am reminded that my final step was not finished, and I have a gut-wrenching half hour of trying to decide whether ‘each such discovery’ refers to the dishes or to the dishes and the star. I finally decide it must only relate to the dishes, and don’t highlight the G. In hindsight would highlighting the G of RIGEL in a different colour be marked wrong if the solution dictated that it was not to be highlighted. I shall be truly miffed if it’s wrong to leave it, and my gradual checking of previous entries will be a futile waste of time!!

So, an enjoyable puzzle from Charybdis, and a much tougher one than the EV, as one would expect. Plus a good identification of the g/astronomical possibility of the quotation, and nicely implemented, highlighting notwithstanding (unless I’ve got it wrong).

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No 4042 How to Put On a Little Weight by Charybdis (Midnight snacking)

Posted by shirleycurran on 31 July 2009

Hah, this one looks more like a cake than the 0 of some soccer draw – much more my style! And it was! – Charybdis’ How to Put On a Little Weight was almost a cake-walk, but a most enjoyable one. This was our first experience of a Friday finish, as the answers simply slotted into place with the extra words speedily emerging and the quotation soon becoming evident, (though I have to admit that we made a lucky guess at Brillat-Savarin, and the Internet provided the quotation from which we worked backwards – this is still the way the Junior 8 X 8 team usually operates!)

We were intoxicated as the grid continued to fill at a steady pace and a couple of alcoholic ingredients (TAFIA and BACARDI) appeared – rather a boozy savarin, this one! FLUB gave us one of our rare problems. The clue ‘[Civil] boss may be baleful when drunk and full of beer’ was lovely. We took the ale out of baleful and got a rather drunken FLUB which was confirmed by DIFFER, TUAREG and BRILLAT, but it took us a while to realize that Boss was another word for botch. (Another memory ‘post-it’ for the team, – look up all the words of the clue individually when the meaning is not immediately clear).

What superb clues! NOTERS ‘Singers moving [anodyne] number to the beginning – they make records’. Tenors, of course shifting the NO! And that fine northern word ‘Laking’ in ‘[Partying] – laking is essentially similar’. (AKIN).

I had to have the FF of DIFFER explained, ‘Wild ride around [flumes] they made it … and fall out!’ When the FF of ‘fecerunt – they made it’ was clarified for me, I made another memory ‘post it’ – study all those funny little letter combinations that the Listener setters use! We still have so much to learn!

Suffice it to say that with a few hours work, we had a complete grid with a couple of nuts (ALMONDS and a WALNUT) and a bit of fruit (CHERRY and PEACH, though we did expect YEAST in the place of the PEACH – a short detour!) and we anticipated a ferocious end-game. But it was not to be. We thought that centre cell might augment a group of words but a hunt through the potential Gs and Ks soon produced (G)ASTRONOMY. What a fine echo of the quotation ‘The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star’! Certainly, as we approached midnight, we were delighted to find ‘gastronomy’, in the place of ‘astronomy’.

‘Easy’, we said. ‘But wait a minute – what do we highlight?’ ‘Well, there’s a five-letter star – RIGEL – but it isn’t exactly new, it’s been known for millenia. Ah but it is new in the grid. Is that the criterion by which we select the other new and happier discoveries? We have potentially ALE, EWER, REGALE, POORI, SALADS, CHARGER, BOWL and RAKU-BOWL – a dilemma. Then there’s the question of the punctuation – that semi-colon seems to suggest that the words that must be highlighted are only the ‘new and happier disoveries’ that result from each of the other cells of this new discovery – the R, I, E and L.

It is a good thing that the beginner team is not chasing an ‘all correct’ record – we’d be losing sleep over this question. As it is, we highlight the four items that have appeared by combining those letters with words already in the grid – CHARGER, POORI, REGALE and BOWL. And so to bed, just before midnight! Wow.

We loved this one – a rather heady mixture. Thank you Charybdis.

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4041: Merlin’s Collection (or Brats and Rats)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 July 2009

I know Merlin does a few puzzles every month for the standard Indy cryptic, but has he done a Listener before? A quick look at the database reveals Merlin’s previous puzzles, including, oh yes, that damned Olde Treasure Hunt based on Sherlock Holmes’s Musgrave Ritual. That was back in 2006, and was one of three that I failed to finish that year. OK, there were another seven that I submitted but got wrong! These annual stats will be the death of me!

So, with much trepidation, on with the Motley Collection. And the preamble says it all: half the entries are Letters Latent (which I find quite tricky), and the remaining answers are modified in one of two other ways before entry. Sounds lovely! A quick zip through the clues in order and … good grief, only two answers!! That must be a record low. Perhaps my zip was a bit too quick. So I’ve got LABRADOR RETRIEVER and EAMONN (both anagrams), neither of which I can really enter confidently as I don’t know whether they’re LL or something else. Sod it, the dog has got 5 Rs, so I’ll put it in. It has to be said that there are another four or five fairly long anagrams that I spotted, but looking at the letters for a few seconds has revealed nothing. Giving each a few more seconds doesn’t help much either, with only ALIENIST getting solved and probably ALENST to go in.

This really doesn’t look promising, and one of the long slogs that I associate with Pieman seems on the cards. One saving grace is that the lengths of answers, as opposed to entries, are given. On the other hand, I notice that in many clues there’s 3 or 4 letters different between the two, all of which adds to the difficulty of looking at a set of crossing letters and getting an answer. Not that I’ve got many crossing letters at the moment.

A bit of a spurt now, with EJECTED and MAJORAT, and could that be ONOMATOPOEIC at 1dn? A bit of a tortuous wordplay: O + A MON (rev) + OE in TOPIC. I’ll confidently drop the Os before entry, and 19ac is (P)ENCIL CASES. Now when I say ‘spurt’ that doesn’t mean 10 seconds, but more like 10 minutes. I use a bit of electronic de-anagramming wizardry to get CASH RATIO, HALICORES and LYDIAN STONE, and Bradford helps with RAT-TAIL (grenadier fish). Hmmm … a few RATs around, and what do rats make? Pied Pipers! I spot IAN and TED and HAL, and the theme quickly (you know the speed of my quicklies by now) becomes apparent.

The rest of the puzzle fills out, and there are some really good clues in there with devious divisions between definition and wordplay: ‘very large / island’, ‘chariot’s crashed / in banking, it provides’, ‘unknown lyric was No 1 / in America’, etc.

My final comment is on PICARDY THIRD, which (a) I’ve never heard of, (b) I thought had been left out of Chambers until I looked under Third, and (c) I simply cannot the wordplay rationalise (is PICA the motley type?).

Still, a really tough and rewarding workout from Merlin. Thanks, I look forward to your next offering with tongue in cheek!

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No 4041 Motley Collection by Merlin (Rat hunting)

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 July 2009

How slow can a solver be? It has taken the Junior 8 X 8 easy clues team until now to understand that subtle title. As I was typing it, the significance of ‘Motley’ (Pied Piper, of course) and ‘collection’ (of all those rats and infants) suddenly struck me. Rats!

That’s what I was saying when, by Monday morning, we had still cold-solved only ten clues. By rights, we shouldn’t be here at all this week as Merlin’s Motley Collection tested us to our limits. We had LABRADOR RETRIEVER on the bottom line, which gave us four Rs, and RATTEEN and RAT-TAIL as well as IMPEL, SERAPIS and SANTA MARIA (how I liked that gift of a clue – An early crosser of the Atlantic, bringer of gifts over seas). Naturally, as usual, the problem was fitting in words that clearly clashed with each other – how to identify the large number of three-letter-words-to-remove from across clues, and even odder series of small words from the down clues.

CAPRATE was a fine clue, too, but my Bradford didn’t include it in the compounds. However, I couldn’t wait to get to the Chambers to see if it existed as, if it did, we seemed to be smelling a rat or two. Suddenly it all fitted together. CHIC, DI and HANS were all very diminutive children and, of course, when removed from TETRASTICHIC, DIECAST and SABAHANS, gave us the necessary adaptations for the down clues. We already had a fair number of RATs in CASH-RATIO, PRO-RATA, ABERRATES and NITRATE (though, Denis, please, I am not sure we are right with that last salt, the wordplay isn’t clear to me!)

1ac. (NIPPERTY-TIPPERTY) was a real stumbling block and we needed a kind prompt to look for yet another six-letter small person, before we had that wonderful aid to our filling of the grid. But how we struggled (pleasurably, though, Merlin, as each solution that went in made the rest easier – just how a crossword should work, I think). PICARDY THIRD was a rare find and I am still wondering why Chambers has it under THIRD but not under PICARDY, and we were suspecting a Paul-style rather louche clue in ‘Try out bed without first woman leaving’ – and it was Paulish in its logical TEST(M)ATRIX solution, which gave us another tottie (TRIX).

That word led us to ALL-FIRED which seemed a rather strange solution for ‘The Underworld’s’ and I struggled to cope with MAN SEIZED losing one E to give MAN-SIZED, then another E as part of PIPER. However, these were rat droppings compared with ONOMATOPOEIC. It is a good thing that the solution sprang out at us, for we would never have understood the wordplay of ‘Called for sound of a language raised subject about Old English’ without the gentle prompting of our wise friend. (We have TOPIC round OE, then O for of, and A NOM – the language, backwards). Rats! I repeat.

Enough! We made it with a wonderful sense of achievement. This was magic, Merlin. All the same, if the Listener offerings continue to become more difficult, week by week, we’ll be disappearing with the rats and children.

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Volunteers Please

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 July 2009

It is about four months since I took over the running of Listen With Others, and, going by the visitor count, it seems that many of you enjoy dropping by fairly regularly, if not every week. I hope that you have also found the site a useful addition to the Crossword Centre message board and to fifteensquared which covers, among other puzzles, the Inquisitor and Enigmatic Variations.

While the site has pretty much run itself, I cannot but thank the efforts of Shirley Curran and the other half of her team for their regular weekly posts which have enabled me to concentrate on my other crosswording activities. I must also thank the contributions of Erwin Hatch for his numerical analyses and those others who have provided the occasional and very welcome contribution. I must especially thank setters Charybdis, Homer, Phi, Samuel and Shackleton for their Setter (and solver) Blogs, as these always assure high visitor traffic.

Having said all that, I am very keen to encourage other solvers to record their experiences with this great series. Whilst I am probably fairly high up the Listener statistics (this year at least), I am not the fastest of solvers and would love to see blogs from those of you (and you know who you are) who breeze through every week like a stroll in the park. I appreciate that other commitments, including other blogs, setting puzzles and the W word (work) get in the way, but please, even if you can only provide one contribution over the next couple of months, it would be read with interest and enthusiasm. And if you’re just a novice, don’t let that hold you back.

If you are interested, please email me at lwo at@ laserbase dot. plus dot. com (I don’t know why I bother trying to camouflage that, I suspect spam software can interpret such feeble attempts, so that’s!!). Alternatively, if you are already signed up as an LWO author, just post your blog.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

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