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Archive for July, 2009

No 4040 In S(HOC)k – ad (HOC)ery solving

Posted by shirleycurran on 17 July 2009

The junior 8 X 8 team liked this one by Hubris; the solutions slotted into place fairly quickly after our usual slow start – though ‘ad (HOC)ery’ might have been a better title for some of our resolution of the word play than ‘In s(HOC)k’.

Our rapidity of solving could be put down to the fact that with few exceptions, (NETS from NETSUKES, – oriental ornaments, removing UKES, and PHELLEM for cork – Ha(D)es inherent in in MEP turning up in Cork, PAPPOUS – OAO’s pup* for ‘fringed with hair’, and ARIOT for ‘in a boisterous way’) the words were all familiar to us. Perhaps this renders the solving too easy for the experts, but for us it is a welcome break not having to first find a putative word from the clue, then trawl the dictionary to see whether the word exists.

I am making it sound as though this was easy for us – no way! We found several words that fitted neatly into the grid but where we still don’t understand the word play (Help again, Derek, please?) We assume that DIE comes from (E)nd the front part of a car, but why? Is it half of DIESEL? Why is PEARL  ‘a paragon of old warmed ale, so it is said’? DECOR ‘Tr(I)m with a goddess no longer an ornament’, and ‘L(O)ft perhaps a shrub after pruning’?

It will be obvious from this that our corrected misprints sorted themselves out into THE BEST CLUB IN LONDON, MR TWEMLOW fairly quickly. From that stage, we had to work backwards to solve the clues and find the words to enter. Clearly this method is flawed, since we probably have shaggy bastard words in there in the place of the thoroughbreds that were intended. A fine example is NETS. Not finding the right word, I had GETS in there. Catching swine ‘flu’, for example, is ‘getting’ it. My wise friend put me right on that one. But NETSUKE is one of those crossword-solvers’ words isn’t it? Like RUMPUS, ETUI, PERI, TSETSE and that obscure Maori war club, MERI (Does anyone really use that word in daily coffee-break banter?) A crossword made up entirely of those staples might be entertaining.

Some clues we loved:  FRISEUR from ‘Stylist is in French ru(E) from east to west’ (FR + IS + RUE rev.) and ELLIPTIC from ‘Dubious cheek apparent in a Scotsman, say, losing his head’ ((C)ELTIC round LIP) were particularly rewarding to solve.

We were probably lucky in that we quickly spotted that we had SPEAKER and MACE in the HOC that was ‘IN’  s(hoc)k in the title, and that Dickens’ Mr Twemlow considered ‘The best club in London’. Of course, we had our usual red herrings. There are a BAR and a STAPLE as symbols, too (Yes, I know the STAPLE has something to do with the woolsack in the House of Lords, but it was very tempting) and NOISE and SPIN seem to be essential characteristics of the current HOC. We found MPS in two sets – rather odd! However, that didn’t add up to the 33 letters to highlight. We hunted vainly for ALLOWANCE, SECOND HOME, CHANDELIER or DUCK POND.

Fortunately, LABOUR and OPPOSITION soon yielded to scrutiny and we reluctantly discarded all but the MACE in order to include those slightly unsymmetrical MPS. We were somewhat miffed at this point, feeling that if OPPOSITION appears on the right, GOVERNMENT should appear on the left side of the grid, rather than the name of the dominant political party. Indeed, Hubris’ Listener offering has probably had to be moved up a few places in order to fit it in before it had to be altered to include LIB DEMS, GREENS and BNP or some other party.

All that said, we thoroughly enjoyed ‘In Shock’. Thank you, Hubris.

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No 4039 Intimacy by Bandmaster

Posted by shirleycurran on 10 July 2009

What do the experts do if they have been staring at the grid for a couple of hours and have cold-solved only about 20 clues and haven’t the slightest idea what is going on? (That’s a silly  Sun Junior 8 X 8 easy clues team question – I imagine it doesn’t happen to the experts!) We had SOSO, KEELAGE and ENORM so it looked as though NARCOTISED had to be a jumble; it wouldn’t intersect with any of them. The same was happening around what we assumed must be TOULON, as it clashed with JUDO, NIXNIE and ZOOTOMY.  We had HELLO for 39d. and it took our wise friend to point out that HULL could be a covering, as well as HELL but even then, the penny didn’t drop.

Ironically, we also had NADA and DRAWS but only saw the significance of those two about forty-eight hours later. INTIMACY made a lovely anagram for MAIN CITY but we couldn’t really figure out why AGRA (AGORA 11ac.) or ARCOT (in the middle of NARCOTISED), TOULON or even HULL could be considered main cities – railway termini or something? That was our Junior team 8 X 8 red herring for the week and it cost us hours and almost despair and abandon.

We chipped and chipped at it and lots of wise help prompted us to hunt for anagrams with a twist – all those odd Os and Is at the end of words. Of course, as soon as we understood that poor old HULL, LUTON, BARNET and even MAN UNITED were scoring no goals, the rest became an easy trudge round a few pitches and I was thoroughly resentful of this predominantly male theme (there’s a red rag being waved!)

The irony at this point was that when we finally understood that our MAIN CITY was merely MAN CITY with one measly goal, we simply hunted for teams, and, often with no understanding at all of the clue, fitted them into the obvious places. Unlike that romp with diseases a few weeks ago, we were, at least, told how many teams we were looking for. Of course, we had more red herrings. For a long time, I was hunting for a team that scored O at one across (until it resolved itself into some bad-tempered exotic place called CATAL). That’s what comes of being a complete numpty as far as soccer is concerned.

We finally had our sixteen teams but had to really work very hard, thinking backwards to word play: HOLES* + ACE for Chelsea; PRO LAT(I)(N) VE for Port Vale; US PR(I)S(ONER)* for Spurs; HAL(I)DOM for Oldham; NARCOT(I)SED for Doncaster; D(I)ES + EL for Leeds; PERON(I)ST for Preston; CHOL EST ER(I)C for Colchester; S(O)MEWHAT for Westham; M(O)UNT-AINED (DENIAL – L) for Man United, REB(O)ANT for Barnet; R(O)CAILLES for Carlisle and (O)RGANDIE for Reading. I honestly wonder whether even the brilliant solvers went from the word-play to the clues and not in the reverse direction – though, admittedly, they are very clever constructions.

Some clues still sat out there on the reserve benches refusing to come in and score for us. For ages we wondered where the T of STENT had come from. We thought we had (I)S + half of POTENT (of course, think laterally! STENTORIAN is not only loud – it is powerful too!) We had to look up CHON to find out that it was a hundredth of a WON so just a bit – obscure? And we are still mulling over AMBERY (MBE in A RY) which we assume is the answer for 35d. I’d swop amber for gold any day, but Chambers doesn’t seem to define it as gold.

Our agony was not over. Having identified HULL(O), we had to highlight the ‘two other normal down entries that combine to give the result of that particular match-up’ and DRAWS – that one was easy. BUT ‘Combine’? and ‘Match-up’? The odd wording has left us wondering whether we were right to highlight NIXNIE and NADA for NIL-NIL. Our highlighting didn’t produce two fine goals at opposite ends of a symbolic football pitch – it looked distinctly ugly and unsymmetrical and Erwinch’s warning springs to mind. We were not sure this was right, so it was almost certainly wrong.

Very taxing but thank you, all the same, Bandmaster. Can we have needlework, knitting or flower arranging next time please?

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4035: Playtime by Samuel (Setter’s Blog)

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 July 2009

The idea for Playtime came to me one day whilst reading postings about a Listener on Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre message board. I’d read many times about how a solver had enjoyed the ‘Penny Drop Moment’, or PDM, when solving a puzzle, so I thought to myself – why not give solvers precisely that? A puzzle whereby the penny quite literally drops. This was sometime in January 2008. The only problem was that my second Listener, The Cause of Much Pain, was about to see the light of day, and this too involved things dropping. Was it too soon to think about a puzzle where pennies drop? I thought not, and started to think about how such a puzzle would work.
The obvious thing to do was to somehow have a puzzle whereby a letter ‘P’ somehow started at the top of the grid, and ended up at the bottom, completing a phrase. It was then that I remembered the game of Downfall, which looks something like this:

4038 Image 1

Downfall was a game for two contestants, whereby each looked at one side of the vertical board, dropped counters into the top, and had to get theirs to the bottom before their opponents, the clever bit being that turning the rotors on your side of the ‘board’ also turned the rotors on the other side, potentially helping your opponent.
I quite like that idea, but wondered how this could be translated into a working grid. I went and read the Listener Notes for Setters, which warns against having weird and wonderful grids, as the chances of such puzzles being accepted was reduced because of the extra work involved in preparing them. Before I went much further with it, I thought that I should perhaps put together a format for a grid, and ask the Listener editors if they thought it might be acceptable.
Unfortunately my design skills are not up to much, so I struggled to come up with a decent way of preparing a vague outline. I knew that it would have to contain turning wheels, as well as cells, so used Word to put something together by drawing lines. The first stab looked something like this:

4038 Image 2

So the idea was already in place to put letters in the slots in the top row, rotate the slots, and then have the letters fall to the bottom. I sent a brief e-mail to Derek Arthur asking about the grid layout, and was told that it should be okay. I then started thinking more about how the puzzle would work.
The phrase ‘Penny Drop’ led me to think about a puzzle whereby the letter ‘P’ was thematically missing from the puzzle’s title. The first title that the puzzle had was Rinter’s Devilry, where all clues were Printer’s Devilry in format. At this point I saw the Penny Drop Moment as being at the end of solving the Listener Crossword, so I wondered if I could reveal a series of messages in my ‘penny drop’ when the wheels turned, being the stages involved in solving the Listener Crossword – read preamble, solve clues, locate thematic message, carry out denouement – and then the penny drops!! Accordingly, the puzzle’s name changed to “How to Solve the Listener Crossword”, and the preamble looked like this:

Clues are Printer’s Devilry, consisting of a sentence from which a word has been omitted… (ie standard Printer’s Devilry paragraph).

On completion of the grid, solvers will find that there are clashes in x cells. These cells should be left blank. In clue order, the clashing letters from across clues followed by clashing letters from down clues give an instruction to solvers.

On successful completion of the instruction, solvers should highlight a two word phrase (5,4) that describes both what has taken place in the grid (twice) and what solvers have experienced during the puzzle’s denouement.. Four other phrases must be highlighted in the grid. When read in order, the five phrases could be read as a guide to how to solve the Listener Crossword. Solvers should use pencil initially, and are not required to add, amend or move bars or grid lines.

The last sentence was one that I saw as important, and was to give me many headaches during the puzzle’s life. The grid would need to have bars in at some point, so how could I stop solvers trying to redraw the grid with moved bars, upside down rotors, etc, for submission? That way lay madness, and it would be necessary to somehow spell out that, despite any movements, the solution should be submitted in the grid that was printed, with no changes.

Over the course of the next few days, I realised that I wasn’t happy with the ‘how to solve the Listener Crossword’ theme. I had only had two Listeners published, and had what could be considered at best to be an average solving record, so felt in no way placed to deliver a guide to solving the puzzle. I thought again, and wondered if I could use other phrases that mean ‘the penny drops’. It didn’t take long for me to think of the most famous ‘penny dropping’ phrase of all – Eureka! I saw straightaway a possible link with Archimedes’ supposed last words – “Don’t mess with my circles”, but to my disappointment that quotation wasn’t in ODQ so couldn’t really be used. I also toyed with bringing the Archimedean Screw into the puzzle, but decided that it would be quite satisfactory if the rotations revealed Eureka, I’ve Got It, Archimedes, and THE PENNY DROPS.

The next problem was to sort out the symmetry of the puzzle. I wanted to have ‘pennies’ falling from the top to the bottom of the grid by means of the rotations, but the phrase ‘the penny drops’ wasn’t very helpful when it came to symmetry. I considered two options:

  1. A 15 by 12 grid, where the only turning rotors with slots in were in columns 4-6 and 9-12, so the finished grid would look like this at the bottom:
    4038 Image 3
    or
  2. A 12 by 12 grid, where the word ‘THE’ was omitted:
    4038 Image 4

Neither had great symmetry, but I decided that the latter would look better with a complete grid. I got to work with Word and Sympathy, and within a week or so I had the following:

Rinter’s Devilry by Samuel

4038 Image 5

Across clues are Printer’s Devilry. Down clues are normal, but contain a superfluous word that must be removed before solving. In clue order, the first and last letters of these words give an instruction which solvers must follow. Letters must always be written so that they fall entirely within the cog passing through their cell.
Solvers must in turn rotate each of the sixteen cogs in the grid through 180 degrees, beginning with the top row and finishing with the bottom. The law of gravity must always be obeyed. Once all rotations have been made, solvers must highlight a phrase (a total of 10 letters) that both explains what has (twice) taken place and, with the addition of the definite article, what happens to solvers on discovery of the theme. A name and two versions of a quotation that are related to the theme must also be highlighted. Solvers should enter all letters upright, and should not amend or move any lines in the completed grid.

Solution Notes:
First and last letters of affected words (each of which contain the letter P) gave ADD TITLE’S MISSING LETTER INTO BLANK CELLS IN TOP ROW. Accordingly, the letter P (the correct title for the puzzle being Printer’s Devilry) was entered into the two blank cells in the top row. On rotation of the 16 cogs in the grid, the two Ps dropped to the bottom of the grid, obeying gravity at each rotation to drop into the empty slot at the top of the wheel below. On completion of the rotations, the phrase (the) PENNY DROPS appears in the bottom row, describing both the fall of the two Ps from the top of the grid to the bottom, and what is experienced by solvers on completing the rotations (THE PENNY DROPS is defined in Chambers as ‘now I understand’). In line with the theme of ‘understanding’, ARCHIMEDES, EUREKA and I HAVE IT were also to be highlighted.

However, I felt that this spoonfed the solution too easily to solvers, and gave rather too much away in the preamble. It already seemed possible that the theme might be guessed from the grid. But how to effectively miss out the second paragraph of the preamble? I would need a much longer message, hopefully one whereby each clue would generate two letters towards it. I hit upon the idea of having to remove two consecutive letters from each clue before solving (and how I would regret that!), so then came up with the preamble that ended up being published. I decided, after much work, to sacrifice symmetry in order to get a fill, and I was at last in a position to start writing clues.
The problem was, however, that it was nightmarishly difficult to write clues whereby two consecutive letters had to be removed. I ploughed on, though, and, lots of hard work and several months later, the puzzle was, I thought, complete, with all clues written. The grid looked like this:

4038 Image 6

There was one quite serious problem, though. I reckoned that I had spent well over 100 hours on the puzzle so far, but I just wasn’t happy. The main reason was the fill. I had struggled to get one in the first place, but this just had too many plural entries – MUMS, BREATHS, SETS, ESTEEMS, RACERS, SNYES, SATIRES. It had bothered me whilst writing the clues, but now I just thought that it wouldn’t do. I spent a couple of weeks agonising over it, and when I finally decided to scrap the fill, I was very relieved. However, I then had a further idea. Could I turn the puzzle into an “Eightsome Reels’ idea? I spent a few days on this, and really struggled to get a fill with the limitations of having to have the letters for the four thematic phrases in the correct position in the original fill:

4038 Image 7

So I abandoned this and, with some work on the original fill, I managed to get the number of plurals down, and started to write clues for a second time.
Finally, a couple more months later, the puzzle was complete, and I sent it to two of my regular test solvers. Both liked it (one had seen the empty grid before, and had ever since referred to it as “The Pacman Puzzle”, as his guess of the theme), and it was off to the Listener editors. Pleasingly, there were very few clues to amend/rewrite, and the puzzle was accepted for publication. I owe both editors, especially Derek Arthur, a vote of thanks for being patient with several queries that I raised with them during the puzzle’s gestation.

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4038: Playtime by Samuel

Posted by phiology on 3 July 2009

With the other half out all day, there’s a chance for me to blog a puzzle, so who’s the lucky recipient? Samuel, with Playtime. Immediate conjecture: some sort of reference to the theatre. Ooh, look at the grid: 16 purple circles, the eight edge ones with a bite out of them, the bite not apparently accessible by a clued answer. Immediate thought there is rotating cogs, but we’ll see. No obvious theatrical link there, but the iconic image of Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times did briefly flit across my mind. Let’s see how wrong that is…

Now for the preamble: Samuel usually has some form of self-imposed gimmick: consecutive letters removed to spell an instruction. Then something about two five-letter words which, with a ‘the’ do an awful lot. Two forms of a quotation as well as its speaker – a lot going on. And then the final arrangement of letters entered normally in the original grid. That ‘normally’ sort of reinforces my idea of rotations. Better work in pencil, and I suspect I’ll be getting out my book of squared paper to try some permutations.

First across clue is blessedly simple: BIAS, dropping EN, which in turn suggests the instruction might start ENTER. Can TE be dropped from the next clue? Yes, and it underlines that nowhere was it said that the pairs would be dropped from single words. 27a (which happened to be at the top of my second printed out sheet) had already hinted at that when I glanced at it and saw the possibility of (L)AWFUL Anyway, let’s get on with a few clues.

Reading the first few didn’t help, so I quickly reverted to scanning randomly, at which point 22d looked promising: seaweed the def surely, with an anagram of the first words minus two letters: yes, VARECH. What about 4d, which should begin B? Hmm: worker with a sting suggest BEE, yes, BEECH. 5 looks like AIN’T – but the omitted pairs then give –POBE- which looks unlikely. Next follows ACUTE, NUCLEON, RUBIA, RANI (so instruction seems to start ENTER TITLES FIRST…could we have ‘letters’ next, do you think? And might they go in the barred off cells?) . Now if 6d is STREET (Nevsky Prospekt and all that), the POBE becomes POBEYI – aha, OBEYING emerges. Next comes MOUSMEE, and my first full purple circle. Does that anagram to anything (surely a concept worth trying)? Sympathy says no, but I see MINOTAURS (not a terribly credible plural). Next OONT, DEMISE, STAYER, DINERS, JACONET (B = bedbug, never knew that), IMAGE, AGLAIA, TRUE, ABAFT (see? I was right about 27a), ASTONE or ASTONY (naughty, that), RANA, ERRANT, RILLES. That brings us to 40 minutes and a dead patch, where nothing strikes.

Let’s look at the hidden instruction, then: ENTER TITLES FIRST LETTER..SL..SINT……..FROMTOPOBEYING..AV……EW..(EL/LY)……..RN. Nothing much to expand on, it seems to me. Ah, 20d is EAGERLY (must remember Georgia can be GE or Ga). That G rather suggests EGOISTS at 30 – ah, yes, ‘split’. So it’s not LETTERS but ENTER TITLE’S FIRST LETTER IN SLOTS IN THE… what, P in all of them? I’ll wait for the rest of the instruction. There’s CURTAIL (cuif is a new one on me), and AKEE, what looks like KORDA, VOUCHEE, SHEATHE, and that must be TUTENAG forming. FLYTE, ALERT and what must be HATE, TYRANNY (resolving ASTONE/ASTONY at last). ANION is next, and SASIN, and that brings up the hour. And also the instruction:

Enter title’s first letter in slots in the top row from top obeying gravity move wheels a half turn.

So P goes into the top box on each side, each of those wheels rotates and the P drops into the next slot until the bottom wheel turns depositing the P on the bottom row. OK, but I’d better sort out the last few answers.

33 is SNIT, and 8 is DOBBIN, now that GR is out of the way, and with an obscure meaning of TENOR finally elucidated that’s the grid filled. Slight pause while I work out what happens to the Ps on a separate sheet of paper…

Ah, the penny drops as I turn the penultimate wheel with a P. I’d been uncertain as to whether every wheel should turn, or just the ones in the outer columns, but now I see they must. That deposits PENNY DROPS on to the bottom line. So what’s in the grid elsewhere – well, there’s EUREKA, and a quick scunner up top produces I’VE GOT IT, with ARCHIMEDES nestling in between. And that’s it after 80 minutes.

A more impressive grid manipulation than ever I would try, and some very nice use of the surplus double letters. It’s going to be a bu**er to transfer accurately to my entry copy, though.

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4038 Playtime by Samuel (Head-spin)

Posted by shirleycurran on 3 July 2009

The Junior 8 X 8 easy clues solvers are beginning to feel like old hands as this was the second Samuel Listener crossword we had encountered. His ‘Motion’ was one of the earliest ones we solved.

We were on Easyjet again – knees up near our noses and no Bradford of Chambers balanced on the plastic tray, yet, all the same those two extra letters that had to come out and were an encouraging start as, even if (as usual) we couldn’t work out the word play of some of the solutions, finding extra letters was enjoyable. Before we landed we had BIAS, STREET, ABAFT, EGOISTS, FLYTE, CURTAIL and a few other putative solutions, as well as ‘Enter …. in slots in the top row … from top o … ity move wheels half a turn’.

It doesn’t take a genius to see how frustrating that instruction was. Enter what? And what was this ‘…ity’?

We plodded through the clues, as usual, and, with astonishment, completed the grid sending grateful thoughts to Samuel for the clarity of the clueing (if and when we saw the light). Where did we have trouble? RUBIA (Madder family rule with four, not seven) The solution was obvious but the wordplay? Clearly the LE had to come out leaving us the RU but it took our wise friend to explain that four was a reference to 4ac (BIAS) and that, in the current Chambers, S in an abbreviation for 7. I particularly dislike clues that refer to each other (In the style of ’12d – Another 19ac, combining 3d and 4ac when 8d is at home’) . Even those nasty ellipses telling you that a clue has some arcane link with the one before – both rare breeds of donkey or mediaeval musical instruments – are frustrating. A clue on its own is enough!

We decided the fruit in24ac. had to be AKEE but, again, needed our wise friend to tell us that cooks was ‘bakes’ which could be peeled to get AKE with the E of inedible, once we had removed the IN. Hmm – rather indirect, I thought, but fine because all the letters were confirmed by intersecting words. That was what made this one so much playtime fun for us.

Yes, Denis, we still need help with SHEATHE (Put up duke evicted from castle the afternoon before – with the LE removed) and DOBBIN (Horse in retreat roughly crushed groom’s head, not earl). Our solutions seemed to fit and work with the final slot machine style penny dropping but we remain mystified by the word play.

Thus we reached our complete solution. But YES, there was the usual red herring. The scientific half of the team was not willing to accept that wheels would simply perform half a turn if gravity was involved. Surely the letters had to be converted to numerical values to see what kind of stability the wheels possessed. Yes, honestly, one of us insisted on wasting time on that detour – he was even convinced that we had to have a happy playtime cutting out little wheels and spinning them! Then there was the problem of whether that P could drop into the wheel below and so on, and, if so, what was left? – and so on and on.

Suffice it to say that I finally shouted ‘Eureka, I’ve got it!’ (to scathing comments of, ‘Don’t be so melodramatic!’ ) and that the penny finally dropped to the bottom and produced those two words.

What a wonderful exercise, Samuel. The pdm was one of the most rewarding we have encountered so far, and we are epoustoufled (Fr) at the ingenuity of the grid construction.

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