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Archive for March, 2010

Printer’s Devilry by Qid, Etaoin Shrdlu

Posted by shirleycurran on 12 March 2010

Ataoin Shrdlu

I wonder why the Dumbo easy clues team didn’t go straight to the Internet to research Linotype. It would possibly have saved us hours of cold solving had we found ETAOIN SHRDLU several hours earlier. As it was, we had had our first breakthrough, when we realized that the solutions that were not fitting into our grid were the four-letter ones. Qid had generously made those the easy ones to solve and we had a neat list of twelve, but no idea how to adapt them. We had: WASE, KAIM, DERE, OUZO, TANK, SLIM, SALK, ANNE, BASS, BYTE, ANAL and TEFF. There’s our first red herring! Of course we should know by now that ANNE is far too obvious for a Listener setter in ‘Bird seen in Channel? To some extent’

It was hours later, in the final stages, that we converted ANNE to GULL with the reasoning that to some extent GULL was found in ‘gulf’ – Yes, of course we should have considered ‘gully’ but, at that stage it was no longer relevant.

With all those clues and another sixteen solved, we were up against a blank wall. How to work out which of the remaining eight had extra letters and which had misprints? In despair, I fed ETAO???????? (the extra letters from PLASTERSTONE, NEOTEINIA, STENGAH and APOTHEM) into a word-finder (does this count as desperation or cheating?) and ETAOIN SHRDLU appeared. Of course!

It was a downhill romp from that point on. I have wondered aloud before how many solvers find the solution then work backwards, making the misprints fit. As usual, we did. We met with a problem when TOY had to become HOY and somehow explain the clue, ‘One who’s left, for example, a toy on granny’s demise’ LEGATARY was the answer, we knew, as it intersected with UGLI, TRAMMELER, SPICAS, MITT, UNLOBULAR and LIRA.  However, we played with HOY, a boat, and that didn’t seem to fit with TAR until we saw the second meaning of HOY – to incite which tied in with the third meaning of TAR – to incite to fight.  Still, even if we assumed that Y was ‘granny’s demise’ we still had the problem of the first letter of LEGATARY. ‘One who’s left’ seems to be a legatary, but where is the L in the wordplay – or can a letter be used twice in an &lit. way? Help!

For the 2,4,4,2 notion that Linotype operators would have had in mind, we were playing with ‘… head on’. Lead didn’t immediately spring to mind since lead alone would have been a rather soft material – it needed the antimony of the alloy to expand as it cooled. However, I suppose compilers have to be allowed a little leeway! TO RUSH LEAD IN was confirmed by the corrected misprints.

I am not sure how we got the U corrected letter from ‘Ferns in Laramie as briefly cultivated’ either. But then – if solving were easy, what would we do with our Saturdays?

Qid certainly challenged us!

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Listener 4074: Printer’s Devilry by Qid

Posted by Gareth Rees on 12 March 2010

I see this is the first puzzle by Qid, so an unknown quantity. Chambers advises “q i d abbrev: (in prescriptions) quater in die (L), four times a day.”

There are twelve clues each of three types: letters latent, Vigenère enciphered, and misprint. The latent letters spell out two keywords for the cipher, and the misprinted clues spell out a “corrupt form” of the keywords (in the incorrect letters), and a four-word anagram of the keywords (in the correct letters), which should be written below the grid.

The description of the Vigenère encipherment is a bit ambiguous: for each answer we use “one or other of the keywords” but there’s no indication of how to choose which one. Also, the example shows FLY enciphering to RUM, so perhaps all the enciphered forms are real words, but the rubric doesn’t explicitly say so. Presumably this is left for the solver to discover.

The clues seem fair and after about three hours I’ve got something over half of the answers, though the grid is still a bit bare because I haven’t been able to enter any of the enciphered words.

In the case of SASSAFRAS NUT there’s only one possibility for the latent letter, but in the other cases I need the crossing words and the fact that the keywords have no repeated letters to resolve the ambiguities:

1a PLASTERSTONE with latent E.
14a NEOTEINIA with latent T (this was an entertaining subtractive anagram: MARIE ANTOINETTE minus MATTER).

20a STENGAH with latent A.
33a ENERGETIC with latent C, G, or I.
3d SASSAFRAS NUT with latent S.
6d STOP SHORT with latent H.
9d STRING PEA with latent R. I don’t understand this clue: “Vegetable stored in pantries when cooked is gram” seems to be an anagram of PANTRIES plus “gram” ⇒ G but I can’t figure out how “is gram” clues “containing G”. It would have been better if it were “with gram”, for both the surface reading and the wordplay. So maybe a mistake?
21d UNILOBULAR with latent U.

I have three misprints:

24a “Ferns in Laramie as briefly cultivated” ⇒ MARSILEA and the misprint is A for I, so the corrected wordplay has “is briefly” ⇒ S.
5d “Which prayer may have held a quick service” ⇒ TENACE with misprint R for L.
8d “Bewitch tsar—not Alexander the First, by the way” ⇒ OBITER with misprint S for E.

I have seven words needing to be enciphered. Since I have some of the ciphertext, I can deduce letters that must appear in the keywords:

16a KAIM enciphers to T_N_, so the keywords have I_E.
17a DERE enciphers to _ _A_, so the keywords have I.
27a OUZO enciphers to _OA_, so the keywords have TA.
7d BASS enciphers to T_E_, so the keywords have R_L.

(I also have 28a TANK, 31d ANAL, and 32d TEFF, but no crossing letters.)

There are a couple of clues that I can’t figure out:

22a “I’m of use when surveying gear Dr No nicked” ⇒ RANGE ROD with misprint N for … for what? Could be L giving “licked”? K giving “kicked”? W giving “wicked”? I guess I’ll have to resolve this later.
25d “Spurs and Saints idly crushing the Magpies” must be “Saints” ⇒ SS around “Magpies” ⇒ PICA giving SPICAS, but I don’t fully understand the wordplay: what’s “idly” doing in the clue? Is there a misprint? Or does this need to be enciphered?

Let me take stock of what I’ve got so far.

  • Latent letters: across E T A [CGI] down S H R U
  • Incorrect letters from misprints: A R S
  • Correct letters from misprints: I L E
  • All letters in keywords: AEHILRSTU

Moreover, I know from the encipherments that the keywords contain the patterns TA, R_L and I_E.

So could the keywords be ETAOIN SHRDLU? The rubric says that the keywords form “a two-word entry in The Oxford English Dictionary”, so let me check.

etaoin shrdlu The letters set by running a finger down the first two vertical banks of keys on the left of the keyboard of a Linotype machine, used as a temporary marking slug but sometimes printed by mistake; any badly blundered sequence of type.”

That resolves the latent letter in ENERGETIC (can’t be C or G, must be I), and I can start enciphering the words. It’ll be useful to have a bit of code for this:

(defun encipher (plaintext key)
  (loop for a across plaintext
        for b across key
        concat (let ((c (+ a b -64)))
                 (format "%c" (if (> c ?Z) (- c 26) c)))))

The words for which I have intersecting letters can be enciphered right away:

16a KAIM enciphered with INET → TONG
17a DERE enciphered with AOIN → ETAS
27a OUZO enciphered with ETAO → TOAD
7d BASS enciphered with RDLU → TEEN

Now it looks as though the across answers are enciphered using ETAOIN and the down answers using SHRDLU (which matches the locations of the latent latters), so it seems likely that:

28a TANK is enciphered with INET → COSE

And moreover, all the encodings so far have yielded words, so guessing that this is systematic, it’s possible to find (by trying all three possibilities) that:

31d ANAL is enciphered with LUSH → MITT
32d TEFF is enciphered with RDLU → LIRA

So far all the enciphered answers have been four letters long. There are twelve such answers, so it seems likely that all of these (and only these) are enciphered. Also, since the rubric explained that the keywords are used “cyclically” (presumably within the set of across or down answers) I can work backwards and deduce what the plaintext must have been:

12a entry B_T_ was enciphered with ETAO, so answer is W_S_. That’s WASE → BUTT.
4d entry S_ _ _ was enciphered with LUSH, so answer is G_ _ _. That’s GULL → SPET
2d entry L_ _ _ was enciphered with SHRD, so answer is S_ _ _. That’s SALK → LIDO
29d entry _G_ _ was enciphered with SHRD, so answer is _Y_ _. Don’t know this one.

Now I know what the misprints need to be, so I can get to work on them.

10d “The dud ages badly, visibly dying” ⇒ STAG-HEADED with misprint U for A.
30a “Male bachelor in line, equally active” ⇒ NIMBLE with misprint E for S.
23d “That woman in Goa tormented the Indian until satisfied” ⇒ GHERAO with misprint H for I. But that means my theory for 24a is wrong, since I can’t have two correct letters I. So maybe the misprint is A for E, so that the correct text is “es briefly” ⇒ S. No, that doesn’t work either, I already have a misprint for E in 8d.
11a “Medicine doctor is against prescribing—even NICE takes exception—oops!” ⇒ DIAPENTE with misprint O for T.
15a “Website’s topless fun in adult hint of lesbianism” ⇒ PORTAL with misprint perhaps I for O.
13d “Old priest came to get candle grease?” ⇒ SPERMACETI with misprint L for D.

So what have I got in the way of misprints?


























And the remaining correct letters are HNRU. The phrase that “Linotype operators would often have had in mind” must be TO RUSH LEAD IN.

So that means the misprint in 24a must be A for U, with “us briefly” ⇒ S. In 25d it must be D for N, turning “idly” to “inly”. and in 22a it must be N for R, turning “nicked” to “ricked”. The very last misprint must be T for H in 35a and sure enough “One who’s left, for example, a toy on granny’s demise” ⇒ LEGATARY, a rather nice &lit.

There are two more enciphered entries, one of which I can do.

34a entry T_ _ _ was enciphered with AOIN, so answer is S_ _ _ and courtesy of Wikipedia’s List of British Field Marshals, that’s SLIM → TARA.

The last four latent letters are now easy to find:

36a CONIROSTRAL with latent N.
19d TRAMMELLER with latent L.
26a APOTHEM with latent O. Excellent &lit: “What joins centre of hexagon to point at edge (not within)”.
18d TAMPONADE with latent D.

And the final enciphered entry is _GLI which must be UGLI, and it was enciphered with SHRD, so the answer is BYTE. I see: Seven Pillars of Wisdom was BY T. E. [Lawrence].

This took me a long time, more than five hours (including writing this blog), but I made steady (if slow) progress and never felt as though I wasn’t going to finish.

The construction forced particular clues to have particular misprints, and this led to some awkward placement of misprints (as in 25d, where the word “inly” is superfluous to the clue, and only present to be misprinted) and some ambiguity (in 22a, where there looked like several ways that “nicked” could be a misprint of an anagram indicator, and in 24a, where there were three ways for “as briefly” to be a misprint of something clueing the letter S).

Finally, the title. Is this a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “Printer’s Devil” which featured an infernal Linotype machine and its satanic operator?

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Quartet by MynoT,

Posted by shirleycurran on 5 March 2010

Quartet by MynoT

TS Eliot? Vivaldi? The ‘Easy clues coffee break’ team is learning to give a thought to the title – and we were within a stone’s throw, but we were several hours of cold-solving further on before we realized it. We’re improving at the cold-solving as we learn that N can be a Knight, R is sometimes ‘take’ and so on. Still, it seems to me that it would be extremely difficult to solve the first quadrant of this demonish crossword without having a complete set of clues solved (or eight or nine, at least).

We were faced with the same two problems as everybody else. Do the sets fit into quadrants in some coherent order or has MynoT juggled them just to make our task even more difficult? Second problem: with nowhere to start, how do we have an inkling which letter to move to the periphery? A quick calculation produced the daunting figure of several thousand possible combinations in a single quadrant.

The obvious ploy was to colour-code the solutions for word length and to attempt to intersect the three longer ones in our almost complete set (Set 4). We tried it to no avail in the SE quadrant, then, with astonishment, found that a fit was possible in the SW, that gave us ‘ALL TH-NGS AR ‘ Adding the likely I of THINGS produced that astonishing IWNTER, and, assuming that we were seeing a word that was treated thematically (with the I extracted), we had a SEASON.

Were we back with Vivaldi? Or ‘A Man for All Seasons’? Or a biblical quotation? Or could it be Durrell (Nunc, Tunc, Bunk and Funk or whatever they are called). We regard ourselves as learners (not cheats) when we consult the Internet, but Google threw up a vomit-worthy mass of trite interpretations of biblical texts – and got us nowhere. At this stage, the ODQ wasn’t any help either. A Keats reference to four seasons was a typical Zebra team red-herring.

We struggled desperately at this stage, since it was difficult to go further without another complete or almost complete set of solutions and we had two or three missing in every group. Set 1 seemed a likely fit in the SE quadrant, but we couldn’t solve ‘One that’s after line dancing’. That deceptive word ‘dancing’ had us looking for an anagram of LINEI and we weren’t aware of that unusual spelling of CEILI or that CEIL means ‘to line’ – a pretty mean clue, I think. SALPAE, too was not thrown up by any of the sites I consulted in my attempts to learn about ‘sea squirts’. I know far too much about them now!

As soon as we had ‘THEIR COURSE AND ALL THINGS ARE’ the rest of the Confucian wisdom was evident and it was obvious that we had to omit the word SEASONS from the complete quotation, as those thematic elements were appearing in our quadrants. Now I realize that the sets were in their normal order: spring, summer, autumn, winter – so MynoT was not being deliberately curmudgeonly after all!

It was a lovely downhill homeward ride from there on. What a pleasure to juggle with the remaining words, and the missing ones appeared as I worked. But how easy it is to be led off track! I had spotted a wonderful solution to, ‘In a high degree employed wet’ – MADID. Of course, it wouldn’t fit, but for a long time, it led me to reject ASCUS for ‘Cell’s self-contained down under’ since I already had my quota of five-letter words. It was only when the grid produced SOUSED for ‘In a high degree employed wet’ that ASCUS completed my grid.

Lovely, MynoT but far too difficult for us, and do we highlight just the four seasons with their peripheral letters or the whole quotation and those seasons? After all, the whole thing is produced by those seasons running their course. I’m rather sad that there are no cherry trees to chop or wrens to send winging over the waves but dazzled by this superb construction.

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Listener 4073: Quartet by MynoT

Posted by Gareth Rees on 5 March 2010

No clue numbers! Answers to be fitted in jigsaw-wise! This crossword was divided into four quadrants, each of ten entries, and there were four sets of ten clues, one for each quadrant, each given in “alphabetical order of its answers”. One letter of each answer was to be moved to the perimeter “disclosing a relevant quotation (minus one word)”. But on the plus side, every letter was checked.

I got stuck into set 1, which had a shoal of fishy words: a GED eating an ASP to make GASPED; scombroid SEIRS; tunicate SALPAE; and a hydroid SEA FIR to which an E could be appended to form SEA-FIRE. The four six-letter words from this set—GASPED, SALPAE, GNEISS and PER PRO (clued with the smoothly misleading “A professional by agency of another”)—were already enough to work out which of the four quadrants this set belonged to, and how to fit in the words.

This gave me enough crossing letters to get the remaining words in this quadrant, revealing the letters …IRCOU_SEAND… going clockwise around the perimeter. These suggested the words THEIR COURSE AND, and going to Google I found a quotation from the ancient Chinese book of divination, the I Ching:

Sun and moon revolve on their course and cold and hot seasons take their turn.

If this were right, the theme was the four seasons, which would fit the title, but unfortunately at 63 letters the quotation was too long, no matter which word was dropped. So I moved on to set 2.

“American playwright to serve superior loud soldier” seemed likely to be the name of a playwright containing “superior” ⇒ U followed by “loud” ⇒ F. That’s a rare digraph, and a trawl through Wikipedia’s Category:American dramatists and playwrights found George S. KAUFMAN (“serve” ⇒ KA, “soldier” ⇒ MAN). Together with “Knight runs playing hard balls” ⇒ KNURS, it looked as though set 2 went in the top right, and after a couple more clues I had much of that quadrant filled in.

For some reason I assumed that the U would be moved from KNURS to the margin, even though at that stage it could, for all I knew, have been the N. But it was a fortuitous mistake, because it suggested the quotation might go RUN THEIR COURSE AND.

Searching for that phrase found a quotation from Wing-tsit Chan’s translation of the Analects of Confucius:

Confucius said, “I do not wish to say anything.” Tzu-kung said, “If you do not say anything, what can we little disciples ever learn to pass on to others?” Confucius said, “Does Heaven say anything? The four seasons run their course and all things are produced. Does Heaven say anything?”

The emphasized phrase has 51 letters, and with SEASONS removed per the rubric, that left 44, a perfect fit. And with the corners filled in, I spotted SPRING along the diagonal of quadrant 1 (with the R moved to the corner) and SUMMER similarly along the diagonal of quadrant 2. So I could fill in WINTER in quadrant 4 and most of AUTUMN in quadrant 3 (it wasn’t yet clear which of the ‘U’s was moved).

It had been quite a struggle getting this far, but the rest of the crossword was a romp, with some great moments of deducing implausible words and looking them up to find they are for real: “I wonder if ROY is Australian for ‘dandy’?”—“I bet TANGUN is a type of pony!” This is the essence of advanced cryptics for me.

The final stings in the tail were a couple of words missing from Chambers 2003, but which I eventually found in the OED: MITUMBA (“In eastern central Africa: second-hand clothing”) and NGOMA (“In eastern and southern Africa: any of various kinds of drum”). The rubric noted that “one answer in set 2 is in Collins” so I guess the other must be in Chambers 2008.

I can imagine some purists objecting to “Cell’s self-contained down under?” ⇒ ASCUS (since there’s a double indirection in the wordplay: “down under” ⇒ “in Australia” ⇒ in AUS) but I thought it was amusing.

Given the convenience for the setter that the four seasons all have six letters, I was surprised to see that this is only the second time the theme has been used. The previous occasion was number 2446, A Happy New Year by Duck.

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The Isolated Word – a setter’s blog

Posted by tenfour2 on 3 March 2010

The Isolated Word is the third puzzle I’ve had published in the Listener. I’ve had about half a dozen published in the Magpie as well. For each of those puzzles I’ve started setting about ten others (often abandoned at a very early stage when my incredibly brilliant idea just wouldn’t work because there simply aren’t enough 7 letter words ending VZJ) . And for each puzzle I’ve ever started there have been at least ten ideas that have occurred to me for a crossword, some good, some incredibly bad. So it’s true to say that I’ve had a lot of ideas for crosswords in my time, which is my excuse (pathetic as it is) for not being able to remember precisely how it was I got the idea for this one.

I’ve always had a soft spot for acrostics ever since I read Contracrostipunctus in Hofstadter’s Godel, Escher, Bach as a teenager. I think the idea of having an acrostic in the clues convey some information necessary to finish off the puzzle was the starting point, but I knew that there would have to be some way of indicating that an acrostic was key to solving the puzzle – the guidelines for setters specifically state “Puzzles should not rely upon solvers making unsignalled observations such as noting informative acrostics in clues.” I think (but it’s little more than an educated guess) that from there I had the idea of using 8 clues to indicate one of the letters of ACROSTIC, and from there the idea of having the clue numbers tie in to the final grid. I remember coming up with ARISTOCRATS as being the key word from a very early stage (although it’s not the longest word you can make using only those seven letters; ARISTOCRATIC and STRATOCRATIC are longer. I also toyed with COAST-TO-COAST as having some lovely possibilities, but of course that lacks Is and Rs). The joy of ARISTOCRATS was the lovely word NOBS – I had already decided there had better be some confirmation of the theme word in the grid, and the temptation to leave the solver with N?BS at the end with its five different possibilities was too great to resist.

My first idea for the position of ARISTOCRATS was to break the symmetry of the grid slightly and have the isolated word at the bottom, in order not to have a “crossword of two halves” as the final grid was so close to being. In the end I decided to keep the traditional symmetry and take the slight hit on grid connectivity. And so the grid that would eventually be used was drawn up. Incredible as it may seem, it was only at this point that I realised there was going to be a problem with my idea of using the clue numbers – the repeated C in ACROSTIC. Luckily the solution was obvious – have both the across and down clue concerned carry an extra C. Since a grid with 25 Cs would be a bit tricky to engineer, I went for one containing 13 – how hard could that be to manufacture?

Turns out that it’s a lot harder than you think! Like trying to fit an ill-fitting carpet, I could get the letter count right for the Cs but be stuck with a repeated count for some other letter, or I could get the rest of the counts distinct and be way off my target for the Cs.  C isn’t an easy letter to tweak in an unch or two either, as it’s far from the commonest letter in English. After many (too many!) abortive attempts, a rethink was in order, and instead I went for a C-less fill in the grid, leaving only one C in total. Much easier! After a couple of tweaks to get distinct letter counts, I had my first grid done:

The Isolated Word - first grid fill

There are many setters who will tell you that writing the clues is their favourite part of the whole process, which is only sensible. I am not one of these setters. Quite often I get the grid filled and then just leave it there for weeks at a time. This time however, I was keen to crack on with them as there was an extra challenge – namely having each clue start with a certain letter.

It was easier than I thought it was going to be. I knew that the X for 11 across was always going to be a stinker, and I’m quite pleased with the solution I came up with. But the fact that RENAL was an anagram of 12 across (LEARN) and required a clue beginning with T was a pure fluke, as was the fact UTOPIA’s clue had to start with a U which allowed me to construct (though I say so myself) a quite neat &lit (thank you, Thomas More for deciding to make Utopia an island).

When it was finished, I duly sent it to my test solvers. I am extremely lucky in having two of the best solvers in Listener-dom for my test solvers, and their feedback has made each and every one of my puzzles far superior to the mess I send them. They are also invaluable when situations arise like needing a copy of the original grid for a blog!

That stage duly completed, I sent it to the Listener editors, and crossed my fingers.

The answer I got back was a “Yes, but…”. Nice idea, definitely got potential, but we really don’t like that ugly abbreviation (GDNS) in the top corner. The editors had even sent me a modified grid with about half a dozen entries changed to prove that it could be done. There was a certain amount of wry satisfaction gained from observing they had slipped up slightly – two of the key letter counts were exactly the same.

So farewell GDNS and hello (or g’day) to G’DAY. NERO has to go because I need to tweak the O count, so NERD will have his day instead. The changes to the grid had implications beyond those entries that were changed – the letter counts were also different, which meant that in some case special clues had to be made normal, and normal clues had to be made special.  I was pleased that I could keep STAR(R)ED, but sorry to have to change the T count from 15 to 14, as this meant the natural reading clue “Major bone left in fish” had to become the slightly clunkier “Major bone left in headless fish”. Ho hum. Where I was more fortunate is that most of the other clues that the editors didn’t feel were up to standard were for that NE corner, so I would have had to rewrite them anyway.

With those changes made, the puzzle was, of course, accepted. All that was left to do was wait to see when it would be published. Apparently it was originally intended to be earlier in 2010 than it ended up being, but once Jago’s Boxing Day puzzle came out with its acrostic, it was decided to leave a longer gap. This suited me fine, as both of my other puzzles were published in January, so it was nice to have a different month!

I was concerned that too many solvers would spot the acrostic before solving many (or any!) clues, but I needn’t have worried. From the feedback I’ve seen, not many did, and a satisfactory number reported kicking themselves when they finally did see it.

I also expected a few people to fall into the semi-deliberate trap of putting LASS for LAGS. Not many, because the letter count should put errant solvers straight (ditto for anyone who put TEASEL instead of TEAZEL). As it was, there were far more lasses (and teasels) than “a few”. There were also about twenty wrong guesses for the isolated word, ranging from the reasonably sensible to the downright bizarre.

The other thing that became obvious from the feedback was that a lot of people had found the puzzle quite easy (although not everyone had a problem with that by any means!). I knew it was fairly straightforward, but I don’t mind being thought of as an easy setter. In fact, I take a bit of pride in it – almost anyone could write a puzzle that would defeat everyone. I like to think it takes a bit of skill to make a puzzle that is tractable but still enjoyable. I hope that this puzzle fitted that bill.

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