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Archive for October, 2010

Out to Work by Charybdis

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 October 2010

Sheer magic – that was the verdict of the numpties on Charybdis’ Out to Work. As the grid rolled off the printer, some of the generous clues were evident: BASRA – a city of unsettled Arabs?; Kin(e) taking part in somBRE THRENody; vulgarity is an attribute of old maid going topless (p)RUDERY; Ne’er-do-well’s phone in say with wife and girlfriend – SCALLYWAG.

There were some fine images there, that half-naked old maid, and the double-dealing ne’er-do-well, in fact that is what made this crossword such a winner – the fine surface-reading of the clues, in addition to that enchanting little fellow who leapt out of the box at the end.

We already had an extra A and an E from the above clues and solving went on steadily from there with a few hitches. Fairly soon, it was clear that we were finding ‘OPEN THE BOX’ in the across clues, and MASTER OF NONE in the downs, yet 18ac seemed to give us an extra D (Maybe a little (D)one when effects seen by cardinal). We interpreted this as KIT by TEN but is a kitten a little DOE (to yield the N)?

A young animal caused us some head-scratching in another clue, ‘Immature ra(n)t, with more than half unhappy to get palm fruit. The solution was clearly PUPUNHA, and resorting to Chambers, of course, taught us that a PUP can also be a young rat.

The usual Listener compiler tipple was there; ‘Glass of beer one imbibed as tipple’, except that Charybdis seemed to be into PAINT as his tipple! However, with great excitement, I seemed to see a rudimentary bottle shape emerging in the clashes when we reflected them on the other side of the axis of SCALLYWAG. But it was not to be.  Soon we had six of the clashes and the southwest corner to complete, and a primitive little man was emerging.

We had been having trouble with some of those southwest clues, but, by (as usual) working backwards, we were able to give our little Jack his final leg and solve ?LEA? ‘(B)one no longer to be relied on – it’s part of gut (5)’, as ILEAL and work out, ‘Shooting up? That’s dreary after uni(O)n’s split (7)’. What a subtle clue! We had to use the O as part of BOX, then remove the UNIN from ‘uninspiring’, to leave SPIRING! No wonder we struggled with that one.  That gave us our final word, QUIPPISH, for ‘Query i(F) caught in pretentious wisecracking. (I have a problem with that one. ‘Quippism’ is not in Chambers, but it seems to me that it would better fit with the noun of the definition!)

We were ready to confirm that the figure was indeed Jack – a bit of number work. (T/P = J, T/A = U, I/D = M, A/O = P, O/R = I, S/U = N, S/N = G, – so we have JUMPING, followed by A/I = J, L/O = A, I/T = C, R/S = K, JACK of course!)

Since we had to OPEN THE BOX, we must assume that he was going to jump out and leave us, we were told, with real words – and there they were! Now, as we highlighted TAR, STEEPLE, QUARTER, and LUMBER (the ‘Jack of all trades: master of none’), and found our alternative definition for the little man, SPRING-HEELED (Chambers; ‘having springs on one’s heels, as in SPRING-HEELED JACK supposed to do great leaps and play pranks or commit robberies’) we were delighted to find that we were left with real words: UMBER; EARFUL; RECALS; URUS; OE; EASE; ABC; GULES; PALMS; LEA and ADS.

There was a fine red herring in the JACK PLUG that would have added a lovely symmetrical entry to the grid and JACK (the) LAD crept in at 20dn. I wonder whether Charybdis had originally considered those before opting for four Jack words that were all ‘new’ (and probably dismissing the LAD as a two-word Jack who would need extra cumbersome preamble words).

How sad, though to have to send Mr Green a rather amorphous grid. I got my pencils out and let the little Jack jump right back in.

‘Out of Work’ was a work of genius! That’s the numpty verdict. We loved this. Thank you Charybdis.

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Derek Arthur/Viking

Posted by clanca1234 on 9 October 2010

I was very upset today to hear the terribly sad news that Derek Arthur has passed away. Derek set not-too-tricky but fun puzzles under the pseudonym Viking, but will be better known to all Listener setters of the past decade as the second Listener vetter. I can only speak for myself, but he was immensely helpful to me as a new setter when I first started out, and was unfailingly cheerful and encouraging in every word that he said or wrote. I only met him in person a few times, always at Listener Dinners, and found him to be as nice a man in the flesh as he was when hammering my puzzles into something publishable.

Many thanks to Derek for all that he did, and my sincere condolences to his family. He is a great loss to the ‘crossworld’.

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Merchandise, by Adam, Whoopee! Jumbles!

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 October 2010



Numerical puzzles still top my list of pet Listener hates but jumbles follow very close behind. The problem is that one has to do so much cold-solving before the jumbled words fit into place. A friend asked me how we go about these and I explained how we squeeze all the letters of the jumbled word into each of its lights using a very sharp pencil, then using an equally sharp eraser, remove them, one by one, as they are allocated their correct place. He hooted with laughter; “You are not saying that you fit all of UROKINASE into one tiny light then delete bits!” His solution is to have the jumbled words on little pieces of paper and delete the letters when they are used. 

Whichever the method, this proved to be relatively straightforward this week and not only did we shortly have an almost complete grid. We also had a fair inkling that the quotation of 11 words was going to be spread through the entire grid. Why? Well, there were some fairly unusual words used to complete this grid. I agree, there usually are in Listener crosswords, including the usual alcoholic touches (but the dipsomania was all mine this week – no imbibing in this one!) When you see HITACHI, CAMSHO, CHENET and CLUPEA rubbing shoulders, something is probably going on in that area of the crossword. 

That corner, with its obscure words (well, they were to me) was the last one we solved and we patted ourselves on the back and slept on it, deciding that finding the quotation ’embedded in a regular way’ could be done over Saturday breakfast. Hah! 

Fortunately it was raining on Saturday so we had plenty of time to gaze hopelessly at this grid. I wonder how many other people spotted all the hidden red herrings: DEARIE in a diagonal led me to suspect that we were dealing with Alice in Wonderland; we found elements of  SALT, POTATOES, APPLE PIES and ‘PLEASE MIND IT’ and ‘EAT US’ before resorting to using MERCHANDISE as a cipher.  We tried the diagonals and considered chopping up the grid and glueing it together, or converting it to a cylinder. There was a lot of head-scratching before we applied some logic on Sunday morning. 

With an 11-word message hidden in 143 letters, there had to be a useful letter roughly one in three times. That is basing our calculation on the assumption that this utterance was by Mr Joe Six Pack whose average word-length in everyday parlance is 4 letters. Had this been German Chancellor speak, we would have had to use a higher figure. We had already attempted to find a phrase by examining every 2nd, 3rd, 4th letter in the rows. Why do we focus on the rows? As soon as I used the figure three and read the columns, there it was: “HE SAID I LOOK FOR BUTTERFLIES THAT SLEEP AMONG THE WHEAT” Alice Through the Looking Glass is one of my favourite books and soon confirmed that these poor butterflies were converted into MUTTON-PIES. That seems just as evil as all that wren battering we did last Christmas! Now we understood why that word DIPTERIST figured so prominently down the centre of the grid.

My only feeling at this point was a  numpty grumble. I wish the requirement had been actually hidden in the crossword rather than in the preamble – that ’embedded in a regular way’ left a wide open field and turned a fine, relatively easy grid fill into a marathon searching task: solving was one task and the word-search the second.

While I was thankfully highlighting all the relevant lights in pink, Mr Math had resorted to the computer and was writing a simple programme in THIN BASIC, into which he fed the requirement for  phrases that were produced by every second, third, fourth or fifth letter and so-on, and, of course, came up with the same phrase. Shortly afterwards a friend suggested another site that helps with this sort of thing:

I followed Hugh Stephenson’s very open-minded articles on ‘cheating’ and wonder what he would have to say about using this kind of tool to find a short cut to a solution. To my mind the situation is rather like Munro climbing. I feel that I have ‘bagged a Munro’ if I have walked to its summit from the nearest public transport access point. If someone decides to put a cable car to within half a mile of the summit, sobeit. I’ll use it rather than slog fifteen miles to the Fannichs through acres of midge-ridden bog. 

As usual, the numpties were challenged but our conclusion was that this was a very elegant and memorable crossword. Many thanks to Adam. 



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Listener 4104: Adam’s Merchandise (or An Exercise in Self-Harm!)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 October 2010

It seems that Adam goes back a long way … and I’m not referring to the fictional Adam who was fictionally dating a fictional Eve! The Adam of this week’s puzzle set his first Listener back in 1955. Yes, 1955, when I was only … well, when I was only very young. Incredible. And according to the A-Z of Crosswords, he was born in 1925.

So, here we have a fairly wide-open 11×13 grid with only 12 unchecked squares. Down answers are entered normally, but acrosses must be jumbled, so it makes sense to start on the down clues first. With 2 YIELDS, 5 STANE, 6 INHALANT (courtesy Bradford’s) and 8 HITACHI, I’m off to a flying start in the top half of the grid. 20 SURGEFUL (Chambers confirms that it really is a word), 22 RINGLET, 24 SEMIPED and 27 QUISTS give me a smattering of entries in the bottom of the grid as well. Since I’m not an expert on enzymes, I look it up in Bradford’s to find UROKINASE with OK and As (weight) at two points in URINE (water), and I’ve got my first across answer.

I proceed on a pleasant stroll through the puzzle, which is enjoyable and not too difficult. Not too difficult that is, apart from a couple of clues that have me scratching my head. First LYCOSA at 1ac which is a genus of spiders, so no doubt it is the correct answer, having AYOCS. already; and I can see that only without on (leg) gives the LY, but can I see ‘COS (for = because) + A. Well I do eventually and kick myself for being so slow. And then WELSH AUNT at 37ac, which I’ve not heard of before, and is WELT (dry) around SHAUN (boy). At various times I thought I saw the letters of AUNT or UNCLE trying to get out, but it is Bradford’s that again comes to the rescue with entries under dry. And then there’s 31ac FUSING (Attaching out-of-date study makes this union baffling), where I mistakenly think the definition is attaching, rather than this union which, with con added, gives confusing. Another self-kicking moment.

Listener 4104 Just THE

So here I am with the grid nicely completed. And all I have to do is to find the quotation embedded in a regular way in the grid. And, yes, you’ve guessed it, I make a right pig’s ear of it!! It is obvious that the jumbling of across entries is necessitated because it would be difficult to hide an 11-word quotation regularly among normal answers. So I try a few combinations. Alternate letters give AOSIAC, YCLCH, AHMDSE; every third letter gives ACIHI, YSCCP, OLASO; and then there’s the knightmare of knight’s moves: APSNA, SOTIC, etc. I even try AHMDS and SAEUN in the down entries for a bit of variety. Well, nothing seems to work, and of course you can see which pattern I smartly avoid trying!!

After dipping into the puzzle from time to time over the next day or so, invariably trying out the same letter patterns, I decide on a different approach that would hopefully weed out the solution. What are the most common words in the English language? I’m guessing A, AND and THE. A wouldn’t help at all with what I plan, but THE is a suitable candidate, so I prepare a grid containing only those letters. You’ll find it on the right. There in the penultimate row is T.H.E. But I’ve already tried that pattern … about a dozen times, I think. Hold on though, it’s there in the penultimate column as well, this time as T..H..E. Working back to column 1, and I can’t believe I missed it during all the early fannying around. Every third letter gives “He said, I look for butterflies that sleep among the wheat” from Through the Looking-Glass. It is followed by “I make them into mutton-pies, and sell them in the street”. That’s every third letter in the normally-entered down answers! Unbelievable!!

As I enter MUTTON-PIES below the grid, I’m pleased that a bit of logic saved the day, but also find that kicking myself again and again can be quite painful.

Excellent puzzle, Adam.

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Listener 4103: Annual Turnover by Ragtag (or What the *******!)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 1 October 2010

I was just about to write “A first-timer this week …”, but a quick check at The Listener Crossword site reveals it to be his/her second. The first was back in 1987! So welcome back Ragtag.

The preamble begins “Solvers are advised to use a pencil …”. Now I’d like to know if there’s anybody out there who starts off by using a pin pen. If so, I’d like to meet you … armed with your trusty bottle of Tipp-Ex!

Anyway, back to the pencil in hand, and I’m off to a good start with 1ac DEPOSE, 5ac STARTLE, 16ac RETALIATE and 20ac SHED, all of which I assiduously enter in pencil. I solve three more acrosses in the first pass, including an extra E in the wordplay at 49. The down clues turn out to be quite kind as well, starting with 3 PIN-UP, 6 TEA SHOP and 10 EGESTA, the last giving the first letter clash with SHED. However, 17dn IDLE also clashes at SHED. Could it be that SHED is entered in reverse rather than contributing to one of the seven clashes?

Revisiting 8dn and 9dn, I get TWAE and LATHERED, which means that ADAGE is probably entered in reverse as well and, I’m guessing, the down entries are to be entered normally. Next comes 30dn HERSELF, 45ac TIERS (reversed), and 48ac LEVEAN (also reversed). It seems that every alternate row is reversed and it then dawns on me … BOUSTROPHEDON. If only all Listeners could reveal themselves with such quick manifestations, except that would take a lot of the fun out of them I suppose. Not that I’m being critical of Ragtime here; it’s nice to have a relatively easy week every now and then. Not that I’ve finished this one yet. It may have a trap in its final stages.

Listener 4103 Solution Corrected

Listener 4103 Solution ... Corrected!

The puzzle is nearly solved, and I have CHALESSWAIN as the extra wordplay letters, so there’s another one lurking. I try CHAPLESS WAIN, which sounds as though it could have something to do with our agricultural theme! Perhaps CHARLES SWAIN was the inventor of the combine harvester! I google him, only to be told that CHARLES’S WAIN is another name for the plough in some parts of England. It takes only a couple of minutes to track down the missing R at 24ac which I had sloppily solved as ELAPSE without the final E, instead of RELAPSE without the final E and an extra R.

Lastly, the letters in the seven clashing squares must be replaced by an appropriate symbol. It is fairly obvious that they are in the shape of Ursa Major, so my initial thought is that a star is required. However, the paranoid part of my brain wonders if there is something more symbolic of the plough, but nothing seems obvious. I know that on star charts in The Times monthly Night Sky article, the stars are represented by white circles of differing sizes (depending on their magnitude). Perhaps ●s would be better, or even ⊗s. In the end I decide to stick with ∗s. I hope I’m right, but would the others be accepted?

All in all a very enjoyable puzzle from Ragtag with some good clues and a nice implementation of the ‘plough’ theme (to which the title alludes). The Boustrophedon entry method has been used before:

  • Listener 4021, Mazy by Salamanca (although the entry method was given in the preamble)
  • EV675, The Middle Row by Piccadilly in 2005, and before that
  • EV580, Etymology in Chambers by Auctor in 2003

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