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Archive for February, 2011

Listener 4122: Heart by Phi

Posted by erwinch on 18 February 2011

Sixteen years ago, Treasure Hunt II, marked an all-time low in my solving career.  This was a carte blanche Listener by Hellphire, Phi’s partnership with Hellebore, and I could not manage a single confirmed grid entry:
I must try it again to see if I can do any better now.  I would approach it by solving as many clues as possible and trying to fit the answers together on a blank piece of paper.  This is how I tackled Heart and eventually my initial attempt at the grid emerged as follows:
There was something odd here but it was clear that I had got my right and left-hand sides the wrong way round.  Word B (tectonics) was in plain view confirming my suspicions that word A was plate.  I had earlier found 13 synonyms of word A as extra words in clues – denture, engraving, silver, etc.  The first clue gave no trouble: Meadow’s lower ends filled with black vegetable (two words).  Meadow immediately suggested leaf as one of the two words and it was soon found in Collins:  leaf beet – LEA + B in FEET.  It is another name for chard, where it is only to be found in Chambers, and is also known as Swiss chard to continue a recent motif.  My final clue solved was 28 Man’s [cup] about to appear with drink Alec – ALE + C  I had thought that aled (full of ale?) might equal to appear with drink to give Aled but it is not in Chambers nor the OED.  The expression aled up is an entry in Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang.
One of the enduring pleasures of the Listener is to reread an impenetrable preamble in the light of the solution to see just how much more or less we were told than we first thought.  Here for example, we were told that the answers would not fit the 15-column solution grid unless certain cells contained two letters.  Naturally we assumed that they would fit the 9 rows available.  However, the most telling part of the preamble was the final sentence:
The Chambers Dictionary (2008) is the primary reference; the answer to the first clue is not at its natural location and Collins English Dictionary may prove more helpful.
I would imagine that we all, at least subconsciously, read that semicolon as but.  In fact it was telling us that the answer to the first clue (leaf beet) was not to be found at its natural position in the grid, ie the NW corner.  Placing leaf beet in the NE and using 10 rows gave us the required initial grid with 180° symmetry:
The final step was obvious and the new pairings of letters – TL, EV, CR, etc – provided the new thematic material – faultline.  Finding the further two-word thematic phrase was not nearly so obvious and it took me the best part of a day, on and off, to eventually winkle out Mercalli scale – never heard of it!
So, Phi had spotted an aberration in Chambers (leaf beet) and with astonishing sleight of hand managed to incorporate it into the puzzle.  It is a pity that leaf beet was not thematic, it does not have heart-shaped leaves for example nor grow especially well on faultlines although it does form part of one in the grid.  Like most vegetables, it is no doubt good for the heart to eat the stuff and heartbeat is a good pun but there is nothing really thematic.  Had there been a strong link with say earthquakes then I think that this would rank with Sabre’s coup in finding a fact used in his puzzle Cards (Nov 2003).   I am repeating myself in saying that he revealed that it takes 52 letters to spell out Ace, Two, Three … Jack, Queen, King.  Nevertheless, I thought this a most accomplished construction.  Did not Phi tell us that he lost his position as a setter for The Times because his puzzles were considered too boring?   When we find a delightful Listener of this quality then that notion appears totally absurd.

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Listener 4122: Phi’s Heart (or Shifting the Goalposts!)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 18 February 2011

One of our more prolific setters this week, Phi, and for those of you who remember his puzzle from November 2009 (4061, 50-50), a time to get rid of any distractions and knuckle down. So send the family off to the cinema for the latest 3-D cartoon and brew some coffee. I used to think of Phi as one of our more gentle setters, but not any more. 50-50 was a really tough puzzle; would this follow in its footsteps?

Well, it seemed that it would! It was just a single list of clues, luckily given in the normal order, but no division between across and down, and no indication of the lengths of either answers or entries! What’s more, the grid that we had been supplied with was probably not big enough to hold the crossword that we had to solve, and some squares were required to hold two letters! My first task then was to print myself a slightly bigger grid, so 15×9 became 19×11, and the solving process began. A thematic phrase (A B) had to be discovered, part of which was synonymous with extra words in some of the clues. There was additional thematic material to be found, but that would come later; for now I just concentrated on the clues, bearing in mind the extra words.

I was quite pleased with how well I started, despite being annoyed that 1ac wasn’t “at its natural location” in Chambers, and it was a two word answer so presumably stretched across most of the grid. I wondered whether this entry was chosen mischievously because it couldn’t be verified very easily. (I soon discovered that it wouldn’t be solved very easily either.) Anyway, 2 was KAABA (with extra word timber) and 4 was ORMOLU (with extra word mould). Moreover, the extra word in 6 would seem to be cleansing or denture, but what word could be synonomous with either of them and timber and mould? I’ve read comments before where people have stated that one look at the title of the puzzle has suggested the theme, and this week it was my turn to think I’d got it only about twenty minutes into the puzzle. Musing more on the dentures strongly suggested teeth or plate, and suddenly plate led me to think of plate tectonics or, since plate was word A, TECTONIC PLATES (both are in Chambers). Talk about feeling smug! Little did I know that this wouldn’t really help me much until most of the grid was finished.

Obviously there was a lot of cold solving, and I didn’t even attempt to construct a grid until I had about a third of the answers. I stuck KAABA in the top line starting in column 12 (seemed enough right). And gradually sketched out the beginnings of Grid 1. Surprisingly, although the grid was turning out to be a fair way wide of the grid that was required, it did help to fill in some of my missing answers. This led me to think of new rule for my Listener Crossword Help Manual (renamed recently from Top Tips for the Listener (especially if you’re stuck)): It’s never to early to start filling in a grid, even if there may not be a grid to fill in!

Quite early on in my solving I could see TECT in the top left and ONICS in the bottom right. I even spotted MERCAL which would presumably resolve into MERCALLI, whose SCALE of earthquakes is more widely used now than poor old Richter’s. It was when I finally got EAT IN that I felt I was nearing the end of lap 1 (probably two more to go). I had got the general gist of the clue, Perhaps avoid café chairs — not special, and no good [tableware], referring to not eating in a cafe, but SEATING – S (special) – G (good) still took some doing. And of course, that led to LEAF BEET which I found using my newly purchased Chambers Dictionary and Thesaurus on CD which I expect only to use in this sort of situation. It revealed that chard was the place to look.

And what I ghastly grid I ended up with. Time for a redraw, so I shunted LEAF BEET across into column 1, followed closely by KAABA. Well, POTVALOROUS didn’t fit, did it? I carried on regardless, putting the POT in the first row and VALOROUS in the second. It would be interesting to see how this went. Well phase II went like grid 2 on the right, with gobbledy-gook in the first column, but our lovely TECTONICS in the last. But this was 16 columns wide, so another redraft into a 15×10 grid gave me something that was getting closer to what Phi wanted.

Then it was just a case of finding how the original 15×9 grid could constrain the puzzle, and shunting the left-hand side up one square to give new letter pairs which needed to be added together to give: FAULT LINE. A simple sentence that actually took a few minutes to suss. And the icing on the cake was provided by good old MERCALLI and his SCALE in row 4.

An unbelievably superb piece of construction from Phi, taking a nice theme and creating lots of tortuous twists and turns to enable us to get from an empty carte blanche grid to the final submission. I naturally didn’t bother filling in any of the grid lines or clue numbers, since we weren’t required to; my thought would be: if they were wrong how would the puzzle be marked? Best not to find out the hard way! The only thing that would top this puzzle off would be a setter’s blog!

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Listener 4121: Navajo’s To … (or What Colour This Week?)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 February 2011

“We asked 100 solvers whether they thought last week’s endgame from MynoT was fair or unfair. And our survey said …” Well, who am I to say, especially since it must be so subjective (and I’m not the producer of Family Fortunes or, for those of you Stateside, Family Feud — so much more confrontational!). I suppose that, since I at least got the colouring-in bit right, I would probably err (just) on the side of fair. If I hadn’t seen the Swiss flag, would I feel any less aggrieved if I knew that 116* other solvers had also failed? Absolutely not. So on with Navajo’s puzzle in the hope that it would be somewhat less controversial.

For a start, I believe that Navajo is a new setter, so there is no history to look back on to see whether his/her puzzles are tough or easy or somewhere in between. The preamble got me a bit worried, but then almost every Listener preamble has that effect these days. Four answers can be preceded by the title (and an article) giving them something in common. They then have a connection with a directive in the completed grid. And just to make this a bit tricky from the word go, 1ac (13) isn’t even in Chambers! (Yes, I know, in hindsight that should have been a clue in itself.)

Nothing to do then but crack on, and I was pleasantly surprised when my fisrt pass through the clues produced an avalanche of answers. 10ac ERNES, 14 GALERE, 15 ACHED, 16 HIT FOR SIX, 18 TAPES and 23 TOOTHACHE, and the top half of the grid was almost complete. What’s more, 16ac required that its 9-letter answer had to be crammed into 7 squares, and these discrepancies must be figured out by the solver. No need to guess too much that it must be entered as HIT FOR 6, although the 6 is in an unchecked square. A few more acrosses to finish off, and I got 30 PLANETOID, 38 POSTAL and 42 AUTOS — a bit pathetic for the bottom half really!

With so much of the grid already completed, you’d have thought that pretty much all the downs could be slotted in during my first pass through them. Sadly no, but a fair number: 3 NEAFE (nice clue: Make a fist of instant drink when there is no self-catering), 7 INHERITOR, 10 ECHT, 19 POETASTER, and half a dozen four letter words to boot. Even so, it didn’t take too long to finish the grid: probably 90 minutes.

I have to say that I thought the clues were very good, although obviously a bit on the easy side. The surface readings were excellent as well; as well as Nescafé above, there was 40 Answer her at start in competition; she’ll scream at the end [BANSHEE], almost written for Wife Swap (not that I watch it, oh no).

St Albans from the Air

And so on to finding the directive hidden in order to get it in the post by the end of the day, which happened to be the first Tuesday after publication. As I’ve said before, I tend not to start Listeners over the first weekend, unless it is by a setter who will probably deserve a lot of head-scratching. The list of setters in this category is growing alarmingly quickly! Letting my eyes wander aimlessly over the grid, it was only a few minutes before I saw ST ALBANS in row 10, and with HERTFORDSHIRE in the bottom row, and 63 GREEN LANE in the centre, we have the address that our entries are sent to every week. And a relief to be able to get a green pencil out of the case for highlighting.

So, as hoped, a puzzle very much on the easy side.

Except that I had managed to get away without solving most of the preamble! I had not identified the four clues which had to be preceded by the title; hadn’t identified what gave them something in common; nor found the nominal connection with the directive. The word ‘directive’ itself worried me, after all an address on its own is hardly that, being defined by Chambers as an instruction (or law). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it is imperative in a Listener to fully understand every clue and all aspects of the preamble, otherwise you run the risk of missing an important piece of the jigsaw. So, for me, the hunt was on to do just that.

First of all I had to find the four clues which could be preceded by the title of the puzzle (and an article). The title of the puzzle was “To …”, and looking at the sidebar where the regular weekly instructions on submitting an entry are found it says “Write your name and contact details in the space provided and send to: Listener Crossword …”. Perhaps Listener was hidden in the grid somewhere. ERNES + LIT is LISTENER, LATEENS + IR is A LISTENER, as is AESIR + LENT! Or perhaps the ‘nominal connection’ was John Green, although he is not used in the weekly address details, but so what. So I tried names. You’d think that would be futile, wouldn’t you? Well there was ERNES(T), (JOHN)NIE, (C)HARL(ES), (D)AVID, and even (GE)ORGIA! And my BRIAN was beginning to RUTH!

I even examined the post code, AL3 6HE, and do you know that, if DEIL is changed to DEAL, there were 3 occurrences of AL and six of HE in the grid. But DEIL was definitely right, and those of you out there who can’t believe that I still hadn’t seen the connection, I apologise.

I had been convinced from the very beginning that MOUNTAIN DAISY must be important in this puzzle, and I finally resorted to Google to tell me a bit more about this flower that Chambers refuses to recognise, and ten minutes later I had identified the three poems by Robert Burns**:

● To a LOUSE
● Address to the TOOTHACHE
● Address to the DEIL

I must confess to having heard of the Louse poem, but not the others. And why Burns suddenly got hung up with toothache we’ll probably never know, and why I got hung up on trying to understand the preamble is also a mystery. I’m still slightly unhappy with the use of the word ‘directive’, but no doubt the printed solution will make all clear, it usually does.

For a debut puzzle this was a good effort (sorry to sound like a schoolmaster): a nice theme, very good clues, but how many of you realised that it wasn’t a 100% symmetrical grid?!


* A number plucked from the ether.
** I’m obviously not an expert on Burns (or even Wordsworth), Kathryn!

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To … by Navajo

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 February 2011

We didn’t get Robbie Burns last week and a blue flag to draw – maybe this week? They are opening a new museum in his memory in Ayrshire today. Solving goes full tilt and fairly soon that obvious anagram, ‘Union dismay at’ reorganised plant in upland (13, two words) gives us MOUNTAIN DAISY. We search our almost complete grid and there is a LOUSE lurking down in the south-west corner, ‘The French flower bug’ (5). I like that clue with its combination of the usual ‘The French’, with a difference in that we needed only the L, the usual liquid flower ‘OUSE’ and the surface reading of some sort of bug unique to French flowers.

We keep hunting and, sure enough, DEIL appears, ‘In Glasgow, mischievous imp led one astray’ (4) – Another anagram of LED and I. A quick hunt in the Burns anthology that’s lying on the table (we’re toasting the haggis this week, with its sonsie face!) and TOOTHACHE comes up as our fourth Burns poem. So suspicions are confirmed. Somebody out there is setting these puzzles for us (Scots, living on the outskirts of Geneva, working at CERN and next week’s ……………… 🙂

We have already worked out those anagrams ‘Fix this or spoil surprise’ (9, three words) – HIT FOR 6, and ‘For such suits the English recipe is tailor-made (10) – 3 PIECE SUIT and produced 63. But what has that to do with Robbie Burns? We complete our grid and first of all find 63 SHOPPERS – A GREEN PLANET BANS AUTOS AT ST ALBANS – well, maybe St Albans has some imaginative environmental initiative underway for an elite group of retail therapy buffs. The only thing I know about St Albans is that it is where I mail these ….. Aaah, I supppose a ‘directive’ is an address. That must be why HERTFORDSHIRE is on the bottom line – and those poems were ‘addresses’ – a rather tenuous link. I wonder if there is a more substantial link that I haven’t seen.

Nice one! Not too difficult with lovely clear clues. Many thanks Navajo.

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Listener 4120: Cross-country by Mynot

Posted by erwinch on 4 February 2011

Just a quick one, we do not often get the opportunity to display such a colourful grid:
So, back to Switzerland for a second consecutive week.  Letters removed from each entry had given us the instruction:
Colour appropriately cells containing letters of theme.
There then followed a prolonged search for the theme within the grid.  There were almost some colours visible in connected cells, including diagonals, VIOLE(T) (starting row 2) and (Y)ELLOW (starting row 4) but nothing satisfactory.  The grid looked odd and I did wonder about all the repeated sequences such as RRAN, LL, LI and SSY.  Finally, and rather in desperation, I did a frequency count of the letters in the grid thinking that those of a two-letter abbreviation might occur a total of 21 times.  L at 17 and V at 4 did but neither LV nor VL were abbreviations for two words of 21 letters.  It was only when counting the H’s (4) that I thought that CH might fit the bill and indeed it did – puzzle complete!
Chambers is at odds with the Internet on the spelling.  Googling “Confœderatio Helvetica” beats “Confederatio Helvetica” by some 571,000 hits to 37,300 but looking under confederation in the SOED would seem to support Chambers.  However, I strongly believe that dictionaries should be descriptive rather than prescriptive so which spelling do the Swiss themselves prefer?  Perhaps Shirley can help here.

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