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Archive for Jun, 2011

Listener 4140, Jumping to Conclusion: Setter’s Blog by Sabre

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 Jun 2011

This puzzle elicited strong emotions, and following a little arm twisting, here are some remarks from the setter’s perspective. In context, recent Sabre puzzles (4115 Invisible Ink II; 4082 Pangrams; 4058 Whirly-Birly, etc.) have received numerous comments such as “What has happened to Sabre’s sting?”, “Disappointingly easy for this setter”, “Not the Sabre of yore”. The current puzzle was in some sense a reaction: I wanted to construct a testing puzzle, yet not an unfair puzzle. It is the easiest thing in the world to construct an impossible crossword, but to achieve a high level of difficulty while maintaining fairness is a very delicate balance, which I constantly struggle to get right.

Some agree that 4140 achieved this, and some would disagree. Knight’s moves provide an easy way of achieving the difficulty. I toyed with the idea of a 5 × 5 central square in a 13 × 13 grid in which cell entries had to be “knighted”, making a less fraught endgame. But as a general tenet, I dislike the 13-grid over the 12-grid if the theme doesn’t mandate the larger size. There should be some thematic words appearing from the jumbles, and as 6 × 6 took precedence in my thoughts, I immediately saw what the title of the puzzle should be, with its potential for a mischievous trap (I prefer “mischievous” to “mean”). Thus KNIG· · · · ·ANT was fixed, and the two knights GAWAIN and MODRED duly noted. Construction began with my determination to use both SOUTHERNWOOD (a smooth anagram), and BLOODIED with the misdirection of being able to use BOODIED=moped, which I hoped would raise a smile. (Jim Evans was my first Listener editor, whose comments were always tremendously helpful. One I recall is his criticism that my clues were “sterile and dry – get solvers to smile!”) Several other pre-planned words were worked in, and after more sheets of paper were thrown away than I care to number, the diagram was complete. Clueing was the usual pleasure, and after more revisions and rewrites than I can recall, the puzzle was submitted to the Listener vetters.

You forget about these things until your inbox registers a communication from, and with beating heart you open the e-mail… Rejection! Slowly it sinks in. The puzzle is essentially unsolvable. And of course, the criticisms of the editors are spot on. In this version of the puzzle, the “disaster zones” (vetters’ phrase) of grid bottom and grid right contained unchecked entries (at least, checked only by knight’s move answers); further, the only answers starting within the 6 × 6 square were on the perimeter of the square. With one or two clues unsolved the endgame was truly impossible (the fact that the vetters between them solved the puzzle is mightily impressive in retrospect!).

A correspondence ensued about whether I could save the puzzle, and how to achieve this. The upshot was to try and rework the “disaster zones” so as to make every answer checked in at least two letters; and to add in several more answers that started within the central 6 × 6 square, thereby reducing the multitude of possibilities for the endgame. This turned out not to be so easy: answers were not allowed to start on the diagonal because this would have upset my KNIGHT ERRANT trap; and it was surprisingly difficult to find words of length and quality using knight’s moves when I hadn’t planned for this. To cut a long story short, minor tweaking turned into major surgery, and only about 20% of the original grid survived. I was determined to keep SOUTHERNWOOD and BLOODIED, and also HOSTRY that had fortuitously presented itself during the initial composition. It was important too to include some less common letters: a solver might reasonably assume that two Xs share the same cell, softening the endgame. I tried for Js and Qs but could only manage W,X,Y. MODRED, poor fellow, had to change his direction, but eventually all came together. This time brought good news, and June 4 saw the puzzle’s appearance in the Times.

With hindsight, if I had the opportunity to make any changes, I would change the clue to CAPAS at 5D which caused much confusion with its alternative CAPES. I had simply not noticed this. The clue should have used wordplay for CA-PAS or CAP-AS etc, to eliminate the CAPES answer. I wonder about the clue for DINOTHERE, which many solvers said was the last to be solved, in many cases working backwards from a filled grid. Originally I had the clue as “Fossil elephant – tips of decayed ivory not present”, much easier than “Fossil elephant – tips of decayed ivory missing”. But then those jabs about Sabre’s sting kicked in. My apologies to those who found this a frustrating exercise, particularly to those who gave up; my thanks to those who relished the challenge and were generous with their compliments.

Finally, here is the logical argument submitited with the puzzle that demonstrates uniqueness of the placement of knight’s letters, independent of foreknowledge of GAWAIN and MODRED. After solving all clues (!), the grid is as follows:

We number the cells of the central 6 × 6 square by Cartesian coordinates with bottom left cell as (1, 1). We also think of this cell as black, with squares alternating in colour as on a chessboard. This allows parity considerations: in particular, that the W of SOUTHERNWOOD must fall on a white square. The first E of BORDEREAUX, the X of IXTLE, and the first L of HALLIAN are forced; followed by the R of OBTURATION, the A of RACINOS, and the I of NIRLY. We have the following grid:

If the second R of SURREYND falls in cell (5, 5), then the whole of SURREYND is determined, and there is no white square available for the W of SOUTHERNWOOD, with its corresponding sequence -HERNWO. Thus the second R of SURREYND falls in (1, 5). The Y of SURREYND must fall on a black square. If (5, 5), then -YND cannot be found; if (2, 2), then -YN cannot be found; and (2, 6) is unreachable. Thus the Y of SURREYND falls in (4, 2). Of the six possibilities (using parity) for the W of SOUTHERNWOOD, the following five are immediately ruled out: (2, 5), (4, 5), (6, 1), (6, 5) (for which no -HERNWO possible), and (2, 1) (which fully determines SOUTHERNWOOD, leaving no possibility for the H of SLOETHORN). Thus the W falls in (3, 4), which now determines the H of SLOETHORN. The grid is now:

The A of OBTURATION, the first E and O of REWORDED, are now forced, then the T of PERITRICHA, and second L of MANMILLINER. Finally, the N of HALLIAN and the U of BORDEREAUX complete the square.


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Jumping to Conclusions by Sabre (Almost a ‘fail blog’!)

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 Jun 2011

We enjoyed Sabre’s Pangrams a year or so ago but know of his reputation for setting really difficult puzzles, so it was with some trepidation that we started solving this one. Clues fell into place fairly quickly – around the edge of that 6 X 6 dotted square and we were soon lulled into false security, as a diagonal saying KNIGHT ERRANT seemed to be appearing. I blandly slotted in the other letters and we smiled smugly.

We argued pointlessly about what, exactly, a knight’s move meant. Were the letters going to all be slotted in moving two forward then one to the side or in the other L shape, or was it just the total move that we had to make with our letter landing four squares further on? Of course, the mathematical numpty was right and it was the more difficult option.

We had almost all of the surrounding clues in place (but sadly not ‘In short supply on the fourth of July’ (10). It later turned out to be what seems to me to be a rather obscure &Lit. clue with SHORT* on the fourth letter of JulY = HOSTRY, a Spenserian word for lodging – ouch!)

The Numpty method, a grid with little holes

There were a few more ‘Ouches’ to come with those words in the centre area. Sabre obviously knew what he was doing. Even the title, ‘Jumping to Conclusions‘ didn’t warn me soon enough, not to waste a couple of hours attempting to fit words round KNIGHT ERRANT. We still had no solution for what later turned out to be NIRLY, NUCHAE, MAN-MILLINER, IXTLE and RACINOS, but it seemed that the only way to proceed was to cut little squares in potential knight positions and to use that grid to trace his moves.

I understand that some solvers are able to use a spread sheet to trace such moves but I wish I knew how. Mine was more a trial and error system (and I calculate that I took between 18 and 20 hours on this. Friends think this is an obsession – I sadly concede that they must be right!)

Disaster Number One

I leapt out of bed early on Saturday with the sudden thought that maybe the Knight had to be ‘errant’ too, once he hit the centre square. That provoked another few hours of useless flailing.

A helpful nudge that I should be looking at an anagram in the clue ‘This gets woven into textile’ (5) produced IXTLE, and that X could go in only one slot, which meant my Knight couldn’t go into the centre space at all. I shelved that problem and continued Mark 1 which worked right up to the two last words – SOUTHERNWOOD and REWORDED wouldn’t fit!

Undaunted, I struggled for a few more hours and kept better track of the moves. We had worked out MAN-MILLINER (‘Feather-pate Frenchman, reprehensible one in style’ M + ILL in MANNER) and NUCHAE by now, and thus had a few more pointers.

Double disaster. SURREYN'D won't fit

It seemed the end was in sight and I was happily gloating until the very last word, SURREYND, stolidly refused to make Knight moves. That was it! I decided to abandon the Listener crossword forever and GET A LIFE!

The only friend who had already completed this fearsome crossword advised me to perhaps give it a rest (I think he meant ‘Throw in the towel’)  Talk about a red rag to a bull!

The third and fourth attempts were not so difficult, as those words that wandered around the sides of the dotted square were fixed (JANGLE, GREGOS, DINTED, CHAYA, CAPAS, ONCERS) as were

Success after just 20 hours!

IXTLE and OPTER. Effort No 3 produced the same problem with the Y of SURREYND and it was growing dark by the time that Y had found a place. Inspired by my howls of joy, Numpty No 2 emerged from the kitchen where he had decided to produce a meal since clearly none was appearing.

We double-checked, hardly believing that this had worked! (And with his BORD[er]EAUX Sabre takes his place among the Listener oenophiles! We raise our glass to him!)

BUT WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO THAT KNIGHT ERRANT? Oh Sabre, what astounding double bluff. Indeed I had wasted some of my twenty hours by being gullible. Numpty No 2 almost immediately spotted GAWAIN and MODRED fencing in direct lines in the centre of the lists – no Knight’s moves for them.

We had completed this without knowing the solution to ‘Reno’s first casino in resort: they allow varied bets’ (7) With a putative RA????S, we were suddenly made aware of our stupidity. It was, of course, an anagram of CASINO + R (RACINOS). We learned yet another new word.

With so much difficulty and complexity, we are almost certain to have made a mistake somewhere in this but does it matter? It was a moral victory for us just to complete it – far more difficult than those hated numericals. However, if the trend of becoming more and more difficult week by week continues, the numpties really will have to throw in that towel.

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Listener 4140: Jumping to Conclusion by Sabre

Posted by erwinch on 24 Jun 2011

In over forty years Sabre has given Listener solvers a considerable amount of enjoyment but this, his 62nd solo puzzle, afforded me nothing but frustration and after four or five days without any progress whatsoever I gave up on it.  This is the first time in twenty-five years that I have given up on a Listener before the solution was published.  Trying to enter answers into the grid using knight’s moves became tedious in the extreme but it was a different story back in 1992 when I first came across the device in a crossword (Players by Law) – then I thought it inspired and was bowled over.  We have seen knight’s moves on numerous occasions since, especially in Knights’ Tour by Wolfram (in 1996), but I have grown to dislike them in puzzles and after this shall be glad never to see them again.  This is ironic since Sabre may have introduced the idea to crosswords or at least been an early exponent with his Knight’s Tour in 1971.
The main problem with them is that in a 12 × 12 grid there are literally tens of thousands of ways of entering a 7-letter word that starts in the centre square so the relevant clues could only be cold solved.  I had two clues that I just could not fathom (19 & 23) and a third (5dn) that I had incorrect, which gave the interim grid as follows:
The letters in red were tentative entries.  Nirly (35) seemed to fit in well with the double L’s of hallian (17) and man-milliner (8dn) and the end of surreynd (12dn).  It seemed reasonable to assume that the X of ixtle (30) would check with the X of bordereaux (33ac) and that 23 would not begin with an X.  However, I found it impossible to fit bordereaux from the second E to A since 5dn needed to be capas not capes.
I would maintain that clues with answers starting in the centre square would have to be scrupulously fair for the puzzle to be reasonably solvable so was that the case here?  Looking at the two clues unsolved:
19 Reno’s first casino in resort: they allow varied bets (7) racinos – R + CASINO (anag)  Well, I had never heard of racinos but given my general antipathy to all aspects of gambling then this is perhaps not surprising – I would rather go to the dentist than go to Nevada to gamble.  The anagram indicator is not clear, with the two meanings of resort in use, and the definition is very vague.  The Chambers definition is: a racetrack that offers additional facilities for gambling.  I understand that this often includes vast numbers of slot machines where the term bet is not appropriate.  I thought that Reno’s first casino might be an Americanism for the letter C, possibly the sea in Seabee.  Resort could be spa and I considered spreads as a good fit to the definition.  Racino only dates from 1995 and first appeared in the online OED this very month (June 2011):
I would certainly rate this clue as unfair but hats off to any solver who got it without aids – I doubt that I would ever have solved it.
23 Fossil elephant – tips of decayed ivory missing (9) dinothere – D + I + NOT HERE  This is one that I feel I should have got but was rather favouring fossil as the definition with D + I missing from some sort of elephant.  I had even looked through all the words beginning DI in Chambers but there are over 29 pages of them.
Now a look at the clue that I got wrong:
5dn Cloaks cut with square bottom (5) capas – S to the bottom of SCAPA  I had the admittedly unsatisfactory capes – S for R in CAPER rather than capas.  In the 5th edition at least, Bradford’s lists caper under cut although it is a mistake.  However, it has been pointed out to me that the correct wordplay also works for capes – S to the bottom of ‘SCAPEEscape appears as the answer to 13dn, which might be seen as making the latter wordplay less likely but it is a cruel clue if done on purpose.
As a contrast, some of the clues for entries not involved with the knight’s moves were among the easiest ever seen in the Listener and could be solved in a split second:
18ac Salamander once inhabiting New Territories (3) ewt – Hidden
42ac Lady (Elvira?) partaking of Chardonnay (5) Donna – Hidden
25dn Bewailed upset of bobsled: learner driver is ejected (6) sobbed – BOBS(L)ED (anag)
However, not all the clues outside the centre square were straightforward and yet another mistake in my interim grid came to light when trying to enter dinted (34).  If the first jump was taken as D to the I of ixtle (30) then no final D was available.  The mistake was in 38ac:
Lecturer’s boring moped badly damaged in collision? blood-red – L in BROODED (anag)  My reasoning was that anything damaged in a collision might be covered in blood – hence blood-red and the question mark.  Chambers Crossword Dictionary lists brood under mope and vice versa.
But the clue should have been read as follows:
Lecturer’s boring moped badly damaged in collision? bloodied – L in BOODIED
Dinted can then be entered into the grid by first jumping from D to the I of bloodied.
So, to sum up, I found this a mean and dispiriting puzzle – too many more like this and I would seriously consider abandoning the Listener for good, apart from the numericals of course.  However, I should not want it to be seen as a blot on Sabre’s superlative record so shall instead just attempt to forget it.
Finally, here is the full solution for anyone who lasted the course – a small number this week I should imagine:
The two thematic words to be highlighted were the Arthurian knights and brothers Gawain and Modred.  Mordred (ODE) is the more usual spelling of the latter although Brewer’s favours Modred and Collins has both.  The main diagonals of the centre square were always the most likely to display the thematic words and I suspect that many of us will have considered knight errant at some point although this has already appeared several times in past puzzles.
Most of the above was written two weeks ago but as I write now I find that I have mellowed towards the puzzle.  We can have no real memory of pain so the mind-numbing frustration that I felt in the heat of battle as it were has gone.  After all, I presume that Sabre’s submission had gone through the usual stringent vetting process and the result was not found wanting.  I would be among the first to complain if the Listener were made any easier and must concede that this was just not to my taste.  Still, it will be interesting to see the general consensus on this.

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Listener 4140: Jumping to Conclusion by Sabre (or A Day in the Life)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 Jun 2011

You know that you’ve got a bumpy ride ahead of you when a Sabre Listener greets you. Although I am filled with a terrible feeling of foreboding, I am exhilarated in knowing that a real challenge lies ahead.

It all started well enough1. Acrosses 14 PLIE, 18 EWT, 19 RORTERS (oops!), 27 OPTER, 29 TURBINATION (oops!!) and 42 DONNA set me off reasonably well, or at least, so I thought! It wasn’t until much, much later that I realised the two mistakes. In copying the letters for the anagram in 19 Reno’s first casino in resort; they allow varied bets I wrote down the letters R and RESORT instead of R and CASINO. Although RORTERS (con-men) were vaguely associated with betting, the clue didn’t really convince me, but it was the only possible answer … apart from RACINOS!! And as for turbination, well, that’s not even an anagram of Buonarotti!

The down clues were fairly generous as well, starting with 1 Cycle around Macedonian capital, finding small bergs for KOPJES, ie Skopje cycled one letter backwards … what a great find. Another ten or so down clues later, and there I was with only 35 minutes on the clock and a fair smattering of Sabre clues solved. Unfortunately, only three of my answers started in the central 6×6 zone. That didn’t bode well, there were eleven of them, and eleven more that strayed into it from outside.

Moreover, it won’t surprise you to know that the next couple of dozen clues took another three hours! There were some entertaining ones along the way:

25ac SOUTHERNWOOD Old man confused when outdoors (12)
I needed to look under old man to confirm this answer
38ac BLOODIED Lecturer’s boring moped badly damaged in collision? (8)
Even suspecting that moped did not refer to the motorcycle, not having come across boodied before held me up somewhat
26dn NUCHAE Nancy’s naked children are taken inside, the scruffs (6)
Luckily I had come across Nancy’s before to indicate a French word
32dn AIRNS In Faslane, gives publicity to nuclear ship
I think the parsing of this goes something like: gives = gyves = fetters = irons = airns!?


Like we were meant to, I looked at the main NW-SE diagonal, and what did I see but KNIG…..ANT. And, like we were meant to, I lightly pencilled in KNIGHT ERRANT. I was deeply suspicious that it was a trap, and if I’d looked at the title at this point, I would, like we were meant to, have known that it was.

The next three clues (I won’t tell you which) took about an hour, and the one after that (OK, it was MAN-MILLINER) took another. And the final few were slowly teased out of their clues, including IXTLE, which I suspect a lot of you got straight away, but it eluded me for an aeon! And so on to the last three. I finally realised my mistake with RACINOS; I got CAPAS, not CAPES because it was SCAPA with the S moved down, and lastly … 23dn Fossil elephant — tips of decayed ivory missing (9).

Now, when I say lastly, I mean even more lastly than this point in the solving process, ie the point at which I embarked on the endgame. For it resolutely refused to be solved. Was the defintion fossil, fossil elephant, missing, ivory missing? Were the tips of decayed ivory DI or DY or just DD for the tips of decayed?? Bradford’s, for once, wasn’t helping.

So I had all but one of the numbered squares in the central area and decided to try and fit in the ten words that I had solved, hoping that 23 would finally manifest itself. During this process I was drenched in self-doubt as to what was possible. Could the central bit be resolved without the start of 23, or did that clue need solving. I flitted between trying to fill the grid and trying to solve the clue. Whichever one I was doing, I was convinced that the other needed doing first. It was a nightmare. Even filling in certain letters logically, such as the first E of BORDEREAUX which had to go in square 7,5, and the R of OBTURATION at 7,6, it took an age. I was constantly surprised at how difficult it was to spot the moves of some words. I even shaded the grid like a chessboard, which certainly made it easier to see some word jumps since the letters had to alternate colours.

It was indeed the knight’s moves that I solved first, a D being required in the first square of 23dn. And so the scales fell from my eyes as I finally managed to trace out DINOTHERE in the grid.

I have very little doubt, but a great deal of embarrassment, in revealing to you that this puzzle took me in the region of 24 hours of actual work, not just elapsed time, to finish. I would be very interested to know of anyone who took longer, or indeed took less than let’s say six. Come on … own up!

And if I’ve made a stupid transcription error, I will, very loudly, screeeeam. If you have, my commiserations.

I’m not really sure what message to send to Sabre, but “Thanks” seems appropriate, “Thanks for filling a day of my life!” 🙂

1 This reminds me of a snippet from Not Only … But Also with the late, greats Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Voiceover commentary about the making of a film begins: “It all started well enough. A magnificent replica of Bodiam Castle, Sussex was built on the former site of Bodiam Castle, Sussex, which had been demolished to make way for the reconstruction.”

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An Unsettled Spell by Nutmeg (Where was Eeyore?)

Posted by shirleycurran on 17 Jun 2011

After last week’s struggle with the numbers (we had just a few sheets of paper and a sticky calculator) the numpties were almost looking forward to the first of twelve ‘normal’ Listener crosswords. However, it was not to be – not for us anyway. We were basking in Ibiza sun when disaster struck. A beekeeper accidentally lost control of his equipment in gusting winds and the northern part of the island caught fire and burned out of control for three days causing ferocious damage to thousands of hectares, villas, cars – and it raged very close to the villa we were in.

Evacuated in the clothes we stood up in, with no Internet, prospects looked bleak. I couldn’t even save my Bradford! (but rescued it later). All the same, needs must. We got to a wifi cafe outside the burning area and downloaded the weekly fix – then stared at it in dismay and chewed the one pencil stub for twenty-four hours.

Samuel, commenting on Nudd’s Pushmi-Pullyu, said how pleased he was to have a break from cartes blanches. Well, so were we, but this was almost worse. We were cold solving, as no word was actually going to appear in the grid in its true guise.

Ten clues yielded to scrutiny – ARDENT had to be ‘Full of hea(r)t, perhaps worker crosses road with energy’ (ANT round RD with E, with the R creeping from the solution into the clue, so we entered ADENT, REBEC was ‘Dissenter not h(e)aving last century’s instrument’ (REBEL losing L and gaining C with that E from the solution again creeping into the clue) – and so on.

Clearly we had about as much chance as a chocolate rabbit in Hell of solving this crossword the way we were going (we got the RABBIT clue – Top monk – ABBOT – shuns holy books – remove the OT – in scripture lessons (RI) – (T)his teacher wouldn’t – well a RABBI wouldn’t shun holy books would he? We added the T that had slid down into the solution and it gave us that RABBIT but we were slow on numpty uptake and didn’t see where this was leading us.

It was a full day later that just a few letters in 5d, when fed into a search engine, suggested Winnie the Pooh! Of course, the ODQ at once yielded the quotation that fitted the title. ‘It wobbles and the letters get in the wrong places (Milne)’

Even with those helpful letters, solving was difficult, mainly due to Nutmeg’s astonishing mental agility in those fearsome clues – including the one slightly risqué one that we loved ‘Adult left in Bristol tipping lover’. A + L in TIT, giving ATILT with the L leaping up from the solution into the clue. There was a touch of typical sheer Nutmeg brilliance there, in the wordplay and the superb surface reading.

This crossword was a step up in difficulty but the work of a superb setter and we could only admire it. We had almost filled the grid when we found RABBIT, BEETLE, OWL, PIGLET, KANGA, BEAR (and his HONEYPOT) and, of course, TIGGER.  Working backwards from TIGGER solved that clue for us (‘What’s needed for sho(r)t horse on screen’ – T(R)IGGER, a double definition). Undoubtedly Nutmeg deliberately led us into the red-herring box, looking for ‘short hose’.

Yes, this was one of the unforgettable stars of a year of extremely difficult crosswords – or so it seems to us so far. I have only one mild reproach for Nutmeg. Our old friend Eeyore, as usual, drew the short straw and was missed out – so here he is!

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