Listen With Others

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Listener 4148: More Collusion by The Magpie (with blog by Scatterbrains)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 19 August 2011

I didn’t blog the last puzzle by The Magpie since that appeared (in 2008) before my LWO duties began. I remember that it concerned three people Clever Clogs, Smartypants and Bright Spark, although their names were only discovered during the solving of the puzzle. This time we were told that a bright spark, a clever clogs and a smarty pants were colluding to solve a Listener … that’s three heads rather than my normal one. Not only that, but this week we had a puzzle set by The Magpie, who is actually two of the most fiendish setters that the Listener arsenal has to fight us with! So that’s two setters who are pitted against me, and I’d better be ready for a tough time.

The good news was that it was a smaller than normal grid, 11×11. The bad news, that we had to solve the puzzle using the given clues, remove an ‘unnecessary’ letter from every clue so that it still gave the same answers, and then use those letters to give another grid with loads of new entries. More changes would then be required to make even more new words and the reason that the three brainboxes all got the same solution. Which of the two ‘Magpies’ dreamt that idea up, and what drug was he on at the time?!

I started on the clues expecting to get precious few in my first pass. In fact, it wasn’t too bad. 7ac SCAB (with a superfluous p in pact; 14ac IDES (superfluous t in this); 20ac FULLER (inebriated); 31ac SIN BIN (stripping) and 32ac DESK (laying). Not many acrosses, but encouraging, and great fun. Only four downs unfortunately: 7 SEREIN, 8 CHARK, 21 UNDECK, and 25 IAMBI.

About an hour into the solving process and I reread the preamble: the reason why they all arrived at the same solution consisting of twenty cells. Well, great minds think alike looked like a good candidate. Four words, each of five letters, how symmetrical. Not that it helped me at all in clue solving, but it might make stage two or three a bit easier!

Listener 4148Most of the superfluous letters were indeed superfluous, but there were some instances where the original clue wasn’t quite right. However, the puzzle was eminently solvable, and the clues must have been a real pig to create … one of those cases where knowing where the extra letter was made it look much easier than it must have been when sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper.

The only clue that caused me real problems was 16ac Means to forget as is going slow (6). It seemed likely that the letter s was superflous, but which one? It could be in Means, as (with a word for ‘means to forget’ losing an a), is or slow. Alternatively, it could be the t in forget! In the end, of course, I kicked myself. Good old Means gave AVERAGES, with both a’s being forgotten, to give VERGES, meaning going low, ie sloping downwards. Phew!

Solving all the clues took just under two hours, but considering there were only thirty-five of them in this smallish grid, I felt that was a pretty poor show. So on to stage two, which involved fitting all these superflous letters into the grid to create a brand new one. 35 letters, so presumably a 7×5 block to be replaced. I chose the one occupying rows 3-9 and columns 4-8. I decided to create a grid with that central area empty, but half expecting to have to draw it again with the rectangle going across the centre of the grid … or perhaps not central in any way, but I suspected that was unlikely.

ALKENE in row 9 was a good start as that could become ALKALI. I then wondered if the central word FULLING would be replaced by a word not ending in -ING. I have to confess that I then cheated a bit, and fed F•••••G into a little bit of software that some of us have! Out popped FANTEEG, and marking A, N, T and two Es off my list of extra letters, I noticed that they appeared there in sequence (the last two across clues and the first three down). Lo and behold, these superfluous letters could all be used in groups of five to give the stage two grid. Amazing! Each clue had to have a specific superfluous letter! Moreover, every letter in the new grid is different from its original.

Finally, stage three, and we had to change this plan to make eight more new words. I spotted ••EAT in row 3, •INDS in row 5, THIN• in row 7, and ALI•• in row 9, and using the letters in THIS PLAN, I could create, as expected, GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE with the E and the P being changed in rows 4 and 8 respectively to give more new words there. (More on respectively in a couple of weeks!)

This was an incredible puzzle. A brilliant idea, superbly implemented, and great fun to solve. Well done guys, and I look forward to even more collusion by the Brains Trust in the near future.

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