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Archive for Mar, 2012

Listener 4178: Confused by Tea Leaves

Posted by erwinch on 16 Mar 2012

Just a quick word to add to the many plaudits that I feel are thoroughly due this puzzle.  I would vote it the puzzle with the greatest Listener pdm in years if not decades – it was the colours that clashed in the interim grid!  I spent quite a while trying to fit two or more letters in each cell and it was not until solving the 1st clue across (champagne socialist), very late on, that I managed the first confirmed grid entries.
There was even room for a second quality pdm by interpreting the instruction given by extra words in each across clue correctly:
Applying fist (F is T) to title (Confused becomes Contused) suggests two colours (black and blue).  Use second (blue) for every letter apart from ten as described by Henry (Ford).
I had looked under O. Henry etc in the ODQ and also under Henry Cooper (no entries) thinking that the theme might be boxing before remembering Henry Ford’s famous line:
Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black. (on the Model T Ford, 1909)
Tidying up the loose ends took some time, especially where the grid entry was only a single letter or two, and here are my final two clues solved:
14th Across Sound modifications, two [from] hospitals in Sweden, arresting start of dementia (7) sandhis (initial entry HIS) – D in (SAN + H + I’ + S)
12th Down Twist handle conversely, holding in motion (6) Oliver (initial entry R) – LIVE in OR
I must only rate it a minor flaw but I thought it unfortunate that an obscure London suburb (London borough is not accurate but then suburbs do not generally have leaders) was used to clue the thematically essential FORD in the grid:
11th Across [Every] environmentalist in favour of leader of decaying London borough (9) Greenford (initial entry FORD) – GREEN + FOR + D We had the constraint of the extra word although every could have been each (letter) or all (letters).  I think that I might have gone for a well known actor with something like: [Each] actor to depict a former President as communist! (7) Redford (initial entry FORD) – RED FORD  The crossing entries for FORD were blue FILM, DOor, MERcerise and DEMIsable so red would still have fitted.  Although cerise is a purplish red, MERcerise was already considered to have clashed with SMEAred (5th Across).  However, it would have been a sixth use of red in the puzzle which is rather overdoing it.
The optional finale, the thematic appearance of the setter below the grid, was rather too obvious to be a pdm but it was still a masterstroke.  As I write we do not yet know the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup out of last year’s puzzles but Confused would to my mind make a most worthy (and indeed thematically appropriate) winner from 2012’s.  You are a champ Tea Leaves!
I admit that I was slow in not spotting that a colour was involved in every answer.  Had I done so then I might have solved the first clue much earlier.  The puzzle could then have appeared as a rather straightforward treatment of a very clever idea.  I suspect that the first clue was deliberately made difficult for this reason.
1st Across Coach against [applying] plays with simple left winger behaving inappropriately (18, two words) champagne socialist (initial entry SOCIALIST) – (COACH AGAINST + SIMPLE) (anag) The anagram was hidden by being split into two parts and the definition and extra word do not immediately stand out.  The preamble practically told us exactly where the down clues started by stating that the answer to the ninth (golden triangle) was found in Collins but not Chambers so we could readily see that SOCIALIST in the top row would fit with the down entries green SICKNESS, pinkO, CEred and IMPOsable etc.
There again, perhaps I was the only solver to struggle with this clue.
Anyway, I thought Confused a great Listener.  It will be interesting to see if the paper has splashed out on some blue and teal for tomorrow’s published solution.

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Listener 4178: Confused by Tea Leaves (or At Least It’s not Jackson Pollock Again!)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 16 Mar 2012

A nice little 9×8 carte blanche this week … except that all the answers exceed their allocated spaces. In fact, some answers very much exceed their allocated space, since we had (13, two words), (15, two words) and (18, two words) entries to fit into this small grid. Plus, and I rubbed my eyes to make sure that I was reading the preamble correctly, there would be “a clash between an across and a down entry in every cell”. I mused for a while, and then realised that what it probably meant was that one specific entry had a clash in every cell, with the crossing entries just one cell long. Except that would mean that the word would be completely barred off from the rest of the grid, so that seemed unlikely.

Confusion certainly reigned supreme, so I got on with solving the clues.

Listener 4178All across clues contained an extra word which would suggest some sort of violence that needed to be carried out. We were told that they were in the usual order and it seemed that they started off with a few simple ones.

Well, 1ac Coach against applying plays with simple left winger behaving inappropriately (18, two words) would have been simple if I could have worked out the 18-letter anagram, probably of ‘coach against simple’, with ‘applying’ as the extra word, and with a possible football reference (not my strongest suit). Some quick doodling failed to reveal an acceptable answer, but the next clue One bite destroyed rubber fist gave EBONITE with ‘fist’ as the extra word. Well, I suppose that had something violent about it.

About half an hour later and I had a smattering of answers, including GREENFORD, BLONDIN, IMPEACH, SUNCURED and BLUE MURDER. I had also managed to get CHAMPAGNE SOCIALIST and GOLDEN TRIANGLE by, yes OK, devious means. It didn’t take a Dali or a Hockney to realise that they all began or ended with a colour, and I was guessing that these needed to be omitted. Up to this point I hadn’t entered anything in the grid as I hadn’t been at all sure of what to enter.

But what was it with all the clashing? Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to pencil SOCIALIST in across the top of the grid, with ITE and MURDER in the next row. Hmmm… it seemed that TRIANGLE could fit in the last column and a smattering of other answers could be tentatively positioned. The more I solved, and the more everything seemed to fit. That wasn’t what I had been expecting.

After about an hour, I identified that the division bewteen the Across and Down clues was between the 15- and 13-letter words. A bit of intuition, and I had sussed all the extra words:

Applying fist to title suggests two colours. Use second for every letter apart from ten as described by Henry

I was getting more and more convinced that my single across/down clue with all its letters clashing would turn out to be what was needed. My money was on the bottom row which had the clue Craven [Henry] to lend money to soldier for film. I was expecting the answer to be CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but there was no rationale to that. (Of course, it turned out to be YELLOW SUBMARINE, more widely known, I suspect, as a song than a film, but hey-ho.)

Listener 4178 My EntryThe preamble had told us to interpret one of these words cryptically, and F-IS-T fitted perfectly to change Confused into Contused and enabled me to make the obvious jump to ‘black and blue’. Thus, ten letters had to be entered in black, with the remainder entered in blue. And there in the middle of the grid was MODEL T FORD which was required to be entered using black ink as per Ford’s ‘take it or leave it’ assertion.

I am not sure now at exactly what point the scales fell from my eyes and I finally realised what all the clashing meant: The answers had to be entered using the colour that had been omitted! Indeed, all the words that I had pencilled in, and had been expecting to have to rub out, could be left intact. It was only on my entry that the colour was to be relevant. I suppose it is possible that some solvers managed to submit the puzzle without realising what the ‘clashing’ was all about, but for most of us, this was icing on the cake.

In all, it took me the best part of 3½ hours to complete, but a lot of that time was trying to satisfy myself on some of the clues, especially those leading to single cell entries. I will gladly admit that one of the last I got was the twelfth down clue:

Twist handle conversely, holding in motion (6)     [OLIVE]R     LIVE in OR

What a superb puzzle from Tea Leaves. All that remained was to fill in my entry, against which I always put the puzzle’s title and setter, this time wondering whether JEG would mark the following wrong:

Confused by Eaves.

… not that I tried it!
PS A final thanks, Tea Leaves, for causing me at least ten times the normal effort to create my little animation!

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Contused? or Confused? by Tea Leaves

Posted by shirleycurran on 16 Mar 2012

So long as it's black

Did I say I welcome carte blanches? You’re kiddin me! Well, it was just a tiny little grid (though 9 X 8 – that had us wondering!) No division into across and down clues, no realistic word lengths since the answers ‘are longer that their allocated space (which solvers must deduce)’ and the promise of a clash between an across and a down entry in every cell! (With that telling exclamation mark – clearly Tea Leaves was up to some kind of mischief!)

It didn’t take us long to find an extra word that suggested what sort of violence solvers might be tempted to indulge in. ‘One bite destroyed rubber fist’ was a generous anagram and the voluminous vermilion book told us that EBONITE is a kind of rubber, so we were clearly being prompted to have a fist fight.

We were soon nearly having one as, in  a lightning pdm. after we had solved half a dozen clues, Numpty Two said “Look, there’s a colour in every one!” (‘Hunt with zeal [for] scattered fruit’ had given us HAZELNUT, ‘Heart of forCEful anarchist wrapped in burial clothes’ = CERED’, ‘I let long garden develop into a vast area for growing opium’ resolved its anagram as GOLDEN TRIANGLE).

I was all for fitting those colours, one after the other, into the grid but the other numpty insisted we continue to solve – and so we did, coldly until we had forty solutions. That is probably why I like the blancmange things. If there are no bars or numbers, the editors clearly have to insist on meticulous cluing to make the solver’s task possible – and we certainly got it here from Tea Leaves.

Now I know that a SEAL is a footprint, especially of an otter (that will be this week’s bit of inconsequential information to drop casually into conversation!) and that with GREY, he can be found on those rocks. What a charming clue. I didn’t know that a RUSA was a deer either, ‘The northern deer without a a hint of trepidation makes charge ‘ = ‘T + RUS[A] + [T]repidation, giving TRUST. We had a fine natural history lesson as we solved, learning that a SLATER is a small crustacean, ‘Small crustacean has muscle and organ of hearing but no heart’ ‘(S+ LAT + E[A]R) and hearing BLUE MURDER when crows are ‘pursuing beagles regularly [to] guard eggs’ We know that a MURDER is a gaggle of crows but I wonder how long it took Tea Leaves to find that BLUE is BeagLesgUardEggs (regularly taking every fourth letter! Indeed!)

And, of course, there was the usual Listener compiler’s tipple in ‘Plastered deviant [suggests] sexual practice with local water and wine’ – a bit of sado-masochism too! (SM + EA + RED). Nice!

By now, we had an almost complete phrase appearing in the extra words ‘Applying fist to title suggests two colours: use second for every letter apart from ????? as described by Henry’. Yes, of course we had the usual numpty red herring and decided that this had to be Henry Ford who allowed any customer to ‘have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it’s black‘ – so we chose BLACK from the clue we still hadn’t solved, ‘Stiller comedy featuring ten grey eyes for Scottish black work unit’ (GR + EEN + B(lack) + ERG) when we should have opted for TEN.

Thus the final penny hadn’t dropped yet!

At last, Numpty Two allowed me to attempt my grid fill and it was with sheer delight, once I had decided to remove the colours, that the grid simply wrote itself with [CHAMPAGNE] SOCIALIST, [GOLDEN] TRIANGLE,  [GREEN] SICKNESS and [YELLOW] SUBMARINE forming a neat framework. And hey presto! What appeared in the centre? MODEL T FORD!

All our initial anxiety about the number of unknowns in the puzzle vanished, since  fitting the words we had into the grid gave us most of the missing letters of the remaining ones and we were able to work out the elusive OLIVER, for example. We needed a five letter colour to go with R (Twist handle conversely holding in motion – ‘Oliver’ must be Twist’s ‘handle’ and OR is holding LIVE – ‘in motion’ – subtle!)

So there we were, a full grid but not the slightest idea how we had fulfilled the requirements of the preamble. It was after midnight when I suddenly said “Aaaah. ‘Interpreting one of these words cryptically! We have to apply F is T to the title! A simple substitution code!” and scribbled furiously producing gobbledygook. “Don’t be silly, said a voice from the bedroom. It’s perfectly obvious, just change the F and you get CONTUSION, which  is ‘black and blue’ so you are going to use a blue pen for every letter except those ten that will be in black – Ford’s colour – Simples!”

And the clashes? Well, we had champagne in 1 across and green in 1down; I suppose that is a clash that continued in like style for the whole crossword. Perhaps Tea Leaves’ setter’s blog that he has promised us will resolve my niggling doubt about that.

So what was the optional extra? The setter might be allowed to thematically appear under the grid. I think his Tea has to be black (of just the T of it), which leaves blue leaves – but, equally, we might remove the TEAL (a dark greenish-blue colour) and leave merely EAVES. Hmmm – ambiguity here. Perhaps that is why it was an ‘optional extra’. I wonder what will happen to those of us who chose the wrong option! Clearly the cowardly custard’s option was to put nothing at all.

Great fun this! Many thanks to Tea Leaves.

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Listener 4177, Number Plates: A Setter’s Blog by Xanthippe

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 Mar 2012

The inspiration for this puzzle was due to the wonderful Derek Arthur. In 2010 he wrote that he was short of ‘entertaining numerical puzzles at the easier end of the spectrum’. I’m not sure if this was at the easier end of the spectrum, but I hope it was entertaining to most. Anyway, I decided that I’d try my hand. It was always going to be a combination of numbers and letters (probably because I tend to prefer letter puzzles).

As with all puzzles an idea is required — I settled on States early on (it’s a theme I used in my second ever puzzle — Unzipped in The Independent Saturday Magazine Puzzle in the mid 90s). I played around with conventional grids but nothing really worked, and lots of 2-digit entries is not good. After some time away from it I settled on number plates — there’s no connection but I figured that the similar sounds might help, the giveaway 50 entries was not part of the puzzle at this point as you’ll see later. I’m usually pretty good at getting the idea into a grid provided I’ve got enough flexibility, and so it proved. It was pleasing to get the 50 states into the grid with 12 plates.

Next for the clueing. This was interesting as you have to devise a way of giving enough information that the solver can get the solution (without the need for anything more than a calculator and logic — something Derek favoured and so do I) but not too much information that the answers just get written in all over the grid (I expect the ideal would be a single logical solving path). With flexibility as to how the across entries were divided, I gradually worked through looking for connections with primes as ever proving very useful (I was not pleased that there was a 4 digit prime, as this is not easily checked with a calculator — however, it was not needed to get to the solution, other than that the last digit had to be odd). Eventually I had a set of clues I believed worked.

For my letter puzzles I’ve never used a test solver (probably because when I started setting I didn’t know anybody suitable — however, my wife does get asked regularly whether a particular string of words makes sense for clue surfaces). For numericals, I realised that a test solver was crucial as if you make a mistake in the logic the whole thing falls to pieces. I asked the crossword community and received many kind offers — Mr E was first off the mark (!). After a little while he came back saying he was stuck — sure enough I’d said an entry was odd when it was even, doh! Fortunately, Mr E stuck with me and made many good suggestions, particularly with the preamble (he suggested I could make the definitions more difficult but I decided not to, as I wanted solvers who were struggling with the solution to be able to get extra help if needed from the definitions). He was positive about the puzzle and noticed that the other 12 states were coded in the puzzle in the number part of the plates. My initial intent had been not to mention this. He also commented that the best puzzles have a final twist and if I could work this in so that the solver needed to realise the missing 12 states were there, this would be good.

I looked for some time at adding an ambiguity in the number parts of the plates but realised that this would only be possible with major rework — I didn’t fancy that! However, with relatively little change I realised I could introduce the ambiguity that ended up in the final puzzle and off it went to the vetters just over a year ago.

I was delighted when the vetters came back at the end of last year to say they were going to publish it. The main changes were improvement to the notation and a change to explicitly tell solvers where the other 12 thematic entries were (my original wording was ‘Solvers must resolve an ambiguity so that the completed grid is thematically complete’). I said I preferred the original wording (mainly I think because it didn’t point solvers to 50 which leads quickly to US states). However, bearing in mind some of the feedback I’ve had regarding the ambiguity, I think the vetters’ wisdom has saved me from significant ire!

It’s interesting that many of those who were not happy about the square root ambiguity seem to be mathematicians! I decided to ask my son (who’s 13) what the square root of 25 was and he said 5; anything else I asked, to which, without much thought, he said -5. For those who didn’t like the ambiguity, I apologise, but I hope that it was worth it for those who found the ambiguity an enjoyable additional PDM.

Thank you for all the feedback. As to whether I’ll write another numerical — initially it was no, fun though it was I prefer letter puzzles. However, then I had another idea….


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Listener 4177: Number Plates by Xanthippe

Posted by erwinch on 9 Mar 2012

A while back Xanthippe advertised on the Crossword Centre’s Message Board for test solvers to check his new numerical puzzle and presumably this is it.  However, it turned out to be a bit of a hybrid and the preamble even cited Chambers as the primary reference, which I believe to be a first for a numerical Listener.
Our initial grid entry could have been the first digit of k (= 1?) but mine was a from 2iac: 30a (three) (I have spelled out the answer lengths here to avoid confusion).  With a prime and crossing 30a, only a = 13 fitted so 2iac = 390  With 1iac a palindrome (four), the final digit was also 1, 1iac = 1??1
xdn: 2au (four)
rdn: x / u (two)
So r = 2a = 26
8iac: Prime (two) = 6? = 61 or 67; t & q = 1? or 7? (qdn)
x = 26u so u must be in the range 39 to 99
(7iac) SQRT(2(x – u)) = SQRT(50u) (this must be an integer)
udn: SD is odd (two) so u = 50, 72 or 98; SQRT(50u) = 50, 60 or 70
But t > u (tdn) and 7iiac: 10q (three) so t & q = 70; 7iiac = 700; u = 50; x = 1300; SQRT(2(x – u)) = 50
The final three digits of each row were to be replaced by letters.  For row 7 (700) this could only be ILL, which fits the given definitions cross or sick.
6iiac: (p – 7)^2 + 7 (four) = ???7
The final digit of p equals the first of q so p = ?7 and p – 7 = ?0
p is not prime and can only equal 57, p = 57, 6iiac = 2507
The final three digits of row 6 (507) could be RAI with definition music (African).
4iiiac: SD = k (two)
The maximum value of 4iiiac is 99 (SD = 18) but k is prime so k = 11, 13 or 17
sdn: (n + 1)u (three) = (n + 1)50 = ?00 since n is prime; n < 19 (= 11, 13 or 17); s = 600, 700 or 900
7iac: 127n – SQRT(2(x – u)) (four) = 2???; 127n – 50 = 1347, 1601 or 2109
The only fit is 7iac = 2109; s = 900; n = 17; 2nu = 1700 (12iac); C (prime) = 31, 61 or 71
9iac: SD = 10 (five) = ?0100; w (prime) = 9?; 9iac = 90100; w = 97
vdn: n – 5 (two); v = 12
3iac: (v + 1)^2 (three) = 169
5iac: anv / 2 + 10 (four) = 1336
8iiac: Palindrome (five) = 10501
jdn: Even (three) = 162
cdn: j + 10 (three) = 172
2iiac: 2o (four) = 7?02
3iiac: b – 2a – p (four) = b – 83 = 20?3 or 20?9 (g is prime)
b = ?09? = 2092; b = 2092; 1iac = 1221; 3iiac = 2009
y is prime = 2? = 23 or 29
10iiac: 10(z + 1) = 230 or 890 so z (a palindrome) = 22 or 88
11iiac: s – 4z – 10 = 890 – 4z = 802 or 538
The first digit of 11iiac is the end of B but B is even so y = 23; z = 22; B = 28; 10iiac = 230; 11iiac = 802; 12iiac: k + 10z (three) = 23?
The grid now looked like this:
Shortly after this I found that the 38 two-letter entries and 12 two-digit numbers in the grid would represent the 50 US states.
Finishing off the numbers in the grid was fairly straightforward and this was my favourite part of the puzzle.  Whether it was by design or luck, just as you seemed to be at an impasse another opening would appear.  My total working did not fill a single side of A4 and a calculator was the only aid required.  However, I was unaware at this point of the mistake in row 7:
My least favourite part of the puzzle was checking each of the US states – this bordered on the tedious.  [With my brother, we had a go at trainspotting in the Sixties and each had an Ian Allan book of numbers – we barely stuck at it for two weeks.]  I had all the states listed from AK to WY and checking those that formed the down entries in columns 5, 6 and 7 was simple enough.  But when it came to the numbers in the first two columns I made a mistake and had to backtrack.  Fortunately I did not have to go back too far but had it been any further I might have given up thinking that this was not worth wasting time on.  I could also see a problem looming – three 21’s in rows 1, 4 and 7.  I kept on rechecking the working for these figures until twigging that this was the ambiguity that was to be resolved.  7iac = 127n – SQRT(2(x-u)) = 2159 – 50 but I had naturally taken the principal square root, the positive rather than the other negative value.  Using the negative value results in 7iac = 2159 + 50 = 2209.  The 22 gave us NY and the two central 21’s were NC and NM.  Finally, the central pairs of 09’s (AK and WV) and 10’s (CA and MA) completed the set:
[With thanks to]
So, the final grid displayed twelve past and future car number plates under the current UK system, except that the letter I is never used since it would be seen as identical to the number one.  This would have confused some plates with the previous prefix system (H110 GAM may have been issued under this system in 1990/91).  But what thematic link was there between number plates and states?  I could only think of one, that Xanthippe had invented the rhyming slang: number plate, state.  So states would be referred to as numbers, as indeed they all were in the interim grid.  Perhaps a tenuous link as these things go but I think acceptable.
To sum up, I have now forgotten the tedium of checking the states and will long remember this as an inspired idea expertly adapted as a Listener.  I certainly hope that Xanthippe can find the time to blog the development of the puzzle – that should be most interesting.
As a footnote, I see that the twelfth plate with the 00 date is not due to be issued until September 2050.  Looking at the DVLA site, the following plates and CL00 GAL or CL00 BOT, if available, are likely to cost in excess of £1000 at today’s prices.  Will there be any takers from the crossword world I wonder? 
I was once driving with work colleagues visiting from India and they asked if there was any significance in cars having yellow or white number plates.  It is so we know that we are not on the wrong side of the road of course – always follow the yellow!

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