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Archive for May, 2012

Prize and Prize-winner by Dysart

Posted by shirleycurran on 18 May 2012

A 14×14 grid, rather a lot of clues and what looked, at first, like a carte blanche until we noticed the bars, one of those deceptively short preambles that can bode ill! There was some numpty trepidation. However, we put in putative clue numbers that fitted perfectly well and wondered. ‘The completed grid … must include one clue number only’. We are going to be hunting for titles of four works by a foreign author (as they are ‘translated titles’) so we can dismiss notions about 39 Steps and the like. (Well, Buchan was Scottish but even grumbly Listener solvers wouldn’t fuss about his title and require it to be translated into home-counties English  – would they?)

So we solve steadily and with considerable enjoyment, wondering from time to time: ‘The star entertainer in the line-up could tell you how to get this fruit (5)’ ANANA was the only fruit that fitted our ANAN? but I still don’t understand the clue. I had to go to the Internet to understand the irony of ‘Village of Wise Men became a village half-abandoned (6)’ GOT + HAM(let) since the BRB seemed to say that GOTHAM was quite the opposite of a village of wise men. ‘Memo: “A person with no regular income is out of the question!” (4)’ NOTE was the obvious answer but, again, it took me a while to grasp that such a person was rated E in BRB, thus NOT E rather subtly conveyed the solution.

Lovely clues, the rest of them! Dysart, of course, flourishing even more than the usual quantity of Listener compiler bubbly, Armagnac, wild feasting, cups and casks of punch. With glee, we spotted Franz Kafka emerging, appropriately placed in the centre of a row and, after under a couple of hours of solving, crowed with delight. We should have known better! Isn’t Dysart known for this kind of double-crossing?

A full grid, a foreign author identified, and, of course, we all know he was born in Prague and wrote ‘The Trial‘, ‘The Castle‘ and ‘Metamorphosis‘. Time for a glass of some Listener concoction or another and a break for supper.

All through dinner, that grid sat between the rice and the green Thai curried chicken and taunted us. (Yes, I have to admit, these things have invaded our Friday evening schedule and sit there malevolently.) PRAGUE simply wasn’t there even though I carefully read up and down rows, columns and diagonals … HAH! Of course, the rest is history. Didn’t I feel silly when HARUKI MURAKAMI appeared!

KYOTO of course, followed. I didn’t know that, but do know that he won the Kafka Prize, so, of course, the title now made sense. All that remained was to find four titles cryptically represented in the grid. I enjoyed After Dark but, although two friends have recommended it, felt that 1Q84, with more than 900 pages, was mildly threatening. Still, it looked promising as far as numbers went – but NO!

I am sure I am not alone in having found KAFKA on (the) SHORE first, then, of course, deleting JUMBO (which had appeared during my scanning of the diagonals) since an elephant had to vanish (The Elephant Vanishes). Dance Dance Dance seemed a likely candidate for another novel and STEPS appeared, deceptively in 28d (Feelings of offence reflected in teacher’s errors (8) PETS rev in MISS).  Of course, when the final title appeared, I still needed a number, and thus, had to transfer my vote to 3 REELS,producing the 3. What a complicated procedure we had gone to just to get that number!

There weren’t many two-word novels left in the Internet list, and, opting for Norwegian Wood meant that I had to examine all the six-letter rectangles around the letter N.  GINGKO couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination fit the bill, but, of course, NOR OAK did.

All great fun with a lovely twist (at least for silly numpties) and a fine end-game. Thank you, Dysart!

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Cuemasters by Tangram

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 May 2012

Who said that short preambles go with difficult crosswords? Tangram’s Cuemasters had a mere six lines and for the numpties, at least, it proved to be very difficult – perhaps there is some truth in that notion. We understood that there were ‘letters latent’ here, that were going to be missing from the grid entry wherever they occurred, and that these letters were going to spell out a question.

It didn’t help us that the first clues we solved left us entering real words. A quick check with Mrs Bradford told us that WROATH was Shakespeare’s ‘misfortune’ and W + RATH completed the clue, ‘Will’s misfortune with horse-drawn carriage (5)’. We entered WRATH. ‘Act of appeasement: number backed annexing bits of Czech hinterland (5)’ gave us NUM< + C(zech) H(interland). That doesn’t sound like appeasement to me but never mind. MUNCH goes into the grid.

It seemed to be too much to hope for that both the definitions and the entries produced by the wordplay were going to be real words and indeed, our hopes were dashed as wordplay led us to TREENAI, UNHARSING, WINNOWR, CATCINESS and ACTINER.

For me, this type of crossword automatically comes in at about 7 on a 1 to 10 scale of difficulty (with Mash’s Klein Bottle and Sabre’s Knights’ Moves nudging the 10 level).  The words that the numpties gleefully enter give little real help for filling the vast empty spaces on the grid.

Take 1 Across: we have found EMPUS[E] (Fliers might be damaged by such matter) (f)LU[TT]EN(t) (Essentially competent in language, allowed to come and go in Scotland) INA[U]G[U]RAL (Leaving earth, big bird soaring on maiden public exhibition) SHADBE[RR]Y (Persian king spending hot day with old Turkish governor: it bears fruit) and HICAT[E] (Tortoise I see invading cloche, eg). That means that we have the letters ELI?S?H?? for ‘Almost the best taste of India in singular tea plant (9)’ There is more than the usual grumpy numpty head-scratching.

Fortunately A MOONLIT DOOR appeared and daylight dawned (well, moonlight) as school poetry lessons were recalled. ‘”Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller, Knocking on the moonlit door; And his horse in the silence champed the grasses Of the forest’s ferny floor’. So we have a W to complete [W]EL[W]ITSCHIA at 1 across.

We had enough to suss out that we were being asked WHICH POEM A?EDAOO FEATURED A MOONLIT DOOR? Yes, we saw our error later -that AQUAMANILE/AQUAMANALE clue (Servant breaks a quality medieval jug) gave us the word play MAN in A QUALE, but we assumed that our extra letter was A when, in fact, I was needed to produce AGED 100. It was rather sneaky, though, wasn’t it, to use IOO for 100?

Still, we didn’t need that in order to see that THE ISTENERS had appeared in the tenth column, thus prompting us to put a latent letter L in the centre square (and, of course, into the CUEMASTERS title, producing CLUEMASTERS – so Roger and Shane are still alive and well despite Shark’s concern in his Continental Drift setter’s blog!)

We hadn’t quite finished. We had a Spanish province to find at 31 ac and had A?AGN. It had to be ARAGON hadn’t it with the O inserted? But that is a region of three provinces. Hmmm!

Enough grumbling. This crossword earned real admiration for the astonishing  skill of its compilation. I wonder how long it took Tangram to find those obscure words that would produce the letters latent that gave the question. What a feat! I hope he will tell us in a setter’s blog.

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Listener 4186: Tangram’s Cuemasters

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 May 2012

This week we had a second Listener puzzle from Tangram, with the first being just over a year ago. That featured Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind: “O, Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Looking out of the window, all I can say about this spring is that it’s wet and windy, so ideal crosswording weather!

Listener 4186

Listener 4186 My EntryA straightforward Letters Latent puzzle here, with subsidiary idications leading to the entered answers. I hoped that his would be fairly straightforward, and I was off to a reasonable start with 16ac STEERABLE entered as STRABL, 19ac LIMACEL entered as LIACEL and 27ac NEEDS, NEES. 33ac Poet’s apparently removing from funeral stand as urn nigh prepared was an obvious anagram, and I guessed that a 10- or more letterd word would have at least one E, and it probably ended with –ING. I got UNH[E]ARSING fairly quickly after that.

The down clues were helped by 6dn Ruined Ionian city, having buried year sign which was an anagram of Ionian city without the Y for year. ATION was almost staring me in the face, and IN[D]ICATION was slotted into the grid.

Steady progress was made with Tangram’s puzzle, but the question posed by the latent letters was slow coming. I don’t know whether we were supposed to get befuddled over the last few letters of the across clues, but I certainly was: GEDIOOFE. Something must be wrong, but of course, it wasn’t, and soon everything was made clear:

Which poem, aged IOO featured a moonlit door?

With a little licence, the IOO becomes 100. I confess that I needed Google to remind me about the moonlit door, but Walter de la Mare’s “Is there anybody there said the traveller”, the opening line from The Listeners, immediately brought back memories of my childhood … although exactly when it was, I’m not sure. Then, as now, it sent a tingle down my spine as I read it.

All that remained was to find THE LISTENERS in the grid, and there they were, minus the L in column 10. Thus the letter making it “homologous with the title” was the L, and it could also be fitted in the title of our puzzle to give Cluemasters, perhaps a reference to Listener setters.

So thanks to Tangram for a very enjoyable puzzle and some good memories, and not too taxing after last week’s tussle with Elgin.

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Ballad by Elgin

Posted by shirleycurran on 4 May 2012

There was just a hint of Numpty consternation when we saw that name Elgin. I am told it wasn’t Elgin who once set the crossword that nobody managed to solve but that he produced one a few years ago that had a mere 32 correct solvers. Our anxiety seemed to be justified as we set to work and very, very slowly cold-solved clues with not much idea where to place our solutions

Down clues were normal and clearly the ones to work on. Looking back, I realize how generous some of these were: anagrams (always our favourite route to solving) for NARD ‘It helped in remedying right and wrong (4)’; NOTICES  ‘Marks section under review (7)’; YAPSTERS ‘Try peas with special hot dogs (8)’; TRIALIST ‘What’s someone with body and soul and spirit left – is it art possibly? (8)’.

There were two hidden clues too, for ESS and SEDATE  and that ‘French’ clue with the deceptive Dickensian touch, ‘Dodger’s heading for Nancy here is potentially most dangerous (7)’ (D(odger) and ICI EST as they say locally here in the French Jura mountains for HERE and IS. Of course we didn’t immediately solve that clue, we never do see the French ones!

I read, just this week, in a comment made by Kenmac on 15 squared, that the shorter preambles lead him to expect more difficult crosswords. The six lines Elgin gave us were no exception! We had quite a lot of down clues in place and a number of across solutions (TRUSTLESSNESS, BIRTH, BORDER, BREED, EVULSED, LAMAIST, EAST, WEST and ROMEOS) but there were those worrying words ‘Across entries can go in either direction … two entries overlap … there are no clues for entries in one row… one column has been omitted’.

TRUSTLESSNESS clearly fitted in, going backwards on the bottom row (a sigh of relief) and it looked as though the extra column was going to be on the right – so I put it there. EVULSED had an evident location slotting in in reverse three rows above, so we relaxed, assuming that the lower half of the crossword was going to be reversed, the upper half heading forward. We had a glass of wine and a break for dinner.

Moving onward was hard work (was it the wine?) and, at first, our thesis seemed to work as JENNY LONGLEGS echoed TRUSTLESSNESS (producing that extra J at the start). I decided, at this point, that we were in Phi country again, and were going to have a grid that needed to be seen as a cylinder, with words circling. This was a lucky long shot!

It was about an hour later that those letters seemed to be resolving themselves into JUDGEMENT SEAT. Yes, I know we didn’t need to reinsert that line but it is in my illustration above – I like the highlighting! This, if course, helped us fit in those last few difficult little words, CAUKER, TARDY, CADEE and TEA SET which disobeyed that notion about one half reversing, but did fill lots of gaps.

There was a moment of delight when we realised that the centre line of the crossword was going to be palindromic with REDDER in the centre of SEMEMES. Now that is spectacular compiling isn’t it?

Almost there! We fitted STRAIT and STITCHES in and saw that they shared the letter S and thus fulfilled that line in the preamble ‘Note that two entries overlap!’ We had been playing with a potential HECTOR SEDUCEE on the corresponding line (symmetry-wise) in the top half of the crossword but there was a rather smelly numpty red herring there.

The Internet produces ballad evidence of Hector upbraiding Paris ‘you pretty boy, you evil seducer’ but he didn’t seduce Hector did he? We scratched our heads and wondered why those extra words BIRTH, BORDER, BREED, EAST and WEST had appeared in the solutions. Daylight dawned almost simultaneously as we recited Rudyard Kipling’s Ballad of East and West,

Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgement Seat; But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

So that was what HECTOR was doing up there. He needed to be face to face with another strong man (and even share that H with him!) HERCULES completed our grid.

Thank you Elgin. This was very challenging indeed and most enjoyable too.

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Listener 4185: Ballad by Elgin (or Are Scissors Really Necessary?)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 4 May 2012

Elgin’s previous Listener was the entertaining A Change of Clothing with its Wallace and Gromit theme (and not Batman and Robin as many indications in the puzzle implied). I managed to solve it without too much of a sidetrack. About 6 years ago, however, there was his infamous Asylag, which attracted a very high error rate. It was before my current Listener solving streak, so I don’t know how I’d have got on … but I suspect I’d have failed.

Well, that was then and this is now. However, a slow read of the preamble and I realised that Elgin seemed to be in a quite a vindictive mood: not all across answers appeared in the grid, they were in alphabetical (mot grid) order, they could go forwards or backwards, one row wasn’t clued, two clued entries overlapped, and one column was missing. I was thankful that we were at least provided with some sort of diagram in which to enter our answers. But where to start?

I was somewhat relieved that the first two across clues were pretty straightforward: clue A was McGonagall’s simple name of ballad is regularly forgotten, leading to AEFALD, and clue B Origin of radio telegraphy in Bosnia-Herzegovena was BIRTH. But where they went, and in what direction was anybody’s guess.

So, I decided that I should deal with the downs first, since they were at least numbered and fixed. 1 EARTH, 3 YAPSTERS and 9 DICIEST were easy to spot. I don’t know whose puzzle first alerted me to ‘Nancy’ referrring to the city in France, but it now jumps off the page at me, and D + ici est gave me DICIEST. About ten more clues, mainly downs, came next, but after that, progress was in–cred–ib–ly slow!

I placed TRUSTLESSNESS across the bottom of the grid, since a number of down clues seemingly prevented it from going anywhere else. If it did indeed intersect with SEDER at 18dn, that presumably meant that the first letter was to be dropped and thus represented the missing column. However, in this puzzle I felt that there was precious little that could be taken for granted. I was beginning to get a trifle frustrated with the whole enterprise, but my curiosity had already been piqued.

It was a shame that I didn’t quickly get the entry across the top of the grid, the other 13-letter entry. Flier from Perth’s spinner to fielders stumped me for ages. Was Perth referring to Scotland or Australia? Was the definition ‘flier’ or ‘fielders’ (my guess was that it was the former)? And where did all the other across clues that I had solved fit into the grid. Head and brick wall came to mind.

After about five hours of solving over two days, I still had about a dozen clues to solve. However, I had discovered that across entries were to go in the grid cyclically, with answers running off one side of the grid and appearing at the opposite end of the same row. Even so, fitting them all in the grid was finnicky to say the least.

Listener 4185I don’t know how much easier the puzzle was for those solvers who twigged the theme from BIRTH, BORDER, BREED, etc. For me, EAST and WEST were not enough to trigger the leap to Kipling’s Ballad of East and West:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

As I write this blog, I notice that the crucial phrase is spelt without its first E: ‘Judgment Seat’, but Chambers has it as judgement-seat. Even without the J of ‘Jenny’, JUDGEMENT-SEAT was obviously the contents of the missing column.

I was unsure of the ‘overlapping’ clues for a long while … with emphasis on the ‘long’! I had spotted HECTOR in row 5, and he was part of the row without clues, and for some reason, I pencilled SEDUCEE immediately after him. So whom did Hector seduce? Unfortunately, my pencilling of ‘seducee’ was quite heavy, and it stayed in the grid for a ridiculous length of time … until Chambers declared that there was no such word! It was only when I realised that it went left to right but that its opposite number, STITCHES, went the same way, that I spotted my error and with the ‘two strong men standing face to face’, that part of the conundrum resolved itself. We had STITCHES and STRAIT plus HECTOR and HERCULES sharing their first letter. What’s more, they were at the end of the eartH … OK, not ‘ends‘, but I was happy.

Finally, after over twelve hours of solving, I had the completed grid.

However, one question remained. although it was one that we hadn’t been asked … what to do with the SKY in the top right!? I reread the preamble a few times: ‘One column has been omitted from the grid shown’. ‘Shown‘. Was that just the editor’s style, or was something else being alluded to? I eventually decided that EARTH and SKY needed to go east and west and stand presently at the judgement-seat. That needed a pair of scissors to cut the grid into two and have them running down the central two columns of the grid next to each other. That seemed quite drastic and a major bit of information that was actually missing from the preamble. I was probably digging myself a nice hole!

I have to say that I ummed and aahed for some time. After all, the third line of the ballad indicated that there was no east or west. By this time my brain was nearing meltdown and I decided to go the whole hog. I did indeed cut the grid in two and stick the two halves together to represent earth and sky standing together at God’s judgement-seat. Having done that and about to pop my entry in an envelope, I decided to ignore the ‘solvers are not required to reinsert it [the omitted column]’ and prepared another grid with JUDGEMENT-SEAT running down the centre. After all, ‘not required’ implied to me that it was an optional step rather that a forbidden step.

Listener 4185 My EntryAnd that was my submitted solution and the end of this, for me, gargantuan puzzle. I went from ‘this is ridiculous’ to ‘what the hell is going on’ to ‘they’re having a laugh’ and eventually to ‘I hate this puzzle’. That was followed by ‘oh that’s what it means’ and ‘well … I think I quite like it after all’! Whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong, I have to congratulate Elgin on another masterpiece. It really would be interesting to know how many of the hurdles that were put in our way were there from the puzzle’s initial concept.

As I said at the beginning, at least we were given a grid to fill in … this time!
 

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