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Archive for July, 2012

Here and There by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by shirleycurran on 20 July 2012

Just a short preamble: that bodes ill! ‘All answers require amendment on entry in the grid.’ That could be daunting (ugh, they might all have to go in as jumbles), but on the other hand, it could be an impressive feat if all answers are real words. Then we come to that description of a clue that consists of two definitions (either of which might produce the entry) and ‘a letter mixture of all the letters involved in amendments to answers, plus one additional letter.’ That is almost encouraging as it suggest that there are going to be single letter amendments of all 46 clues. We had better keep tabs of them.

We are going to be given additional information by reading 22 letters that are either additional or omitted in down clues. My! This is becoming complicated. We draw our coloured bands down the side of the clues and set to.

COMPOSED appears at once (Collected schoolgirl clutching broken mops (9) COED around MOPS*) and we tentatively add a T and insert COMPOSTED (with our spirits soaring – are these all going to prove to be real words?) OVERP(L)AY, [C]OLDEST and PROSPER[O] speedily follow. How I like the use of ‘awful’ in that clue (Rep’s old pro playing the Bard’s awful Duke of Milan (7)) Wasn’t he the ‘lawful’ Duke who was cast out to sea with his daughter Miranda, by the usurping Antonio?

Solving proceeds at a spanking rate but worrying gaps appear. You don’t have to be a northerner to know that the queer COD down the road is just a ‘chap’ but the clue ‘About to finish up (4)’ (C + DO rev) leaves an awkward gap (COED, COND, COLD, CORD etc. are possible) as does 20d (Applying drug to muscle (with i[R]on supplement) creates euphoria (8) This could be GELATION, DELATION or RELATION). (What a lot of parentheses – I am losing the place in archetypal Numpty fashion, just as I was in my solve!)

We shelve the problem for a moment. Neither of those clues can be the one with two definitions – a more promising one has surfaced, ‘Mental disorder: Hebrew woman rings NICE doctors for a pill (4)’ We have ?A?A and MANIA could be ‘Mental Disorder’ but MARIA might well be the Hebrew woman, leading to MARA, and the 24 remaining letters don’t look like conventional wordplay!

We know, by now that ALL ENTRIES ARE REAL TERMS. We hardly needed that prompt from the extra or missing letters in down clues but it does just light a tiny candle in our flail, as why has Hedge-sparrow used TERMS: One might have expected WORDS but that might have given him an awkward W.

We’ve spent about four hours tussling with these clues and produced an almost full grid but with so many small gaps and doubts. I take a breather and hunt for the usual Listener compiler tipple in the grid – yes, Hedge-sparrow has his  evil earl taking to drink (E + ALE = putative evil for the bard!) – time indeed for hot toddy and bed!

Morning brings a kind of pdm. There are 24 letters in that clue but we need 46 – one for each clue amendment, with an ‘additional letter’ that solvers must identify ‘and use it to resolve the ambiguity in this entry’. Why did it take me so long to see that each letter was going to be used twice? I write out 48 letters, RR II NN GG SS NN II CC etc. and tick off the letters in my pink marginal stripe and it almost works. I have two Ns and two Rs left.

No, Numpty solving is never so simple! I also have an A, as I have been unable to solve 27ac ‘Game, set and match (4) I have put PITA in there but thought T must be my extra letter. I wonder how many other people were frustrated at this stage by their lousy lack of ability to solve. Of course, this clever clue had three PIT definitions, and thus placed that vagrant A.

There is no such word as NELATION, so 20d has to be (R)ELATION – relegating the other extra R to CO(R)D and leaving an M for MA(N)A (prestige!) What a compilation and what a struggle it was for us!

Many thanks, Hedge-sparrow.


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Listener 4195, Sum by Hotspur: A Setter’s Blog

Posted by Listen With Others on 14 July 2012

For decades, I had been both intrigued and saddened by the tragic story of the brilliant Alan Turing, hounded to death in my own lifetime. During a career in information technology, I often thought how he might be celebrated in a crossword, but it was not until after I retired that I set myself seriously to the task.

The image I had in my mind was that of a continuous reel of paper-tape, constantly updating the computer’s stored program. My (slightly simplified) view of the inherent process representable in the puzzle – but one found in authoritative reference works – was as follows: “The process used mimics the action of a Turing machine, which is determined by (1) the current state of the machine (2) the symbol in the cell currently being scanned by the head and (3) a table of transition rules, which serve as the ‘program’ for the machine.” Thus I conceived a process of splitting a row of twelve cells artificially into two, after which the set of incoming letters and their correspondents in storage, taken individually, would result in a new letter, by performing a ‘sum’ of the two, and this process could be infinitely repeatable.

Could this work? What proportion of the grid could support such a mechanism? Would enough real words emerge? Would they support a valid number of checked letters? It seems that I would have to accommodate a good number of jumbles, but the latter would have to be restrained, and could not be allowed to leak too deeply into the puzzle. And I wanted to include the key word ‘ENIGMA’ in the structure, as a reminder of Turing’s work at Bletchley Park.

After much trial and error (and no software aids!), I came up with the result. I also wanted to use a quotation to provide the mask for the clues. What I recalled vaguely I found in the Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations – also available on the Web, of course. On reflection, I could have used the germ of ‘Can machines think?’ as a selective misprint device, which would have made cluing a lot easier, but the length was perfect for the puzzle size. My first stab for the word to be identified was weak, and the editors diligently prodded me to come up with a more integrative response. ‘COGITO’ fortunately had six letters, and the phrase ‘COGITO ERGO SUM’ provided an appropriate link for the title (which I had conceived early in the process). [Unfortunately, this is when the error occurred: one of my own making, which somehow eluded all checks. My apologies to all solvers.]

Writing clues took much longer than creating the grid. I happen to favour misprints, and the device of allowing them to appear anywhere in the clue gave me more freedom – much needed, given that every clue except one had its misprinted letter determined. I tried to make both versions of clue make some sort of sense, but that was not always possible. I had problems with the preamble – trying to make it concise and accurate without giving too much away. Again, the editors helped considerably with this aspect.

The puzzle had lain dormant for quite a while until the new Editors looked at it in 2010. After much negotiation (and I thank them publicly for their patience and insights), I gained approval. Then I realised that, with Turing’s centenary coming up in June 2012 – on a Saturday, as well! – it would be appropriate to delay publication until then. I suspected that that might make the puzzle easier to solve, given the attention given to Turing, and maybe solvers’ expectations that he would be commemorated in some way.

Incidentally, shortly before publication, I happened to be re-reading Peter Wright’s Spycatcher. In Chapter 13 he writes: “To send a message using a one-time pad, the addresser translates each word of the message into a four-figure group of numbers, using a codebook. So if the first word of the message is ‘defense’ [sic!], this might become 3765. The figure 3765 is then added to the first group on the one-time pad, say 1196, using the Fibonacci system, which makes 4851. It is, in effect, a double encipherment. (The Fibonacci system is also knows as Chinese arithmetic, where numbers greater than 9 are not carried forward. All cipher system work on the Fibonacci system, because carrying numbers forward creates nonrandom distribution.)” It occurred to me that this process – the obverse of the modifiable stored program concept, whereby the initial ‘one-time pad’ is replaced by a new one – was also represented by the mechanism I used in the puzzle.


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Listener 4195: Hotspur’s Sum

Posted by Dave Hennings on 13 July 2012

Hotspur’s third Listener, the first two both appearing in 2009. The first dealt with Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author, while the other was about Transnistria and the river Dniester. Two very different themes, so I wondered what Sum will bring us, It sounded mathematical, but this is the wrong week.

Correct letters of misprints in clues would give a quotation in The Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations or, as I prefer to call it, Google! Ten answers required jumbling before entry and a two-word phrase would appear. After that, the preamble talked about concepts and imitations and processes and ambiguities … far too much to take in at one go, but enough to make me worry about how I would get on when the grid was complete. There was no point in concerning myself with it too much at this stage, and anyway it paled into insignificance in comparison with the stress that selling a house brings on!

It’s always nice to get one of the acrosses in the top row, and this week I got both. 1ac Lord introduced by Highland priests in aged fane almost shouted out fine as the corrected word, and AMENDE sprang to mind. It did take a minute or so to be sure of the wordplay: D (for Dominus, Lord) preceded by MEN (Highland priests) all in AE (aged). 5ac Primitive individual, half-dozy, grassed earth gave ZYGOTE with some nice letters to begin the downs. With such a start, I was tempted to forget about my pass through the acrosses and move on to the downs straight away, but this was against my routine. Luckily for me, routines can be abandoned, and that is what I did.

This proved to be a fairly good move, and after just over an hour, I had a large part of the top of the diagram complete. I was pleased that the surface readings of most of the clues were enjoyable. Even a simple one like 12ac Chopper gets close to oil leak for AXEL (with a misprinted leap) raised a smile.

I had identified HUSSARS at 18ac and RICIN at 17dn as being jumbles (although the misprint of bane for bone in the latter took ages to suss). It was also pleasing to have got the two long entries across the middle of the diagram, although, in hindisght, I was disappointed that the theme didn’t spring to mind as I entered 25ac CARICATURING. A few minutes after that, I did twig it as I wrote MACHINE in at 30ac. I had heard only a couple of days before that it was the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, in fact on the date of this puzzle’s publication.

Listener 4195Chambers has two relevant entries: Turing machine and Turing test. I was familiar with the second, which is that (and excuse my layman’s terminology) a computer is considered intelligent if a human cannot distinguish between the responses of the computer to some form of input and the responses of another human. A Turing machine, on the other hand, is a hypothetical computer capable of performing an infinite number of calulations.

I looked forward to quickly finishing the bottom half of the diagram and getting on with the endgame. Unfortunately, said bottom half of the diagram proved to be far from quick. This was where most of the misprints lay, and in the bottom left corner in particular.

I don’t think a three-letter entry has caused me as much grief for a long time as 34ac Starts to scan opening times for protection in shops. It seemed that the corrected misprint would be shoes, but SOT? It looked like it would be a jumble, to be entered as OS•, but sot had nothing to do with shoes. It was only as I read Bradford’s under shoe that I came across ‘sock’ and that was somehow enough to get SOX, with X = ‘times’.

Having got all the answers, I had the wrong number of jumbles, so I needed to create a neat version of my diagram in Sympathy in order to determine that REGIMES at 31ac wasn’t one of the jumbles after all. I must say that I didn’t like the definition for that entry as Clinton and Bush led them, as I thought it a bit too vague, but that was the only clue I didn’t like. Most, as I have said, I enjoyed.

And so, the endgame. The title seemed to indicate that some mathematical operation was required, so I wrote the numbers for each of the squares in rows 9 – 12 below the grid. Row 9 was:

18 5 7 9 13 5 | 19 8 15 18 1 10

I experimented with addition using columns 1 / 7, 2 / 8, etc, but that was fruitless. I then tried subtraction … although, don’t ask me why! (Of course, what was required was to add the right hand side of one row to the left hand side of the next.) I wrote ACHIQE to the right of my figures. Undeterred by the mistake (1 – 13 becomes 27 – 13 = 14 = N, not Q!), I pressed on, and when SHORAJ appeared, followed by HAMUTE and then LIBRAN and ENIGMA, I was home and dry, with COGITO being written in the remaining squares of row 13. In all, only about half an hour on the endgame, and I felt I had got away lightly. “Cogito Ergo Sum.”

So, thanks to Hotspur for a very enjoyable puzzle, and a fine tribute to one of Britain’s heroes. How Turing and his fellow codebreakers at Bletchley Park did what they did would be unbelievable were it not true. We owe them everything.

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Sum by Hotspur (ergo SUM!)

Posted by shirleycurran on 13 July 2012

I read the preamble and said “Turing!” Well, you would have to be more than a numpty (if that is possible) to be unaware that there is a Turing anniversary at the moment. I won’t be mentioning a current puzzle will I if I say that we numpties have already struggled mightily with the endgame of another Turing puzzle in the Magpie this month? (Time for a Magpie plug again, six Listener style puzzles delivered to your computer once a month for a very modest fee.

So we had guessed the theme by 16.05 on Friday and I am writing my account of our solve on Sunday afternoon. What happened? Phi wrote a substantial essay to the Crossword magazine (time for a plug?  that included the information that he thinks twice as long spent on the endgame as on filling the grid is far too long. I wonder what he would say about my couple of hours filling the grid and about 24 puzzling about how to set the Turing machine in motion. Well, he would probably just comment that I must be fairly slow on the uptake – and the comment would be fair enough.

This endgame, for me at least, put this puzzle among the truly difficult ones (almost one of those fearsome numericals) at about 8 on the 1 to 10 scale.

The northern half of our grid and the south-east quarter filled with relative ease with those lovely generous 12-letter words across the centre. ‘At a climax, crushed the cry within — just like the old firm! (ARCHETYPICAL: APICAL around THE CRY* giving an O misprint in fOrm) and ‘Air cut loose in concert, giving distorted effect’ (CARICATURING: AIR CUT* in CARING – giving us a ‘concerN misprint).

The quotation leapt out at us and we didn’t need the ‘Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations’, “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?” the focus of Alan Turing’s work. The recent Magpie puzzle led the scientific numpty to take a text about Turing down from the shelf and to reread it for bedtime fun (!) It happened, perhaps ironically, to be here on the table. Ironically? Well, Turing’s answer would be ‘Not yet’ and that was what we were expecting if we could ever unravel that infernal code that seemed to be appearing in the south-west corner of our grid.

We were not too sure about 1d (and I am still not too sure!) ‘Cousin of bonny woman wanting male — hot! (4)’ Hotspur, unlike the typical Listener setter, didn’t give us much of a sprinkling of alcohol but we had a couple of libidinous clues with ‘Woopies see hint of levity in Grables sHanks?’ (L in GAMS) and this hot lady hunting for a man. We decided the E misprint had to be on the end of ‘bonny’ so that this ‘bonne’ was an AMAH (MAMA less M(ale)) + H(ot)) but the ‘cousin of’ is still puzzling me. Chambers tells me that ‘cousin’ can be ‘something kindred or related to another’ so I imagine that must be the explanation.

Oh dear the south-west corner! The problem there was, of course, that even if we had sorted out the misprints and got a likely solution, we still had eight of our ten jumbles to find and, without a full grid, we were stymmied for sussing out which were the ambiguities.  HUSSARS clearly had to be jumbled, but I was playing with MATURING at 20d (‘Still developing cold in cooler area temperature stops’) It wasn’t quite right and led me into more than ten jumbles. Of course, I needed IMMATURE (Hold in cooler = IMMURE keeping A(rea) and T(emperature)) to place SUSASRH and REGIMES correctly.

Then the frustration. Clearly some sort of alphanumeric calculation was going to lead from REGIME to SHORAJ and I quickly produced a set of numbers that were the numerical difference between those two sets of six letters. 1,3,8,9,14,5. …and fiddled … and gazed … and fumed (no point detailing my 24 hours of frustration as I am sure they were shared by lots of others) until the other numpty, about an hour ago, said ‘Got it! It is so obvious’. He had simply reconverted that to ACHINE (the row above) and, of course, pointed out to me that subtracting the second six from the first was not the method. Simply add the previous output to the following input, so that ACHINE + REGIME = SHORAJ (thus SUM). Simples!

By now a message had gone the rounds. The input on the bottom row should be XAXBGN. Add that to ENIGMA and you get COGITO (ergo the title SUM! – what a clever play on words.)

What a dazzling piece of compilation. I do hope Hotspur will honour us with a setter’s blog. I shudder to think how long it must have taken to find the words that (even jumbled) would create a symmetrical grid and a working system with a repeated process where the results from one iteration provided the input for the next.

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Two Little Ducks by Ben Trovato

Posted by shirleycurran on 6 July 2012

Ben Trovato indeed – a sort of dialect Italian version of ‘well found’. I wonder who he really is and whether this really is his first Listener. With the usual trepidation, we began our solve and words came very quickly. The down clues seemed the obvious way in and DAYGIRL, STAND, ASMEAR, HEARETH, HOOTERS and TENTH went in. We had it cornered! However, it was impossible to resist a nibble at the across clues and a couple of chemical ones immediately appeared to the scientific numpty.

‘Condensed substance rips Steve to pieces – no dodgy spiv! (5)’ “That’s a subtractive anagram, ESTER”, he announced. ‘White clay – hardened boulder clay from which first ton must go (6) “Well, that’s TILLITE losing a T”. A rather more feminine clue, ‘Resistance: by its own nature it may colour one’s shock (5)’ (R + IN SE) confirmed our suspicion that these across clues were all being entered in reverse.

(A parenthesis in the midst of our speedy solve. As usual, I looked for the Listener compiler generous imbibing of the hard stuff and there wasn’t a lot of it here. Ben Trovato seemed almost sober, merely sticking to ‘minced dog’ and ‘doughnuts’ with the only ale having gone down in ‘…one capsized warship carrying lost ale from Norwich’.)

PHLEBOTOMIST, KLIPDAS and AILUROPHOBIA appeared (this week’s conversation stoppers) and we marvelled at this grid construction. Ben Trovato had a 6-letter average word length in a very generous grid with the added complexity of compiling with words running in reverse direction – quite a mental compiling feat which was rendered even more complex by the complication we hadn’t spotted yet – those clues! (Though a few of them were reading rather oddly – ‘…no dodgy spiV’ ‘…colour one’s shocK’.

We had, by this time, spotted that GIMEL, DALETH and LAMED would fit into our unclued lights (thematically entered in reverse, of course – clever!) and it was a short mental step to ZAYIN, CHETH, SADHE, SAMEKH and ALEPH. NUN and MEM (conveniently palindromic) were there in NUNSHIP and TAGMEME so we had one brief tussle with our final two clues, (I never like the short words – they are often the hardest to solve aren’t they?) ‘Dance this day makes a gay time (3)’ (HEY = dance and ‘hey-day’ = a frolic). That gave us DOGGY for ‘Dashing track next to unfinished athletics venue (DOD + GY(m)).

A quick check showed us that we had ten of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Two members of the set were needed below the grid, so we had somehow to find ten more by ‘Thematic reading of the clues’ which would provide ‘leads’ to yet more members.

‘Leads’! What did Samuel say when I started blogging for Listen With Others? “I always read the first and last letters of clues before I start solving.” I had forgotten to do that, but would it have said much to me at the start of my solve? We were reading these letters backwards in the grid weren’t we? If you read the clues backwards you get the leads HEH, VAV, TETH, YOD, KAPH, PEH, KOPH (Hah, lucky for Ben Trovato that Chambers has adopting the KOPH and not the QOPH spelling – how would he have fiddled IraQ into his clue?) RESH, SIN and TAV.

Two were missing: AYIN and BETH. Only one question remained. Should we enter those, thematically in reverse below the grid? Well, obviously not since we were being asked for two further members of the ‘set’ and the ‘set’ in Chambers is written left to right (and even vertically for half of this puzzle!)

And the title, Two Little Ducks’? Mystified! I am told it is an anagram of ‘Lust tickled two’. Well well!

A speedy solve but most enjoyable as Ben Trovato’s puzzle was a polished compilation, complete in itself. Many thanks.

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