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Archive for May, 2013

Skippers by Ifor,

Posted by shirleycurran on 31 May 2013

Dambusters 001Travelling numpties again and this came off the printer in Mark and Dani’s Internet cafe in Sant Eularia on Ibiza. Well, it very nearly didn’t come out of the printer. How do you say in Catalan “I seem to have got a paper jam”? Then a delighted smile as we saw that this was one of Ifor’s.

Skippers! Is this going to be about kangaroos? It looked likely when one of our earliest solutions was ‘Pained groan piercing spirit of old man, say (8)’ GROAN anagrammed in KA + O (I’m writing on a French keyboard that doesn’t have an asterisk key and Ifor had rather a lot of anagrams in this one didn’t he!)

These clues were generous and it didn’t take long to confirm Ifor’s membership of the tipsy Listener setters’ tippling club with his ‘Almost blended, so turned out whisky(4)’ ALMOST less SO anagrammed, giving MALT, then ‘Oz dog better giving up halves of bitter,  maybe? (4)’ Does he even feed his dog bitter? (I once knew a ski-ing Ozzie dog but a tipsy setter of the non-Listener kind?) Ah, no we’re in Wizard of Oz country – it’s that TOTO dog.

617 squadron 002Looking at the surface readings of the clues we couldn’t help noticing two things. Some familiar names appeared, Maltby and Gibson, and there seemed to be an unusual number of clues that tallied with what that was hinting at; ‘Unit breaching position with fourth from Maltby (5)’ POSI + [Mal]T[by] = POSIT. Wasn’t Maltby the fourth bomber of 617 squadron (the Dambusters) and the one to breach the MOHNE dam? ‘Utter surprise in build up — try again (5)’ REHEAR, ‘Arranged time — maybe Gibson to lead aerial blast in the east? (7)’ MELTEMI What a sneaky trick to lead us on a red herring chase after a different Gibson (MEL) with TIME anagrammed = MELTEMI.

Mohne Dam 001It’s astonishing how many of the clues were thematic. We had things climbing, slamming, being thrown out, turning turtle and freewheeling, deploying lifebelts – and they were not disheartened at No 10, either, so the theme seemed to be what we suspected. What’s more, a lovely line of bouncing Os was appearing and heading towards what was clearly a demolished MOHNE dam. Weren’t we all reared on this series of events that has become a national legend (stirring stuff that overlooks the fact that over half the human victims were prisoner-of-war slave workers).  Operation Chastise happened just weeks before I was born but I understand my US friend who was quite mystified by the references and equally by a young crossword setter who doesn’t sit through the interminable repeats of the film with that well-known march and found the theme difficult to identify.

A full grid then – or almost – the usual handful of doubts – did we need SIMOOM or SIMOON at 45a? Well, the endgame resolved that when we reconstructed the dam and needed SIMOON. MALTBY would clearly become GIBSON, too, producing the required ‘nominal replacement’ of the preamble. How chuffed Ifor must have been when he realized he could make a Ximenean grid with both of those adaptations and only real words appearing in the final grid. One triumphal playing of that march for Ifor.

Doesn’t this solve sound easy! We even imagined that the message was going to have something to do with those clue numbers 16 and 17 that were strategically side by side but it was growing late and we hadn’t busted any dams yet. We thought we had cracked the code by calculating the height of those bombs as they spun and bounced – 8 7 6 5 4 3 4 3 4 3 2 and we began to relate them to letter positions in our clues. (A friend has pointed me towards a clever little animation of the bouncing bomb on Wikipedia. Click on the link.)

POSIT had no definition so we ignored it and got REPEAT ONE E … gobbledygook. Back to Numptyville – we’ve been here before (and will, no doubt, be there again if we don’t abandon the Listener forever if the Times extortionists carry through their intention to oblige us to have a £104 annual subscription to access the Crossword Club – there’s my political whinge of the week!)

The error was that we were attempting to work out the message after removing only eleven clues with Os. It took me a good hour of flailing to understand that both ANGORA and NON-QUOTA had lost Os and, therefore, that both counted as clues to be ignored.

Mohne Dam 002REPEAT ONE ENTRY NUMBER SIX PLACES EAST; It was after midnight when I finally understood that it was the 1 that had to move ‘EAST’ to give 617 – the ‘Unit breaching position with fourth from Maltby’. How beautifully this all came together in the end and what a multi-faceted crossword. Many thanks and congratulations, Ifor.

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Listener 4241: Skippers by Ifor (or Going Back in Time)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 31 May 2013

Ifor is a setter whom I have come to enjoy over the last three or four years. His puzzles are always entertaining, and have covered subjects from I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (in Magpie) through to A1 The Flying Scotsman, his last Listener.

Having started this puzzle on the Tuesday after publication, it took only a couple of sessions to solve the clues, identify the letters dropped from the wordplay in eleven clues (all Os), and reach the endgame. This involved making a “nominal replacement”, “rebuilding one block of cells”, and following the instruction revealed by specific letters in the clues not affected by dropped letters or the one clue consisting of wordplay only.

Listener 4241The Os mentioned above were 8-7-6-5-4-3–4-3-4-3-2 squares above the bottom of the puzzle … or “the ground” as the preamble called it. These letters from the clues in a repeated sequence gave Repeat one entry number six places east. However, before concentrating on that, I noticed two things. Firstly, I wondered why Ifor had chosen TYPE B and BYLINE at 5dn and 22ac, which had necessitated the preamble noting that 5dn wasn’t in Chambers; after all TYPES and SALINE would have worked. Obviously something was happening here, and it only took about ten seconds to realise that row 5 began MALT BYLINE, and Maltby had been referenced in 1ac, the clue without a definition.

I have to confess here that I had forgotten all about Maltby’s role in you-know-what, so I just erased the name and tried to see what could be substituted and yet still give real words down. EGMA, IONIAN, STILB and GIBSON appeared in that order, and I realised that we were dealing with 617 Squadron and the Dambusters raid of May 1943. And that explained what needed to be done in the top row to give 617 when entry number 1 was repeated six places to the right.

Of course, all the Os that were dropped from the wordplay represented the bomb from Maltby’s plane, the one that eventually exploded and burst the MOHNE dam, currently sitting in the bottom right corner as OENMH. So that needed to be rebuilt as MOHNE (giving IDEM, NOH, SIMOON and FORTE in the new across entries). A final bit of blue highlighting and Ifor’s fantastic puzzle was complete.

The double meaning of the title wasn’t lost on me either, with its refence to the two skippers Gibson and Maltby, and the nature of the bouncing bomb.


A couple of days later, on a pleasant evening — one of precious few so far this year — I was sitting outside one of my local hostelries. My fellow Listener solver, Mark Bull (whom you may remember from X and Y by Ron) was walking on the other side of the street. Despite desperate attempts to bury my head in my glass of beer, he spotted me and strode across the road, ignoring the screech of brakes and gesticulation from a passing motorist!

“Glad to bump into you,” he said, and glad I was to be seated otherwise that’s exactly what he’d have done.

“Good to see you too”, I lied, happy at least that my entry for Skippers had already been sent to St Albans and I wouldn’t be upset if Mark blurted out any unwanted help.

“Did you solve Ifor’s puzzle last weekend?” he asked, and without waiting for my reply, carried on at full steam. “I’ve written to the editors to tell them that anniversary puzzles shouldn’t be published so near the actual date. It totally spoilt it for me.”

“How so?” I asked, annoyed that I was encouraging the conversation to go on for longer than I wanted.

“Well,” he continued, “At the beginning of the month, I had Googled ‘Anniversaries May 2013’, and saw that it was 70 years since the Dambusters raid. Out of interest, I did a bit of reading to remember and enjoy the details of the event. That told me everything, starting with the thematic number which would obviously be 617 in the top row. I didn’t even examine the clues later to spell out the instruction that would tell the average solver what to do. 1ac then confirmed my hunch with its reference to Maltby.

“And that was before I’d actually solved any clue. Of course, when I got to 20ac Almost blended, so turned out whisky (4) and 22ac It names the author (extra stuff) (6) which were MALT and BYLINE, I could see that GIBSON would have to appear there as he was in the first run although his bomb wasn’t dropped on the Mohne. As soon as I got one of the Os which had been dropped from the wordplay, I knew it had to represent a bomb, and I pencilled in a route for the other ten. Unscrambling OENMH in the bottom right to give MOHNE was all that needed to be done when the grid was complete.

Listener 4241 My Entry“Must be off now”, he finished, and without having said anything for five minutes, I watched him stride off towards one of the other pubs in the village. I mused on how the puzzle could be solved in two totally different ways, suspecting that the average solver probably took a route somewhere in between.

Somewhat stressed, I returned to my pint.

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Listener 4240, Forlor: A Setter’s Blog by Nutmeg

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 May 2013

This puzzle was published 5 years to the day from its date of submission, and it was set a little while before that, so my recollection of the setting process is hazy to say the least. I’ve long had something of a phone phobia, and had been playing round with the idea of ‘mobile’ phone in crossword terms, but it was the discovery that that irritating Nokia ringtone was not a commercial jingle but part of an actual classical piece that was the final trigger.

I had fun compiling a list of possible words containing a jumble of PHONE, with the help of electronic Chambers. I think there are websites that would have made the job easier but I hadn’t discovered them then, so tried out the various likely permutations of PHONE individually. There wasn’t a whole heap of possibles, but enough to make a puzzle viable.

For those of us still phoneless and condemned to hear one side of others’ conversations, the usual starting point was ‘I’m on the phone…’ – a convenient 12 letter phrase that went in to the main diagonal – then it was a matter of fitting in thematic words, involving as many different arrangements of ‘phone’ as possible.

Determined to include a reference to that nauseating ringtone, I eventually came up with a message that started ‘four bars from Gran Vals…’ and resorted to the relatively easy method of ‘wordplay leads to the answer plus one extra letter’. Nowadays I might use a different method – one that fitted the theme if possible, otherwise perhaps misprints or an extra word or letter to be removed before solving, as I find these more fun both as a setter and a solver.

Well, I sent the puzzle to my (then) tester – thanks to him – who liked it and pointed out a few errors which I duly amended. I was preparing my final files for Listener submission when I remembered you’re supposed to cite references for any slightly obscure thematic material, so I Googled ‘Gran Vals Tarrega’ to find a suitable website, only to find from Wikipedia that that pesky ringtone was, in its original form, just one extremely long bar and not four! I know I’d seen it written out elsewhere as 4 bars, but the ‘hidden message’ had to be changed of course. After a cooling off period I addressed the problem and managed to find a substitute which, while still involving a lot of rewriting of across clues, allowed me to keep a couple of favourites.

Such a long time elapsed after submission with no news of the puzzle that I’d more or less written it off, but it seems it was part of the batch from around that time that got overlooked. My main doubt about publication of the puzzle at this late date was that its theme might be hopelessly out of date, but the vetters considered it to have enough merit, and who’s going to turn down the chance of a Listener? Certainly not I. From online comments I gather there are still plenty of you around who share my sentiments.


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Forlor by Nutmeg

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 May 2013

Nutmeg mobile phones 001Nutmeg! Great! A lady compiler and one we frequently meet in the IQ, EV and Magpie series too. We never find hers easy but we know that they will be fairly set. ‘Forlor…’ Sounds like a quotation from Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale (ironic – ‘the very word is like a bell’ was how Keats continued it – we got our bells later – in  a way). We’ll have to wait and see.

Oh but these clues were tough! IONA went in quickly, ‘Human back on Moon, a hallowed landing place (4)’ (IONA = IO + [M]AN (rev) and, ‘Unnatural conception on island out of control (5)’ AMUCK (A[I] on MUCK). For a moment, we wondered whether Nutmeg was going to provide a whole set of clues on Scottish islands, but it was not to be. SCABIES produced an NZ island ‘Complaint about tree in South Island’ (with the I of Island rather strangely providing the extra I – SCABIES = C + ABIES in S[I]). There wasn’t a lot of Listener setter tippling going on but Nutmeg was obviously being evicted from the pub in ‘Potentially swift announcement: “time” at disorderly local (8)’ (BIRDCALL = BIRD + L[O]CAL* ) What a beautifully deceptive surface reading!

GUANA, JAGIR, ARDEA, HAWKIES – we teased out some tough solutions that were new words to us (as usual, this week’s conversation stoppers “Ha ye caaed the hawkies tae the knowes yet?) and a peculiar set of extra letters was appearing MOTI?BAS…….COTARREGA (We wondered whether we were in another CZOLGOSZ situation!) Stranger still, we were expecting to find ten answers that ‘must be altered before entry into the grid, reflecting a wish of Nutmeg’s which, alas, is likely to remain unfulfilled’. We had a vague suspicion that that was going to be a FORLOR[N HOPE] but didn’t jump to the obvious conclusion at this stage.

Aah! But these years of Listener training paid off. The Numpty who is useless at solving (and was having even more difficulty than usual) glanced at the leading diagonal and saw ‘I’M ON THE TRAIN’! What a find. Suddenly, we realized what we were looking for (and remembered one of those public conversations on the train where a devious worm loudly called his wife, “I’m not going to be able to leave the office till very late so don’t keep dinner for me. Put the kids to bed!” followed by “Darling, I’ve freed myself, will you meet me at the station etc.” No wonder Nutmeg loathes the things!)

Now we saw why TE?? had eluded us. ‘Letter rewritten when short of time not genuine communication (4)’ A PHONE had been thrown out of the solution. (TELEPHONY = LETTE[R] less T* + PHONY with PHONE* – mobile so anagrammed – removed left TELY). This was some compiling! Was Nutmeg going to be able to remove ten ‘mobile’ PHONEs in this way?

The clues that had been resisting us now began to yield and we slowly teased out: A[NOPHE]LINE, STA[NHOPE] PRESS, X[ENOPH]OBE, THI[OPHEN]ES, C[OPENH]AGEN, AL[PENHO]RN, WIT[H OPEN] ARMS, [NEPHO]LOGY and KEEPS [OPEN H]OUSE. I still haven’t understood the word play of that last one and clearly either O would fulfil our purpose.

The constraints must have been massive when Nutmeg was attempting to fit all of those into the grid. We hadn’t finished yet, either. We still had to make sense of that strange message that the extra letters had produced. A few were missing, and, with typical Numpty back-to-frontedness we had our solution so it was purely academic whether we worked it out (or probably was – you can never be sure with the Listener, those letters might say cut your grid into little mobile-phone-shaped pieces and throw it out of the train window). We slept on it.

Morning brought daylight! MOTIF BASED ON GRAN VALS BY FRANCISCO TARREGA. That sound that regularly disturbs our peace in public places was apparently composed by Tarrega, a well-known classical guitarist!

I’ve commented before on how much we learn with every Listener solve. How did Nutmeg know that? Perhaps she’ll honour us with a setter’s blog and we’ll find out.

Many thanks, Nutmeg, that was quite a challenge and great fun!

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Listener 4240: Forlor by Nutmeg (or What! No Oile?)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 May 2013

This was Nutmeg’s fourth Listener, following on from themes of Franglais, Winnie the Pooh and The Grand Old Duke of York. For some reason, I had it in my mind that Nutmeg puzzles were of average difficulty, but a check of previous LWO blogs indicates otherwise. Winnie the Pooh’s Unsettled Spell in May 2011 took me well over 4 hours.

Here, Nutmeg had a wish that was likely to be unfulfilled. The clues had an extra letter in the wordplay which would spell out a message revealing a reason for this wish and would be reflected in the method of entry of ten clue answers.

Listener 4240The last across clue was number 36. 34ac Being short of members, support group welcomes graduate priest (6) was the first that I solved, and I only got that by looking up legless in Mrs B where the first word was AMELIA! 36ac looked as though it was a jumble of PLANE followed by some sort of short coat, and ALPENHORN was squashed and squeezed into the four squares.This was obviously the first of the ten answers needing treatment, but I would need more help before that became clear.

Mrs B assisted again with 13dn Agile rugby player almost dances enthusiastically (9), giving ACROBATIC — BAC[K] in ACROSTIC – S, with C as the extra letter. I think this clue illustrates how tough this clue type is, since the BA really bears no relationship with the rugby player. I’m not saying that it’s unfair, just that it’s not surprising that I get so few answers in my first pass through the clues.

My barely superficial knowledge of football helped with 19dn, with NE< in [T]ARSAL giving ARSENAL. If only 21dn The Paris woman dances enthusiastically (7, three words) had been as obvious, but the fact that it was a 3-word answer of only 7 letters hinted that it was likely to be one of the clues needing treatment. It was also probably an anagram of ‘the paris woman’ minus one letter. WARM HOT SPAIN + E was the first attempt I had, and I looked out the window at the wind and rain and wished I was in Spain playing golf. WITH OPEN ARMS didn’t reveal itself for another half hour. Similarly STANHOPE PRESS at 5ac (an anagram of SPO[O]NERS PET HAS) was some time coming.

Luckily ANOPHELINE was solved reasonably early and IONA at 1ac and OMELET at 10ac meant that it was probably to be entered as ALINE. It looked as though a jumble of PHONE had to be removed, but that didn’t really help to explain what was going on.

It was the message produced by the extra letters in the wordplay that was needed to help with that, and as the puzzle progressed they seemed to be making less and less sense. France and Scotland looked like they were there together with ‘grand’, and I wondered whether it was Nutmeg’s wish that grandchildren living in France moved closer to the setter’s home in Scotland!

Eventually, however, all became clear as the message was revealed as:

Motif based on Gran Vals by Francisco Tarrega

Listener 4240 My EntryIt seems that the Gran Vals was the melody on which Nokia based their (in)famous mobile ring tone: daddle-a-dah dadle-a-dah daddle-a-da-da! And Nutmeg’s Forlorn Hope was eventually shown to be a world with no mobile phones with the phrase “Honey, I’M ON THE TRAIN” being consigned to history!

My only disappointment with the puzzle, Nutmeg, was that you couldn’t weave OENOPHILE into the grid. That would undoubtedly have made Shirley’s day!

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