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Archive for July, 2013

Listener 4249, Play’s Opening: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 July 2013

I suppose what you really want to know is what this business with the line is all about. I will get to that, but probably it is easier if I mention how the puzzle developed in order to put it into context. Three years, ago this puzzle was finished and submitted to the Listener at a time when Roger was still first editor. It was only just over a year after my first thematic crossword puzzle had been published. That one was in the shape of a tennis racket, which, if I think back, may have had an influence on this puzzle. I like pictorial themes, a puzzle where an object or pattern appears is pleasing to the eye (e.g. my Africa based debut Listener). So I wondered if it was possible to have a grid looking like a football pitch? With artistic licence regarding the dimensions, a 14 x 12 grid would suffice to get two penalty boxes and a centre circle. As with all themes, the solver needs a way in; no one likes a GLF (giant leap forward). The easiest way is to add a gimmick to the clues suggesting the solver draw three lines on a football pitch. Not exactly much of a puzzle. So I wanted to add something football related into it but not beyond the scope of anyone without knowledge of the game. To make life even more straightforward, I wanted a way of precisely guiding the solver regarding where to draw the first line. Some may think I am a Liverpool supporter, which is not the case. Chambers had Kop in relation to Anfield, so there was no need to dive off to the internet or other reference books for help. Anfield had all different letters, and KO meaning kick-off as part of Kop meant I could even start a game of football in the grid. I could put Kop into the grid as well making the P signal the start of the first penalty box. The second penalty box may have been too obvious to spot and I didn’t want the game given away too early, so I made sure that the grid could be altered making all real words.

I wanted a thematic gimmick in the clues and if I used the letters of Anfield being passed from one clue into another, then this should suffice. This meant the misprinted and correct letters had to be from the letters ANFIELD, which is not as easy as it sounds, given that I pretty much restricted the clues they were from.

The idea that the grid would act like the start of a game of football meant I could again use the letters of Anfield, which is why the clues were somewhat restricted. Which ones? At this stage I had finished the grid, which, in hindsight, was a bad decision. There was a D sitting nicely in the corner and I could connect a path of play from the centre spot (kick-off) right into the corner. (bi)CORNE sitting nicely down the grid meant I could ask the solver to add an R under the grid signifying where the line ended up.

So we have two reasons for the line. It merely signifies a possible path that the ball could take following kick-off. In the newspapers the path of the ball is often represented schematically like this. Secondly it was a corner. Well it wasn’t really, as anyone could tell you with knowledge of how to get a corner. The editors wanted this removed, and rightly I must add, given that the ball was hitting the corner flag, not making a corner.

With hindsight, I should have suggested to the editors that I reworked the puzzle to score a goal (in fact, I should have done that even before submitting it). I already had an entry with SCORE in it, which could have easily been incorporated into the puzzle as this could be a thematic clue. So with a minor tweak, I could have put the D at the point in front of the goal. In fact I have done it while writing this blog (see below).

There is one other point that will undoubtedly be raised by the purist football fans or the erudite solvers who went off to look up the rules of football. After a kick off, even though all your players are not in the opponents half, the ball must still be passed forward. One could argue that this is the wrong end, but then who is to say that one of these passes was not intercepted by the opponent and then carried on back into their own half. I reiterate, it is merely a possible path from the kick-off in football.

I must finally make a point about solvers who reject a puzzle purely based on the theme. There are a number of themes that I am not thrilled about, but I take the puzzle as a whole. I agree that we solve thematic puzzles because they have themes, but to me the theme isn’t everything and it is a little narrow-minded to expect a theme to cater to one’s liking every week. In fact there are a number of aspects that I strive to get when setting a puzzle, including the penny drop moment, the aesthetic nature of the grid, the balance of clues, the logical process of the solve, and an enjoyment factor. I may not have achieved the last with some solvers, however, I hope I have scored and ticked the boxes with the rest.

Please note this is not the correct entry grid:

Listener 4249, Setter's Blog


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Play’s Opening by Shark

Posted by shirleycurran on 26 July 2013

Anfield Kop 001Shark! That is sure to challenge the Numpties. This one is competing with the Wimbledon men’s semi-finals for attention and that grid looks suspiciously like a tennis court. Play’s Opening indeed! We scan the preamble and see that not only do we have misprints but the correct letter is being passed on to another clue to become its misprint. This is the sort of innovation we are learning to expect from Shark and he follows it with a series of circles that have to be drawn.

These misprints are going to be in the clues but we are circling the correct letter in the grid entries. Blank cells too, and a small circle to draw, then a red line joining the circles in a thematic order and three thematic markings that must be delineated in a different colour. There’s the final Shark touch. He’s a purist and all final grid entries are going to be real words.

A quick run through the clues tells us that these are going to be typically tough Shark’s teeth. One immediately makes sense though. ‘Food from Dickensian dissembler with no smell (6)’ That has to be PECK[sniff] – the Dickensian character losing the sniff; PECK can be food. But that is only four letters. Something odd is happening here. Didn’t Bottom in his role as an ass in MSND desire a ‘peck of provender and a bottle of hay?’ Perhaps it’s that kind of ‘Play’s Opening’ or is Shark simply reaffirming his membership of the tipsy Listener setters’ club? He certainly produces the proof of membership.

‘Red X, something added for opposition (7)’ gives us CHIANTI (CHI + ANTI) and ‘Wine, just one after [L]nine, starting to trip (4)’ not only gives us another bottle of deep red Spanish wine (TENT) but also provides a misprint that we are now realizing we have to carry onward in the clues. That L moves down to turn CARTED into CARTEL. The D turns FERRY to DERRY. We carry that F down to FLAN’s head in the place of ALAN’S head. Our A moves to TANE in the place of TINE ‘Forge tane to produce stake (4)’ What superb trickery! Instead of a tine producing a metal stake, we are anagramming TANE to get ANTE.

The magic continues: that spare I turns BEN to BIN giving wordplay for BICORNE ‘Bin Elton’s first to hold my hat (7)’ (BIN + E round “COR” = “My!”) We carry an E foward converting TEN to TEE ‘Tee instruments must precede caller (5) giving GUES +T. We have seven letters now and we have circled them where they appeared in our solution. A rather unusual pattern appears but they do anagram to ANFIELD. Could it be a different kind of ‘play’? SCORE has appeared at 41ac. Is this thematic?

It is a long struggle to solve these clues and fill our grid. I acquire a few more conversation stoppers along the way: TREMATIC (not simply an S – Shark’s opening – ‘but related to gills’) ISOLECITHAL, FIRMLESS and GLIAL. However, that funny business with the PECK is confirmed when we are given two easy clues that lead to ILL and VARIES. Light dawns! There are two possibilities for filling the two empty cells. We could have COPECK, CILL and OVARIES or KOPECK, KILL and OVARIES.  The KO option is clearly thematic and a return to the preamble tells us that this hint will direct us to the drawing of a small circle. My football goes in the the centre of the field where I now have CENTRE CIRCLE drawn, and I kick off and join up the letters of ANFIELD until they fail to score and seem to send the ball off at the corner.

Wiki fills me in on Anfield and I learn that one of the stands is called the Spion Kop. I learn that the steep nature of the stands at this point of the stadium led to fans naming it after a battle that took place near Ladysmith in South Africa during the Second Boer War in 1900. That must be the thematic feature revealed by the KO abbreviation and, sure enough, I find PENALTY BOX beginning at the P.

There is no PENALTY BOX at the other end until I change letters and create one and, of course, Shark has managed to produce only real words. That is a brilliant achievement. I draw my ‘three thematic markings’ and return to the tennis. Andy Murray is producing similar technical mastery. Thank you, Shark. What an achievement.

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Listener 4249: Play’s Opening by Shark

Posted by Dave Hennings on 26 July 2013

This week we had Shark’s second Listener puzzle following on from the excellent 4183 Continental Drift and its outline of Africa. Here we had a preamble with a lot going on, including blank cells, circles, lines and letter changes. Luckily, apart from seven misprints, I could hopefully ignore it all until the endgame. Whether that would be a couple of hours away, or longer, only time would tell…so I had better get on.

Listener 4249With only seven misprints, it seemed sensible to just try and solve every clue as though it were normal. That way I should end up with seven unsolvable clues at the end. (Of course, you and I both know that croswords don’t work like that!)

The acrosses were pretty tough. Only 11 ARABY, 13 LANATE, 14 CANTAR, 43 DONS and 45 SEPTET were solved in the first run thorugh.

The downs were slightly easier with about a dozen solved fairly quickly. These included 23 Forge tine to include stake (4) which shouted out ANTE, ‘tine’ being the misprint for ‘tane’. Only six more to find.

Returning to the acrosss, I tackled the long 11-letter entries at 18 and 32 again. The first was probably I (in) plus an anagram of ‘this cell o[v]a’ and the second an anagram of ‘pictures CE O’. I finally worked out the second as EUROSCEPTIC, but ISOLECITHAL would take a bit longer even though I had it starting with IS.

After this, I made steady progress and the grid was finished in something over two hours. On the way, 29dn Ben Elton’s first to hold my hat (7) as the clue to BICORNE raised a smile, with its misprint of ‘Ben’ for ‘Bin’! I also liked the similarly misleading 27dn Phoenix’s wings underneath to avoid large birds (7), Phoenix relating to the US city rather than the bird (MISS (avoid) + ELS (US wings)). Not to mention 44ac Worthless British explorer hiding in confines of ferry (6) (ROSS (explorer) in confines of DerrY!).

As well as the misprints giving something like infadel, the grid had a couple of holes in the top row, 5ac being PECK, 5dn ILL and 6dn VARIES. It was easy to see that they should become KOPECK, KILL and OVARIES respectively, and KO, and possibly KOP, would be a relevant part of the theme. Now, was the Kop at Arsenal, Everton, Milwall, Tottenham H, or…? You get my drift, I know hardly anything about football. Before attacking Google, I checked Chambers and found that it was at Liverpool’s ground, Anfield. Back of the net!

So now the little circle had to go in the centre of the grid, which is where Kick Off takes place in a football match, and a red line (presumably because that is Liverpool’s home colour) could be drawn to link the letters of ANFIELD in sequence. I was a bit surprised that the ball ended up in a corner rather than somewhere in the goal area.

Finally three thematic markings had to be found and ‘delineated’. Luckily we were told that one ran from the end of the KOP, and PENALTY BOX was soon found. Without that hint, and seeing that it ran from right to left, it might have taken quite some time to find it. A matching one was also required, and changing the letters on the opposite side of the grid revealed a lot of lovely new words, including FIRELESS for ‘firmless’ and CHIEFESS for ‘chiefest’. Finally, I needed Google to show me that the circle in the centre of the pitch is called…the CENTRE CIRCLE!

Listener 4249 My EntryI was somewhat worried that we were required to ‘delineate’ these markings, so I made sure that I used a single line rather than highlight the whole square. I’m sure that wouldn’t be marked wrong, but it made more sense anyway.

Not too difficult a puzzle this time from Shark, but my! what a lot going on. Great fun, thanks.

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Listener 4248, Class: A Setter’s Blog by Augeas

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 July 2013

Augeas writes:

This puzzle was composed in June last year, well in advance of the 3 July 2013 celebrations planned for the 75th anniversary. Imagine Augeas’s dismay when on 8 September Ifor’s A1 was published (4206) using a very similar idea about Flying Scotsman. Happily this didn’t lead to an immediate “seen that idea” rejection from The Editors and Class moved slowly though the process.

The original version had several more A4 ducks (Pochard, Gargeney and Gadwall). It also included as the fourth letter of the extra words an instruction to solvers: fix grid to appropriately sized piece of paper – hence the choice of the title Class to imply the importance of A4-ness. Augeas had not known that A4 is not widely available outside the UK, and especially not in the USA (although a bit of googling and the use of scissors should not have been beyond solvers accustomed to origami wrens and Advent calendars). Be that as it may, the instruction was to remove the instruction, so out it went. The upside of this was that the surface readings could be improved as the extra constraint of both second and fourth letters was eased. (As a footnote to the non-availability of A4 in the USA Augeas had forgotten the description in Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Puzzles and Diversions, Penguin 1965, of how in 1939 Richard Feynman and others discovered flexagons when one had been idly fiddling around with the strips of paper made when he had to cut a one-inch strip from his American notebook sheets to fit his British binder.)

The inclusion of these other ducks meant that some very unattractive words appeared in the original version. These included IAINS (more than one Iain, clued as “MPs Stewart and Duncan Smith regularly extol Italianisms” (extol being extra) and AGEDNESSES, the inclusion of which proved to be the final straw for the original version. Lengthy two-way exchanges and a lot of helpful input from The Editors – for which much thanks – led to a second (almost the final) version which sadly removed all the extra ducks but resulted in a much tighter puzzle with none of the unattractive words. The third and final version was an across/down flop designed to remove the nazi swastika in the middle and replace it with the older peaceful version. Augeas had not come across this taboo before – the nazi version appears regularly in Azed and other barred puzzles. One to remember for future Listener submissions.

Commemorating Mallard’s record-breaking run by requiring solvers actually to write it in seemed a very unchallenging final step. After all, a puzzle about Don Bradman would, if possible, incorporate 99.94. The figure of 126 mph is widely known (and clearly shown on the plates attached to Mallard’s boiler and in any good book on the subject). Augeas had not reckoned with Wikipedia however. The figure of 125.88 given there is wholly without authentication, and in any event the 6 characters 125.88 do not constitute an achievement – they are merely a number. In 1938 speeds were not measured in kph anywhere in the UK outside science laboratories (and even there were more likely to be metres per second). The kph equivalent is merely a translation pandering to those who can’t cope with the imperial units. (Has the Book of Genesis been rewritten to tell us that Noah’s Ark was 1371.6 cms high?)

The dynamometer car attached to Mallard’s tender wasn’t accurate enough to reach even one decimal place. The official readings were 123 1/2 mph at Milepost 90 3/4; 124 at Milepost 90 1/2; 125 at Milepost 90 1/4; 124 1/4 at Milepost 90. There is no documentary evidence that any speed in excess of 125 mph was reached. However the driver and inspector on the footplate both agreed that Mallard’s speed had increased slightly between Milepost 90 1/4 and Milepost 90 before brakes were applied, and the figure of 126 mph was accepted by LNER and all concerned.

Augeas had not foreseen the degree of doubt and uncertainty surrounding this – fun, really – aspect of Class. As a 14-year-old boy he climbed along the running board and touched the commemorative sign while Mallard was being exhibited at King’s Cross, so felt that the 126 mph was sacrosanct – as indeed it was before Wikipedia chose to publish a spuriously accurate different version. Caveat Wikipedia, solvers, unless you know it’s right.

The appearance of STREAK was wholly serendipitous and Augeas couldn’t resist – he didn’t try very hard – inviting solvers to colour the word in Garter Blue (the colour borne by A4s in 1938). Since the word – as a synonym for an A4 locomotive – is almost wholly confined to former train-spotters it was clearly wrong to require it to be highlighted as a compulsory exercise – it was there as an Easter Egg for the added enjoyment of those – many indeed, from the feedback – who were pleased to revisit a happy part of childhood. Some solvers appear to have been unhappy with this (not the childhood bit: the colouring-in).

Despite this Augeas hopes that Class provided some amusement. Judging from feedback from a variety of sources it reinvigorated a large number of ex-small boys, some of whom were girls. Roll on 2038!

Posted in Setting Blogs | 3 Comments »

Class by Augeas

Posted by shirleycurran on 19 July 2013

Europcar claim 002We should start checking topical anniversaries which seem to be the subject of Listener crosswords at the moment, though we would probably have to troll through a number of sources to spot the right one. We have seen a news item on the Mallard on Scottish television this morning, as, indeed, today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of what was quite an achievement on July 3rd, 1938. 126mph! When I was small, I saw the Mallard crossing Ribblehead viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle line. She was a wonderful sight (I suppose engines, like boats and cars, are female?)

The numpties were in the far north (Shetland) with no resources, so we were rather grateful for this relatively easy gridfill. Three quarters of the solutions gently slotted into place and when we had a potential MALLARD and DUCK (after wondering who PANISC could be: ‘Deity rattled Spain over Catholic synod SPAIN* + C’) we decided that the STREAK (Line of bacteria runs in slice of reasty meat R in STEAK) had to be blue and that, if we looked a little further, we would find Sir NIGEL GRESLEY, as indeed we did, streaking down the leading diagonal.

photo (1)We looked to see whether Augeas was earning his place in the tipply Listener setters’ club but he was somewhat of a disappointment, producing ‘reasty meat’, ‘army biscuit’, ‘cold drink with traces of elderberry’, and watching his figure with a ‘late light meal’ but there wasn’t much alcoholic cheer. However, there was a mini challenge and a head-scratcher in the south-west corner of the grid. We still needed an answer for 20ac which was an unclued light. Four clues were suspect and we had noticed that remark in the preamble that ‘Numbers in brackets are the lengths of grid entries’. Something wasn’t going to be what it was pretending to be.

It was 3d that gave the game away and we were reminded of a recent crossword by Nutmeg in the Magpie (time for a Magpie plug!) where she had bastard words composed of combinations of letters and numbers (a bit of sl8 of hand!) We made an error in that one (as did almost half the solvers, I believe) so we were especially careful this time. What a devious clue that was! ‘Many models are shunning most of late light meal, initially watching figure (7) Well, those models are UNDERWEIGHT aren’t they? We had most of an obsolete or ‘late’ word, UNDER[n] and the initial of W[atching] and the figure 8.

Working backwards, we were able to work out now that the Mallard’s famous 4468 number was giving us three more of those difficult answers. We had 4-FLUSH, 4 BY FOUR and a brownie SIX with an AINE giving us 6AINE for half a dozen lines. Clever stuff!

By now, of course, we had worked out that our date was THIRD JULY NINETEEN THIRTY-EIGHT and a visit to Lerwick library confirmed for us that STOKE BANK was the scene of the achievement.

photoWe still had to decide what we should put under the grid. I’m told that the achievement was that the Mallard didn’t fall off the rails when she went through Peterborough station, but we were somewhat nonplussed about how we were going to squeeze that information into six characters below the grid (the driver, the guard, the stationmaster, the fireman and a couple of other small characters … hmmm!) We rejected that one and decided that RECORD would fit the bill. She went at 125.88 mph. didn’t she? (Well, Wikipedia claims that, but I am surrounded, at the moment by experts – one of whom recently took the attached photos during one of those pilgrimage visits, who assure me that the instruments of the time couldn’t efficiently measure to even one decimal place, so that was a bit of Wikipedia fabrication.) Anyway, could we count the decimal point as a character? Chambers seems to think that we can – ‘punctuation mark of any kind …’ Wikipedia finally solved the dilemma. ‘The speed recorded by instruments in the dynamometer car reached a momentary maximum of 126 mph (203 km/h)’ – so we opted for that.

I like the way there was so much thematic material in this grid and the way it all came together in the end and led us down memory rail. Thank you Augeus.

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