Listen With Others

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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!


3 Responses to “Listener 4248, Class: A Setter’s Blog by Augeas”

  1. RR said

    Although an enjoyable puzzle I felt that the “six character” requirement was too vague. I’m glad I wasn’t in “obsessive Listener mode” at the time so was fairly relaxed about that, but I can see others being rightly vexed. Espceically as it seems that the achievement, from what I read above, was highly ambiguous figure-wise.

  2. Jaguar said

    Why should something on Wikipedia be treated with any less respect than something you read anywhere else? Granted, a freely editable encyclopedia is vulnerable to silly mistakes, but then so is any other source of information. And, indeed, the benefit of being free to edit is that mistakes are often very quickly noticed. As a result, many of the pages on wikipedia are excellent as a first introduction to the topic, especially in the technical subjects.

    I didn’t see any ambiguity in entering the achievement — the plaque says 126 MPH and it was clear that this was the intended figure. Thanks for an interesting blog — this one must have gone through lots of revision before the final version, and nice to hear some of it documented here.

  3. RR said

    The problem I think is that nowhere in the preamble did it say that reference was to be made to the plaque, or indeed to the Chambers Biographical Dictionary, also mentioned. I feel that was unfortunate.
    In fact I’m not sure I really see why there was a need for anything to be written under the grid at all. The puzzle was perfectly fine as it stood.

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