Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin

Archive for December, 2013

Listener 4271, Extreme Behaviour: A Setter’s Blog by Nudd

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 December 2013

I wondered whether to start by apologising to those I have berated in the past for not leaving real words in their grids – but no, I think I have only so complained when I thought a little more effort could have achieved that end. In this case I don’t think any amount of effort would have got me close to that particular ideal.

Instead, I must apologise to John Green for the horrible pie I left him to mark, courtesy of all those misplaced letters.

It was a Tiburon puzzle about 3 years ago that generated the spark for this one. His Aristotle / Larkin ‘beginning, middle/muddle, end’ quotes brought back to mind the two lines with which Eliot starts and closes ‘East Coker’. It was only when digging a little deeper that I discovered that Eliot’s closing line was in fact originally attributed to Mary Queen of Scots – so from two slices of ‘Four Quartets’ I now had the option of two speakers to consider.

Anyway, whatever the source, it was pretty clear to me which way this particular pair had to be tackled. As both quotes were 20 characters long, I aimed for a grid with 20 each of across and down entries – and managed it quite well (I thought) with good average clue lengths and decent unching. Then came the challenge of populating it.

Because of the almost 100% non-words there was no opportunity to get even a partial automatic fill, so that part became a manual slog. At first I just modified and entered random words until I had some kind of promising structure, then it was a case of using Chambers word search to explore possibilities … and of course to do so I had to first undo each part light. Hence, where e.g. I had. -C-L-N- I’d need to offer Chambers a choice of N-C-L– and –L-N-C and be returned a list including nacelle, necklet, nucelli, nucules, aclinic, colonic, xylonic etc. as my base word.

A slow process compounded by the need to keep equal numbers of each modification type; but eventually, grid full, I clued the puzzle and shipped it off for test solving. ‘Difficult but fair’ was the consensus at that stage – but I also got back more than I had bargained for. The ever inventive Artix commented that it was a pity the quotation originators did not appear in the grid. Of course it was! Not just a pity – why on earth had I not thought of that at the outset? Well, now with the challenge in place I just had to rise to it.

That meant a complete back-to-square-one rewrite (a situation which Darren & I were also to have to face a few months later on the Rood ‘Fourplay’ Magpie). There was no simple short cut, so everything done to date was thrown out and I just started again, this time with the suitably treated and symmetrised TTSELIO and STUARMT as the initial grid occupants. Thereafter it was a repeat of the original slog and, upon completion, I turned to Roddy (who had not previously seen it) who did a fresh test solve and kindly helped me to tidy up the preamble.

… The customary interlude ….

After publication, as many do, I checked out the Answerbank to see how the puzzle was being received, and was surprised to see that only two people had made what they call the ‘Friday night club’. Interestingly, the second of those mentioned a previous puzzle using these same quotes, so I hunted it out in Dave’s database. Sure enough there was indeed an EV of that nature some years ago. I had been completely oblivious to its existence, but must now of course congratulate Oxymoron for what is clearly a brilliant idea J

I have since received the usual amazing follow-up package from John (and not a word of complaint about the checking chore with which I landed him). Again, the consensus seems to be ‘hard but fair’ with solving speeds predictably correlating to how quickly the quotes were spotted. Sincere thanks to all who took the trouble to leave the most welcome feedback, to my test solvers, and of course to Mr. Green.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener 4271: Extreme Behaviour by Nudd

Posted by Dave Hennings on 27 December 2013

This was Nudd’s third Listener, following on from the pushmi-pullyu in 4136 Cross-reference and 4191 Full Instructions Included where a bit of word-mangling was required. This week’s looked like a bit more mangling would be needed.

Listener 4271Entries were to be entered after undergoing one of two mangle-types based on quotations by two authors. We were told that the one of the writers had two initials (1,1,5), the other just one (1,6). I ssumed (only 50% correctly as it turned out) that this was how they were popularly known. Of course, I jumped to the wrong conclusion about the first, with only AA Milne coming to mind and I assumed that we would be in Winnie the Pooh country. If only TS Eliot had got there first!

With extra letters in the wordplay to contend with, I didn’t get many across entries, but at least it seemed that we wouldn’t have to throw any letters away or add any. Apart from 1 ULNAE, the rest were all in the right-hand side of the grid: 14 PIASTRE, 16 LEME, 18 ROUILLE, 25 NILOTES and 28 INANE. I homed in on 9dn, and despite its sneaky clue Food allowances for builders? These keep repeating (10) quickly got [S]ITERATIONS.

So I had half a dozen entries interlocking. That should be easy to see if there’s a pattern. A few minutes later, after a bit of word-juggling (less extreme than mangling), it seemed that either the first or last letter was moving positions, and presumably we would end up with twenty of each in the final grid. Even at this point, I’m afraid that Eliot didn’t come to mind.

However, I didn’t have to wait long before I spotted B·G appearing as early extra letters in the across wordplays. So that would be beginning and I was nearly off on a wild goose chase, with Philip Larkin’s “a beginning, a muddle and an end” being the first thing that crossed my mind — except that had appeared in a 2011 Listener and it was unlikely to appear again. And anyway, that would be three ways of treating the entries, not two.

Of course, I finally got there, despite some hold-ups along the way: ‘Master of Surgery’ wasn’t just MS, but CM (Chirurgiae Magister), the Ancient city wasn’t ‘Ur’ but ‘polis’ and the Super G ski event… well, that had totally escaped my mind since I don’t watch Ski Sunday very often.

We were left with In my beginning is my end from TS ELIOT’S Four Quartets and In my end is my beginning, the English translation of Mary Queen of Scots’ En ma fin git mon commencement. She had to be found in the grid as M STUART, or rather STUARMT, with Eliot as TTSELIO, each changed in accordance with their quotation.

An enjoyable outing from Nudd, thanks, although the puzzle was not quite as easy as my blog probably makes out!

Posted in Solving Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Extreme Behaviour by Nudd

Posted by shirleycurran on 27 December 2013

Nudd Beginning end 001What have we here? Nudd. Well, that promises fair cluing. Answers to be treated in two ways before entry. Now that is a bit more ominous, as we are going to have to do plenty of cold-solving before we know what is going on. Out come the coloured markers – two colours for use later on. There is some highlighting to do in the final grid, ‘the two writers’,  so another marker  gives me that prompt (so silly to send a correct grid and forget the highlighting but I know some people do!) The fourth colour goes down the side of the clues as we have wordplay in each clue that leads to ‘an extra letter not entered in the grid; these letters form two quotations (one translated) that describe the method by which answers become entries’.

Clearly we have potentially three ways of understanding what is going on – the quotations, the two writers or by cold solving and spotting the means of entry. That is quite a challenge so I take a rest, pour myself a pre-dinner drink and scan the clues for proof of Nudd’s membership of the swigging setters association. He’s there sure enough, though I have to search through bones, lettuce, French sauce, milk, cream cakes, fish and shell-fish to find proof.

Nudd is imbibing in style! ‘Extremely bent leading Italian returns cracking roughly 8 pints (or maybe 12) (7)’ Difficult that one! We have PRI[M]A<  in HIN giving HAIRPIN. Next we come to ‘Pungent old brandy, unfinished, exhibiting sharp variation (7)’ SALT + [N]ANT[z]. Not just mixing the beer and brandy, we finally have a tipsy nun ‘Nun with sex appeal to drink Bordeaux (6)’ CLARE + [I]T. That was a new word for us. We needed Chambers to convince us that ‘to claret’ is to drink Bordeaux.

Solving went at a steady pace and in just about an hour we had passed our ‘maybe we can solve it’ point – twelve clues solved. However, with ULNAE, ACTION, ROUILLE, TURFIER, TIFOSO, PRAMS, SLOPE, PIASTRE, INANE, GATEAUX (yes, it became GATEAUS), CITHERN, SUPERGIANT and ITERATIONS pencilled into our grid, the method of entry wasn’t appearing via the cold solving process. More interesting were those letters of the quotation, which, when we solved the LEME and INFERNO clues, seemed to be giving us two similar quotations, both containing the word BEGINNING.

Almost simultaneously we saw a potential T.S.ELIOT and what had seemed to be an impossible struggle suddenly made sense. T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets were part of my A Level programme many years ago. How I loved Burnt Norton – but this was from East Coker wasn’t it. The ODQ not only confirmed that but also gave a helpful prompt cf. Mary Stuart, and, sure enough, under Mary Queen of Scots, I find ‘En ma fin git mon commencement’ ‘In my end is my beginning’. What a clever idea to use these two quotations in this way, Nudd, and what a challenge for a setter.

Even with the remaining letters in place, we had quite a task sorting out the remaining clues and working out which had the initial letter slotted into the end and which moved their final letter into place between the first and the second. We had to have a dinner break and to claret before all was finally in place and we could breathe a sigh of relief and thanks to Nudd.

Posted in Solving Blogs | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Listener 4270, Alma Mater: A Setter’s Blog by Oyler

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 December 2013

Alma Mater. The auld grey toun of St Andrews or Kilrymont as it was once known from the setter’s perspective.

The only benefit of teaching in the only split site secondary school in Scotland – Madras College St Andrews – is that when you are non-contact and haven’t received the dreaded yellow slip (why are all ‘please take’ slips on yellow paper?) then you are essentially free to do as you please. This normally means travelling between the two buildings – the junior S1-3 building in the SE part of the town and the senior S4-6 building which is in the centre of town. However staff can be seen wandering around the town having nipped out to the bank or post office but more usually a coffee shop or supermarket. The University of St Andrews has a shop in a fairly prominent location in town and I would pass it daily not paying much attention to the university crest and 1413 – 2013 etched into the window (now sadly gone thanks to some nerd who broke the window). The 600 year celebrations started a couple of years ago in that teaching started before 1413 but it didn’t receive the Papal Bull until then. Hence the reason why academic parents could always find a mistake in a bejant or bejantine’s Raisin receipt.

One of the many traditions at the university is that of academic families and dates back to the time when the student’s staple diet was oatmeal and salt herring which is probably much healthier than that of today! Senior students would adopt first year students, known as bejants, to ensure that they settled in and had someone that they could turn to if in difficulties. This culminated in Raisin weekend which takes place in early November and, as a thank you, the bejant gave their “in loco parentis” a pound of raisins (a luxury food item) to supplement their meagre diet. It is nowadays, sadly, just an excuse for an alcohol fuelled binge, so much so that their disgraceful antics this year were picked up on by some of the national dailies. In my time as a student, 1975-1982, there was a fair amount of alcohol involved but not to the excesses seen today. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that student numbers have more than doubled to 7500. Back then, on the Sunday, the first years attended a tea party given by their academic mother(s) and gave a gift of a bottle of wine and in return they got a Raisin receipt written in Latin, dated from the founding of the university and could be on anything. In addition they would get a Raisin string made from the tassels from their academic mother’s mortar board – 3 colours denoted the mother was a 3rd year student (Tertian) and 4 colours a 4th year student (Magistrand). An apt gift would be attached to the string and the student would attach it to their scarlet gown. Their academic father(s) collected them from the tea party (they too would receive a bottle containing something of an alcoholic nature)and take them to a local hostelry or hostelries in order to get them well and truly drunk as they would need to be for what happened on the Monday! They would receive another receipt from their academic father(s) as well. On the Monday, they attended lectures accompanied by their receipt(s) and then gathered in the Quad at 11am for what is now a foam fight/party. If you could find a mistake in the receipt then the student had to sing the first verse of The Gaudie and since there was uncertainty in the date of the founding you could always argue that their date was wrong! If they failed in their attempt to sing The Gaudie then they could be flung in the harbour or the fountain in Market Street which is now filled in and used as a flower bed. Hence you needed to know The Gaudie! It is a sight to behold with many shivering students on a November morning wearing, in some cases, next to nothing, carrying buckets of horse manure and other assorted items!

Listener 4270-1
It was in December last year when I came up with the idea of celebrating the University of St Andrews’ 600th anniversary, the third oldest university in the English speaking world and the oldest in Scotland. For people who don’t know, St Andrews is in Fife and if you look at a map of Fife it looks like the head of a Scottie dog and St Andrews is at the eye! Perhaps by passing the university shop on a daily basis a subliminal message had finally got through to my thick head as I’d been bereft of ideas for my next Listener puzzle given that my last one had been started some 15 years previously.

Solvers who remember Tough Crosswords may recall that the mathematical puzzle in issue 2 was one of mine entitled ST ANDREW. In that puzzle, which had a cross as a grid, the letters represented prime numbers less than 100 and had upper and lower case letters. Furthermore, in some clues, only the last 2 or 3 digits of the answer had to be entered as they were prime powers of primes.

I decided to revisit this idea but this time the prime numbers would sum to 600. To cut things down a bit I opted for 2-digit prime numbers only. As my son had just returned for the Christmas holidays from Strathclyde University where he is doing Electronic Systems and Computing, I asked him to write a program to find all the possible solutions. This he achieved with a few lines of Java – I, of course, would have used Basic! There were only 5 solutions and if I’d thought about it I could have found them quite quickly by hand!

I 41 67 71 73 79 83 89 97
II 47 61 71 73 79 83 89 97
III 53 59 67 73 79 83 89 97
IV 53 61 67 71 79 83 89 97
V 59 61 67 71 73 83 89 97

Listener 4270-2I chose the third set and got to work. I toyed with using a cross as a grid again but decided against it on the grounds of entry length and ugliness, so went for a portrait rectangular grid instead. I intended to have the dates appearing only on the main diagonals as an elongated knight’s move and all the pictures I’d seen were of Andrew and a portrait cross on which he was crucified, not a landscape one. By the end of the Christmas holidays and with most of the grid filled in I looked at the clues I’d written and decided to start all over again as they were just rubbish. I had eight fairly helpful letters to use to write clues unlike last year’s puzzle 2x2x2 and hadn’t used them to any good effect.

I had to postpone the resetting until after our S5/6 prelims in January and so it was in February that I got started on it again. I took this chance to rebar the grid and have the dates appear unclued at the top and bottom with the diagonals confirming them instead. I also changed to the rather obvious first set as I wanted A to be a prime ending in 1 and the primes in order would spell out ST ANDREW. Of course I could have used set II but I didn’t. These dates were put in first along with the 8-digit entries and I was particularly pleased with SWAT NERD as it is something I’d quite happily do to those students whose antics have sullied the university’s good name and reputation. Now to set the way in by using 23ac/15dn which was to use S and AS with the last digit checked and would force A to end in 1. Then 12dn/18ac that fixed A = 71. With only 8 letter/number assignments to find, albeit from one of five sets, makes the solving process reasonably straightforward. I set 5ac as E – A + T but then remembered Shirley’s penchant for clues that have something to do with drink so changed it round to T + E – A with apologies for not having something a tad stronger!

I had a list for all the ‘power of’ possibilities and decided to be kind and have them all fully checked bar one that would require just the last digit to be found. Since we are dealing with integers the unit’s digit of the answer only depends on the unit’s digits of the numbers being multiplied together. In this case it is the same number being multiplied by itself over and over again. This yields the following table.

Unit digit Unit digit of
the powers
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
2 2 4 8 6 2 4 8 6
3 3 9 7 1 3 9 7 1
4 4 6 4 6 4 6 4 6
5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5
6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6 6
7 7 9 3 1 7 9 3 1
8 8 4 2 6 8 4 2 6
9 9 1 9 1 9 1 9 1

So we have an exercise in pattern spotting. If the base number ends in 0, 1, 5 or 6 then the unit’s digit will always be 0, 1, 5 or 6 respectively. In the case of 4 and 9 the last digit oscillates between 2 possibilities depending on whether the index is odd or even. The remaining digits 2, 3, 7 and 8 have cycles of 4 digits and so to find the desired digit you only need to divide the power by 4 and note the remainder. A remainder of 1 is the 1st number in the cycle, a remainder of 2 is the 2nd digit in the cycle, a remainder of 3 the 3rd digit and a remainder of 0 the 4th digit. Choosing a base number which ended in 1 or 9 was out as the answer for the former is always 1 and for the latter 9 as the power would be odd.

This is something well within the grasp of a bright 15 year old and since my credit class last year which I’d had for their two year course (S3/4) could do it I reckoned that solvers would rise to the challenge. No need for fancy notation or high powered maths (no pun intended). Incidentally two thirds of them had also been in my first year class and such was their enthusiasm for Tony Gardiner’s resource the 26 Statements that it inspired me to set Elementary Number Theory [Listener 4125] so you now know who to blame for that puzzle – a lot of very bright and able pupils, all of whom got their Credit maths this year!!

I knew full well that some solvers with Mathematica or Derive would just type in 73^71 and obtain the full answer of 1976619468344396081886594006474396844766256166675285816488083771595943270654277610802483648808808660136266507145917734994994406091577 in microseconds. Solvers who use the web could have gone to the Wolfram Alpha site and typed in 73^71 and got the same result. However, as always, this wasn’t necessary.

I sent it off to Shane with the plea that hopefully it could be published this year. The May slot had already been scheduled and, by the time things were being finalised, the August slot had gone too. I did wonder if Roger would move the puzzle to St Andrew’s Day which was a Saturday and was pleased to see that we were on the same wavelength but for a completely different reason. In fact, such is the power of the Listener editors, they can influence a national broadcaster to air programmes related to the theme of their current puzzles on the day in question – Dr Who on BBC1 and Ever To Excel on BBC2.

As I look back on it now, I can’t help feeling that perhaps I ought to have contacted Phi, another of the university’s alumni, about the prospect of setting a joint puzzle. What would his clues have been for Bejantine or Raisin Receipt I wonder? Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?

Aien Aristeuein


P.S. I hope that a St Andrews graduate won at least one of the prizes!

Posted in Setting Blogs | 2 Comments »

Listener 4269, Journey to the Centre: A Setter’s Blog by Ilver

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 December 2013

I was intrigued by whether I could set a crossword where every cell in the grid was relevant for the thematic element of the solution. Coupled with this, I have always been impressed by crosswords with a high element of shading, such as the brilliant Keep by Phi, and wanted to try to emulate a similar level.

With this in mind I started to review various grid-based puzzles to see whether any might give ideas as to how to construct such a grid. Clearly the constraints were going to be a challenge. The one that got me on the right track was Minesweeper – the simple game where cells have numbers associated with them indicating the number of adjacent cells which contain mines. This gave the germ of the idea that the letter in each cell could represent a number indicating how many adjacent cells needed shading.

I wanted a grid with a decent amount of shading – I was also a little bothered that if there was too little I may not end up with a unique solution. I have always been a fan of Doctor Who and knew that the 50th anniversary was approaching. The nine-letter title seemed like a good opportunity to fill the grid. I put them into a 13×13 grid and thought they just about looked OK, despite the flaw in the W and a lower case R. On the whole it was not bad. I filled in the numbers in the grid (at this stage using 0-8) and then checked that this gave a unique solution, which thankfully it did (at least after a few attempts).

I am enough of a Doctor Who fan to know that TARDIS is short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. I opened Chambers not really expecting it to be there, but there it was – although it did have Dimensions rather than Dimension. I checked the BBC site which had the singular, so I thought that I should be able to get away with the cryptic representation T REL DIM in EM for space. I was keen to include this as then the L could also represent the fiftieth anniversary in a blocked off central square.

I now had a grid with shading, the numbers associated with each cell and 9 letters for the final step, and so 9 number/letter relationships defined. Clearly there was no way I could grid-fill in any conventional manner and would need to give myself as much flexibility as possible. I vaguely recalled an earlier Listener I had done with a similar device and thought this method of entry might help. I have since checked and indeed it was a Listener, so thank you Law for A Three Pipe Problem – another brilliant and very challenging puzzle which I would recommend anyone to try.

Up until now I had been working on the basis that each letter of the alphabet would represent one of the numbers 0-8, based on the Minesweeper example. As I tried to work on this basis I quickly realized this would be impossible – I needed more flexibility. I switched to 0-4 as being the least numbers that I could get away with. I rechecked that this still gave a unique solution which it did.

I then started to be a bit more methodical about the grid fill and counted the frequency of numbers in the grid and mapped this against the generic frequency of letters in words. I came up with a preliminary allocation of certain letters to each number, making sure that the more frequent ones had high frequency letters including vowels, S, T etc, with the lesser used ones picking up some of the more infrequently used letters. I avoided letters which were too obscure (Q etc.). I also kept quite a lot of letters up my sleeve to allocate as the grid fill progressed.

I thought that I would have four journeys, each starting at a corner of the grid and finishing by the middle square. I resolved that the paths should not cross themselves but obviously should cross others as this would give the unching requirement. These journeys were supposed to represent trips in the TARDIS, although the Doctor would certainly have something to say about this much crossing of his own time line! Starting at each of the four corners seemed an aesthetic thing to do and I also guessed that the corners were going to cause the most problems so starting here was also logical.

On to the grid fill. I started in the top left with a word fitting the numbers and thought I may as well head straight towards the top right to deal with one of the corners and see how it worked out. Actually it was not so bad fitting these two paths together and the top part of the grid started to come together.

All the time, I had to look at the unching requirements and so started to weave in a third path to make sure of this and then marched that path off towards another corner to address another one of those tricky areas.

I am not sure there is a lot more to say about the grid fill other than thank goodness I was doing it on an ipad so could easily copy the grid, rub out, start a part again etc. I was also very careful with each new entry to try to avoid difficult letters and also to avoid adjacent letters which might create issues for a subsequent path. It was really just a long slog, but always felt doable and, sure enough, after several weeks of painstaking progress it was finally complete. Looking back at my notes, this part of the setting process took about a month. I am guessing maybe 1-2 hours a day on average, so ballpark 30-40 hours to complete the grid fill.

I have to admit cluing is not my favourite part of a puzzle; grid design is what I enjoy (this is why working as Rasputin with two other setters is a joy as I can slack off a bit at this point). I had in mind by now that the letter/number indication would have to be through the clues, and appearances of letters seemed the obvious way to go – thank goodness I had switched from eight to four in terms of numbers. This meant that 26 clues would be needed for the alphabet and the rest for a message giving a steer towards this. I counted up the clues and went for COUNT A LETTER IN EACH OF THE OTHER CLUES. I wrote the clues with the extra letter device. Also at this stage I wanted the shading instruction to be something to be deduced too, so included extra words in certain clues giving the instruction, but this was later removed following editorial feedback.

Off the puzzle went for test solves. Many thanks as ever to the test solvers who have the worst task of trying to solve a tough puzzle, which also has mistakes in it! But with some polishing it was ready for submission.

The feedback (after a long wait) was that they did not really like the extra word instruction, but critically felt that the puzzle with 59 clues and a long preamble would not fit in the space in the newspaper and also I would need one extra clue (LOB) to avoid an unchecked sequence of three letters in HOMEFELT. Looking at the space needed, I would roughly need to halve the length of the preamble and fit every single clue onto one line. I also needed to change the message to COUNT A LETTER IN EACH OF REMAINING CLUES. Needless to say this was possible with some work, although the preamble did perhaps become a little opaque on the shading instruction and the clues became a bit uninventive in terms of complexity.

The puzzle went to the second vetter, who approved it but could not see the thematic relevance of all the crossing paths. Quite right — in my zeal to reduce the preamble, all reference to a journey and tangential links to the theme had gone. The puzzle was also still called HOW? which was bound to be a complete give away given the buzz around the anniversary.

I went through all the titles for Doctor Who episodes to get some inspiration and there was Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. How lucky was that? Change the title to Journey to the Centre, squeeze one reference to journey into the preamble and it just about all made sense again. The editors thought about publishing it one week early or late as a time travel joke and to preserve the numerical slot but in the end decided to delay the numerical.

Thanks again to my test solvers for their excellent input and comments and to the editors for their patience.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »