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Archive for February, 2014

Face Off by BeRo

Posted by shirleycurran on 28 February 2014

Face Off 002This week’s preamble sounded slightly ominous as two poets (initial and surname) were to appear ‘by turns’ and ‘affected by a theme word’ that we were going to find in the circled cells. I had a horrible premonition that that word was going to be JUMBLES. Well, it was, really, wasn’t it?

I did a speedy read through the clues to check whether BeRo could qualify for the Listener Tipplers’ Exclusive Club and sadly found that he didn’t despite “low spirits” and a “nip” in another clue. However, one intriguing feature of the clues did emerge. I remember when I first began to contribute to Listen With Others blogs, when Dave Hennings and Samuel were the main bloggers with Erwinch sometimes adding his insight, Samuel commented to me, “I never solve a crossword without first scanning the initial and ultimate letters of clues as a message is sometimes hidden there. A quick scan can save lots of head-scratching.” Oh what good advice!

The hidden message was somewhat obscure at this stage but there was something there: EIGHTY SUNS HELLCAT EON TOT AMEN IF SKI AMBIENCE LIT DUMB. Hmmm! Well, those were initially observable and we had to find, in there, a couplet that would have the theme word omitted and a second omitted word that was to be written below the grid. Nothing to do but solve – and solve we did at an unusually high speed, beginning with GDAY ‘Traditional Oz salutation upset Dorothy Gale initially, alas (4)’ and working systematically through the clues, finishing with the top left corner.

There has to be a numpty red herring and, of course, there was. Those circled letters very soon resolved themselves into ANAGRAM but that said GRANNAM to me. Years of ‘teaching’ poetry have left me with lots of arcane information including the fact that both Meredith and Coleridge have GRANNAM in their poems, one of them with her sitting with a little lambkin at her feet. That was enough to waste quite a lot of Internet time. Not content with that, I then decided that we must be looking at Shakespeare’s ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun …” since TEETH, CHEEKS, EYES and HAIR were clearly the features evident in the grid.  But where was the poet hidden?

Flavia 002Of course, that was the route to the solution. I, who am criticised for over-using the leading diagonal for hiding a message, took rather too long to consider the other diagonal – and in the opposite direction. Of course, there they were, J DRYDEN and J DONNE, both anagrammed and with their letters appearing alternately. From that point it was a gentle ski down a blue piste to ANAGRAM  and THE ANAGRAM. This was so glaringly obvious that it should have led me straight to the ODQ at the start for there is ‘anagram’ and the link to Dryden.

What did I find in Dryden’s MacFlecknoe? “Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame/ in keen iambics, but mild anagram:” Sure enough, omitting “Anagram” from that couplet and working through EIGHTY SUNS HELLCAT EON TOT AMEN IF SKI AMBIENCE LIT DUMB in word pairs, it became immediately evident that PURCHASE had been omitted from those ‘initially observable’ letters.

Now to Donne. What does the Internet give me? OMG – a delightful description of Flavia!

“…  For, though her eyes be small, her mouth is great ;
Though they be ivory, yet her teeth be jet ;
Though they be dim, yet she is light enough ;
And though her harsh hair fall, her skin is tough ;
What though her cheeks be yellow, her hair’s red …”

Poor Flavia! However, it was a short step from the poem to how the four features had to be “identifiably entered according to the nearest adjective”. Here we have small eyes, jet teeth, yellow cheeks and red hair. Wow! All done and dusted and with great amusement. I still haven’t really understood the title ‘Face Off’ but did appreciate how much BeRo had fitted thematically into his (her?) grid. Many thanks for a most enjoyable solve!

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Listener 4280: Face Off by BeRo

Posted by Dave Hennings on 28 February 2014

This week we had the latest in a long line of puzzles from BeRo stretching back to 1988. I’ve got a horrible feeling that he has tripped me up once before, but I’m not sure which one it might have been. The preamble sounded a bit devious, and the fact that we had normal clues here meant that a tricky endgame might be afoot.

Listener 42801ac Elusive monster, that is lost, at first puts in great dread (9) was indeed elusive, mainly because I thought PIG (Puts In Great) must be in there somewhere. Instead, 7 PREY, 10 DEBTEE, 19 ATOKAL and 20 CODEINE were the first clues to be solved, so the top half of the grid was off to a reasonable start.

Unfortunately, that’s where the across clues dried up. I should have got 31 Contemptuous Tyson KO’d, right inside … (6) on my first pass, but I read ‘contemptuous’ as an anagram indicator rather than ‘KO’d’. Anyway, I managed a fair smattering of down clues, finishing with the simple but enjoyable 36 Mail unwanted maps back (4) for SPAM (not every Listener clue has to be tough).

Back to the top, and 4dn NEBEL, 11ac THEREON and eventually 1ac GHASTNESS (NESS[ie] preceded by HAS in GT) gets the top pretty much done. Even so, 3dn Memory area in computer functioned successfully in Edinburgh (5) for which I had ST··K, and 3ac Type of “starter” prepared with earliest couple of apples (5), AL··P, stumped me for a bit longer than they should have (STACK and ALAAP respectively).

I continued down the right-hand side of the grid into the SE corner. Finally resolving 31dn as SNORTY (TYSON* containing an R), I could see that 31dn Identify as contemporary 5’s sound (5) was obviously SYNCH. It took me a few seconds to work out why, since I’d forgotten that the ‘Cinque’ in Cinque Ports is pronounced to rhyme with ‘sink’ not ‘sank’. No doubt this would make your average French speaker apoplectic, but I suppose it’s no different from pronouncing Paris to rhyme with Harris rather than Harry! Or indeed Londres to rhyme with… well, nothing really.

The SW corner wasn’t the quick sprint that I thought it would be, but finally the grid was complete, so on with the endgame. First was to work out what the seven letters in the circled cells represented. I looked at them in my grid, and I shamefacedly have to admit that they passed me by. It was only when I wrote them down alongside the grid that GAARNAM became ANAGRAM.

One of the first things that I do in this sort of situation is to look for symmetry or patterns. In this case, taking the alternate letters on the NE-SW diagonal gave YNDREDJ, and John DRYDEN was soon unjumbled. One poet down, one more to find. At this point, a reread of the preamble would have been in order and perhaps “appear in turns” would have made the discovery of John DONNE a bit quicker, interleaving with Dryden. Needless to say, I couldn’t find any poets hidden in the likes of GATESRY, LNIREPT or GAALPUJ, alternate letters in the rows and columns.

Before I resorted to Google, I looked at ECIRSR in between the circled letters (CRIERS?) and then OJENDN on the other diagonal, and retrieved the second poet, Donne. I checked my ODQ to find a solitary reference to anagram from Dryden:

Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame
In keen iambics, but mild anagram:
Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
Some peaceful province in Acrostic Land.”

… from MacFlecknoe (1682). (Oh dear… again we have some strange rhymes: ‘fame’ and ‘anagram’; ‘command’ and ‘land’. Perhaps they were pronounced differently in the 17th century.) Presumably the first two lines are the couplet that we were after, with ‘anagram’ and one other word dropped.

There was no quotation in the ODQ from a work by Donne entitled A or The Anagram, so Google was at last required to give:

Marry, and love thy Flavia, for she
Hath all things whereby others beautious be,
For, though her eyes be small, her mouth is great,
Though they be ivory, yet her teeth be jet,
Though they be dim, yet she is light enough,
And though her harsh hair fall, her skin is rough;
What though her cheeks be yellow, her hair’s red;
Give her thine, and she hath a maidenhead.

I had already seen her TEETH, CHEEKS, EYES and HAIR in rows 2, 4, 10 and 11, and it was clear that they would have to be written in letters that were black, yellow, small and red respectively. On my final entry, I wrote most of the letters in pencil in order to make the black TEETH stand out more prominently.

So, back to the “couplet… disguised by word pairs initially observable”. This was obviously a reference to the initial letters of the clues or grid entries. I had avoided looking at the initial letters of the clues until now; I know that some solvers scan the first and last letters of clues of every puzzle just in case something is lurking there. How many people made the same lax mistake that I did at first, and overlooked the (deliberate) “…her note” at the beginning of 11ac, I’ll never know. Without that ‘h’, the nonsensical EIGTYSU nearly sent me on a wild goose chase to look for other possible sources of initials.

Luckily I reread the clues and noticed that pesky letter which helped spell out our hint:


Listener 4280 My EntryTaken in pairs and disguised thematically (ie anagrammatically) they give pairs of words in the couplet with the exception of ANAGRAM and one other word. That word turned out to be PURCHASE.

So thanks to BeRo for an excellent puzzle with a fine Listener implementation of one of our favourite words.

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Listener 4279: Hellside by eXternal

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 February 2014

The first debut setter of 2014 with a puzzle from eXternal, although he/she has had a couple of Inquisitors in the last year or so. This week, we had a version of a song to find, and I wondered how similar it might be to John Lennon’s Imagine in the same weekend’s EV puzzle, Dreams. Here we had definitions missing from six down clues, but provided by extra letters in across clues, thematically presented.

Listener 42791ac Beast tucked into American spices and cinnamon (6) looked like it should read East tucked into American spices, but CASSIA meant that it was Beast tucked into American spies, ie ASS in CIA. Next came 5ac, where the extra letter was almost certainly the D in ‘powder’, and we had G + RAP + P + A giving GRAPPA (a quite disgusting drink from what I remember when I tried it back in the 70’s).

With the two clues across the top of the grid, I tried a few downs. 1 CLEF, 3 SEWER, 4 ARGUES, 6 APERIES and finally 7 Empty pool linked to shivering fit (6) PLAGUE provided the first thematic clue without a definition. It sounded like we might have quite a gruesome theme!

Down the left-hand side, and I got 11ac Notice wit[c]h scold flatterer (6) EARWIG, although I wasn’t too sure that ‘ear’ = ‘notice’, but Mrs B gives both under attention. A flurry of clues followed, including 14ac FRIER, 15ac USER and 30ac DUST. HARVESTER, undefined at 9dn meant the left side was nearly finished, but gave no clue as to what it had in common with PLAGUE … or even SUBDUE sitting mysteriously at 17dn.

As I moved on to the right-hand side of the grid, I was also becoming a tad concerned about the extra letters being dropped from the across clues. My inability to make anything logical from them reminded me of Pointer’s Conflict a few weeks before. The right side was finished reasonably quickly, with my favourite clue at 12dn Cane rampant man in black rubber (6), which had nothing to do with S&M but the referee in football (REF< + ULE).

And so, the six words without definition were shown to be, in clue order, PLAGUE – HARVESTER – SUBDUE – PRISON – SOAR – LASH. The extra letters in the across clues spelt out .


Actually, looking at it there in nice neat Tahoma font rather than my scrawly pencilling alongside the clues, it almost seems obvious, although perhaps that’s just hindsight talking. Harvester made me think of reaper, perhaps the Grim Reaper, which could tie in with PLAGUE and the Hellish title. Needless to say, I was stumped so I looked up Seven in Brewer’s to see if that gave any clue… which it didn’t.

Listener 4279 My EntryI decided to come back to it the following day. 24 hours later and I looked up subdue in Chambers Crossword Dictionary (Mrs B had gone walkabout). Staring me in the face was 03 cow. I didn’t need to look at the extra letters to realise that we were singing about the old woman who swallowed more than a healthy person should, namely:

a FLY (soar) in a SPIDER (harvester) in a BIRD (prison) in a CAT (lash) in a DOG (plague) in a COW (subdue)

All that was left was for her to swallow a horse. Easy? Well, not quite. How could “cryptically representing the main protagonist and the final member of the set with a comment on their fate” be represented in nine characters? All I can say is that after about a quarter of an hour, NAG and HAG came to mind, and the two Gs enabled me to see GG in row 4, surrounded by WIFE. Above was RIP — she’s dead, of course. The title is the answer to the cryptic clue “Perhaps she’ll die”.

Great fun. Thanks, eXternal.

Of course, the song is nothing like Lennon’s Imagine!

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Hellside by eXternal

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 February 2014

Old lady 001The Numpties had no problem with this preamble which seemed to mean what it said as well as saying what it meant. We drew our usual highlighter stripe down the side of the across clues and that was speedily peopled with letters. But what letters! CDOCBISPIFLYDERRDATGOW. We had to somehow make these correspond to six missing definitions from down clues. Clearly we had six very short words here. (I have just now double-checked and, of course, found FLY, SPIDER, BIRD, CAT, DOG and COW all tangled up, as I suppose they would be by that gargantuan old lady’s digestive system! Perhaps SHE’LL DIE or HELLSIDE* indeed – and she deserves to die too! I compile, these days, for the Farmers Guardian (there’s a plug) and have been horrified to learn how much is paid for a first class beef Charolais, for example – on average £1,200!)

But ‘just now’ is three hours later. To begin, of course, I did a quick clue scan to check that eXternal had earned his/her entry ticket to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Club and I didn’t need to read far as he had his first strong drink in the second clue. ‘German gets criminal charge being in possession of pow[d]er and a strong drink (6)’ (G +  RAP A round P, giving GRAPPA). That membership was confirmed when we had a ‘Port selection from modest salesman (6)’, though sadly this port turned out to be ODES[T]SA in a ‘hidden’ clue.

After last week’s tough solve with Samuel’s nation of boutiquiers, this relatively gentle set of clues was a welcome relaxation and our grid filled very quickly (which was happy for me, as we are in the high ski-season with two metres of snow on the slopes, and a house full of enthusiastic ski-ing guests – it’s difficult to sneak away from the kitchen to add a few solutions).

I did enjoy the range of clues with the simple charade ones like ‘Notice wit[c]h scold flatterer (6)’ EAR + WIG, via the hidden ODESSA, to the more complex ‘Doctor not [g]one sensational, practice having one partner (8)’ MO + NO + GAMY. Indeed, I needed Chambers to convince me that GAMY = sensational. We didn’t know the word APERIENTS either but did appreciate the way we had to remove NT to get APERIES. (‘Imitations of laxatives leaving Northern Territory (7)’)

A confession: I don’t like that ‘leaving’ for ‘dropping’ or ‘losing’ but it does seem to be acceptable setting practice. I am having a little bit of trouble creating a visual picture for that clue too, but I suppose the editors have fertile imaginations and can somehow picture laxatives, or copies of them, parading south. Maybe I just haven’t understood the sublety of the clue? Perhaps a pharmacist might see the intention of the clue with the prevalence of generic copies being sold on the black market.

12d, too! I needed the men around me to explain the racy S&M imagery of ‘Cane rampant man in black rubber (6)’ Now what IS going on here? 4d is sweet, though, isn’t it? It has a quaint feel about it.  ‘Butterfly nets earl aims to show (6)’ (ARGUS round E). Some fanciful earl ponsing around with his effete hobby of netting butterflies?

34ac has to be the winner for beautiful succinctness and subtle inclusion of the extra letter; ‘He[a]t up one degree (5)’ giving I + RATE and 19ac gets the thumbs down as the worst surface reading of the lot; ‘Scots scallop’s feast for university network (4)’ What on earth is that supposed to convey as a visual picture? (Maybe one of my clever friends will explain?) I did feel that it was a mite sloppy, too, since we had just solved a clue that led to FEAST (12ac ‘Receive intense delight following beach road (5) F + EA + ST with the extra B in front of [B]EACH). We tend to get our hand smacked if we have used a word or an idea twice in a puzzle.

We didn’t have too much trouble working out that our six missing definitions were PLAGUE, HARVESTER, SUBDUE, PRISON, SOAR and LASH. But what on earth had they to do with those letters? FLY would clearly match up with SOAR but our p.d.m. stopped there. We had noticed GG and RIP at the top of the grid but over fondue our speculation (and that of all our helpful guests) was wide-ranging and pretty far from the mark. This is one of those Listener crosswords where I qualify for the elite ‘Grid Starers Club’. We ranged through the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Harry Potter, Les Misérables, Champion the Wonder Horse …. I’ll stop there, it is too embarrassing.

Of course, Mrs Bradford came to my rescue. I needed short words to anagram to those six definitions and what did I find? SPIDER = HARVESTER, BIRD =  PRISON, CAT = LASH, DOG = PLAGUE, COW = SUBDUE . Light dawned and the GG suddenly made sense, especially as it was being ‘swallowed’ by WIFE.

Wikipedia and a nursery book on the children’s shelves confirmed the words of the old Burl Ives favourite (except that in my ‘other” version she ‘just opened her throat and swallowed a goat’ and Wikipedia assures us that she swallowed a pig too).

  • Fly – “Perhaps she’ll die.”
  • Spider – “It wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.”
  • Bird – “How absurd.”
  • Cat – “Imagine that.”
  • Dog – “What a hog.”
  • Goat – “She just opened her throat.”
  • Cow – “I don’t know how.”
  • Horse – “She’s dead, of course.”

This was great fun, thank you eXternal.

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Generalisation by Samuel – Setter’s Blog

Posted by clanca1234 on 15 February 2014

In my experience, inspiration for a thematic puzzle comes at any time and in any place (and often on any subject). When it comes, it can take one of two forms – either a vague idea which needs considerable forethought and planning as the initial idea gets expanded upon and grows, or a fully-formed idea which comes in an instant, and is immediately ready to set. Generalisation was that rare beast – a puzzle that fell into the second category.

At some point in my increasingly dim and distant childhood, I learned to draw a very rough map of Britain using only a few straight lines, as follows:





One day, I was sitting at my desk writing clues for another puzzle, glanced down at the pad by my laptop, and saw that I had, without thinking drawn such a map on the top sheet of paper – a piece of paper on which I had written down shops to go to on a trip into Northallerton that afternoon. By pure coincidence, the piece of paper looked like this:


On seeing this, a voice in my head said “Nation of Shopkeepers”, and the puzzle was born.

My first stumbling block was whether it would be possible to produce a grid (it would have to be a carte blanche) which looked like a convincing map of England, Scotland and Wales at such low resolution. It would have to be a carte blance with cells blocked out to represent the sea, I thought, and immediately reached for the Times Concise Atlas (a sweetener from The Times when there were issues with the online Times Crossword Club membership a few years ago). I found a ruler, took measurements of the relative sizes of the height of the country and the width across the Midlands, then set to work.

My initial attempt involved a very large 15×18 grid, as follows:



This wasn’t satisfactory for several reasons, mainly because after brief correspondence with one of the Listener editors, I realised that the grid was too large and would need to be cut down. In addition, we had shopkeepers in Scotland and Wales – the intention being at this point that solvers would perhaps amend unchecked letters in each of BARBER and GROCER to ensure the final grid was a true representation of the theme (eg BARBER to BARKER, and GROCER to…. well, nothing fitted for this, but it could have been accomplished with some small grid changes).

As a result, a smaller grid was needed. The precise shape of Wales, East Anglia and Kent took some playing with, but the end result after several weeks of playing about was the same shape as the final puzzle. This had a two letter entry in Cornwall which wasn’t ideal, but seemed to work well other than that.

Now that I had a fill and a reasonably shaped map (done manually, not with Sympathy), then it was time to consider the rest of the puzzle. The title was originally ‘Cliche’, but got amended to Generalisation when I realised the dual reference of this word to General Napoleon and the sweeping generalisation inherent in the relevant quotation.

It was obvious that part of the quotation would need to be given by a clueing gimmick, and at an early stage I decided to opt for the French version as a possible means of disguising the theme for longer. I was only too aware that if a solver realised the theme very early, then the rest of the solve might be a long, hard slog. Besides, Napoleon would have uttered these words in French (if indeed he did speak them), so this seemed historically accurate. The same reasoning led to the French/English translation for the shopkeepers. I also toyed with having the shopkeepers unclued, but this seemed as it might make the puzzle even harder than it already was. Answer lengths were omitted so as to hopefully disguise the final shape of the grid for longer… and the first versions of the puzzle had solvers shading blank cells in an appropriate colour to represent the sea (as in the above grid).

Clue-writing took four or five weeks on and off, and then the puzzle was test-solved by two fellow Listener setters, both of whom suggested excellent improvements (and one of whom, being an expert linguist, confirmed the French/English translations). There were further small changes during the editorial process, including a change to the grid to improve unching, and then the puzzle was ready to go.

Thanks to all those who have commented so generously on the puzzle – it is greatly appreciated. It is perhaps ironic that the puzzle has appeared at a time when high streets up and down the country are struggling, and the number of shopkeepers is greatly reduced over what it was even a few years ago. Hopefully there will be a resurgence, and Napoleon’s words can once again ring true.

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