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Archive for May, 2014

Shrub by Aedites

Posted by shirleycurran on 30 May 2014

photo 2Misprints and clashes … there was a bit of Numpty humming and harumphing until we read that there was a misprint in every across clue of Aedites’ Shrub. That is so much more generous than having misprints in some of the clues.

Then I skimmed through the clues, not  suspecting that we were involved in an almighty drinking binge in this crossword. However, the evidence was there. Aedites retains his membership of the Listener oenophile club with a couple of tipsy clues “Fertile buck keeps a quantity of liquid (5)” gave us one of our misprints as LITRE was bAck in the clue.

Only two clues lower down came “Belief injecting energy to wane in Spain (5)”  That was clearly going to be wIne in Spain. We were in Spain for this solve (well, actually in the wild and beautiful remote north of the island of Eivissa) and our Spanish friends assured us that they drink TINTO but not TENT. Still, we were stubborn and inserted TENET.

More alcohol one clue lower; “African ruffian drunks interrupting votes (6)” No problem. TSOTSI is one of those convenient old chestnuts for setters isn’t it? We worked backwards from the solution to the SOTS hiding in TI or a Note.

Then surely not a beheaded Numpty in “Idiot has no head for indefinitely large numbers (5)” (n)UMPTY. We have a numerical puzzle coming up very soon, haven’t we, and here is one Numpty more than ready to admit to that inadequacy.

Still, this puzzle must be what the editors were proselytising in their comment in the Tibea crossword (that undoubtedly eliminated a vast swathe of solvers) that they hoped for “More like this”.  The clues were fair and transparent and the penny dropped with a lovely resounding ping when CAMELLIA SIN…” appeared in the message produced by corrected misprints. SINENSIS THEACEAE, completed the other Numpty and all became clear. That was why our clashes had been producing so many strings of Ts, Es and As.

Of course completion was now made easier and the Numpty red herring corrected (we had guessed at TRIANGULATION early in our solve when obviously the clue l following threefold delayed allowance led us directly to a less common word TRILATERATION “Surveying technique delayed + TRI + LATE + RATION).

One cell was left empty and we still had to find a 6,6 thematic character in the grid. EEMP? had to give us our 21st misprint and Sir Thomas Lipton generously appeared, reassuring us that TEMPO must be half “Lay peers”, and thus we learned a new word and happily sent a vote of thanks for a most sober crossword from Aedites.

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Listener No 4293: Shrub by Aedites

Posted by Dave Hennings on 30 May 2014

It had been only seven months since Aedites last Listener with its King Charles I theme. He is a setter who also dabbles in mathematical puzzles, so I assumed he wouldn’t be doing the May one two weeks later. Here we had misprints in the across clues and clashes to resolve. I assumed that the absence of “Down clues are normal” implied that down clues were normal.

It seemed logical to start on the down clues then. A dozen were polished off fairly quickly, including the central 13-letter entry TRILATERATION. We weren’t told that this had any relevance to the theme, but you could never tell.

Listener 4293Obviously the across clues were a bit less forthcoming, given their sneaky misprints. I should have got 1ac on first reading: Old penny and pound dropped from overcoat in sloth (6), but I was tring to fit an AI sloth in there somewhere. (It turned out to be a DUSTER cloth.) 7ac ECHOED came next, followed by 16 IOTA. The clue at 18 showed an entry length of (6), but the grid only had five spaces. No other clue seemed to be wrong on this score, so I assumed it was just a mistake.

[As I write this blog — yes, well after my entry was on its way to St Albans — I notice that 42ac is also wrong, giving (5) instead of (4). I begin to panic! Did I overlook some hidden element of the puzzle? There hadn’t been an apology in the following week’s paper. I normally think that’s overkill, but two mistakes in the same puzzle!! I relax, for no reason other than my blood pressure is too high without getting fretful over a Listener.]

21ac gave me my first clashes, with TEER crossing REPLETE, TRILATERATION and HERAT. This gave one E/T clash and two A/E clashes, so perhaps E was involved in them all. This idea was dashed by 35 RHYTA (thanks, Mrs B), 38 PAEAN and 43 AGAS that all had an A/T clash with 28dn BATATATS. A few minutes later, and RATATAT at 29 gave me another two A/Ts. None of the clashes could be resolved by having real words in both directions, so an interesting endgame lay ahead.

Progress was steady, and the correct letters of the misprints seemed to be giving Camellias in ens…. Was there a painter who specialised in camellias growing in Ensenada, Mexico, like Van Gogh and his sunflowers and Monet’s water lilies? Well, no. Chambers tells me that the camellia is a genus of shrubs closely related to tea, and the ODE gives the family Theaceae (which explained all the vowels gathering at the end of the across message).

It needed Google, however, to fully decipher the corrected misprints: Camellia Sinensis Theaceae. Luckily for me (and unfortunately for Shirley), we weren’t required to resolve the clashes into a pretty picture of three tea plants. Instead, the clashes were part of a three-letter word which was writ large in the grid: TEA.

Listener 4293 My EntrySo ended a satisfactory morning’s work. It was Monday lunchtime and a cup of tea seemed a suitable way to finish… I never drink tea before midday. A final read of the preamble and I saw that I had forgotten all about the thematic character. Good old THOMAS LIPTON was lurking NW-SE in the top right and bottom left quadrants.

Chambers gives trilateration as “a technique involving the measurement of selected sides of a triangulation network, for map-making, surveying, etc”. In Shrub we had to measure the height and width of our 3-letter word in the grid network, so everything was now tied up nicely. Thanks, Aedites.

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Listener 4292, Going Out In Style: A Setter’s Blog by Homer

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 May 2014

The idea for this puzzle hits me when I’m at a party where there’s an accordionist playing. I notice that the bellows on his instrument have a pattern printed on them, which seems to change as the bellows go out and in – and sometimes the pattern can’t be seen at all. I begin to wonder if this property could be used for a crossword in some way. I make a mental note to explore this further, and hope that I can still remember about it next morning.

A few days later, I start to experiment with a piece of paper folded accordion-style. It does look like something could be of this, as squeezing the “bellows” in and out could conceal every other column in a grid (depending on the angle at which the grid is viewed), and when fully closed, the left and right columns come together almost seamlessly. I begin to imagine an endgame where the grid is folded like an accordion, and words appear in sequence when the instrument is “played”. The words would alternate between the “bellows” and the end columns, and they’d have to be the words of a song – preferably one associated with accordion music.

I sketch an outline of a rough idea which would leave plenty of clues for solvers.

Listener 4292 a

That’ll do for now. I need to find a suitable song which has enough shortish words to make it all work. After a lot of digging, I can only find one serious candidate – Mairi’s Wedding, and the opening two lines of the chorus:

Step we gaily on we go
Heel for heel and toe for toe

But, there’s a problem. The song isn’t in any of the standard Listener references, and while that doesn’t completely rule it out as a theme, it does make it much less likely to be accepted. It does have an entry in Wikipedia, of course, which shows that it’s been recorded by a variety of artists, including The King’s Singers and Van Morrison. So, maybe there’s some hope that at least a few solvers will have heard of it. I wonder how I can get a feel for how widely known it is.

Fast forward nine months, and I’ve decided to test the waters at the York Book Fair. Secondhand book dealers from all over the country have descended on York for a two day sale, one of the largest in the country. As I’m strolling round the aisles, I spot a dealer sitting by one of the stalls, holding a newspaper in one hand and a pen in the other. Yes, he’s doing the crossword! I take a deep breath, sidle up to him, and ask “I was wondering if you’d heard of a song called Mairi’s Wedding?” He looks at me. “Sorry, I don’t have anything on music” he replies, and returns immediately to his puzzle. I mumble an acknowledgement and move on. A few minutes later and several aisles away, another bookseller just gives me a blank look in response to the same question. I decide that the theme isn’t well enough known, and that the puzzle isn’t going to go anywhere.

I return to Edinburgh, abandon the idea and start to work on a completely different theme, not involving paper-folding at all. However, this too comes to nothing, and I return to look again at Mairi’s Wedding. In spite of all the weaknesses, it does seem to have a lot going for it – shortish words, with mostly very common letters, which should help when it comes to filling the grid. Playing around with the positions, I’ve found that I can get a KEYBOARD in the last column intersecting with FOR, and another in the symmetrically opposite position intersecting with AND.

Listener 4292 b

I decide that I have to progress this, and hope that if I can get a really good grid designed, I might just get away with it. I start work on the grid, making good progress, and over a period of a couple of weeks my spare evenings are taken up with the task. I try some cosmetic surgery by altering the positions of the HEELs and TOEs as there’s some freedom there, though symmetry is obviously preferred. Several times I manage to get a near miss, with only one or two residual cells which are impossible to fill. Eventually, I arrive at a completed grid. It seems to meet all the Listener requirements – the average entry size is 5.6, and only ARD and KEY contravene the requirements for checked letters. As they’re silently checked by the KEYBOARDs, I think it’s OK. There are some interesting words in the grid which I’m looking forward to cluing – WARRAGUL and BLETHER, for example.

I print out a final mock-up of the grid, just to double check that everything works as expected – and it does, but just as I’m about to put it to one side and start writing clues I notice that there’s a problem. A big problem. On the opposite side of the bellows, a decidedly “non-drawing room” word appears when the bellows are expanded. I’m horrified. I can’t imagine that the vetters would allow that. I decide that I can’t risk it, and try to tweak the associated answers to see if I can get rid of it. But unfortunately, the interconnectedness of it all means that as I try to unpick it, I need to make more and more changes in the surrounding area, and end up almost back at an unfilled grid before I can start to rework it properly. This is a real setback.

Fast forward another couple of months, and I’ve now got the final grid. I’ve managed make it a pangram, and as a bonus, I’ve managed to sign off with my name in the bottom corner – not something that I set out to do, but given the choice between DENIAL and DELIAN I’m happy to take the latter. This time, when I fold the grid, I can’t see any undesirable words, so I think I’m almost there. The misprints in the grid are scattered all over, so to spell out MAIRI’S WEDDING with the correct letters I’ll have to sort them by alphabetical order of the clues, I think, as normal grid order won’t work. The remaining clues will have misprinted definitions and spell out MAKE ELEVEN FOLDS IN GRID. PLAY SQUEEZEBOX. As the name of the song is going to be spelt out by alphabetical order of clues, it seems natural to spell this message out in alphabetical order of the answers – I think that’ll work OK but it does mean that it’ll be late in the solving process before the message is revealed.

I’m almost ready to start writing the clues, but the puzzle doesn’t have a title yet. I decide I need one before going any further. Bearing in mind the advice “Solvers who are stuck should turn to the title” I try to think of something relevant. Out and In? Less than inspirational. Outing? Better, but not quite there. Bellowing? Still not right. I decide to check the crossword setting and solving aid TEA. In a few moments I have it – “Going Out In Style”. That loosely summarises the highlighted words, and hopefully will provide an extra hint about the “out in” style of playing an accordion, and the required manner of folding. I think I’m done, apart from another few weeks writing the clues, frustrating a test-solver or two, and sending it off to the editors to see what they make of it.


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Mairi’s Wedding; Homer Going Out in Style

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 May 2014

Homer Mairi's Wedding 001We had the Glasgow Clockwork Orange a few years back and, with the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn coming up and a significant referendum, we are expecting a few Scottish themes to surface in the crossword world. Even the name Homer was a kind of hint, but what a surprise to complete this crossword by highlighting a tune that resounded all through my childhood and even in Scottish dance classes in secondary school.

Oh but we were a long way from that highlighting when I scanned the clues to check that Homer was still a member of the Listener tipplers’ esoteric coterie – not that I had much doubt – the last time I saw him was in the pub in Cheltenham before the Listener dinner, this year, and he was certainly not sticking to the gruel and poteen that figured in his clues – nor were there any nude ladies ‘Fame of woman spotted in nightclub, naked (5)’ (which gave us Name of woman and a hidden LUBNA). Long may Homer live with his illusions!

We found this the most difficult solve of the year so far, even more difficult than the last Radix crossword, mainly because there was so much going on.

This must have taken forever to compile with two different aspects to identify – the theme, where we had to find all those misprinted letters but then put them in alphabetical order of clues, to produce MAIRI’S WEDDING, (sneaky device that, deliberately delaying the pdm. until the solver has sufficient solutions to feel it is worthwhile attempting to sort them out!) then the actual misprints that we had to put into the grid, and a third series of misprinted letters in the definition parts that would give us instructions for manipulating the grid (Oh, no, please not another origami bird!)

We struggled to a half grid fill but things just didn’t seem to work as we had a clash where, for example, REUNIFY had to cross AIRGUN, and one where MICRO should be crossing TERNION, and despite that rather complicated preamble, nothing had been said about clashes. Yes, it took us about two hours to do what I ought to have printed in massive letters on the wall. READ THE PREAMBLE! Oh we were being more numptyish than usual. “…the entry which is the answer with one letter misprinted.” I haven’t encountered that device before and we were going to encounter it thirteen times.

Once we had sussed that, progress was a little less frustrating and those letters spelled out M….I…I .. WEDDING. Surely not – but then, why not? A Scottish compiler for once introducing a breath of Scottish air into a pastime which certainly seems to be centred round the home counties and the crossford mafia. I heard myself tunelessly singing ‘Step we gaily, on we go, heel for heel and toe for toe, arm in arm and row on row, all for Mairi’s wedding’.

May 2014 011This Listener thing is a bit of an addiction isn’t it? Even though I had just realized that with the most stupid of errors (TABU for TAPU in the Tibea crossword three weeks ago) and spoiled what might have been an ‘all correct’ that had lasted nearly a year, I still couldn’t stop worrying at these tough clues and only had a full grid at 3 a.m.

It was the Scottish WADSET (Big bucks etc. – mostly, it’s given if Ian sorrows (6)’ WADS + ET[c] – the mortgage that a Scot Borrows) that was the final breakthrough for that difficult top left-hand corner, and that was after I had simply guessed that DAMOISEL had to be the ‘girl in Verse’ (well, it was a pretty obvious misprint wasn’t it! Quite a lot of them were and the surface readings were often execrable – sorry Homer!)

So what emerged then, when the misprints were put in alphabetical order of the answers? MAKE ELEVEN FOLDS IN GRID. PLAY SQUEEZEBOX. Not quite an origami bird and I actually folded my grid into a squeezebox, spotting that there were KEYBOARDs at both sides. I suppose it depends how you interpret ‘fold’ but I think I actually only had TEN folds, in the middle of columns that had no letters with the keyboards occupying a couple of columns on the left and three on the right.

If you attempted to make your squeezebox, I am sure you will understand why that wasn’t actually a requirement (I can see Dave’s two editors, on the big and little chairs in that office, snarling at each other as they attempted to make the thing and deciding that it simply couldn’t be a requirement, especially with that flimsy Times newspaper tissue – mine needed Sellotape to hold it in place! And I can’t see eleven folds!)

Either way, it was clear that I had to pick my tune out on the columns that wouldn’t be out of sight and there it was. (Yes, that’s the Magpie in the background! Time for a Magpie plug!)

securedownload (2)I have seen a friend’s squeezebox – he found eleven folds and obviously made a far better job of it than I did, so here’s a photo of securedownloadhow an expert does it!
I wondered whether there was some ambiguity about which N of ANRGUN to highlight and which O in the penultimate row for the FOR. After all that hard work solving, I am sure some solvers will be miffed if Mr Green decides they have highlighted the wrong one! But making the mini squeezebox seems to remove any doubt about the second O and N.

However, having been rude about your surface readings, Homer, let me say that I thought this was a spectacular construction, a mind-boggling challenge and a fabulous piece of work!

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Listener No 4292: Going Out In Style by Homer

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 May 2014

Homer’s last Listener was back in 2009, no. 4017 A Knotty Problem with a Gretna Green theme. It just predated my blogs at Listen With Others, so I don’t have a record of how tricky I found it, but I solved it correctly and don’t have Homer on my list of setters to be wary of.

Listener 4292In this puzzle, we had misprints galore. Thirteen clues led to a word that needed a misprint before entry, as dictated by the wordplay. The remainder had a misprint in the clue’s definition and were to be entered normally. To make things even harder, what the correct letters of the two types spelt out were not in the presented order of clues, but, for the diagram misprints, in alphabetical order of clues and, for the others, alphabetical order of answers. Lawks!

I started on the acrosses, and then proceeded with the downs. Forty minutes later, and I had solved six clues. They were all of the misprinted definition type. However, for one of them, 40ac Stoker arranged Lennie’s chores (6) TROKES, I had no idea what ‘Lennie’ was the misprint of, and for another, 8dn East Europeans called for ejections erections (5), I didn’t know whether the entry was POLES or POLLS. Lawks!

I’ve said in previous blogs that progress was slow, but here it was snail’s pace. Getting a foothold in the grid took a long time. Even the obvious misprints were tough for me. For example 7dn Pasha, Enver chiefly, stirring up with a nasty racial expression (8) was obviously ‘(with) a nasty facial expression’, but EVIL-EYED was far from easy — DEY (Pasha) + E (first letter of Enver, and a reference to Enver Pasha, an Ottoman military officer) + LIVE (stirring) all reversed (up).

43ac wasn’t helped by seeing that Oersted is the CGS unit of magnetic field strength which Chambers XWD tells me is, along with Hotel, H. The answer seemed to be HYDRATED with a misprint. I could see one aitch and a TARDY, so was it HD or EH at the end? Finally solving 35dn WHOSO (entered as EHOSO), enabled me to spot that OE was the symbol for Oersted, so it was OE + TARDY + H reversed.

I had a similar problem trying to resolve 32dn A dictionary game of old turned up eg ascites (6) for which I had OED···. Again, the answer, OEDEMA, seemed obvious with OED + AME reversed with a misprint. It turned out that the OED wasn’t at the start of the word, but at the end: A + OED + EO reversed with the O entered as M. Lawks!

All in all then, some really tough clueing from Homer. In hindsight of course, I should have got a lot of them much sooner, after all, they were without fault.

As I neared the end of the grid, however, I was nowhere near getting the theme and the two instructions spelt out by the misprints. I made two lists of the letters that I had in the relevant alphabetical orders. The WEDDING was fairly easy to see, but it needed Google to reveal MAIRI’S.

The instructional misprints had a few gaps too. After all, identifying the correct word wasn’t easy in 36ac Treated glass with lead, not old lead shot (6) even knowing the answer was NEALED; the misprint was ‘lead’ for ‘lear’. Plus having ‘rhyme’ for ‘thyme’ instead of ‘theme’ and not knowing my alphabet very well, I had Make rlees vfold sing rid play followed by what looked like sequence box. A few minutes later, and I had corrected my mistakes to give Make eleven folds in grid. Play squeezebox. Lawks… eleven folds! Thankfully the preamble says that we didn’t actually need to do the manipulation.

So what to highlight? Googling Mairi’s Wedding gave me the following from John Bannerman’s verse:

Gaol mo chridhe-sa Màiri Bhàn,
Màiri bhòidheach, sgeul mo dhàin,
‘S i mo ghaol-sa Màiri bhàn,
‘S tha mi dol ga pòsadh.

… followed by the English:

Love of my heart, fair-haired Mary,
pretty Mary, theme of my song:
she’s my darling, fair-haired Mary
and oh! I’m going to marry her.

Unfortunately, what we had to highlight consisted of 13 words but only 40 letters, that’s about three letters per word. Collapsing all but the first two and last two rows like an accordion didn’t reveal any snippets from the verses above, so I began to panic. I could see a failure looming, a failure to get back at me for last week, when my fully-shaded squares were marked correct after all!

It took me a few minutes to see the reference to Sir Hugh Stevenson Roberton’s words some way down the Wiki page:

Step we gaily on we go
Heel for heel and toe for toe
Arm and arm and row on row
All for Mairi’s wedding

I was home and dry, seeing the first two lines spaced out in the 13 rows of the grid, and nary a fold in sight.

Listener 4292 My EntrySo thanks, Homer… a really, really tough challenge that took me about 8 or 9 hours altogether. And apologies for no appropriate animation this week, but, as compensation, you’ve now been added to my list of setters to be wary of.

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