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Archive for July, 2014

Listener 4299, Godly Mix-up: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 July 2014

I started thinking about this puzzle in early 2010. The main features of the final version were there from the start – a 10×10 grid with the PI IS 3 POINT in row 1 and TO 80 PLACES in row 10, with the 80 decimal places of pi in between. Well, almost – my original 80 digits ended 899 and it was quite a while (see below) before I realised that the rounding to 80 places meant they should actually end 900. I had in mind from the beginning that clues would produce clashing cell entries and that these would somehow decode to the ten digits to provide the final grid fill, with a further decoding required to produce the top and bottom row messages.

All that remained was to produce an initial grid fill that would lead to the above. I had a number of attempts over some months to find combinations of groups of letters which would produce enough valid across and down entries to fill the entire grid but I couldn’t make any of them work – I could get some of the way there but would then find chunks of space that just didn’t seem to provide any further means to progress. I abandoned the idea and worked on what seemed a more promising one, which produced System Analysts. When that one went off, I spent some more time producing Lawbreaker. With those both in the Listener queue, and more than a year after the original idea, I decided to take another look at the pi puzzle.

Looking at it afresh, I was immediately struck that I had never really thought about how to get from the groups of clashing letters to produce the required numbers. Obviously some sort of key was required and after a bit more consideration, using the title as a key seemed a good way to go. So, a ten letter title was required, with no repeating letter. Some internet research produced some possible candidates: methodical, aneuploidy, co-equality, educations, chloramine, scathingly. However that meant pinning certain letters to certain numbers and as some of the numbers appear more often (9 the most, then 3, then 0, 2 and 8 equally), the vowels often ended up attached to less useful numbers. So initial attempts at grid fills foundered, but with a bit of persistence I did manage to make “scathingly” work – 23 across clues, 22 down clues and all 100 cells filled.

I thought about it for a while and decided I didn’t like it – there were a lot of 3 letter answers, average answer length was just 3.8, and number 7 had a group of four letters associated with it and I would have preferred all of them to have either two or three. I had at least got every letter of the alphabet in, but some only once, and some of the clashes appeared only once, so it felt like I was asking a lot of solvers. Actually I was asking even more: because I didn’t want clue numbers cluttering up the grid which would end up containing a lot of numbers, I had left the grid as a carte blanche so solvers would have to work out where entries went too. It was at this point too that I realised I had the pi digits ending 899 rather than 900. I was able to fix that with a couple of grid entry changes, but the whole thing was feeling like it was a bit of a mess! The only upside was that the 899/900 ending addressed a concern I had that a solver who spotted 14159 … in row two might be able to just write out the numbers of pi to submit the solution without having solved the majority of clues (Or so I thought, until I saw Jaguar’s LWO blog!)

So another try – what about a two word phrase, if one word isn’t working? Flying shot, stamp hinge, crying wolf, crazy quilt – all tried, none producing anything better. Then “stormy wind” – that produced a grid with 41 entries, average entry length 4.0 and all 100 cells filled. It felt reasonable enough that I wrote the clues for the puzzle, including a hidden message to encode the letter groups. “Mess” was one of the entries, so I made its clue the only normal clue, with a suggestion in the preamble that it provided a hint (as a synonym of “pi”).

Despite getting to this stage, I wasn’t happy on reflection. There wasn’t enough checking of clashing letters, some letters still appeared only once and solvers still had a carte blanche to contend with. “Mess” was beginning to seem only too apt. And I wasn’t happy with the title – it was just too arbitrary and wasn’t even a proper phrase. So I gave up again.

But I came back to it again after a while. Maybe the mess synonym for pi had percolated a little, because I started considering whether synonyms for pi could form a title. Maybe “crazy fonts”? Saintly fog? Godly snafu? Prig symbol? Holy figure? Moral type (with the missing tenth letter group being zero)? “Godly mix-up” seemed to be the most promising …

But I couldn’t get a grid to work with it. With across and down entries, I couldn’t even find a way to fill all 100 cells. Time to cheat then – who says entries can’t go left as well as right, up as well as down? I tried some of that, and it was getting more promising. However, now I’d given myself more leeway, I felt more of an onus to produce a grid that gives solvers a fair chance – so I decided every letter of the alphabet had to appear, and had to appear at least twice. Also every cross-check within the letter groups had to appear at least twice, so not being able to solve just one clue shouldn’t leave the solver stumped. With those constraints, even four directions proved not to be enough, especially in the corners of the grid. So now I decided to allow myself diagonal entries too. With all that in place, I was able to produce a grid with average word length up to 4.5. I was reasonably happy, having met the requirements I set myself and with the title giving some PDM potential.

So time to write some clues and work out how to tell solvers what needs to happen. Using superfluous words to create a message had been used by another Listener puzzle around this time, so I shamelessly stole that idea but decided to do it in only half the clues to make it a little trickier. Using the resulting grid as a key to produce the final stage seemed an obvious device and one that hopefully wouldn’t give the game away to solvers until they reached this stage. That did mean the superfluous words had to give two messages, the first to use the title as a key to encode the letter groups as digits zero to nine and then secondly to use the grid numbers to find the right letter in each clue, which produced the third message to recode seventeen cells in top and bottom rows. I still didn’t want clue numbers appearing in the grid but I didn’t think I could justify a carte blanche where solvers had to deduce not only the starting point of entries but also which of eight directions they went in, especially given the number of clashes – so I provided co-ordinates around the grid, with clues giving the starting point and a direction. A few weeks of working on clues to work within those constraints and it was done, just two and a half years after starting work on the original idea. I pressed the send button on the e-mail and waited.

A month later, I got an e-mail but it was to request some revisions to System Analysts, which had then been submitted over two years previously (and overtaken by Lawbreaker which went in a year later and had got through to publication relatively quickly). There was about a month of discussion over six of the clues on that one (quite a high proportion out of only sixteen!) and then that was good to go.

Forward about fifteen months, and the first feedback arrived. You may have already spotted from the above that changes were needed. Some of the superfluous words weren’t clear and neither were the two resulting messages. And the co-ordinate system for locating grid entries was deemed unnecessary. As ever, the feedback was extremely helpful , especially in suggesting that the first step (using the title as key) could be given in the preamble. I took on board the issues with superfluous words and ditched that device in favour of the more usual extra letter in wordplay. This just meant rethinking the message and then rewriting every clue (and I thought six out of sixteen was a high proportion earlier!) which took a few weeks as it coincided with a busy work period. A few more revisions and – as ever – a number of improvements from both editors resulted in the published puzzle. I’m very grateful to both editors for their feedback and help.

It just remains to thank all those who have commented on this site and others and of course via John Green (whose marvellous compilation of the feedback and report on errors makes setting a Listener feel even more of a privilege). I’m glad that most solvers enjoyed the challenge but I’m also grateful for the various steers on how it could have been better.

Stick Insect

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Listener 4299: Godly Mix-up by Stick Insect

Posted by Jaguar on 11 July 2014

I came to this one rather later than usual, having spent Friday evening treating my Mum to dinner and a visit to the Grand Theatre in Leeds to watch the hit musical Wicked. I think I first heard about it through a Listener a couple of years back, Flying Tortoise’s Good to Go, Listener 4208, but had never seen it myself. Well worth a watch, I should say!

It’s been an interesting 2014 year of puzzles so far. The run of puzzles over May/ early June saw a whole set of rather tough puzzles that (with the numerical in particular) probably brought several all-correct runs to an end. Safely negotiating that (I think!), I then came up against the surprisingly tough hurdle of Nibor’s puzzle, with at least two answers with alternate spellings that would also fit. ATOC or ATOK? Well, let’s check the wordplay. Oh, it’s A+TOK[ay]. Glad I thought to check that one… wouldn’t want to mess up my run this year by a silly mistake! … oh, it’s TUCUTUCO? Ah, drat! Of course it is (CUT<+UT+UC+O’). Why didn’t I check that one too? Berk. Oh well, I’ll have to try again next year…

I did have the chance to glance at this puzzle on Friday anyway but apart from recognising a few anagram clues it was only around Saturday afternoon that I finally got to starting this. Digits, “(roundly) accurate”… I wonder if this will be something to do with pi (π)?

The state of my grid before I'd noticed the ?4?59 in the 2nd row, having just entered PROYN (Roy in P[e]n).

The state of my grid at the point when I noticed the ?4?59 in the 2nd row, having just entered PROYN (Roy in P[e]n).

For those who don’t know I’m a mathematical physicist by trade and I’ve been interested in numbers and their properties for long enough that I know π to twenty places as 3.14159265358979323846 (almost by accident — I’ve never actually tried to remember it), and so after a while I had solved enough in the second and third rows to see the emerging digit pattern ?4?59???35??????3… and voila, it does look like it’s π after all!

I become even more certain when I check the letters on either side of the 4, see that so far I have “N” and “O”, and determined earlier that these two belonged together and would be entered as “1”… no way that the 14159 is a coincidence. I wonder how far it goes in the grid… google “first 100 digits of pi” and, as I fill in the resulting sequence, I see that it matches the scattering of clashes I have perfectly. The pattern becomes 08998… after 80 digits which would appear to round to 0900 in that ninth row (which at this point was looking like …GEGG). So I suppose this must be π to 80 [decimal] places. No prizes for guessing what will go in the tenth row, then… TO 80 PLACES fits nicely enough and would certainly complete the “roundly accurate statement”. Which means that I just have to work out what the top row will say exactly.  I suppose it will have to run something like “Pi equals 3.”, but then it would be odd to have a cell entered as a decimal point. And then that 5th cell in the top row is a “3”. So perhaps “PI??3POINT” is better? Oh, and 1E was KISLEV so that would make cells three and four read IS…

So I have a final grid that seems to work, but having skipped about half the clues and with still no idea what the extra letters will spell out. Should I now go back and fill in the gaps? That would mean solving some fairly tough-looking clues… but I already have the answer. Well, probably. But I have enough in the top row to confirm the idea there, and the bottom row can’t be anything else really.

So, I suppose I’m done then. I wonder what lay behind all of the numbers, and how you were supposed to get there.

Interesting philosophical question here: is a puzzle complete when you have the final grid, or when you have completed all the steps to get there? I suspect it’s the latter really. Still, no harm in taking a short-cut when you can see one. And it’s nice to see π appearing beyond just 3.142 or something. (That said, these days I almost take π=1 for all the care I have over its value…)

I conclude this blog with a few of my favourite π facts:

  • Decimal places 358, 359 and 360 of π spell out “360”.
  • You can get a 99.5% accurate estimate of the number of seconds in a year by saying that it’s “ten million times π“.
  • Once you’ve got to the 39th digit of π, the corresponding error in measuring the volume of the entire Universe is no more than a single atom. The remaining few trillion digits we know are as a result utterly useless in actual calculation!
  • There’s an argument for making the number 2π, or tau, τ=6.28318… the more fundamental unit, since this is the number of radians in a full circle rather than just a semicircle. Indeed, in many cases π appears only in conjunction with the number 2 anyway. So now you know.
  • Americans have taken to calling March 14th (3/14 in their weird calendar) “π day”.  So next time it’s March 14th, at 1:59pm, celebrate π day with your friends! Or go for τ day on June 28th instead. Or go for neither.

4299 final

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Godly Mix-up by Stick Insect

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 July 2014

Stick Insect, stage 1 001I have been quietly deciding that it was time I stopped writing LWO blogs and even doing and sending Listener puzzles. After using my self-kicking foot over the TABU/TAPU error then committing an even worse one by not checking my TUCOTUCO/TUCUTUCO solution, I decided it was time to pass blogging into the capable numerical hands of our newest blogger; Jaguar. Then Holy Cow! One like this comes along, and my enthusiasm takes an upward leap.

Our enthusiasm after about two hours of solving easy clues was at an all time low ebb (so many generous anagrams – obviously the editors said ‘You have to keep the clues easy or the solvers will abandon in despair!’ – and we nearly did) we had an almost full grid, an almost complete message and no idea how to proceed. I had noticed with disappointment that Stick Insect’s clues contained lots of food: fish, old-time dish, rechewed food, chewed up duck, fruit, and cooked fig and date, but only ‘old drinking cups’ and not much evidence of membership of the tipsy Listener compilers’ club.

TEA came to our rescue, and when we keyed in the groups of letters that had been emerging (BRM, SGJ, FTY for example) we were able to complete the missing words and finally solve our last few clues and work out the digit value of C, Q and V. We had realized, early on, that GODLYMIXUP was going to code to 0123456789 (Well, we were more or less told that weren’t we?)

Establishing the value of the trailing Q,V and C meant that we could allocate a digit to every letter and, not realising where Converted to digits 001this was heading, I amused myself by performing that task with colour coding, to see whether some sort of penny-drop moment emerged. Well, it didn’t, but I got a fairly pretty grid, (not being a mathematical genius, the obvious didn’t strike me at this stage – I wonder how many people in the avid solvers know their Pi digits well enough to have seen where this was taking them!)June2014 080

However, we had teased out a very useful message from the extra letters in the clues. DIGITS KEY A LETTER FROM EACH CLUE: FOR NEXT STEP READ ZERO AS TEN.

Stick Insect Pi 001It was midnight by now and the mind was slowing, so I spent some fruitless time attempting to take letter 6 from clue 1, letter 6 from clue 2 and so on – which gave me gobbledygook. Numpty floundering often produces this from Listener solves.

Then it all suddenly made sense when I applied the first digit in the grid to the first clue and so on and teased out yet another message: IN ROWS ONE AND TEN, RECODE SEVENTEEN CELLS AS LETTER FROM GROUP.

With only seventeen out of twenty letters from groups to use (or so it seemed) TEA was not going to help us with this task. However, we could see PLACES at the end of the message and POINT at the end of the first row and, with amazement, understood where this was leading us:

Pi is 3 point 14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620900 to 80 places.

Yes, I got out my ‘Easy Sums for Numpties’ and checked that my grid was correct. This was absolutely astounding, Stick Insect!

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Listener 4298: Safari by Nibor

Posted by Dave Hennings on 4 July 2014

Nibor’s first Listener was way back in 1975. In that year, I was still working for my first employer and that really does seem a long time ago! I see from the web site that Nibor’s third Listener (no. 2557: Enigma Variations) in July 1980 had only 27 entries, five of which were incorrect. Hopefully, Safari wouldn’t be that tricky, but it would be interesting to tackle Enigma Variations sometime.

Listener 4298On with our safari then, and 1ac Quickly earn a hundred marks including beginnings of risk assessment (4) CRAM was quickly slotted in, ‘learn’ being the restored word. It looked like this was going to be a breeze. Of course, 4ac Old-fashioned measure, both for sweating and for eliminating germs (9, two words) put paid to that since it was hard to see exactly which word needed a letter added. (It turned out to be ‘both’ which needed an O so that ‘booth for sweating and eliminating germs’ defined STEAM BATH… very devious.)

And so it seemed to go: a couple of tricky clues followed by an easy one to keep the grid getting filled. It wasn’t too long before Saint Somebody appeared at the unclued 19ac, and Saint Simon looked a likely candidate. Unfortunately 15dn Restain Restrain china ruined by fluff (9, two words) CHAIN DOWN eventually put paid to that giving an A for the saint’s second letter. Perhaps Saint Sally? It wasn’t long before it became clear that we were dealing with Camille SAINT-SAENS and The CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS, the unclued entries at 17dn and 9dn.

Listener 4298 My EntryAt last there was a chance to determine the thematic set whose alternate letters were given by the restored letters. Without knowledge of the source, I suspect that L·O·C·I·K·N·O·A·E·S·O·T·I·E·… would have been difficult to unravel. In fact, they turned out to be the subjects of the piece’s movements: Lion Chickens Onagers Tortoises Elephant Kangaroos Fish Donkeys Cuckoo Birds Fossils Swan Finale. The missing item was PIANISTS which needed to be highlighted in a NW-SE diagonal.

All that was left was to work out why 20dn Horn Shorn put up as capital on rodent (8) was TUCOTUCO! It took me some time to look in Chambers, as opposed to Mrs B, and find that I had overlooked the primary spelling for the rodent, which is TUCUTUCO (CUT< (shorn) + UT (as) + UC (Upper Case, ie capital) + O (on)).

This was a fine puzzle with some excellent clues. These were my favourites:

2dn ATOK Furry animal known for umming and ahing primarily with lizard? No indeed! (4)
humming for umming; A (Ahing, primarily) + TOKAY (lizard) – AY (indeed)
5dn THEIST One who believes he lives with sin of teetotaller (6)
skin for sin; HE IS (exists) in TT (teetotaller)
25dn EXMOUTH Former boating port in West Country (7)
boasting for boating; EX (former) + MOUTH (boasting)
36dn SAFE Where Olly may be kept in the outskirts of Santa Fe (4)
lolly for Olly; SA (outskirts of SantA) + FE

Thanks to Nibor for an enjoyable jaunt through the animal kingdom, although Fossils and Pianists do seem a trifle odd!

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Safari by Nibor

Posted by shirleycurran on 4 July 2014

Nibor 001Nibor! His last one was based on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’, wasn’t it? I remember that we had some trouble working that out after we had filled our grid. Safari? It sounds more like Africa, this time – “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion …” Too early to speculate. We’d better do a quick run through the clues to get the feel of them and confirm that Nibor retains his place in the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Society.

Of course he does: the first read through identified a couple of boozy clues, “Malt supported by serviceman previously ready for Speyside (4)” (Yes, that was deceptive as with a restored A it gave MaltA on ERK = old Scots coinage) “One who believes he lives with sin of teetotaller (6)” (Deceptive again. This time it wasn’t tetotalling that was a sin; the restored K gave ‘sKin of teetotaller’ =TT, so we had the beautifully constructed  HE + IS in TT giving THEIST).

Still, the completed grid produced yet another alcoholic clue. “GIs, for instance, should be on this vessel (7)” The restored N made this ‘giNs’ (an interesting shift from a cap to a lower case letter there – good to know that it is tolerated these days!) I wonder why the gin was ‘on’, and not ‘in’ the COASTER. Suffice to say that it was there, anyway.

These clues were so elegant and clearly set that I found myself working down the page in order. That’s very different from my usual stab at any clue that looks possible, and by the time the other Numpty retreated from some cementing work in the 35° temperature of the garden, I had the top part of the grid filled and a word that TEA suggested was Saint-Saëns. Of course, with that Safari hint in the title, the theme leapt out at us and I was able to put CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS into 17,9.

Another hour of solving followed, interspersed with happy hoots when another animal or musical theme appeared spelled by its alternate letters in those restored ones. You won’t believe me but even though I had, by now, saved the Wiki list as a favourite, we had almost completed our solve before I realized that Nibor was presenting them in the order in which they appear in Saint-Saëns work: LION, CHICKENS, ONAGERS, TORTOISES, ELEPHANT, KANGAROOS, FISH, DONKEY, CUCKOO, BIRDS, FOSSILS, SWAN and FINALE.

Of course, that realization made it very easy to work out which one was missing, and, sure enough PIANISTS appeared in the diagonal. Nice one, Nibor, thank you!

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