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Archive for August, 2014

Listener 4304, Warning!: A Setter’s Blog by Ozzie

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 August 2014

In 2008 I was in England for a 75th birthday celebration. While on the Tube in London one hears the phrase MIND THE GAP again and again. It occurred to me that it might be the basis of a puzzle: the phrase would appear in the finished grid but would not be clued. I remember reading a post on the Crossword Centre from Roddy Forman applauding those puzzles in which the clueing reflected the theme: so there was the possibility of introducing gaps in my clues – or some of them. I tucked the idea away: surely there had already been such a Listener puzzle? (I have been assured, not; though there was one entitled ‘Mind the Gap’ a couple of years ago.)

The next month I was in Bali for work – Ozzie is an Aussie, so Bali is in quite easy reach of my home, Sydney. I took my Chambers with me of course. (Three cheers for the phone app.) I was a guest in a beautiful compound set at the edge of a cliff overlooking a river and rice paddies; no sign of Western habitation. After my work was done I had plenty of time to sit and think, so I started on the grid.

I wanted the removal of the phrase to reveal words, some of which might have to leap across two, not necessarily consecutive, gaps. Rather than placing the phrase in three runs – 4, 3, 3 – which would not allow of symmetry, I would have just two: 4, 6. I was not sure whether the second would lie directly under the first. Then I thought of placing THE GAP where it lies, between TRAIN and PLATFORM. Hmm, asymmetry; but replace TRAIN with CARRIAGE, … I was away. I did not experiment a great deal; for instance, I did not try reversing their positions. Grid construction is less appealing to me than ideas for puzzles and clue-writing, but I found, to my surprise, that I proceeded quite quickly.

I did not expect to find very long words in the Downs that would, on the replacement of a letter, reveal other words in different partitionings, so I decided on a shape wider than high: 14×11. To ensure an acceptable average word-length I decided on long Downs at either side; and of course there would have to be rotational symmetry to assist in the final placement of bars. I was stymied in trying to find a ten-letter word to match ENDOSTATIN. So I e-mailed my colleague and test-solver, Dysart. (As I wrote in a previous setter’s blog, never has setter better vetter had.) I needed a ten-letter word beginning with ER and ending in L: was there such, by any fluke? There was: ERYTHRITOL.

The puzzle sent to Dysart was a good deal harder than the one eventually published. The grid was an unnumbered carte blanche with clues listed in conventional order, but without numbers, and not separated into Across and Down, the 11s and 10s bunched in the middle suggesting where the division might occur. Additionally, and perhaps unforgivably, it contained the entry IRON FE. And the ten thematic letters did not appear in phrasal order. Dysart is a doggedly persistent solver; he eventually conquered the beast, but advised, what I feared I knew, that IRON FE would never be accepted. He tweaked the grid to give OREOS and a word shorter than AFTER, which would have rid the puzzle of THEREAFTER: I was loath to do that. The Times Atlas came to my aid with IROISE, the only word that would have served. Subsequent testers urged revealing the ten letters in phrasal order. I had tried that and failed. I am not sure what versions they tested or which was submitted for publication initially, but I think it was no longer carte blanche, and had the ten letters jumbled. It entered that logjam that built up before the change of vetters started to free it.

The first response was to reveal in the preamble the nature of the tampering. I was reluctant to do this, as I thought that the penny-dropping moment might give pleasure to the solver. In the meantime I had persevered and found clues that gave the letters in correct order, and resubmitted. I should mention that at this stage in two clues the missing letter was at the beginning or ending of a word; I Intended that observant solvers would notice the double gap and be led to the nature of the tampering. Unfortunately, justification in printing does not guarantee even spacing, so those clues had to go.

I know that solvers do not enjoy insertion of bars. For my part, I very much like the way repartitioning reveals new words: I hope that that aspect of the puzzle may have partially compensated for the chore of bar-entry. I think that ARI woukd be a very doubtful entry were it not for the fact that it had been, elsewhere, a clued entry.

A personal note: there are a number of entries associated with the heart and heart problems – ERYTHRITOL, SERA, TYPE O, ENDOSTATIN, AORTA(L). Some may have also observed that AORTAS, reversed, occurs (it was clued in my final submission, but understandably rejected as both aesthetically displeasing and unnecessary). This was entirely unconscious; the year before, however, I had had a heart episode, fortunately got myself at 4:30am to a hospital, and, four stents later, my heart was right as rain. So the association may have been subconscious. For those who do not know, a stent is inserted through the GROIN.


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Listener 4304: Warning! by Ozzie

Posted by Dave Hennings on 15 August 2014

Ozzie’s last Listener was back at the beginning of 2012 and featured a game of tic-tac-to(e). The endgame was quite tricky, and there were some equally tricky clues along the way. I expected nothing less with Warning!, especially as the preamble looked quite devious. Ten clues, and their entries, needed tampering in some way, and the final grid had to have exactly 73 bars added.

Listener 4304Luckily this week, we were told that there were only ten clues where tampering was required… it wouldn’t have been unusual for us to be told that “some clues” needed tampering. I decided to ignore this warning until I came across a clue that didn’t make sense.

1ac Four roods occupy a position about entrance to chancel (4) just needed a check in Chambers to find that four roods make an ACRE. A short while later and my run through the acrosses had revealed only six more answers, and three of those were puny three-letter entries: 15 RES, 18 RIN and 28 EAR. I also had 32 TYPE O and 37 STATING and I suspected that 19 Part of The Castle, second to Der Prozess’s start, follows their protagonist, one at mercy of state? (4) was KEEP: the E of dEr and the P of Prozess following K, the main character in those two Kafka novels (Der Prozess is The Trial); however reasoning behind the first E, presumably “one at mercy of state”, eluded me.

The downs proved equally tricky, although I did get 2 CHERIMOYERS and 14 TRISECTRIX so things looked promising. Also, 9 It’s excellent finding Republican wit in Onassis, say (3) was obviously ARI (from Aristotle Onassis) and it looked as though “wit in” needed to be tampered with to become “within”. Going back to 14ac The kind of river an earl enters later (10), that became THEREAFTER, with “river an” becoming “riverman”. I put 14ac in my grid with THERE on the left and AFTER symmetrically opposite on the right… well, why not, it fitted with EFT at 11dn.

I read through all the clues looking for others where a letter would fit between two words and help the clue make sense. 27ac had “Miss on” which was “Mission” and led to EMBASSY without SS to give EMBAY. Those two letters that needed restoring to the across clues were M I, and MIND THE GAP sprang to mind. I have been lucky recently that a lot of potentially tortuous head-scratching has been avoided by things just popping into my head. A short while later, and I identified most of the other letters in the downs… some would have to wait until I actually solved the clues. They would end up as follows:

14ac river an becomes     riverman
27ac Miss on Mission
6dn I set Inset
7dn With raw
kin led
8dn Livings on
con rolling
9dn wit in within
21dn cat ring catering
22dn qua gas quaggas
24dn car pace carapace
25dn car entered carpentered

A few minutes later, after I solved 16ac ERYTHRITOL, I saw that MIND would go in between the THERE and AFTER, and THE GAP could fit between the EMBA and Y of EMBAY, after all, it would have to be nicely in the centre of a row. This gave a future EMBATHE and GAP YEAR for when I got to the endgame. It also became evident that entries crossing the space where the theme phrase would fit jumped the gap, in some cases jumping both gaps and having two missing letters in their corresponding clues..

Some time later and the grid was complete. It was time to fit 73 bars into the grid and ensure that I ended up with 44 entries. Words like THEREMIN, CARRIAGE, PLATFORM and ENDOSTATIN, all formed from bits of other words, got the jigsaw off to a flying start, and I soon had all the entries placed but 75 bars — two too many!

It took a bit of time to see that ARS at the bottom of column 8 could become TARS with SIT being extended to SITA in column 7. I identified GAP YEAR and KEY MAN as the two phrases, and ADRIA and IROISE as the two place names. This left ARI and LAING as two of the personal names, and a quick check at the back of Chambers (2008) found SITA lurking there. I felt sorry for new solvers who may not have the First Names section of the 11th edition available. It has, apparently, been restored to the new 13th edition.

Listener 4304 My EntryThat just left the two singularities which needed to be made clear “(so the warning still applies)”. This obviously referred to the boxed-in T in the top row and L at the bottom. I erased the two letters since that seemed to be what was required, but part of me felt that there should be words jumping over these two gaps in the same way as TYR and THRIFT had in the original layout. I tried to see if my grid could be rejigged, but that got nowhere.

So thanks to Ozzie for a really fun puzzle — two in one really!

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Warning by Ozzie

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 August 2014

Ozzie initial gridWe didn’t guess what the warning was until almost the end of our solve this week though it became clear fairly early on that we had gaps appearing in the grid. In a way, we were being told that by the instruction that the warning’s ten letters were going to be inserted into our final grid.

Of course, that was some way ahead when we did our initial read through the clues, noticing that Ozzie only just creeps into the Listener Setter Imbibing Fraternity with his ‘large shot’ “Large shot, 50 rupees: no Indian fires without it (7)” (LARGE* + A R). I was mildly tickled though by what he is obviously doing when he is not imbibing – “American dug being occupied (4, two words)” (A + TIT) Hmmm, Ozzie!

Solving was an enjoyable and steady process with (thankfully) no jumbles, no extra or subtracted letters etc., except for ten that it took us a while to identify: it was after we had realized that the warning was MIND THE GAP that we backtracked and found the ten letters in order joining up ten separate pairs of words. I should say found nine of them, the M escaped us until we had completed the puzzle and worked through the first few clues to see ‘The kind of riverMan earl enters later (10)’ giving THE + RAFTER round E(arl).

Miss on ship … gave us MissIon

God I set … gave us God  iNset

With raw Italian food … gave us withDraw

… con rolling budget … gave us conTrolling

… wit in Onassis … gave us witHin

Indian cat ring … gave us Indian catEring

… qua gas … gave us quaGgas

… car pace …gave us carApace

and … car entered … gave us carPentered.

Ozzie must have been delighted to find those lovely original disguises for his message.

Ozzie new barsWe filled our grid putting in bars, even if we had been told to omit all bars in the initial grid, and it was that that indicated to us where the missing ten letters were going to appear. However, a convenient CARRIAGE and PLATFORM also appeared and the penny dropped (somewhere between – with the other Numpty muttering that here was another London-centric compilation – possibly fifty percent of solvers stay clear of London and never hear those mantraistic words on their public transport!)

Full grid: MIND THE GAP inserted and a new task faced us. Respecting 180 degree symmetry, we now had to make 44 entries of the letters in front of us and carefully insert 73 bars. This was quite a task. The singularities that had to be ‘made clear’ (so the warning still applies) were a T and L that obviously had to be deleted or ‘cleared’, leaving two new gaps (I made mine clear yellow!)

It was about my third attempt that produced the correct number of words and bars with two phrases (GAP YEAR and KEY MAN), two place names (IROISE and ADRIA) and three personal names (SITA, ARI and LAING). I found that endgame rather fiddly but, all the same, really appreciated the skill that had gone into the construction of this puzzle and the careful wording of the preamble. Many thanks Ozzie.

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QVWKE VBCFA (Round Table) by Nutmeg

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 August 2014

Nutmeg's Round Table 001Oh how our hearts sank when we saw that Playfair square to the right of the grid. We really didn’t need to panic did we? Quinapalus has provided us with a way to spot the codeword and there’s a Braingle Playfair Cipher available at the click of a button. Gasps of horror from all the purists but I’ll wager over fifty percent of solvers went there rather than drawing their own little square once the theme had given us enough words to ask the Internet for help. (OK, get your coat Numpty!)

Nutmeg is one of the very few lady Listener setters and, as I scanned the clues, I wondered whether she would be allowed into the company of the habitual tipsy crowd, but sure enough, there she was heading into the bar in 7d, “Partner releases hold entering English bar (5)” (Lover exchanged [H]O(ld) for E(nglish) giving LEVER or bar). And what was being consumed in there? “Scots not at home in Geneva, for instance (6)” (The Scots were AWA or well into the GIN – giving us GAWAIN, our first hint as to the theme).

There were a few unladylike clues: ‘Be[D]sides where all patients bare … their bottoms! (4) (Last letters, of course, ELSE) Hmmm, Nutmeg!

GAWAIN was soon followed by GARETH, “Good earth ploughed up (6)” though I admit we parsed it as GATHER before realizing that we were looking for another of the Knights of the Round Table to go with LANCELOT, “Old cavalryman losing right allowance (8)” LANCER less R + LOT, TRISTRAM, “Dismal old sheep (8) TRIST + RAM, LIONEL, “Row about old Liberal (6)” LINE round O + L, and MODRED, “Doctor caught in unruly demo (6)” DEMO* round DR.
Nutmeg Round Table 001That title must say ROUND TABLE, said the other Numpty and a few minutes of fiddling with the Braingle Playfair Cipher gave us the KNIGHTS’ MOVE codeword and a hint about what the final move in the game was going to be when we had to locate and highlight two further thematic names, each going across the grid in appropriate fashion. Oh dear, yes, that takes me back to Sabre and his knights. I believe he promised us that his next one would not involve Knights’ moves, so the baton is being passed on to Nutmeg.

Once we had our codeword, we were able to fill in the enciphered names of the six knights, and the completion of the grid was just a pleasurable joust. With a full grid, we knew what we had to do and those words ‘Each going across the grid in appropriate fashion’ obliged us to go from one side of the grid to the other, rather than allowing PERCIVAL to backtrack on himself and finish in the fourth cell of IDOL.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the comparative difficulty of the advanced thematic cryptic crosswords (the EV, IQ, Crossword Club, Our message board and, of course, the Magpie). To my mind, Nutmeg (and the editors) got it exactly right here. There was a rather frightening preamble, a pleasing challenge, a reassuring penny-drop moment, then an enjoyable grid completion with no fearsome grid-staring at the end. Many thanks, Nutmeg. This was lovely.


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Listener 4303: QVWKE VBCFA by Nutmeg

Posted by Jaguar on 8 August 2014

Nutmeg’s last Listener featured the delights of mobile phone use, with that fun refrain “I’m on the train!” appearing on the diagonal. I’m not sure what to make of mobiles myself. My latest one allows round-the-clock internet access, which is both a blessing and a curse. Anyway, I won that one, which was nice.


This one featured the Playfair cipher, which is another thing I don’t know what to make of. I like the idea, but it’s surprisingly vulnerable to online breakers. Sometimes only two pairs is enough. Other times, not — if I’m in the mood I do try to break it by hand. Anyway…

4303The clues weren’t too bad in this one, so I was able to make reasonably quick progress through the grid fill, but it did after all take a while to figure out how the Playfair code worked. MODRED was the first starred clue I solved, putting this firmly in the realm of King Arthur’s knights, but I didn’t really get enough to work with for a while so it took until later on Friday night to get enough material together to plug into Quinapalus’ Playfair breaker. OK, so I didn’t solve it by hand. So it was KNIGHT’S MOVE and not ROUND TABLE, or KING ARTHU(r), or EXCALIBUR or HOLY GRAIL or something. Oh well. But at least I was able to finish off the grid, find all the knights (cool name, Gareth), and decode those final two names hidden in the extra letters.

After that … well, BEDIVERE and PERCIVAL are somewhere in that grid… where, though? For Percival, one option was P from the first column, an E from the second, R from the third, C from the fourth and so on. Didn’t work for Bedivere, though…

And so it was only on Saturday morning that the significance of the Playfair code occurred to me, and that the letters of the names would be scattered a Knight’s move away from the last one. A few minutes later and I’d fixed my dodgy spelling of BEDEVERE and was all done. Nice puzzle, Nutmeg!


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