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Archive for January, 2015

Listener 4326: Coincidence by Sabre

Posted by Jaguar on 16 January 2015

OK, so, to resolve the dilemma of what went in the middle column I’ve cheated and waited until after the solution was posted to find out what was accepted (in the end, apparently anything!). I’ve not checked my various replacements, though… anyway, I suppose I should go back to the beginning.

At the end of a long year of solving (and sometime setting) it’s finally the last 2014 edition of the Listener. Of course, those of us who made it to 51/51 might be looking forward to a nice easy one to keep that all-correct chain going. And naturally the editors were only too happy to oblige. So they gave us a Sabre. Hmm… So far I’ve attempted two of his Listeners and correctly solved neither of them. The knight’s moves one was too tough for me (and my final solution had KOHB not KOHb anyway), and apparently one silly typo cost me his somewhat easier 2013 effort, so I can’t say I was looking forward to this one either.

At least there wasn’t anything gimmicky in the clues, and actually they’re not too hard a set (at least, not for Sabre). The massive amounts of clashes proved a pain, but gradually the answers came to me and I was after a few hours staring at a full-ish grid. That middle column looked like it would have something to do with MINUTE HAND, with something looking vaguely like HOUR HAND running in the same cells, so at least we also have the theme sorted — times on the clock when the hands coincide. Which two times, though?

And so began a long, painful process of sorting through the various options, teasing out a three here and an eight there, and this entire exercise probably took as long as the clue-solving before I was staring at a pair of notably precise times (down to elevenths of a minute, even!). Some devious trickery included hiding one or two of those letter swaps in unchecked cells, and on occasion you’d have to find a third letter to resolve a clash of two different letters. My goodness, this was difficult! The “NOON” highlighting helped things on the way a bit…

But, eventually, I was there, leaving only the middle column to sort out. That’s not too bad, just put two letters per cell for the first eight cells, and there are the two hands running side-by-side. Sorted.

But then, suddenly, drama! Don’t the two hands lie on top of each other rather than alongside? Indeed, the hour hand is underneath and might not be visible at all! All of which leaves three options to pick from, two of which are particularly convincing, one less so, and god knows which we should choose… thankfully, for me at least, this was only the difference between 50/52 at best and 49/52. I plumped for superposing the two letters, hoping to goodness that a note justifying it would count in my favour.

Luckily for us all, the editors were generous. I expect Sabre is shaking his head, sadly, that the solution he intended wasn’t regarded as unambiguous after all (I expect he preferred just MINUTE HAND in the middle column, since just because a letter was changed in PREACH (U/N)P before entry doesn’t mean you then still have to enter all the letters; my counterargument to that was that the hour hand is rarely perfectly hidden, as it’s usually fatter than the minute hand.)

At any rate, I breathed a sigh of relief that my choice was accepted. Barring the inevitable typo, of course. And so, 2014 comes to an end and, having had a couple of hiccups, I’ll have to try again next year. Roll on 2015…

My crossword programme doesn't do writing letters atop one another...

My crossword programme doesn’t do writing letters atop one another…

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Coincidence by Sabre

Posted by shirleycurran on 16 January 2015

Sabre coincidences 001Now why would the editors give us a cutting stroke from Sabre as the last crossword of the year? Are there too many ‘all corrects’ out there somewhere? I have to say, though, that we were expecting to see Sabre’s name as we downloaded this one, as he hasn’t appeared yet this year but with all those Christmas guests and the heap of leftover turkey, stuffing and what not, this was not the most welcome solve for me – and I was still saying that twenty-four hours later – I believe that this, for us, came second to Mash’s Klein bottle in duration of solve, which I calculate to have been about fifteen hours, of which something like ten went into alphanumeric calculations of letters, turning the grid upside down, inside out etc. and considerable cursing of it.

Of course, though I knew in advance that Sabre has long since earned his season ticket for the Listener Setters’ Imbibers Club, I did a speedy check to confirm his membership, and, after a few false starts with a ‘gallon of tea’ and ‘fermented sterol’, he produced his tipple ‘prime quality aged rum’. Cheers, Sabre!

Ironically, the initial solve went fairly quickly and we were remarking, with astonishment, that this might be like the Tibea solve of earlier in the year, when setters of difficult ones produced something relatively gentle. Yes, OK, it knocked very close to half of us out of the competition. I was a TAPU/TABU offender, as were most of the solvers I know! We were to be disillusioned by the last few clues which left us scratching our heads.

We were alerted by that remark in the preamble that ‘Lengths in brackets refer to grid entries’ to the fact that there were going to be some longer entries to fit in and when a helpful anagram produced BROMHIDROSIS – Monsieur’s horrid BO is compounded by this (MS HORRID BO IS*) we made the logical assumption that the unclued centre column was where the extra letter would go. With the IO of EXPIRATION added there and the TH at the end of ACANTH, ‘A slang term for spinach plant that’s dead (5)’ (A + CANT + (spinac)H giving us an obsolete or ‘dead’ plant name) plus ND appearing at the end of the column, one Numpty saw that HOUR HAND and MINUTE HAND were likely candidates and that they, of course, produce a number of ‘coincidences’ in the course of their twelve hour rotations around the clock.

NOON was clearly a four-letter candidate for the word to be highlighted and we could see that appearing as clashes in PENNON with UPSHOT, LIMO and RAZMATAZ gave us PE N/H  N/O O N/M. Those clashes were intriguing, as they evidently established where clues were going to have one letter replaced by another BUT (big BUT) there weren’t enough of them for us to adjust every solution in the grid.

Those ‘head-scratchers’? I believe the last clue to be solved is often the same one for a whole range of solvers and the Answerbank has confirmed that 17ac ‘Rounded, narrowing bodies seen in all of Dior dresses’ (7 two words) (URNS in TOUT = TURNS OUT) and 9d ‘This ancient knew following close to mobsters would get you mugged (6)’ (WOTTED which with (mobster)S would give SWOTTED or ‘mugged’) were the last for other people. They were ours: but, after a cold turkey break, we had a full grid and that grid staring began.

We fed those clashing letters into TEA (oh, yes, I will use any solving aid – Quinapalus’ wonderful resources, Crossword Compiler’s provisions or any on-line Playfair solver and cock a snook at the purists who stick to brain and pencil!) and intriguing words appeared if we ignored the centre column. We got TEN TO TWO and MINUTES TO EIGHT, as well as MINUTES PAST THREE. Those were clearly part of coincidences but that is when my despair almost set in. Truly, after seven years of weekly Listener solving (and yes, I have never been the winner out of JEG’s bag – how does that tally with statistical probability?) I had finally decided to write a ‘fail blog’ and return to the Sun Numpty Coffee Break Easy Solve and never look at another Listener.

No messages giving ‘two examples of coincidence’ would appear from the clashing pairs of letters, and, even more disconcerting, we had words like SATRAP and SPACE CADETS where we had no clashes at all, and intersecting words like CRAIC and LASHES where there was only one available clash, so we couldn’t replace a letter in both.

The other Numpty created a table of times when clashes occur as the two hands go round the clock and all of them contained fractions with 11 as the denominator, (yes, I realize it was available on the Internet, too) so I had something to work on, but it was finding those expressions in the list of clashing letters that was the downer.

Sabres most unkindest cut of all 001Enough! I am sure I am not the only solver to have spent an inordinate amount of time struggling before realizing that the solution had to be in the unches and (oh the deviousness of it!) using the replacement letter and/or the original letter to create the two separate messages. This was typical Sabre advanced thinking and way out of my league. So we take the X of EXPIRATION to give us ‘SIXTEEN AND FOUR ELEVENTH MINUTES PAST THREE’ and we convert it to an E, thus producing a replaced letter in E[E]PIRATION and permitting us to find TWENTY-ONE AND FOUR ELEVENTH MINUTES TO EIGHT (and so on, for the E of TERPINEOLS, that becomes TERPIN[T]OLS etc.)

What about (in two cases the letter and its replacement are identical)? Is that a contradiction in terms? Apparently not. I have to use the E of LASHES and the E of SPACE CADETS for both of the messages.

What can I say. I am supposed to have enjoyed this solve, but, in fact, was plunged into the slough of despond by it. But that is what the Listener is all about isn’t it? We bemused and dim-witted lower level setters and solvers have to simply gasp in amazement at the productions of the Mashes, Quinapali, Keas and Sabres of the upper echelons so many thanks again, Sabre!

Post script: I posted my entry a couple of days ago, as did most of my friends, I believe, but one of them has just alerted me to the fact that ‘the numbers in brackets refer to the grid entries’ and, of course, since I have entered both my hour and my minute hand in the grid, I have twelve letters, for example, in clue 4ac, where I have BROMHIDROSWS and the number in brackets says (11). The minute hands in some clocks lies over the hour hand (not in the one I am looking at where the hour hand has pretty little rings on it and I can clearly see both, right now, as they coincide!) No, surely Sabre and the editors wouldn’t eliminate entries for that, after all the hard work that went into solving. Such a dilemma makes me almost relieved to have been out of the ‘all corrects’ for quite a while!

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Listener No. 4326: Coincidence by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 16 January 2015

It was the last Listener of the year, and also Sabre’s annual outing. Sabre is the master of clashing entries and knight’s moves. Here, every entry bar two had one letter replaced by another. However, these weren’t referred to as clashes, so I expected something sneaky would transpire. The endgame would require two coincidences to be extracted from these pairs of letters.

I also made a comment in large letters in my notes that, according to the preamble, “Lengths in brackets refer to grid entries”.†

I was pleased to get 4ac Monsieur’s horrid BO is compounded by this? (11) OK, it was an obvious anagram and seemed likely to have some chemical connotation of which I was ignorant. Consequently I looked up compounds in Mrs B, and failing that fed ‘M horrid BO is’ into Tea. That didn’t work, and I suspected it was because of † above. I tried ‘Ms horrid BO is’, and was pleased when BROMHIDROSIS popped up. I didn’t feel at all guilty at using a cheat so early in the game.

That just left the question of which square had the double letters. I opted for the central column… nice and symmetrical.

Moving on to the entries dropping down from 4ac, RAZMATAZ was a gift at 5dn and the entry “only given in etymologies” was the simple yet enjoyable 6dn Wave to Latin master in Hyundai (4) UNDA. One thing that I enjoyed with these clues was the way that Sabre identified obsolete and other sorts of words. In the UNDA clue, for example, “to Latin master” was the give-away. Elsewhere, we had “as was” and “that’s dead” defining obsolete words and giving smooth surface readings. We also had 17ac Rounded, narrowing bodies seen in all of Dior dresses (7, two words), which was TURNS OUT, with TOUT being defined by ‘all of Dior’, ie TOUT in French. What a superb surface reading.

Solving was pretty slow for me. This was partly due to the fact that you couldn’t really rely on any crossing letter to help with an entry, but it was also due to some deviousness of the highest callibre by Sabre. For example, 7dn He needs this for that lady friend of Hermione (3) — HE needs ‘R’ ON to give HER (that lady), and RON (Weasley) is a friend of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. Similarly, 21ac US coin is in proportion to louis-d’or? (7) was QUARTER, obviously a US coin, but also telling us that ‘is’ (2 letters) is a quarter of ‘louis d’or’ (8 letters)! A couple of exclamation marks wouldn’t have gone astray at the end of that clue.

I was somewhat unsure about 25ac Hope letter-opener’s diamonds scratched pendant (5), which looked like EARBOB. I wondered if there was a ‘[D]EAR BOB’ letter, a bit like a ‘Dear John’, but I couldn’t find any support for this. If it was just DEAR – D + BOB, then I couldn’t understand the definition ‘Hope’.

As the grid filled, I had a fair few of the central squares containing two letters. It didn’t take long to see MINUTE HAND and HOUR HAND eventually making themselves known, and thus the coincidence was revealed.

I was still nowhere near identifying any of the letter replacement that was required. EXPIRATION at 11ac and SPACE CADETS at 35ac, for example, didn’t have any clashes with crossing entries, so I assumed that either the unchecked X or T would need replacing — and that could be by any letter! It seemed to me that this puzzle would need solving in a particular sequence:

1) Solve all the clues and end up with a full grid with all the clashes marked;

2) Identify the clock times involved in the clashes and list the corresponding pairs of letters;

3) Make the letter replacements in the grid-fill.

I eventually finished stage 1 and proceeded to identify the times at which the minute hand and hour hands coincided. It seemed unlikely that these would appear as “Somewhere between half past seven and a quarter to eight” or “Just before eleven minutes past two”. No… Sabre would be far more precise. Even “Four twenty-one and forty-nine seconds” wasn’t exactly right.

I listed out the clashes that I definitely had in the grid. 1ac was S/T, 4ac was I/U/W, 11ac was totally unknown, 12ac was N/T, and so on. The list looked daunting, but, with a bit of trial and error, I had the two times. In fact, I worked backwards from the THREE/EIGHT at the end of the calshes, and got SIXTEEN AND FOUR ELEVEN*TH MINUTES PAST THREE and TWENTY ONE AND NINE ELEV*ENTH MINUTES TO EIGHT.

Even the next step required a bit of thought. I divided the list into two: 20 letters related to the across entries, and 18 to the downs. This point was at * in the times above. Thus, by inspection, the first letter of 1ac was S or T and the first of 1dn was E or T; 1ac therefore became TOUL, with a different letter needing to be swapped in 1dn.

Listener 4326Working my way round the entries was great fun, partly because I knew I was nearly done‡, but also because I appreciated what an incredible feat it must have been to construct the grid.

My grid was complete, and all that remained was to “illustrate the cause of the coincidence” in the central column. It thus transpired that ‡I was nowhere near done, as I was faced with a dilemma. Was I meant to (a) just leave the letters side by side; (b) have the letters of MINUTE HAND completely hide those of HOUR HAND; or (c) write the letters of MINUTE HAND over the top of HOUR HAND.

(a) didn’t seem right, although the squares could represent the hands with the letters just annotating them left and right. I decided against this.

(b) seemed accurate, but I just felt that we would be given more of a hint about this in the preamble; also, the crossing entries were no longer words, and I felt that would definitely have been flagged.

(c) similar reasoning applied here, and anyway, who would be able to tell that I had the correct letters in the central column if they were scrunched into pairs?

Finally, I decided on a fourth option (d): write the letters of MINUTE HAND above those of HOUR HAND so that they were in a straight line.

Listener 4326 My EntryAnd so, remembering to highlight NOON in row 4, that’s what went off to St Albans, although deep down I really wanted to go for option (c). Luckily this wasn’t the first puzzle of the year and I wasn’t all-correct anyway. However, having spent so long on it, it would have been a waste to fall at the last hurdle. Only time would tell what the accepted solution would be.

Anyway, thanks to Sabre for a phenomenal puzzle. Time after time, he pushes us to the limit… as he must do to himself when he comes up with his ideas!

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Listener No. 4325, Christmas Break: A Setter’s Blog by Poat

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 January 2015

Shirley requested a setter’s blog for this puzzle, so I hope my overview of the process will be of some interest. A favourite English teacher had introduced me to a number of war poems which still often resonate, and had got me thinking about possible crossword treatments. One possibility that came to mind was using ‘pararhymes’ – Wilfred Owen sometimes relied on repeating consonant patterns with vowel variation, so a puzzle could revolve around (e.g.) clueing ESTOCS with a grid entry of ASTUCIOUS, etc.

That never came to anything, and instead this idea occurred to me in mid-2008. I pretty quickly mocked up the concept of soldiers in opposing trenches facing a “no man’s land”, where letters would be changed to reveal the Christmas activities etc. The thematic idea was always to have two letters moving out of clued entries, comparable to the soldiers trepidly leaving their trenches, and with subsequent changes requiring a thematic amendment to the letters involved. At first I toyed with RESPITE from BATTLES, but after a few attempts I couldn’t get a reasonable grid fill even after abandoning symmetry – which itself can be justified as thematic: 

No Man’s Land is an eerie sight
At early dawn in the pale gray light.
Never a house and never a hedge
In No Man’s Land from edge to edge,
And never a living soul walks there
To taste the fresh of the morning air;—
Only some lumps of rotting clay,
That were friends or foemen yesterday
(James H. Knight-Adkins, 1917)

I then decided to include SILENT NIGHT as unclued (toying with the idea of requiring an amendment to STILLE NACHT), settling on achieving RELIEF from BATTLE and fixing the grid in an approximately cruciform or medalliform shape. 

Clue-writing for me is an agonisingly slow process, though I don’t normally require six years to put together a puzzle. But it was clear I had to wait for the 2014 centenary, and therefore put it on the back burner with a view to submission in late 2012 – this would give the editors ample time to review it, with the possibility of various other WW1-themed puzzles proliferating in the year (in the end there were only two, I think, though Colditz Castle made an appearance and coincidentally also had a six-letters-in-alternate-cells denouement). My usual method is to set up a spreadsheet listing all answers with their Chambers definitions, then to jot down ideas for each clue on another sheet. One by one they are whittled down until none remain. In this case I had to use two non-Chambers words (TRICEP and TATSOI), vainly hoping they would show up in the 2014 edition – at least the first is easily guessable, and the second can be seen on many a supermarket shelf. I wasn’t sure how to refer to them in the preamble, but the editors took on board the suggestion that it should refer to the Scrabble dictionary.

One thing I need to watch while devising clues is a false equivalence when the answer has been adulterated somehow. It isn’t fair to use link words such as ‘giving’, ‘for’, ‘is’ etc, because the actual entry is NOT the word defined. There were also a few naughty definitions by example which required minor amendments here and there, but for the most part my earlier drafts remained reasonably unscathed. Thanks to the editors for their fair comments, as well as my testers for confirming it was solvable in the first place. And thanks too to Messrs Sainsbury’s, who ensured the theme was at the forefront of minds by way of a well-publicised advertising campaign (which even reached my eyes in Melbourne).

I’ll conclude with one of Owen’s most affecting poems, Anthem for Doomed Youth:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? 
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
      Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle 
Can patter out their hasty orisons. 
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— 
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires. 
What candles may be held to speed them all? 
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes 
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 
      The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; 
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


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Listener 4325: Christmas Break by Poat

Posted by Jaguar on 9 January 2015

My own Christmas Break is just about to begin as I open up the latest, and last-but-one, offering of the Listener year. An unusually-shaped grid await and, frankly, I found the instructions rather intimidating at first. Still, let’s get started!

And it turned out that after all there was not as much trouble as all that. The down clues were normal and gave something to go on, and it was possible to fill in around these, so that within a couple of hours I was almost done anyway. Along the way I’d found some delightful clues! My favourite was 27ac with its sneaky little wordplay, Use this for shooting wild duck, doubling tail, giving [s]MALLARM from mallard with D (500) becoming M (1000), while the image conjured up from 14ac (Car(r)ot ID) was rather amusing!

But what was the theme? And what to do with all those extra letters? Evidently the bottom row was “Silent Night”, putting us firmly in the realm of Christmas, but then we knew that already. All attempts to make the left or right-hand columns make sense came to failure, although to be fair this wasn’t entirely a surprise as they were “cryptic representations” apparently so I shouldn’t be expecting words to emerge. It looked like TOM (or TOMMY?) and JERRY were emerging, but I wasn’t that sure about Jerry so dismissed that idea too.

Perhaps the preamble will be helpful? “Six regularly spaced letters” it said. It seemed likely that this would mean changing every other cell in some row or column. So I highlighted a few cells in a row and had a look to find words running in the columns. Nothing too promising emerged, but at least it looked like there could be some symmetry going on. Does the same work if I highlighted cells in the same column? Yes, although not so convincingly perhaps as there’s a row left other at either end. But wait! The cells I’ve chosen spell out “battle”. Coincidence? Surely not. And look at one of the rows, with “soccar” running through that A. If I changed it to E I’d get “soccer”, they played that famously in Christmas 1914. And in the top I could get from CABOLS to Carols, they sang those too…

And down the grid it ran: “Short-tived armtspi?e” could become “short-lived armistice” when I fix the mistake at 30dn (I had Pe-tsai, that appears in Scrabble’s dictionary and is a type of cabbage, so was just about convincing but I couldn’t fathom the wordplay; of course it’s TATSOI (hidden reversed in bacterIOSTATic)); and finally I can see “western front” near the bottom of the grid (again, having to fix a mistake, I had ANDS (from anodes? seemed vaguely plausible at the time)). And, finally, the letters that I didn’t used in the extreme columns could spell NO MAN’S LAND.

So I was almost done, apart from sorting those columns. Still, at least now I knew I wasn’t going crazy with some of my ideas for missing letters in clues, and soon I had FOTOMMYSSE and BOYJERRYAU to stare at and make sense of. Some internet research revealed that Fosse and Boyau are names of famous trenches, or trench systems, or some such, in WWI. So it all comes together nicely. Very nice, Poat, and a fine tribute to a famous event of WWI. Shame the armistice didn’t last long. No doubt there are plenty of crosswords to come that will mark what followed.


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