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Archive for August, 2015

Mashonaland by Raffles

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 August 2015

Mashonaland? We had to begin by looking that up and it took us nowhere except somewhere not very helpful in Africa. Just a 12 X 12 grid and a preamble almost as long as the across or the down clues – there weren’t a lot of those! We have met Raffles a couple of times in the Magpie and once in the EV, so he is not a completely new name but this does seem to be a Listener début. (He or she? This seems to be a month for female crosswords, we’ve had Artix’s Dames and the Mitford sisters – are the ladies finally getting a look in? After we had completed our solve, it did seem as though the editors had decided to have a ‘ladies’ month!)

Is he/she applying for Listener Setter Topers’ Club membership? A quick read through the clues and I find not a trace of alcohol but there are a few promising clues and we begin with the obvious anagrams. CONTADINA leaps out at us. ‘Country and action dancing (9)’ and this is quickly followed by MARGHERITA, ‘Great harm I wrought (10)’, SIGNORA, ‘Surprisingly arousing, not posh (7)’ (though, rather ambiguously, this could have been SOARING) and ‘Society hostess leaving husband for National Opera’s lead singer (7)’ (S + OPRA[h] + NO – giving SOPRANO).

La donna è mobile

La donna è mobile

What a fine Numpty red-herring! ‘This has to be something operatic, she foolishly declares – Gounod, Wagner, Puccini or Verdi – there are contadini and Margheritas in all of them. Well, yes, maybe, but that wasn’t much help when, a couple of hours later, we had BACCHANTE, URSULINE and MONTESSORI to fit into our scheme!

What did quickly become clear was that we were able to enter normally any of the clues that were producing an extra letter but that these ladies had to be jumbled in order to fit into our grid. Groan of despair. How I loathe jumbles. They do seem to be rather a setter’s cop out, though, looking at the final grid, it is perfectly clear that Raffles would have been faced with a difficult task had he/she attempted to fit those ‘speakers of the two quotations’ into real, unjumbled words.

What is even more surprising is that Raffles was able to construct a grid that ultimately removed all ambiguity about the placing of the jumbled letters. I am not sure that I can see why the hint about putting ADOT in the third row was necessary since ambiguities seemed to be ruled out by the unches, which demanded identical letters – but perhaps one of the other bloggers will explain that.

So we had to laboriously work our way through the jumbles, one by one, eliminating the intersecting letters as they were confirmed. We know at once that this is going to be a time-consuming struggle but we also know we’ll have a few of this ilk to solve each year.

THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING was the first quotation to appear, and, sure enough, MARGARET THATCHER appeared in the diagonal, happily removing some of the ambiguities. We had wondered how SCHIAPARELLI could be jumbled to fill three unches, when there were two As, two Is, and two Ls but no triple letter – and what a find – ELEONORA DUSE, with three Es to fill 1 Across. Raffles must have gloated when he spotted her!

It took the Internet to give us ELEONORA DUSE, the first name that comes up if you ask it for ’19c Italian Actress’, and, of course, we were almost there. MONTESSORI, MARCHESA, MONA LISA, TELLUS and URSULINE had now appeared and we realized that any Italian lady would serve our purpose – so much for my theory about opera – and yet – who said ‘La donna è mobile’? We hunted for Guiseppe Verdi … and found DUCA DI MANTUA in the leading diagonal and he allowed us to complete our SCHIAPARELLI jumble. Not Mantova, but MANTUA, so that explained the words ‘not all using thematic spelling’.

Very demanding solving but it must have been even more demanding setting. We were left with the title and smiled when it broke down into MASH or SHAM LA DONNA. Many thanks to Raffles.



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Shorthand Crosses by Aragon

Posted by shirleycurran on 7 August 2015

Mitfords 001What a preamble! I almost threw my hands up in despair as we were told that we had two different ‘classes’ of clue and that some of them led to a ‘thematically reduced’ grid entry. Then there was a poet’s name and an essayist whose family the poet wrote about. We had to use a couplet of his verse to adjust our grid and highlight names that would then appear. Of course, the prompt was there in that word ‘classes’ but I was too numb from reading all of that to jump to the obvious conclusion.

Looking back, I realize that the first two lines of that preamble were a work of genius: what a superb explanation of the status quo with ‘…divide (unequally) into two classes. Class I … the (more common) Class II. There’s the hoi polloi putting the plebs where they belong!

But that smile came later. Nothing to be done. Take a deep breath and begin solving. A very sober set of clues – not a trace of alcohol, but a few more hints. There’s a ‘Nationalist politician’ (as an afterthought, could that have been Oswald Mosley?) a nanny, quite a lot of profit, gold, silver and capital. It’s the simple clue ‘Gold that we own’ (2) that gives us the way into the crossword. That has to be O[U]R with the U ‘thematically’ removed. A couple more clues like that: ‘More fetching reflecting a bit of stretching’ suggests C[U]TER, and ‘N. African dish informally for salad vegetable’ suggests CO[U]SCO[U]S and we realize that one ‘class of clues’ is going to lead to words with missing Us. Could we be in the world of U and non-U and wasn’t that notion popularised by Nancy Mitford?

Now that rather cryptic instruction makes sense: ‘Solvers must follow the thematic features of the Class 1 clues to read the name of an essay that explains the difference between the classes, and its author’. As the other Numpty continues to solve, I rather laboriously attempt to highlight all the ‘u’s in the clues (missing half a dozen on the first read through) then marvelling at Aragon’s brilliance in fitting four into the clue ‘Pursuing horse tire us out: hairy (7)’ (H + TIRE US* = HIRSUTE) and slowly teasing out what followed the thematic features – the subsequent letters – to get ‘The English Aristocracy: Nancy Mitford’.

Great: so now we know which are our ‘class II’ clues – the ones with no ‘u’s in them. And it seems that those are the ones that are going to have ‘u’s removed from their solutions too. A brief smile at the words ‘more common’ applied to the rest of us who were not of that self-indulgent pack of pretentious, pampered, toffee-nosed socialites, and we begin to hunt for clues that have two ‘u’s removed from them. Yes, we have B[U]ST[U]PS, A[U]G[U]STA, DISC[U]RS[U]S, D[U]MD[U]M, [U]LM[U]S, NA[U]R[U], [U]S[U]RESSES and CO[U]SCO[U]S. The first letters conveniently (and so cleverly) spell out Betjeman (who else? He was a passionate admirer of one of them wasn’t he and proposed to Pamela twice – why on earth did she choose Mosley!) Much though I loathe the whole shemozzle surrounding the Mitford lot, I have to admire what Aragon is doing with the U and non-U concept.

Of course Google provides me with the verse and, sure enough, we are at once able to cryptically apply the words of the first couplet. (I am glad I didn’t have to do anything with the next couplet – I haven’t a clue what it means! I hope someone will tell me what Cavalcades and Maskelyns are – cigarettes? Horses?)

“The Mitford girls, the Mitford girls/ I love them for their sins/ The young ones all like ‘Cavalcade’/ The old like ‘Maskelyns’/ Sophistication blessed dame/ Sure they have heard thy call/ Yes, even gentle Pamela/ Most rural of them all.”

We had already seen JESSICA, UNITY, PAMELA, DEBORAH and DIANA almost appearing in the grid and now that we replace THEIR SINS with I LOVE THEM, three of the names appear. There’s a head scratch before we recognize that there is another ‘for’ in that couplet and that we have D GIRLS in our grid, so, replacing D GIRLS with THE MIT resolves the other two anomalies and gives us JESSICA and UNITY. Of course they were all related to NANCY, the authoress, so she doesn’t need to appear – and we have our fifteen changed letters. This is fabulous compiling.

Until I heard that there was a flawed grid printed in the Times, this seemed to be a rather splendid example of a Listener crossword, though we did have one slight doubt. ‘Barney, when Britains evenings are lighter, meeting Penny (4)’ seems to me to be ambiguous. Chambers defines both BUST-UP and DUST-UP as a quarrel or brawl (thus a barney) and DST (just like BST) can be defined by ‘when Britain’s evenings are lighter’. Obviously, the compiler and editors have put that Britains in italics to prompt us towards the BST version but I am willing to bet that a number of solvers will go for the DST option and if they are marked wrong (or if the BST crowd are) I am sure there will be a real barney.

Great stuff, anyway. Many thanks, Aragon.

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Listener No 4355: Shorthand Crosses by Aragon

Posted by Dave Hennings on 7 August 2015

For some reason, I thought I’d come across an Aragon puzzle quite recently, but it appears that’s unlikely as his last Listener was no. 3948 back in 2007. (He’s probably been too busy editing the Times crossword.) Here we had two classes of clue, Class I clues sharing a feature lacking in the Class II clues. Wordplay in Class II clues led to reduced, or doubly-reduced, entries.

Listener 4355I was lucky that I had spotted that the gird published in the newspaper had its right column missing, otherwise this may have held me up for a bit. I also noticed that, like the previous week, there were only two links between two halves of the grid. This week it was courtesy of the two-letter entries at 19 and 30ac.

Despite having worked most of my life in the IT world, 1ac Display record long speech involving Nationalist politician (9, two words) eluded me (it was SCREEN DUMP). 7ac Mood the monarch exhibited in front of men (4), on the other hand, led to H[U]MO[U]R, and I was immediately minded of U and non-U, especially since this was one of the eight doubly-reduced entries.

I remembered that this was the subject from Nancy Mitford, primarily because it was the subject of an EV puzzle in November last year (no. 1149, Common Usage by Raffles). Not that this was to help me a huge amount, certainly not with the endgame, of which more later.

I did, however, have a doubt sown by 12ac, 10 having eluded me due a lack of knowledge of German philologists. At first, I thought 12 South Pacific Island vase recalled, where you hide gold (5) was NIUE, an island that I hadn’t heard of until recently but suddenly seemed to be in vogue. The wordplay didn’t fit though, so a bit more analysis was required before NAURA (URN< containing AU). Here we had a two-U word that didn't seem to want to lose either. (HIRSUTE would also be deprived of the thematic fate later on.)

I switched to the down clues, and slotted in 2 CUMBENT, 3 EOAN, 5 MAAED and 6 PNGA. Despite now having ·C·E···MP, I still couldn't see SCREEN DUMP! The top right corner was soon completed and I found myself going clockwise around the grid again with lots of Us being dropped along the way.

I liked the two females lurking in the grid: 27ac Anxieties when lacking head for taming female sharks (7) for [U]S[U]RESSES, and 1dn Spenser’s flat second soprano: cinema’s leading lady (7) for [U]SHERESS, both of which were fairly late being solved.

Sneaking ahead to part of the endgame, the initial letters of the doubly-reduced entries gave me MATNJB and Sir John just needed a couple of Es to be completed. I refrained from seeing what he may have said about the Mitford family, and continued with the grid which was filled in less than two hours.

The preamble now required us to “follow the thematic features of the Class I clues to read the name of an essay… and its author.” The occurrence of the letter U in the Class I clues had been obvious to me from an early stage, and the letters following them spelt out The English Aristocracy Nancy Mitford. This was the essay (in the literary magazine Encounter) where the U and non-U versions of English were discussed. I was pleased to see that I have a broad base of vocabulary, using U words like bike, false teeth and jam (not cycle, dentures and preserve) but non-U words like jack, mirror and cemetery (as opposed to knave, looking-glass and graveyard).

A bit of googling was now required, since there was no reference in the ODQ to any Mitford-related quotation from Betjeman. I soon tracked down the poem, with the first couplet to be taken as cryptic instructions:

The Mitford Girls, the Mitford Girls
I love them for their sins,
The younger ones like Cavalcade,
The old like Maskelyn’s.
Sophistication, blessed Dame,
Sure they have heard thy call,
Yes, even gentle Pamela,
Most rural of them all.

Listener 4355 My EntryTHEIR SINS running down the central column of the grid thus needed to be replaced by I LOVE THEM, and this enabled DIANA, DEBORAH and PAMELA to appear in rows 2,3 and 8. That, however, required only 9 letters to be replaced, and we were told there were 15 altogether. Plus there were surely more sisters to be found.

It was, I have to admit, only when I saw UNI·Y in the rightmost column that I saw how DGIRLS was to be replaced by THEMIT (The Mitford Girls). UNITY and JESSICA were the last sisters to be highlighted.

Many thanks to Aragon for an entertaining puzzle. I just need to work out what’s meant by the title!

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Listener 4354: Taxi! by Ilver

Posted by Jaguar on 1 August 2015

Oh dear, another long break — but somewhat enforced, perhaps, as I have remained incredibly busy of late. Managing to keep my Listener head just above water, though, and I thought I would surface properly for this one. After all, if a puzzle that appeals to my mathematical background doesn’t prompt me to blog, what will?

Ilver is another of that group of new setters appearing in the last ten years or so, whose first Listener came out just in time for me to have a crack at it (my solving career starting in 2011). Since then, his nine puzzles in all outlets have included themes such as Pig Latin, Doctor Who and Poirot in the Listener, but also a couple of puzzles that have had mathematical elements. As it turned out, this effort belonged to the latter category — the first hint of that emerging when those extra letters revealed something looking like “a very interesting number”. Oh, that quote! I’ve known about it for a while, GH Hardy telling his sick mathematical colleague, the brilliant Srinivasa Ramanujan, about the taxi he had come in (rather than, say, hoping he’s getting better and asking after the family?), and how boring the number 1729 is, and hoping that this isn’t some omen. “But no!” says the young Indian, “for 1729 is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of two [positive] cubes in two distinct ways!”

Of course, all numbers are interesting really (there is a ‘proof’ of this, because any smallest uninteresting number would be remarkable for just that fact, and therefore interesting again, and hence there can’t be an uninteresting number!).

At the other end of the puzzle, we are instructed to highlight an identity. And there is some of it, eventually emerging from those odd clue lengths, as “plus one equals zero” emerges below an “i pi”, and all that is missing from Euler’s identity is the initial “e”.

At this point, though, progress came to a juddering halt for a time. 1729 is the key to obtaining a second quote, and then something in the grid that is also related, and fixing the grid will insert that final e in its rightful place. But how to use the key remained a mystery to me (and, it seems, quite a few others) for some time! Perhaps it’s partly because the obviousness of the final highlighting provides something of a distraction. Is there a direct link between Hardy’s work and Euler’s? Much searching of their respective output follows, but isn’t too revealing. Nor does any quote about Euler seem particularly helpful.

But then, of course, this is primarily a word puzzle, rather than a mathematical one, so thoughts should turn to interpreting things a bit more cryptically. It also helps to check other GH Hardy quotes, of which one alone made it into my edition of ODQ. “Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics,” he said as part of a book filled with other gems. Interpreting 1729 as four separate numbers 1,7, 2, 9, and then taking the 1st, 7th, etc letters of across clues revealed the first part of that quote after all. Phew! (after much grid-staring and head-scratching).

To get to the second part, though? Another bit of grid-staring, although at least with the final E in mind thoughts turn to the 1st, 2nd, 7th, 9th columns of the grid (not rows, because we need that e in the second column/ sixth row). Towards the bottom of the 9th column is the Y of “Hardy”, a bit further above is the H, and the rest emerges if you take 1st/7th and 2nd/9th letters in alternating rows. Follow it up and an anagram of “mathematics” is sandwiched between “the world”. And rearrange that to its proper form and you see the e fall in its rightful place, to complete arguably the pinnacle of what is meant by mathematical beauty. “e to the power of i times pi plus one equals zero, where e is the base of natural logarithms, i is the square root of minus one, and pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter”.

What makes it so beautiful is what this identity brings together. In the first place, the numbers above are fundamental to mathematics in a way few other numbers are. And then the operations (exponentiation, multiplication, addition) are also fundamental to all arithmetic, each being used exactly once, as is the equality relation. There’s a certain elegance in everything being used exactly once, too.

But also, it is where these numbers come from that contains the real beauty. pi is a number from the classical Greek mathematics of geometry (and then Trigonometry, its offshoot developed in the Arab world in the 7th-9th Centuries). i has its origins in algebra, developed mainly in the 12th-14th centuries. And the number e emerges naturally from Newton and Leibniz’s development of calculus in the 17th Century. Even 0 is quite special, representing the abstract concept that took a long time to develop, that you can even quantify and work with nothingness. We can thank the Indian mathematicians for that one.

Thus it is, then, that the entire history of mathematics from the Ancient Greeks up to Euler himself can be contained and summarised in just five numbers and four operations. There can never be a purer and more beautiful result.




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