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Archive for November, 2015

Listener No. 4371, Our Announcer: A Setter’s Blog by Ploy

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 November 2015

It had been in my mind for some time to try setting a crossword where the playing of musical notes would be integral to discovering the theme. The only puzzle I could immediately recall that used actual music was Listener No. 3819, “A Musical Crossword” (by Electra), which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Listener series ten years ago. In that puzzle, misprinted letters gave the notes for the tune of “Happy Birthday” in the key of C. Whatever “tune” I chose would also need to be fairly well-known, and simple.

The Westminster Chimes seemed a likely candidate (a widely-used chime with only four notes), and I could hear them playing in my head – or at least I thought I could! A little research quickly revealed that my “remembered” sequence of notes was inaccurate, and I had to be sure I got it right for the puzzle. There are recordings of the actual chimes on the internet, and I also made my own recording from the radio. In all, there are five four-note phrases used to make up the sequences for the quarters, using different numbers and orderings – plenty of scope for confusion. Before Big Ben strikes on the hour, four out of the five are used. Finally, I decided to use sol-fa notation to describe the notes, to avoid any problems with sharps (or flats) in conventional musical notation.

I experimented with various possible treatments for a puzzle based on this theme, until I hit on the idea of the shape of the bell itself appearing in the grid as the final step. This was another aspect which called for accuracy, and I based the grid design on a photograph of Big Ben. Here is that shape in the grid (though any bell shape that went through the required cells and no others was acceptable):

Listener 4371 Solution Grid

From the clues, I needed to generate the four synonyms of SO, DO, RE, and ME (SO coming first as it’s in the octave below), and the four 4-digit sequences indicating which of these notes to use. I think I came up with two fairly novel approaches to this, but apologise to any solvers who have a strong aversion to letter counting in clues.

The spacing out of the four groups was there as an aid to identification, but I know that some solvers found this step tricky. The homophone in the title was intended as a late PDM, and would certainly have been helpful if spotted early.

The completed puzzle was then given a thorough going-over by my trusty test-solver – my thanks to “you know who you are”! The preamble and some clues were further polished up by the Listener editors, mainly for concision, and especially to take account of available space on the printed page. I am very grateful to them for the improved puzzle that resulted.

A happy coincidence was that the date chosen for the puzzle to appear was my daughter’s birthday, and she has a son named Ben (not big … yet!) born a couple of years after I first had the idea for the puzzle.

Phil Lloyd.

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Our Announcer by Ploy

Posted by shirleycurran on 27 November 2015

Scan 3Ploy! A sigh of relief as the Numpties are still toddler-minding in California as a new granddaughter comes into the world, and busy with toy trains, books, cars and so on. Ploy can be counted on to produce professional quality clues. Even the preamble is promising as there is no extra clue gimmick and no mention of jumbles, just a couple of formulae; ‘In across clues take the letter whose position corresponds to the answer’s first letter (A = 1st etc); these spell hints to four related words of the same length, forming an ordered group’.

‘In down clues’ we are told ‘note the position of the first word, if any, that has the same initial letter as the answer. The positions, when applied to the four words, form an introduction to a famous individual.’

We are always looking for new ways to convey messages, as a welcome break from those inevitable ‘misprints in the definition part of the clue’ and ‘extra letters in the wordplay’ and it looks as though Ploy has found one.

Still, we aren’t out of the woods yet. I didn’t really have any anxiety about renewal of Ploy’s membership of the Listener Tipsy Club as he does organise the trimestrial gatherings of London Listener Aficionados on the last Saturday of January, April, July and October each year, but I still scanned his clues for confirmation and didn’t need to read far. ‘Plead with hotel: bottled gin for a start! (6)’ (giving BEG + INN +GIN* = BEGINNING) – not a bad start followed by ‘Nip of Scotch, say, stateside associate upset (4)’ (giving PARD< I wonder how many solvers will fall into the trap of opting for DRAM rather than DRAP!).

After mixing his drinks, I am not surprised but rather shocked that Ploy produces a couple of indecent ladies: ‘One who is loved, stylish when undressed (4)’ (just a simple (c)LASS(y)), and ‘Topless blondes laundered woollen coats (6)’ – (b)LONDES anagrammed to LODENS. Now that was an intriguing anagram indicator.

No complaints at all about this masterly set of clues; the grid filled steadily in a couple of hours and, with no trouble, four words emerged: THUS SWINDLE CONCERNING PLOY. The down clues yielded 2431, 2342, 4231 and 1342. The Numpties are no longer the floundering beginner solvers we were when I began to Listen With Others blog half a century ago but oh my! the red herrings subsist. THUS = ERGO and if you reorganise that 2431,you get ROGE… so I desperately scoured the Internet for convincing sixteen-letter ROGERS.

It was not to be: of course we were looking at SO DO RE and ME (Ploy – that was the hint we needed wasn’t it!). I am not so good at reading music but married to a fairly accomplished Scots piper and he didn’t need to fiddle long with those notes before declaring, “It’s the Westminster chimes – of course it’s low SO!” So there we were. Our’individual’ was Big Ben and he obligingly appeared when I highlighted his letters.

I didn’t even need to go to Wikipedia to confirm that that was the name of the Great Bell in what is now called the Elizabeth Tower. All that was left was a moment’s reflection about the title; ‘Our Announcer’? I confess to being the number one critic of homonyms (naturally, being Yorkshire Dales born and having to tolerate the prissy southern renderings that bear no relation at all to the way we pronounce our language in God’s Own). However, it was impossible to fault this one; ‘Hour Announcer’ – even if the poor, cracked old thing is going to have an extended vacation in the near future.

What a pleasing puzzle! Accomplished clues, no silly gimmick, a coherent endgame with no frustrated grid-staring at the end – what more can a Listener solver desire? Many thanks to Ploy.

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Listener No. 4371: Our Announcer by Ploy

Posted by Dave Hennings on 27 November 2015

This is Ploy’s first Listener for over five years, his last being based on Gertrude Stein’s somewhat self-evident rose being a rose being a rose… etc.

Listener 4371Here, we had to find a famous individual. He/she would be identified by means of more letter counting in clues (acrosses) and then some slightly easier word counting (in the downs, if a word begins with the same letter as the answer).

I gave all the clues a quick scan. Sadly only half dozen acrosses came to light, although 17 and 44 (ET AL and EL AL) looked as though there might be a symmetrical aspect to the puzzle. [Ed: yes but nothing to do with airlines, etc.]

I fared much better with the downs. Well over a dozen got slotted in, including the last seven, all in the lower right. Back to the top, and the W in WAHOO gave SWOOSH at 1ac which meant the whole grid started falling into place. With two 45 minutes sessions, it was complete and the across and down messages spelt out Thus swindle concerning Ploy and 2431 2342 4231 1342.

Now, was it the groups of four numbers that shoved me in the direction of 4-letter words? I don’t know, but I wrote down ERGO for Thus and IN RE for concerning and rearranged the letters into the order from the numbers, thus ERGO became ROGE and we were obviously looking for Roger Somebody!

After a couple of half hour sessions trying to come up with 4-letter synonyms I was getting depressed. I should have told myself to think outside the box, but that’s easier said than done!

The following morning, still in bed, and I wondered if I shouldn’t be looking for 4-letter words. What if PLOY was to give SETTER. Well, that didn’t help.

An hour or so later, with my first cup of coffee in hand, SO just popped into my head for Thus and two nanoseconds later I had SO DO RE ME. I needed a web site piano-player to play the tune, and was delighted to hear the chimes of Big Ben. I was relieved at what seemed like it may be a week of failure was avoided.

Listener 4371 My EntrySo that was over two hours work to date: 1½ hours on the grid and over an hour on the endgame. I’d like to be able to say that was it, but I must have spent another hour trying to get that damned bell shape overlapping the letters of BIG BEN in the grid… and no others.Talk about tricky!

No matter, I got there in the end. So thanks to Ploy for an excellent puzzle… with its devious little title’s missing apostrophe!

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Listener No. 4370: Hefbeet by Yorick

Posted by Dave Hennings on 20 November 2015

Just one puzzle to date from Yorick, as far as I can see, and that was almost exactly ten years ago… but in the Independent. That had Androcles and the Lion as its theme and bizarrely the preamble started in almost the same way as this week’s with “In 26 clues…”. For some reason, the number 26 rang a faint bell!

Listener 4370The first thing that I noticed was that the grid had a couple of double-unches. Oh dear! Alas, I know some well who would have found that a bit jarring. Luckily, I’m not one of them, so I got on with solving the clues. The first letter of the each of the 26 was to be misprinted, but I made a note of the correct letter in the corner… they might be needed later. The remaining 18 clues had an extra letter and their initial letters would spell out something useful.

The first half dozen acrosses looked a bit tricky, but 16ac was BLEAR from first letters. I decided to try the downs in the top left, and 2dn On the left, Stanley Matthews is a capital example (4), I was pretty sure was PORT with an excellent surface reading, and Matthews being an extra word, so it wasn’t a change-the-first-letter type of entry. Crossing the L of BLEAR meant that it wasn’t a simple jumble either, but probably some sort of code.

Perevering with the downs, [I]GNOBLE and [D]REAMT were soon entered, followed by [O]LEASTER. Following on from that, everything became a bit erratic, and entries were slotted into the grid in a somewhat random order. It was obviously essential that the body of misprinted entries gave the correct letters for initial misprints in the crossing entries. It also confirmed that the other entries would need to be coded somehow.

It was still at least two hours before I could see what the first letters of the extra words spelt out: Code using misprints. A short while later, and my list of misprints alongside their correct letters had ALL THE LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET, albeit with a few gaps. Thus each misprint, in clue order, encoded to its corresponding letter in that phrase: S at 1ac became A, Q at 5ac became L, J became L, M became T, etc. This code could then be used to enter the non-misprinted entries. Was this obvious to everyone straight away?

I still had about ten gaps in the code that needed resolving by the remaining clues, but eventually they were teased out. There were certainly some tricky ones along the way, such as:

18ac ZEROS Ciphers that could convert I to C? (5)
How I becomes 100; I’d be interested to know whether 1 and 0 can be freely interchanged with I and O
20ac WOMEN Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette, say, seeing Charles I and Louis XVI beheaded? (5)
36ac CAECA Old Oz college [news] about biological blind ends (5)
19dn CHIMERA Big Ben? A regular monster! (7)

20ac must be one of the longest clues to a 5-letter word that I’ve seen.

Despite being at ease with double unches, 1ac Cover girl has inner passion (7) proved quite tricky for me, easy though it turned out to be. Also 25ac Black medic loses no people of the same urgent kind (4), which was obviously SUCH, but took me ages to find the black medic connection. Reverse-engineering a couple of the other coded entries also took a bit of time.

The final code that I drew up was:


All that was left was to decode Hefbeet to give PANGRAM below the grid.

Listener 4370 My EntryA quick check of my grid before sending it to AL3 and I spotted that I had entered WOMEN with the N encoded to F, despite it being a misprint clue. A close shave, and a reminder of Rule 12! That aside, not too taxing an endgame this week, but an enjoyable puzzle nonetheless. Thanks for this one, Yorick.

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Hefbeet (AKA Pangram) by Yorick

Posted by shirleycurran on 20 November 2015

Yorick“Yorick,” we said, “are we due for a bit of Hamlet?” A quick scan through the clues yielded a few solutions and we smiled with relief for we are over the pond caring for a very chatty and lively toddler while his new sister is coming into the world. This looked easy, ‘Origins of blood-moon lunar eclipses are rarely indistinct (5)’  (first letters = BLEAR). “Here’s a pushover, we’ll devote a couple of easy hours to it.”  Little did I know that I would be beginning my Listen With Others blog over twenty-four hours later. This almost rose to the difficulty level of Sabre or Mash (on one of their generous days).

A quick check on Dave Hennings’ Crossword Database tells me that Yorick is a relative newcomer with just one advanced cryptic to his name so I anxiously scan the clues to check that he has earned his admission ticket to the Tipsy Listener Setters Fraternity. No cause for concern – he performs with good taste; ‘Dante’s past indeed – whisky in spree (10)’ gives RYE in YES TEAR = YESTER-YEAR.

Yorick follows up with ‘Vintage wine raised direct from reserve (5)’ giving EX< RES = XERES. “Membership duly confirmed – see you in the bar at the  Windsor setters’ dinner in March, Yorick!”

So far all is well and we race through almost two-thirds of the clues duly noting that 26 clues must have their first letter misprinted (suspicious number that 26 – must be something to do with the alphabet) and that the remaining 18 clues ‘each contain an extra word that must be removed before solving; these words’ initial letters spell out how to derive the grid entries from the answers to these clues …’ Of course, I suspect that we are to be faced with those odious jumbles and snarlingly attempt to fill the grid.

Consternation! It just doesn’t work and a clue whose solution is CUSP (Cubic space lacking one [strong] point) already has EEAH in its light. That is no jumble and a Caesar cypher won’t work either. How can C and U both be converted to E? Mystified, we concentrate on the messages and the one from the extra words is teased out to give CODE USING MISPRINTS.

I try computing the letters that share cells, like the Q of QUAIL and the J of JUSTS but, of course, that merely adds to the confusion so frustrated and jet-lagged, I sleep on it for a few hours. It is quiet in California at 4 a.m. except for those wonderful trains that whistle down the line but that code nags until I get up and make sense of it.

Only the first letters of the remaining 26 clues are going to be misprinted so I insert ?WO-SEATERS, ?ERDANT, ?ENTAMETER, ?ESTERYEAR, and so on and slowly but surely work out which letters will map to others. There is a pdm. when the misprints message suddenly makes sense. ‘These letters spell out a six-word description of what they have replaced’ – as we suspected at the outset, ALL THE LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET.

By dawn on a glorious last Saturday of October, I am almost there and this is becoming a pleasure. By using TEA, I am able to find those evil solutions that have so far escaped me; TRAM-CARS, CAECA, EXTOL, HASSAR and last of all that sneaky little word in the centre of the grid. TEA tells me that [jqtz][abcru]?[abcru] is JUGA, the plural of JUGUM (little pairs of leaflets). There’s my new word to drop into casual conversation this week.

One thing left to do. There’s the title. Yes, it unjumbled to ‘The Beef, but the beef about this puzzle was short lived, so we do a little bit of reverse mapping and find a most appropriate title. Of course it is a PANGRAM.

What a challenging and impressive debut, Yorick. Many thanks.

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