Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Archive for Feb, 2016

Listener No. 4384, XL: A Setters’ Blog by Harpy

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 Feb 2016

Jointly setting a crossword is an interesting business, and some people question how it can work. Well, there are quite a number of duos, trios (and more) around, so it clearly does! But this is the first time that this particular duo (who are also occasionally part of a trio) have written a blog. HARPY is cHARybdis and PloY, and in what follows we are referred to as C and P. Although occasionally meeting up, Harpy mainly operates by email. This may be a smart medium for collaboration since there is a written record to refer to and crucially it allows a lot of time to cogitate.

We seem to take it in turns providing the initial spark for a Harpy puzzle. In this case for a long while one of C’s vague back-burner ideas had been to do something cruciverbal concerning the former continents Laurasia and Gondwana, and perhaps Pangaea and the Tethys Sea. Then in July 2013 the phrase “the land of lost content” came into C’s head, though he couldn’t place it, and it made him think not only of content being lost but also of those lost cont(in)ents or possibly of Atlantis or Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

The quote turned out to be from one of the cheerier poems (it’s all relative!), numbered “XL”, from AE Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad”:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Unsure quite how to proceed, C felt more brains were required and emailed P with the idea of collaborating on what would turn out to be our fifth Harpy puzzle.

The kәn-tent / kon’tent duality was very attractive, as was cont(in)ent and “yon far country”. And XL, we were delighted to realise at a later stage, could also serendipitously refer to the eXtra Large original landmass! (Though we were not yet focused on it being Pangaea.)

P then came up with a list of about 40 country names which could lose some “content” to leave a real word. We especially noted those where the content was also a word, such as PA(KIST)AN and POR(TUG)AL. Since these were literally “lands of lost content” we realised that this was an element of the puzzle that was far too good to miss.

But a related possibility also emerged, that of constructing something vaguely thematic from available shorter “land” fragments such as the single letters A or I of SPAIN, maybe even a message, or indeed the name of one of those lost continents. We discovered that PANGAEA was maybe possible whereas Laurasia and Gondwana were not. (For instance, the U of laUrasia and the W of gondWana were not available for a start). So, PANGAEA became the focus, and the phrase “IN PANGAEA” was particularly inviting since the “IN” was the part that makes “CON*TENT” into “contINent”. Again, far too good to leave out.

C made proposals as to how the grid “mechanics” might work, and in particular how we might incorporate an element of continental drift. And we also played around with draft preambles. Following a suggestion by P, we decided that the puzzle would be better with time running backwards, with the final grid representing Pangaea (pre-drift). (As it turned out, not all solvers realised this was a nod to continental drift and the break-up of Pangaea, but this was not essential.)

We went through numerous ideas for placing the main elements in the grid, deciding at a fairly early stage to abandon symmetry in favour of increasing the amount of thematic content. Based on C’s ideas for the basic layout, P then set to work to see if a satisfactory gridfill was possible, to include LOST CONT(IN)ENT, as many thematic countries as possible, and the generation of IN PANGAEA. Fortunately P was able to construct such a grid (“No mean feat”, says C).

To achieve a satisfying dénouement, it was important that the discovery of “In Pangaea” should be more or less a final step, which is why we decided to present the puzzle as a jigsaw variety of crossword. It was then “just” a matter of writing the clues, which we split into our usual odd/even numbered allocations. During that time, P was on holiday in the blue remembered hills of Shropshire, where he was delighted to come across the following road sign, which he immediately emailed to C who was on holiday in Spain:

Listener 4384 Museum Sign

C was able to reply with a photo of a Harpy he’d just taken in the gardens of the palace at Aranjuez:

Listener 4384 Harpy

Having completed our draft, fifteen months after we started out on the puzzle, it was test-solved by a friend of C’s, and submitted to the Listener, where Harpy hadn’t appeared since 2008. We are very grateful for the pre-publication feedback which improved some of the clues.


Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

XL by Harpy

Posted by shirleycurran on 26 Feb 2016

In Pangaea 00313 X 13 – that didn’t seem to be extra large so we decided the XL must refer to 40 something or other. However, the preamble was just a little bit XL and gave us a lot to think about. We had already realized that we had here a grid with no clue numbers – one with rather odd asymmetrical bars where the clues had to be entered jigsaw-fashion, and a set of clues that didn’t exactly match the word-lengths of the available lights. It got worse: in Group A clues, a letter was to be inserted before solving and these letters were to give us the first three words of a quotation and an instruction regarding some of the EMPTY CELLS! Yes, thirteen empty cells.

That was not all. There were to be unclued lights as well and when we had used that little set of Group B clues, we were going to mangle our grid in some way in order to remove the 13 connected cells.

One of the bloggers on the Times for the Times website, this week, amused me by commenting on the surprising bibulosity of crossword compilers. I would say that a pre-ramble like that one calls for a stiff drink and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few solvers ended the evening somewhat worse for wear. However, I needed to check on the bibulosity of Harpy’s clues and he speedily confirmed his membership of the Listener Setters’ Tipsy Team with ‘Abandoned one owing to bride’s bubby (7)’ Well, that had to be bubbLy didn’t it? (giving TO BRIDE* = DEBITOR) It really has come to something when even the anagram indicators are boozy words!

Harpy was then with the New Orleans crooks sKipping a half in snugs (5)’ (giving NO [cro]OKS) and not much further down he has shifted to SECO, ‘Description of some winEs in write up of process (4)’ (hidden).  Onto the beer next, ‘Get pOint and drink, pet (4)’ producing S + SNOG = SNOG. Not surprisingly, by the time we got to the Group B clues, Harpy was indulging in ‘Personal share of turnip spirit (3)’ (I’m not sure what the turnip was doing there but that gave us DIV). Cheers! See you at the bar in March, Harpy!

Indeed these were not ‘Stripey horse (5)’ or ‘Alas tit consumed wine (4)’ -style clues. Having colour-coded our grid and clue lengths, we lumbered our way half way down the clues with little hope of a grid fill, though an interesting Y– F– COUNTRY; FILL FIVE CELLS … fairly easily appeared from the extra letters we were inserting. Full praise to a compiler who escapes from the routine of ‘An extra letter in the wordplay in addition to those to be entered into the grid …’ or ‘A misprint in the definition part of the clue blah, blah, blah, …’ However, the result of a device like this one is a rather generous gift to the solver (and we needed one!) The question is whether these more difficult devices to implement are actually extra work for the compiler and less work for the solver.

I ambitiously began a grid fill when it seemed that CRENELLATIONS would fit our grid, intersecting with GAMIC and MONACTINE, and it seemed likely that the centre column would be the ’empty thirteen cells’ which prompted me to enter OXEYED-AISIES along the bottom of the grid. We were away and a relatively speedy gridfill followed with some rather odd unclued words appearing. MALES? PAAN? ARIA? UKE? PORAL? (Yes, hindsight has filled some gaps in those!) There was a moment’s doubt about IN-CALF which appeared as two words IN CALF under ‘calf‘ in Chambers but had its own hyphenated entry in the I section. I wonder whether little errors like that will be corrected in the new edition that is about to appear.

In Pangaea 002LOST CONTENT seemed to be appearing too – and didn’t that tinkle a very distant bell? Out came the ODQ and on page 416 of my lovely Seventh Edition with the Klimt Water Serpents on the cover, I find ‘Into my heart an air that kills/ From yon far country blows/ What are those blue remembered hills/ What spires, what farms are those? Ah, it’s from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad No 40, so it looks as though we are on the right track. Are we, then, somehow going to be entering hills, spires and farms? That is our first thought.

Reading on, (as we are told to do in the preamble) we encounter ‘That is the land of LOST CONTENT’ and those two unclued entries are justified. Justified but not explained. With an almost full grid, time for another G & T and a bit of head scratching. We haven’t paid a lot of attention to those Group B clues but they clearly hold the key. These are almost ‘Stripey horse (5)’ clues, a double definition, DIV, a homophone, KIST, a regular letter clue, MEN, another DD, REIN and a reversal clue, TUG; but where are we going to put these letters. Aaaah! Light dawns and we suddenly understand what that unclued PAAN was doing: PAKISTAN, MALDIVES, ARMENIA, UKRAINE and PORTUGAL. My admiration for Harpy takes an immense leap – this is brilliant! And it gets better.

Our instruction told us to FILL FIVE CELLS TO MAKE THEME WORDS. We find SPAIN, CONGO, HUNGARY, KOREA and LAOS and realize that we have to fill one more cell ‘doubly’ turning CONTENT into CONTINENT and that central column spells IN PANGAEA. I chop my grid into two. It’s easier than attempting to do a triple fold and we were told to remove those 13 cells ‘eg by folding’, so I hope cutting and pasting is acceptable – this puzzle certainly was. Superb, thank you, Harpy!

Posted in Solving Blogs | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Listener No. 4384: XL by Harpy

Posted by Dave Hennings on 26 Feb 2016

In case you didn’t know, Harpy is the combined pseudonym of two setters — Charybdis and Ploy — each of whom has a long line of puzzles notched up under their own name. That said, this is only the second Harpy Listener, the first being based on a Shelley quotation and resulting in us having to shade a map of Venice in the grid.

Listener 4384This week, the clues were in two groups, A and B. A clues were in alphabetical order of their answers and needed a letter inserting before solving. Most clues were Group A, just five being in Group B which led to words which didn’t seem destined to end up in the grid!

More importantly, there would initially be 13 empty cells after the grid was complete. There were three 13-letter entries in the diagram, but only one 12- and one 13-letter answer. My money was on the central down entry being left vacant, with across entries straddling it. Only time would tell.

I decided to take the clues slowly, rather than initially whizz through them all quickly. The first was Is not, to an extent, going the wrong way round a racecourse (7), and while AINTREE seemed the logical answer, my first guess at the missing letter was ‘a’ to make ‘around’. I wasn’t happy with that, so looked up e’er/ever and saw that ‘any’ made more sense.

The second clue Man long ago might have started with this huge number between one and a thousand (5) (don’t worry, there isn’t going to be a paragraph for every clue!) was ALACK with Moan long ago might have started with this being the definition.

After about 30 minutes, I had reached clue 15, and the letters inserted into the clues I had solved spelt out Yo••a•cou•tryfi. Normally, I would carry on and solve all the clues before looking at what was being spelt out in any message, but country here was just too tempting. My ODQ index didn’t have anything under country beginning ‘yo…’, but near the top of the page was ‘From yon far country’, and we had AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad no. 40 (XL):

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Another 30 minutes and I was half way through the clues with only had three gaps. I had already put CRENELLATIONS into the end column, and had just sorted out clue 21 Sexual activity almost is pointless with cap on (5) GAM[E] + IS – S (ie pointless) + C (cape) to go top right.

It seemed likely that AMBIANCE would go into row 3 with MONACTINE crossing it, and gradually the grid began to take shape. It still took another two hours to finish off the clues and fill the grid. The last thing to sort out before embarking on the endgame was to resolve clue 10 Roofing material to move like a sail snail in an emergency (8, three words) which at first looked like AT AN INCH with NAAN crossing the first N. It is defined as ‘(Shakesp) ready at hand’, but the wordplay made no sense — indeed nothing really did. Of course it was AT A PINCH.

In full, the letters inserted in the clues spelt out Yon far country and Fill five cells to make theme words. It took no time to complete SPAIN, CONGO, HUNGARY, KOREA and LAOS to give PANGAEA in the central column. LOST CONTENT were the two unclued entries “from the same source”.

I had found the Group B a bit tricky, but they eventually provided words to augment the remaining unclued entries: MALES + DIV = MALDIVES; PAAN + KIST = PAKISTAN; ARIA + MEN = ARMENIA; UKE + RAIN = UKRAINE; PORAL + TUG = PORTUGAL.

Slotting IN above PANGAEA gave LOST CONTINENT and we had to go back in time to eradicate the five countries that we had created by getting rid of that central column. I used scissors and Sellotape®.

Listener 4384 My EntryThis was fantastic stuff, as you’d expect from these two experts. So much thematic material that surely AE Housman had this puzzle in mind when he wrote the poem!

Posted in Solving Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No. 4383: Display by Aedites

Posted by Dave Hennings on 19 Feb 2016

The last puzzle from Aedites was last March (no. 4337 Relationship) and required us to draw a circle in the grid with a radius of one. This week we had to grapple with a misprint in every clue. These were misprints which could appear anywhere in the clue (rather than just in the definition part), and they can be tricky blighters.

Listener 4383Little did I know how tricky! After a pass through the acrosses, I had a grand total of seven… not clues solved, but squares filled! 23 GHI and 32 RAKI were all that I could muster. It seemed that the numbers in brackets were, in fact, answer lengths rather than entry lengths as stated in the preamble since five numbers didn’t agree. That left another three thematic clues lurking elsewhere incognito.

Onto the downs, and it was obvious that Aedites hadn’t intended to make them any easier, at least not for me. However, the square-filled count was a significant improvement at 17, albeit from only three clues. (In hindsight, I don’t think I spent enough time on each clue, probably only 15 seconds, hence the low clue-solved count.)

After about an hour, I still had only about a dozen clues solved, although the grid was beginning to look half-decent. I finally had one of the thematic clues when 12ac Best mare mark beginning to tire after more than one tree (5) resulted in FIRST. 17ac also had my attention, being •EVA•A, and NEVADA seemed likely. Meanwhile, 12ac •E•A•••E looked like DELAWARE and I suspected that I was onto a winner since I knew that was the FIRST state to ratify the constitution.

So were we looking for American states with their order of entry into the union as the clue? That seemed unlikely, since Nevada was number 36 and Honey left in Glasgow drain (6) didn’t give THIRTY-SIX with any misprint. From my time in the US, I knew that The First State was also the nickname of Delaware, appearing on car licence plates.

I checked the nickname for Nevada and SILVER fitted its clue, so I was home and dry. I managed to slot six more states into the grid with help from existing letters. I then used Google to find out what the answers to the clues were… probably not how Aedites had planned my solve, but it worked for me.

So I was 90 minutes into the puzzle and the grid was just over half full. It took me almost as long again to tease out the other misprints and their answers. In order, the correct letters spelt out Nicknames are to be replaced by American states. Well I knew that!

12ac First DELAWARE
17ac Silver NEVADA
33ac Treasure MONTANA
37ac Beaver OREGON
1dn Volunteer TENNESSEE
8dn Evergreen WASHINGTON
22dn Gem IDAHO

Listener 4383 My EntryAnd so to the endgame. We had to highlight an instruction and put the corresponding thematic word below the grid which, presumably, was another state. I scanned the grid quickly, but only found SHOW in, to use Alistair Cooke’s reference scheme, the California corner. I needed to look down the full list of Wiki state nicknames and was delighted to see that MISSOURI is the SHOW-ME state. I hadn’t seen it at first, but the ME could indeed be found in New Mexico. Thus Aedites was, I hoped, asking us to show him the corresponding state name.

So thanks to Aedites for an entertaining romp through some of the states of the USA. I was surprised at how many different nicknames some of them have — Colorado has twelve!

Posted in Solving Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Display by Aedites

Posted by shirleycurran on 19 Feb 2016

Display by Aedites 001A short preamble and just forty clues – nothing too worrying there. It is a clever compiler who manages to satisfactorily conceal a misprint in every clue, though, of course Aedites has included them in any part of his clue and not just in the definition part, which gives him a little more latitude. Still, it is a device that is often tougher for the setter than for the solver, as the late Mr Leonard told me some years ago.

There were a couple of clunky misprints that immediately jumped out at us; ‘Newts for some cruves (4)’ must be ASKS and ‘cruves’ will have to be ‘craves’, and ‘… old peony involved in interbreeding’ gave an obvious ‘old penny’, but, on the whole, there were some convincing surface readings here.

Of course, I scan Aedites’ clues to confirm that he qualifies for the Listener setters’ tipsy gang. No problem. First I find ‘Narcotic drink added to tart in Indian cookery (4)’ producing an E misprint and giving T + AVA. Then there’s ‘Taste of gin in juniper log (5)’ This gives CADE round G(in)CADGE =  and we work out that log has to give us an I corrected misprint since Chambers tells us that to LIG is to be a scrounger or freeloader. Aedites hasn’t finished with the alcohol; his final clue reads ‘Manhattan shooter from blender bar (3)’ By the time we put ROD in for this solution, we have spotted that the message spelled out by the misprints is NICKNAMES ARE TO BE REPLACED BY AMERICAN STATES so that an S is needed as the corrected letter  and this must be a Slender bar or a ROD.

We had solved for heading for two hours when this penny dropped and suddenly suggested to us why we had been unable to fit words like VOLUNTEER, SILVER, GEM, BEAVER, TREASURE and EVERGREEN into our grid.

There seemed to be some ambiguity in the preamble. We had decided that the solution to 12ac was FIRST; ‘Beginning to tire after more than one tree (5)’ FIRS + T(ire) but we realized that we were to enter DELAWARE, the ‘First State’. That has eight letters and the light had eight cells. However, the preamble told us that ‘numbers in brackets are entry lengths’. Surely a slip? No matter; I shouldn’t imagine it will hold any solver up for long.

Solving raced ahead as US states filled the empty cells and we back-solved to find out what their nicknames were; we had visited Nevada’s Virginia City last year and had no problem working out that SILVER was the Nevada state nickname but TENNESSEE, VOLUNTEER state? WASHINGTON EVERGREEN state? That is one plus of the Listener crossword; we learn something most weeks.

We hadn’t quite finished. There was a ninth thematic word to find and that clearly had to be a state. A grid stare followed but fortunately not too long as the title gave us a hint and SHOW ME state had appeared in the Wikipedia list: MISSOURI. Most enjoyable. Thank you Aedites.

Posted in Solving Blogs | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »