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Archive for February, 2016

Migration by Malva

Posted by shirleycurran on 12 February 2016

Malva Migrations 001A new name and an original gimmick. We quickly understood that it was in the clues that a letter was to migrate east or west, whereas in the solutions the letter would go north or south. That’s a fine change from the extra letter in the wordplay or the corrected misprints spelling a message. It does, however, mean that the down clues are going to be just a refined, controlled sort of jumble – yes, I hate the things but had better not start off with a moan.

Of course I had to check whether this new setter qualifies for entry into the Listener topers’ club and to my amazement, I read through the across and down clues and found not a trace of alcohol. Food abounds: there’s ‘Where a Scot might keep crummy bread after opening of bakery (4)’ – Difficult one that. We decided that the Scots cow, or crummy would be kept in a B(akery) AWN since the R of ‘bread’ was going to give us ‘beard’ – an AWN. I wonder how many solvers will opt for a BARN.

Then there’s ‘Taste of fruit, not in perfect condition (4)’. Another tough clue. We opt for OMAN O’ + MANGO with the GO removed. Indeed I had to read right down a long column of definitions of GO to find that it can be ‘in perfect condition’ in popular parlance. This is not easy January cluing. Our next foody clue is ‘Botswanan elders talk excitedly about steak (6) TALK* round GO giving KGOTLA (Back to the Chambers’ list of GOs again and this time the GO is a stake.)

So on we GO. We have old meat recycled, Rosalind’s tarts, tinned beef, spice, old chicken, and a trimmed piece of meat and the only relevant tipply word I can find is ‘Thirsty’ – no wonder! ‘Dry number including soprano (7)’ = THIRTY round S.

We solve steadily finding an astonishing number of obscure words: HUSO, BAWN, KGOTLA, MEROSOME, SKRIKS, ARTEL, HIELAMAN, ALFORJA – and those were only the across clues. If I come out with all of those in conversation this week, my friends will ask me to speak English. But they were honestly clued so the solve was quite enjoyable and soon we were left with only the south-east corner to complete with one clue holding us up, ‘Old meat recycled by eastern recipe for joint. (6)’ The ER gave us a hint that Malva was now resorting to a dubious smoke after all that food, a REEFER and we slowly teased out that ‘old meat’ was to become ‘old mate’ and that a FEER was an old mate. He could be’recycled’ to give REEF. That was a fine, deceptive surface reading wasn’t it?

All over bar the shouting and while I hunted for the stopping place for those swans, the other Numpty stomped off downstairs (as it was time to cook dinner) shouting “I’ll turn the oven on then we can cook the b………. swans.” Fortunately, I found MINSMERE, the nature reserve, so the swans live to migrate one more time. Thank you and welcome Malva.

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Listener No. 4382: Migration by Malva

Posted by Dave Hennings on 12 February 2016

A new pseudonym this week in the shape of Malva (a plant of the Mallow genus, for those of you not of a horticultural bent). We were faced with a nice simple 12×12 grid, and with acrosses having a letter moving to the left or right in their clues, while downs had a letter moving up or down in their entries. What could be simpler?

Listener 4382I decided to tackle the downs first, and 1 HARP (thanks to Mrs B), 3 SUMAC (Camus is one of the few French writers I know), 5 OVARIES, 6 ENSATE and 7 ECLOSION were all solved within ten minutes. I pencilled them in lightly since at least two letters, and possibly all of them, would be in the wrong place.

Sadly the flurry of solving didn’t continue and the bottom half of the grid looked quite sparse after my first pass through. BOSKAGE, BROILER and TROMMEL were three of them, so I was progressing reasonably well.

On trying the acrosses, 1 Losing half of tread in hail is wrong (7) looked like the H of ‘hail’ needed moving to ‘give ‘thread’, but alas that didn’t help. Luckily 14 Seven deign to include one (5) became Even design to include one (5) and PLAIN was, well, plain.

As expected, solving the acrosses was tough, and after an hour I had only ten in place. It took me some time to twig that a moving letter could just be within a single word, eg 1ac was in fact ‘tread’ becoming ‘trade’ rather than ‘thread’. I decided to make a note of the moving letters that moved in each clue. Sometimes that could be one of two (‘tsar’ in 15 could have the S or T moving to give ‘star’), but at this point I was staring at ten clues where the letter S was the mover! Coincidence? I think not! [Ed: I think so!]

Listener 4382 My EntryTwo sessions, each of about 90 minutes, saw the puzzle finished with MINSMERE highlighted in the leading NW–SE diagonal (and a fair few non-S letters having moved in the across clues). The clues, especially the acrosses, were excellent, and I wondered whether Malva was another setter in disguise. These were some of my favourites:

13ac MEROSOME More wary confronted by a certain body part (8)
‘More wary’ became ‘More awry’ rather than the ‘More warty’ that I originally suspected!
27ac OMAN Taste State of fruit, not in perfect condition (4)
O (of) + MANGO (fruit) – GO (in perfect condition)
37ac RAKE Angel Angle Gabriel’s heart overruling head in dedication of church (4)
R ( heart of gabRiel) replacing first letter of WAKE
17dn ABOITEAU Ignoring onset of deluge, develop idea about water control (8)
21dn BROILER Old chicken biting head of really young chicken (7)
32dn AFAR Nadal’s return from way behind the baseline? (4)

A fine puzzle this week from Malva and I look forward to more from him.

For those of you who missed Roger’s comment on my post last week, the revised 13th edition of Chambers (with the missing words restored) is due out on 15 February:

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Listener No. 4381, Awful: A Setter’s Blog by Towser

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 February 2016

This is only my second Listener publication but I usually try to solve about 20-30 a year and have (hoorah!) won a new Chambers once…

The idea for Awful had been kicking around in my head for some time and would have lain there bar the fact that my first publication (‘Nonconformist’) received a number of kind and encouraging comments. And, thus encouraged, I decided to look further at the idea. It’s a very old joke – “My dog has no nose! How does he smell? Terrible!” – which I thought most people would have heard. Obviously, a dog without a ‘nose’ loses its first letter so I compiled a list of some 100 dog breeds (including many obscure ones) which threw up a number of obvious favourites such as (b)eagle and (b)asset. As an indicator of the theme I decided on a hidden phrase in the grid, played around with ‘How does he smell’ as one diagonal and ‘My dog has no nose’ as the other but found the central conjunction of the two diagonals to be too restrictive. Half-completed a grid with the latter phrase but the headless dogs just leapt out so it was clear I needed something more.

Some distant education had taught me that R was ‘the dog letter’ and – boy – did I have lots of terriers to play with (which were not used in the end). So I tried to balance headless dogs and those breeds that contained the letter R – delighted to see that a Kerry Blue would enter as ‘eyblue’ if the nose and Rs were removed as this fitted a space in my half-prepared grid. And ‘County Down’ for its clue was too good to miss. Well, ‘pointer’ for clue and ‘setter’ for Towser were soon added to those that had to be included.

I submitted to the first editor who made many, many helpful comments – with revisions duly made and resubmitted. He had solved it in about an hour – with the clue lengths shown as to be amended before entry into the grid. So, for example, ‘Kerry Blue’ was given as (9, two words). I gave the second editor 2 options – as (9, two words) for the clue or (6, two words) which I believe made the crossword harder as the R would not be so obvious; similarly, ‘safari park’ could either be (10, two words) or (8, two words). The former option was chosen to supply a January puzzle that was not too difficult and one that would fit in with the overall pattern of mixing difficult and easier crosswords. The editors’ decision is final – and fully respected. The original title was to have been ‘Terrible’ but I just hated the sight of those Rs…

I’m still very new to this rather eclectic world (though I have a further submission in with the first editor and am working on two further themes). Absolutely delighted to see that other setters will test drive a possible crossword and plan to take advantage of that in the near future.

Paul Taylor.

Listener 4381 Inspector Morse Book CoverShamelessly, I take this opportunity to promote a book just published – “Inspector Morse: A Literary Companion” – by the Irregular Special Press. It’s by me and reflects my interest in crosswords, beer, crime fiction, and the works of Colin Dexter (and it contains one Listener Crossword based on Morse). It is over 300 pages, illustrated, and treats of Morse as a very real policeman; it seeks to cover every aspect of the great detective.

Publisher’s blurb

“A magisterial, beautifully presented, splendidly researched companion to the life of the late Chief Inspector” — Colin Dexter.

Paul Taylor has provided the most detailed account of the habits, opinions, loves and hates of Inspector Morse from all the available written sources. While fictional television programmes may be marvellously produced, directed, scripted and acted they must remain forever fictional and have no part in this book – which is based on the real Morse, the real Lewis and Strange, the very real Oxford, and a large number of crimes (particularly murder). No details, however, are provided of the solutions to those crimes.

Among the many interesting discoveries made by Taylor are the true Christian name of Lewis, a sample of Morse’s handwriting, the exact location of Lonsdale College in Oxford, the dates of all the cases investigated, and an exact timetable of the events leading to the demise of the Chief Inspector.

The companion is arranged alphabetically – from the AA to Zeta III (the Barotse Chief) – with detailed entries on Morse, Lewis, Strange, and crosswords. The A – Z is followed by a number of appendices including crosswords devoted to Morse (and their solutions); a list of all people, brand names, and organisations mentioned in the cases; a complete gazetteer of all places; each and every public house; and explanatory notes on many of the quotations discovered in the text. There is also an extensive bibliography.

Priced at £14.99, it is available from Amazon or direct from the publishers at Endeavour House, 170 Woodland Road, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, CB22 3DX (01223 473025) at a price of £12.99. Readers of this site can get 10% off the £12.99 by quoting MORLIT to the publishers. Further details may be found at

This is an essential volume for anyone interested in Morse and Oxford, in crime and its detection, and in the celebration of Colin Dexter’s skill in recording the cases.

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Awful by Towser

Posted by shirleycurran on 5 February 2016

Awful Towser 001A large grid! That was our first reaction. However, the preamble was relatively concise and didn’t cause us too much anxiety. We were going to be looking for twelve clues that had wordplay only, sharing a common definition, and we were going to modify those entries in a way that was to be suggested by a five-word phrase. “Probably down the leading diagonal” was my first comment. There was to be a thematic omission wherever possible, too.

Well, the omission wasn’t alcohol. I quickly did my usual check to confirm that Towser retains his place in the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Club and didn’t need to read beyond the first clue, ‘Rum affair with time for right rum (6)’ I like the way ‘rum’ appeared as an anagram indicator as well as the drink. “What’s TAFFIA?” I ask the other Numpty. “Some sort of West Indies’ rum.” Gin comes next. “Facetiously opposed to a drink (4) (AGIN) and then we have a bit of aristocratic tippling with an earl having to be restrained, ‘Keeps in drunk earl (8)’. Aah, that gives us PEKINESE and there’s no definition. Are we in doggie country for the theme?

Our suspicion is soon confirmed as our grid speedily fills and we encounter a POMERANIAN, GREAT DANE, KERRY BLUE, BEAGLE, BULLDOG, BASSET, SHIH TZU, SPANIEL, POINTER, BOAR HOUND and, of course, the SETTER (Towser – that’s a dog isn’t it?) but our early words in the top right hand corner of the grid have already demonstrated to us why several of the lights are shorter than the solutions. Perhaps it was that lucky spotting of SAFARI PARK, intersecting with REKISSED, REPAY and AFARA, that showed us that we needed to omit all Rs from our entries.

All the same, our dogs, even when the KERRY BLUE had lost his Rs, were too long for their kennels. Then light dawned. No, it wasn’t “Who let the dogs out?” With a hoot of glee, we recognise the joke that was my two sons’ favourite many, years ago. “My dog has no nose.” “How does he smell?” “Frightful!” (They were in the Primary section of the Geneva International School and determined to share what they thought was a hilarious joke. The school is multi-national with a number of languages and they had an early lesson in linguistics when they understood that the joke depends on the humorous use of a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive – ‘smell’ doesn’t work that way in other languages!)

Sure enough, there was the five-word line in the leading diagonal.  With its help we soon had a full grid and only one query. Why were we omitting all the Rs. What have Rs to do with dogs? Chambers to our rescue. ‘R, sometimes called the ‘dog letter’ from the trilling of the tip of the tongue in its pronunciation in rhotic accents’. Hmm – what does that mean? Well, it certainly suffices to explain the game. Many thanks, Towser (Owser?).

Some time later a friend has enlightened me about that R, pointing me towards Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I should have remembered that comment of the Nurse in the rather salacious scene with Romeo and Mercutio sparring wittily.

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Listener No. 4381: Awful by Towser

Posted by Dave Hennings on 5 February 2016

Towser was a new setter last year, and here we were with his second. His first was no. 4346 Nonconformist with its theme of detective fiction authors and the Baker Street IRREGULARS across the middle. This week, twelve thematic clues with just wordplay clues, and an unknown number of other entries with a thematic omission before entry.

Listener 43812ac Rum affair, with time for right rum (6) was the first clue and TAFFIA my first entry, and I didn’t need Mrs B to help with the anagram of AFFAIT. (I could hear Shirley chortling at being able to put Towser on her list of setter lushes so early!) 6ac passed me by, as did 12, although it seemed that the number in brackets didn’t agree with the entry length. A quick scan of the other clues showed that about half disagreed, so Towser was being generous in giving us a helping hand with answer lengths.

I persevered with the acrosses. Among them, ANDROIDS, ROSINATE and CORTISONE all disagreed with their entry length, as did the anagram of ROMAN [TAR]PEIAN at 45. They were all one letter to long for their entry length, so it seemed that a single letter needed to be omitted. Unfortunately, they all contained I, N, O and R.

Still, I solved about 15 clues on my pass through the acrosses, but since it was a relatively large 14×14 grid, they looked rather sparse. I started on the downs and wish I’d done so sooner: 3, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 11 were slotted in smoothly. 6dn Item of property placed beneath bishop (6) was A•S•• and BASSET without its B indicated that the theme could be headless hounds.

Meanwhile, FLOORED, AFAR, REPAY and REKISSED revealed that the letter R was probably the one which needed to be dropped, but the thematicness of that single letter escaped me. A short while later, and 33dn Keeps in drunk earl (8) confirmed the dog theme, with [P]EKINESE going in the grid. 45 minutes into the solve and I had the two strands of the puzzle identified.

Another hour saw the grid complete, including the nice thematic clues at 14 County Down (9, two words) for KERRY BLUE and 43dn Towser, in this instance (6) for SETTER. For the second time in as many months, OOBIT was the answer “in earlier editions”.

[Does anyone know when we are likely to see a Chambers with these words reinstated?!]

Listener 4381 My EntryA check on the leading NW—SE diagonal revealed the start of the old joke MY DOG HAS NO NOSE*, hence the first letter being dropped from the twelve dogs in the grid. But why the R. I needed to consult Chambers to see that the letter R is “(sometimes called the ‘dog letter’, from the trilling of the tip of the tongue in its pronunciation in rhotic accents)”.

Thanks to Towser for an entertaining puzzle and especially for providing a couple of seconds of humour on an otherwise cold and windy winter afternoon.

* The full joke is: “My dog’s got no nose.” “How does it smell?” “Terrible!”

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