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Archive for May, 2016

We’ll Always Be Together by Flying Tortoise

Posted by shirleycurran on 27 May 2016

Falling tortoises 001Rather an appropriate crossword for a Flying Tortoise to produce (though I hope his shell survived the fall) and how enjoyable. We were surprised by the small grid and, after speedy confirmation that Flying Tortoise retains his membership of the Listener Drinkie Club, (‘Ship 7 innkeeper’s bottles (3)’ where 7 gave us ROBOT, which, of course, bottles an OBO, a ship; then ‘Fear coin’s lost for Jean’s drink trip (8, two words)’ giving us FEAR COIN* = CAFe NOIR) we raced through a speedy solve of the clues.

Some unusual words there; LENITES for ‘softens’, GROSSART for a Scottish gooseberry, WOLOF for African people, that unusual spelling of TATU. However, the extra words did sometimes stand out and we teased out a message ‘CUT OUT PRINTED L AND S, HALVE GRID VERTICALLY, PLACE R(ight) HALF ABOVE, SLIDE STRIPS OF THREE ROWS, HIGHLIGHT SITE.’

There was some head scratching now and the other Numpty disappeared to make supper whilst I cut my grid into two and pondered about how I was going to ‘slide strips of three rows’ and use that L and S, since the preamble told us that we were going to be ‘converting the filled grid using all cells’.

Galileo 002I should have poured that G and T and made the supper and left the other, scientific Numpty pondering, as the moment I showed him the vertically divided grid, he said ‘It’s the LEANING TOWER OF PISA’ – and of course it was, with Galileo somewhere up there (according to the possibly apocryphal story) and dropping a large and a small sphere to see whether one or the other reached the ground first.

Of course they hit the ground (or one of the hordes of tourists) simultaneously.

So I chopped up my grid and produced a fairly convincing Leaning Tower of Pisa, highlighted, with the L and S ‘spheres’ falling together and a brief description of the experiment’s result and I was left with just one small quandary.

Galileo’s initial was G and his experiment was into g (acceleration due to gravity). We’ve been here before when lots of competitive solvers spoiled their ‘all
Flying tortoises 001correct’ Listener solving runs by putting an upper case B on KOHb. Well, I suppose a capital G (the constant of gravitation) is ‘rather apposite’. I hope so.
To complement my rather rueful interpretation of this maiden flight, I am including the quirky and highly entertaining SCAN0058interpretation of the experiment that came to me from a fellow solver and setter.

I love puzzles which are pictorial. This was a beautiful example. Many thanks Flying Tortoise.

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Listener No. 4397: We’ll Always Be Together by Flying Tortoise

Posted by Dave Hennings on 27 May 2016

This week we had a return visit from Flying Tortoise, he of Dante’s Inferno/Infamy last year with In Case of Fire. I got marked wrong for that one because I was a bit too subtle, rather than just plonking the famous quotation around the outside of the grid. I hoped this week’s endgame wouldn’t be open to interpretation, although “annotated with a brief description of the experiment’s result” didn’t bode well!

Listener 4397Anyway, on with the clues, each of which had an extra word with either the first and third letters or the complete word spelling out five instructions. These would presumably tell us how some cutting and pasting was going to be required in the endgame to represent a famous experiment.

In my first pass through the grid, I only got half a dozen acrosses and the same number of downs in 45 minutes. In fact, this wasn’t quite as pathetic as first it seems since the grid was fairly small (12×9) with only sixteen clues in each direction. With 8 OPAQUELY and 9 CAFE NOIR as two of the downs, I saw a fairly quick solve ahead.

Indeed, another 45 minutes saw the grid complete, although 27ac Is difficult starting late incessantly — that gets you sullied (6) with the third letter unchecked had possibilities of SNOOTY, SNOTTY and SNOUTY. My money was on S (is) + [K]NOTTY (difficult).

My favourite clues were 1ac Griff has a cry about the crushing demise of Mel (4) with griff being a CLAW, and 10dn Sadly spotty, alas, I’m no oil painting (8, two words) for MONA LISA.

I then had a bit of fun trying to work out the ten clues where the whole word was used in the instructions, but eventually got:

Cut out printed L and S
Halve grid vertically
Place R half above
Slide strips of thee rows
Highlight site

I made a copy of my completed grid using Sympathy. Following the instructions, I cut out the L and S, cut the grid in half and into strips of three, then laid the right hand half above the left. I concentrated on the first three rows and, keeping rows 1 and 2 in place, moved the third row progressively one letter right. No revelation. Resetting the third row, I moved the second row to the right and repeated the process with row 3. I couldn’t find any obvious beginning of a “site”. [At this point, I should have moved the second and third rows progressively to the left… but didn’t!]

I decided to try with the bottom three rows, and luckily kept the bottom row in place and moved rows 4 and 5 progressively left. When I saw ISA, I knew where we were, and LEANING TOWER OF PISA was soon revealed in the central column. The famous experiment that we had to depict was Galileo dropping two balls of different sizes from the top and finding that they reached the ground at the same time.

Listener 4397 My EntryThe seemingly superfluous “using all cells” phrase in the preamble was now clear, and I retrieved the L and S cells from where I had left them in the kitchen! With a lot of adhesive tape, I stuck my six blocks of rows onto paper, put the L(arge) and S(mall) squares next to each other at the bottom, described the experiment and signed it with a G. Hopefully this was what was required, and I felt sorry for JEG who would presumably have been given instructions as to what was and wasn’t to be allowed for the “brief description”.

A very enjoyable puzzle this week from FT, so all is forgiven for last year!

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Listener No. 4396: The Listener Audience by Pointer

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 May 2016

It struck me that the editors were being particularly sadistic this month! Following on from Shackleton’s masterful, but tricky, puzzle, we had Pointer, who could also be masterful and tricky. Those of you who had come across a Pointer puzzle before knew that they were in for another treat. His last puzzle (no. 4274, Conflict) needed the initial grid to be completely reorganised before submission.

Listener 4396This week we had a carte blanche with cyclic clues which were all normal, although there would be some unclued entries. In the finished grid, one letter changing in each column would reveal examples of a keyword. Surprisingly, we were told the lengths of the new words that would be produced.

The three clues at 1ac weren’t too helpful. The first, Plant that is abandoning Disney car (4) eluded me since Herbie was far too long ago for me to recall. The tent in the next part, Bully getting rid of bad tent (3), was probably GER or GUR, although neither giller nor goffer was in C. How remiss of me not to think of badger straightaway. The last part giving TASMAN, however, was pencilled in.

Clues 2, 3 and 4 across were pretty easy, and I wondered why Pointer was being so generous. Rows 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 11 each had an unclued entry since the clues we were given didn’t sum to 13. I still managed to get at least one answer in every row, except 11 which looked a tad bizarre… Leak in rear section of tent; … (3) plus … hole starts here in front section; … (3) plus … boy cut both sections (4).

The down clues were equally forgiving. Plus, with 1 MADRID ENEMA, 2 WINEY SPALES and 4 FALSE ROTHER, I managed to fix rows 2 and 3 and also fill in some of the other answers.

I finished the grid in just over 90 minutes, including PEE, TEE and PETE at 11ac. I also liked the inventive clue at 8dn Similar characters coming together in Royal Lytham for golfer (3) for (Ernie) ELS.

And so to the endgame. I tried to identify letters in the down columns that would reveal new words. I started at the right since that was where the (9, 9) indicated, although I suspected the answer lengths (3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 9, 9) weren’t in the right order. I failed miserably with this first attempt.

However, I found a very intrusive red herring that rattled around in my brain for ages. I kept seeing bits of Hebrew and then Greek letters. MAM in column 1 could become MEM; column 2 had ALE[PH]; column 9 had HEH or possibly CHE[T]H; elsewhere there was PHO for PHI and even IZARD in 5ac. I also thought the unclued acrosses, which were all 3-letter entries, might become CHI, ETA, PHI, etc. [In hindsight, I was almost on the right track with all this!]

I also kept wondering what “substitute one letter” meant. Did it mean “replace one letter with another” or “replace one letter with something else”, perhaps a foreign character or symbol.

After about an hour of getting befuddled by this, I decided to flip the grid along the NW–SE diagonal so that the columns became rows. That might make the new words easier to spot. Five minutes later, I saw PALESWTINE in row 2, followed by NTEPAL in row 3, and I was off. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any other geographical areas or countries in the grid — only a possible CERECHE and BAHBOOSH.

Eventually I focused on finding the other 9-letter word and looked up words beginning with MAMA…, AMAD…, MADR…. I nearly missed MADRILENE, being distracted by the entry for Madrileño, but luckily saw it before moving on. Not that I was particularly impressed with a soup.

I was beginning to wonder whether this puzzle would be my first failure of the year. It was headache time!

Eventually I looked up Palestine in Chambers, but it only had Palestinian. Again I nearly overlooked what would be my salvation just below it where Palestine Soup was lurking, and this time I really was on the home straight.

In order, we had the following synonyms or types of soup: MADRILENE, PALESTINE, LOKSHEN, BROTH, DUCK, BISQUE, POTTAGE, PEA, PHO, HOOCH, OXTAIL and RAMEN. What’s more, the replaced letters and the replacements used all the letters, to give us a complete Alphabet Soup. Cunning stuff!

Listener 4396 My EntryAll that remained was to highlight the mysterious unclued entry “that describes all six” unclued entries. Of course, that turned out to be TLA, which had appeared in row 5, the three-letter abbreviation for Three-Letter Abbreviation… and The Listener Audience. I checked that the other unclued entries I now had were all abbreviations in Chambers: ASA, SCP, BBC, LTA and AAA.

In the end, this one took me nearly five hours over three sessions. If only my French were fluent or I ate a lot of soup. Nevertheless, an excellent puzzle with a grid that must have been a right pain to get right.

So thanks to Pointer for the headache, and thanks to the editors as well for two great puzzles in succession.

[Sorry I’m late again this week… that animation took much, much longer than the puzzle!]

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The Listener Audience by Pointer

Posted by shirleycurran on 20 May 2016

Pointer endgameccwThe Magpie has just arrived (Magpie plug – six more Listener-style crosswords every month) and we groaned as we leafed through it, “Surely not three cartes blanches!” Imagine our reaction when we downloaded this Pointer and saw yet another grid with no bars. Yes, it had numbers, but the preamble didn’t exactly reassure us since we were told that solutions were to be entered ‘starting at a point to be determined and continuing at the beginning if the answer reaches the end’. It got worse: ‘six rows contain an unclued entry’.

Well, it was easy to establish, by a simple addition of clue lengths, that those six rows were 4,5,6,8, 10 and 11, and that the additional answers were all three letters long.

The other Numpty was solving furiously, almost in clue order, as these were very generous clues but, of course, I had to establish Pointer’s continued membership of the Listener Oenophile Society and he left no doubt at all about that with ‘Is it Lambrusco? See “Italy” on back (4)’ V + I + ON< = VINO. Further confirmation came in the down clues with, ‘Women in the middle of vineyard like its product (5)’ Indeed we do, Pointer – what a fine clue too! W IN + (vin)EY(ard) giving WINEY.

There were a few clues that raised a smile. ‘Leak in rear section of tent (3)’ gave a rather startling unhygienic image, then a chortle as we realized that this was (tee)PEE. Smart old waitress: “Pie’s off” (3)’ had us checking that, indeed, NIPPIE was an old word for a waitress and, sure enough, Chambers gave us ‘n (with cap; ) a waitress, esp one in a Lyons teashop (also Nipp’ie)’.

PointerOf course, with this sort of grid fill, the solver is desperately waiting for an obscure letter like a Z, an X, a K, a J or a Q, in order to be able to fit the words into the grid, and, obligingly, Pointer gave us three with J: ‘Vessel not needed in expeditions for old bits of silver (5)’ giving JO(urn)EYS,; ‘Judge to bundle up unisex cloak (5)’ giving J + BALE< = JELAB; and ‘Man collects uranium left for physicist (5)’ giving JOE round U L = JOULE. Of course I attempted the wrong pair first, but the error was soon evident and when I intersected the Js of JOEYS and JELAB, all was well and within minutes, all our missing solutions had almost solved themselves and we had a full grid with six rather strange acronyms in the unclued slots.

So now what? We had to ‘substitute one letter in each column to reveal new words … all examples of a keyword’. We had already wondered whether changing an E to a B in the fourth column (creating BROTH) would give us BBC which might link to ‘The Listener Audience’ but we didn’t make the obvious link to ZOOSH changing to HOOSH (even though I have a bit of an obsession with the Antarctic explorers of early last century and the HOOSH that frequently appeared in Scott’s accounts). Sadly BABOOSH exists and seemed like a convincing seven-letter substitution. But what has a heelless slipper to do with the BBC or BROTH?

We grid-stared for almost twice as long as the original grid-fill had taken us since I was convinced that those word lengths we were given were to be read in column order and that I had to find two nine-letter words in columns 12 and 13. We had a dinner break – fish, not soup – but a fresh start produced BORSH (yes, it was a red-herring and not the filets de perche we had just enjoyed and yes, it can be spelled that way) which suggested SOUP!

Now MADRILENE, PALESTINE, LOKSHEN (not borsh), GUMBO, DUCK, BISQUE, POTTAGE, PEA, PHO, HOOSH, OXTAIL and RAMEN were teased out of the grid, with the help, of course, of Mrs Bradford. How did we realize that we needed LOKSHEN and not borsh. Those letters that I mentioned earlier suddenly loomed large and we had that telling number of 26 letters that were ‘ALL’ involved in substitutions. “It’s ALPHABET SOUP!” one of us cried in triumph and, of course, the Internet told us what that had to do with all those three-letter acronyms.

TLA – three-letter acronyms, Chambers tells us, and we finally understand the title. That’s us, the TLA, The Listener Audience. Many thanks to Pointer for such a complete and accomplished challenge.

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Listener No. 4395, 6 Across: A Setter’s Blog by Shackleton

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 May 2016

Ernest Shackleton has always been a great hero of mine, and his odyssey from the Weddell Sea ice floe to Elephant Island, across the Southern ocean to South Georgia, and across the uncharted mountains of South Georgia to the Norwegian whaling community is one of the greatest true adventure stories of all time. My setter’s pseudonym reflects this admiration (although it is just one of several rationales for my moniker) and it is my goal as a setter to provide a great solving adventure, but also ultimately to bring everyone safely ‘home’ to a correct solution.

Probably it has always been in my mind to compose a puzzle on this theme, but I have to thank Shirley Curran for explicitly prompting and encouraging me, and for acting as a sounding board during the setting process (and in general for all her generous support, and her great contributions to the crossword world).

In setting the puzzle, I wanted to represent all the various stages of the journey, and the ‘VI’ idea (showing the 6 amongst the full crew on the wrecked Endurance, on Elephant Island, in the James Caird, and in Grytviken from where the initial rescue efforts were launched) came quite early. The title, indicating the journey of the six across the Southern ocean, soon followed; as did the idea to use the characters ‘6 across’ from the misprints to spell out additional messages. However the messages with their double meaning took some time to evolve.

The various items (COASTS, JAMES CAIRD, GRITVIKEN, XXVIII, SOUTH GEORGIA, ELEPHANT ISLE, LEASED and the broken ENDURANCE) provided quite significant constraints on the design of the grid and the fill. But it still left me with a bit of flexibility in the south-east corner where I was able to put PRINCE at 33dn. The importance of this was that I could then refer to 33 in the clue to 1dn thus giving the first character ‘3’ of the final message. But it turned out to be quite prescient given the news about the performer Prince the day before the puzzle appeared.

I received a lot of very enthusiastic feedback on the puzzle both via John Green, and on the message boards. So many thanks to everyone who commented. Some credited me with more thematic treatment than I had intended. One generous solver noted the spidery SOS made by the outlines reading from SW to NE. And Mr. E thanked me for including his name centre top. Some solvers felt that using ‘6 across’ to indicate the letters six characters across was misleading — it certainly wasn’t meant to be — I just wanted to get as much mileage out of ‘6 across’ as possible. Several people mentioned being led astray by red herrings — Moby Dick (AHAB can be seen in the grid), The Mary Celeste (ELESTE can be seen in the grid), and The Tempest (on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death) all got mentioned. In fact, these were quite unintentional — there are no herrings of any description in the Southern Ocean.

The solution notes at are actually much better and more detailed than the ones I submitted, so many thanks to the amazing Listener editors.


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