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Archive for May, 2016

6 Across by Shackleton

Posted by shirleycurran on 13 May 2016

6 Across ShackletonHow does he do it! Books have been written about the saga of the Endurance, the struggle of Shackleton and his men to survive when the Endurance, with its complement of 28 men, was crushed and finally sank beneath the Antarctic ice. It was exactly a hundred years ago, wasn’t it, that the six men made their astounding 800-mile journey in frightful conditions across the open sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the tiny James Caird. Almost more amazing was that first recorded crossing of South Georgia by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean to the Grytviken Whaling Station – then the wonderful rescue of the 22 men who had been left behind. The photographs of that moment are iconic (though the famous photo by Frank Hurley was actually of the departure of the James Caird).

Can all of that be compressed into one little 13X13 grid? Friends were expecting some crossword celebration of the sovereign’s reaching the age of ninety, or some bard having a 400th anniversary. There’s ‘PRINCE’ and ‘ICONS’ (somewhat of a prediction, maybe) in Shackleton’s grid as that pop icon’s demise has been the focus of today’s media but seriously – how could Shackleton have chosen any other theme! And how magically he incorporated the entire epic into that tiny grid. (And, of course, remained a member of the Listener Setters’ Wine Connoisseurs’ Club with ‘Maybe rush through dour Irish game with pint (6)’ IR + RU + PT).

The preamble was mildly daunting with misprints leading to a total of four messages, two of them ‘6 across’ (what a superb device but how tough it must have been to have the second couple of messages subtly spelled out by the sixth letter across from each of those misprints, without any of them becoming glaringly obvious). Then there was a jumble – hated word – but in this case, how appropriate that the crushed and sunken Endurance appeared in a jumble at the ‘bottom’ of the grid, south of Elephant Isle. The word SUNK even sneaked into the crossword too with a clue I loved, ‘Strewed paper in front of king (4)’ with the SCREWED for STREWED misprint and the SUN + K.

We solved these stunning but very difficult clues and slowly teased out the four messages, recognizing early on that we were on very familiar ground (there are shelves of books about the Antarctic in our home). SEA VESSEL ABANDONED BY CREW/ LOT LED ACROSS TEMPESTUOUS SEA/ 3 CLIMB TOWARDS WHALING PORT took us right to the heart of the story but there was that amazing double use of those clues.

Of course we had wondered how to find a misprint in 6 across but that clue told us that LED across tempestuous (or anagrammed) SEA gave LOT (definition). LEASED gives LET so we have our E/A misprint and the C (aCross) that tells us that 3 Climb.

The ‘third’ (message) ‘describes some entries’. THREE CLIMB TOWARDS WHALING PORT, we were told and, sure enough, we found that VELOUTE, LAG-END and POINTE climbed in our grid towards GRYTVIKEN.

The James Caird

The James Caird

That fourth message, 3 DOWN (which was COASTS) WITH BOAT ARE NOT TO SCALE was perhaps the most significant of all. There out in that vast 800-mile ocean between the symmetrical coasts of SOUTH GEORGIA and ELEPHANT ISLE was the tiny James Caird with the VI on board, symmetrically placed between the VI of GrytVIken, and the XX[VI]II of the original complement.

Brilliant! This sort of compiling puts all the rest of us into the shade. It was rather like that ‘pass the parcel’ game we played when we were little. As each layer came off, another treat dropped out, then there was the real prize in the centre. Thank you to both Shackletons – two astonishing feats a century apart. I think this was the most enjoyable and accomplished Listener crossword I have ever solved.

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Listener No. 4395: 6 Across by Shackleton

Posted by Dave Hennings on 13 May 2016

OK, so it’s Shackleton week and we know we’re in for a great puzzle. He is the current holder of the Ascot Gold Cup for best puzzle of 2015, Mixed Doubles with its 2×2 final grid. Time to put our heavy-duty solving heads on.

Listeber 4395The preamble was daunting, but told us that the correct letters of misprints in every clue led to two messages. Six letters across from every misprint led to two more messages, but all that could really wait until the grid had been filled.

1ac Op, one of 3 in the hip area, is one contributing to much suffering (7) looked like IS + I in MUCH* or ISI in MUCH*, and ISCHIUM was soon slotted in, although Os for Op took me a bit of time to suss. 6ac just said See preamble (6).

10ac was ANGRY (Mad replacing Mud), 13 was FRAU (not Woman from Sienna but from Vienna) and 14 SURETE (French policy becoming French police>). 17ac Hold back on axing a part of Indian firm in Ohio (5) looked like it could be OATER, with Indian firm becoming Indian film, but I couldn’t work out the wordplay. This was scarcely odd because… it turned out to be NITER (Ohio spelling), a constituent of Indian fire which Chambers defines as “a firework used as a signal light, consisting of sulphur, realgar, and nitre.” Brilliant.

So the first three rows were looking pretty robust and, a short while later, the last three looked fairly good, with 38 MAUNDS, 40 SUNK and 43 CRESTED in place. Unfortunately, apart from 29 RODDED in the middle, that was it for the acrosses. However, I was fairly pleased with progress on this Shackleton puzzle.

The downs started with 1 Smoker’s put up by informal Spanish mate who’s 33 (7), which was a shame as I hadn’t solved 33… or was that the misprint and it should be 30, 31 or 32?! A few more clues went in easily, except for 11dn REGIME which only had five spaces. In fact, a quick check of other clues showed that there were five other 6-letter clues that only had 5-letter entry spaces. They all surrounded the central isolated square, and I took a guess that that’s roughly where “Some symmetrically-placed cells will contain two letters” as stated by the preamble, but which I had forgotten.

Then more trouble, when 12dn Possible stance for par shot to pin on centre of green (6) looked like it should be POINTE, but didn’t mesh with 14ac SURETE. Perhaps it would be entered upwards, but I was from sure so just lightly pencilled it in downwards.

The first pass through the clues was fairly slow and took just over an hour. Surprisingly, the solve didn’t seem to speed up very much, even as entries were slotted in. In fact, the grid didn’t near completion for another 2½ hours. The isolated squares and 6ac were still incomplete.

The best misprint was at 37ac The mania for playing woodwind ornamental motifs (8) where woodwind became woodbind.

And so we had S•a vessel abandoned by crew and Lot led across tempestuous sea spelt out by the corrections to across and down clues respectively. The down message was the clue to 6ac, with Lot being the misprint for Let and leading to LEASED and Sea vessel. The two messages spelt out by the letters 6 across from the misprints were 3 climb towards whaling port and 3 down with boat are not to scale.

And of course, there were the letters surrounding the central square which contained two letters and looked like JAMES CARRID. Alas, this didn’t help me, mainly because the R in the SE cell shouldn’t have been included, like its symmetrical E. Of course, this would have helped a large section of solvers who knew exactly what the JAMES CAIRD was!

So began a couple of hours of blind alleys for me. The obvious vessel that was abandoned by its crew was the Mary Celeste, but I couldn’t find anything in the grid that really helped with that.

Next came Moby Dick, although a lot of Wikiing failed to fully support the story given by the four messages. However, the fact that AHAB was lurking in the left of rows 6 and 7, plus ISHMAEL trying to emerge from the top row, didn’t stop me trying to make it fit.

The two bits of highlighting that I would be required to do were of 9 and 5 letters, representing an item (jumbled) and its complement (i.e. its crew). NACRE in the bottom row kept haunting me though, and I wondered if the theme could be The Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Hardly Listener material!

I even toyed with Life of Pi.

Eventually, I realised my mistake with the central letters. Instead of “James Carrid” (“showing results for james carried“!) I googled “James Carid” and got “including results for james caird“, the first of which was “Voyage of the James Caird”. After that, it was plain sailing (pardon the pun).

Listener 4395 My EntryThe grid represented the voyage of the lifeboat James Caird from the ENDURANCE [not ENDEAVOUR 😉 ] with Sir Ernest Shackleton and five other crew members (VI in total) to get help for the twenty-two left behind (an original complement of XXVIII). They made their way from ELEPHANT ISLE to SOUTH GEORGIA to the north, location of the whaling port GRYTVIKEN, pointed to by the three up clues VELOUTE, POINTE and LAGEND. We had been told that the boat and COASTS (3 down) were not to scale.

What a fantastic puzzle from the master, full of thematic elements and superbly implemented. What is he planning next?

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Against Expectations by Duck

Posted by shirleycurran on 6 May 2016

Duck 001Duck? Well we all know who that is. When I was just beginning to compile, I read Don Manley’s Crossword Manual from cover to cover and appreciated it enormously, learning something new on almost every page. Surprisingly, though, apart from those in the Manual, I have solved very few of his crosswords and see, from Dave Hennings’ Crossword Database that Duck hasn’t had one in the Listener series since 2009, so this was a relatively new experience for us. It cannot be denied that we become accustomed to a setter’s style and that tends to help in solving his or her crosswords.

In his manual, Don describes the Listener crossword as a ‘cruciverbal Everest’ and comments, ‘If, however, you find the blizzards blowing too hard in your face or your mental oxygen running low, there is no disgrace in enjoying lesser peaks’. I have to admit that when, after an hour or more of solving, we had a mere dozen solutions in place, we were tempted to head to ‘lesser peaks’ (or resort to a strong drink – I had, of course, confirmed Duck’s membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Club – but only just – with ‘Time to drink up – I will eat that ice cream (6)’ ((T+ALE)< in (E)GO)  giving GELATO).

Scanning the clues for that trace of alcohol, I couldn’t help admiring the economy of the setting style. ‘Duck’ ‘me’ and ‘I’ tended to figure large but so did a ‘topless mistress’, a ‘bag brewing tea’, a few sheep, a headless dog, a snake, parasites, thin fish (poisonous too) and a rodent (what sort of mental preoccupations does that list suggest!) – and all of that in a mere 36 clues. Even the 12X12 grid was surprisingly economical – but not so the difficulty.

Of course, all solvers quickly came up against the problem. ‘Doctrinaire colonist has hurried to the fore (6)’ was an easy clue to [S]PED + ANT = PEDANT and that confirmed DANGER at 2d. ‘Dreading changes, one avoided risk (6)’ but produced a clash with SISTER, ‘Topless mistress unsettled nun (6)’ which was apparently an anagram of (M)ISTRESS giving SISTER with an extra S. But it was not to be, was it!

Similar problems occurred with 8d where the letters of across solutions gave us N?PS?RC. How could that be a solution to ‘Male sheep in scripture forage for berries (7)’? and 18d, NOTS?IR -Tree-dwellers seen in Bristol sing ostentatiously (7)’. We were growing more and more puzzled and frustrated, especially when the message produced by extra letters in the across clues told us to SEEK LETTER MIXTURE (G). It sounded as though we were being prompted to look for jumbles. I only realized, some time after completing our solve, that the preamble prompted us to look for those jumbles in ‘the six “rogue” clues (the italics are mine) and, of course, those Newtonian apples were jumbled, with words that told us so, in the clues. (‘Topless misTRESS Unsettled nun’ giving us, for example, RUSSET jumbled, which ‘unsettled the ‘nun’ or SISTER of the word the clue originally led us to). Devious stuff, Duck!

Fortunately, it was the ‘hint to the answers’, GRAVITY DEFIED’ that led us to look for something going the wrong way, and sure enough, there were IDARED, RUSSET, CRISPIN, BRAMLEY, CODLIN and RIBSTON (at least, they were there once the penny/apple dropped with BRAMLEY and we consulted Wiki’s list of apples).

And what about those “rogue” clues? Well, with the help of friends, I have now sussed them all. DANGER (the risk) and SISTER, (the unsettled nun) were obvious, and BRAMBLE wasn’t too difficult (I set weekly cryptic for the leading farming national newspapers with its massive circulation, of which Duck is mildly belittling in his manual with his slightly comical remarks that “It is just possible that The Modern Lady’s Weekly (my invention) may want a puzzle or the Agricultural News, but don’t think you can start with The Times. … recognise that you’re at the bottom of the ladder.”) BRAMBLING is both ‘foraging for berries’ and ‘a little bird’ and regularly creeps into my ‘bottom of the ladder’ grids which have a bird nina (look up ‘ninas‘ in Duck’s manual!)

CLASSES resolved the ‘Girl may be seen in revolutionary’s lectures (7)’ with C[H]E’S (of course! Even Duck resorts to crossword platitudes) around LASS, and FLORIN was FLIN[T] round the conventional crossword OR, producing a rogue extra T. The last clue we solved must have been the most obvious of the lot – a ‘hidden’ OLINGOS in ‘Tree dwellers seen in BristOL [S]ING OStentatiously (7)’. I suppose I just didn’t expect a ‘hidden’ clue from Duck. Most editors limit us to just one in a crossword, maximum two, as they are supposedly too easy to solve.

So to summarise, those alternative answers to the rogue clues gave us:

DANGER = DREADING* less I with an extra D produced

SISTER = (m)ISTRESS* with an extra S 

BRAMBLE = BIBLE round RAM with an extra I

CLASSES = LASS in CHE’S with an extra H

OLINGOS = hidden in (in Brist)OL SING OS(tentatiously) with an extra S

FLORIN = OR in FLINT with an extra T

Of course, that is a weakness of this crossword. It was possible to solve the crossword and be confident of having a correct solution without understanding those rogue clues. There were lovely penny-drop moments for the solver who persisted with them, but I wonder how many solvers, as with KevGar’s Conversation two weeks ago, short-circuited the process and had to go back to those clues and maybe work them all out.

Thank you, Duck, for quite a challenge.

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Listener No. 4394: Against Expectation by Duck

Posted by Dave Hennings on 6 May 2016

No need to introduce this week’s setter, except to say that his last Listener was back in 2009 and had the canonical hours as its theme. Here we were faced with six clues that were masquerading as, well, something else! All the others had an extra letter in the wordplay that would give advice.

1ac was soon slotted in as PEDANT and I perused the intersecting downs. 2 was DANGER and 4 was SISTER. These were easy clues. Except that the S of SISTER didn’t agree with the T of PEDANT. Obviously, anagrams were involved here. [!!]

Listener 4394After two hours, I only had 20 clues solved and no sign of a PDM. Luckily, the extra letters in the wordplay would tell all, but they were very slow in being teased out of their clues. And it was about this time that a rereading of the preamble told me that “…2 and 8 can be found in the OED. But 2 was DANGER, wasn’t it, and that sure as hell was in my copy of Chambers! Obviously 2dn was something else, and I got really confused.

Moreover, the six special clues looked as they they were yielding gobbledy-gook as entries. Another two (or was it three or even four) hours later and all was eventually revealed as the extra letters spelt out Seek letter mixture; gravity defied. The clues weren’t cryptic at all, but just contained a mixture of the letters of the entry required.

They were all entries climbing upwards and were types of apple: BRAMLEY, IDARED, RUSSET, CODLIN, RIBSTON… and 8dn CR•SP•N. Now that wasn’t in Chambers apparently but was in OED and looked like CRISPIN, or was it CRISPEN (or even CRESPIN)? Luckily, my local library has online access to the OED, so I used that, only to find that the only crispin it gives is “A name given to a shoemaker, in allusion to Crispinus or St. Crispin…” and that was in Chambers anyway. There was also crispen which just means to make more crisp.

A search of the full text gave the following: “Mutsu, n. Chiefly N. Amer. A large yellow-green variety of dessert apple developed in Japan as a cross between Golden Delicious and Indo; the tree bearing this fruit. Also called Crispin“.

Now, as I write this blog, I cannot believe that the average solver was expected to find this reference in order to be sure of the spelling required and I feel sure that I must be missing something. Does the paper version of the OED actually include Crispin?

Listener 4394 My EntryThe idea of the puzzle was interesting, and the hiding of letter mixtures in totally valid cryptic clues that led to misleading words was indeed clever. Thanks to Duck for a real toughie. But crispin?!

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Listener No. 4393, Vingt-et-un: A Setter’s Blog by Little Hare

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 May 2016

This isn’t really a setter’s blog at all, because I’m not sure how much credit I can personally take for the puzzle. The basic idea came completely at random when I was listening to the Butterworth setting of A Shropshire Lad (highly recommended, even for the several solvers who commented that they really dislike A E Housman!) and it vaguely occurred to me that it was full of potential thematic “treasure” in the form of pearls, rubies, etc. I mentioned this to my other half, whose first reaction was “one-and-twenty – that’s blackjack, isn’t it”? So a combination of terrible boyfriend/girlfriend chat (it’s not always this bad, honestly) coupled with a slight gambling problem (again, it’s not that bad, honestly) led to an obvious crossword possibility. The basic construction followed pretty quickly, and it soon became clear that a neat symmetrical finish could be made to work quite straightforwardly.

The people who really deserve the credit for the puzzle ending up in a publishable form are the very kind souls who gave their time and expertise to comment on various earlier drafts, and who suggested really helpful revisions. Even though this meant that the crossword went through several major turns, I learnt many of the crossword setting “dark arts” on the way – the sort of things that you don’t notice when you’re an enthusiastic solver, but which really make a difference when you’re trying to set a fun, solvable puzzle. Double unch? Open light? I had no idea what I was up against, to say nothing of the laser-like pedantry that has to be applied to individual clues (quite rightly so, of course). I cannot thank these solvers – and the vetters and statistician – enough. The Listener community is incredibly supportive and open, and it was all an eye-opening experience.

And thanks to everyone who sent in comments, all of which have been helpful. There was a bit of a consensus that the puzzle was on the easy side, particularly because of the bunched thematic clues. A fair point, and one that’s noted. I’ll get back to working on my four-dimensional encoded torus…

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