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Archive for October, 2016

Common Acid Test by Stan

Posted by shirleycurran on 28 October 2016

book-of-kellsIt wouldn’t be normal for the Numpties to download what was, in effect, a carte blanche, with clues that have no word lengths and to read that ‘the grid is made up of square cells, not all of the same size … ‘ without a mighty grumble. There was the redeeming feature that ‘clues are given in conventional order’ but then we had that so familiar ‘the wordplay leads to the answer with an extra letter that is not entered in the grid’. Oh dear!

Of course I checked Stan’s continued membership of the Listener Setters Oenophiles Society and although he gave me initial concern with ‘Inclination to get high put out near conclusion’ (PU[T* END = UPTREND) and followed that by ‘Lament one from Perth entering house of disrepute’ ([A]E in KEN giving KEEN) he seemed to be yielding to the need for a drink with ‘Hesitancy built up amongst teetotallers? (BUIL[T]* in AA giving ABULIA – loss of willpower).

Yes, the willpower was clearly gone as Stan then told us ‘Vintage measure of Champagne quietly discovered in rustic tavern’ (Giving us TA[V]ERN* around P so the measure was just any old French plonk or even soil) then we had a stimulant, ‘Stimulant — extract of cantaloupe, perhaps’ Hidden UPPER with an extra E. No wonder Stan was ‘Slightly drunk, Earl travelled round missing first left’ (another anagram giving us ELEVATED with an extra R. Well, Cheers, Stan, see you at the bar!

There were lots of difficult clues and we could, as yet, see no way of entering them but slowly some probable words emerged from the message that was appearing in the extra letters: ILLUMINA… MAN..CR… VERS.. IN LARGEST C.L. It was the other Numpty who explained that the Acid Test is LIT MUS and if we make that ‘Common’ by removing the U. we get a ‘lit’ or ILLUMINATED MS or MANUSCRIPT. I had no idea that a VERSAL was the large ornamental letter that is at the beginning of an illuminated manuscript (though we have been enthralled by the Book of Kells)

So at last it all made sense. ‘VERSAL IN LARGEST CELL’ Those six-letter words that shared an initial A were going to share a large illuminated letter A, and since the grid was to be symmetrical about the NW-SE diagonal, once we had those four words (AUREUS, APERCU, ABULIA and ARPENT) in place, the rest of the words paired off nicely and filled the grid.

I was so excited that at last we had a grid fill, that I almost overlooked that last requirement. ‘Solvers must also highlight a thematic three-word title in the grid. It was, of course, obvious what I was looking for but it took me surprisingly long to find it BOOK OF KELLS so neatly symmetrically crossing the grid just below the other diagonal. What a clever and attractive compilation, Stan. Many thanks.

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‘Common Acid Test’ by Stan

Posted by Encota on 28 October 2016


Isn’t The Book of Kells one of the most amazing pieces of artwork?   As many of you will know (and certainly by the time you read this) it’s on display in Trinity College Dublin.  I nearly got to visit it once – and definitely one for my list.  Having seen facsimiles of many of the plates I’d recommend a visit it to you all, if you are anywhere even vaguely nearby (same continent, perhaps?).

According to the TCD website (and I certainly wouldn’t disagree) the Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript. The 9th century book is a richly decorated copy of the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ.  One small sample attached here:


So, on to Stan’s delightful puzzle.  Once some of the across clues were solved then ‘Illuminated Manuscript’ looked a very likely candidate for the two-word description.  But the rest of the hidden phrase seemed much harder to crack.

For example, the final clue:
Poor relation, most excellent at first
really threw me initially.  I assumed correctly that the definition must be ‘Poor’: my first guess at the answer, which I then tried to ‘parse into place’ was MEAGRE.  Could I shoehorn ME (Most Excellent) + AGRE[E] in somehow?  ‘Agree’ and ‘relation’ are similar?  Answer: maybe but not similar enough.  When I then stumbled on NAN as the possible relation (yes, there’s no Def By Example indicator, I know, I know), then I foolishly thought ME [N]AN gave MEAN and I put N aside as the added letter.  When the hidden letters for the ‘something that must appear therein’ began to look like “…LARGEST C??N” I was stumped. COIN for Corner in a French illuminated manuscript, perhaps??  Eventually I guessed CELL, then spotted that this last clue was actually MERE and parsed as ME RE[L].

I’m not sure if it was last week’s Sabre, where every clue appeared to have an extra level of indirection in it, that meant I took time to get on Stan’s wavelength.  There were several abbreviations that I missed until I’d already guessed the answers and which look very clear in hindsight:

  • ap. for apparently
  • rel. for relation
  • cel. for celebrated

How did I get delayed by those?  Was it just me? (Probably!)

And was I the only one to pause over…

Inclination to get high put out near conclusion

…I wonder?  There seemed to be so many possible ways to parse it!  I tried UPEND but that didn’t quite work; I then tried TREND which again didn’t quite account for all the wordplay; and eventually I combined the two and went with UPTREND.

And finally, the Title?  I guess one of the most well-known ways of testing for acid is using LITMUS; add a bit of commonness, i.e. non-U, and this becomes LIT MS.
Illuminated (LIT) + ManuScript (MS) – simple, eh?

Loved it – thanks Stan!

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Listener No 4419: Common Acid Test by Stan

Posted by Dave Hennings on 28 October 2016

This week we had Stan’s third Listener although six years have passed since his last, No 4111, News Quiz. That had as its theme the fact that Alaska is the most northerly, westerly and easterly of the American states (it straddles the date-line), with Hawaii as the southernmost.

listener-4419-animHere a blank grid stared at us… almost literally. The grid needed to be contructed by us with square cells, not all of the same size. The clues were in normal order and were of the extra wordplay letter type. The extra letters would spell out what the finished grid would represent and need to contain.

Since the grid was symmetrical about the NW–SE diagonal, the number of across and down clues would be the same, ie 20. That meant the first down clue was Hesitancy built up amongst teetotallers? Oh dear, Shirley, an ex-alcoholic! That was ABULIA, but would have to wait till I scanned all the acrosses first.

That proved worthwhile, with the first three, AUREUS, APERCU and HERB, being scribbled separately from the grid. I applied a bit of logic to the situation, with the expectation it would be wrong. If AUREUS and APERCU were along the top row, then where would HERB go? I decided to delay any more logic until I had finished scanning the acrosses and downs.

That proved depressing, with only KEEN, OBELI, SCELERATE and GALA being solved across. The downs were slightly more promising: ABULIA, UPPER, RED DEER, IBSENITE and a handful of others. So, back to the logic, and it looked as though the top left square would be 2×2 and contain A. That would enable ABULIA to use that square with UPPER dropping down from AUREUS and APERCU. My money was on the bottom right being 2×2 as well.

I wondered how many other 2×2 squares would be lurking in the grid. As I solved Assailant mother stabbed with nail for ATTACKER, the extra wordplay letters that I had read ILL…A.E.M…, and Illuminated Manuscript was a relatively easy spot.

Next came ARPENT and BREED, but they messed with UPPER and RED DEER, so perhaps we had a 3×3 square in the top left corner. And bottom right? Luckily a bit of thought made me reaise what we were dealing with. Well, the extra letters had actually told me, and it was more likely that the top right square would be the ‘illuminated’ bit of the diagram.

All that was left was to spot Stan’s slightly trickier clues, and after a couple of hours I had a full grid with a single 3×3 square. The extra letters finished with Versal in largest cell. I needed to look that up in Chambers: ‘versal² n an ornamental letter at the beginning of a section, eg in an illuminated manuscript.’

listener-4419-my-entrySo I guessed that just a large letter A like the one that was currently in my grid, would be inadequate. Something a bit more ornate would be required, but there was no ‘solvers will not be penalised for lack of artistic ability’ in the preamble. I decided to leave the really flamboyant stuff to Shirley and just made mine ever so slightly flamboyant for my submission.

Chambers gives acid test as a test for gold. I assume the title is therefore a reference to gold leaf frequently being used in illuminated manuscripts, but I’m not 100% sure of this.

A very enjoyable and novel puzzle, thanks Stan; luckily not as daunting as the grid at first made it seem.

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Out of Line by Sabre

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 October 2016

Out of Line

Out of Line

It wouldn’t be kind of me to begin by saying what my reaction is when I download a Sabre crossword (would it!) This called for a stiff drink and shelving of any other Friday evening entertainment (and yes, I completed my grid at 0.45 on Saturday morning and still hadn’t sussed the endgame but had a stack of empty glasses).

Of course, I checked Sabre’s continued membership of the Listener Setters’ Drinkie Club and, despite the initially disconcerting news in 27d ‘Japanese therapy where I kick bottles (5)’ (REIKI hidden) didn’t really need to worry as, later on, the solutions to some of those rather more difficult clues gave us CORKED, ‘Stopped work, calling at the outset for Western education (6)’ (WORK with C(alling) for W + ED). No wonder he’s decided to ‘kick bottles’ if they were corked. Clearly he moved on to tropical happy-hour favourites as PIÑAS appeared, (hidden again but this time reversed) – presumably PIÑA COLADAS ‘Discarded fruit cropping up in salad (6)’. Cheers, Sabre.

Sabre gave us his usual range of clues from truly easy to astonishingly complex and difficult with some words I would never have invented in my wildest dreams – IBADAT, MANYATA, SPADASSIN, TAUTOG and what was I still attempting to find at half past midnight? ‘Australian marine fears flag binding our nation with Japan (10)’ We had attempted anagrams of IRIS UK (or GB) W(ith) J and had hunted for terms for an Australian marine but IRUKANDJIS? I ask you! (Yes, TEA finally suggested it to me when I fed in all the potential words after sorting out how we were entering the words we had into the grid). I think the definition was not-over generous; ‘Australian marine fears …’. That seemed to me a bit like defining ICE CREAM as ‘Little boy likes …’ but I suppose Sabre, with his brilliance, can get away with what might be called ‘defining by example’ for lesser setters. (I have to adjust what I said as I was muttering at dinner two days later about that clue and the lady sitting opposite me, who never solves crosswords, on hearing the three-word definition, instantly said “Well that could only be those box jelly fish, irukandjis, they are called, aren’t they?”)

‘Sorting out how we were entering the words’ – that was the rub. We solved steadily and soon had well over half of the clues solved but not a single one that fitted with intersecting letters and we had to see the ‘thematic modification’ that would resolve the issue. Usually we would expect to remove the tip or tail of a word, invert it or jumble it (hated words!) but none of those worked. We were becoming thoroughly frustrated and muttering murderous thoughts about how to spike Sabre’s corked drinks as we cold-solved, dreading that we were going to have to solve every single clue with no idea what to do with the solutions.

Fortunately a glimmer of light dawned. There could only be one way to make CORKED intersect with IBADAT and that was by using the single letter they shared, so supposing we simply raised that letter to the top of the word. With enormous relief we found that that worked and happily filled a new grid, finding that the words that now partially appeared, like PID?I with an extra N, suggested words to us (PIDGIN ‘Concern about anonymous advance going astray, paid again (6)’ giving PAID AGAIN losing three As for About, Anonymous and Advance).

There was just one hitch – well, two actually. OBJETS D’ART and NEPTUNE (Holst’s Mystic in the Planets Suite) produced a clashing E/J and even worse, SACQUE and IRUKANDJIS produced a triple clash Q/U/J since we had no way of knowing whether the Q or U of SACQUE should rise to the peak of the word.

It was a longshot, the following morning that led to feeding the relevant information into the invaluable Quinapalus Word Matcher We were looking for a 12-letter word that probably had RS as consecutive letters and had to have a Q and a J in it. I could have kicked myself when we were given QUEUE JUMPERS as we had attempted to think up so many words that indicated being ‘out of line’ (the lightning strike of TANISTRY, SUPERSESSION, DISLOCATIONS etc.) and the necessary one was so obvious.

Of course we performed what we were told to perform and replaced two Rs with S, an E with U, P with E and then the stroke of genius! However does he do it? We found that both J and Q had to become U, resolving those two clashes and telling us that it was the U of SACQUE that had to rise, leaving us the word that describes all those pushy French people who attempt to queue jump and walk all over my skis – DISCOURTEOUS!

Brilliant indeed. Many thanks, Sabre!

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Top! the Puzzle (aka Jonathan Edwards can now stand down)

Posted by Encota on 21 October 2016

It appears that there’s hard … there’s really hard… then there’s Sabre’s “Out of Line”.  Perhaps apart from one or two in the depths of winter that sleep deprivation on the overnight Eurostar ski train has almost entirely successfully blotted from my memory, this feels like the toughest of 2016 so far.

After solving a few clues, the only clear way to ensure the clues successfully ‘check’ appears to be to assume they all have to be entered as jumbles of the answers.  But won’t that require cold-solving of (almost) all 40 clues?  That sounds a really tough slog!  Is there something else (easier?)?  Surely there is.

One of my earliest spots was noting the preponderance of Js (in fact, now I stop to look harder, of Japan).  I wondered if that was relevant.

I’d luckily solved most of the SE corner early on – CLOCHE, REIKI, PINAS, DUMPLING, SACQUE &, by a stroke of good fortune, IRUKANDJIS.  Given some of these crossing words had only one letter in common, I felt I was probably on safe ground putting those common letters in. With a couple more added it was beginning to look like the first letter was moving to second place – ECLOCH for CLOCHE for example.  Perhaps it was Biblical, Buddhist, StarWars-ian (or even Hessian?)… with the last becoming first?  Perhaps that might be called BASE-JUMPING, at a stretch?  Only 11 letters though.  What about one or two answers where it seemed the fourth letter was jumping to the front.  Did it involve a TRIPLE JUMPER, perhaps?  But at 33d DOG has become ODG.  So no appearance fees for Jonathan Edwards (even though at least eight clues did prove to be treated (by chance) with the method of the TRIPLE-JUMPER.  There proved to be at least 12 cases of BASE-JUMPING too).  Maybe just any random letter goes to the front?  Hmm.

Horrendously slow!  After 24 hours had passed I had cold-solved only about a third of the clues and had only eight (yes 8!) out of 144 characters firmly in the grid.

So I solved some more, focusing where I could on the leading diagonal, given the Preamble’s comments.  After a long while I had a word beginning with D, second letter I,S or T (presumably I), with lots of options for each letter.  I re-filled the grid with only the early unambiguous letters following one pass through and with a hint at that Diagonal:


However, it did look as if it could well end in -ous.  So how many 12-letter words are there in Chambers that begin di- & end -ous (seven, I hear you cry in unison!).  Of these, only DISANALOGOUS, DISCOURTEOUS, DISINGENUOUS & DISPUTATIOUS look as if they could have even the slightest connection with the Title.  Looking at the other letters I had as options, and knowing that some were due to change, it still looked much more like DISCOURTEOUS than any of the others.  So if it was, then what letter changes would be needed?  12a’s R in the third letter-slot would need to change to an S (R->S) for example.  If it was a random letter moving to the front then I also had likely changes of J->U, E->R and P->E.  not many words fit that requirement – but JUMPERS does!  Only seven letters though.  The only 12-letter relevant word I could quickly come up with was QUEUE-JUMPERS (which, surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be in my BRB version – it’s in the ODE though), which certainly ties in with DISCOURTEOUS and with LINE in the Title.  [Returning to an earlier theme it also ties in with French ski lift ‘queues’ too ;-)]  Let’s assume those are true for now and see how it progresses.

Once I’d assumed that there was always one letter that pushed its way to the front of the queue/line/word, then fitting the words together could, by comparison with half an hour before at least, now have featured on #GBBO.  This still left the SW corner looking distinctly snow-covered, with a lot of white to be seen.

It had now got past 8 a.m. on the Monday and I still had seven unsolved.  Swallowing my pride, I sealed up the envelope which had been waiting optimistically with Hedge-sparrow’s excellent puzzle from the previous week in it and, instead of sending in two at once, felt duty bound to send in L4417 alone.  In Listener terms that pretty much defines for me what Sherlock Holmes would have called ‘a three pipe problem’- this, for me at least, is hard!

So, what was I initially missing?  In 18d’s
“With intimate embraces beginning to offend Muslim prince (8)”
it took me what seems like forever to double-check in the BRB that there wasn’t an obscure meaning of ‘with’.  And there it was – BOOM-IRON!  I was off again!  My lack of recall about Holst’s the Planets meant I spent ages identifying NEPTUNE as the Mystic in question in 22d.  And I spent too long in a rut automatically translating the word ‘online’ in 23d into ‘e…’.  At the time of writing I still have one not fully parsed at 26a (whose definition I love) but it must be right and it’ll hopefully come to me.  Can it really be Spanish-speaking on Peru’s Mount Veronica?  I may well be missing something!

12 noon on Monday – finished!

The puzzle featured some great Wordplay and Definitions – I’ll highlight just three:

“Styles of calypso, American soul being introduced (5)” – what a superb clue (SOCAS).

“Silly billy taking penny from deposit! (8)” – for DUM(p) PLING – again fabulous, I think!  I have seen ‘!’ as the Definition before (in that case the enumeration was (11,4) ) but not in wordplay as ‘pling’. As another aside, as a logical extension, I haven’t seen the clue:
   x3 !!! (7)
yet (for TRIPLING) but if/when you do, then perhaps you, like me, will have seen it here first.  I must remember to use it one day!  [See also blog’s title.]

“For one of rats you need 100 cats, say (8)”, another brilliant disguise of both definition and wordplay, just the sort of clue I enjoy, along with its clever TRA(i)TORS with C for I wordplay.  I’d double checked Macavity et al, and the Pied Piper, just in case there was a quote I’d forgotten, before I got this one.

And finally, the finale.  Just to keep the solver on his/her toes, Sabre has included two clashing cells on that leading diagonal.  In the first (the first letter of 22d), J or E need to turn into a U.  In the second (the fifth letter of 24d), J and (either Q or U) need to turn into a U.  The last line of the Preamble reads ‘must be replaced by a letter that immediately follows it…’ so, even though the second needs to be a U by the end, it gets there by firstly being a Q. This means the first letter of 24d has to be a U.  And if that doesn’t catch at least one poor soul out – who has relaxed after seemingly getting over all the difficult hurdles only to trip on the final straight – then frankly I’d be amazed.  And the whole of the assumed QUEUE-JUMPERS from earlier (including Q->U and E->U) is now justified.

Great puzzle, but definitely not for the faint-hearted: I’m now off to watch Only Connect for a bit of light relief.  Loved it: thanks Sabre!!


Tim / Encota

P.S. If you’d like to try one of my 15×15 cryptics, I had another published today (at the time of writing) on Big Dave’s Rookie Corner.  All feedback on that welcomed.

Rookie Corner – 130

PPS Two days in, when still not complete and with the Listener puzzle buzzing around my head,  I needed some light relief so thought I might have a go at DIY Clue Of the Week.  This week’s word just happened to be SWORDFISH.  I got so close to sending:
“‘Sabre meets tautog’ perhaps summarises this jaw-breaking beast (9)”.
Whether this is best as a clue for SWORDFISH, or should have been enumerated as (9, three words) for this puzzle ‘OUT OF LINE’, I’ll let you the reader decide.

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