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Archive for November, 2016

Listener No 4422: Buried Treasure by Poat

Posted by Dave Hennings on 18 November 2016

Remember last year’s puzzle about the Cambridge Spy Ring (no 4375, Five One-time Pads) and before that the Christmas truce of 1914 (no 4325, Christmas Truce)? Well they were by Poat. I think that he’s come close to tripping me up, but I’ve managed to escape unscathed.

listener-4422-animationThis week’s Buried Treasure reminded me of Merlin’s Olde Treasure Hunt from ten years ago. It was based on the Sherlock Holmes’ story The Musgrave Ritual, and required us to find and identify the Ancient Crown of England in the grid. That did trip me up — indeed, the puzzle had the fewest number of entries for 2006.

Having said all that, I’m not 100% sure that I solved this week’s puzzle correctly!

But first things first. Nothing too complicated in the grid, just seven cells with clashes where both letters, side by side, would reveal an instruction relating to the unchecked letters. I had only 45 minutes before my Monday visit to the local pub, so a quick scan through all the clues seemed the best way to start.

As I strode down the road, I had a pathetic six entries under my belt.

The following day, and I was up early and two hours of steady solving saw significant improvement and over half the grid filled. The session started with trying to untangle the long entry 25ac in the middle of the grid Set clue for university entry with charges going the other way (13) which was an anagram of clue for u entry, COUNTERFLEURY. It ended, at about 7:30am, with Class swot can do this as tragic hero in Old Norse (8) (for which good old Noggin the Nog initially came to mind) giving OUTLEARN (UT LEAR in O N).

I was impressed by some of the wording that Poat used in his clues. For example, 31ac Early doctor’s rash openings in pursuit of appendix (5) had early doctor indicating an obscure medical term and PS was the appendix! Elsewhere, LINNAEUS was described as a ‘family organiser’, and the ‘Holland’ at 35ac had nothing to do with the country (despite its capital letter), but referred to the fabric.

I think the most convoluted clue was 26dn In Excelsis Deo — at last — premier soprano must hold in leading note (6): In Excelsis defined UPMOST with O (deO) which PM S must hold, all in UT (leading note). I also had a bit of trouble with 14dn He’ll refrain from a giggle when horse falls for a second time (6) : TEEHEE, with H replaced by another T and TEETEE being a teetotaller (TT)! (I’ll refrain from my normal gripe about H being used for horse!)

The most amusing clue was 39ac Relieve dreamer of soft drink to check case in Scotland (4) for SIST — FANTASIST – FANTA!

All in all, nearly four hours was required to complete the grid. The cells containing two letters gave READ EVERY THIRD. Applying this to the unchecked letters in the grid then gave ONE OF THREE CLUE ACROSTICS. It seemed fairly obvious that this would have to relate to the initial letters of the clues, and by starting with the third letter and taking every third I got Close by Ampthill. (It was only later that I checked the other clues and found that taking the first letter and then every third gave This goes nowhere, and second letter and every third gave False trail again.)

I guess Ampthill must have rung a distant bell, because I had a sneaky feeling that we were dealing with the Masquerade treasure book from the late 1970s. This was a book by Kit Williams containing a story, sixteen paintings and clues to the whereabouts of a jewelled golden hare. Googling revealed that the clues in the book did indeed lead to the phrase Close by Ampthill. I did buy the book, but got absolutely nowhere in deciphering the clues from the paintings.

The final bit of the preamble told us that, “having followed the trail”, we must “highlight the ultimate goal in the search area (four consecutive letters in a straight line).” I started looking for a hare and/or Ampthill in the grid. I also tried to find any reference to the monument to Catherine of Aragon which stands near the hare’s burial place.

listener-4422-my-entryBefore I had spent too long grid-staring, I noticed that SEARCH AREA was in the grid running down from the top row and with three right-angled turns. The trouble was that, in the grid, HARE was at one of the right angles so couldn’t be highlighted in a straight line. It also used one of the cells containing two letters, and the fact that the preamble referred to four letters, rather than cells made me think I was on the right lines. (There was also another HARE in the grid, at another of the right angles, but only had one letter shared with SEARCH AREA.)

I tried a number of ideas before I decided that tilting the letters at 45° and positioning them carefully in their cells enabled the HARE to be read in a straight line, sloping north-east to south-west.

Lawks! This was a complex solution, but I felt that I had identified all the clues and carried out all the instructions. Of course I got it right!

I think this was your trickiest puzzle to date, Poat, and if WordPress allowed a pseudo programming language:

If my-solution.correct = true then “Thanks for the challenge.” else “Curse you… till next time!” endif


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Listener No 4421, Post-it Note: A Setter’s Blog by Tramp

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 November 2016

I am quite a novice at setting barred-grid puzzles but I have been fortunate enough to have had two appear in the Inquisitor (IQ) series (Cover Version and Storm Front). Ever since I started compiling, it has been an ambition of mine to have a puzzle appear in The Listener. However hard I try, I struggle to come up with suitable themes for barred-grid puzzles. One day, around the summer of 2015, I happened to be searching through the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations when I noticed this opening entry for Philip Larkin:

“Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ First LP.”

from his poem, Annus Mirabilis (1974). This struck me as being suitable material for a barred-grid puzzle. I thought I could pick a 13×13 grid and spell out “Chatterley ban” across one of the rows and some phrase to indicate the Beatles’ first LP across another row. At this point, I had no idea how to portray the first two lines and I gave it no further thought, but the seed had been sown, as it were. Filling barred grids is not a forte of mine as I find it somewhat alien. My grids for the aforementioned IQ puzzles ended up containing quite a lot of short answers. Also, a large proportion of the entries were over-unched. Anyway, over time, I tried to develop my Larkin idea. When I think back now, some of my original thoughts were embarrassingly naïve. I can’t remember when, but at some point I got the idea that “In nineteen sixty-three” could mean “in the shape of 1963”. Eventually, I decided to try to use the letters of the opening line of the poem to trace out the number “63”. I tried “PLEASE TWICE ME” and “TWICE PLEASE ME” as alternative ways of indicating the Beatles LP. I spent ages trying to get a successful grid-fill. I gave up twice but I kept returning to have “one last go”. After what seemed like an eternity, I got a successful grid-fill and I was ecstatic. I was looking forward to writing the clues but I figured I needed a gimmick with which to spell out LARKIN. Whilst on holiday earlier that year, I had battled with a superb IQ puzzle by Schadenfreude (The Alternative Party). In this puzzle, he had used a neat device of including an extra word, in each of a few clues, which shared a letter in common with the answer, and, taken in order, these letters spelled out a phrase; I figured I could use this gimmick to spell out LARKIN.

I was pleased with the resulting puzzle and I thought some of the clues were good. Knowing Shirley likes to mention alcohol-related clues in her Listen With Others blogs, I think there were five or so such clues in the puzzle; my favourite of these was:

Top whisky: smooth drink (8)

which, quite handily, enabled me to generate the K of Larkin.

Having read the document giving advice for setters on the Listener website, I decided to ask two friends of mine (the brilliant pair of Alberich and Lato) to see if they would test-solve the puzzle for me. They duly obliged and gave me some useful comments and ideas for improvement. They also drew my attention to some possible shortcomings with the grid. At this point, the puzzle was tentatively titled Past It but I figured this needed some work. Earlier that year, I had written this clue for the Guardian:

Sticky after sex (4-2)

and I thought I could use the same idea for the title of this puzzle, since, for Larkin, the sexual shenanigans of 1963 came too late; hence, the poem could be seen as a “post it” note. I wasn’t 100% convinced it worked as a title but it’s the best that I could do and so I went with it.

I submitted the crossword in September 2015. About a week later, I got acknowledgement from Shane that he had received the puzzle, but, he mentioned that he didn’t like some elements of the grid and he thought it unlikely that the puzzle would be accepted for submission. Having said that, he was prepared to test-solve it for me. I was absolutely gutted as I pretty much knew it would get rejected. In the next few weeks, I made some half-hearted attempts at trying to improve the grid but to no avail. I gave up. At the end of October, I had one last attempt at trying to find a suitable grid. After about ten hours of trying, I managed to get a decent grid-fill: I hate filling barred grids! I wrote the clues over two days and sent it to Alberich to see if he thought it was usable. He came back with positive comments and so I sent it off for submission in November 2015. As an aside, unusually for me, none of the clues in the final version contain references to alcohol.

In October 2016, Roger emailed me a proof of the puzzle. I was absolutely delighted as all the hours sitting at a computer trying to fill a grid would pay off with a published Listener crossword. The vetters had a few issues with some clues and I was happy with their suggested rewrites. In particular, I was happy with the collaboration between us in order to improve the clue for SUBPLOT. On reflection, I am happy with the puzzle but I can’t help wonder that it would have been improved if I had somehow used two lines to indicate the “6” and “3” separately.

I would like to thank Shirley for her kind words; Alberich, Lato, Shane and Roger for making it possible and John Henderson: if it weren’t for John I wouldn’t be a setter.


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Are there 3Ms in Trammmp?

Posted by Encota on 11 November 2016

What a superb theme from Tramp this week, combined with some kind clues.  Having solved the majority of the clues fairly quickly, Philip Larkin’s Annus Mirabilis soon came into view and I find myself highlighting the beginning of the first line ‘Sexual intercourse began…’ in the grid, along with the CHATTERLEY BAN and the Beatles’ first LP, described here as PLEASE TWICE ME.

With this one I felt as if I’d got the beginning right (filling out the grid), got the end right (highlighting the two key rows LADY CHATTERLEY BAN, PLEASE (PLEASE) ME and the number 63 in the centre, based on Larkin’s first line ‘Sexual intercourse began…’ but took longest time joining the two up – ensuring that I found all the missing 22 letters from the appropriate clues.

It’s so easy to be wise after the event when realising the wordplay would cover all letters apart from those in the ’63’ single curved line.

My usual rule with Listener preambles had applied again – I had understood the words but not the sentences!  As part of this I hadn’t cottoned on to there potentially being more than one letter deleted from any given clue, so I’d finished everything required for submission without having all letters found in the clues – and only having .ARKIN as the source of the poem.  I knew the L was there somewhere hiding in the last few clues – no idea how I missed it!

So the deleted words in reverse order were:

homIly and

…and my second favourite librarian LARKIN came into view (yes Karen, the person who introduced me to Philip Larkin, it’s you 🙂  ).

So what’s with the Title ‘Post-It Note’ this week?  I can find the (rather depressing) quote from John Larkin, the Australian author (born by chance in 1963): “Despite the post-it note with her phone number on it, she’s already little more than a fading memory.  They all are.”  That’s not relevant.

Then I thought for a moment that there were 3 Ms in the puzzle as a nod to 3M, the famous patent holder of the Post-it note.  But no, I make it at least five.  Discount that one too.

Aah, got it: ‘Post-it’ in the sense of ‘not ante-the other’.   I did spend a few minutes looking for a suitable (or unsuitable) Carry On-style double entendre that used the word ‘it’ to add here but failed miserably.  [All suggestions welcomed]  I may go looking for it later (oh dear…).

Finally, as a bit of pointless trivia (and as the Queen was saying to me only last week, “Tim, never name drop”), in the very early 1980s I was introduced as a 20-ish year old at college – “you simply must come and meet him” – to  John (JAT) Robinson.  In 1960, as the then Bishop of Woolwich and a leading theological thinker, he had spoken for the defence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, describing it as ‘a book every Christian should read’.  I didn’t know much of that then but, having just solved Tramp’s delightful puzzle, it seems somehow more significant now.

And I don’t own ‘Please please me’ – bit too ‘poppy’ for me, sorry – but I may, in respect to this enjoyable puzzle, just go and put on the Beatles’ White Album instead…

Tim / Encota

PS The man himself can be heard speaking the poem currently at


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Listener No 4421: Post-it Note by Tramp

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 November 2016

I was sure that I’d come across Tramp as a setter before, but Dave Hennings’s excellent (😄) Crossword Database didn’t mention him. I eventually found him lurking on fifteensquared as a setter with a fairly regular monthly puzzle in the Guardian.

listener-4421Here we had 22 squares which were omitted from the wordplay in their respective clues, and six others with an extra word which had one letter in common with their entry. A bit of line-drawing and highlighting would be requried in the endgame.

1ac Cuts for late study? Come on, try working (9) was an obvious anagram, and necro-something seemed likely. NECROTOMY soon got slotted in, followed by EXHORTED, CLAD and MELEE, the last having an E excluded from its wordplay; I decided to circle these letters in my grid. Next came 13ac CHATTER, but the rest of the top left quadrant remained unsolved.

I then concentrated on the top right. 8dn Welsh girl happy with men (6) looked like it could be GLADYS, but the YS made no sense. 12ac ELAPSE enabled me to home in on GAYNOR (with a circled N). GAIR, ISAAC and RENNETS came next, but again a lot of that corner remained blank.

This was hardly surprising because extra words and more than one missing wordplay letter in some clues all made for a slowish grid-fill.

However, I worked my way down to the bottom right corner courtesy of EASEMENT, PO[S]T-WAR, PAR[L]E and GYROSTATS and on to the bottom left. After about 90 minutes, the grid was coming along nicely, and my circled letters were beginning to help. I spotted SEX near the middle of the grid — don’t be childish! — and I managed to trace out (most of) SEXUAL INTERCOURSE — stop it! — following it. BE•AN completed the shape of 63, and a bell rang at the back of my mind. Unfortunately, it refused to come to the front.

Meanwhile, the extra words in clues only gave me KRA in the downs (and had to be read in reverse), partly because I had overlooked circling some of the extra words. St Mark seemed a possibility were it not for the sex! Reviewing the downs, and children enabled L to appear. Philip LARKIN was finally revealed, a far more likely candidate for a risqué poem:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) —
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

We are often treated to Penny Drop Moments in Listener puzzles. Here I had a Big Grin Moment when I saw CHATTERLEY BAN and PLEASE TWICE ME in rows 3 and 10!

There were some good clues here. Tricky (for me) wordplay included the clues at 12ac Starts to envisage stop — light turns — go (6) (E S PALE rev) and 1dn Marble run: can adult [keep] going first? (6) (R with NICK A going first). (I remember a time when most Listener preambles ended with “Punctuation should be ignored.”)

I particularly liked the surface reading for 24dn British and American [children] going up to bed for a bit of a story (7) for SUBPLOT. BGM clue goes to 28ac Initially drew, won, lost, lost — what did “won” mean? (5) for DW[E]LL, won being an archaic word for ‘dwell’.

My close shave for a wrong entry was at 44ac End cycling for kids, say (4) where I had initially pencilled in TUPS, even though STUP wasn’t a word. Chambers gives kid3 as a small tub, with STUB being the end of a cigarette.

listener-4421-my-entryAll that remained was to draw 63 in a continuous line through the appropriate letters in the middle of the grid. Not for the first time recently, this proved a bit tricky, mainly because it was somewhat top-heavy with the upper half of the 3 especially being bigger than the lower. I got there in the end after a couple of failed attempts.

Thanks for a thoroughly entertaining puzzle, Tramp. Amusing title too.

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Post-it Note by Tramp

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 November 2016

tramp-larkin-001What do we have? A new setter! Well, Tramp isn’t completely new is he? The first time I encountered his pseudonym was as one of the setters for the 3D Calendar Puzzles for Erik Westbrook’s BBC Children in Need and RNIB project. We have solved some entertaining Grauniad crosswords of his and I understand that he has written several puzzles for the Indy including two barred-grid puzzles for the Inquisitor (as Jambazi) and one puzzle for the FT (as Skitnica) but this seems to be his first venture into the heights of the Listener’s advanced thematic cryptics. We must welcome him and check whether he is granted admission into the Listener Setters toping set-up. Oh dear, what do I find! This setter clearly has other habits but apart from a touch of sack’ in ‘Electronic trails to sack for online comments (5)’ (DO with E ‘trailing’ and an extra OC that will contribute to our curve in DOOCE) I don’t find a trace of alcohol. Now ‘dooce’ is an intriguing new word for me (and probably what I’ll be getting for commenting on all Tramp’s sexy clues and his even more sexy endgame ‘to sack for online comments’).

‘I like nurses (4)’ gives us an additional A and I +AS (AIAS). Then he’s into the foreplay: ‘Kiss on date, ignoring one of fusion dishes (6) ‘ Gives us TEX-MEX with the ME as additional letters. Then it’s ‘Choose endless sex on request (5)’ (PLEA + SE(x)) My oh my! At least he’s grateful, ‘Requests some Valentine’s red roses must be sent back (6)’ (ORDERS is rather laboriously hidden in there with ‘Valentine’s’ merely producing the final S).

It gets more intense, ‘Red-hot topless sex, kinky girl urged (8)’ [(R)ED-HOT with (S)EX]* = EXHORTED with the extra girl giving us an R for the six-letter narrator of the theme that we are hunting for. We find a ‘boob’ and some ‘going up to bed’ and ‘Uses right to interrupt old lovers (6)’ (RT in EXES = EXERTS but it must be time to draw the curtain on these randy activities.

Seriously, though, this was a most amusing and fine set of clues and our grid filled steadily. Better still, six extra words produced letters that they shared with their relative solutions (CHILDREN, FATHER, GIRL, KEEP, HOMILY and LENGTH) and in reverse spelled out LARKIN for us. What an original and intriguing device.

Of course several Larkin poems spring to mind and after all that sexual activity in the clues and the fact that CHATTER/LEY  had already appeared in our grid, I suspected that we were going to find some reference to the f**k word ‘They f**k you up your mum and dad …’, but then the title (that I still haven’t understood – I am told that it is a witty one) led me on a wild goose chase. When I entered ‘Larkin Post-it Note’ into Wikipedia, I was led to another Larkin whose novel ‘The Shadow Girl’ name contains the line ‘Despite the post-it note with her phone number on it, she’s little more than a fading memory’. But it wasn’t to be.

Of course the ODQ is the solution. If you submit a crossword based on a literary quotation that isn’t in there, your editor is likely to send it back with a sad little comment about attempting to exploit obscure literature. Fortunately, there, in the ODQ, I find the very first Larkin quotation:
Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen-sixty three/ (Which was rather late for me) – Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP. (Annus Mirabilis 1974)

How well I remember both of his benchmarks. My father was one of the Justices who was asked to give a professional opinion on D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and he endearingly had it wrapped in brown paper on his bedside table. You can imagine what a temptation that was to his young daughters and which pages we devoured with wide eyes. The Beatles’ Please Please Me (PLEASE TWICE ME) – how we loved it and how social mores had changed when it was released in 1963.

The grid was full and here was yet more sex! Tracing those letters ‘SEXUAL INTERCOURSE BEGAN’ in our grid produced a rather strange shape that looked a little bit like a couple of intertwined hearts (or participants) but it didn’t take a lot of imagination to see ’63 there – and to smile! Thank you, Tramp for a stunning start.


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