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Archive for March, 2017

Nostrum by Mr E

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 March 2017

‘Nostrum’ said the other Numpty – well, that’s Mare Nostrum, the Med, isn’t it. But we shelved that useful bit of information and it was quite a long time before we returned to it.

sea-legs-001It didn’t take long, though, to confirm Mr E’s continued membership of the Listener Setter’s Tipsy Club, though we realized fairly early on, when the letters in the circles produced MAD HATTER (a great favourite of mine) that we were at a tea party, of all things, with Alice, the Dormouse and the March Hare. (That dratted HARE. I thought Hedge-sparrow had done for him a week ago by having the four HARE letters in a straight line run over by the HIGH SPEED TWO!)

Mr E gives his game away at once, ‘Relating to absorption of smells surrounding drunkard (7)’ gives OSMIC around [S]OT = OSMOTIC – so we have a ‘sot’ and ‘drunkard’. Apologies Mr E but there it is in the clues! See you at the bar next Friday? Cheers!hare-and-hatter-001

We back-solved, really, since as soon as we had the MAD HATTER, we were able to complete the truncated question produced by the extra letters in the wordplay of clues.  ‘WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A WRITING DESK?’ has produced years of entertaining answers (even though Carroll himself told us that ‘The Riddle. as originally invented, had no answer at all’).

Our friend that elusive HARE isn’t much help in solving the riddle as we are told he hasn’t a clue either:

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: `what’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

We could see where to change a solution to insert RAVEN. RIVEN had already appeared in our grid ‘Poet’s raft, forcefully sent away without leader (5)’ = [D]RIVEN, Keatsian RAFT and the Spenserian word for the past participle of RIVE, and the only likely place to insert WRITING DESK was where we had DRIVING TEST, ‘Nancy’s score in extremely precise examination (11, two words)’. How I like that clever clue: VINGT in DRIEST. In fact, our first scan through the clues had shown us a whole series of beautifully convincing and deceptive surface readings – what a fine compilation!

001Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is the source of so many great crossword themes and Martin Gardner’s ‘The Annotated Alice – Lewis Carroll‘ exhaustively deals with the details of Carroll’s brilliantly absurd fiction. I remembered that E.V. Rieu provided the most popular solution to the riddle which is as absurd as the riddle itself – and Gardner’s note confirmed it: ‘There is a B in Both’ (and an N in Neither’ is often appended).

We still had to find the two solutions that were to be jumbled to produce a new question and Mr E’s grid made it clear where they were to be found since the answer to 2d was obviously PLEASE: ‘Like meadows in Peru (6)’ LEAS in PE, and 36ac seemed to be DIRECTION: ‘Dreadful battle without a sense of purpose (9)’ DIRE ACTION less A. So we had to jumble PLEASE with DIRECTION to produce the two words that were to fit into those lights and complete a new question. TEA is so useful for such problems. I do sometimes wonder how solvers with no access to such tools manage to solve complex anagrams and the like. We are given the words that clearly fitted those lights in the grid – CENTIPEDE and SAILOR.  With a whoop of triumph, I announced ‘Why is a sailor like a centipede?’ It’s yet another of those groan-worthy Christmas cracker jokes isn’t it? ‘They both have C legs’. We thought all was done and dusted – but oh no, we had a considerable amount of head scratching before seeing the C formed by MEDITERRANEAN, even though the LEGS were leaping out of the grid at us.

Mr E had given the essential clue hadn’t he? ’17 cells, located symmetrically about a horizontal axis: that told us very clearly that one cell (at least) had to be in the centre row of the grid. Thank you, Mr E. Great fun.


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Listener No 4439, Where Falls the Axe?: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 March 2017

The inspiration for Where Falls the Axe? was an article I read about the proposed felling of a tree known as the “Cubbington Pear” to make way for the HS2 railway line. Being about 250 years old, the Cubbington Pear is believed to be the second largest and possibly the oldest wild pear tree in Britain, and living fairly nearby in Birmingham, and having friends actually living in Cubbington, I feel some particular affinity to it. See, for example, The Woodland Trust. Reading a bit further, I was saddened to discover just how many ancient woodlands are in line for disruption or complete destruction when the first stage of HS2 is built, despite the efforts that are being made to minimize the damage.

The theme seemed to me to be suitable for Listener crossword treatment. I was aware, of course, that it was a contentious subject, and particularly so as, in the way the puzzle turned out, my own feelings on the matter were made plain, and many people might well hold the opposite view. In my submission, I did indicate to the editors that I’d be happy to adjust the puzzle, removing references to my own stance to make the puzzle more “neutral”, but they seemed happy to proceed with it as it was. I do hope that no one was too offended!

From the start, I had in mind the idea of the term “High Speed Two” being inserted along the NW–SE diagonal (roughly representing the respective geographical locations of Birmingham and London), and cutting through a series of trees representing the ancient woodlands. The fact that “Curzon Street” (the proposed Birmingham terminus for HS2) and London Euston both comprise pairs of six letter words suggested the unusual grid shape. I probably should have had the term “High Speed Two” running SE to NW rather than the other way, but living in Birmingham, I always tend to think of HS2 in terms of going to London.

How to bring in the trees? I didn’t want the theme to be apparent too early on in the solving process, so I decided to make the insertion of the phrase “High Speed Two” complete the names of the trees. Thematically, this is a little bit the “wrong way round”, since the trees should really be there before HS2 arrives. I also decided to use jumbled entries further to try to disguise the presence of the trees in the grid. However, I rather regret doing this now: there is not really any thematic justification for the jumbled entries, and I think an alternative construction in which all entries were real words would have been possible, and more elegant.

To complete the theme, instructions derived from extra words in the clues told solvers to insert “High Speed Two”, and then remove six trees from the grid (representing the destruction of the ancient woodlands), keeping HS2 in place. The preamble carefully stated that the actions of the second instruction were dependent on those of the first: this was to try to prevent solvers finding and removing other trees which might appear in the completed grid (such as “ti” which appears in 14dn). The final grid is perhaps a little chaotic, but I justified this to myself, at least, on the basis that construction of HS2 will lead to quite a bit of chaos!

The idea for the phrase “Can’t see the wood for the trees” actually came a little later in the process of compiling the puzzle. Looking at the partially-completed grid I had at that stage, I could see that – by good fortune – I already had cells in normal grid order which virtually spelled out the first part of the phrase. The “Can’t see the wood” part is obviously appropriate for the final grid, and with the “For the trees” part representing my own view, I hoped no-one would mind my wearing my heart on my sleeve in this puzzle.

The Listener editors worked hard to schedule the publishing of the puzzle as close as possible to the granting of Royal Assent to the HS2 bill. This process has taken several years, and even when it was clear that the granting of Royal Assent was soon to happen, the actual date was never certain. In the event, the editors got it absolutely right – Royal Assent to the HS2 bill was granted on 23rd February, 2017, just two days before “Where Falls the Axe” was published. The Listener editors are wonderful!

With Royal Assent having been granted, construction of HS2 is due to begin soon. Sadly, the Cubbington Pear, and all the other ancient woodlands remembered in this puzzle, still stand in its path, and will be cut down. We will never get them back.


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‘Where falls the axe?’ by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Encota on 17 March 2017

What a clever puzzle!

As the theme began to surface, combined with a Title like that, there had to be a chance of Dr. Beeching making an appearance – but if he did, I couldn’t find him.

The Down clues each contained an extra word, the first letters of which appeared to spell out:


and the fourth letters in order seemed to spell:


But of course they didn’t mean these at all – but really were some 26-letter hidden anagram-based slogans.  From the ‘For The Trees’ camp:

  • Turn yew and poplar trees into worse

And from the Pro-Training camp:

  • Different view: must book ‘The Tree Express’

Well, perhaps 😉

Slightly more seriously for a moment, one of the clever parts about this puzzle was that, to add HIGH SPEED TWO onto the leading diagonal required six letter changes to the initially-filled grid.  And each of these six changes created a tree in its row: HOLLY, GARDENIA, SYCAMORE, YEW, ELDER and SALLOW.  (Of course that Cometary* anagram entered at 19a as TYCAMORE was a pretty big hint!)

That left the final instruction: REMOVE SIX TREES BUT KEEP HS-TWO.

I’ve read that to mean delete all the characters of the letters in the six Trees apart from those on the leading diagonal, so that the -OLLY of HOLLY is deleted, for example.  Seems to meet the Preamble’s requirements, anyway!

And the phrase in the circles reads CAN’T SEE THE WOOD, so Hedge-sparrow is clearly FOR THE TREES (I’d expect nothing else from someone with such a pseudonym, of course).

And I see there is initially that elusive HARE in Column 8 too – at least you think at first it’s HERE, but then it is (and so isn’t).  Simple, eh?

Great fun – thanks Hedge-sparrow!

cheers all

Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4439: Where Falls the Axe? by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Dave Hennings on 17 March 2017

Well… only five months since Hedge-sparrow’s last Listener, which was the enjoyable puzzle based on John Masefield’s Cargoes (No. 4417, HMS Arcady). My money was on this puzzle celebrating an anniversary, or something based around the end of February.

This week we had six answers needing to be jumbled before entry and extra words in the down clues where first and fourth letters spelt out two instructions.

A quick run through the clues took just twenty minutes and resulted in a dozen entries. One of these was 5ac Hug aged lout, not entirely with indifference (6) for APATHY which looked as though it would need jumbling. Of course, rereading the preamble would have alerted me to the wordplay in such clues leading to the jumbled form. Once the enjoyable 6dn [Re-evaluate] how road crew is selected for race, remarkably (5) was solved for ODDLY, 5ac COOLLY was entered as COLLYO (COLL + YO[b]).

I found parts of the grid quite tricky, especially the bottom right. 19ac Part of vehicle circling cam ring as an orbital body (8) gradually became more and more like SYCAMORE until 19dn Letter [deferring] support (3) made me realise that it was an anagram of COMETARY (TYRE about CAM O). Sometimes I just can’t see the wood… oops, I’m getting ahead of myself!

This was one of those puzzles where I felt I had taken much longer than the clock told me. In fact, it was just 2¼ hours from beginning to end. The clues were all solid, my favourite being 42ac Converting one bit of lead to the next, ancient alchemists making changes (6) for ADAPTS (ADEPTS with (l)E(ad) changed to (le)A(d)), as well as the novelty of 6dn mentioned above.

As promised, the extra down words revealed two instructions:

Enter proposed railway NW to SE and

Remove six trees but keep HS Two

I suppose a knowledge of UK controversial rail schemes was useful, but overseas solvers could use the internet to track down HIGH SPEED TWO which had its even letters already in the NW–SE diagonal. The trees thus revealed were HOLLY, GARDENIA, SYCAMORE, YEW, ELDER and SALLOW. These then had to be erased with the exception of the letters that intersected the diagonal. The two termini of the line at Birmingham CURZON STREET and LONDON EUSTON completed the NW and SE corners of this oddly shaped grid.

Finally, the cells inscribed with a circle spelt out CAN’T SEE THE WOOD and I slotted FOR THE TREES into the space under the grid.

I suspect that ‘contentious’ may be a suitable adjective for the theme of this puzzle, but it was an enjoyable solve. Thanks, Hedge-sparrow, and I hope that you aren’t one who is too closely affected by the project.
Even though Encota laid out the solution to Rhombus’s puzzle Can You Do Division?, here is the published version from 1967.

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Where Falls the Axe? by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by shirleycurran on 17 March 2017

hs-two-001“… and where the offence is let the great axe fall.” That title immediately takes me to Hamlet and I wonder where the offence is for Hedge-sparrow.  Certainly, on reading his preamble,  for the Numpties (yes, we appreciated the glancing recognition of our aggressive tendencies in 30d ‘Numpties trample tomboy under foot at last (5)’ (foo)T + ROMP) the offence is in that phrase ‘Six clue answers must be jumbled before entry: wordplay in their clues leads to the jumbled form. How we hate jumbles and hunting for them in that top left-hand corner of the grid kept us solving for an extra hour at least after we had spotted the theme and chopped all but one of the trees.

Yes, we found them all in the end COLLYO for COOLLY, ZILBAR for BRAZIL, TYCAMORE for COMETARY, TSEYA for YEAST, REHELL for HELLER and LOTSU for LOTUS, and, of course when the first and fourth letters of the extra words in the down clues gave us ENTER PROPOSED RAILWAY NW TO SE, and REMOVE SIX TREES BUT KEEP HS TWO, we realized that, in entering HIGH SPEED TWO along the leading diagonal, we were producing six trees almost symmetrically spaced: HOLLY, GARDENIA (yes, surprisingly Chambers confirmed that it is a tree), SYCAMORE, YEW, ELDER and SALLOW.

Have I forgotten to confirm Hedge-sparrow’s re-entry ticket to the Listener Setters’ Tippling Outfit? Of course not, but he had me worried as he seemed to have gone tee-total for much of his cluing. ‘At Land’s End, I once accepted Russian tea (3)’ gave us ‘CH + A = CHA with Russian providing an R and an S for the message, and ‘… special tea brewed by Russian Arab paralysed with hand-held weapon (7)’ gave us {S TEA}* + RED = TASERED with that Arab giving us an A and a B. ‘Yemeni pack leader raising a drink to spirit of ancient Egypt (5)’ ALE + KA< = AKELA finally gave Hedge-sparrow his ticket. Cheers, Hedge-sparrow, no doubt we’ll have seen you at the bar at Gateshead by the time this is published (three weeks from today!)

for-the-trees-001What held us up for so long in that North western corner? Well we do read about the proposed HS2 and the activities of tree huggers and the like hoping to thwart the plans, but to this northerner, the entire proposal is yet further pampering of the home counties dwellers – those spoilt southerners who could cycle from London to Birmingham if they honestly needed to go there. To my mind a truly imaginative move would be to take a high-speed rail track from somewhere in the midlands, say Stoke, via other disgruntled Brexitian areas like Gateshead then to head to the far north, Aberdeen, say, or Inverness. But enough curmudgeonly comments. We could see LONDON EUSTON in the South East but were misguided in thinking that the North West would, at least, be represented by a MANCHESTER or LEEDS station (which, I believe, is the second stage of the project – pigs might fly!) and flailed for far too long before finding CURZON STREET (Thank you Wiki).

That suggested ZAMBIA to us at 13 across, and there was more flailing before BRAZIL entered as ZILBAR (‘Country church leaving nothing to former sovereign (6)’ ZIL(ch) + BAR) allowed us to complete our grid. We replaced the leading diagonal with HIGH SPEED TWO and, of course, those trees appeared for us to axe. What was more delightful than chopping the trees was finding that the circled letters now spelled out a phrase: CAN’T SEE THE WOOD … So Hedge-sparrow is revealing his partisanship – he’s FOR THE TREES, I suppose a hedge-sparrow would be. He’ll be up there in the branches tweeting to those tree huggers.

Tree huggers

We obediently wrote FOR THE TREES in the space allocated for ‘phrase completion’ and silently thanked Hedge-sparrow (threatened species I believe, long may he flit amongst his trees – now we know where the offence is – that chopping to make way for the railway line!) for a challenging solve.

Oh the elusive golden HARE. I can hardly believe it. There he is at last, right in the centre of the grid where he always should have been. Of course, just as in Turner’s famous painting, the HS2 line is going to eliminate him, changing that YAW to YEW – so it’s squashed hare this time!hare-001

Golden hare, four letters in a straight line

Golden hare, four letters in a straight line

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