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Archive for April, 2017

Listener No 4444, Food for Thought: A Setter’s Blog by Handyman

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 April 2017

In general, I would expect crossword compilers to find ideas for thematic puzzles from a variety of sources, e.g. interesting words from dictionaries, personal experiences and events, historical facts, or simply light-bulb moments. April 1st 2017 being a Saturday was one of those moments and entering “Famous April Fool stories” into Google, the first hit was “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time”. The #1 was called “The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest” with a video clip attached and it was also 60 years since being televised on Panorama.

A suitable theme was born with PANORAMA 1957 along the top producing 12 columns, the last four of which could be made from words with numbers in them. The actual Spaghetti Tree could be illustrated with TRUNK, BOUGH and BRANCH and by splitting “spaghetti” the strands could hang down with 3 of the 4 letters overlapping. Creating a symmetrical grid is priority in my opinion, but without the aid of clever computer programs, I could not work out a way of filling it with 180 degree symmetry, so to my disappointment, I bailed out.

Creating the grid so that APRIL FOOL could be read top-to-bottom enabled the gimmick of letter missing as a result of the wordplay. I notice that solvers get tired of extra letters as a result of the wordplay, but missing letters as a result of the wordplay only works if the grid has these letters in order and so personally I feel the setter has to work slightly harder, even if working out how to create the clue is easier than, say, misprints or letters removed from clues.

The completed puzzle was sent to John Henderson, editor of the Inquisitor, but he already had a puzzle pencilled in for that date. The only other outlet for the Saturday is the Listener, but I was concerned that the theme might not be discernible without the internet, which is a stipulation from the editors (a library is all that should be required). John Henderson kindly contacted Roger Phillips, who solved it and thought the theme was well-known enough for inclusion as a Listener puzzle – even though I had never heard of it before, having being born over 20 years later. I therefore have to thank John and Roger for their joint efforts in getting this puzzle into print.

Solvers’ feedback from JEG seems to suggest it was well received with no major hiccups or ambiguities. It appears that ambiguities create more heated discussion that anything else, but a setter will never deliberately insert ambiguities, only perhaps the odd red herring.

Finally, I draw your attention to the website above and #6 on the list, what seemed like an excellent and comical April Fool’s hoax from Patrick Moore.


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‘Food For Thought’ by Handyman

Posted by Encota on 21 April 2017

I recall writing to the Editors some time in 2016 suggesting that, what with the Puzzle number 4444 looming (at that time) on the horizon then surely it could potentially be ideal for Quads 4 in the excellent Quads series by Shark.  Ok, ok, I hear you say, we haven’t even had Quads 3 yet and Quads 2 appeared in 2016.  Mere detail, mere detail,…

So what have we got in this week’s puzzle?  Well it doesn’t say ‘by Shark’.  But what a blinder of a first clue!

  Comic character most frequently seen in Rupert Bear – art is foremost (6)

As most of you will know, with many really good clues if two words appear to go really well together in the surface then they very often are partly definition and partly wordplay – and so it is here with Comic character.  The answer is AMUSER, with its definition Comic .  The word used here for art is MUSE and the glorious seven words ‘character most frequently seen in Rupert Bear’ simply results in the letter R!  Add the missing letter (A) at the front – as per the Preamble – and we have AMUSER.

The entries at 6, 7, 8 & 9 turned out to be the four requiring modification before entry – and what glorious clues they were:

About to call up individual (4)

…parsed as ON NAME< to give ONE-MAN and entered as 1MAN;

High degree of neatness in almost reformed enclosure in French city (6)

…was NE(w) PEN found in NICE, entered as 9PENCE;

Health recommendation following one American interrupting end of war? (5)

…had the entry 5ADAY, with wordplay of F I and then A in VE-DAY, and

Doctor removes lion flesh in Italian features (12, four words)


The first row finally became PANORAMA 1957, the two clued by wordplay were (the Italian-speaking Swiss half-canton) TICINO and (presumably Lake) LUGANO.  The final 3-minute April Fool TV clip mentions both and is available online for those who either haven’t seen it or are keen to do so again.  One nice touch in the clip includes the details about careful work that has been done by plant breeders to ensure all spaghetti grows to the same length. 🙂


Great timing for a puzzle by someone who is clearly a very skilled clue-setter.  Thanks Handyman!

Tim / Encota

PS It’s just been pointed out to me by Shirley and others that I appear to have won this one 🙂

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Listener No 4444: Food for Thought by Handyman

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 April 2017

A new setter this week or a known one in disguise. (For those of you that remember, the two previous April Fool Listeners were by Dolos, otherwise known as….) I assumed that there would be an April Fool theme here, although it may fool us by relating to the four 4s of the puzzle number instead.

Nothing seemingly too difficult here, with four entries requiring modification before entry and nine others omitting one of the letters of the answer in the wordplay. Two other clues consisted of wordplay only. Finally, a load of highlighting and line drawing would be a potential trap for me.

10ac Comic character most frequently seen in Rupert Bear — art is foremost (6) used a device that I’ve seen elsewhere recently, and the letter R appeared three times. However, the rest of the clue remained a mystery. I decided to try the downs to see if that would help, and 1 PARLORS and 3 REEN should have assisted. However, since the A (of AMUSER) was omitted from the wordplay, I didn’t spot it.

Another spate of solving, and 1ac looked suspiciously like PANGRAMMATIC, but then I hadn’t solved any of the down clues in the top right corner. Of course, when I realised that the words for numbers in 6, 7, 8 and 9 down, were entered as their digits to reveal 1957, all became clear. We were dealing with what was probably the most famous April Fool hoax of all, certainly in this country. Panorama in 1957 featured spaghetti trees! I don’t actually remember it as I was too young… certainly too young to be watching serious adult news programmes like Panorama or This Week.

I was a bit unsure of my answer to 22ac Spenser perhaps penning old conversation of his (5) which I had as BOARD (O in BARD). It seemed to me that the entry in Chambers — board (Spenser, etc bord, borde, boord or boorde) — indicated that the Spenser word was not BOARD. However, 4dn was definitely AREOLA, so BOARD it was.

Having already solved one of the wordplay-only clues to give LUGANO, I finally got the other one TICINO, a canton in Switzerland whose largest city is Lugano and where they grow spaghetti! All that remained was to locate the pasta-yielding tree. Its TRUNK was easy to find, near the bottom of column 6, and then the BOUGH and BRANCH out of the top. I then spent a bit of time wondering whether HETTICINO at the bottom of column 2 was one of required bits of pasta.

Alas, there’s no such thing, but when I spotted SPAGHETTI in two halves up and down in columns 2 & 3 and 10 & 11 I knew I was home. Four vertical lines were required and I spent more time wondering exactly how they should be drawn. They obviously had to go through the letters of the pasta, but they also had to make contact with the tree, especially in the case of the line in column 10.

All in all, just over two hours for this, so thanks for a thoroughly entertaining solve, Handyman.

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Food for Thought by Handyman

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 April 2017

We download an unusual grid that is neither square nor symmetrical and the title ‘Food for Thought’ doesn’t say much either. Handyman? A new name, too, though with that set of well-crafted clues, he is clearly not a novice setter. Can he be admitted to the Listener Setters’ toping club? I have to read a long way down the clues and solve most of them before finally encountering ‘Frantic swallowing energy drink (4)’ MAD around E gives us MEAD. That’s an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey and water – so welcome, Handyman, to the club. Cheers!

We solve upwards, thoroughly enjoying the clues and soon the lower half of the grid is complete, with not much idea of the theme except that at 30d, the words STILET, ZILA, COSTUS, KICK-IN and ENIAC have given us TICIN?. That could be TICING or a place not very far from here TICINO. Is this about Switzerland? Isn’t LATTICINO some kind of Venetian glass? Chambers confirms that it is, so here we have the first of our clues with word play only. ‘Latin scratched from Italian glass (6)’

We had assumed that our Swedish king ‘Blast absent monarch in Sweden (5)’ was GUSTAV (GUST + A with an extra V to give us one of the nine extra letters) but a rethink suggested an F and the other Numpty pronounced ‘Seven Hills of Rome’. We ‘doctored’ REMOVES LION FLESH’ and crowed with delight, neatly filling that right hand side of the grid.  Of course, the ‘seven’ had to go in as a digit, so we now knew which four consecutive clue answers needed to be modified before entry.

We seemed to be in Italy too, with those hills and as we continued to solve, ‘Handle boat with sides splitting (6)’ suggested LUG + (c)ANO(e) so we had another clue with word play only giving us yet another place not very far from home for us – LUGANO. Bells began to ring and the penny dropped. The extra letters were spelling out APRIL FOOL and, of course tomorrow is April 1st. This must be about what must be the all-time classic.

It took a visit to faithful Wiki to establish the year and the details. Panorama, 1957. Of course, we remembered with delight that fabulous April Fool’s joke, and we were now able to fill in 1 across, producing three more clues that had to begin with numbers. ‘About to call up individual (4)’ gave us 1MAN (ON + NAME<). ‘High degree of neatness in almost reformed enclosure in French city (6)’ gave us 9PENCE, ‘NINEPENCE’ being ‘a high standard of neatness’ and made up of NICE surrounding NE(w) PEN. Finally we had ‘Health recommendation following one American interrupting end of war (5)’ This gave us 5 A DAY, made up of F I + VE DAY interrupted by A. Clever cluing indeed! But it isn’t the five a day that whet my appetite so much as that spaghetti growing on the Ticinese trees.

What was left to do? We had to fill two empty cells, R?P ‘Recalled a series of exercises (3)’ and ME? ‘Mediocre half-done skin painting with henna (3)’ then find the spaghetti and, obviously, the tree or trees it was growing on. We were in luck; spotting the four strings of SPAG HETTI and SPAGH ETTI filled those two cells for us and taught me a new word ‘MEH’ for ‘mediocre’. I had to look up REP and Google explained it to me (don’t we learn a lot when solving these things, though I imagine all those other fit solvers are doing their ten reps daily); of course the ‘recalled A’ was PER<.  Then sure enough, there was the spaggers tree with its bough and branch (just like the ones we see whenever we drive through the Aosta valley or the Tessin).

This was a delight to solve from start to finish. Many thanks to Handyman.

The unforgettable Swiss spaghetti harvest of 1957

Tree-climbing golden hare scoffing spaghetti.

Ah, the golden hare. I didn’t realize they could climb trees but, of course, there he was up on the bough scoffing the spaghetti.

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Listener No 4443, Not the Rockies: A Setter’s Blog by Kruger

Posted by Listen With Others on 16 April 2017

The personal incentive to set this puzzle came about 7 years ago when I realised that, of all the barred-grid thematic puzzles I had set over the years, I had not attempted one from either the “Left & Right” or “Printer’s Devilry” genres. (I still haven’t for the latter and seriously doubt if I ever will.)

So I started to give some thought about what would be a novel and suitable theme that would logically be appropriate for Left & Right treatment … and simply drew a blank. Despite chewing it over in my head from time to time, nothing readily came to mind for about 2 years. Then one day I was reading an article in The Times about regional funding for local transport throughout the UK and became rather angry about the figures quoted. (To put my irritation into context, I live in a rural area where already infrequent local bus services stop altogether at about 18:00 every day and with none at all on Sundays). The article confirmed that the more prosperous SE of England was getting the lion’s share of funding and I muttered to myself “this is another example of the north-south divide”. That was the moment of enlightenment.

I then started considering whether a North & South (i.e. Top & Bottom) approach would actually be an acceptable format and convinced myself that is was really just a Left & Right rotated through 90º so should be perfectly OK.

I was keen to get the North-South Divide message somewhere in the grid so decided (against convention) to have an unclued central row instead of a complete barring between the top and bottom halves. To me, this obviously had to have DIVIDE in it and the two main sections would ideally need NORTH and SOUTH hidden in them too.

It then came to me that it would be a good idea to have all Northern entries to contain the letter N (and none with S) and vice versa for the entries in the Southern section. But what about 1D which was the solvers’ inroad to the puzzle? Serendipity provided INEQUALITIES which was not only thematic but also contained N in the top half and S in the bottom. I was also fortunate that DIVIDE in the middle contained neither of the two letters – also thematically consistent. The circled letters anagramming WATFORD were an afterthought which I hoped would add a bit of “tongue-in-cheek” spice to the whole concept.

Then I had to give some thought to a puzzle title that would be both relevant but (hopefully) not a give-away. The Rocky Mountain range pretty quickly came to mind as a continental divide that is in a N-S orientation – albeit a different interpretation of “North-South” to that of the puzzle.

The completed puzzle then sat in my “pending” folder for another 3 years while I tried to decide to which outlet I should submit it and also, I admit, I forgot about it. Obviously, in the end I discovered it and plumped for The Listener where it sat in the queue for another 2 years until Shane & Roger took it on board and hammered it into a publishable condition. (My thanks to both of them – they do a terrific job.)

With the odd exception, my thematic puzzles are usually considered to be at the easier end of the spectrum – especially for The Listener series. I really don’t set out to produce a puzzle of any specific level of difficulty and, of course, degree of difficulty is very subjective in any case. I just hope that “Not The Rockies” provided an enjoyable solve for the majority.

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