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Archive for April, 2017

Listener No 4445, Strange Requests: A Setter’s Blog by eXternal

Posted by Listen With Others on 30 April 2017

I first heard about Fool’s Errands about ten years ago. Most of my jobs have been within manufacturing companies and I am used to working with engineers and storemen. I was having a bit of banter with one of the guys in the workshop who was reminiscing about his previous foreman sending a greenhorn off to the stores to ask for a ‘long weight’. I didn’t really see anything odd in this, as I thought there must be weights that are long. But he then told me that the storeman told the apprentice to sit down while he fetched it. Of course, he just went and read the paper and came back about ten minutes later to send the apprentice back empty-handed. That’s when I got the joke and I found it quite heartwarming to be able to share an enjoyment of what is effectively wordplay with a potty-mouthed bloke from the Isle of Sheppey. Fortunately, I was never sent on any such errands, I am sure I would naively have fallen for them. I think it’s a bit of harmless fun, but I guess you might get in trouble for doing something like that in some companies nowadays.

I hadn’t even contemplated setting crosswords at that time, so it never occurred to me that it would be a good idea for a thematic puzzle. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I was fondly remembering that job that it suddenly dawned on me to use the idea. I remembered being told about a few other items to be retrieved and did an internet search to see if I could find a list. There was quite a lot of information, once I had found out that the prank is called a Fool’s Errand.

Most of the items are made of two parts, usually an adjective used with an engineering item. It seemed a nice idea to clue one part and have the other part for entry. In this way, I could probably incorporate quite a few examples into the puzzle. It was also good that we have so many words for fool in the language. I looked up fool in Bradford’s and the Companion and realised that many of the words could be used in longer words. I used QAT to check whether any could be taken from longer words and still leave real words, as I liked the idea of the fools being sent off to retrieve the items and thought this would be a good way to represent it. There were a good many I could use, so I picked some nice looking ones such as fiSHMOnger and CLOThears. I decided to use some of the more obvious items such as stripy/tartan paint and long weight, as some solvers might recognise them. Brewer’s describes the prank under the entry for elbow grease, so that was also going to be in the grid as one way for solvers to check the theme.

I think many people get irritated by grid-staring and word searches, so I determined to make the endgame quite easy by using the lead diagonal to hide an item to be highlighted. Making a grid was fairly simple, as this wasn’t a particularly complex puzzle. I found I could fit in 6 words with fools disappearing and 6 items, which seemed a good number to explore the theme. I was a little worried that the puzzle could be solved without understanding the theme, although test-solvers assured me that was unlikely. Some people commented that I might have written the puzzle with April Fool’s Day in mind. However,  I submitted it in June 2015, not realising that April 1 2017 was to be on a Saturday.

By the time of the Listener bash in Gateshead this year, the puzzle had been scheduled for 8th April. I had wondered why it wasn’t given the April 1st slot, but a conversation in the pub before the dinner with barred puzzle guru, database custodian and blogger, Dave Hennings, set things straight. He told me that puzzle 4444 was coming up on April 1st and he would be willing to bet good money on Kea being in that slot with a special puzzle. Of course, it turns out he was totally wrong and that I should have relieved him of his money.

The notes and letters from solvers passed on by John Green were mainly positive. I had a few people recounting tales of similar pranks that they had witnessed or been part of, which was quite amusing. I do accept the criticism from one solver that the 3-letter entries were effectively underchecked and I could have made them into 4-letter entries. Thanks to everyone for their comments.

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Strange Requests by eXternal

Posted by shirleycurran on 28 April 2017

Fools’ errands

The preamble for eXternal’s neat little grid didn’t say very much to us and we shelved it (as we so often do with a preamble that thoroughly foxes us) deciding that all would come clear as we solved. I have a terrible admission – we had confidently filled our grid and double-checked that we had used all the thirteen words that had clearly emerged as ‘one word definitions for the 11 affected entries and the two parts of the sixth item’ before I was able to make very much of the preamble and piece it all together. In effect, we had a full and hopefully correct grid before that penny-drop-moment that brought a rueful smile to my face. Even those words ‘LONG WEIGHT’ had appeared in the obvious place, the leading diagonal: what’s more, they had helped us complete KIRN and CHIGOE, though they didn’t say much to us until I asked Auntie Google and she led me straight to ‘fools’ errands’.

It was the explanation of a LONG WEIGHT that suddenly shed daylight on my woolly thinking and I realized why we had found ELBOW GREASE, a GLASS HAMMER, the BUBBLE from a SPIRIT-LEVEL, a COPPER MAGNET and of course, STRIPY PAINT (Yes, I admit that I thought my favourite clue, ‘Stripy horse (5)’ Z???A was finally appearing in a Listener – but it was not to be.)

We had, as usual, run through the clues before beginning to solve and, of course, I had noticed the stripy horse clue ‘Tipple before breaking open some beer (5)’ A in PINT, producing PAINT, and, of course that confirmed membership of the Listener Setters’ Tippling outfit for eXternal, but what was more interesting was that the grid required a six-letter word and very soon STRIPY was the only one that would fit – to be confirmed by one of the extra words, ‘banded’ that emerged from a different clue.

That led us to check word lengths which happily pointed us at most of the suspect clues – in fact to all but one of them – the COPPER MAGNET where the two parts of the item were of the same length. That was what ultimately held us up in that top, left-hand corner but, of course the extra ‘bobby’ told us that COPPER had to be entered even though the clue, ‘Publication on lace – it’s attractive (6)’ had given us MAGNET.

And so it went on: we found that we were removing various words for fools from clues, leaving us the words that went into the grid. MAL(div)ES left MALES, confirmed by an extra ‘men’; (clot)HEARS was confirmed by ‘tries’; FI(shmo)NGER by ‘pilfer’; C(ass)OCKED by ‘upright’; BAL(loon)ING by ‘bundling’; and finally (mug)HUNTER by ‘watch’.

The additional extra words that confirmed our solve were ‘insubstantial’ for the BUBBLE, ‘marathon’ and ‘pressure’ for LONG WEIGHT and ‘mirror’ for GLASS.

We had realized at once that we were extracting a set of fools without drawing the obvious conclusion that they were performing the fools’ errands and collecting those six ‘items for retrieval’ of the preamble. So I suppose we were the fools, but thank you, anyway, eXternal. Quite a feat to fit those fools into words that symmetrically surrounded the grid.

The HARES – of course! A couple of them lurking in the grid, as usual, even if somewhat jumbled and scrunched up.

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Listener No 4445: Strange Requests by eXternal

Posted by Dave Hennings on 28 April 2017

Another visit from eXternal this week, the setter my spell-checker is constantly getting annoyed at with his capital X not being at the start. It was just a year since his last, with Deucalion and Pyrrha repopulating the earth with stones which turned into men and women. (Personally, I think stones would be a more intelligent alternative to some people we’re currently lumbered with!)

Anyway, here we had six answers losing a messenger, six items made from two parts, in five cases one part clued and the other forming an entry, and thirteen clues with an extra word reflecting all this.

1ac MAGNET, 10ac OLOGY, 3dn POOR, 4dn EYOT plus ARTISTIC, ELEGIAC, VOLUNTEER and a couple more all went in within fifteen minutes. Of course, POOR didn’t mesh with MAGNET, so I guessed that one of them was my first two-part clue. The rest I wrote in as though they were final entries rather than requiring other halves, and luckily this proved true for some these first few. And only one extra word had come to light, in 3dn upright, but that was soon joined by mirror in 5dn.

Solving then became a bit sporadic, and it was only when I got to 26dn MUG-HUNTER for a 6-letter entry that I presumed I had my first ‘messenger’ clue. But was it MUG or HUN that had to leave? Luckily, a short while later, I came to 38ac FISHMONGER for another (6). I say ‘luckily’, but either SHMO or MONG could leave. Both were words for a fool, like MUG, but it looked as though I was on the right track. (Here it would prove to be SHMO that got banished.)

So, fools were being dropped and the only thing that came to mind was “A fool and his money are soon parted.” However, the puzzle’s title didn’t really gel with that idea, although 1ac COPPER could fit. Even though answer lengths were given, it was sometimes tricky to determine which were the ones losing a fool and which needed a counterpart. This was especially true of SPIRIT LEVEL at 22ac, where BUBBLE proved to be the entry.

All in all, it took some googling to track down what was going on here and it was only when I could see LONG WEIGHT in the main NW–SE diagonal that everything came together.

1ac COPPER (defined by the extra word “bobby”) MAGNET
22ac BUBBLE (insubstantial) for a SPIRIT LEVEL
37ac GLASS (mirror) HAMMER
9dn STRIPY (banded) PAINT
11dn ELBOW (joint) GREASE
NW–SE LONG (marathon) WEIGHT (pressure)

I particularly liked the fools and the words they were leaving:

6ac MAL(div)ES — males
30ac (clot)HEARS — tries
38ac FI(shmo)NGER — pilfer
1dn C(ass)OCKED — upright
22dn BAL(loon)ING — bundling
26dn (mug)HUNTER — watch

I must admit that I was totally out of my depth with this puzzle, never having been asked for any of the items in the grid. Well, in IT you wouldn’t be! Good fun, thanks eXternal, and a shame that Handyman took the previous week’s slot.

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Strange Requests by eXternal

Posted by Encota on 28 April 2017

A long time ago, in a workplace far, far away…the themed items in eXternal’s puzzle could easily have resulted in a title of The Apprentice, or similar.  I suspect many seasoned workers have taken, or heard of others taking, the (slightly bizarre) pleasure of sending their new wet-behind-the-ears Apprentice off to Stores (with a Strange Request) to pick up a “long weight”.  The Storeman is, of course, in on the joke and says “No problem, I’ll just get you one”, then disappears into the back room, puts the kettle on, his feet up and reads the newspaper, for a LONG time.  As far as I can see, all the items featured in this fun puzzle are on the same list: “I’ve lost the bubble in my spirit level – do go and pick one up from Stores for me, there’s a good lad” (or similar patronising words).  [Aside: “All my Apprentices say that I’m always patronising but I told them, ‘There’s no need to worry your little heads about that’ “.]

I did this puzzle on Saturday, having cycled from a comms-free location in the middle of Thetford Forest to the village of East Harling on the Norfolk/Suffolk border to pick up the paper,  in between (largely failed) efforts to nudge some of April’s Magpie puzzles forward.  [As of 10th April, all six grids filled but only three puzzles complete…hmm!]

26d’s MUG-HUNTER (GEM UNHURT*) and 36a’s ‘Watch’ for HUNTER were the first pair I spotted, and things progressed pretty quickly from there.

Of course the messenger requesting these things is being made a fool of, so (I think) a FOOL synonym needed removing from six of the solutions before entry, viz.:

  • FI(shmo)NGER
  • C(ass)OCKED
  • (mug)HUNTER
  • (clot)HEARS
  • BAL(loon)ING, &
  • MAL(div)ES

A clever touch from eXternal to keep all modified entries as real words – I know how this adds to the setting challenge!

I’m off now to give a private talk (at Cliveden, Bucks) on “How to solve cryptic crosswords (for those too afraid to ask!)” – hopefully by the time you read this it’ll have gone well!

cheers all,

Tim /Encota

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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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