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Archive for September, 2017

Listener No 4466, X XX XXX: A Setter’s Blog by Somniloquist

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 September 2017

I initially submitted this puzzle (my first) more than three years ago, so it’s satisfying to finally see it in print. I’d been intending to set a Listener for years and a lull at work gave me the opportunity. Naturally, as a programmer, I spent the first month writing software that could fill a grid with arbitrarily complex treatments and rules (although if I’d known about QXW, I could have saved myself some time). I’d already settled on Sir Gawain as a suitable theme: plenty of thematic material and obscure enough that most solvers wouldn’t be able to take shortcuts. The “beheading game” lent itself to an answer treatment (and to different treatments for the two protagonists) and the exchange of kisses for animals gave me a suitably obscure title and more thematic content in the grid. I also could not give up the chance to include some Middle English and managed to find a relevant quote that was fairly easy to understand and only had a single obsolete letter, thorn (þ). As it represents ‘th’ in a single letter, a clash seemed like a logical way to indicate it. At that time, the name BERTILAK, the recipient of the kisses, was also revealed in the grid.

This first version was rejected – I’d tried to cram too much into too small a grid – but Roger liked the theme and encouraged me to rework it, suggesting some changes and a new grid layout. This also reminded me that the aim is to produce something fun to solve, not just to show off how many tricks you can fit in one grid.

A year later, I found time to work on it again. I decided to start from scratch, expanding the grid from 12×12 to 13×13, removing BERTILAK, but adding THORN (as the letter ‘th’ could equally be ETH). This gave me a lot more flexibility and choice on the final words: so I could reject the grids where ten of the answers were types of rock or half of them were plurals. Once I’d got the software to fill the grid (with the movable “heads” spelling out names and a single clash), I could move onto the clues. The across clues were straightforward, but the downs, with up to three letters removed, were a challenge; it took a few weeks to get the allocation of letters to clues right so that each one was viable. The final piece of the puzzle was to link the deletion of letters to the title, rather than explicitly mention deleting letters in the preamble (as suggested by ‘Eck, who test solved the puzzle and gave other valuable advice). This required rewriting a few clues, as there were none with a single letter removed, but I think made it all hang together better. The second version made it past the vetters relatively unscathed.

In spite of all the thematic content, my intention was that solvers could complete the puzzle without searching for the story or the quotation: all the content can be deduced and the symbol/meaning for thorn is given in Chambers.

I await inspiration for my next Listener, which hopefully won’t take quite so long.



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Row’s full of thorns (aka ‘X XX XXX’ by Somniloquist)

Posted by Encota on 22 September 2017

This week’s puzzle was a cracker!  Tricky, yet precise, clues.  Clever adjustments needed to both some clues and some answers before entry.  Hidden information hiding in numerous places.  And a great title, with ‘X XX XXX’:
– one kiss, two kisses, three kisses
– one deletion, two deletions, three deletions
… at least that’s how I am reading it.

The Fox, the Deer and the Boar (that was the order I found them in) and the line of verse ending ‘hit to the erthe’ let me identify Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I’ve never read the original but know of it (some Tolkien connection too, I think?).

Well, some of the details of this one has baffled me.  I could find all the deletions required from the Down clues.  I could even, with some investiGoogling, put them together to create … what exactly?  Well, my row’s full of thorns (or something like that).  Is that the head (hede) being removed from the ‘halce’ (presumably, halse, the neck)?  So the heads of some answers will be moved / removed??

And assuming all the Downs are entered unchanged, then I can deduce that the removed head of each Across clue may move some spaces to the right.  But from there on I am missing something!  What determines if the first letter of an across clue moves and, if so, by how many spaces?  Does the ‘earth’ bit mean they have to move to be next to an E (for Earth), perhaps?

Sitting here on Saturday evening, I checked the moved letters again.  And found they spelt out T-H-E … G-REEN KNIGHT!!  I then went back and checked the ones that hadn’t moved, and they spelt out SIR GAWAIN!!!  Amazing!
[As an aside, I won’t embarrass myself by sharing how long I spent looking for the Green Knight to be spelt out using knight’s moves in the grid 🙂 ]
Did the number of spaces moved have any relevance?  I am still not sure.  The question now – do I open up my letter to the Editors and add this extra finding above, or leave it with my earlier level of ignorance but still a correct solution (I think).  Hmm, laziness wins…

Even for the parts of the puzzle I do understand, this is a superb creation – thank you Somniloquist!

cheers all,

Tim / Encota


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X XX XXX by Somniloquist

Posted by shirleycurran on 22 September 2017



The Numpties are child-minding in California and the the temperature outdoors rose to 114°F as we worked our way through the Somniloquist’s offering. We felt more like somnambulists; I believe he is a new setter but what a debut!

But does the Somniloquist qualify for the Listener setters’ oenophile outfit? Well, I scanned his very dense clues, admiring the subtlety but not finding much evidence of alcohol unless we count ‘Begin once treats assembled (6)’ (which gave TREATS* = ASTERT) or the effect of those ‘treats’, which seemed to plaster the locals, ‘Support sound local plastering (7)’ which gave a word that was new for me, TEE + RING = TEERING. Fortunately there was the Napoleon in the last clue (which was also the last we solved) ‘Napoleon perhaps loses head after Jack hewed (4)’ Frankly rubbish as a surface reading [Isn’t that rather harsh? Ed.] but it gave us J(ack) + COIN less C = JOIN or ‘wed’, and the last two letters of that line of poetry. Well it’s quality stuff, le Napoléon, so ‘Santé, Somniloquist, see you at the bar in Paris?

Those kisses didn’t tell us much at first as we couldn’t see how they were going to lead to any exchanges. “It must be that we are going to remove one, two, or three letters from each of the down clues in order to produce that line of poetry.” said the other Numpty, as it proved to be. However, it was rather a long way into our solve and we had found the FOX – ‘Fine for Abe’s second in fight (3)’ BOX with F for (A)B(e), the BOAR – ‘Old Russian aristocrat expels unknown (4)’ BOYAR less Y, and the DEER – ‘Captain out of crucial game (4)’ DECIDER less CID = DEER – before vague memories of a text I have taught in years gone by (and remember as being tough and not half so much fun as Chaucer) surfaced. Something about one kiss being the reward for the head of an innocent slaughtered deer, two kisses for a fierce wild boar and three for the cunning fox [Obviously some sexual Middle English innuendo there; Ed.] So the title made sense.

We had already looked up Fox and Boar and found that it was a fable by Aesop but that didn’t seem relevant to a set of kisses or to the strange FAYRE HEDE that was emerging from the letters that we were extracting in order to produce meaningful clues. We had solved almost every clue and entered all the down ones and a fair number of the acrosses before the penny (or the head) dropped. THE FAYRE HEDE FRO THE HALCE HIT TO THE ERTHE. Simply lower the head of all those across clues that we had laboriously been entering as jumbles!

There was an even bigger thump as the final hede hit the earth. All those letters that we were lowering, in their clue order, spelled THE GREEN KNIGHT; what did the others spell? SIR GAWAIN, of course; so that was what that word ‘initial’ was doing in the preamble.

Grid full and quotation found but we had a rather strange clash of RHO and AT TABLE and that strange requirement that the quotation to be entered below the grid was to be 32 letters and not 36. One answer was to resolve this issue and, of course, it was THORN.

Hares in danger of decapitation.

All that was left to do was confirm, that Poat’s HARE is still frolicking in preambles, clues, grids or setters’ pseudonyms and there was a complete guddle of hares misbehaving at the centre-top of the grid – in fact the grid was full of the beasts (I am surprised they didn’t live in fear of being decapitated for a kiss as, according to Google, the hare, with the fox the boar and the deer, was the object of venery in the fourteenth century).

What an impressive amount of thematic material! Great setting, thank you, Somniloquist.

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Listener No 4466: X XX XXX by Somniloquist

Posted by Dave Hennings on 22 September 2017

OK, so this setter talks in his/her sleep! Most things said while you’re asleep tend to be somewhat gibberish, but this is the Listener, so I was sure that didn’t apply here. [Hold that thought1. Ed.] And I wondered at first what expletives had been deleted in the title!

There were three wordplay-only clues, so they should be easy to spot. [Another thought2 to hold. Ed.] Across answers, initially relating to two thematic characters, had their answers entered to reflect their fate. Down clues needed amendment before solving to reveal a line from a poem.

Although they were to be solved without amendment, I didn’t get that many acrosses on my first pass. I should have got 1 Greeted old girl, then married, having ditched idiot (6) [SUE + UNITED – NIT], although it was a bit more understandable that 5 Vehicle cost round about 11 cents (7) [TAB around A XI C] eluded me. 39 Fine for Abe’s second in fight (3) also remained unsolved. [Told you2. Ed.]

I tackled the down clues with trepidation. Actually, in hindsight, I should have been wary of entering the across entries that I had since they had to be entered to reflect a fate. The first down clue I got, helped by the first E of INTERRED was 4 Captain out of crucial game (4), with just wordplay for DE(CID)ER.

However, 7 Mental images aid circle literate in arts (5) IDOLS was the first to indicate that a letter had to be dropped, aid becoming id. Returning to 1dn Stand-off Barton leaves fellow club member (9), I guessed that Barton became baron to give STA(B)LEMATE. I was helped with this having recently had an American sitcom explain the difference between stalemate, impasse and Mexican stand-off.

Not for the first time this year, I had the feeling that a new setter was in fact an old hand in disguise. The clues were generally tough, even when I realised that the title of the puzzle indicated that 1, 2 or 3 letters needed to be expunged from the down clues before they could be solved. For example 6dn Cut [f]rom promo in clever backing tracks (9) led to RO(M) AD in SMART<.

Fast forward to a finished grid, although fast was certainly not an adjective to describe my solve. The wordplay-only entries were FOX, DEER and BOAR, and I initially thought that we were dealing with one of Aesop’s fables. Nothing sprang to mind, or to Google for that matter.

I had finally sussed that some of the across answers had to be entered with their first letter misplaced. Those letters spelt out The Green Knight, whereas the unmisplaced first letters spelt out Sir Gawain. Meanwhile the single clash between 9ac RHO and 9dn AT TABLE was TH or þ, as hinted at by 29dn THORN.

This finally explained why the quotation did indeed look like gibberish. [Told you1. Ed.] The letters redacted from the down clues gave The fayre hede fro the halce hit to the erthe and it looked very Chaucerian. In fact, it was from an anonymous 14th century scribe in a poem called, not surprisingly, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . The devices used in this puzzle relate to Sir Gawain’s beheading of the Green Knight (who promptly stands up and puts his head under his arm), and the three animals hunted by Bertilak de Hautdesert and given to Sir Gawain in exchange for 1, 2 and 3 kisses which Sir Gawain has received from Lady Bertilak. Bertilak is in fact the Green Knight in disguise. The kisses are another interpretation of the title.

Of course, I had to track down the full text of the poem. I cannot now recall how I finally found it, but the University of Toronto web site has a copy, line 427 being our quotation to be entered in olde English form: “þe fayre hede fro þe halce hit to þe erþe”. (Another lucky escape for me this week: as I was about to fill in the quotation from my working copy, I realised that I had it starting “þhe fayre hede…” with an extra “h”.)

What an innovative puzzle from Somniloquist, thanks. It was a marvellous piece of grid construction with some tough clues to go with it.

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Listener No 4465, PQRST?: A Setter’s Blog by Yorick

Posted by Listen With Others on 17 September 2017

I first constructed a grid for this puzzle over 20 years ago, and it looked very different from the finished article. Firstly, I had blacked-out squares placed in it where they would fill out the thematic items, thus making symmetry impossible. Secondly, I included a rhombus (with unequal sides!) in the same way as the other five shapes. Lastly, I had decided that entries not contributing to any item would be clued in Printer’s Devilry fashion – I’d even started writing some of these clues (my favourite being “Insane wit shot in Costa Rica (6)”) – and that for the others, wordplay in the clues would give rise to the entries but minus the letters contributing to the items.

After Hefbeet in 2015 (my first ever published puzzle) was well received, I looked through my archives for the next idea, and decided that this one was the most promising. With the benefit of experience, I realised that drastic changes were required: the blacked-out squares had to go, allowing a symmetrical grid to be constructed; the inaccurate rhombus was (reluctantly) dropped; and the clueing had to be more helpful. Use of clashing entries to create blanks resolved the first and most significant issue, and enabled me to start afresh with just the five items placed in a grid so that I could try to fill in words around them. Various versions were started and discarded before I hit on one that came near to completion. Unfortunately, it was almost too successful in that it had very few unches, which made it very difficult to resolve the final missing words.

It was at this point that the rhombus, which I’d never quite managed to shake off, came to my aid. I realised that I could sidestep the potential clashes that remained and reintroduce the rhombus by having seven entries based on wordplay rather than definition that would also indicate the letters of “rhombus”, the idea at that stage being to get the solver to write the name of this sixth item below the grid.

At last, I could get on with the clues. I particularly enjoyed finding deceptive misprints for the majority that required them, my favourite being 42ac ILIAN (as it was for several of the solvers who were kind enough to provide feedback).

All the while, the rhombus continued to niggle away at the back of my mind until it occurred to me that an accurate one could be drawn using hypotenuses of 3-4-5 triangles for two of the sides — serendipitously, there was just enough room in the top left corner to fit one in. (Another piece of serendipity came in the form of the title which was absent until very late on when I spotted the alphabetic sequence in the names of the items.) Embarrassingly though, for a former mathematician, I’d completely overlooked the fact that a diamond is also a rhombus. Fortunately, the editors spotted this, and between us we made the requirement more rigorous — though even then there were several solutions sent in with a diamond completely surrounding the rectangle (an alternative that was eventually deemed acceptable).

At least my clues stood up to the editors’ red pens relatively well, with about half of them surviving unscathed — my inexperience when writing the original clues for Hefbeet led to a bloodbath, and an almost complete rewrite being required! My thanks to Roger and Shane for their support, encouragement and contribution.

I’ve delved back into the archives for my next offering and, with a gridfill already completed, merely have to overcome a case of “setter’s block” before moving on to the clues — as ever, I look forward to the challenge!

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