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Archive for August, 2018

Lost in Translation by Ottorino

Posted by shirleycurran on 17 August 2018

It’s been a while since we heard from Ottorino. I had just printed my weekly fix in an Internet cafe opposite the station at Clapham Junction and was walking up to Lavender Hill in 35 degrees of heat, and had just time to read that very clear preamble before six weeks of drought finally broke and heavy raindrops began blur my copy. In the past Ottorino’s clues have been tough but fair so I expected quite a struggle tonight and raced indoors to begin solving.

Problem number one. Does he still earn his entry ticket to the bar at Listener dinners? Hmm – I have no doubt really as we have usually been at the same Rasputin, Ottorino, Shark table at the dinners and the wine flows respectably but “Oh dear!” I scan those clues and find jam, potatoes, sausages – but no alcohol – until, when we were searching our grid for the endgame, we spotted that GIN in ‘Start or middle of pains before massage of a t(W)Inge (9). We had already realised that the letters J,K,W,X and Y were being omitted from clues and that was speeding up our grid fill. Here we used OR (pa)I(ns)  + TINGE* to produce that (original)GIN(ate). Then we spotted those ‘Rooms for ordering shots. A number fired from Sten guns, mounted? (5)’ We took ten from the STEN GUNS* to give SNUGS. Well, Cheers, Ottorino, gin in the snug!

Solving progressed steadily with a number of smiles. A fine Scots’ word, STREEKING appeared with a comical Shakespearian mish-mash of a clue, ‘(J)ester dressed Lear perchance preparing for Macbeth’s burial (8)’ ESTER* + KING. We had inserted numbers into our working grid and were keeping a careful record of the message spelled out by the down clues when we put them into conventional order. INSERT ONE CLUE NUMBER, we were instructed, when we removed those five redundant thematic letters from the LETTERS clue and counted that as the one thematic down clue. (‘Eg. (J)ess and (K)en, Rub(Y) (W)a(X) off tele… star cast (7)’ an anagram of TELESTAR less the A.)

A couple of hours and a full grid then ‘What do we do now?’ There were those five thematic letters at the foot of column 6 and we scratched our heads for a while. Italian is my favourite language and I am well aware that it has a shorter alphabet than those of, say, the French, German and English languages but, even though ITALIA and LETTERS (below that clue number 21) were glaring at me from the grid, it took the other Numpty to Google ‘What is special about WJXKY?’ for the pennies to clang to the ground. We made four more thematic removals to produce an English form of ITALIA. Most enjoyable, thanks to Ottorino.

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Listener No 4513: Lost in Translation by Ottorino

Posted by Dave Hennings on 17 August 2018

Two years ago, Ottorino’s last puzzle had Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers battling it out with Verdi’s La Traviata. Before that he took us into the far from uplifting world of Dorothy Parker’s Resumé.

Here we had across clues in conventional order and downs in alphabetical order of answers — is there a word answerbetical?! [No. Ed.] There were thematic removals from all across clues and one down plus a message from the initial letters of the downs in conventional order.

TOMTOM, ORIGINATE, BRIGADE and SEELS soon went in across the top half of the grid with the clues losing X, W, J and K respectively. Lots of lesser used letters there. Finally, a Y was dropped from Features devoid of iron[y] at being re-edited right for legalists (4) (FEATURES* – FE – AT) and another lesser used letter bit the dust.

A little while later, the downs were gradually revealing an instruction which eventually came out as Insert one cl•ue number. The • represents the one clue that had thematic removals, and what a great clue it was: Eg, Jess and Ken, Ruby Wax off tele… star cast! (7). This had loads of lesser used letters which needed to be dropped to give Eg, ess and en, rub a off tele… star cast! (7) resulting in LETTERS.

A quick check of missing clue numbers would have made that 21dn, and we were dealing with 21 letters after J, K, W, X and Y were ignored. But what was the theme? Scrabble was the first think that came to mind, but since Q wasn’t in our list of exclusions, that seemed unlikely. Next I thought of the old rotary telephone dials and the letter groupings on them. Again, no luck.

I think it fair to say that without Google, I’d have been lost. Yes, I could have jumped ahead and discovered the four letter changes required, but that would have deprived me of a lot of angst. Google revealed a fact that I hadn’t known, namely that the Italian alphabet only has 21 letters. My first thought then was that just labelling LETTERS with a 21 failed to show that the theme had been fully identified. But what was that in the next column? ITALIAN. Perhaps we would have to label that as 21 so that we had ITALIAN LETTERS!

Anyway, on with changing four letters “to form a word whose thematic form is a grid entry.” And so, some grid-staring began. My first thought was that we needed to swap four letters somewhere in the grid for other, perhaps thematic, ones to give a word which then lost thematic letters to give another grid entry. [Well, I’m confused. Ed.] Well, that was obviously (in hindsight) a hopeless task.

Even having seen the five rogue letters in column 6, it took me far too long to replace them to give new words across and ITALY down. So that showed that we knew what the theme was with its thematic form (ie without any Y) as ITALIA at 9dn. Meanwhile, it was just LETTERS that got labelled 21dn. Thank goodness I got there in the end.

A nice puzzle, thanks Ottorino, and I can’t stress enough how much I loved the rogue down clue!

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Listener No. 4512, Putting The World To Rights: A Setter’s blog by Charybdis

Posted by Listen With Others on 12 August 2018

Given the chaotic nature of the intermediate solving gridfill, you might not be surprised to learn that this puzzle’s setting was equally chaotic — if not more so. If, on the other hand, you fondly imagine things proceeded with insight and logic on a straight path towards completion, prepare to be shocked!

I set this puzzle in August 2016 during a 10-day let halfway up a small mountain outside Grazalema in Andalucia. The wonders of no internet distraction!

For no obvious reason I decided to make something (if I could) of all four opening lines of Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming. Nothing less would do. What that something would be I had little idea beyond some sort of spiral of the first line and vaguely some other ‘stuff’. But possibilities brewed, festered and fermented at all hours of the day and (more often) night as I tried to make something workable out of what I soon came to realise was an unfeasibly complicated text. Not once but twice, major sessions began by waking at 3am and making slow caffeine-fuelled progress on some new possibility having already, yet again, abandoned the puzzle for good.

The Second Coming by W.B.Yeats is one of those poems that I almost, but not quite, know by heart. At one time I found it simply powerful and disturbing but I now think it’s all a bit portentous, to be honest. Written in 1919, Yeats wasn’t in fact predicting Hitler or Stalin or ISIS or Trump or… but merely more of the Irish ‘troubles’. Which arguably makes it just a superior version of Private Fraser’s “We’re all doomed”.

Anyway, maybe inspired by the vultures that wheel around in Andalucia, those opening lines gyred around endlessly in my head day after day:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

The final puzzle hardly resembles any of my first thoughts beyond line 1 appearing in a [square-cornered!] spiral.

Early thoughts were:

  1. Bring the falcon home to the middle of the grid? Maybe somehow use substitution between GYRe and GYRfalcon (not etymologically connected, incidentally).
  2. “THINGs fall apart”. line 1 contains a cryptic example of itself: “turning and turninG IN THe …”.
  3. Put a jumble of ‘mere anarchy’ (loosed) upon the letters THE WORLD in the grid.
  4. My Chambers ROM reminded me that a GENTLE is a trained falcon; and it sits nicely in the centre of the gyre (the G.NT.. being already in place from my gyre of line1 as part of the word TurNinG). Which would undo the situation in line 2 as things start to hold together again.
  5. Solvers having to correct that G IN TH to THING and that G.NT. to a second THING?? (already the germ of the idea of undoing all the doom in Yeats’s poem and putting ‘the world’ (the grid) to rights is growing in strength).
  6. I reduced my 13×13 grid to 13×12 at this point so a 3×2 block for GENTLE could fit the exact centre.

It was days later (at 3am!) that I realised the ‘obvious’ fact that GentLe and CentRe took such a similar form and could be exploited, so the falcon returns to the centre once more where it belongs.

As for “Mere anarchy is loosed”, this obviously begged for a suitable anagram treatment. Using the Clue Workshop Wordplay Wizard function on Sympathy, the apt ARCANE RHYME jumps out at you at #6 in an endlessly long list. I knew this had to go in the puzzle. If I was debunking Yeats’s gloom (if that was going to be the entire theme), then this dismissive description of it fitted the bill again. Lacking Wifi connections, what I didn’t know until my observant puzzle-tester (Ploy) pointed it out a month later, was that Ifor, in Best Way Round (Magpie 147, March 2015) had used the identical anagram to illustrate the same line. I still feel mortified by that coincidence and offer my humble apologies to Ifor. I’m glad that in other respects our thematic paths diverged.

Meanwhile, with GENTLE/CENTRE in the middle, I couldn’t make the letters of THING (‘falling’ apart) work there any more. But ‘Gentle’ took me on a wild goose chase into Dylan Thomas country and not going gentle into that good NIGHT (a second THING to fall apart). Indeed, if the title became “No Good”, for instance, and GENTLE flies to the middle, you might find yourself left with “DO NOT GO (…) INTO THAT (…) THING” (anag. ‘night’). A temptingly admonitory addition to the grid perimeter?

This idea and variants came and went repeatedly and in the end they went since too complicated and tangential.

Alas, already at this stage the grid looked too stuffed with uncooperative letters for a conventional gridfill and, given the ‘MERE ANARCHY’ as justification, I only now considered getting out of the hole I’d dug myself by the extreme ‘resort’ (ahem) of using jumbles. What I didn’t appreciate was the new layers of chaos that decision would bring.

But, if playing with jumbles, I had new freedom in the grid. Why not bring Dylan back after all?: TONDO (do not) TOOTHING (go into th) HATTING (at night) LADY (dyla) MONTH (n thom) and something with AS in it, giving the Dylan quote. But that didn’t survive long either. And it would mean real words, so no longer an anarchic grid.

Oh! And a minor detail — solvers still had no way of discovering what poem and lines were the theme!

Then, toying with the letters of W.B.YEATS, I realised it contained a ‘rough’ form of BEAST. Nice! (“And what ROUGH BEAST, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” I don’t know. Donald Trump? But I digress.) An internet search of ‘Rough beast’ would reveal the theme poem to the solver. (Wouldn’t it, I hoped? And fortunately, Yes). ROUGH BEAST, WHY NO HEART? was short enough to confirm W.B.YEATS via ‘extra letters’, somehow ‘Coming Second’ for thematic consistency. Sorted.

Except not at all sorted. I got in a right old tangle in fact. I still wanted the whole grid to be jumbled at this point (mere anarchy) but I wanted G IN TH to resolve itself to THING, and I wanted MERE ANARCHY to appear, unjumbled, And to transform itself somehow into ARCANE RHYME. So I wanted everything to be jumbled, but some parts not jumbled all at the same time. Might as well square the circle and have the moon on a stick while I was at it.

I tried various things but finally realised I’d end with a complete dog’s breakfast of jumbles/real words. So I abandoned the ‘THING’ idea. Definitely go for jumbles throughout the grid! This turned out to be ridiculously easy for the setter, would be horribly hard for the solver, and would have no redeeming payoff beyond highlighting the gyre.

So, a rubbish ending, and a job half done. The text of line 1 was there in a gyre, and I could undo Yeats image by making GENTLE appear in the middle, but the mere anarchy is still depicted and not undone and we haven’t even got ‘arcane rhyme’ appearing anywhere. How do we deal with that?

Well, I came up with ideas, but on inspection they all crashed and burned. I even had a thought, at one point, entailing every jumbled entry having two different anagrams. Eg clue → SPRITE → jumble (eg PRITSE) → eg RIPEST in final (all-real-word) grid. Somehow this clearly impossible idea was meant to reveal first ‘mere anarchy’ and then (‘coming second’) ‘arcane rhyme’. I think I was in a fever of delirium by this point!!!

Eventually I realised an obvious solution: “Abandon the puzzle entirely, delete all traces of it! Have a jug of sangria!”

And then another 3am awakening as it hit me — just maybe not impossible.

I’ve discovered that filling a grid with jumbled words is very easy indeed. (But it clearly breaks a rule of setting that I hold dear and try to observe: The setter should always have to work harder than the solver.) But suppose I managed after all to create a ‘normal’ real word grid that included ARCANE RHYME down the side and the letters in the gyre in their correct places?

Suppose then that I created the same grid but with MERE ANARCHY down the side, and the unchecked letters in across words unaltered. Down entries could be entered in a flexible number of jumbled ways. Was it possible to arrange them so that across words could also all represent jumbles of words? And for you to have ARCANE RHYME replacing MERE ANARCHY?

And would that really work, if it could be done? Would the jumbled “merely anarchic” Yeatsian grid which solvers managed to reproduce really change into the (ahem) ‘gentle-hearted’ and orderly one I desired?

As you’ll know if you solved it, yes. The idea works. I finally had a lucid logical insight! Suddenly I knew my destination. But could I get there? I can never trumpet the wonders of Sympathy software highly enough. Suffice to say that this grid would have been impossible without it. It was still a close-run thing. I see that I saved 34 files at different stages of gridfill on that last day alone and it took me from 04:19 to success at 22:04 and, until the last couple of minutes, I was completely unsure whether it was possible — there were quite a few dodgy almost-dead-ends — but we got there.

Even so, as successful solvers will know, there are ambiguities in the interim jumbled gridfill. To be honest, I tried at length later on to remove them but I could not. And then I thought: “Well, that really IS anarchic!” And so long as solvers genuinely go as far as is possible (which turns out to be essential, although you can use the hidden message carefully as a guide to see what’s happening) then the important thing is that an unambiguous ‘proper’ final grid emerges in the end.

As I never did manage to show “Mere Anarchy” loosed upon the letters of “THE WORLD” in the grid, the last step before clue-writing was actually the title “Putting THE WORLD to rights”, making a sort of equation between the world and the contents of the grid.

So there we are. Simple really. I did also have lots of tapas and tinto de verano and read and went places so this isn’t quite such a sad and geeky life I lead as it sounds! Anyway, my “What I did on my holidays” homework is now finished. (I wonder if anybody has read this far! :-D)

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‘Putting the World to Rights’ by Charybdis

Posted by Encota on 10 August 2018

I think this excellent puzzle from Charybdis let me set my personal record for the number of copies of the grid I needed to complete it – in all I used five.  Two I binned but the other three feature here.

Early on the jumbling meant that many cells had multiple options in them during the earlier phase of solving.  Here’s an example where I had made some progress …

2018-08-01 15.14.58

Finally, once all clues are solved, I make it 21 cells that are unchecked by down clues – marked in green in the attached.

2018-08-01 15.13.52

Of these:
  • 4 are already identified
  • 6 more are identified by adding MERE ANARCHY from the poem, at 1d
  • and the remaining 11 are found from the (inferred) requirement for all final words in the grid to be real words, each one using one of the options in the green cells above.  Why the inference, you may ask?  Well, I couldn’t see any reason for 17ac to explain that GAND is a word, the French version of the place-name Ghent, unless all Across entries are words.  Am I missing something?

And finally it looked something like this rough copy:

2018-08-01 15.12.46

A bit more background.  It’s all based on W B Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming”
The instructions to change cells in the centre turned CENTRE into The falcon = GENTLE

And the phrase to be higlighted with a smooth curve, from the poem, was:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre”

Aside: haven’t we seen GENTLE in another 2018 Listener (or did I dream it)?

25d includes a nice hint with ‘Gyring bird …”

In 24d I’d initially picked the wrong word to delete, resulting in ROUGH BEAST WAY NO HEART



  • … the second of these might be parsed as {BEAST W(h)Y}*,  resulting in the poet W B YEATS

And ‘Gand’ is the French form of the placename Ghent, or so I read.
Phew – a tough workout!
Tim / Encota

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Putting the World to Rights by Charybdis

Posted by shirleycurran on 10 August 2018

A friend just commented to me, “What is the most hated sentence in the English language? ‘All answers must be jumbled’!” and I loudly agreed.  That was followed in this preamble by ‘An extra word must be removed before solving from all across and 20 down clues.’ Hmm! Actually that requirement was quite helpful. Had we not had that message in the second letters of across clues that prompted me to begin a second grid and ‘UNJUMBLE ALL DOWN ENTRIES’ I imagine I would still be sitting here solving and muttering foul imprecations at Charybdis as I was until 2 a.m. this morning.

Does he retain his admission ticket to the bar at Listener dos? Well, he started off on the soft stuff, ‘Active ingredient is in demand for cordial (7)’ and we decided that A + IS in NEED gave us ANISEED so the ‘ingredient’ was extra and provided us with a second letter N. There was a touch of hope in ‘Estate producing mostly fruit (6)’. We guessed this had to be the Napa Valley mostly ‘RAISIN(g)’ and that’s what we use here for our wine but the alcohol scene was not impressive. ‘Château giving away (beery) brew right before noon – from this? (6, two words)’ removed that CHA and left us with TEA U + RN – clearly not premier cru but admission ticket valid. Cheers, anyway, Charybdis.

Of course Charybdis’ clues are polished and fair and we solved steadily but he had imposed on us a task that was almost a total cold solve. He tells me one of his setting rules is that the puzzle must be more difficult for the setter to set than it is for the solver to solve. What can I say? I should include a photograph of my initial grid at an intermediate stage when I still had all those tiny words pencilled in, ready to be erased and pencilled in again when the intersecting jumble didn’t share a letter. Do we really do this for pleasure or is it some kind of masochistic self-torture?

The redeeming feature came with the first p.d.m. We had WHY NO HEART appearing at the end of our down clue extra letters and ROUGH BEAST rang a bell (didn’t I teach that Yeats’ Second Coming‘ to IB classes with that dreadful suggestion of a second nativity when that ‘rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born’?)

How do I find the poet’s name there? ‘Rough’ is telling me to anagram BEAST and WHY with no heart so W.B.YEATS.
Looking back at the preamble tells me that I am going to find the first line of the poem in the grid, 34 cells, but for now I can see no hint of TURNING AND TURNING IN THE WIDENING GYRE, though clearly it is the CENTRE that cannot hold and I can, for now, fill those six central letters. R will later change to L and the falcon must appear there, so I imagine the C will have to become G to give us a GENTLE.
MERE ANARCHY indeed, that initial grid, and we had to change that phrase to describe the text. This has appeared before in a Magpie by Ifor, hasn’t it? He converted that MERE ANARCHY to an ARCANE RHYME and that is really helpful here. One step further in the solve!
Thankyou, thankyou for that message UNJUMBLE ALL DOWN ENTRIES! I still had 13 solutions to go and that didn’t bode too well for the meticulous task of ‘filling as much of the grid as possible‘. I wonder how many other solvers created a second grid with the down entries and worked backwards from that, producing, for example SK?NNY at 45ac and MI?I at 40ac then using the potential ultimate letters to complete the grid (Well, it could be MINI, MIDI or MIRI but 40ac was HORN so that fixed the N as the choice and the I of SKINNY was the only option.)
Even more joyous was the moment when a circling GYRE appeared and gave me my final words in the top right sector of the grid, where two of my gaps were lurking – so I could back solve to SYNTH and ARGUE and confirm the presence of the falcon in the gyre.
This was the toughest challenge of the year so far for us but what a compilation. Thank you to Charybdis.

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