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Archive for December, 2018

Listener No 4532: How? by Twin

Posted by Dave Hennings on 28 December 2018

I’d forgotten that Twin had a puzzle last year. That was based on the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express and coincided with the cinematic release of the latest version of the film, this time starring Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot.

This week, every down clue had a thematic word which had one letter changed and needed removing before solving. The correct letters would spell out a place and a person and some misspelling of the unclued entry. I’ve never been asked to misspell a word in a Listener before!

The preamble told us a lot of things, one of which was that the grid had to “accommodate the answers” in some way. That sounded horribly like they would have to be jumbled. Luckily a short way into solving, it could be seen that the numbers in brackets were larger than the entry space available and so referred to the answer length.

Solving went pretty smoothly, and it soon became obvious that some cells in an entry would have to hold more than one letter, and two seemed to be the amount of cell-cramming required. Meanwhile, although the extra words could be extracted fairly easily, the letter change and jumbling was trickier.

Now I’ve noticed before when solving a puzzle that I tend to focus on the clue in hand without any overall perception of what is happening elsewhere in the grid. This time, although I was aware that the double-lettered cells all fell at the start or end of entries, it was only much, much later that I saw that they all lay in the centre of rows and columns.

In fact everything came together swiftly at the end. Bigger on the inside described the cell-cramming and also the thematic place — the TARDIS®. Two hearts also described the place’s occupant and how the unclued entry needed misspelling.

This last bit nearly tripped me up, since it seemed obvious (!) that the unclued entry would be missplelt as GALLIFFREY since that conformed roughly with how it would be pronounced. Unfortunately, that would not conform to the “two hearts” instruction and thus needed to be entered as GALL–II–FREY — two hearts in two ways.

Tidying up the extra words in the clues, each could become, with one letter changed, a synonym for doctor, most of which could be confirmed by Mrs Bradford. For example: freeze→breeze (a new one to me), pull→pill, drum→drug, etc, with my favourite being the simple GOC→Doc. This last was part of my favourite clue 27dn [GOC] reorganised MASH hospitals, with 46 missing eye disorder — an anagram of MASH hospitals after all the esses (46ac) have been lost — OPHTHALMIA.

I should also mention my difficulty in parsing 26ac Two supporters — pair following the lead of Nottingham Forest supporter? (8). I initially had the pair following the lead of Nottingham as (N)OP(qrs…) but then couldn’t work out the supporters which looked like PROP and ROOT. Of course, the pair following was (N)OT(tingham) with PRO and PRO being the two supporters.

Finally, TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSION IN SPACE needed highlighting as well as the A in row 1 representing the flashing light of the old police box.

I’ve come across Doctor Who puzzles before and was surprised that none apparently used this trick for entering answers in the grid. Thanks, Twin — great fun.

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Listener 4532: ‘How?’ by Twin

Posted by Encota on 28 December 2018

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I finish the highlighting in this enjoyable Doctor- and TARDIS- based puzzle only to see I’ve coloured in ‘ACE TIM’ in Row 2.  Why Twin, that’s very kind of you to compliment me so.  No, really, you shouldn’t have …

Great to see Nina’s brother NINO making an unannounced appearance in Column 4, too.

I enjoyed the grid-filling PDM when, in the middle of trying to make sense of how to fit GRAND OPERA with SAVAGEDOMS and TIRADE, I spot they have digrams in common – DO & RA – and the two-letters-per-cell everywhere within the TARDIS outer wall, that is ‘bigger on the inside’, suddenly makes sense.  [Aside: talking of digrams, that reminds me, I must write that frequency analyser for Playfair breaking that I have always meant to have a go at!]

The added misprints in each down clue that became words that meant DOCTOR – pill, drug, change, leech etc – were an early spot, what with ‘burgeon’ and ‘cuter’ being two of the pre-correction words that became Surgeon and Curer.  There were three or four such words where initially there were options – Letch changing into either Leech or Leach, for instance – but these were easily resolved once the rest of the hidden message appeared.  That message constructed from all misprint corrections in order of course read BIGGER ON THE INSIDE: TWO HEARTS.

There were a few clues here I found tough to parse.  In particular these four:

  • Pier shop’s lead weight is 20-50 pounds (9, two words) took me a while!  I hadn’t previously been aware of a SWISS ROLL being a type of pier that can be unrolled.  But even once I had that part I still struggled with the wordplay.  It was only when I recalled the answer to 20d was SRO that it became clear: S+W+IS+SRO+L+L, a heavy-duty six-part charade.
  • In 26ac’s Two supporters – pair following the lead of Nottingham Forest supporter? (8), I could see the answer must be PROP-ROOT defined by ‘Forest supporter?’  but how did the rest work?  In error I had presumed that ‘pair’ would become PR and got very stuck.  At last I had it: PRO+PRO+(n)OT(tingham).
  • Thirdly was 40ac’s Someone choosing to rein in temper while one beams (12, two words).  Other letters meant it was going to be OPTICAL MASER and ‘one beams’ seemed a fair enough definition for that.  But the rest?  There’s OPTER (someone choosing) and CALM (…temper..) in there??  Eventually the ‘ah, got it!’ moment: I’ (for ‘in’) + CALM (temper) + AS (while) in OPTER.  So ‘rein’ alone was the Container&Contents_indicator – I guess that’s fair enough.
  • And the fourth and last I still can’t parse, at 13d:

Rat out of (vat) … lose it outside of vintage bar (6, two words)

Checked letters strongly suggest this is ?LOWON, and so only BLOW ON appears to work. I guess this can be defined by either ‘Rat’ or ‘Rat out’.  I’ve assumed that ‘vat’ is removed to become another ‘doctor’ word (i.e. vet).  But how does the rest work?  BLOW=lose it, perhaps?  ‘vintage bar’ = old meaning for bar, such as ‘pound’ which in turn could become L??  Ah, hold on – maybe it’s (estop) deleted from BLOW ON(es top)?  Using ‘outside of’ to mean ‘apart from’?  If yes, then that’s very sneaky!

And finally, the Title?  I wondered if first letters were going to be cycled round to the back, but that didn’t happen in the Grid.  Hmmm …

Maybe it’s simply the instruction to Doctor (vt) Who, resulting in How, as one example, i.e. How?  It’s the best I can come up with …

Wishing you all a peaceful Xmas break.  With the final Listener of 2018 just about to appear, I know what I’ll be doing for a little while this weekend!  For those particularly who’ve submitted all 52, best of luck with your 2018 performances 🙂

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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How? by Twin

Posted by shirleycurran on 28 December 2018

This didn’t look too daunting on first sight: a rather generous grid with an unusually large number of totally open lights that may well solve themselves if we manage the intersecting solutions, a short preamble and the promise of a couple of messages to decipher once we have changed a letter in each of the thematic extra words in the down clues. That sounds like an original and intriguing new device.

“Well”, we say, “obviously we will have to solve the across clues first”, and we start … and there is instant consternation. ‘Is it lost at sea side twice a year (12)’ gives us {IS IT LOST}* = SOLSTITI + side = ALLY so we begin to enter SOLSTITIALLY … and run out of space two thirds of the way through the word. Something is going on! A quick check establishes that it is the words that end or begin in the centre of the grid that have these extra letters that we must, somehow, double up. DISC CAMERA is our next over-long word and by a stroke of luck, we recognise that the SC can also be used for TRANSCENDS, so we are underway.

Of course, I spotted that little HARE who obligingly appeared in the very first clue, ‘What’s flatter when taken from head of rabbit over hare? (8, two words)’ This hare was in a RUSH, and the rabbit was just CHAT but we had to use Chambers to find that a CRUSH HAT is a collapsible opera hat.

Twin had a few clever clues like that in store for us: ‘Two supporters – pair following the lead of Nottingham Forest supporter? (8)’ gave us a smile and PRO + PRO + the 2nd and 3rd letters of NOTTS to give us a supporter, or PROPROOT (yes, we needed Chambers again!)

I didn’t need Chambers, though to establish Twin’s continued membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Elite. ‘Droids pull barrels into background (6)’ was the second clue we solved, putting B into ROOTS to give ROBOTS. ‘Rat out of vat, lose it outside of vintage bar (6, two words)’ moved from barrels to a vat, and shortly we were in ‘Orwell’s bar’, ‘Seats all filled up, Orwell’s bar bodes well (3)’ There’s standing room only now  and soon ‘One’s worried about splashes over cork (6)’ (the splashes are WETS< so our worried one is a STEWER). No real cause for worry, “Cheers, Twin! No doubt see you at the bar in York.”

It was GALLIFREY, Doctor Who’s planet of origin, that came next and we understood that we were creating a Tardis in our grid – BIGGER ON THE INSIDE than it looks and that phrase TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSION IN SPACE helped us to complete our grid fill but we had to do a bit of Numpty head-scratching to see how to adapt those extra words in the down clues. QUACK had been an early find (from QUICK) but I had thought we were going to find a flight of birds (COB from CUB, GULL from PULL – how wrong one can be!) Of course, INTERS gave us INTERN, JAWBONES gave SAWBONES, DEALER gave HEALER and that delightful PAD gave PhD, and the message confirmed that our object to highlight was the Tardis with its article (A), the light on top. TWO HEARTS, we were told (I am not a Doctor Who addict but do know that the Doctor has a second heart and that solves the problem of that single I in the heart of our grid), so we obligingly doubled the I in GALLIIFREY. Yes, I muttered about MATINESSES (I suspect the editors did too – MATINESS is not a countable noun, even if Chambers allows one to pluralise it, but Twin has performed an astonishing work of art in managing to make double letters in words like OPTICAL MASER and OPHTHALMIA intersect, so a bit of setter’s licence is in order – and, as the other Numpty said, at least we were not instructed to submit an audio recording of those elephant sounds the Tardis makes as it takes off.

Delightful, thank you, Twin.

A post script: when I had finished my blog, I went onto our site to read the ones on Oyler’s Scumbag College that went up last night and was struck with horror on opening Dave’s blog. “Oh no”, I thought, “he has done that unforgivable thing we are always afraid of doing – accidentally publishing his blog before the puzzle is closed”. Looking a little more closely, I realised that it was simply that Dave had done a bit of time-travelling, seen Twin’s solution at the end of December, and decided to feature it when he wrote his blog before Twin’s puzzle was even set. Nice, Dave!

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Listener No 4531, Superpower: A Setter’s Blog by Shenanigans

Posted by Listen With Others on 23 December 2018

I’m fairly mathematically-minded, and follow a number of YouTube channels like Numberphile and Mathologer. I’d certainly come across a googol before the infamous WWTBAM episode (see below) and the idea for representing its bigger brother, the googolplex, based on the defintion in Chambers, could lead to a fairly neat bit of highlighting as the endgame in a puzzle.

The first thing to decide was what technique to use in the clues. Given that the definition had numbers as well as letters, extra ‘things’ in the wordplay didn’t seem a particularly logical way to go. So misprints it was. Now those setters who can put a misprint in the definition part of every clue in a puzzle have my absolute admiration. I suspect it needs far more clueing experience than I have. I therefore decided that the misprint could appear anywhere in the clue, either the definition or the wordplay and, for the latter, in either the indicator or the fodder. I decided to try and make it half in the definition, half in the wordplay.

That was the clueing technique sorted, now how was the grid to be presented. The final grid, with GOOGOLPLEX down the centre and the crossing 1^10^100 and TEN^GOOGOL, needed a bit of tweaking after a suggested gridfill by Sympathy. Ideally, I wanted to avoid proper names and words not in Chambers. Eventually I got there with the exception of REISHI which is in the ODE. I should also add that AGAPAE and AGA SAGA weren’t there for deliberate confusion, but just the way the grid fell out.

The original idea that I had was for GOOGOLPLEX to be provided by three words, GOO, GOLP and LEX. Unfortunately, that led either to asymmetry or too many clues — I needed exactly 46 to spell out the definition. I then decided that it would have a bar between each letter, perhaps with those erased as part of the endgame. And that is where the carte blanche came in, so that bars inserted by the solver could then be rubbed out to reveal the theme word in the grid. With clue numbers, this would then become 13 down, which was my original title for the puzzle.

Given the normal alphabetical jigsaw style, I listed the clues in alphabetical order of answer without any separation of Across and Down. Luckily for you, one of the test solvers said that it made the puzzle just too tough. After experimenting with making it obvious that the two 12-letter answers were down entries, I decided that separating Across and Down clues would be the right decision.

Then began the clueing, and it proved pretty tough, even with the misprint appearing anywhere in the clue. Some of my first stabs were fanciful to say the least. For example, PYROTECHNIST was Rising anxiety about launch of rocket; initially Kim’s absent and isn’t amused; Mighty Boosh is his creation with Boosh becoming Woosh [HYP< about (ROCKET – K(im))* + ISNT*]. I think this took about 2 or 3 hours to rework into One who creates volcanoes, say, tossing pitchstone awry without a peak with peak being the misprint for weak.

All in all, the clues took a prodigious amount of time, not because I was trying to make them difficult (I wasn’t) but to get good surface readings. With input from my test solvers, it was an educational experience as well. Sometimes short easy words were a pig and longer ones straightforward. I also made some clues deliberately easy (I think) — the hidden AMMONIA and the alternate letters for REISHI, for example. The long entries, ATTRACTIVELY and PYROTECHNIST, were also (obviously?) anagram-orientated although the misprints were tougher to spot. I also assumed that solvers would initially try these long entries down the first and last columns which would get other answers slotted in quickly. For many, this proved not to be the case.

And so the puzzle went off to the vetters, Roger and Shane. The major change they made was to have GOOGOLPLEX unclued rather than completely barred. Without any previous reputation for symmetry, I can understand if solvers didn’t immediately assume it was in the centre of the grid, although I suspect that wouldn’t have helped too much without knowing its length. The other change, courtesy of Roger, was to give it the excellent title. As far as the clues were concerned, exactly half remained unscathed, with the most of the rest having minor or medium tweaks and a couple rewritten.

In hindsight, I suppose bars in the grid and/or clues in the correct order would have been appropriate, given that the theme word was now unclued. I think I avoided correct order for clues because that would have revealed the sort of thing that was going on if 1ac were solved quickly with 1 being the misprint. Of course, that also meant that the unclued theme word was probably identified before the hidden definition and source.

As mentioned above, it wasn’t my intention when starting out to make a puzzle as tough as this obviously was, but this is the Listener after all and it was obviously solvable.

To the three testers, Ifor, eXternal and his fellow solver, thanks for all your help, especially with my understanding of clueing. To those who commented with their solutions or online (most of it favourable), your feedback is much appreciated, even the solver who would have preferred that the editors had waited until the appropriate puzzle number came up!

Finally, of course, thanks to Roger and Shane for all their work vetting, correcting and polishing the puzzle, and to John for marking entries and forwarding solvers comments. The detail that goes into every aspect of running the Listener — not just this week, but every week — was an eye-opener.



Already knowing at the time what a googol was, enabled me to enjoy the trials and tribulations of Major Charles Ingram on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The £1,000,000 question was “A number 1 followed by 100 zeros is known by what name?”, the choices being Googol, Megatron, Gigabit, Nanomol. He seemingly settled on each one in turn over the course of 20 minutes or so before finally deciding to risk the best part of a million pounds on Googol. Of course, it transpired that he had cheated, with a member of the audience guiding him to the right answer by coughing.


Putting my other hat on, Listen With Others wishes all readers



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Superpower by Shenanigans

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 December 2018

A 13 X 14 blank grid was interesting and, in response to the other Numpty’s initial consternation, I blandly commented,’No problem, I can manage the cartes blanches’. Oh dear no – not only were the clues in alphabetical order, but also there was a misprint in each of them – no, not just in the definition or word-play but anywhere in the clue. ‘Ah well, the corrections will spell out an extract from a source’. Oh dear no! We have to solve the lot, fill this yawning blank hole of a grid and read those corrections in normal clue order. Someone is taking the Mickey. Who is this Shenanigans? (Well, I suspect it is some familiar wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing – the quality of the clues suggests that.) We ask ourselves why she/he didn’t go the whole hog and insist we enter all the words jumbled after applying a PlayFair code or just leave the grid out altogether and suggest we devise it ourselves.

Of course I check her/his right to join the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit and she/he leaves little doubt. We have a real Oenomaniac here’Goddess in Robe at Bacchic rite at first skips (5)’. We, in a Bacchic frenzy, anagram ROBE AT, removing Bite at first and enter ERATO. Not satisfied with a Bacchic rite, our Shenanigans must now ‘Lust after wine I saw in the country (7)’. We decide that has to be saY for saW (which Chambers tells me is dialect usage) and put I GO after TENT which is ‘a deep-red Spanish wine’ or so Chambers tells me. ‘Cheers, Shenanigans! see you at the bar in York’

There isn’t much cheer here. We solve hard and I am through my second G and T before attempting a grid fill, with a mere thirty clues solved – and failing – not long before midnight. Yes, we have that fairly generous anagram, ‘Bars with Poles may work to broadcast TV literacy with a bit of translation superimposed (12)’. More drinking, out with Polish friends this time? No, we realize this is about magnets that may work ‘So’. We anagram LITERACY TV T(translation) and have ATTRACTIVELY which looks as though it might go down the left hand side of the grid, intersecting with VYING. ‘Fifteen words in a clue’ comments the other Numpty, ‘I thought there was a limit of twelve.’ Shenanigans has beaten the record with ‘Remedy for clot, Appleby at the outset put a favourable slant on curbing independent with Chancellor’s No 11 (7)’ Eighteen words for a seven-letter answer! Of course, he/she has me hooked as all those switchings of 10 and 11 and references to Sir Humphrey Appleby convince me that our theme is Yes Minister’. Of course, later I realise how clever this interchanging of letters and digits was – it makes sense in the endgame – but for now it is a fine red herring. For that clue all we need is A(Appleby) with SPIN round I with the tenth (not 11th) letter of Chancellor – R, giving ASPIRIN. Take one and sleep on it.

Things improve enormously in the morning and soon we have a mere eight missing words. It’s clear that those two 8-letter across solutions must be linked with two of the 5-letter ones and intersect with ATTRACTIVELY and PYROTECHNIST. From here on it is tremendous fun as the filling of the grid produces our missing PALATAL, LUGGAGE, AGA SAGA, CHINWAG and RATOON. Even better, GOOGOLPLEX appears, and what we have to highlight is that lovely second TEN to the power of GOOGOL and the 10 10 100 above it.

Yes, I read the misprints in normal clue order and, rather late, they told me that I was dealing with 1 FOLLOWED BY A GOOGOL OF ZEROS, 10 TO THE POWER OF A GOOGOL. (One clever-doggy solving friend told me that the title and the Z and all those Os in the corrected misprints suggested to him what would go down the centre of the grid from fairly early on – not so for us.) I worked my way through the first letters of clues, too, expecting to find the name of that child who invented the term GOOGOL but it was not to be. What did I find? CHAMBERS, of course! About eight hours of solving for me. Thank you Shenanigans, whoever you are, what a fine debut – if it is one!


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