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Archive for February, 2019

Removal by Gos

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 February 2019

“Nice short preamble” we said, “but ‘undergo removal’? There’s something fishy about that unusual wording.” There was something not quite right about some of the clues too, as I scanned them for the usual alcohol, which was, of course there. ‘Take Victoria’s drinking therapy for lively party (4)’. Later, when we had sussed what was going on, we moved ‘Victoria’s’ and decided that was an Aussie RORT. Gos continued with ‘Bar, one accepting 80 selections (8)’ Chambers tells us that 80 = R and that had to go into EXCEPT A to give us EXCERPTA, for selections. Selections of fine malts, Gos? Cheers!

We knew something was going on, but solved for almost an hour coming up with incomprehensible clashes when we solved the easy anagram at 13d, ‘Governor desperate to land a deal after losing bit of leeway (10)’ We had already slotted DUOMO in at 2d, though the wordplay didn’t quite work, and ADELANTADO gave us an impossible DM at the start of 15ac. It didn’t fit with BEBOP at. 34ac either (Jazz with live beat (5) = BE + BOP).

It was the SYBO and the BRIBER that cracked it for us. In both of those clues, we realized that a word had to move WITHIN the clue, ‘Small young bothyman’s onion primarily’,(first letters of S Y B O) and ‘Greaser born in Brazil, that is right’ (BR IE R round B), and we saw that BEBOP had to fit into 28d, so clearly words were ‘changing location’ within the clues and within the grid. Of course, Chambers told us that that was one of the meanings of ‘removal’. There had to be some other thematic material here as well as simply shifting clues around and moving words in clues so we did a fair amount of head-scratching and attempting to make something emerge from the words and clues we had moved – but it was not to be. So we breathed a silent thanks for a relatively simple solve.

There had to be 18 clues of each type, which rendered our grid fill much easier, now that we knew what we were doing but we still struggled with out last few clues. Yes, 29ac must be an IKON but why. The other Numpty, the military historian laughed out loud. “It’s an OERLIKON OER L’ – once over line – removed”. That left me with ‘Food plant used as fodder for birds perhaps (7)’. Packers, peckers, pickers, puckers? I should have known, I set a weekly crossword for the Farmers Guardian and know that ERS is a fodder plant, so the food had to be PECK and the birds PECKERS. Many thanks to Gos for an original device and an entertaining solve.


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Listener No 4539: Removal by Gos

Posted by Dave Hennings on 15 February 2019

Gos last entertained us here with his Graham Greene Third Man themed puzzle. This week, we had a fairly short preamble telling us to remove a word from half of the clues before solving and do something similar with half the answers before entering.

One of the things I like to do when approaching a Listener is to look up every word in the title for unusual meanings. If only!!.

After unsuccessfully tackling half-a-dozen or so across clues, I decided to try the downs. Immediate success with 2dn Two old guys married at cathedral (5) sort of looked like DUOMO… but not quite. Luckily, I managed to work out 5 Canada confusedly changing name for independent old eastern part of it (6) as ACADIA, although I’d never heard of it, and 8 Puzzle misset some-blessed-how, say (6) gave TMESIS. A short while later, and ADELANTADO went in at 13dn, and I was up and running.

Except, of course, the T of TMESIS and the first D of ADELANTADO clashed. Nothing in the preamble told me about that! The clue that finally came to my rescue was 25dn. At first sight these airport roads are mostly concrete-covered (6) was obviously TARMAC, except it didn’t quite work until are and mostly got swapped.

Even then, it would be some time before I looked up removal in Chambers: “change of place”. Then, it was an entertaining time juggling with words in either the clues or the grid.

My favourite clue was 23dn Garden oddly overlooked connected parties alongside a different part (6) which had to change to Garden parties… and led to (g)A(r)D(e)N(p)A(r)T(i)E(s). 36ac Songster, little fella, trapped by flood recurrent after precipitation starts (10) when adjusted took a bit of time to rationalise as TICH in SPATE< after P(recipitation) — I think.

10dn BATTLEDORE reminded me of a Rustic EV puzzle in back in 2012 which was based around the game, and at which the late James Leonard himself (Citrus, Mr Lemon, Rustic) was, apparently, highly proficient.

Thanks for a very enjoyable puzzle, Gos.

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L4539: ‘Removal’ by Gos

Posted by Encota on 15 February 2019

2019-01-27 19.59.12

This puzzle featured the shortest Preamble so far this year – and one of the shortest I can recall for a long time.  It simply read:

In half of the clues one word must undergo removal before solving.  The answers to the other clues suffer a similar fate when entered in the grid.  The Chambers Dictionary (2016) is the primary reference.

Some people have asked me how one goes about solving Listener crosswords for the first time.  Now I’m no expert, but I can solve most, so perhaps I can use this one as an example – and it maybe especially relevant as I was totally baffled for a while.  Here goes, with my interpretation …

  1. Where the Preamble says ‘Chambers … is the primary reference’, this is code for ‘Access to Chambers dictionary is essential’.
  2. Sometimes the Preamble suggests that the solver might need to do something – but this also may very well be deceptive.  For example, what might ‘removal’ in this Preamble mean?  Use Chambers to check for any alternative meanings or sub-meanings, just in case!
  3. Definitely don’t get too hung up about not understanding the Preamble to begin with.  I used to work with someone who, perhaps unfairly, others said that they could, “understand the words he used but not the sentences”.  Often it feels like that when you first read the Listener crossword’s Preamble.  My strong advice would be to not let that put you off!
  4. Start by solving a few clues, where you can.  Try and spot if you need to do something before solving a clue, if the Preamble doesn’t make it clear.  In this puzzle’s case it appears that half of the clues-through-to-their-being-entered-in-the grid will be handled in one way, and the other half another way.
  5. Sometimes simple checks can help, like (a) counting up the total number of clues and (b) how many of each length are present.  In this case there are 36 in total, with the same number of each length being present Across and Down.  e.g. there are four Across clues and four Down clues each of length four letters, and so on.
  6. Look at some of the clashes generated by the clues you can solve and see if they make any sense.  E.g. 13d’s answer is ADELANTADO and 34a’s answer is BEBOP – but the two letters that clash seem to make no sense – the last D in ADELANTADO and the first B of BEBOP.  Might each of these be jumbled so that one of their common letters (E or O) might be entered in this cell?  But there seems to be no justification for jumbling.  Hmmm …
  7. Solve some more, e.g. ACME for Top money earned by high achiever (4), being M in ACE.  Again, use Chambers to double-check specific meanings, e.g. ‘ace’ for ‘high achiever’, if you suspect but aren’t sure.  If the clues solve straightforwardly, then they are probably one of the 18 clues where ‘removal’ needs to happen after solving but before entry into the Grid (unless you’ve missed something).  But what about the other 18?  One might initially think that a word needs deleting (‘removing’) from each of these 18 before solving but, on inspection, there are no obvious candidates.  Now what?  Answer: try and solve a few more and hope something begins to make sense.
  8. For me this continued until I spotted 9d’s Businessman at seminar showcases a mineral (7).  Now ‘showcases’ in wordplay might hint at a ‘hidden’ clue type. So is one of smanats, manatse, anatsem, natsemi a mineral?  With the last of the four being a shortened form of National Semiconductor there might be a ‘chip off the (old) block’ pun hiding somewhere; apart from that no, nothing seems to work.  But hold on, isn’t ANATASE a mineral?  So, if ‘removal of a word’ means its movement from one place to another, then the word ‘a’ could move in this clue to form Businessman at a seminar showcases a mineral (7).  Check in Chambers that ANATASE is what you thought it was and the first of the 18 of this type of clue has been found!
  9. Since the ‘removal’ action has already been taken on this clue then I can (reasonably) safely assume that this can be directly entered into the grid without further change.  Solve a few more, now looking for clues that benefit from a word moving before solving, e.g. CRENA at 12a and GIMME HAT at 14ac.
    12.Nick’s entertained by Nick’s mediocre narration (5), another ‘hidden’ clue type, in (medio)CRE NA(rration), and
    14.Cap given for company promotion in US might briefly mean company changing appearance (8, two words), an anagram of MIGHT MEA(n).
  10. For me, this now left 7d as a four letter word of the form ?CM?   But that looks like ACME, one of the previously solved clues!?  Might it be possible that ‘removal’ in this case simply means place it elsewhere in the grid?  Double-check in Chambers to confirm meaning 3 of ‘removal’ to be ‘Change of place’ and this feels very much like the right track.
  11. Now try to find homes for other similar clues, e.g. ADELANTADO.  That might go on the first row?  Then use checked letters to look for other words that might fit and find and solve the clues to match.
  12. Double-check that all eighteen of each clue type have been correctly found. Yay!
  13. If you are the sort of person who fills the puzzle out in rough first (I do) and then transfers that to the final grid for posting off (should you choose to do such a thing – see 15 below), then Beware!  As many mistakes are made during this transfer as in the initial solve.  I suspect there are more reliable ways to check for possible errors: I enter them all reading horizontally, then check them vertically to look for self-induced errors.  I find such an error in about one in ten puzzle solves, so it hopefully avoids at least 4 or 5 errors each year!
  14. Another check: if you can’t fully parse a clue then keep trying!  It is often the one clue you couldn’t parse that will catch you out.  In this puzzle there were (at least) two clues where an unchecked letter might be entered in error.  One example is 4d’s actual clue, hiding at 30d, Open country’s the worst part (4).  The first half might be LEA’S or LEE’s – again relying on Chambers to give you all options.  But only LEES fits the other half of this double-definition clue, ‘the worst part’.  So LEES it is!
    A similar trap lurks at 36a where the answer might potentially be PETTICHAPS or PETTY-CHAPS, with that I/Y choice again unchecked.  And it’s I, if you’re asking, with ‘little fella’ of the clue being TICH.  Again, double-check in Chambers to be sure that TYCH isn’t a rare alternate spelling as, in The Listener, the rarer version of a word may well appear more often than its commoner counterpart.
  15. Finally, once you’ve finished everything, it can be great fun to send your puzzle in!  This not only for the chance of winning a prize of a Chambers book.  It also means that your entry gets marked (yes, really!).  After each year completes, then early the following Spring you can receive details of precisely how you did throughout the previous calendar year.  For some time I didn’t send any of mine in, until someone (with the initials RP) kindly suggested that it was fine to send in two at a time.  And I have done so ever since: on the Sunday, for example, I posted off this puzzle and last week’s ‘Joint Conditions’ together.  Halves the number of stamps that require sticking and envelopes that need addressing, which is all to the good!

And if there is one ‘rule’ worth remembering from all the above, it is, “When in doubt (and often even if not), check it in Chambers”.

Only 2 weeks now until the Listener Dinner: I look forward to catching up with many of you there 🙂


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4538, Joint Conditions: A Setter’s Blog by Awinger

Posted by Listen With Others on 10 February 2019

Minnesota Blues

For about 6 years I had a job which involved many transatlantic flights each year. It was during one of these flights in about 2014 that, having finished the Times jumbo cryptic, I turned my attention to the Listener. I had looked at it briefly before and always been somewhat overwhelmed, but this was a relatively gentle offering (Agatha Christie was the theme) and I managed to complete it. From that point I started to have a go on a fairly regular basis, bought Chambers (hard copy and app) and, from the start of 2016, I tried to solve each week.

It was on one of these transatlantic flights in early 2016 that I viewed the on-screen flight-path and saw a map of the US states, with the sea in blue around the edge, and the idea for this puzzle was born. Initially it was a personal challenge to see if I could construct a grid that included all of the States and conformed to the Listener grid requirements. I split the grid into 6 sections and tried to construct the more clash-dense regions first, in particular the north-east and south-central. I found I could make reasonably good progress in each section but then fitting them together always proved tricky. The main problems were keeping the symmetry and keeping the average word length up.

I came up with ‘–pdance’ to pick up the Southern Atlantic coastal states quite early. The J in New Jersey and the X in Texas were always problems, eventually solved with Haj and Exuls. The idea of the framing entities was included from the start, and I liked ‘Americana’ at 1 across as being thematic, providing half of Alaska and the first four letters for Canada. Isomeric and Homeric were the two option for bottom left to pick up Hawaii and most of Mexico. I initially wanted to put Pacific in the left column (‘fichi’ was pencilled in for a while) but I couldn’t get the top part to work. Moving it to the second column gave me ‘Pacifier’ to match against ‘Nargiles’, and with ‘Mediatize’ and ‘Stepdance’ also pencilled in that gave me just enough longer words to get by. I was disappointed to have to take out ‘Seismism’, which was in the middle of row 3 and covered SD, MN, WI and MI, but I couldn’t get the bottom half to work with an 8 letter word there.

By the summer of 2017, after many, many hours of tinkering on many, many flights, I had a grid with just Minnesota missing. I decided I had four options — try to rework the grid to get it in, abandon the symmetry, include it in the wrong place or leave it out.

I tried to rework for a while but I couldn’t get it in, and I was always very attached to the symmetry. Maybe it’s my mathematical background but I do value symmetry in a grid and my original challenge to myself had been to construct a symmetric grid. I could have fitted it in near Arizona, and asked the solver to identify which item was in completely the wrong place, but I decided against this as being too artificial. So I went with leaving it out, with the missing state to be written below the grid.

I foolishly thought that with the grid settled I was just about done. I hadn’t previously appreciated the effort that goes into coming up with the clues, especially when there are more than 60 of them. I knew with the large grid and 60+ clues that space was going to be tight, so I had to keep the clues short. I wanted a number of them to be straightforward, partly as I always appreciate a number of easy clues to get in to a puzzle and partly because of the high number of clues and clashes – I didn’t want it to become too much of a slog. The idea was that the theme would reveal itself quite early and then the states would gradually fall in to place and that would help with the more difficult clues. I took my time, coming up with at most a few per day, and by November 2017 I had a full set. I sent the puzzle off to the editors in early December 2017.

They did say they had a large number of puzzles to review so it would be a while before I heard anything. After nearly a year with no further contact I assumed that it hadn’t made the grade. I was delighted to receive an email in November saying it would be published in January. However space was a problem. Quite a few clues had to be shortened, and there was no room for the line to write ‘Mn’ below the grid. It would have to be written inside the grid instead. Also the editors added the number of internal cell boundaries for the shading, to hopefully eliminate any ambiguity. I am extremely grateful to the editors for their improvements on various clues and the work they put in to fit the puzzle into the available space.

And so on the 19th January I became a published Listener setter, a great thrill for me. The feedback on the forums was generally positive, which I appreciated. There were a few comments suggesting the finish was a bit untidy, with one state missing, the replacement letters required for the framing items and Minnesota having to be squeezed in, all of which I accept entirely. I was pleased with how close I got, but in the end the grid difficulty and space constraints did leave the finish slightly untidy. I have just started work on a second puzzle, which will be a less ambitious grid and hopefully as a result a more polished finish.

John Occleshaw (Awinger)

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Joint Conditions by Awinger

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 February 2019

“Unusual grid”, we said, “and an interesting title. Is this new setter (or seasoned setter/s lurking under a new pseudonym) going to be whingeing about his arthritis?” We had half completed our gridfill before the penny dropped and that ‘Joint’ said ‘United’ to us, and the ‘Conditions’ became States. By that time we were doing the whingeing, as clashes were legion – we already had about 25, and putting the first letters of clues in alphabetical order of the entries beginning with S was giving us SEBLU which sounded vaguely like a medical condition.

Yes, I had checked his/ her/ their right of entry to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit and that posed no problem at all with an entire case of vintage to be enjoyed: ‘Forgotten to give the old case of vintage (4)’ gave us YE + V(intag)E and Chambers tells us YEVE is an obsolete version of ‘give’, so cheers, Awinger.

Not only the alcohol but HARES too! ‘Damage in that degree reveals rodents (5)’ gave us MARAS, scampering all over Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana – and in a straight line. Are these the fabled Poat hares?

Suddenly SELFHEALS and SYTHE fitted into our grid and the message became SEA BLUE. “It’s a map! All those paired letters that we have to enter in thematic order are the US States. We’ve just returned from three weeks in California so we do know it is on the West Coast (my five-year-old grandson managed to fall into the Pacific Ocean when we were dodging massive incoming waves) but could I place Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky or Tennessee in the right place? I am ashamed of my geographic ignorance. We had to download a helpful map and eliminate the states as we managed to find words that produced the appropriate clashes. What a feat of compilation. This compiler must have been excited as 49 states proved to be possible (and oh so sad when he couldn’t fit Minnesota in!)

The East Coast was relatively easy and we were delighted when a pretty accurate coastline appeared producing 31 ocean cells to colour blue and 14 cell edges where states bordered the ocean. Florida and the Gulf of Mexico appeared next and gave us another four ocean cells and six ‘coastal’ cell edges.

With a smile, we spotted MERICO and realized that that red-herring of a Roman number, DCLX, wasn’t 660 at all but was giving us four letters to convert CANACA to CANADA, PACIFIE to PACIFIC,  ATSANTIC to ATLANTIC and MERICO to MEXICO. ‘Four framing items in straight lines’. “Well, said the other Numpty, that has to be Trump’s wall – but surely he isn’t hoping to do the Canute thing and fence out the Canadians and the two Oceans?”

PACIFIC, of course and the coastal states of Washington, Oregon and California (with  Hawaii in its corner) gave us our remaining 19 ocean cells and 15 coastal edges and we were left with that vast central area to sort into states. We were able to work backwards from our map to find our missing solutions until only Minnesota was missing. “Insert it across the edge of two non-clash cells.” we were told. It had to border Canada, be next to North and South Dakota and north of Iowa and Wisconsin so that left just one place for it. This was hard work, but what an achievement. Thank you, Awinger.

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