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L4539: ‘Removal’ by Gos

Posted by Encota on 15 Feb 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


One Response to “L4539: ‘Removal’ by Gos”

  1. Steve Tregidgo said

    I’ve been solving The Listener in earnest for nearly a year now, and this is exactly the sort of post I would have appreciated at the beginning — loads of helpful tips here, and lots that resonated with me. New solvers will surely find it useful.

    Looking up esoteric meanings of words you think you already know is essential. For this puzzle it of course affected the whole thing (and I twigged it where you did, with 9d), but many an individual clue has left me stumped until I thought to check my assumptions about a common word.

    I use the same horizontal/vertical check as you when copying from my rough copy (a rough pencil copy is necessary half the time, simply because so many Listeners require moving or erasing things!), and still fell victim to a transcription error last year. This one was outside the grid though: in an owl-related puzzle I worked out MADGE and ended up submitting MARGE — I think I may have been watching The Simpsons while copying the answers across!

    My last letter written this week was the I in PETTICHAPS that you mentioned. That extra time double-checking all unparsed clues is very important, and sometimes leads to something bigger than a simple unchecked letter. On at least one occasion I’ve realised near the end that an unparsed clue was of type X instead of type Y, and so the set of spare letters or deleted words that were feeding into the endgame were wrong.

    Thanks Tim for a super guide to getting started.

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