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Archive for February, 2019

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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L4538: ‘Joint Conditions’ by Awinger

Posted by Encota on 8 February 2019

“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s … Awinger?!”

2019-01-19 14.28.12 copy

So … if you set off looking for a suitable jumble of all 50 U.S. state abbreviations – AL, AK, AZ, AR etc. – to be used on this puzzle’s missing state’s Midnight News sponsored by Minnesota Manganese (aka MN-MN-MN-Mn), when would you cut your losses?  This is when I did …

“Kindly sack mad Kamikaze democrats which vow to thwart savvy Donald J Trump in invoicing Mexican Wall fantasy”
[100 characters]

I strongly suspect you can do better.

Back to the puzzle:

I soon added the coastlines and the USA’s two land borders using the DCLX provided and thought I was close to finishing.  However, choosing precisely which 54 cells Awinger had in mind was a little of a challenge – I finally opted for giving Texas a bit more coastline and Mexico reaching the sea to its east (rather than extending the Pacific coastline up alongside Canada, as that gave Alaska some sea to its east which seemed wrong!).  Also the positioning of MN for Minnesota wasn’t obvious, but on my map it looked better placed just to the east of the divide between the Dakotas, where it meets all the criteria without straying into Canada.

A really enjoyable puzzle with some fun North American hints in the clues along the way!


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4538: Joint Conditions by Awinger

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 February 2019

Three weeks in, and we have the first new setter of the year. He sounds sporty, so I hoped that that was as far as the football association (grin) [Groan. Ed.] went. A fair-sized grid, 18×11 greeted us, consequently with a fair-sized set of clues (64). Moreover, 54 cells would need shading, bounded by 35 cell edges, and with DCLX to appear in the finished grid, I wondered if this was the mathematical puzzle in disguise.

Clue-wise, there were some clashes. Congratulations to those of you who immediately synonymised the title as United States and assumed that there would be an awful lot of them. I suspect that most of us had to wait until INLAND crossed with HAJ to give New Jersey.

Once the theme was revealed, the possible two-letter abbreviations certainly helped me with some of the clues. It certainly helped me with EXULS (courtesy of Texas) and MEDIATIZE (from Arizona). All in all, everything came together nicely. My only real gripe was 52ac Rice maybe from old Queen (King absent) (6) for ANNEKA — she hasn’t been on TV for ages. I do so sympathise with overseas solvers and those under about 30.

All the way through, I suspected that DC would be the missing item, even though I know that it isn’t a state. Sadly, it was Minnesota that got booted out of the main grid and had to be written in scruchy-up style. I did try and check this grid about a dozen times, and even now wonder if I made a silly mistake.

As I put AK into the top left corner of the grid, I wondered what Arkansas was doing so far out of place! Still, if it can be pronounced so oddly, anything was possible. Of course, it was Alaska that went there, but it made me wonder if having the states in approximately their correct positions was an unwritten requirement. What if someone put MN near Texas with NM up by the Great Lakes? Or, less bizarrely, got Alabama swapped with Louisiana? Certainly not me!

Finally, we had to replace four letters with DCLX and do a bit, of shading — well, quite a lot actually. The four “framing items” thus became CANADA, MEXICO, ATLANTIC and PACIFIC. The first letters of clues to across answers beginning with S gave Sea blue. Some nice touches to finish with.

An impressive grid, Awinger, and an enjoyable puzzle.

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Listener No 4537, Rollerball: A Setter’s Blog by The Ace of Hearts

Posted by Listen With Others on 3 February 2019

I got the idea for this crossword while looking up four-wheeled carriages for a previous Listener crossword (The Evolution of East Perry) and discovered a wonderful definition for a wagon was “A movable piece of furniture with shelves”. So I (or rather Qxw) created a circular grid with 35 (seven letter) radials. I chose 7 letters radials as I thought it would give me better selection of words to choose from while also including the letters latent gimmick. The idea was to fill the perimeter ring with types of wagon to form a defensive ring, cryptically indicating a definition of CORRAL with the latent letters giving the other 35 letter (an enclosure to drive hunted animals into) definition. The grid fill didn’t take half as long as I thought it would as the Qxw programme is quite powerful (and I am becoming more familiar with it) and it only needed a bit of jockeying around with perimeter wagons to make it all fit.

And so to the clues. I put a lot of time into these and left them, then re-checked them a couple of times for errors, accuracy and fairness until everything was to my satisfaction. However, from previous experience I knew that this would not be enough, but this time I had enlisted the help of a checker (Shirley Curran AKA Chalicea) and was about to send it to her when I suddenly realised that grid (with 7-letter radials) was probably too large to fit the space allowed by the The Times for the puzzle. Because of the amount of time I put into it I sent it anyway, more in hope that expectation.

Shortly after that I got the report from Shirley (who did a comprehensive review of the puzzle, Thanks Shirley) pointing out some errors that I made in the clueing, but also adding that I should also clue some of the words in the fifth ring to make things fairer for the solver. She did also say that this would use up more valuable space and because of that the puzzle might be rejected by the Listener vetters. I sent it off anyway; again more in hope that expectation.

Some time later I got The Times vetters’ (Roger and Shane) reports and neither of them mentioned that it wouldn’t fit into the paper (though I noticed that the paper’s edition of the puzzle, did not have ANY spare space at all and COMPLETELY filled an A4 sheet when printed), so it must have been a tight fit. The vetters did modify a few clues, but not nearly as many as my previous submissions (thanks again, Shirley) and changed the title from “Old Black Pen” referring to a pen (Corral) for cattle (Black being an old name for a type of cattle) to “Rollerball” also a type of pen but with circular intonation. They also asterisked the letters of CORRAL to make the solution unique as some solvers might justifiably put in LAAGER, RAT-PIT or KEDDAH, eventually getting the puzzle over the line.

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