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Archive for June, 2019

Listener No 4557, Choice Words: A Setter’s Blog from Serpent

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 June 2019

I started setting barred puzzles almost five years ago. My third attempt was based on the phrases THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE and MARGARET THATCHER. Having learned a lot in the intervening years, I decided to revisit the theme.

I thought it would be interesting (and thematically appropriate) to construct the two thematic phrases from fragments obtained from words of the form AorB, with the requirement that removal of “or” and the fragment left a real word that would be used in either a grid entry or a clue. This posed some pretty tight constraints on across entries (not least because I wanted the affected entries to appear symmetrically in the grid) and down clues. As always, Qxw was equal to the challenge of finding a grid-fill.

Writing the clues for the across entries was straightforward – they were normal clues after all. Writing the clues for down entries was obviously more challenging. I started by partitioning MARGARET THATCHER into fragments that looked as though they would appear adjacent to “or” in a reasonable number of words or in a specific word that seemed useful and used up a few letters (such as GRECo-rOMAN). I then used Qat – another indispensible setter’s tool developed by Quinapalus – to find candidate words of the form AorB, being particularly interested in words that could be used as wordplay indicators (such as HorACE for A).

My efforts to retain good surfaces in the presence of a fairly demanding clue gimmick meant a few clues needing some editorial tweaking, but I’m pleased to say most of the basic ideas survived intact. Thanks, as always, are due to Roger and Shane for their efforts and the many improvements they made to the puzzle before publication.


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Listener No 4557: Choice Words from Serpent

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 June 2019

Listener No 4557 was from a getting-prolific setter! Previously, we’ve had No 4459, Shock Therapy on the subject of alopecia, and before that No 4408, Child’s Play with its snakes and ladders.

This week, adjustments to answers before entry (ten of them) and adjustments to clues before solving (another eight). The dropped bits from the acrosses could be arranged to form a 20-letter phrase, and those from the downs gave someone who was a proponent of said phrase. Exactly how big the bits were was for us to discover but two or three letters seemed likely.

Of course, it turned out that most of them were longer. In the acrosses, 12ac Original sin lacking appeal on vacation strangely for young men (4) led to SIGNORINI which had to be entered as SIGN and 13ac Intrepid learner takes space for parking in vain (3) giving [VAPOR]OUS. The downs were equally deceptive, especially in 7dn Players caught in opening of Greco-Roman wrestling get flattened essentially (5) where Greco-Roman eventually got truncated to Oman.

It soon became clear that the bits dropped from the acrosses gave far more than the letters required for the 20-letter thematic phrase. Similarly, the downs for the 16-letter mystery individual. As usual, I decided to carry on until the grid was filled and all the missing bits had been identified.

I particularly liked the clue to 35ac Giant tailless rodent giving up front of den to rest (4), which looked like ENORMOUS but needed a bit of head-scratching to reveal DORMOUS(e) having D(en) replaced by (d)EN. Also, 17dn Pan(orama) losing focus to fashionable circle by complaint (8) for SWINE-POX — SWEEP with middle E replaced by IN + O + X. 16ac Craft clerical role with nothing for established church (4, two words) had me confused for a bit, pondering whether the clerical role was PRIESTSHIP or PRIORSHIP (in fact it was RECTORSHIP). I was lucky to double-check my entries as I originally scrawled RESOURCE in at 19dn Secure And[orra] or disrupt freedom to return (8) instead of RECOURSE.

The abundance of ORs in the dropped bits of the across answers and all the ors in the down clues was apparent fairly early on and pointed us in the right direction. Well, sort of… they needed to be ignored. I decided to try and identify the individual from the downs: T H GREC T TER AMA RA R initially led me to Graham Ratchetter who was close enough for me to stumble across Margaret Thatcher. Unfortunately, her 20-letter phrase eluded me, mainly, I suspect, because I lived in the States for most of her time as Prime Minister.

The across bits dropped from answers gave INI VAL ROT E T H SH E TER OR and it wasn’t too difficult to wonder if alternative was lurking. A bit of play with the remaining letters gave there is no alternative. Despite having come across this as TINA in crosswords quite a few times, I had never associated it with Thatcher. Well I do now.

Thanks, Serpent, good fun.

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L4557: ‘Choice Words’ by Serpent

Posted by Encota on 21 June 2019

For several years I have exchanged birthday cards with a brother, where the aim is to send the naffest card one can find.  This allows a whole year for browsing to find something that is really ghastly, or at the very least memorable in some way.  It becomes quite addictive …

This year he recently sent me a card (available from O’Neill Classics) with a picture of an empostered Ford Anglia, alongside Margaret Thatcher campaigning in Finchley for the 1964 General Election.  So the theme was timely – for me, anyway!

2019-06-10 10.53.14 copy

I could of course claim an almost complete lack of FMC knowledge and declare it a Ford CorTINA …

I really enjoy the accuracy to the definitions in the BRB in Jason’s clues – there is something so satisfying stumbling across the appropriate one.

I haven’t seen the gimmick using aORb words before – a great idea!  EN-OR-MOUS as the answer, for example, but where either EN or MOUS is only entered into the Grid.

With the phrase THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE arising from jumbling together of the discarded parts from across answers, that simply left TINA to be found as its acronym in the grid – upwards in Column 4, if you are asking.  And the equivalent jumbling from Down clues gave, of course, MARGARET THATCHER.

I did try hunting for some alternative jumbles.  Across clues could fancifully describe her supporters, with A ROSETTE IN THEIR NAVEL.  And Down clues couldn’t possibly be complete without THAT GREAT CHARMER.


Tim / Encota


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Choice Words by Serpent

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 June 2019

Serpent is a regular participant at the three-monthly gatherings of Listener aficionados (editors, solvers, setters and the marker) that take place in Farringdon, London, and I regularly see him with a glass in his hand so I was astonished to find what was apparently a TT set of clues but, of course, he had tricks in store and by the end of our solve we were staggering drunkenly as he produced example after example of our local rather rich wine (the vin d’or –, so he retains his place in the  Elite Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit. Cheers Serpent, see you at the bar in the Sir John Oldcastle!

I said ‘by the end of our solve’. We were really flummoxed as we filled in our first 20 or so solutions, MATCHBOX, ROPILY, FLIP SIDE, INTAGLI, TWINGE, etc. SNIPER, SHIP and RIDER seemed to fit in that north-east corner but the clues didn’t quite work. ‘Original sin lacking appeal on vacation strangely for young men (4)’ spelled out that we must anagram ORIGINAL SIN less AL, and that gave us SIGNORINI – but which four-letter real word should we enter? NORI or SIGN?

SNIPER seemed to be the ‘critic’ of ‘Reporter is upset about northern critic (6)’ ( IS< round N + REP<) but REP is not ‘reporter’ in Chambers so we had those extra letters ORTER to explain. We argued about RIDER with the other Numpty insisting that DRIER had to be ‘cycling’ (but that doesn’t give RIDER) but then light dawned. TORRIDER is also more dehydrating and also had that extra OR, as did HORACE. We were removing OR and using the remainder of the word for the RIDER solution, for example, and to produce a T for the ’20-letter phrase’ or, with HORACE to give us an H of the ‘proponent of the phrase’ and ACE = A which we added to PSIS to give us APSIS.

‘Choice words’ now made sense (is OR used in computing for ‘alternatives’?) and our grid filled. There had to be no ORs and who said THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE? (Am I allowed to say that a US solver friend commented to me that there seem to be rather too many ‘alternatives’ in the current Brexit situation and that Mrs May hasn’t been able to wield an iron handbag in that respect?) Yes, it was Margaret Thatcher. We knew what our twenty letters had to anagram to and who our sixteen-letter proponent was, and TINA was climbing in the fourth column of our grid, but the tussle to actually work out the wordplay of those eighteen ‘OR’ clues took us almost as long as the gridfill.

SWINEPOX was the most difficult of all. ‘Panorama losing focus to fashionable circle by complaint (8)’ That is real ‘Listener’ for me. We removed the OR and used SWEEP for the PAN but that had to exchange an E for IN (yes, I hadn’t realized that E = focus), so we had SWINEP, followed by ‘circle by’ = OX and AMA – three of Mrs Thatcher’s letters. What can I say? Brilliant, Serpent.


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Listener No 4556, Ambidexter: A Setter’s Blog by Opsimath

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 June 2019

Back last October, I felt it was time to find a new theme for a crossword, so I turned over in bed and reached for my old ODQ, given by my brother to our father 50 years ago (at Uludağ, a chauffeur-driven ride from Istanbul, where we were spending the Christmas week). This is rather a dated edition, and I dislike many of the entries now, but flipping through the pages the phrase “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs” caught my eye. BRIDGEOFSIGHS is 13 letters, which I’m always on the look-out for, and I was thrilled to see the symmetry of “… PALACE and PRISON on each hand”.

I struggled a bit to find a suitable grid-fill, trying different shapes for the bridge, but with a little help from a friend (thanks, Shirley!) a respectable grid fell into shape.

Obviously, “palace” and “prison” had to be on opposite ends of the bridge, but that created difficulty with a symmetrical fill, and I soon realised that having the prison below the level of the palace was more logical anyway. The condemned were not just led across the bridge sighing, they were then presumably taken down to the cells.

Meanwhile, I needed a hidden message. “ISTOODINVENICE” rang nicely, and I just needed to suggest the author. Rather than Lord Byron, I rather liked GGBYRON which I hoped might cause a little confusion, recognising that whatever I did, many of the old hands would be complaining that the puzzle was too easy.

I thought the puzzle needed a little more than just highlighting BRIDGEOFSIGHS, so I wondered what was the name of the canal beneath. Of course I’d been to Venice 60 years ago, and had my first pizza at Harry’s Bar (pizza in Rome at that time was still mostly plain pitta bread dressed with oil and salt) – and recalled the name of the canal, Rio di Palazzo. [ahem! The internet may have helped at that point, tbh.]

I was also reminded of a story my mother often recounted: my parents were on their way to Venice by sleeper train (she was due to launch an oil tanker there, as one does). Leaving my father in their compartment to dress for dinner she explored the train, reserved a spot in the dining car and returned to their carriage. Banging on the locked door, she called out, “Are you ready yet?”. The door slid open and a suave Milanese gentleman answered with an eager smile: “Madam, I’m always ready”. Do I need to add that it had been the wrong door? Or that they all enjoyed a convivial meal together in the “Voiture Restaurant”?

I thought “palazzo” would be difficult to conceal in the grid, but was amazed and delighted to find that “LAZZO” is a word in Chambers. It was then easy to hide “RIODI” and “PA” symmetrically elsewhere.

Initially (having already got 2 zeds!) I aimed for a “pangram”, as I often do [it helps me decide which words to choose from the list offered by QXW], and I was pleased to have “latte” in the top row, as well as “vino” further down. But this, along with with “Judaic”, forced the word “Lund” at 3dn. I didn’t want a little-known Swedish town, so I went with the fill as shown. As far as I can remember, there’s still a Q in the final grid?

I’m not very keen on the clue-writing part of the exercise (who is?) but I reckoned I had, for the first time, a puzzle worth offering to the Listener team. I’m very grateful to them for the quiet way they tweaked or re-wrote many of my clues and prepared the puzzle for publication without a painful gestation period.



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