Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Archive for August, 2019

Listener No 4565, Folio: A Setter’s Blog by Nebuchadnezzar

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 August 2019

The theme for this puzzle found its way onto my list a good few years ago after I was introduced to the poem by my father. I’m always on the lookout for new puzzle ideas, and the brevity/layout of the poem made it an immediate candidate, as well as the snippets of analysis on the Wikipedia page – take a look if you’re interested, I thought it was made for thematic treatment.  

I really should keep a ‘setting log’, or some such, for these blogs – I think the following thought process occurred over around 18 months:

  1. I started at the end – the finished grid should include poem in its entirety, ideally including the poet.
  2. The grid’s first draft hits an immediate brick wall – across/down entries isn’t going to work with the poem as it is (it’s at this point I see the ‘SOLI’ in the left-hand column and store that one away for future use).
  3. Aha! Turns out I can use this constraint to my advantage, having ‘falling’ entries, like the leaf.
  4. It’s around this point I decide to use the SOLITUDE/DUET coincidence to as much effect as I can, and ‘e e cummings’ along the bottom, including spaces, makes a grid with sensible dimensions. Now to fill the grid…
  5. This bit took a long time, but it was a lot of fun. Very much a game of two halves – the left-hand side was restricted by thematic cells, but not the paths of entries. Once that’s roughly in place, it’s over to the right-hand side for the opposite challenge (no fixed letters, but fixed paths after establishing the left-hand side).
    If anyone’s curious, I used Excel with different coloured lines to keep track of the paths. Each cell was filled with a darker shade of grey to indicate how many entries it was checked with – the darker the cell, the more entries passed through it. It was about now that I started to go a bit doolally (“okay, so I need a word ???C??D whose first and second letters are the sixth and fifth letters respectively of a word going P?R????” etc.). My sincere thanks go to the Quinapalus software for helping out in this regard.
  6. Almost at exactly the point that the grid is finished, the ‘lower case in the shape of a leaf’ idea occurs to me. Sadly, a puzzle does not appear fully formed in my head, and I tend to rush to the grid-fill stage – this is my own fault, I suppose. Ho hum, time to do step 5 all over again to accommodate. Here’s a few examples of the work in progress:

  7. I took a long break before setting the clues. No gimmicks to speak of (omitting letters from wordplay is not much a hardship for the setter), so there was plenty of freedom. I tend to talk to myself whilst walking the dog or driving, and this seems to have the best result. I try to avoid clichés and single letter indicators as much as possible, and focus on consistent surface readings. It has been noted that the clues are tough, especially for a tough grid-fill, which I take no pride in – gauging a clue’s difficulty when you don’t have to solve it is a skill I’m trying to hone!
  8. Finally it’s off to two marvellous checkers, who are very encouraging. A fair bit of editing to be done on the clues, then it’s off to Listener HQ….
  9. A bit of a wait, then disaster – eagle-eyed Shane spies a fatal flaw in the symmetry, and a few too many double-unches for his liking. A major re-write later (also changing title from l, intended to be a play on 1 and lower-case L, which wouldn’t really have worked in the Listener font), and we’re just about there. Other working titles were Dropouts and Verso.

That’s a long old ramble, but the process was a great deal longer than that. I understand that solving was something of a slog, so hopefully there’s some consolation in the knowledge that it was a slog to set as well!

My thanks to the ever-assiduous Roger and Shane for their efforts, and to the test-solvers for devoting so much of their time and expertise.

Immediate feedback on the usual forums suggests a degree of confusion/consternation regarding the preamble. What’s done is done, of course, but I would note the following:

The preamble, as well as the majority of clues, had to be pruned to fit the space available. While not everyone agreed with the wording, it’s worth remembering that nothing goes into the published puzzle without a great deal of forethought and care. For this puzzle, I think the preamble as it stands has pretty much the lowest possible word-count needed in order to make it solvable.


Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Listener No 4565: Folio by Nebuchadnezzar

Posted by Dave Hennings on 16 August 2019

Nebuchadnezzar’s first Listener was nearly two years ago and was based on the Dudeney/Lloyd nine dots puzzle which was great fun. This week, zigzagging answers in a grid that had left-right mirror symmetry and an endgame that seemed to indicate more drawing!

Fitting all the entries in was very enjoyable and basically involved working from the top down. I wondered at first whether “… zigzags either left or right and down” included, for example, left–down–right–down–left, but plumped for it only meaning an entry could go left or right but not both.

Progress was fairly slow, but I got there in the end via some fun clues. These included 11 Satyrs reviewed drinks menu, wanting case (6) for SILENI ((w)INELIS(t)<) and 20 Appropriate cover of toaster catches fire (7) for TROUSER (ROUSE in T(oaste)R). I was somewhat suspicious of Nebuchadnezzar’s sense of humour with 20 Getting intimate, vocalise with others? (6) for COSING!

I’ll confess at this point that I was miles into the solve before I realised that the grid was 12×13 rather than standard 12×12. As a result, my nine cells omitted by wordplay which were “symmetric in a diagonal axis” were constantly moving!

On to the endgame, and I was faced with adjacent segments of 3, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 1 and 5 cells being the full text of a work. This seemed totally confusing until two of the four empty cells in the bottom row could be completed to give CUMMINGS. I thought it a shame that Neb couldn’t fix the bottom left corner to give EE rather than TE. Except of course he did… but not just yet!

All I had to do now was find the relevant poem, and the symbolic brackets in rows 1 and 6 were obviously relevant. I’m afraid that I couldn’t see what it was, but a carefully crafted google revealed the poem to be (rejigged): “l (a leaf falls) oneliness”. With SOLIDUET changed to SOLITUDE at the bottom of column 1, EE was complete.

All that was left now was some drawing. As far as I’m concerned, 2019 will go down as the Year of Listener Drawing. This time, it was a leaf drawn through the letters omitted from the wordplay.

Bingo! Except not! A final read of the preamble before putting my entry in its envelope and I saw what I had forgotten — the entire grid had to be written in LOWER CASE. I don’t know whether JEG would have accepted a post-it note attachment asking him to treat the grid as such, but I felt confident that he wouldn’t. And so, the entire grid — leaf and all — had to be redone.

Thanks for some good entertainment, Nebuchadnezzar.

Posted in Solving Blogs | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

L4565: ‘Folio’ by Nebuchadnezzar

Posted by Encota on 16 August 2019

Phew!  Was that the hardest of 2019 to date?  I think so!  Mine ended up looking like:

SCAN0623 copy

Initial challenges:

  • Deciding what the Preamble’s ‘zigzags either left or right and down‘ means!  Are these diagonally zigzagging entries?  i.e. should I be understanding it as ‘either left and down (at the same time) or right and down (at the same time).  And do all zigs and zags have to be the same length?  Normally Yes, I think!  However, using this technique then there appeared to be no way to fit eg 44, 49 or 50 into the Grid.  For example, how would 44’s CORDON fit when there are only four rows to play with?
  • Some tough and very clever clues!  For example,
       Alight from vessel, getting into Jag briefly (7)
    Once my train of thought got into DISBARK/ DEBARK territory it took me ages to get out again.  BURNING as URN in BING(e) only became clearer as I scanned my partially filled grid for possible Entry placements.  That sort of ‘Alight’, of course.  I also spent a long while trying to shoehorn either TED for ‘TV priest’ or FED for ‘given support’ into clue 2.  It was only after I had scoured the dictionary to find BRACKET FUNGUS at clue 22 that I began to see what was going on.
  • Deciding what the ‘two symbols’ bit in the Preamble was actually talking about – this was tricky in its own right
  • Completing the grid at all!  For some reason 4 and 5 were my last two solved and without them there were four options for 3’s ACCITE and 6’s PELLET to be entered.  I only finally sorted this by identifying all possible last letters for clue 4 and searching through all possible two-word Answers.  Thank goodness it began with A for AS LEVEL – if it’d had been SANTA FE then I might still have been looking days later!  SACCADE then dropped out for clue 5 – I have no idea why I made that one such hard work.
  • Deciding how to interpret “Grouped with the symbols, like the thematic work, the unclued letters specify how to submit the entire grid.” from the Preamble.
  • Deciding whether to put a central vein along the leaf.  It seems like it must be valid either with or without – though I am possibly missing something!

Red herrings along the way:

  • ‘efal’ downwards in Column 2, ‘hidden’ in brackets.  Is this the word that needs three letters interchanging?  That’d make LEAF downwards and that’s kind of relevant?  Isn’t it?  Except it destroys numerous words and the poem itself – and it isn’t a word (mere detail, I know) so that cannot be right!  Therefore ignore …
  • N(CSAT)INA in Row3.  Perhaps the ‘hidden 4-letter word’ is NINA and three out of four of CSAT need swapping?  TOSING works but the others???  Also ignore …

Nice hints:

  • The mirror imaging allowed me to find around four of the Clue’s Answers.
  • The Preamble says fill two of the empty cells on the bottom line to find the author, eecummings.  But I seem to have three gaps, as my bottom row reads T.E.CUMM.N.S  – does it have to read t.eecummings in Row 13?
  • The instruction would surely never damage the poem in the completed grid?
  • It cannot sensibly move the nine letters that spell out LOWER CASE around the leaf’s edge

A great spot from our setter, in a poem about loneliness, that the last four lines of the poem’s first letters begin SOLI.  Was this semi-SOLITUDE intentional on the part of eecummings, does anyone know?  There seems to be a lot of critique of his work online but much of it seems spurious at best.

Posted in Solving Blogs | Leave a Comment »

Folio by Nebuchadnezzar

Posted by shirleycurran on 16 August 2019

I have memories of Nebuchadnezzar’s last spectacular crossword which was a tough one to solve so I open this with some trepidation. I am expecting a fair splashing of alcohol to confirm his membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Elite – and there is: ‘Satyrs reviewed drinks menu, wanting case (6)’ gives us (w)INE LIS(t)< (SILENI), and with that wine list to hand, he chooses a vintage, ‘French vintage and its vessel? (5)’ CRU + ET. Here is someone with taste – none of that ASTI that appears in so many crosswords. “Cheers, Nebuchadnezzar!”

What a long pre-ramble. “Almost as long as the clues!” someone commented to me, and it had so many ‘stages’ in it that it was somewhat disconcerting. I should have spotted what the ‘work’ was straight away wth that division into segments 3 2 2 2 3 1 and 5 cells, but must admit that our grid was almost complete and we had T E CUMM N S on the bottom row before the penny (Ed. Don’t you mean ‘leaf’?) dropped.









Yes, I admit that the title had led me to expect something from a Shakespeare Folio, even though ‘the full text of a work’ was rather a give-away (and the e e cummings poem is yet another that I have studied with students).

It took us a while to catch on to the fact that the use of left-right mirror symmetry in the grid was the key to entering solutions. ‘Every answer zig-zags either left or right and down’ led to attempts to enter letters diagonally – which got us nowhere at all, and we had cold-solved all but about ten of the clues before a real grid fill began.

There was some very subtle cluing there too but fortunately, once a solution was entered at one side of the grid, it was possible to find a skeleton of the matching solution on the other side. Grid almost full with T E CUMM N S on the bottom row and four more instructions to obey. Clearly we can give cummings his I and G, and if we assume that DUET at the left has to ‘interchange three letters’ it can create SOLITUDE (which I believe is the theme of his poem) and give him his e.

We have the nine letters of LOWER CASE appearing (or not appearing – omitted by wordplay) in sixteen clues – that was the difficult bit of the solve. I have to draw a falling leaf through those letters, and, of course, submit my entire grid in lower case. What a spectacular compilation! Many thanks to Nebuchadnezzar.

Posted in Solving Blogs | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Listener No 4564, There and Back: A Setter’s Blog by Stick Insect

Posted by Listen With Others on 11 August 2019

I’m pleased this puzzle made it to publication for two reasons: I was seven at the time of the first moon landing and, like many people of that generation, the Apollo programme was a big part of my early life which still excites my admiration even now. The other reason is this puzzle started life as my first attempt at a Listener submission and was originally planned for the fortieth anniversary, so it’s good that it’s now seen the light of day.

I started solving the Listener in the early 2000s and went to the 75th anniversary dinner in 2005, which was open to all comers (I was nowhere near an all-correct solver then). That introduced me to a few setters and I ended up sitting near to Roddy Forman (Radix) who asked if I was going to set anything. To be honest, solving seemed hard enough and I’d never even considered the possibility, but the seed was planted. The Apollo theme as mentioned above was close to my heart and perhaps inevitably then became the basis of my first idea. I worked on that in 2007, using pencil and paper: if there were electronic aids available then, I was ignorant of them, so my attempts at grid filling were laborious. I was able to get all the twelve names in and arrange them to provide the anagram of “one giant leap” but only by making all the entries jumbles. A start to grid filling could only happen once about three-quarters of clues were solved and, not surprisingly, I got a fairly swift rejection from Derek Arthur, one of the then editors. Derek however took a lot of time to explain the problems and to provide a good deal of encouragement to try again and it was very satisfying for me that he accepted my first published Listener in 2010.

Fast forward about four years and my early use of Quinapalus’ marvellous QXW crossword construction software. I remembered the Apollo idea and the “one giant leap” possibility and wondered if it could be resuscitated. After a bit of playing around, I decided it couldn’t be done with only conventional entries but it could be done by reversing some (one of the programme’s helpful features). That seemed appropriate given the return journey and suggested the title There and Back too. I decided it would be more elegant if exactly half the entries went forward and half back and was able to achieve that with a little more trial and error.

Having got something workable, I decided I should sit on it and wait for the fiftieth anniversary, so it was another three years before I submitted it, two years ago in an attempt to give myself the best chance of bagging the slot. Shane and Roger made their customary multiple improvements, and the puzzle was accepted a few months ago.

My thanks to all those who’ve blogged and commented on the puzzle and it’s nice to know that the theme meant something to a good number of others too.

Posted in Setting Blogs | Leave a Comment »