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Archive for October, 2019

Listener No 4575, White Becomes Black: A Setter’s Blog by Augeas

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 October 2019

Watching Field of Dreams again earlier this year, I was moved to consult Mr Google to remind myself of the facts behind the Shoeless Joe Jackson story. When I remembered that it had happened in October 1919 it was evident that a puzzle had to be set, and (if accepted) published a mere 7 or 8 months thenceforward.

If ever there was a nice man innocently caught up in the machinations of others brighter, and more devious than he, I’ve yet to learn of it. This blog isn’t the place to rehearse what happened beyond the bare facts. Some members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the 1919 World Series, allowing the Cincinnati Reds to win. There was a court case and, on the steps of the court legend has it that a shoe-shine boy uttered the plea. Sadly there is no evidence whatever that such a thing happened, but it’s a good story, and I wasn’t going to let facts stand in the way of it.

The clue gimmick of leaving out various forms of footwear was pretty obvious, and it was far too difficult to find items the first (or any other) letter of which would spell the plea – so it had to be the first word of those clues. Filling the grid – which I do by hand, using nothing more complicated than a pencil and a rubber — was made tricky by the need to have JEFFERSON tracking down the leading diagonal — it was serendipitous that his three names all started with the same otherwise awkward letter. Landis, the Baseball Commissioner who refused to re-admit Jackson to the professional ranks, and thus to allow him the chance of entering Baseball’s Hall of Fame, had to occupy the last, and in this context lowest, across place, and I was determined to have him removed. My initial instruction was that he should be “excised, leaving real words”, but the Editors in their wisdom (with which I have to agree) judged that such a requirement would give JEG problems. So just erasing him had to do. (I am unaware of any film commemorating Mr Landis, and were there to be one and were I to see it I doubt if I would weep at it.)

The clues were (as usual) judged to be too easy. Too easy for whom, I wonder? The Listener has always sought to publish puzzles with varying — widely varying — degrees of difficulty and I have no problem with my puzzles being at the “entry” end of the spectrum. If Augeas leads as many solvers onto tougher meat as, in a different (and more financially rewarding) context, Jo Rowling has led millions of kids to the joy of books, then I shall feel I have succeeded.

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White Becomes Black by Augeas

Posted by shirleycurran on 25 October 2019

A friend who lives in the USA has just commented to me “Easy-peasy – for a Yank, anyway! I hope all the Brits struggle over this one to make up for all the times I’ve had to deal with Edinburgh subway maps or whatever.” He mutters occasionally about UK centered themes, Ealing comedy, for example, as do we, say, who also live overseas, when we have to solve a London-themed clue in The Times.

However, we had no problem with this one. Joseph Jefferson Jackson went straight into our grid, and when CINCINNATI and SOX appeared, we had only to consult Wiki to find that it was LANDIS (Terrestrial isles (6) = LAND IS)’ who imposed a lifetime ban on eight players, including the probably-innocent Shoeless Joe, a simple fellow but brilliant player who protested his innocence throughout his life (and, of course, we had to highlight ShoelessJoe and, appropriately, delete Landis).

My favourite novel is The Great Gatsby and it contains a wonderful episode when Gatsby introduces Nick to Meyer Wolfsheim:

‘He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919,’

‘Fixed the World’s Series?’ I repeated.

The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people – with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

If we needed any more hints, all those shoes, disappearing from clues (CHOPIN, SPIKES, MULE, BROGUE, PUMP etc.) soon spelled out ‘SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE’, an apocryphal plea that was probably never uttered – but it went under our grid to complete a lovely thematic compilation on just about the hundredth anniversary of the event.

Of course, that all took place during the period of prohibition so was there any point my seeing whether Augeas retains his entry to the Listener Oenophile Outfit? But he left no doubt: ‘Impose upon designated driver into last of his beer (6)’ gave us DD in (hi)S ALE. Drunken driving indeed – but ‘Cheers, anyway and thanks for the enjoyable compilation, Augeas’.


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L4575: ‘White becomes Black’ by Augeas

Posted by Encota on 25 October 2019

This was a subject that I only had a faint recollection of, so it was interesting to read up on the detail.

I particularly liked ‘Chopin’ as a type of shoe (a clog, if anyone is still asking). I also thought the ‘Shoeless’ theme applied to fourteen clues worked well to highlight what happened to Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose full name came be found radiating from the upper left hand cell.

And I have assumed that the removal of LANDIS from 36a is all that is required to meet the ‘his nemesis erased’ part of the preamble? I spent quite some time looking for something additional but if it is there I have failed to find it.

Finally, I hope to catch up with some of you at the S&B event in York this weekend!


Tim / Encota

PS Thanks to all who’ve provided me with some kind feedback for my recent Inquisitor thematic (#1615 ‘Corpsing’ by Encota), either by commenting online or directly to me 🙂 One of my favourite themes and I am pretty sure my easiest thematic puzzle published to date. I don’t mind confessing to being the E of ‘EP’ in the Magpie this month (Oct 2019) too – though that one definitely is a bit harder 😉

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Listener No 4574, Well-spoken: A Setter’s Blog by Miles

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 October 2019

Some years ago I became aware of the 9-point circle, a property of any triangle except isosceles (8 points) or equilateral (only 6), and I thought it involved some really elegant geometry. More recently I wondered if it could be incorporated into a crossword and make a diverting change from the usual verbal gymnastics. After much exploration, I discovered the triangle with vertices at (0,0), (10,0) and (6,12) which had critical points with predominantly integer coordinates. This triggered the 13×11 grid shape. Using O for each point on the 9-point circle and X for each vertex of the triangle seemed a neat idea, and presented a nice challenge for the grid-fill.

However, the Euler line was, for me, just too irresistible to ignore, and for this to feature, extra constraints were imposed, and these pleasingly were not insurmountable. QIGONG was certainly involved at one stage, opposite perhaps NUTTER but other options prevailed. Likewise ELAN and STEP, ALA and TUE, LEO and EEN all had ‘their day’, but, for reasons that I still do not fully comprehend, maximising the average word-length and minimising the number of fully checked entries are paramount nowadays, so they had to be dumped.

As so often happens in a crossword construction serendipity intervened and I spotted the anagram of LONE TEPEE LEANS, which I thought was a pleasing bonus. This was the reason for using a carte blanche, requiring solvers to recognise the four unclued entries by filling in bars, but the editors warned me of the resulting ‘clutter’ interfering with the more significant drawing, so bars were not required and they were (probably) right.

The cluing, for me, usually takes longer than the grid construction. I recall that the clue for ANNEX originally had 22.5 degrees, but with the need for omitted letters, this rather conveniently was adapted to 45 degrees (without roasting alive any Floridans !). The clue with the Man U legend was dedicated to my brother who lives in the Manchester area. I particularly liked the clue ‘Spring: this describes about a quarter of years’ for LEAP, as an example of the same words capable of being interpreted in two distinct ways. I have to give credit to the editors for introducing the de Longchamps reference in the ETEN clue, as, until then, I was unaware of his connection with the Euler line.

As for the title, it was meant to hint at OILER, a well, but I was unsure whether the mathematician’s name sounded like that or more like YEW-LER. However, the editors were happy, checking in Collins and ODE apparently.

The need to draw the line precisely through the centre of the circle was I felt a fair requirement to confirm that solvers were fully aware of what was going on, though I can see that some non-mathematicians may beg to differ. However, mathematicians could check that the 12 points (3 X’s and 9 O’s) were all precisely positioned, centre of cell, as was the orthocentre, also on the Euler line at the G cell in row 11, confirmed by drawing the 3 altitudes through it from each X. Furthermore if (6,12) is called point A and (0,0) is B and (10,0) is C, then tan A = 1, tan B = 2, tan C = 3 and angle A = 45 degrees.

And finally (paying homage to Columbo), here is a challenge to acute observers. 50 is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two squares in two different ways. How is this exploited in the geometrical construction?

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Listener No 4574: Well-spoken by Miles

Posted by Dave Hennings on 18 October 2019

This was Miles’s first Listener, although he has had a fair few over at Magpie — some of them D graded. I think Ds are slightly more difficult than the average Listener, so I was hoping for a challenge. Mind you we’ve had a couple of those in recent weeks.

A carte blanche faced us here. Nine clues omitted one letter of the answer, and they would spell out the puzzle’s theme. Four unclued entries were the only other difficulty, apart from having to jigsaw the answers into the grid. And yet again, the endgame would involve some drawing, although “shapes” seemed to indicate there little or no artistic skill would be involved.

The clues were solid with some easy and some tricky. My favourite was probably Just about highest point orbiting round earth? (6) — an &lit. for APOGEE. The letters omitted from wordplay gave Euler line. Although I’d heard of him, I hadn’t heard of it, so an enjoyable journey round the Web was educational. I normally paid attention during Maths classes, so I’m sure we didn’t do this way back when!

Identifying the three X’s was straightforward, seeing that they probably gave a triangle, and it wasn’t a giant leap to then look for some O’s. The only O’s in the grid seemed to form a circle. Rather than describe the construction of an Euler line, I hope the animation on the right tells all. (Egg on face if there’s an error somewhere!)

Thanks for a fine puzzle, Miles.

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