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Archive for December, 2019

Listener No 4581, Transformers: A Setter’s Blog by Yorick

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 December 2019

The idea for Transformers started with a curiosity about words which would remain unchanged after reflection on a horizontal or vertical axis – hence the presence of HOITY-TOITY and BEDECKED. Having some knowledge of mathematical transformations, I decided to try making up a grid with reflected and rotated words, which would therefore present the additional challenge of having crossing letters match their orientation. This was a long time ago and, as happened with all my ideas then, it ended up as a one-third-filled-in grid on a scrap of paper in a buried notebook.

Having decided to resurrect it for my next submission, I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively straightforward it proved to complete the grid, though it took a few tweaks to get the right number of entries of each type. Having decided to group clues by transformation type, and therefore not having the normal order, I decided to dispense with numbers and instead order alphabetically by answer, a variation that I have always considered interesting as a solver. The use of extra letters in wordplay to spell out descriptions of the transformations seemed straightforward, but did raise a couple of issues:

  1. having wordplay different from definition requires more rigour in the wording of clues and, still being rather a novice setter, I gave the editors more work than I would have hoped;
  2. my original descriptions of the reflective transformations were HORIZONTAL FLIP and VERTICAL FLIP, but research revealed that these were open to different interpretations – thankfully I was able to make the change to compass points that retained the same number of letters and removed the confusion!

The idea of furthering the theme by transforming letters in clues was appealing, but didn’t give much scope, so I was glad at least to include it in the switching of “b”s, “d”s and “p”s in the three misprint clues.

I will admit to liking my puzzles to have a bit more challenge than average and, although I wondered if this one might be just that bit too tough, I am gratified that responses I have seen so far indicate that Listener solvers have risen to that challenge – as, of couse, I should expect!


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Transformers by Yorick

Posted by shirleycurran on 6 December 2019

At first sight this wasn’t too threatening, even if we saw a carte blanche and read, in that relatively succinct preamble that there would be a pair of unclued lights, clues entered in four different ways and three misprints – but that was a long, long time ago! This puzzle has taken us far longer than any other so far this year. We had cold-solved all but five of the clues when the other Numpty, after a grumpy growl, tipped his second coffee (accidentally) over his messy solution grid and stomped off to bed – well after midnight – muttering that Listener guidelines for setters tell us that no more than half the clues should require cold-solving before we get an inkling about filling our grid.

Of course, I had checked that Yorick with his first clue ‘Ethnic criminal seizing heart of Adriatic region of Italy (7)’ giving us CHIANTI, qualifies for his oenophile setter’s seat near Stratford next year. He had more alcohol, ‘Nick Nolte’s name before trendy acid/alcohol combo (5)’ where we extracted the T as an extra letter, ‘nicked’ the N and were left with OLE + IN. No wonder we got a ‘tipsy old fool’ (WIGEON) ‘Judge that is tipsy old fool (6)’ WIG + [I]E ON in that third set of clues – after mixing the Chianti and Olein! Cheers, anyway, Yorick – see you at the bar.

We realized that those three misprints were going to tell us which of our sets of clues were going to be entered with an EAST/WEST FLIP, a NORTH/SOUTH FLIP, in ROTATION or NORMALLY and I had surmised by a lucky long-shot that the first group would be normal and started to slot some of those in but I abandoned in despair with two misprints found but no idea what Dad for Bad, and heaPs for heaDs were telling us. I glanced at the Cheaters and Bleaters website and saw that one solver was announcing that he had completed the puzzle, and saying how he had appreciated it. I would have to sleep on it.

Isn’t the mind a wonderful thing! T’other Numpty woke me this morning saying “A lower case D is an east/west flip of a lower case B isn’t it? … and a D rotates a P” so set three must flip east/west and the last set rotate. We have to find a similar misprint in set one or set two and we have the mode of grid-filling.” One of our five missing clues was the SMEIK clue (My uncle lived in Arbroath and Arbroath smokies were part of my childhood but I don’t think I ever heard of the SMEIK that was used to smoke them!) Of course the misprint was there, ‘Modest enterprise by family packing preserve, as for fish in Arbroath (5)’. The KI[N] were Backing, not Packing in their SME – just the misprint we needed, so the third set had to have a north/south flip to convert a p to a b.

Home and happy! You must be joking. I seem to have a blind spot when it comes to spinning or upending letters. We were actually the test-solvers of a recent Magpie crossword that required the same and I had the solution notes but still managed to get it wrong. The normal ones were easy; thank goodness they were numerous, and the group requiring an east/west flip went in with only a little reflection but putting a north/south flip into REINS, OLEIN, FORNENST and PLEON was a real head-scratcher even when I had a mirror handy and the groups colour-coded (as in the grid I have inserted above). Of course I sent poor Mr Green a normal one but I wonder what sort of a headache marking this one will give him!

The bloggers on Big Dave’s website give stars for enjoyment and difficulty. Whilst I really admire the skill that went into the compilation of this grid, I can only give Yorick a generous ** for removing our happy solver smiles and a bulky ***** for filling half my weekend.

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Listener No 4581: Transformers by Yorick

Posted by Dave Hennings on 6 December 2019

This was Yorick’s third Listener. The previous one was over three years ago and titled PQRST?. It required us to draw a Parallelogram, Quadrilateral, Rectangle, Square and Trapezium in the grid, together with a Rhombus to finish it all off. I seem to remember that it was quite a tricky puzzle, and after reading the preamble this week, I guessed this would be as well.

There were four groups of clues, each entered in a different way as revealed by extra letters in the wordplay in one of the other groups of clues. Two entries were unclued, but analysis of the number of each length showed that they were probably one 8- and one 10-letter entry. Since all the other clue lengths agreed with what was in the grid, I thought it unlikely that letters would be added or lost. And don’t forget there would be three misprints to find which would identify the transformation for the entries in that group.

The first part of this puzzle was basically a jigsaw since the clues in each group were in alphabetic order of answers. Thus nothing could be entered into the grid. The first bit of help I got was when the extra letters in wordplay from Group 4 looked like they would be Normal. Meanwhile, Group 1 had Eas.wes..lip and would fairly obviously be East-west flip. Looking at Group 3, where I had …o…u…, I guessed that could be North-south flip, although the flip was possibly something else.

A bit later, and the remaining extra wordplay letters from Group 2 looked like being Rotation — whatever that might mean. At first, I wondered if it meant letters moving from one end of the word to the other, much like “cycling” in clueing jargon.

More cold solving followed, and with about three-quarters of the clues in the bag, I tried a grid fill. Starting with the normal entries (from Group 1), I was amazed that everything else could also go in somewhere, albeit back-to-front or upside-down. Group 2 looked as though it was the east-west flipping group, but both CHOICE and HEATED only fitted by being inverted. But that couldn’t be right since FORNENST had to be one of the four 8-letter across entries.

However, the gaps in my answers could now be finished off. This enabled HO.T.TOIT in the first column to become HOITY-TOITY, and Yorick’s cunning plan suddenly revealed itself to me. Flipping applied to both across and down entries, such that east-west flipped down entries were flipped about their vertical centre, and north-south flipping was about each entry’s horizontal centre. Thus HOITY-TOITY could be flipped about its vertical axis and could also be a member of the normal group. Likewise, the top row had BEDOCKED, flippable north-south, not BEDUCKED which couldn’t also belong to the normal group.

And rotation meant each entry had to be rotated 180°!

All this meant that some letters like H and O could be flipped or rotated unchanged, whereas A flipped horizontally unchanged, but vertically or rotationally became inverted. But which group was which? Well, despite the first misprint I identified changed packing to backing in the last Group 2 clue, that wasn’t the east-west flipped group. No — the p↔b hinted at inversion. In Group 3, bad for dad gave east-west flipping (b↔d), and heads for heaps in Group 4 identified the rotational group (p↔d).

That was the easy part! Ensuring that I got all the flipping and rotating correct took almost as long. [Hyperbole! Ed.] Actually, it wasn’t too tricky — rotating the grid enabled those entries to be checked and looking through the grid from the back enabled the others to be checked, one with rotation, one not. I also made sure that my Ys were symmetrical. All in all, another week when St Albans had a tricky checking week!

A wonderfully inventive and entertaining puzzle. Thanks, Yorick.

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‘Transformers’ by Yorick

Posted by Encota on 6 December 2019

Blimey! Not only were the Clues in Yorick’s puzzle very challenging – nearer the end I was solving at around 1 per hour! – but the entry technique was sneakily tricky – at least for this solver!! This must have been one of the hardest puzzles of the year as I don’t remember when I was last still finishing off the puzzle on the Monday morning!

You may well know the sort of progress – the sort when you’ve solved, say, 25 out of 40 of the clues and even have most of the hints for the endgame guessable – but have little idea what to do next! The swapped-around hints appeared to read:

  • ROTAT…

… with a few other gaps here and there. It was interpreting these that I had trouble with! I initially assumed that E-W meant enter the answers from right to left, and that N-S meant enter one Group of answers up the page. How wrong I was!!

I had drawn myself a little table, with Groups 1 to 4 across the top and the list of four techniques (above) down the side. And started to try and eliminate which couldn’t be which – Group 4 can’t be ‘NORMAL’ entries, as the word NORMAL came from that Group’s hidden word, that sort of thing. My next step was the one that wasted me a day! I noticed that 3- and 8- letter entries could only go in Across positions in the Grid. So, I thought, surely any Group containing any (3) or (8) length clues cannot have a NORTH-SOUTH FLIP applied to them ‘as a whole’ (as the Preamble states), since surely N-S FLIP can only apply to Down entries? Can’t it??

This soon led to a contradiction whose details I won’t bore you with (LIONS and RHINO appeared to have to be entered vertically but they couldn’t fit) – and so I was stuck!

I next tried swapping all Ns for Ss (and v.v) in what seemed to be an appropriate group before entering the results – but that went nowhere, too!

Eventually I re-started the Gridfill by assuming Group 1 were to be entered Normally and tried some interesting jigsawing of them until the gaps left looked a bit like some of the other Groups’ words. Those finally slotted in – but what now?

I had already found two of the Misprints and was trying to interpret them. My initial assumption: ‘bad’ in Group 3 looks like a possible Anagram Indicator, ‘backing’ in Group 2 looks like an ‘Across’ Reversal Indicator – all fell apart when ‘heads’ appeared in Group 4. I tried hard to interpret that as a ‘Down clue’ Reversal Indicator but (luckily) couldn’t convince myself. So what now?

I then wrote out the letter-specific changes from the three Misprints:

  • p becomes b
  • d becomes b
  • p becomes d

Those looked more interesting! The first could be achieved with a N-S Flip, the second with an E-W flip, and the last with a Rotation. Aha!

I did wonder if all entries needed to be in lower case, given the transformations above, but found that fell apart when an N flipped N-S had to look the same as an N flipped E-W (e.g. where SENNIT meets REINS in the bottom left hand corner). So capitals it must be.

As I type this it’s now Monday morning and for perhaps only the third time this year I’ll have to put a First Class stamp on my combined (here 4581 + 4580) entry to ensure it gets to JEG in good time for Thursday – and keep the faith with the Postal Service, of course!

My thanks go to Yorick for what must be one of the most challenging puzzles of the year! And I wish John Green the very best of luck with marking all those transposed characters!!

Tim / Encota


I only noticed (on the Tuesday after) that the paper copy of The Times on Saturday (in the UK at least) came with a ’tracing paper’-based ad for a new VW on the outer cover.  Clearly this was planned all along – and almost certainly commissioned – by Yorick and the Listener editors, as an essential tool for the Solve.  Thus could we draw the puzzle Grid on it, then enter Group 1 from the front the Right Way Up, two Groups from the back of the tracing paper (including one of those inverted), and finally Group 4 from the front again, this time with the Tracing Paper upside down.
Unfortunately I only realised this after I had finished solving it – this could have saved me hours!  I even missed the hint for the alternative clue for VIEW in Group 3:  “VW surrounding – that’s a thought” So obvious after the event …
Or maybe not 😉

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Listener No 4580, A Game of 11: A Setter’s Blog by Glow-worm

Posted by Listen With Others on 1 December 2019

As I mentioned to Shane when submitting this puzzle, I really hadn’t expected to produce another “Game of…” as I entered my ninth decade, but the spirit moved, and there it was.

It was harder than ever to discover a workable game to develop. Not that there aren’t plenty of possibilities; merely that, as Paddock, myself and others have shown, certain elements have to be available in the original game which are transferable to a thematic puzzle format. Among these is usually the chance to define a term in different ways, sometimes quite removed from each other. Thus, when I lighted upon “Chase the Ace”, I guessed this could be a fruitful path to follow.

The phrase quickly suggested a mini-journey for the solver, “chasing” various meanings of the term, and I realised that the ‘extra word(s)’ route was the way to go, despite its being rather time-worn. I also wanted to achieve two aims: to include some well-known “aces” and to introduce a quotation round the perimeter. Having regretfully set aside The Red Baron, I chose a tennis theme, and off I went to the ODQ.

There are moments in a setter’s life when fate intervenes on his or her side, and in this case I was blest with two such moments. I’d recalled John Betjeman’s fixation with strapping young ladies on the tennis court, and there, in “Pot Pourri from a Sussex Garden”, I found the lovely Pam. This suggested referencing the game’s female stars.

Now — could it be that the number of letters in the quotation plus those in PAM added up to a useful number, like 48? Yes, it might — and I offered up my thanks to the cruciverbal gods. Soon after, whilst thinking about a phrase for solvers to discover at the end, out of nowhere came “A Point of No Return”. More god-thanking!

How, though, to get from the aces to the punning phrase? Solvers would need to identify obvious letters, so I placed them at either end of the “non-quarry” extra words (as Roger named them). I hope solvers forgave the non-symmetrical grid, but the exigencies of the content (especially the perimeter quotation) made it necessary.

I don’t know whether I’ll manage another “Game of…”, but I enjoyed this one, and I hope my friends at The Listener did too. Kind regards to all.

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