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Archive for December, 2019

Listener No 4582, Full Steam Ahead: A Setter’s Blog by Hedgehog

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 December 2019

I developed Full Steam Ahead some six years ago so my memory of working on it is somewhat hazy.

I enjoy trying to incorporate a new idea into a puzzle and so the idea to insert numbers into the clue answers and to give that a message was appealing. Can it be done and how could it work? Highlighting GO in green and the title were ideas in the back of my mind so were in at the beginning. I do remember trying to construct a message by only inserting single digits which only gave 9 letters (or ten if 0 was used). On the other hand, having some two-digit insertions seemed a bit untidy. When I went for the more messy approach of some two-digit insertions, I immediately thought of the clue for 1 across as a way to get started. The puzzle looked at if it might be very intimidating for solvers (and the setter) so it was attractive to have a deduction to get started immediately. The length of the message and 1 across determined the rough size of the grid and a little playing around gave me the final one.

After that, the grid fill was largely determined by the location of extra numbers and 3,8,9s. This was particularly problematic in the bottom half of the grid and took quite a time. After the grid fill, I only had a clue to 1 across but added a number of higher powers of the lower digits to fit the style of 1 across and give a way to solve for digits although at that stage there was no clear solution path.

At this stage, I sit down and solve the puzzle. It really doesn’t matter that I know the answer as it is simply a logical exercise as to whether the answer can be deduced. I don’t remember having to change many of the original clues. It was pleasing that it turned into two stages — deducing the letter values and the grid fill — and neither was trivial.

In retrospect, I feel that it is not the neatest of puzzles but does have a somewhat different logical challenge and is not just a number-crunching exercise. However I await the opinions of solvers.

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Full Steam Ahead by Hedgehog

Posted by shirleycurran on 13 December 2019

Oh dear, Numerical. Are these really the crosswords that have the most entries? We are in sunny California doing the school run and some grand-child minding as their mum is doing a course at the far side of the continent – in Washington. Jet lag isn’t the ideal accompaniment for any crossword and, for me, certainly not for a numerical one. I scanned the clues to see whether Hedgehog retains his place in the Oenophile outfit and found only TT and an almost appropriate AAARRRGG!

The title and shape of the grid led us to expect that we would be putting 126 into our final grid, the steam-train record of the Mallard in 1938, and the letters used allowed HIGHLIGHT, HIGHEST, ENGINEER, GREATEST – it looked promising, though GREEN seemed likely; but the Mallard was blue  – and it was not to be.

We read the preamble with a degree of horror – a number from 1 to 11 inserted somewhere along the length of each solution (including the beginning or end) – how are we going to manage something that makes the solutions so fluid?

After hours of head scratching, the logical path emerged:

1a: Since AAA+AA is less than 1000 for A = 9 or less,  A = 10 or 11.  If A = 10, 1a = 1100 and no matter how one inserts 10 or 11 for the entry at 1a, either 3d, 4d, or 5d would start with 0.  So A= 11

14a & 30d: HENS must be 1234 in some order since none of their cubes can be > 99

27d: 100 > HHH + III – SSS >= 1 + III – 64 = III – 63.   163> III => 6>I.  So I=5.

27d: 100 > HHH + 125 – SSS => SSS > HHH + 25 => S = 3 or 4

If S = 4 then 25d = 20 but then either 31a or 34a would start with 0 => S = 3.

27d = HHH + 98 => H = 1

 19d: 1000 > 5*(5GG – 11) => 200 > 5*GG – 11 => 211 > 5*GG => 43 > GG => 7 > G.   G=6.

20a: 1000 > (TT(3+T) + T + L) > TTT => 10 > T

33a: 1000 > LLL+LL > LLL => 10>L

6a: 100000 > AARRR – GGI = 121*RRR – 180 => 100180 > 121*RRR => 830 > RRR => 10>R

So that only leaves D=10

9d: 1000 > 11*E*29 = 319*E => 4>E. So  E=2, N=4

3d: 1000 > LL*19 – R  > LL*19 – 10 => 1010 > 19* LL => 53 > LL => 8>L.  So L=7

27a: 100 > 5*(11 + R) => 20 > 11 + R => 9>R.  So R=8 and that leaves T=9

Even having laboriously produced all the numerical values with pencil and paper, I struggled to fill my grid, making an initial error that led to a chain of flawed entries. The only positive thing was that I could just make out ‘ALL THREES, EIGHTS AND NINES HIGHLIGHTED IN GREEN’, which produced a rather wobbly green GO in the grid and showed me where our errors were.

Completed with enormous relief. Late on Saturday – but thanks anyway, Hedgehog.

It occurred to me that crossword lovers who like the slightly different ones (indeed, I believe these numerical ones get the largest entry) would probably be the people who would appreciate the 3D Crossword calendar, 2020 3D CROSSWORD CALENDAR v2 and that a plug is always welcomed by the team that puts so much into supporting two really sound causes (the RNIB and BBC Children in Need appeal).

A number of friends including Listener setters (you’ll find me in January, Arachne in June, Shark in July, Nutmeg in November and Enigmatist in December) give their work to this beautiful creation. Please support us!



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L4582: ‘Full Steam Ahead’ by Hedgehog

Posted by Encota on 13 December 2019

With a numerical to solve it is always very pleasing to have a Preamble with no ambiguity whatsoever, so this puzzle from Hedgehog started well. And so it continued – a great puzzle, many thanks!

And Full Steam Ahead? Clearly GREEN for GO, of course! Here’s my early draft of the solution:

There appeared to be a few ‘ins’ for this puzzle:

  • Clues with only one letter in were a helpful start, such as 1a’s AAA+AA. In this case, with A being any integer value from 1 to 11 and its result needing to be at least four digits long, A’s options were immediately cut down to A=10 or A=11. The former made 1a’s answer 1000 which, even with the pair of digits 11 added somewhere, would make one of the crossing Down clues begin with zero. So A=11 and 1a = 1452. That was quick!
  • There were a few clues of the form EEE + HHH + SSS, which soon allowed one to deduce that H, E, N, S were 1 to 4, though initially with no certainty of the order.
  • I used Excel to summarise what I knew. If a specific clue allowed me to deduce something, I labelled that something in the grid. It looked like this:

Where Green in the table means A=11, etc. [And even with a table this tiny I was pleased to be able to use Cntl-Enter to fill multiple cells – e.g. A1 thru A10 – in one hit!]

  • And the ‘jigsawing’ of entries-converted-from-answers was surprisingly good fun, with some powers of deduction required along the way! Most of the left hand side went in quickly: it took me longer to be certain I had the unique solution on the right hand side.

What is particularly neat about this puzzle is its high level of self-checking. If you had inadvertently added the wrong number in any clue (& you were all at 6s and 7s) then the hidden message wouldn’t read correctly. And, on top of that, the final colouring of all 3s, 8s and 9s gave yet another level of checking. So this should provide a high % of correct entries, I think.

Great stuff! Thanks again to Hedgehog.


Tim / Encota

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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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