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Archive for January, 2020

Progress Report by Tibea

Posted by shirleycurran on 31 January 2020

I had forgotten that Tibea was a combination of Tiburon and Kea (and we saw Tiburon just three weeks ago with that lovely little tangram hare didn’t we? (Ed. “Surely you mean Christmas tree?”) Had I remembered earlier, the title would have been an excellent prompt about the theme and the preamble a real give-away. We had to go back three decades or so, that takes us to January 1990 and, of course, with about 520 Listener crosswords in a decade, that’s over a thousand and a half Listener crosswords. Ye Gods! We numpties have been seriously solving them for around thirteen years and probably average around five hours – for the two of us – that comes to approaching 7000 man hours. “Get a life!” I hear you say.

“Do we really want to continue doing this?” said the other Numpty as we read the preamble with more than a degree of consternation. We learned that two blocks of 4×4 letters were going to give us a message read row by row and ‘In clues for the affected entries, the wordplay leads to the mutilated form, and the definitions have been randomly exchanged among these 18 clues’. That word ‘among’ was worrying (not even ‘between’) – randomly 18 definitions were not going to match their wordplay and we had to enter 18 solutions somewhere in the grid using wordplay only.

The 4x4s were symmetrically opposite, so we knew, when the top right-hand corner of the grid filled up with RETROVERT, OILPAN, THALAMI, EXPO, OSIER and IGNITION, that we could look for normal entries in the bottom left, SIDEARMER, CRISIS, LAVAGE, GURAMI, POPADOM and those 4×4 squares had to be in the other two corners.

That was the real test – making wordplay like ‘Gums open wide with wine knocked back (7)’ into YAWN + RED reversed – DERNWAY – not even a real word! (Ah yes, but I hadn’t forgotten to check the two editors’ right to remain in the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit – not as if they could be expelled from it – and they had already been ‘Concerned with non-drinker outside Rover’s Return (9)’ in the very first lovely clue, producing RE + ROVER< in TT + RETROVERT. Cheers, Tibea!)

We were lucky in that sussing the ‘six-word announcement’ cut short our agony. LAST OF LINE UNDERNEATH THIS MASTHEAD. “Surely that’s referring to the moment the Listener was taken over by the new ‘masthead’, The Times?” I said, and he went off to finish cooking dinner and prepare the G and Ts, while I performed the relatively easy task of sorting those 32 letters into new places according to the 18 definitions (Silky cotton = VELVERET, sure to work = FAILSAFE, Fine shawl = PASHMINA, Gums = ANIMES and so on). That was rendered easier too, by the message that began to appear: THOUSAND AND A HALF THE TIMES LISTENER. What a stunning feat of construction! Many thanks to Tibea.

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Listener No 4589: Progress Report by Tibea

Posted by Dave Hennings on 31 January 2020

The third collaboration from our illustrious editors/vetters. The previous one marked 25 years since the Listener Crossword first appeared in The Times and used excerpts of articles from the newspaper of that day. This week, we had wordplay leading to mutilated forms of entries with definitions leading to the the correct forms — but for a different entry. Two 4×4 blocks had to be unjumbled to reveal current progress. I don’t know about you, but I was confused!

In fact everything came together fairly easily, starting with the nice clue at 4ac Concerned with non-drinker outside Rover’s Return (9). In fact, you didn’t have to know anything about Coronation Street addict (I’ve only ever watched one episode) to see that RETROVERT was (RE + TT) around ROVER.

An example of the trickiness this puzzle provided was 12ac Silky cotton length in the part of pantyhose one’s got out of (8) with its misleading silky cotton definition (for VELVERET at 8dn) and giving L + AS + TIGHTS – I for the initially nonsensical LASTGHTS (eventually to become THOUGHTS).

Two other clues amused me. 27ac Repeated lies following credit crunch (6) gave CRISIS — IS + IS after CR. 34ac Part for Milo O’Shea directed as well as the rest (8) gave LOOSHEAD which became LOOSENER in the final grid and lost the definition as well as the rest (to 15ac) and gained laxative (from 33dn).

I’m not too sure when the penny dropped for me. I was helped by knowing that the last Listener puzzle in The Listener was number 3089, and this was puzzle 4589. 3089 was, in fact, a mathematical puzzle, Squarkode by Klan (whose death was sadly announced alongside). Don’t ask how I knew that; just one of those things.

When the grid was complete, the two 4×4 blocks read LAST OF LINE UNDERNEATH THIS MASTHEAD. With a bit of jiggery-pokery, plugging the correct definitions into the clues revealed the correct grid with THOUSAND AND A HALF, THE TIMES LISTENER.

Great fun, thanks Tibea — onwards and upwards.

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L4589: “Another hit: he and I sent a faultless MD”

Posted by Encota on 31 January 2020

So if you had the 32 character message: THOUSAND AND A HALF THE TIMES LISTENER to jumble to make an apposite phrase relating to the 1500th edition of The Listener crossword in The Times, what might you pick? And what if the phrase was in a puzzle that you and the other humble Editor had created – how might you describe your submission to others? My suggestion is in the Title above, but I am sure you can do better.

I particularly enjoyed the phase of this puzzle where the solver had to deduce the precise location of two 4×4 squares where letters would be confused, overlaid or, most likely, both.

Checking off the shifted-around definitions turned out to be more interesting than it first sounded, especially when the hidden phrases in the 4×4 cells began to help with finding the home for those definitions.

And I was impressed to find that there were two overlaid messages in those squares, rather than one simply being a meaningless jumble of the other – a neat bit of construction work!


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4588, Black Maria: A Setter’s Blog by Agricola

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 January 2020

Black Maria is dedicated to my maternal grandparents, to whom I owe the two albums that inspired the theme. The first of these is the Brooke Bond tea card album The Race into Space (1971). At the age of six, I was addicted to collecting Brooke Bond tea cards, and my indulgent grandparents bought far more tea than was really necessary. I still have the complete album on my shelf. In the middle of the Cold War, despite – or perhaps because of – the album’s preoccupation with the American space programme, I was especially fascinated by the 12 cards depicting Soviet missions, including card #20 (the Luna programme).

The second album is more obscure. Grandad was a shop steward at the local Leyland Bus factory, and through the AEEU, he acquired a cut-price holiday to the Soviet Union in 1975. Nanna was up for the trip, despite never having travelled outside England, because of her experiences running a thermal underwear stall on Fleetwood market. Her most lucrative customers were sailors in the Soviet trawler fleet, and she had always wondered about their homeland. My grandparents were an atypical couple on this journey, since neither of them had any sympathy with the British Communist Party, Nanna being an entrepreneur and Grandad being passionately loyal to the L​abour Party. All was going smoothly until the penultimate day of the holiday, when Grandad wandered up to a guard in the Red Square to ask the poor young man if he believed in fairies. Unappreciative of British working class humour, the Intourist guides whisked the couple away to be kept under close supervision until the following day, when they were packed off to airport with even fewer smiles than normal. My grandparents had hardly any time to buy souvenirs, but in their haste, they did come across an album of commemorative stamps from the 1960s and 70s. I still have that album too; the largest section features the many cosmonaut-heroes of the Soviet Union, along with all of the Soviet missions, including Luna 3. Without that question about fairies, Black Maria would never have been.

This was my first attempt to write a minimally gimmicky thematic puzzle with normal clues, no word search, no origami, and no Playfair. In retrospect, I wonder if it would have been better to introduce some tweaks to raise the difficulty level slightly. (For example, as Phi pointed out, it shouldn’t be too hard to re-jig things so that the thematic entry at 2 appears at 41 instead.) Still, working with a normal set of clues gave me more freedom to entertain myself, and, I hope, some of the Listener’s regulars. Finally, if you don’t know about it already, do please visit The Far Side.

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Black Maria by Agricola

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 January 2020

Here we go with a new year of Listener crosswords. We don’t expect anything too difficult for the first of the year – afer all, there must be about six hundred potential ‘all correct’ solvers at this stage and it would be a shame to discourage about half of them with a missing hare or some obscure Russian orthography (wouldn’t it?) Yes, I know there is a hare in the moon (and, during four ski seasons of ski teaching in the Australian resort of Mount Buller enjoyed our slightly less than sober return trips up the slopes to our lodge where we would lie on the slope and gaze at that so-different southern hemisphere sky with so few stars compared to ours, and the unforgettable southern cross. No wonder the Chinese see a hare there!

And the hunt for alcohol? It looks like being a dry year with Agricola setting the tone with a decisive TT in 21 across. I hope we aren’t all in for diet coke at Stratford this year. Ugh!

What an enjoyable solve. Our grid filled as fast as I could write with a very generous anagram, ‘Hot plate damaging cibachrome (10, two words)’ giving CERAMIC HOB for a starter.

I wasn’t aware that the Russian Z looks like a 3 but 3 DIMENSIONAL was clearly how MEN replaced VI in ‘divisional’ and it was a short step from there to the LUNA 3. Wiki told me that flew to the moon 60 years ago and we already had SELENOGRAPHY at 1 across. A list of current missions fitted CHANG’E 4 at 1d so we had the theme and two devices.

The title was prompting us to look up the largest MARIA and MUSCOVY was an obvious contender, though it was only the fact that CLEVERNESS had word play only that suggested to us that that was the second of our two topographical features (Mare Ingenii). So we had a full grid with just 28 across to understand. Russia had something to do with it as we had understood that DIANA was IAN in DA, ‘Scotsman in for 28, yes? (5)’

We returned yesterday from Hogmanay celebrations in Glasgow with our Greek sister-in-law, Artemis, so had no problem sussing the answer to 25d – the Greek goddess of the moon, but knew that those two ‘personal names (DIANA and ARTEMIS) must be entered (wholly) in such a way that the foreign word at 28 appears correctly’. I tried for a while to fit MUSCOVY in Cyrillic script into my grid but got there in the end (‘Today 17’ told us that we needed MUSCOVY in today’s language, ‘get back’ gave us COP< and Cuba and Niger gave us the C and NR). Most enjoyable, and what a pleasure to have no extra letter or misprint device in the clues. Thank you, Agricola.

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