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Archive for January, 2020

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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Слушатель 4588: Черная Мария по Агрiкоla

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 January 2020

Gosh! Only 5 months since Agricola’s last Listener with its theme of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. I guessed that this week’s must have some date-related link. Seven wordplay-only clues would give us most of the thematic material with a couple of Arabic numerals and a foreign word for good measure.

2dn Frame from Gary Larson coloured with leaderless sheep (12) looked like it would be anagrammatical. That could be from G(ar)Y + LARSON + C +(s)HEEP, except that was too many letters and no anagram indicator! Coloured can mean disguised, but no amount of letter doodling revealed the answer.

No matter, the image of Gary Larson’s weird Far Side world that the clue conjured up was superb. Trying a few of the downs, 3 ERNE and 5 ELLA enabled a bit more doodling, and SELENOGRAPHY soon popped out. So we were dealing with Lunar activity and, given 2ac, far side lunar activity?! I remembered that the Russians were the first to photograph the far side back in the late 50s, but I couldn’t recall any more detail than that.

There was only one thing to do: finish the grid and try to find the devices, topographic features and personal names. Finding all these items certainly brought smiles to my face. 1dn and 29dn were the two devices: CHANG’E 4 and LUNA 3 with 4 O’CLOCK and 3-DIMENSIONAL as their crossing entries. CLEVERNESS and MUSCOVY were the two large topographical seas on the far side, and and DIANA and ARTEMIS were the two personal names for the moon. Luna 3 was a Soviet spacecraft launched in 1959 and was the first mission to photograph the far side of the Moon. Chang’e 4 was a Chinese mission that achieved the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon in January 2019.

Of course, the clue to 28dn was icing on the cake:Today 17 get back Cuba and Niger on reflection (6) led to Россия (COP< + C + RN<), Russia in Russian with RN for Niger reflected… literally! It needed a final reading of the preamble to remind me that both DIANA and ARTEMIS were wholly entered to give Россия, including the D, E and S to be entered in mirror image.

Good fun, Agricola, and a great start to the year. Here’s a video of all sides of the moon courtesy of Nasa on YouTube.


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L4588 'Black Maria' by Agricola

Posted by Encota on 24 January 2020

A gentle start to 2020 – or so we initially thought!

Find the Spacecraft and Moon references, add a bit of Cyrillic and we’re done.

Aargh! I almost missed the subtle message asking us to identify the successful Moon Landing astronauts. I expected them all to be shown by what NASA call their tri-codes: ALDrin, CERnan etc., but some were much more subtle.

Here is my completed Grid:

And to think I expected an easy one this week. But The Listener has to keep up its ‘very difficult’ ranking, of course – we’d expect nothing less 😉

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4587, Of Course: A Setter’s Blog by Malva

Posted by Listen With Others on 19 January 2020

I have to admit it came as a pleasant surprise to learn Of Course would appear during the festive season, and for a few deluded moments, I even considered the possibility of my puzzles becoming as much a Christmas tradition as watching The Guns of Navarone, picking up the poinsettia leaves that start dropping off 30 minutes after you get it home and wondering if there’s any connection between inadvertently forgetting the binmen’s Christmas box and finding our wheelie bin up a tree at the end of the road.

Realistically, I suppose there’s not much chance of my puzzles becoming a seasonal staple, so I’ll just have to content myself with the traditions I’ve helped establish over the years. Like us hosting the Boxing Day extended family bash for a good while, in which, spookily enough, words featured large in the post-prandial games.

There was the dictionary game, where you had to come up with definitions for obscure words (you can tell how long ago it was by the fact that you could say polenta was a South American burrowing rodent and everyone reckoned that was spot on). Then there was the letter game, where you had to compile a long list of things beginning with a randomly chosen letter, but that had its own holly-hued headaches, especially when Aunty Olga would have a nuclear strop because she insisted Yugoslavia began with a J, which was a tad irrelevant because the chosen letter was F, and Uncle Russell had already given himself three points for Fasso, Burkina and no-one wanted to play after that. Usually, by about seven, there had been enough cross words to fill the other 51 weeks of the year and the assembled crew trotted off and we were just left with about six hundredweight of washing-up and not a single morsel (or ort as most solvers would say) of uneaten food apart from a bucket of Cousin Helen’s homemade chestnut stuffing, which I eventually used to waterproof the porch roof where a couple of the tiles had slipped.

OK, so Of Course won’t be setting any Yuletide precedents and probably a proportion of solvers will be hoping I at least follow New Year tradition by resolving to create just one more avian puzzle at the most – obviously to be completed using a feather quill and delivered to John Green by carrier pigeon. But then, who makes resolutions any more?

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