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Archive for May, 2020

Listener No 4606, Isolated in May: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart

Posted by Listen With Others on 31 May 2020

The crossword was the outcome of two aspirations being realized in one puzzle. For some time I’d wanted to do a puzzle based on a crime story. There have been some outstanding puzzles on Sherlock Holmes stories and other examples of the genre, so I needed to find an example that had not been treated before. The other idea that had preoccupied me for some time was a puzzle in which the endgame involves some movements in the grid. There have been many such examples and they always go down well with solvers. I still remember Kea’s Safe-cracking from long ago, and more recently Elgin’s Lady Killers puzzle.

At some point Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter came to mind, and I realized that this would satisfy both aspirations. The story is short, so it wouldn’t take solvers long to get the essential details. The grid would show the lamb in the freezer, later removed and fed to the policemen, and Patrick and Mary. The carpet was a later detail that resulted from one of my computer software’s autofills. The thirteen letters of POLICEMEN & LAMB made it a standard grid.

I wanted real words remaining in the grid after Patrick is felled and the lamb is distributed. This made the grid very tough to construct, and I ended up abandoning symmetry to avoid many short entries. The left-hand grid below shows the final grid after adjustments, though solvers were presented with a numbered unbarred grid (so that FREEZER with LAMB in it wasn’t obscured by bars). Since the endgame involved moving letters around, the obvious clue gimmick to provide the narrative source was a letter move within clues. It turned out to be one of the hardest gimmicks I’ve ever tackled, and I spent many hours trying to get smooth surfaces and well-hidden letters. As far as possible I tried to ensure that each clue had at least two potential candidates for movement. A danger of this gimmick is that if there are too many clues with only one possible choice solvers may scan the clues and get the message before solving them. Finally it was ready to be tested. The only hiccup in the testing was that two testers were tempted to delete PATRICK altogether, leaving a real word at the end of the penultimate row, OUTRAN (though this left too many empty cells) CAB-RANK in the later grid eliminated the potential trap.

I wasn’t able to submit the puzzle to the Listener as I had two in the pipeline already, so I sat on it. During that time my failure to get a symmetric grid irked me somewhat. I’m not against an asymmetric grid if it’s essential to the realization of a theme, but I felt I hadn’t explored all options. Five months later I started messing around with grids again. Two discoveries made symmetry possible: the first was a 13-letter carpet to replace AXMINSTER, which meant I could place POLICEMEN with LAMB distributed therein on the top row; the second was DOWNPATRICK, which balanced the eleven letters of FREEZER and LAMB in column 1. Felicitously it was doubly thematic as it represented an instruction to fell the victim. Additional benefits of the new grid were a more even distribution of LAMB among the policemen, and a barred grid. The first tester of the original puzzle, Wan, helpfully suggested a two-stage movement of LAMB to echo the narrative. First it should be used to whack poor Patrick on the head, then fed to the policemen. Engineering the first stage so as to leave new words was tricky. There are few options for the N/B/– alterations in row 5, mostly four-letter words, but I was able to avoid the latter by using the only five-letter option I could find, DEMON/DEMOB/DEMO. After this further grid revision, I was unable to hide MARY in a straight line in the grid, so resorted to the LAND-MARY change in the endgame. In retrospect, perhaps it might have been better to have had MARY as an unclued entry. Then another set of clues to write (a task I enjoy as it can be the most interesting and creative part of the setting process) and some further testing. Finally it was ready to send to the editors.

The main problem for the editors was a lengthy preamble, making the puzzle impossible to squeeze into the available space. I’m very grateful to Roger Phillips for his skilful trimming of the preamble without losing any of the clarity, and for his judicious tweaking of some clues to make them one-liners, yet still preserving the essence of the clue. He also suggested changing the first word of the title, which already ended in ‘May’, to make it topical.

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Isolated in May by Dysart

Posted by shirleycurran on 29 May 2020

I suspect a little bit of editor/setter conniving here. We set these puzzles at least two years before they appear in the pages of The Times. Did the setter and/or editors know that I would be sitting here on my 51st day of isolation (in May) writing this blog? They are a clever set of people but not so clever, surely?

The preamble tells me that there is going to be some sort of crime depicted in the grid and as I scan the clues checking that Dysart retains his place with the oenophiles, I find a policeman, an initial blow and a crook. I don’t find a lot of alcohol but ‘Bill’s local I heard replaces can’s contents (4)’ Oh dear what a tough clue! Working backwards from CHE (a dialect form of I for Shakespeare – thus leaving a space in the 4-letter word) we decide that the E of ‘heard’ must be moved to the end of CAN, so that we are putting H into C?E in the place of AN. Maybe some ale in that CAN so cheers, Dysart!

These are challenging clues and we focus on the downs as they are going to give us that set of moved letters that will produce a source and an author and, with relief, we find SOMEONE LIKE YOU R DAHL. There are a couple of stories there that could be about a crime, but I remember how my students used to love ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ and clearly LAMB will fit into FREEZER on the left of our grid, so I suspect that we are in the story where MARY MALONEY downs the two-timing PATRICK with the leg of LAMB she has just removed from the FREEZER for his dinner, when he has told her that he is going to leave her (for another woman, we surmise). DOWN PATRICK, we are told, and the instruction that we will ultimately have 14 empty cells tells us where he will lie, keeping the K, for his feet.

Kidderminster is the only perimetrical solution we have. ‘Carpet seller stores fur, reduced on street (13)’ KIDDER around [e]RMIN[e] around ST, gives us yet another tough clue but we are told that we must ‘complete the top row to show a newly arrived group’. Now we can insert PATRICK MALONEY’s police colleagues into the top row (POLICEMEN) and, of course, remove that leg of LAMB and generously allow them to consume it – how could the grieving MARY MALONEY eat dinner? What superb irony that they consume the murder weapon that they so earnestly hunted for!

ALONE in MAY gives us MALONEY so all that is left for us to do is find a four-letter word where we can put MARY, retaining only real words (for all clued entries). This crossword was not easy but what fun. Many thanks, Dysart.



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Listener No 4606: Isolated in May by Dysart

Posted by Dave Hennings on 29 May 2020

As you may know, I normally make reference to a setter’s previous one or two puzzles at the beginning of my weekly blog. Last year’s Dysart required us to draw da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man comprising two images of the man plus the surrounding circle. This week, for some reason, I also visited the Listener Crossword website, only to find that one of the winners of that puzzle hailed from Barnard Castle, County Durham!

This week’s puzzle had a number of empty cells initially and down clues needing to have a letter moved before solving. I thought that these would probably be fairly obvious to spot — how wrong I was. The endgame had a lot going on, so no point in trying to untangle that until the grid was complete.

A typically sneaky clue from Dysart was 18ac Cut from disc bit of leaf-metal foil (4) where the L(eaf-metal) had to be subtracted from EL PEE to give EPEE. And I enjoyed the straightforward clue at 39ac Where vehicles wait to take last of customers from busy snack bar (7) for CAB-RANK ((SNACK BAR)* – (customer)S).

Aas for the down clues with their moving letters, some took a really tussle. 25dn Periodically our head’s occupied by Stuart’s case for consideration (6), even when the moving letter was known to be U: (o)R (h)E(a)D around GAR with the U in our (not in Stuart) moving to case. Similarly, 27ac Enter two races and keep up speed regularly (6) became Enter two aces rand keep up speed regularly (6) — A + A + R around (u)P (s)P(e)E(d). And who said first letters of words are easy clues: 32dn Swimmer starts from astern, placing ropes round tiller (5) where the A moved from astern to make around giving SPRAT.

I managed to get the last two moving down clue letters about half way through the solve. Being HL, it was obvious that we were dealing with a Roald Dahl story. With the other letters I had, I managed to identify Someone Like You. Unfortunately, that was a collection of about a dozen short stories, any one of which could be the theme for our puzzle. I decided to leave the identification of the story until the grid was finished.

When it was complete, I had 14 empty cells and there would still be that many in the final submission. The endgame required us to use one of the unclued entries as an instruction with its opposite unclued entry giving an item from the story. There was a LAMB in column 1, but that hardly seemed relevant — except one of the short stories from the book was revealed by Wiki to be Lamb to the Slaughter. This tells of MARY who kills her husband PATRICK by hitting him over the head with a joint of lamb before cooking it and then serving it to the police who come to investigate.

Most of the endgame then fell into place, with real words or names at every stage. The LAMB in the FREEZER first had to knock DOWN PATRICK, replacing CAB-RANK. It then had to move into the top row to be eaten by the policemen. Initially I put LAMB in the four consecutive cells starting with 5dn. It took me some time to realise that LEATHE wasn’t a word. I even wondered at one point if MOLLIES were the policemen! In fact, MEATHE was required at 5dn and LOATH at 2dn giving LAMB with the POLICEMEN swallowing the four chunks. Poor old Patrick Maloney (LONE in MAY).

Thanks to Dahl and Dysart for some gruesome fun.

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L4606: Isolated in May by Dysart

Posted by Encota on 29 May 2020

What a great title for the current state of play! And cryptically it’s MALONEY = LONE in MAY. But who is or was Maloney?

The story, if I understand it correctly, should unfold as follows:
(a) Mary Maloney takes the (frozen) lamb from out of the FREEZER on the lhs side of the grid.
(b) hubbie Patrick Maloney initially stands at the far side of the room / grid… where the town-based instruction (‘DOWNPATRICK’) tells ‘us’ to kill him with the LAMB by applying it to his head.
(c) PATRICK falls to the carpet, lying at 39a on the Kidderminster, dead.
(d) Now all Mary needs to do is get rid of the evidence. So she cooks the lamb. And then … two policemen arrive at the top of the grid.
(e) So she cuts up the lamb and serves it to them. By the end those pieces of LAMB – L, A, M & B are safely inside the POLICEMEN across the top of the grid.

A delightful little tale from that classic Roald Dahl collection of stories, with some neat twists if I remember rightly – I must get myself a copy and re-read it. It’s rare to come across such clever short stories: if I had to pick another where the plots make you smile when the story equivalent to the solver’s PDM appears – then it has to be Alexei Sayle’s “Barcelona Plates”. Dust that old copy off and give it a re-read, if you have a spare moment 🙂

Finally, back to the puzzle: all those real words / names throughout – a really excellent piece of construction. Thank you Dysart!


Tim / Encota

PS Thanks, amongst others, to Charybdis, Samuel & Aragon for getting me some publicity for an anagram! I am still feeling slightly taken aback by the attention, to be honest. It all started a day or two back here …

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L4605: ‘Times Listener’ by Artix

Posted by Encota on 22 May 2020

I finished filling out the grid with it being almost certain that the missing words were SPRING, SUMMER, AUTUMN and WINTER, given that they all successfully created new words.  But – at that stage of solving – why?

I went to bed on the Friday night mulling it over.  Fortunately, early on Saturday morning I spotted the three TURNs in the grid and all became clear.  A bit of Googling of the song Turn! Turn! Turn! and its source of Ecclesiastes appeared.  I could then double check the twenty words from the material to be certain how the six entries that abutted (rather than crossed) the empty rectangles were treated – and all was sorted.

Apologies for the OTT nature of the bars in the above image. Roughly half of my errors in thematics over the years seem to be from missing out bars that should be there, so I was determined not to be caught out this time. I wonder if I have still stuffed it up!?

Thanks once again to Artix for a tough and very enjoyable puzzle!

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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