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Archive for November, 2020

Listener No 4631: Seconds Out by Stick Insect

Posted by Dave Hennings on 20 November 2020

What’s this?! It was another Stick Insect puzzle following close on the heels of his purple cow puzzle in August, no. 4618 You Don’t Say. Well I do say. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that until writing this blog otherwise I might have wondered “Why so soon.”

Here we had misprints in most clues spelling out what needed to be used for the non-misprint entries. What’s more, it seemed from the preamble that we were in for a bit of leeway with 26ac. It seemed to imply that there could be one, two or three outcomes, or a best guess if necessary. “Sounds like the US election next week!” I sniggered to myself, immediately dismissing it as a possibility.

Of course, 1ac Steer behind crew, primarily (7) was obviously COX, despite the (7) and I wondered if the University Boat Race had been rescheduled from March! Next came an equally obvious 6ac Following old road, wade across (6) for FORD and it looked like the top row could be OXFORD. I checked Wiki only to be told that the race had in fact been cancelled.

A good smattering of entries came next despite some nicely misleading misprints: 10 ONION, 12 OMERTA, 14 ENTERAL and 17 EDDAIC. And then came 25ac Either end of Geordie parachute section (4) for GORE (probably helped by the (4) being correct) and Bingo! Good old Al Gore it was and my earlier sniggering proved unfounded.

I knew that Gore had been beaten by Bush (Jr) in 2000 and, dredging my memory, I got CARTER beating poor old Gerald Ford back in 1976. I had no idea who Cox was beaten by, but it turned out to be James Cox who was beaten by Warren HARDING in 1920. An interesting feature of that election was that Harding (Republican) won 37 states, which ran from the west coast to the east coast via the mid-west and the Great Lakes. Cox (Democrat) won just 11 states, all in the south and including Texas. How things have changed!

Filling the rest of the grid was reasonably quick, although not totally straightforward. My favourite clue was 38dn Ancient beret held up by Scrooge — bah! (4) for BEGO with beret the misprint for beset. The clue that nearly fried my brain was 21dn LA rodent passed through Universal occupying third of Tulare County (8) — (CUT + U) in (TU(lare) + CO) — I spent too long thinking that part of it was (Tu)L(are)!

Finally, the correct version of the misprints told us something that we already knew went in the grid: American presidential race winners, not losers.

And so to 26ac which could obviously be BIDEN or TRUMP, both providing real words for the entries they crossed. That requirement eliminated a whole slew of third party and independent candidates. But who should I enter? The polls indicated that Biden would win handsomely. On Wednesday morning, however, as I was getting my pre-Lockdown-2 haircut, I heard that he was only leading by 217-213 electoral votes and it was all up in the air. Depression set in as another four years of Trump made me feel quite unwell.

By Friday I was confident that Biden would win, despite all the hoo-hah from the Trump camp, so off he went to St Albans. But the thrid outcome mentioned in the preamble? Well that just referred to the date of the election. Nice!

Thanks for a fun puzzle, SI.

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Seconds Out by Stick Insect

Posted by shirleycurran on 20 November 2020

Stick Insect’s Purple Cow appeared in a Listener crossword just three months ago and that leads us to be very suspicious. To have another just three months later prompts us to conjecture that this one must be ‘date-related’ and we haven’t solved long before a few words that don’t fit their lights appear. COX, FORD, CARTER, SMITH, KING, DOLE. They provide an early ‘aha’ moment. But I am going too fast. I haven’t checked whether Stick Insect meets the oenophile requirements yet.

‘Rob the French charity no more (4)’ = DO LE. DOLE is one of our favourite wines. Originally from the Jura mountains it is now a speciality of the Swiss Valais region. But sadly I fear Stick Insect is referring to Bob Dole here, the ‘Second Out’ in the Bill Clinton electoral race.

‘Manufactured materials, lacking tellurium device to catch wine (7, two words)’ Now that’s more hopeful. A decanter, I suspect, but the other Numpty (the sailor/scientist) subtracts TE from an anagram of MATERIALS and announces that it’s a device to catch winD – a SAIL ARM. And we have another of our corrected misprints (which have already given us AMERICAN P…)

NUTMEG has appeared almost by itself as ‘Dali’s kid overturned stone cask (6)’ We upturned the GEM TUN so there wasn’t much hope of  wine there. This really had me head-scratching. I thought Gala was Salvador Dali’s ‘kiN. Stick Insect must really have been hunting for a misprint that would produce the N of PRESIDENTIAL (yes, we have guessed that and are ‘back-solving’). Fortunately The Big Red Book comes to my rescue. Dali n a tropical American tree related to nutmeg, yielding staves etc. and wax seeds [Native name].

I’m fearing that Stick Insect has to be relegated to the TT zone when we almost reach the end of the clues with a dismal alcohol drought. ‘Boer adult ejected from defensive ring (5)’ That’s a crossword favourite isn’t it? We remove the Adult from the LAAGER and get LAGER. All is well after all!” Cheers, Stick Insect!” We have to change our Boer to bEer.

That E also completes the message that has been emerging. PRESIDENTIAL RACE WINNERS NOT LOSERS. We were suspecting something of the sort, as our grid has produced HARDING, CARTER, MONROE, CLINTON, HOOVER, BUSH, POLK and clearly we need to insert next week’s winner in those five central cells. We needed Google to tell us who the remaining ‘Seconds Out’ were in those electoral races: GORE and CLAY, of course.

If we had a vote, I suspect that we would, like the US electorate, overwhelmingly vote for BIDEN. How can the US tolerate an antiquated electoral college system that allows a minority to potentially hold sway? Is that democracy? But this isn’t the place for a whinge. My small American granddaughter’s fifth birthday is on the election day and I believe she will grow up in a better world with a President who believes in a generous immigration policy and health care available for all. My vote is here!

Living overseas, we had to mail our crossword solution before it was all decided, but there wasn’t a lot of doubt in our minds and how we rejoiced when BIDEN had such a strong lead. I wonder whether any Listener solvers voted for the other fellow.

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Listener No 4630, Tip-top: A Setter’s Blog by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 November 2020

The inspiration for this one came from the famous Bob Dole / Clinton puzzle in The New York Times (see The Most Amazing Crossword Puzzle Ever and This Is Why if you’ve not come across it), where the clues led to two possible outcomes depending on who won the presidential election. I’d been very impressed by this idea when I heard about it, years ago, and had often wondered since if a similar thing could be achieved in the realms of the cryptic crossword. This sat in the back of my mind, without any serious thought of developing it, until the lightbulb moment when it struck me that the wordplay could exclude (or, as it turned out, replace) the ambiguous letter in each case.

As usual with my Listener ideas, I don’t recall exactly when I came up with just using I and O, but having had the thought I set about making a list of all the words I could come up with that could be treated in this way, and added to it whenever I thought of a new one – although, being impatient, I probably only made the list for a week or two before setting to work on the puzzle. In the end I came up with 35 possibilities, albeit some that were a bit of a stretch and I didn’t really want to submit if I could avoid it.

By far the harder exercise was getting all the words into a workable grid. I always wanted to have one whole row of ambiguous letters, but my first stab was to make it the central row: that proved far too hard, so I tried the second row from the top, and then the third when I realised I had plenty of words where the I/O ambiguity was the second or third letter of the word. Barring off as much as possible of the rows immediately above and below the unclued row was key to creating a grid that worked; another necessary step was finding words where the I/O came immediately before or (particularly) after a vowel, so that I could create what turned out to be TROMINO & NORN. Thank goodness for FOOL/FOIL & TOOL/TOIL.

What to use for the second unclued entry? I had the G from INCOMING/ONCOMING and therefore looked up every 13 letter word with a central G. I was briefly excited by HETEROGENEOUS, given that (Wikipedia informed me) a heterogeneous relation is a binary relation – but in the cold light of day it was clear that this was rather too obscure. Next I considered DOWNING STREET, with the obvious connection to 10, and came close to using it, but ended up with UNAMBIGUOUSLY because of its direct connection to what solvers had to do – this made the puzzle less complex, and allowed me to keep the preamble short.

I was delighted when I managed to complete the grid with almost all of my preferred I/O options, an acceptable average word length and the best set of unching I’ve ever managed (usually an area where I struggle). There also weren’t too many answers where the ambiguity was simply a change in tense (SHINE/SHONE & SMITE/SMOTE seemed like enough; to aid the definitions for those clues I did google every verb that is the same in the past and present tense, and cast / beat fit the bill nicely for those two). Imagine, then, my disappointment when I realised that the word NORK (coinciding with SPIKES / SPOKES in this version of the grid) had only one meaning, and not one that I would be prepared to include in a Times crossword! A bit of reworking, not as trivial as I’d hoped, fortunately did the job.

Some of the I/O options that didn’t make the cut include:

  • TITTER / TOTTER (lose balance)
  • MITE / MOTE (small thing in the Bible)
  • CHIP / CHOP (strike with a sharp blow)
  • SLIP / SLOP (loose garment)
  • MILLIE / MOLLIE (girl’s name)
  • TIMMY / TOMMY (boy’s name; I deleted this from my list of possibilities, though, when I remembered Tammy Abraham)

In the final list I played the definitions with a fairly straight bat, but there were a few more tenuous options – or perhaps more fun, depending on your point of view. Mostly the limitations of the grid made the decision for me, hence these were all cut, so I didn’t have to worry about the balance between raising smiles and raising eyebrows:

  • FLICK / FLOCK (The Birds, perhaps?)
  • DIES / DOES (gets executed?)
  • FIRE / FORE (possible warning shout)
  • STICKS / STOCKS (means of punishment)
  • BIAS / BOAS (what might constrict)
  • TIMES / TOMES (reading material)
  • TIED / TOED (perhaps having five on each side)

The last of these, which I completely forgotten before coming to write up this blog, was a shame to have lost. Ah well. It’s no coincidence that most of these were four letter words with the I/O as the second letter, since they tended to be the most useless for the purposes of creating a workable grid – no such words made the final cut. One – slightly blasphemous? – note I would add is that I wanted my definitions to be a little stronger than those in the CLINTON / BOB DOLE puzzle, which was a masterpiece but which included slightly dubious efforts like “French 101 word” for OUI / LUI and “Provider of support, for short” for IRA/BRA. Don’t think that would get into the Listener. The tricksiest definition I used was the one about creating radical upheaval, where I learnt with joy that ‘radical’ could relate to roots.

One of the possibilities that didn’t make the puzzle was TIP/TOP (‘furthest point’) but obviously I repurposed it for the title, and it also gave me the idea for a message spelled out using the starts and ends of clues; treating even and odd clues differently felt nicely thematic. This made the clues harder to write, naturally, which I think contributed to them being an easier set than some of the ones I’ve written: for example, I was happy with ‘Rub back softly to get this?’ but would have used an alternative to ‘Rub’ if I hadn’t had to start the clue with an R. Hopefully, though, they weren’t so awkward as to awake suspicion in the solver – I don’t think so.

Having decided to make the first unclued entry the binary representation of a number, I got lucky that the Listener is currently in a lengthy run where the puzzle number uses 13 digits in binary (anything from Mr E’s Some Assembly Required in 2010 to – I’ve read on a forum this week! – January 2089 would have been fine). I did play around with some more exciting binary numbers – e.g. alternate 1s and 0s – but I wasn’t prepared to wait the years / decades required, and in any case there was something about submitting a puzzle without knowing myself what the answer would be that made me chuckle. This may have been a joke restricted just to me and the editors!

Speaking of whom, many thanks as always to Shane & Roger for their expertise, as well as to John Green for his tireless marking. Thanks also to John, Paul & Stuart who test-solved the puzzle for me; they all told me that I couldn’t have ‘Guilty, perhaps, of foot leaving crease’ in an across clue, but I tried nonetheless (foot of the bed?). They were, of course, right, but fortunately the edited clue was an excellent suggestion that I was happy to have instead.

One final confession… since I was a few years old I have had a teddy bear called Pluggy, and I took great delight in slipping him into the bottom row of the crossword.

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Listener No 4630: Tip-top Condition by Twin

Posted by Dave Hennings on 13 November 2020

This was Twin’s second Listener of 2020, the first transporting us to the world of Superheroes and their alter egos. A few months before that, we had the Captain’s Mistress / Connect-4 puzzle. This week we had a load of down clues where the wordplay gave us a wrong letter that had to be entered into the grid — initially.

The first thing to notice was that the two unclued across entries were both 13 letters. What’s more, every letter was checked. Now if I’d counted the number of down clues I’d have found there were 25 and, lo and behold, 13 is just over half of 25 so perhaps the wrong letters coincided with one of the unclued entries. Unfortunately, that’s not what crossed the mind of this solver

Instead, I made a swift start with the acrosses, and TROMINO, NORN, CEE, ECHE (or would it be EECH), ETNA and SUES were slotted into the top of the grid. Tackling the downs, soon gave (with a wrong letter) CLEP-CLOP, RHENE, SHCRTS, SHLNE and SMETE.

Now it has to be said, that when I resolved the definitions in each case, I only saw one answer: evidence of horse?, &lit. for a river, clothing, cast light, smite, unite closely, work. This was partly because, for example, cast light, which could be present or past tense, I saw as SMITE rather than SMOTE. I don’t remember which clue finally enabled me to see the light, but luckily it was fairly early on. Consequently I was very happy to find that CLOP-CLOP was an alternative to CLIP-CLOP — I’d only ever heard of the latter.

Knowing all this, helped me with one of the affected clues, 7dn Ran rings round cops, finally outwitted (6) FOSLED which I finally analysed as FLED around (O + (cop)S) with outwitted as the definition. This gave FOILED and FOOLED as the two possibilities.

Three other clues caught my eye. 37ac Songs about religion, excluding Sabbath and holy ceremonies (7) was SPIRITUALS – S – PI to give RITUALS. 2dn Stays base jumping, accepting affliction it may result in (6) was the sneaky ABVDES (with its wrong letter) derived from BASE* in VD (it being, well, you know, it!). As for 39ac Two thirds of a mile, approximately — hard, like those in the country (8) with YOKE LIS (a couple of lis) + H! I think I’d get short shrift if I went into my butcher and asked for “a yoke of sirloin steaks”!

I had deduced the upper unclued entry before the grid was complete: EVEN CLUES’ ENDS with the lower entry as UNAMBIGUOUSLY. The ends of the even clue numbers gave odd clues’ opening letters. Lawks! This was beginning to remind me of Loda’s In Clue Order, On and On way back in 2009 where there were about half a dozen messages to uncover before drawing a large ∞ symbol in the grid.

So the first letters of the odd clues gave us The Listener no. in binary. Having worked it out by hand, I double-checked with my favourite mathematical website WolframAlpha. For a bit of fun, I also asked my computerised assistant (yes, I’ve got one) and all was confirmed. Once that was slotted into row three, all ambiguities were resolved.

Great fun. Thanks, Twin.

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Tip-top Condition by Twin

Posted by shirleycurran on 13 November 2020

“What a fine, short preamble” was our first comment, then we had a bit of doubt about how we were going to enter the ‘wrong’ letters that were going to be produced by the wordplay in just over half the down clues. We haven’t met that device before. But we have met Twin in four previous Listener crosswords, even in one erlier this year, so I didn’t really need to confirm his membership of the Listener Setters’ Elite Oenophile Outfit – but I did anyway and he was right in there with ‘Drink shots, knocked back without the introduction of amaretto (4)’ In fact that was one of the last across clues we solved as we had SAKI as a potential drink but couldn’t see the wordplay or be sure of the tough down clues. Of course, it was SEKT, reversing TAKES with A(maretto) removed.

Twin followed that with ‘Is old criminal smuggling alcohol in crude containers (8 two words)’ We put RUM into an anagram of IS OLD and got OIL DRUMS of the stuff, so, “Cheers, Twin!”

It was somewhat disconcerting to solve over half the crossword clues (the bottom half, of course) with no evidence at all of the thirteen (just over half of the twenty-five down clues) where we had to enter the ‘wrong’ letter but then light slowly dawned. UNAMBIGUOUSLY had appeared as the unclued entry near the bottom of the grid and we saw that even if we entered the letters the wordplay spelled out in the other ‘unlued’ entry, we couldn’t short-circuit the game because, for example, where the wordplay had given us SHCRTS, in 4d, the ultimate answer could be SHIRTS or SHORTS (Clothing heads to Swiss Hotel – customers ready to ski – first letters! – Yes, we are indeed ready to ski here in the pre-Alps and have just bought our season tickets with snow already falling. Over a metre in Tignes! but do we take shirts or shorts?)

That ambiguity appeared in every one of the upper thirteen down clues and how clever of Twin to have clued each of them so that an I or an O would fit: CLIP-CLOP, ABODES, RHONE (indeed both the RHINE and the RHONE rise near the heart of Switzerland – our Rhone had an imposing glacier at the foot of the Grimsel and Furka Passes when I was a little girl, but sady now that has receded out of sight) SHONE, RIOTED, ONCOMING, DROP, FOILED, SMOTE, INTO, KNIT and TOOL.

EVEN CLUES’ ENDS, we were told, and those spelled out ODD CLUES’ OPENING LETTERS. Finally we got there: THE LISTENER NO. IN BINARY. The Internet told us that 4630 is 1001000010110 in binary. I wonder how long Twin has been waiting for his number to come up! Such a clever idea, and, of course it resolved all that I/O ambiguity.

Many thanks, Twin for that fine compilation. Tip-top (or Top-tip) indeed.

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