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Archive for February, 2021

L4645 ‘Fire Alarms’ by Chen

Posted by Encota on 28 February 2021

LWO co-blogger Chalicea (Shirley Curran) and I had been musing over creating a joint Listener for several years.  So we were delighted to see ‘Fire Alarms’ finally in print!

As is often the case with thematic crosswords, at least for me, much of the total time is spent choosing a theme.  In my view the ideal themes are those where what has to be adjusted in the puzzle or its endgame has significant thematic relevance.  I had been thinking about some possibilities – perhaps just after a visit to a nearby decommissioned Suffolk airbase, just inland from Bawdsey Manor where much of the WW2 work was done on radar, where friends are working on restoring some interesting aircraft (but that’s another story) – and the idea of deploying CHAFF as part of an endgame to protect military aircraft from detection by enemy radar was born.

So what, in this context, is CHAFF?  In more recent times much use is made of the term ’stealth aircraft’.  In the design of these, much is done to reduce the amount of radar waves reflected from the aircraft back to enemy radar receivers, so making them less detectable.  Surfaces at ‘odd’ angles, energy absorbing layers and more are used to minimise the amount of wave energy returned to the radar.  Now imagine trying to do the opposite – to maximise the power reflected back.  Ignoring why for a moment, what might you do?  Some answers include using a substance that conducts electricity well and making items of a length that maximises reflections – typically half of the wavelength of the signal used by the radar.  In its simplest form CHAFF is huge numbers of such strips deployed from a moving aircraft, so that any radar trying to detect those aircraft gets many more reflections from those strips than from the aircraft themselves, so making the aircraft far harder to spot – i.e. the difficulty of separating the wheat (the aircraft) from the CHAFF (the… umm … chaff).  Of course those reflections are from places in the sky where there aren’t aircraft, so giving the aircraft themselves significant protection.

Now who might I approach to co-author a puzzle about CHAFF, invented by a certain Joan Curran?  Let me think for a moment …

… so, one moment later, I proposed the idea to her daughter-in-law and off we flew.

Representing short metal Aluminium strips as AL (fully capitalised here to avoid confusion with Is) gave us much scope to design clues with words with and without ALs in them.  It seemed fun to design clues where the definition gave the answer and the wordplay the letters without those ALs, such as in 14d’s Stale beer (7, two words). Here the wordplay ‘Stale’ encouraged the solver to PEE (oh dear.  BRB2), whereas the beer was P[AL]E [AL]E (which had much the same effect).

Our logic for the thematic part went as follows: 1) Initially the four famous WW2 bombers, the Handley Page HALIFAX, the Avro LANCASTER, the Short STIRLING and the Vickers WELLINGTON are made clearly visible by the reflected radar waves, highlighting them in the sky. 2) Then they deploy CHAFF and suddenly lots of small AL(uminium) strips are floating about in the air.  These are then equally highlighted by the radar’s waves, resulting in a very confused final image for the radar operator.

In summary, four loaded bombers traversed the grid and, using ECHO of RADAR WAVES were highly visible. Solvers were informed that CHAFF was DEPLOYED (the Al – aluminium – strips that confused enemy radar) and were instructed to SHADE ADDED AL GREY. With the four aircraft and the 14 examples of AL in the grid, this required the shading of 55 letters (grey, for the convenience of solvers, though silver in reality).

At one stage we considered asking solvers to highlight every AL in the grid, whether reversed or diagonally placed, or…  However, this ended up a bit too confused even for us.  I did also quietly propose that we use ICANN, the Internet naming and numbering corporation in place of ICENI in the endgame to allow CURRAN to appear in the final grid but I was overruled by the modesty of (Joan’s son) Charles and Shirley. 

We worked as a real team on this and it was a delight – co-developing and refining the grid, with Shirley demonstrating, as ever, her superb skills in this area, plus jointly working on the clues.  We used a shared online spreadsheet (if you are thinking of co-creation of a puzzle and haven’t tried it then I can’t recommend this highly enough) for the clue development, keeping track of changes etc.  An excellent setter helped us with a test-solve and we were ready to submit.

A fabulous feat of engineering which can’t get enough ‘airplay’, in my mind.  If you are interested in reading more then you may find this link interesting:

Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4645: Fire Alarms by Chen

Posted by Dave Hennings on 26 February 2021

Another new setter this week, and without being racist he/she/they sound Chinese. Some interesting jiggery-pokery on the clue-solving front by the look of it: four normal clues leading to thematic answers, but extra letters (also thematic) needing to be added to the wordplay for eleven others, with the remaining clues needing the good old extra wordplay letter not being entered.

The across clues didn’t allow me to get many entries in the grid, although LACILY, UPCURRENTS, NAOS and ELSE gave a few that should help when it came to the down clues. DAMPENED, WELLINGTON (normal clue therefore thematic — footwear?), MOSAIC and IDEALS (needing AL to be added — metallic footwear?) finished off the acrosses.

The downs were another matter and were slotted in almost as quickly as I could read the clues. 1dn Breed of sheep we’d seen in Kent? (9) SW[AL]ED[AL]E confirmed the AL theme as did 12dn Possesses SW Asian currency (7) for H[AL][AL]AS and 14dn Stale beer (7, two words) for P[AL]E [AL]E.

All that gave me seven of the eleven AL clues, but I still only had one of the normal thematic ones in the grid. However, another sweep through the remaining clues gave HALIFAX at 5ac International entering half cut in Maine’s provincial capital (7 which had nothing to do with Maine, USA but Halifax, Nova Scotia (I in HALF + AX), plus LANCASTER and STIRLING. So the theme had something to do with WWII bombers.

Looking at the clock, I saw that only 50 minutes had been required to fill the grid. My favourite clue was probably 37dn Expressions of repugnance gushing, “In, out, shake it all about” (4) for UGHS — (GUSHIN[G] – IN)*.

The speed of finishing and many of the clues reminded me of one of my fellow bloggers here at LWO, who sets under the name of Chal…. Hold on a mo… she could be the first two letters CH of our setter today! And the suspicious side of me (which is quite large) wondered if our other resident blogger could provide the EN if this was indeed a collaboration. Of course, it could be a collaboration between Charybdis and Enigmatist!

Meanwhile, the extra wordplay letters gave Chaff deployed. Shade added AL grey. Together with the bombers, this pointed the way to those things ejected from aircraft to confuse enemy radar. Well that tied in with the unclued entries RADAR ECHO WAVES. And the signature in the preamble presumably referred to a radar signature. A bit of googling was required.

Wikidom has a whole article on Chaff which describes how the idea of giving false echoes had been suggested a couple of years before the war. However, the idea of using aluminium strips had been developed by… well, what do you know?… one Joan Curran in 1942. Now I may be talking tosh here but it all seems too coincidental! And what a shame that ‘upcurrents’ isn’t spelt with an A.

So, whoever you are, thanks Chen. I’m expecting a setters’ blog on Sunday.

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Fire Alarms by Chen

Posted by shirleycurran on 26 February 2021

Chen? A new setter? He (or she) sounds like a revolutionary (CHE + N) – New too by the look of the grid. How on earth did he/ she/ they sneak a couple of 2 unches in 5 and a couple of 2 unches in 7 past the editors? Unforgivable!

We’ll have to see if he/ she/ they can redeem himself and qualify for the Listener setters’ elite oenophile outfit, and we get only as far as the second clue before finding ‘International half-cut in Maine’s provincial capital (7)’ We put I into HALF AX and get HALIFAX, then Chambers tells us that ‘half cut’ means ‘drunk’! Hmmm – not a promising start Chen!

He sneaks off to an ‘Eastern inn, Korea’s first hotel with air-conditioning gadget (4)’ That has to be K(orea) H + [F]AN so the drinking continues in a KHAN, and towards the middle of the down clues we find Stale beer (7, two words)’. By this time, we’ve realized that AL is going into solutions to produce the entries so we add it twice to that ‘stale’ (= urine or PEE) amd get PALE ALE.

Frankly Chen, with the drunkenness, urine and the preference for stale beer, things are not looking good! Maybe things will improve as the grid fills.

Before long we have four old planes heading east across the grid, HALIFAX, LANCASTER, STIRLING and WELLINGTON and we guess that they are heading for Germany – no doubt for the Bier Fests and planning to return with drunken passengers importing lashings of foreign beer (Ed. Are you sure they would be using those old crates and not Easyjet, say?)

Then it becomes a matter for serious concern as we fill our grid and find that it is absolutely swimming in ALE. Bottles and bottles of the stuff. There’s a hint of sobriety when we find , ‘Rail about Dutch baking compound (4)’ SO[R]A around D giving us that lone SODA but a COURTESAN intercepts that one.

But now Chen, with yet more ‘gushing’ (alcohol we suppose) produces perhaps his own reaction to his compilation, ‘Expressions of repugnance gushing, “In, out, shake it all about” (4)’ We remove IN (‘in out’) and a G for his message from extra letters and are left with an anagram of UGHS.

Frankly, Chen, we are appalled by your dreadfully drunken compilation and this just won’t do. Admission denied. You’d better clean up your act and apply next year in a more sober state.

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Listener No 4644, Symbols: A Setter’s Blog by Aedites

Posted by Listen With Others on 21 February 2021

I like grids which portray symmetrical themes and twelve is a nice number. It is pure chance that this puzzle follows CHAT. This is because CHAT was held back several years by the editors since a puzzle on the same theme had been published in 2012.

The number twelve immediately suggested the signs of the Zodiac in a circle placed around the Earth. The puzzle was constructed in June 2016 a few months after Mynot’s “Stomach” (4380) which had the sun and the planets on a diagonal with their names replaced by symbols, and I could implement the signs of the Zodiac in a similar manner in an unnumbered grid so that the locations of the symbols would not be revealed. Because the names were more complex, they could not be split into two parts and would need to be anagrammed. My submitted preamble was much longer than the published version and contained an example of two crossing answers producing the word ASTERISK; in particular it said that there was at most one thematic cell in each entry.

Normally in an unnumbered puzzle the solver will try and fit the longest words in the grid in order to make a start, but this would not work in this case. The grid with 180⁰ symmetry was constructed so that only just over a third of the cells were both checked and had 90⁰ symmetry and could therefore contain a thematic entry (see shaded cells in the diagram). The grid contained four 3-long entries, but only two 3-long answers were clued, so at least two of these entries must contain a thematic cell. Checking possible 8-long answers intersecting with 3-long answers would show that none of the thematic cells were in the perimeter and lead to the discovery of PISCES and VIRGO, after which completion of the grid is straightforward.

The original grid had a vertical bar-line to the right of LIBRA [at 6 o’clock] which forced the down entry to be ALBIAN, a word which is not in Chambers. When I reviewed the puzzle before submission, I realised that this bar-line could be moved to the left of LIBRA and the down entry changed to ARABIA leading to small changes in the SE corner. The opposite word SERIES would still work with a few changes in the NE corner. I have often found that it is worthwhile to tweak a grid by moving a few bar-lines, or, even omitting some, to produce a grid with “nicer” words.


I have now received a large number of comments from solvers, which were, in almost all cases, very positive. Thank you everybody for sending them. Two things stood out – most people solved almost all the clues before making any entries and people were impressed by the construction of the grid.

Only one solver counted the length of the answers before solving any clues and found that there were 53 letters absorbed by the symbols in addition to the letters which would normally have been in the cells. The number of symbols was either 4n or 4n+1, and a guess of twelve symbols would produce 77 letters for 12 words with a very plausible average length of 6.4 letters. (I would normally tabulate the lengths in puzzles where the answer lengths differ from the entry lengths and I would have expected other solvers to do this sort of analysis.) This solver also noticed that the total number of letters in the twelve signs of the Zodiac was 77 letters. The other thing that I expected an alert solver to do was to shade cells which show 90⁰ symmetry and were checked – this gives a clear suggestion of a circular shape.

 The other property that was designed into the grid was four 3-long entries, but only two 3-long answers; hence at least two (and in fact all four) 3-long entries had to contain thematic cells. The clues for the 3-long answers were easy and three of the four longest answers were anagrams, so that most solvers should have recovered these answers fairly quickly. After solving half the clues, an alert solver should have been able to place LAP with INACCESSIBLE to produce PISCES and VAN with RADIOGRAPHY to produce VIRGO, which would have revealed the theme. Most solvers solved virtually all the clues before attempting to start to fill the grid.

The construction of the grid took less than two hours. An initial grid was constructed so that only a third of the cells could be thematic; in particular there were only four possible positions in the perimeter. Seven of the Zodiac signs could be split into one letter and the remaining letters; the remaining signs were split into two roughly equal halves and TEA was used to expand them into possible words. Seventeen “words” were fitted into the correct places in the grid with the seven single letters replacing the clashes. I then used Qxw to obtain an initial grid which was then improved by making some small changes to get rid of some awkward words.

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Listener No 4644: Symbols by Aedites

Posted by Dave Hennings on 19 February 2021

I think it fair to say that a lot of Aedites puzzles have had a literary theme: last year we had Brooke’s Old Vicarage Clock, before that there were Kingsley’s Water Babies and even more before that, Hamlet’s existence dilemma! This week, alphabetical clues and clashes.

It didn’t take long to discover that answer lengths and entry lengths didn’t agree. Four clue answers had 10 or more letters but there were none in the grid. In fact, the number of every answer length disagreed with the number available in the grid. What’s more, there were 52 clues, which struck me as an awful lot.

Onwards and upwards. Onwards covered my first pass through the clues with about 40% solved. Then came the upwards bit as the remaining clues were teased out. Of course, I couldn’t even think about trying to enter anything in the grid.

About three-quarters of the way through the clues, I decided to have a stab at entering some. I’m afraid I don’t remember my reasoning, for where I started, but I thought the 3-letter answers might help me position the top and bottom rows. I tried SANNYASI along the bottom crossing with VAN and APIARY. Next came STEMLESS along the top with LAP and STEEPENED crossing. PORTIERTES next and I seemed to be on a roll.

In hindsight, it was fortunate that the two 3-letter words that helped me, LAP and VAN, although being clashing entries, it was only the P and V contributed to their respective clash. And so the grid was finished, and not particularly quickly I may add.

The first sets of clashes I tried to unravel were SERAI, PCESSI and STURAU and the signs of the zodiac soon popped out. Of course, my first port of call was Wiki and I tried to get an approximation of the symbols in the little squares. It was only while writing this blog, long after my grid would have reached St Albans, that I discovered that the entry for zodiac in Chambers had the symbols as well. My symbol for Capricorn didn’t actually agree, but the wording of the preamble “…replaced by its usual symbol” could open up a can of worms and I don’t think The Times carries a horoscope. Good luck, JEG. (Personally, I’d have allowed any squiggle that didn’t look like a letter in the English alphabet!!)

Highlighting E for Earth in the centre finished everything off. A fairly tough little cookie here, I thought. Thanks, Aedites.

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