Listen With Others

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About the Bloggers

Chris Lancaster

The guy who started this site and now the editor of Enigmatic Variations in The Sunday Telegraph. He also sets under the pseudonym of Samuel. Hasn’t he done well!


I have been doing The Listener crossword on and off (mainly off) since I was about 16. I am now slightly older, and finally have a lot of time on my hands to devote to this beauty and others like it. In its honour, I created the Crossword Database (sorry about the plug). I try and complete The Listener, Inquisitor and Enigmatic Variations every week, with about a 90% success rate (which translates into a 0.1% prize rate). Unfortunately, Crossword magazine and Magpie demand more time than even I have. I treat all these puzzles like treasure hunts where, well not to put too fine a point on it, anything goes in trying to get to the elusive pot of gold… except of course asking someone else. I have no qualms about using Bradford’s or Chambers Crossword Dictionary or about Googling whatever seems appropriate. I’m hoping that doing a Listener blog every few weeks and an EV blog every third week (at Fifteensquared) will improve my powers of recall which old(ish) age is beginning to hack away at.

On the non-crosswording front I play golf and tinker with computery stuff. I grew up with William Hartnell’s Doctor Who and Monty Python, but feel at home in the 21st century with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and The Big Bang Theory.

Charles and Shirley

The Numpties, Charles and Shirley Curran, solve together. He’s better at the actual clue-solving and she tends to manage the endgames. They have been solving the Listener regularly for about seven years and blogging for the last few of those, spotting setter quirks, like the fact that it is a rare setter who has no resort to alcoholic clues, and loathing jumbles almost as much as Playfair squares. Shirley sets under a range of pseudonyms and in a range of setting teams (Rasputin, Nudnix, Bics to name just three) but mainly under her own pseudonyms of Chalicea, Curmudgeon and Gnomie, and has already had almost 800 crosswords appear in a wide range of publications including the Listener, Inquisitor, Enigmatic Variations, the Magpie, 1 Across, the Crossword Centre, Crossword Club, the 3D Calendar series, NTSPP, the local Geneva press – where she lives and had a crossword weekly for six years – and The Farmers Guardian where she compiles the weekly cryptic crossword. With vetting and testing filling a lot of spare time, you could say that crosswords are somewhat of an obsession.

Tim King / Encota

I joined the LWO blogging team in Autumn 2016 after previously sharing some friendly but slightly off-the-wall comments on Listener puzzles with Shirley Curran. I used to allow myself to spend the time solving The Listener crossword only when I had a two-week holiday from work and am now delighted, having semi-retired, to have time to give it a go each week, though being relatively new to The Listener I am not really sure how successfully! I love the variety of difficulty in Listener puzzles (& especially like those at the harder end), the cleverness of some of the clueing, as well as some of the superb Penny Dropping Moments. I’m a bit of a fan of subtle Titles, too! I’ve been solving cryptics since the 1970s and have been setting them (under the name Encota) more seriously since 2015, including cryptics for technical journals. I’m happily married, with three children and a love of music (especially live music and, of those artists still performing, Steven Wilson & Radiohead).


James is a youngish solver, a mathematical physicist by trade, who discovered the Listener while still struggling with the regular Times Crossword on the opposite page — and then through the four-yearly numerical puzzles before daring to venture his hand at the advanced cryptics in 2011. Eventually, after lots of practice and perseverance, and with much help from the likes of Shirley, he got passably OK at them. Good enough to blog on a few — and even set a handful of puzzles, mostly appearing in the EV series, under his pseudonym of Jaguar.

At the moment he’s a bit bogged down by what he’s actually supposed to be doing for a change, but after taking the year off in 2016 hopes to return to solving and setting (and even blogging!) at some point in the not-too-distant future…

Erwin Hatch (albeit no longer blogging with us)

I was born in Belfast (Sept 1952), bred in Surbiton, Surrey (from 1956) and with a degree in Chemistry from Leeds University (1974) worked for nearly 30 years in electronic ceramics based in North Hertfordshire. In 2003, my job went to Chennai and I opted to retire and remain in Hitchin, on the eastern edge of the Chilterns. Retirement has not meant the absence of work; I run a Residents’ Association, do some gardening and then there are all these crosswords.

My crossword career started with the back page of the London Evening News circa 1960, I have fond memories of the Sunday Express Skeleton and then it was largely the Guardian and Times daily cryptic – I particularly liked the Guardian’s Bank Holiday specials, usually set by Araucaria, and an introduction to thematic puzzles.

My obsession with the Listener started in the mid eighties when I found second-hand but pristine copies of the first and third Penguin collections (1970 & 1980). I went on to regularly photocopy likely looking puzzles from The Listener magazine in the library, especially the numerical ones, and have attempted and retain on file every puzzle from the Times era bar No.3105 (unavailable in Fort William – I was distraught).

I am deeply nostalgic about my early years with the Listener. As with the majority of solvers, I was totally alone so it was similar to doing the puzzles under exam conditions except for the free access to reference works – the Monday lunchtime visit to the library became routine and more than once I have trawled through an entire Shakespeare play looking for a quotation. I did briefly have two telephone contacts for hints in Hitchin, tracked down after they were named prize-winners, but one died and the other lost interest. Puzzles would often take the best part of a week to crack and perhaps five grids a year remained blank or all but blank. My reading suffered and I went from two to three novels per week down to half a dozen per year! My much-thumbed copy of Chambers was as revered as any Bible.

However, as with everything, performance improves with practice and the Listener today is something that I can generally complete within three to four hours, usually on a Saturday afternoon with the backdrop of BBC Radio 4 playing. I do make the odd mistake but the blank grid is now totally unknown.

I am glad that I got to know the Listener before the arrival of the Internet since for a solver starting today the experience can never again be as intense as it once was. Opportunities for collusion are now readily available for the weak-willed and anagrams may be unscrambled and quotations found in split seconds. On the positive side, powerful programs enable the setting of some spectacular thematic puzzles and I get to write this blog. I have a penchant for producing and adding diagrams, which gives me as much pleasure as the crosswords themselves, so I particularly like multifaceted thematic puzzles although the numerical ones remain my top favourites. I rather like non-standard clues and my most feared definition is plant.

I do regularly check puzzles (not usually the Listener) and will offer suggestions for improvement to clues but have no ambition to be a setter myself. There again, perhaps one day I shall think of the perfect theme.


One Response to “About the Bloggers”

  1. A message for Shirley Curran :

    On 11th April this year, you posted am entry about Roddy Forman (Radix), entitiled ‘No Robbery by Radix’. As I’m sure you’re aware, Roddy was a Housemaster at Eton College. In February next year, there is due to be a gathering of the pupils who were in his House, and one of the things proposed for this gathering was the creation of a beer in his memory. (I was in his House from ’87, and now run a brewery in Mid Wales).

    The photo you have on the blog post is an excellent picture of Roddy, and I was wondering if it would be possible to get a copy of this to use on the label?

    Many thanks,

    Buster Grant
    Brecon Brewing

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