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Gallery by Phi

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 December 2018

With some surprise, we downloaded a circular grid, though we have memories of Phi’s unusual grids, in particular when he celebrated his own fiftieth birthday with a double L grid. We know that editors are not over-fond of circular crosswords, partly because they tend to leave too many unchecked letters for the solver to work out, but this one, with a mere thirty-nine clues had (we discovered as we solved) the astonishing property of confirming every letter except for that repeated one from the radial entries that interrupted some of the circular solutions.

We noted that we were going to find just one single extra letter in the wordplay of one of the circular clues and the these were going to establish a scoring system in some form of game where the ten inward solutions were competing with the outward ones. We guessed from the title that we were going to be shooting at a target or maybe playing darts. Well, there would be a few glasses of beer consumed during either of those matches though the clues didn’t contain much alcohol – just a landlord and some Ecstasy being pocketed, but cheers, anyway, Phi.

That clue, ‘Youth estranged from much of society immediately pocketing Ecstasy’ gave us our first p.d.m. as we put NEXT round E and produced our NEET with an extra X. Could our scoring system be Roman numerals? (Thinking back to Phi’s Fifty crossword, that seemed plausible). ‘Recipient of goods no longer let down with busy person about’ put a BEE round VAIL, giving BAILEE and we had our V for five, so we hunted for an L in ring 4. That was tough (but Phi’s clues sometimes are, aren’t they?).Eventually we found that PLAT is an ‘American plan’ and reversing that gave us TAP, the espionage activity. We found the C with less difficulty, ‘Expert taking care of brittle cracked bitumen gave us A[C]E round BRITTLE* = ALBERTITE. D emerged from ‘SE[D] PAL’ for ‘Part of flower’ and I from (c)ADD[I]S, ‘Attaches braid without a hint of colour’. Those values worked from the outer circle to the inner one so we decided that a bull’s eye would have to score M or a thousand.

We slowly filled our grid, grateful for all those intersecting letters, then colour-coded our team of inward players and outward players and carefully added up their scores. Of course some of them (OPEN SEA, TAMARAO, SANTERO and OILLETS) had scored bull’s eyes, extending beyond the six cells allocated to the other words, but that was MM for each team so we had to carefully calculate the shots in the six rings. We had some doubt about the shared ‘hit’ where EL NINO and ALECTO might both have put their bullets into the same hole or one of them might have missed (which would justify that figure 16 in the preamble), but decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and to add DD to the score. Inward seemed to be the more accurate shooter scoring MMDD CXVVII (3122) against Outward’s MMLXXXV (2085). Inward is the winner!

What fun and what a clever idea. Thank you, Phi.


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Listener No 4529: St Hubert’s College by Oyler

Posted by Dave Hennings on 7 December 2018

It had been nearly two years since Oyler’s last Listener, Can’t You Do Division? similar to an old Rhombus puzzle from the 60’s. I couldn’t recall an earlier Listener with this sort of theme, although there was an EV puzzle, also by Oyler, t20 based on a cricket match. (Sadly, I failed on that one, but luckily it wasn’t my blogging week.)

Here, bizarrely, we had a bit of time travel at St Hubert’s with a Master creating a way of remembering the security code for his wife’s bank account. Now this obviously put the date he wrote it sometime post-PIN days, which I would guess is in the mid 1960’s. With the added knowledge that the college had a time travel department, all sorts of things could be going on.

Anyway, as is usual with a mathematical puzzle, I had to start again when I had options for 15dn, the number of years since the college was founded, a square and multiple of 1ac. With the clue for 1ac The number of college graduates nominated for Nobel prizes in the 20th century, a factor of 14dn, I assumed that the Master was creating the code post-20c. but the only one that seemed to fit was 1995.

Of course, with the time-travelly bit, anything could be going on, and I eventually assumed that someone had sent Whitaker’s Almanac, or some such, back from the 21st century. A bit of a red herring with the time travel, I thought.

Still, it’s always nice to have a different mathematical and my reworking didn’t take too long. As expected a fun puzzle and not too tricky, so thanks, Oyler.

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St Hubert’s College by Oyler

Posted by shirleycurran on 7 December 2018

I dread those three-monthly numerical crosswords and downloaded this one by the king of the numerical crossword world with immense trepidation, then saw all those perfectly normal clues and heaved a sigh of relief. Years ago, one of the Listener editors told me that solvers are not very fond of this combination of text and numerical crosswords. I have no quarrel with it and there was a fine description of a truly scumbag college to delight us together with all those figures to work out. Yes, it took us until after midnight as I (using the Internet) landed on a list of five-digit primes that didn’t include the one we needed, and we left it rather late in our solve to calculate the three potential ‘bank security codes’ at 14d, one of which would confirm that the master’s wife didn’t produce 19 children, that the college had 19 Nobel nominees in its ranks and 37 post-grads.

Of course, it was Pheidippides, the speedy snail, who produced the whoop of joy at about midnight, when all our speculation and calculation was confirmed and I have no issue with him, but must severely castigate Oyler for publicising such a disgraceful seat of drunkenness and debauchery. Yes, of course I checked the alcohol content of the clues and was appalled when we learned that 699 bottles – almost certainly of the finest quality – shall we guess about 50 pounds a bottle? – were consumed at a single dinner. That’s 35,000 pounds. Nearly three times the Master’s annual entertainment allowance. No wonder his bursar spent over two and a half years in prison for tax evasion. They were probably in drunken cahoots (but cheers, anyway, Oyler!) Somebody has to fund all that boozing and we guessed they must be charging hefty fees from all those overseas students (yes, we did wonder for a while, whether they comprised part of the undergraduate/graduate body or had to be counted separately).

Fibonacci, the cat, seems to be the most effective of the whole bunch of them, but 55 mice! (Some were probably rats). With 54 non-academic staff, and probably even more academic staff, the staff-student ratio of this vermin-ridden place is totally skewed and the domestic staff, who should be shifting the snails, mice etc. are probably slewed with all that wine – certainly not doing their job – but spending their day with stopwatches timing snails round the quad. I ask you!

Or is that how the Master spends his day? The other Numpty declared that he should be fired for gross moral turpitude. 39 years old and he had already fathered two or three bastard offspring before baby-snatching a wife twenty years his junior, a kind of Lolita, just about as randy as he is with her own sprog or sprogs in tow. And what do they do? Produce ten more ‘in or out of wedlock’ (seducing pretty students?)

The whole set up is shady. With all those ‘graduates’ from a body of merely 349 students, something is fishy. There must have been about 140 graduates a year over the 361 years of the college’s existence so something is going on. Are they in the business of awarding shady postal doctorates for a fee? Shame, Oyler! It won’t do.


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Escapee by Dysart

Posted by shirleycurran on 30 November 2018

I’ve been producing crosswords on the First World War poets for the last few years and worked feverishly to create some to commemorate the Armistice since this weekend is the centenary of that longed-for moment. Wilfred Owen is my particular favourite of those poets, with Sassoon a short step behind and it is difficult not to be moved by those words from Binyon’s The Fallen that we will br hearing in tomorrow’s services, ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old … at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember’. MacCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ and Brooke’s ‘If I should die …’ are classics, even if later attitudes have denigrated that early patriotism and optimism Brooke displayed. Jeremy Paxman, in Great Britain’s Great War, writes a most instructive analysis of how a century has adapted our attitude to those dreadful events of 1914 to 1918.

So I was expecting a crossword in some way related to the centenary of the Armistice and we had solved for only a few minutes when those letters we were adding to across clues began to spell out I AM THE ENEMY YOU KILLED (my friend), possibly the most moving of all Owen’s poems, though the saddest must be Futility, and the most shocking Dulce Et Decorum Est, with its graphic reaction to a gas attack. For me, almost the saddest moment of the whole war was the doorbell ringing at Owen’s home to announce his death, as the Armistice bells celebrated the end of it all.

Of course, finding the quotation from Strange Meeting made this a speedy solve for us, though we were puzzled by 1ac CO?F?CT, until we realised that this was the clue where the Escapee was coming into his own, ‘It seemed that out of battle I escaped …’ the first line of the poem. We removed I from CONFLICT and all was well. This was perhaps a precursor for the cryptic manipulations of 26 letters that were needed for the completion of our crossword.

‘A later work that features the first work (Strange Meeting) and others by the same author’…  Friends are performing in Britten’s WAR REQUIEM this weekend and those misprints in down clues obligingly spelled out that title, so that we were able to interchange the letters of SLOB and WRITTEN producing OWEN and BRITTEN in the grid. All that was left to do was the highlighting of 26 letters.

One of them EMITEGN* for a strange or anagrammed MEETING was immediately obvious but I had to read about the nine poems included in Britten’s Requiem to work out what the other two to highlight could be. EDISON was obviously the next (Are you sure? Ed.) as that unexpected proper noun in the crossword clearly had to be there for a reason. How clever! We read it the other way up and got NO SIDE and the BRB tells me that is ‘The End’ (of a rugby match). Obviously this clue has no side if it is cryptically sending us to THE END. The next that we saw was obligingly EXTENTH* (THE NEXT with ‘War’ functioning as the anagram indicator). So we have our three and I get out my highlighter. “Hang on!” says the other Numpty. “They add up to only 20 cells. We have a problem!”

So we head scratch. ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH took longer. We could see that the ‘Doomed’ could be an anagram indicator but I had a bit of an issue with ANOTHERFMLAD* on the third row of the grid, as that anagrammed to ANTHEM FOR LAD, whilst the archives show very clearly that Owen and Sassoon, in their discussion of the title, were discussing ‘youth’ as a state of being or a collective term for all those lads, not just one lad. Of course, Dysart had foreseen this and ’26 letters’ made it clear what was required and those words in the preamble removed my worry ‘the titles of … two others used in the later work’. Yes, Britten’s script refers to A doomed youth, justifiably focusing, possibly on Owen. So we abandon poor EDISON and highlight the other three.

What a fine tribute. Many thanks to Dysart.

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Listener No 4528: Escapee by Dysart

Posted by Dave Hennings on 30 November 2018

As someone pointed out last week, I was a tad premature, so let’s try again. Like three others before him (Schadenfreude, Hedge-sparrow and Chalicea), this was Dysart’s second Listener of the year. The first was a dreadful puzzle A Dreadful Puzzle, all about phobias.

Here we had all but three across clues needing a letter to be replaced before solving, but not in the definition. The first thought that came to mind was, for some reason, Moby Dick. Lots of messages to be revealed here, both in the clue messages and in the grid endgame — none would be about the whale and his protagonist.

As expected with Dysart, the clues were tricky but enjoyable. The messages from the across clues and downs were slow to reveal themselves, especially the downs since they needed unjumbling. Eventually we had “I am the enemy you killed[, my friend]” in the acrosses leading to the Wilfred Owen poem, Strange Meeting, a meeting in Hell, and further clued by the three extra words in the across clues: interestingly unusual encounter. The first line of this poem is “It seemed that out of battle I escaped” and required CONFLICT to be entered as CONFLCT at 1ac.

As for the downs which had a misprint, 29 Team turning to inventor with guest to develop sound recording? (6) initially befuddled me. Did Edison really guess at developing sound recording. Well, of course not — it was a quest to develop it! Thus the misprints read MUAEWIQRER. Given we were in Armistice weekend, the WAR stood out, and REQUIEM soon followed, a masterpiece by Benjamin Britten.

I then indulged in a lot of googling, primarily being sidetracked to various sites for further background reading, and sobering it was. I had seen WRITTEN in one of the diagonals, and it didn’t take long to swap its W for the B in row 8 to give both BRITTEN and OWEN in the final grid. The final step was to identify three of Owen’s poems from Britten’s work. Strange MEETING was obvious in row 5, but ANTHEM FOR Doomed Youth in row 3 and THE NEXT War in the bottom row took a bit more ferreting out.

Thanks for the excellent puzzle, Dysart, and for the tour of Wilfred Owen and Benjamin Britten.

Postscript: In the course of my travels, I discovered that the latest copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (8th Edition, 2014) bought a year ago, has reduced the number of Special Categories highlighted in the index from twenty to just eleven. These include Opening Lines, as well as Closing Lines and Last Words. They may well have initially disappeared in earlier editions. The extracts are probably all available in the main index, but I think it’s a shame that the categories have been lost.

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