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Row’s full of thorns (aka ‘X XX XXX’ by Somniloquist)

Posted by Encota on 22 September 2017

This week’s puzzle was a cracker!  Tricky, yet precise, clues.  Clever adjustments needed to both some clues and some answers before entry.  Hidden information hiding in numerous places.  And a great title, with ‘X XX XXX’:
– one kiss, two kisses, three kisses
– one deletion, two deletions, three deletions
… at least that’s how I am reading it.

The Fox, the Deer and the Boar (that was the order I found them in) and the line of verse ending ‘hit to the erthe’ let me identify Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  I’ve never read the original but know of it (some Tolkien connection too, I think?).

Well, some of the details of this one has baffled me.  I could find all the deletions required from the Down clues.  I could even, with some investiGoogling, put them together to create … what exactly?  Well, my row’s full of thorns (or something like that).  Is that the head (hede) being removed from the ‘halce’ (presumably, halse, the neck)?  So the heads of some answers will be moved / removed??

And assuming all the Downs are entered unchanged, then I can deduce that the removed head of each Across clue may move some spaces to the right.  But from there on I am missing something!  What determines if the first letter of an across clue moves and, if so, by how many spaces?  Does the ‘earth’ bit mean they have to move to be next to an E (for Earth), perhaps?

Sitting here on Saturday evening, I checked the moved letters again.  And found they spelt out T-H-E … G-REEN KNIGHT!!  I then went back and checked the ones that hadn’t moved, and they spelt out SIR GAWAIN!!!  Amazing!
[As an aside, I won’t embarrass myself by sharing how long I spent looking for the Green Knight to be spelt out using knight’s moves in the grid 🙂 ]
Did the number of spaces moved have any relevance?  I am still not sure.  The question now – do I open up my letter to the Editors and add this extra finding above, or leave it with my earlier level of ignorance but still a correct solution (I think).  Hmm, laziness wins…

Even for the parts of the puzzle I do understand, this is a superb creation – thank you Somniloquist!

cheers all,

Tim / Encota



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X XX XXX by Somniloquist

Posted by shirleycurran on 22 September 2017



The Numpties are child-minding in California and the the temperature outdoors rose to 114°F as we worked our way through the Somniloquist’s offering. We felt more like somnambulists; I believe he is a new setter but what a debut!

But does the Somniloquist qualify for the Listener setters’ oenophile outfit? Well, I scanned his very dense clues, admiring the subtlety but not finding much evidence of alcohol unless we count ‘Begin once treats assembled (6)’ (which gave TREATS* = ASTERT) or the effect of those ‘treats’, which seemed to plaster the locals, ‘Support sound local plastering (7)’ which gave a word that was new for me, TEE + RING = TEERING. Fortunately there was the Napoleon in the last clue (which was also the last we solved) ‘Napoleon perhaps loses head after Jack hewed (4)’ Frankly rubbish as a surface reading [Isn’t that rather harsh? Ed.] but it gave us J(ack) + COIN less C = JOIN or ‘wed’, and the last two letters of that line of poetry. Well it’s quality stuff, le Napoléon, so ‘Santé, Somniloquist, see you at the bar in Paris?

Those kisses didn’t tell us much at first as we couldn’t see how they were going to lead to any exchanges. “It must be that we are going to remove one, two, or three letters from each of the down clues in order to produce that line of poetry.” said the other Numpty, as it proved to be. However, it was rather a long way into our solve and we had found the FOX – ‘Fine for Abe’s second in fight (3)’ BOX with F for (A)B(e), the BOAR – ‘Old Russian aristocrat expels unknown (4)’ BOYAR less Y, and the DEER – ‘Captain out of crucial game (4)’ DECIDER less CID = DEER – before vague memories of a text I have taught in years gone by (and remember as being tough and not half so much fun as Chaucer) surfaced. Something about one kiss being the reward for the head of an innocent slaughtered deer, two kisses for a fierce wild boar and three for the cunning fox [Obviously some sexual Middle English innuendo there; Ed.] So the title made sense.

We had already looked up Fox and Boar and found that it was a fable by Aesop but that didn’t seem relevant to a set of kisses or to the strange FAYRE HEDE that was emerging from the letters that we were extracting in order to produce meaningful clues. We had solved almost every clue and entered all the down ones and a fair number of the acrosses before the penny (or the head) dropped. THE FAYRE HEDE FRO THE HALCE HIT TO THE ERTHE. Simply lower the head of all those across clues that we had laboriously been entering as jumbles!

There was an even bigger thump as the final hede hit the earth. All those letters that we were lowering, in their clue order, spelled THE GREEN KNIGHT; what did the others spell? SIR GAWAIN, of course; so that was what that word ‘initial’ was doing in the preamble.

Grid full and quotation found but we had a rather strange clash of RHO and AT TABLE and that strange requirement that the quotation to be entered below the grid was to be 32 letters and not 36. One answer was to resolve this issue and, of course, it was THORN.

Hares in danger of decapitation.

All that was left to do was confirm, that Poat’s HARE is still frolicking in preambles, clues, grids or setters’ pseudonyms and there was a complete guddle of hares misbehaving at the centre-top of the grid – in fact the grid was full of the beasts (I am surprised they didn’t live in fear of being decapitated for a kiss as, according to Google, the hare, with the fox the boar and the deer, was the object of venery in the fourteenth century).

What an impressive amount of thematic material! Great setting, thank you, Somniloquist.

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Listener No 4466: X XX XXX by Somniloquist

Posted by Dave Hennings on 22 September 2017

OK, so this setter talks in his/her sleep! Most things said while you’re asleep tend to be somewhat gibberish, but this is the Listener, so I was sure that didn’t apply here. [Hold that thought1. Ed.] And I wondered at first what expletives had been deleted in the title!

There were three wordplay-only clues, so they should be easy to spot. [Another thought2 to hold. Ed.] Across answers, initially relating to two thematic characters, had their answers entered to reflect their fate. Down clues needed amendment before solving to reveal a line from a poem.

Although they were to be solved without amendment, I didn’t get that many acrosses on my first pass. I should have got 1 Greeted old girl, then married, having ditched idiot (6) [SUE + UNITED – NIT], although it was a bit more understandable that 5 Vehicle cost round about 11 cents (7) [TAB around A XI C] eluded me. 39 Fine for Abe’s second in fight (3) also remained unsolved. [Told you2. Ed.]

I tackled the down clues with trepidation. Actually, in hindsight, I should have been wary of entering the across entries that I had since they had to be entered to reflect a fate. The first down clue I got, helped by the first E of INTERRED was 4 Captain out of crucial game (4), with just wordplay for DE(CID)ER.

However, 7 Mental images aid circle literate in arts (5) IDOLS was the first to indicate that a letter had to be dropped, aid becoming id. Returning to 1dn Stand-off Barton leaves fellow club member (9), I guessed that Barton became baron to give STA(B)LEMATE. I was helped with this having recently had an American sitcom explain the difference between stalemate, impasse and Mexican stand-off.

Not for the first time this year, I had the feeling that a new setter was in fact an old hand in disguise. The clues were generally tough, even when I realised that the title of the puzzle indicated that 1, 2 or 3 letters needed to be expunged from the down clues before they could be solved. For example 6dn Cut [f]rom promo in clever backing tracks (9) led to RO(M) AD in SMART<.

Fast forward to a finished grid, although fast was certainly not an adjective to describe my solve. The wordplay-only entries were FOX, DEER and BOAR, and I initially thought that we were dealing with one of Aesop’s fables. Nothing sprang to mind, or to Google for that matter.

I had finally sussed that some of the across answers had to be entered with their first letter misplaced. Those letters spelt out The Green Knight, whereas the unmisplaced first letters spelt out Sir Gawain. Meanwhile the single clash between 9ac RHO and 9dn AT TABLE was TH or þ, as hinted at by 29dn THORN.

This finally explained why the quotation did indeed look like gibberish. [Told you1. Ed.] The letters redacted from the down clues gave The fayre hede fro the halce hit to the erthe and it looked very Chaucerian. In fact, it was from an anonymous 14th century scribe in a poem called, not surprisingly, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . The devices used in this puzzle relate to Sir Gawain’s beheading of the Green Knight (who promptly stands up and puts his head under his arm), and the three animals hunted by Bertilak de Hautdesert and given to Sir Gawain in exchange for 1, 2 and 3 kisses which Sir Gawain has received from Lady Bertilak. Bertilak is in fact the Green Knight in disguise. The kisses are another interpretation of the title.

Of course, I had to track down the full text of the poem. I cannot now recall how I finally found it, but the University of Toronto web site has a copy, line 427 being our quotation to be entered in olde English form: “þe fayre hede fro þe halce hit to þe erþe”. (Another lucky escape for me this week: as I was about to fill in the quotation from my working copy, I realised that I had it starting “þhe fayre hede…” with an extra “h”.)

What an innovative puzzle from Somniloquist, thanks. It was a marvellous piece of grid construction with some tough clues to go with it.

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PQRST by Yorick

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 September 2017

The preamble told us there were three different types of clues; normal ones which would be involved in clashes, ‘most’ other ones that would have a misprint in the definition part and the remaining ones where the grid entry (given by wordplay) would have a wrong letter. That last one is an original device (and it led me to a truly Numptyish grid stare at the end, as I was stupidly attempting to make those letters spell the ‘further item’. Read the preamble! It clearly said ‘the correct letters can form the name of a further item and, of course, that RHOMBUS was a clanging penny drop moment.

First, of course, I had to confirm that Yorick retains his place in the Listener Setters’ Toping Society and, of course, he does with ‘Experts at making safe highballs and methaqualone (9, two words)’ “They are BOMBS”, said the other Numpty and he checked that ‘methaqualone’ in the Big Red Book is QUAD, so producing BOMBSQUAD. This was followed by ‘Regular drinks forgotten as America leads (6)’ We’re heading for the USA tomorrow and our USUALS there seem to be Starbucks’ coffees but ‘usuals’ are regular drinks in the pub in BRB and there is that forgotten old Germanic word ALS for ‘as’ so we had found one of the clues where the wordplay gave USAALS but the definition gave something different. So with highballs and the usuals, cheers, Yorick.

We didn’t find solving easy at all as this was very subtle cluing and a number of the words were new to us: MANDIRA, CLAES, UMBONAL, RALLIDAE, STEWCANS, FADIER and LATERIGRADE, for example, and I didn’t know that a jargon was another name for a ZIRCON, ‘Page one may be jargon, changing atmospheric treatment’s start to literary opposite extreme (6)’ No, this was  definitely not one of the relatively easy crosswords to encourage Listener newcomers. We had AGUIZE in place already and the Z?RCON, so this was likely to be ZIRCON but we had to work backwards. We needed an L corrected misprint (as B?ANKS was already in place) so we were probably looking for a PALE ‘zircon’ and, sure enough, the BRB told me that jargoon or jargon was just that. Of course, we had to work out the exact wordplay of every clue to check that one of those ‘wrong’ letters wasn’t there so we teased out AIR-CON with the A changing to the other alphabetic extreme, Z.

With just a break for dinner and rather a long struggle getting the computer to print the entire puzzle, which had not only arrived late but also somewhat truncated, it was late evening before we had a full grid and the message DRAW FIVE SHAPES THROUGH NAMES AND BLANKS. I needed a clue as my extra item seemed to be ASMDDAO. A little voice said “Read the preamble” and, of  course there it was. The CORRECT letters of the wrong wordplay entry. BSUORHM immediately gave me RHOMBUS and the light dawned.


Mad March(esa) MARA

relevant title) then had to think about that RHOMBUS . My first attempt was too small (I wonder how strict the marker will be!) and the other Numpty drew one for me that would fulfil the requirement (equal and parallel sides with an area equivalent to twenty cells. It just fitted nicely into the space left by the other shapes. Many thanks to Yorick for the challenge; there was so much in this impressive compilation.

The HARE? – ‘March'(ESA) was a big hint but it was a MARA this week mischievously hiding behind that rhombus – a  Mad March Mara.

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‘PQRST?’ by Yorick

Posted by Encota on 15 September 2017

What a super Title!  We have this list of four-sided planar figures:

  • Parallelogram
  • Quadrilateral
  • Rectangle, or Rhombus
  • Square
  • Trapezium

Perhaps the Title should be read as What Is Missing From This Set? PQRST _ , with the answer being R for Rhombus?  Or perhaps it means O to U, being short for Over To You, i.e. it is your turn, solver, to do the next bit? Anywise…

There were, for me, several delays along the way:

  • At 37a we needed an old / obsolete word for DENIES.  I incorrectly guessed NICKS instead of NILLS and then struggled with the parsing.  The clue read:
       No longer denies verse’s less literary style (5)
    I suspect seasoned Listener solvers (i.e. not me!) would spot ‘literary style’ and immediately know it as one of the definitions of the word PEN, then subtract it from the Welsh word for verse’s that is PENNILL’S, leaving the answer NILLS.  As an aside I liked the use of the apostrophe in this clue to avoid having to get involved with the plural of PENNILL, namely PENNILLION.
  • 32a was a reasonable and fair clue:
    Announced a Men’s Fashion in the post (6)
    Well, ‘post’ was a likely misprint for ‘past’, so the clue now read
    Announced a Men’s Fashion in the past (6)
    “A Men’s” sounded like “A GUYS’ “, so I needed an old word for ‘fashion’.  I guessed AGUISE, checked it in Chambers and there it was – sorted!  Or so I thought.  Only much later did I spot that the S clashed with a Z in a down clue, finally cottoning on that it should have been AGUIZE all along.
  • At 38d it took me seemingly forever to work out why Leah was a ‘cowgirl’.  Character from a musical, perhaps?  What was the name of that character in Toy Story??  It was only when checking the biblical Leah, the (well, a) wife of Jacob, that I spotted that the name claimed to be derived from the Akkadian for ‘cow’.
  • And in 24a, it looked like the answer might be ARTERY, but why?  The clue read:
    M4, perhaps, which if moving East to West would turn into attention test (6)
    proved at long last to be ARTERY – because if you moved E(ast) towards the West (i.e. left) you could end up with EAR TRY.  Sneaky!

With the mix of clue types, the well-hidden misprints (in most cases), not being exactly sure what to do with the ‘leave cells blank initially’ statement in the Preamble (it’s obvious after the event, I think!) and the six shapes to be found, this was time-consuming for me – such that it is now late on Saturday before I’ve got to the stage of writing this blog.

The final stage of adding a rhombus was easy – it had to be of base length 5 cells and 4 high, given the space available and the need to use a 3,4,5 triangle to create the sloping sides.

Finally, I had a feeling that Yorick may have added a few TRIANGLE red herrings to the puzzle, what with -IAN- on two separate rows each joining onto -GLE 🙂

Thanks Yorick – a great puzzle.

Tim / Encota


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