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D2 by Eclogue

Posted by shirleycurran on 2 Dec 2022

We are used to seeing Eclogue’s crosswords in just about every cryptic outlet, including a frequent Christmas one on the Crossword Centre’s message board, so I am rather surprised when I look at Dave Henning’s Crossword Database and find that this is their very first joint Listener crossword.

Before I can even start solving, I shall have to confirm that Eclogue gains admission to that Listener oenophile elite. What do I find? ‘Steal abandoned beers (4)’ Oh dear, that isn’t very promising – surely they are not going to consume other drinkers’ stale and flat leftovers? We decide that the extra letter in the wordplay of this clue will be the T and that ‘abandoned’ is a hint to anagram the remaining four letters S[t]EAL and that gives us a lovely straightforward answer, ALES. Well, welcome and cheers, Eclogue!

It is great to have a generous and relatively easy set of clues from time to time, and the solutions go in at break-neck speed with those extra letters soon spelling out a decipherable message: REPLACE ALL PLANETS WITH THE NAME OF ONE OF THEIR SATELLITES. We have already decided that JUPITER must be the answer at 5ac and are now prompted to fill the other three unclued lights with URANUS, NEPTUNE and SATURN. The other Numpty comments that some of those gas giants have vast numbers of satellites and we need the Internet to prompt us that HIMALIA circles around JUPITER. Then OBERON, LARISSA and TETHYS give us less of a problem and our grid is looking well-populated.

Ah, but there is that little empty cell in the centre that has to have more than one letter. Now which planet could fill that? Ah, with a smile, we use the E of those ALES and the H of SHOD, add a little ART to the centre of the grid and we have an ‘earth-centred’ universe. But wait a minute: we were told to replace ALL planets with the name of one of their satellites and I can see Earth’s satellite through the window right now. What a lovely finish! MOON goes in there, the ALES become ALMS and the SHOD becomes SNOD. I’ve said it before: I do like it when grid changes leave all real words (even if Eclogue loses those flat ales – the elitist Listener oenophile entry ticket). Thanks for a fine Listener debut.

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Listener No 4736, New Arrivals: A Setters’ Blog by Avian

Posted by Listen With Others on 27 Nov 2022

[Avian is a collaboration between Brock (Andrew Varney) and Hedge-sparrow (Rob Pinnock)]

AV: When vetting my debut Listener puzzle, Not a Black and White Decision (NABAWD), Derek Arthur commented that it looked like the first of a series. This puzzle was originally going to be NABAWD2. My notes from November 2018 suggest a similar arrangement, with clashes in a R/L format leading to WATERSHIP (Down) and some of the characters from the book appearing, along with SANDLEFORD and/or WARREN being destroyed. A second note refines this to show HOUSING CRISIS as a central band. At the very end of 2019, I approached Hedge-sparrow, a setter whose puzzles on not dissimilar themes I much admired.

RP: Andrew’s approach to me was the first time I had been offered the opportunity of participating in creating a collaborative puzzle. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and, although Andrew explained what he had in mind and pointed me towards his original NABAWD puzzle, it took a while for me to begin to get the hang of collaborative puzzle creation. I remember I quickly created a “draft” puzzle which was not quite in line with Andrew’s concept, but we soon began to work very constructively (even though Andrew had to put up with my “pencil and paper” approach to puzzle construction and deal with lots of photographs of trial grids I sent him!) One of two relevant dates we had in mind for publication of the puzzle was the 50th anniversary of the original publication of Watership Down (November 1972): we hoped that we would be successful in creating a suitable puzzle in time to “reserve” that.

AV: I was impressed that Rob had come up with a grid in about a week after almost 18 months of me sitting on it! His greater experience in setting showed through and he introduced some ideas that I’d not considered, which ultimately shaped the direction the puzzle took. That included the primary concept of “characters” being displaced from the left-hand side of the grid to the right-hand side, thereby overcoming the “housing crisis” rather than necessarily focussing on clashes.

RP: Early trials focused on trying different arrangements and positions for the phrases HOUSING CRISIS, SANDLEFORD WARREN, and WATERSHIP DOWN, as well as considering how to include the names of at least some of the rabbits. In kicking around various anagrams of SANDLEFORD WARREN between us, I discovered LAND FOR WANDERERS, which suggested the idea that the “characters” of SANDLEFORD WARREN could be expunged from the LHS (representing the destruction of Sandleford Warren) and relocated on the RHS (representing the creation of the new warren on Watership Down): in this concept, the term “characters” could then suggest either the actual letters of the phrases, or the rabbits in the story. After further discussion we concluded that, to make the puzzle solvable, the letters LAND FOR WANDERERS appearing in entries on the RHS should: (i) be clearly indicated by the wordplay of clues for those entries; (ii) if possible, appear in clue order. With 16 letters in the phrase, point (ii) seemed to be very difficult to achieve in half a grid: however, Andrew had the brainwave of splitting the phrase into LAND FOR appearing in across entries, and WANDERERS appearing in down entries, and “doubling up” the use of the letters AND appearing in both parts of the phrase. This trick enabled him to come up with a viable RHS with the letters of the phrase appearing in the right order. I had the rather easier task of creating a LHS with the letters of the phrase randomly removed from answers before entry: however, in creating both these grid-halves, we also had to consider the names of the rabbits – which to include, and how.

AV: As Rob mentions, I noticed that AND was repeated in LAND and WANDERERS, which finally enabled us to overcome the “gridlock” by allowing them to do double-duty. Even so, it was still a significant challenge to keep the grid symmetrical apart from the central band. At this point we had the four names HAZEL, ACORN, SILVER and FIVER in the bag, but having re-acquainted ourselves thoroughly with the book in preparation, it felt inadequate not to include BIGWIG and PIPKIN. While I use compiling software as a tool, it was primarily a guide in seeing what was possible. Rob’s coup was working in THERB[L]IG and TH[E] PIP with his pencil and paper to be able to include PIPKIN and BIGWIG in the final grid. Which brings us onto the clues.

AV: We allocated the clues alternately to one or the other of us, then discussing further refinements via SMS, email and a couple of Zoom calls. Writing good right/left clues is not easy, one secret (as per Don Manley) being to disguise the join between the two halves while maintaining a viable surface reading. Much time was spent on this and almost as much on trimming them. We competed to see who could achieve the shortest average clue length, neither of us being renowned for our concision. We had given ourselves an additional constraint: in Rob’s words “we did not want to leave any of the characters behind”, yet of the original eleven who left Sandleford to arrive at Watership, only six were in the grid.

RP: The five escapees not included were HAWKBIT, BLACKBERRY, DANDELION, BUCKTHORN and SPEEDWELL. Since these names could not realistically be incorporated in the grid, we considered ways to include them as part of the clues. With the exception of DANDELION, all the names split into two real words, which suggested that we could try to fit half of a name in each half of a double clue. Using “extra” words to be removed before solving would be too obvious, losing the PDM of finding the names in the grid, so we decided to incorporate them as essential parts of the wordplay. The most problematic name was DANDELION, but Andrew noticed the possibility of splitting it as “D AND E” and “LION”, and this trick enabled us to create a (somewhat convoluted) clue for the entry STEAK DIANE. We gave no hint that these extra names were “hidden” in the clues: they were there as an “Easter egg” for solvers to spot, though we’re not sure if anyone did.

AV: I mooted asking solvers to highlight all eleven characters, but Rob advised against it, bearing in mind some prior controversy related to leporine extra-grid highlighting. The editors kindly allowed us to keep the feature in the puzzle, despite it not being needed for the solution. The final editing stage seemed more involved than usual as we worked with the editors to balance surface reading, accuracy and concision in many of the clues. The title also changed at this point, since the puzzle was no longer obviously a NABAWD sequel. I suggested NEW ARRANGEMENTS, i.e. ‘NEW ARRS.’ (see Grove), reflecting puzzle mechanisms, story plot and leading to WARRENS with N, E removed from the left half and replaced on the right in a different order. To align better with Chambers, Rob recommended the improvement NEW ARRIVALS. As in the Watership Down story itself, the puzzle construction was quite an adventure, involving close collaboration between us and with gratefully-received help from others on the journey. Thank you particularly to the editors for this assistance and solvers for kind words of welcome following the puzzle’s publication.

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New Arrivals by Avian

Posted by shirleycurran on 25 Nov 2022

It didn’t take us long to suspect that Avian was not a new arrival, despite this being a debut Avian puzzle. It was just too clever for newbie and looked like the work of a couple of old hands (we have our suspects!). However, I still checked that Avian has an entry ticket for the next Listener Setters’ Oenophile Get-together and I found the grid absolutely swimming in alcohol. We needed something to accompany the STEAK DIANE that the other Numpty had already solved and the other half of that clue ‘admirer crashed red lion almost full of drunk Scots (10) gave us IDOLATER with an extra W in it (REDLIO(n) around WAT which Chambers tells us is ‘drunk’ for Scots). Chambers also tells us it’s an obsolete word for a hare so that Poat hare was creeping in – but did he need to with all those other little beasties that peopled the final grid?

We also had, in those clues ‘Irish spirit Europeans drink up in resorts’ ‘… French wine was all over flannel’ and ‘… drunk driver, half-cut, …’ all shared over two solutions, so Avian left little doubt. Cheers!

We found the device of letters moving to the other side of the grid very difficult, especially as those removed letters from the left could appear in any word on the right and, after hours of desultory solving, it was, surprisingly, the appearance of a potential FIVER, HAZEL and PIPKIN that gave me the hint and prompted us where to put that W in IDOLATER and how to solve 22d. ‘In packet say’ Well ‘In’ = HIP and a packet can be a SHIP. WATERSHIP DOWN! a great favourite of my nieces and what a Richard Adams gem.

Our grid was completed before we could work out that those three words that the displaced characters were seeking were LAND FOR WANDERERS and, of course, that cleverly anagrammed to SANDLEFORD WARREN where 5d HOUSING CRISIS occurred, and all those letters that I had been carefully recording at the right of my grid spelled that out too.

And rabbits, rabbits, rabbits! BIGWIG, ACORN and SILVER completed the team. What a stunning puzzle!

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Listener no 4735, Spirit Time: A Setter’s Blog by Skylark

Posted by Listen With Others on 20 Nov 2022

Since reading Behind The Scenes at the Museum, her Whitbread-prize winning debut, I have been a fan of Kate Atkinson. Indeed, she is probably my favourite living author.

When musing over her output, it struck me how many titles were rendered cryptically – almost as if Kate Atkinson might be another crossword fan. And Life After Life, her first Costa Book Awards winner, lent itself to a title. Hence Listener 4735, which, delightfully for me, was published whilst I was reading her latest book, Shrines of Gaiety – and relishing it.

Huge thanks to Hedge-sparrow, Vismut, Dysart and the Listener editors, who all provided improvements to my clues.

Apologies for the double definition clue for ‘mossie’ – it should have read South African birds or sparrows, not swallows.

I submitted Spirit Time with a degree of doubt, since the Listener Guidance for Setters states that: “Themes that revolve round a living person are also discouraged because of the risk of death or dishonour at the time of publication.”

Upon acceptance, I assumed that they, like I, thought dishonour low risk in the case of Ms Atkinson. Like many of her characters, she may yet surprise us!

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Listener 4735: Spirit Time (but not Those spirits) by Skylark

Posted by vaganslistener on 19 Nov 2022

‘Twas Halloween – or nearly – when a welcome new offering from Skylark, whose tally in Dave Hennings’ database since her debut in 2019 has now reached an impressive 20 puzzles. Her last Listener had a jazz theme; what now?

Well dear reader: I fell for the trap of the title and expected something full of ghouls and ghosts (having one like that myself in the Inquisitor that same weekend…). It wasn’t.

Since the title and preamble didn’t really offer any shortcuts, though, it was going to be down to the solving to make progress, with a straightforward gimmick, though not one that’s easy to either set or solve. Some misprints are gimmes, like 1a “Check blips/bliss in the formation of a molecule (9)” for CHELATION but some are likely to only make sense once the clue has been solved, like 10a “Joke/jake reflected satellite’s meteorological measures (5) for OKTAS. The second of those was particularly tricky since OKTAS can also be spelled OCTAS with the C?K in an unchecked cell, so accurate parsing was needed – and it was quite a while before I looked up the possible variants for “joke”, and found “jake” meaning OK in US/Aust English. We live and learn.

Overall the clues were impressive, with some very well hidden misprints with excellent surface reading (I think it was Don Manley who observed that the misprinted surface is often better than the real one in such clues), even if a few were a bit more contorted (hard to avoid).

Eventually I has enough correct letters emerging to try and reconstruct the message. SHADE as the first word was always a possibility (if it wasn’t going to be HIGHLIGHT) and FOUR popped out quickly; and with that toehold I was eventually able to complete the message with TITLES SEEN CRYPTICALLY PLUS AUTHORS NAME.

Reverse-engineering the correct letters back into the as-yet-unsolved clues helped me complete the set quite quickly then, and the hunt for the author’s name was also a quick one (thankyou, Skylark: I hate wordsearches) as it was on a main diagonal: KATE ATKINSON.

Now as I’ve said before, despite a degree in Eng Lit I am very poorly read in contemporary literature so it was Wikipedia to the rescue, and comparing the list of KA’s works with the grid soon produced the clever cryptic indications:

ELATIONMOLY = EMOTIONALLY* – EMOTIONALLY WEIRD

THWORLD = TH(e) WORLD = NOT THE END OF THE WORLD

OGDA = (A GOD)* = A GOD IN RUINS

DOOGENO = (ONE GOOD)< = ONE GOOD TURNVery neat! I have an awful sinking feeling, though, that another of her title’s FESTIVE SPIRIT(S) ought to be in there somewhere, even though the shaded letters of the four plus the name add up the required 39. But perhaps the real date link is that Atkinson was born in York which is of course where the Sloggers and Betters event was also being held that weekend.

I found my unposted entry at the back of the desk a couple of days ago, so it’s as well I’ve already blown my “all correct” chances, or unclerical language might have passed my lips – especially as TREPAN at 28d should have been TRAPAN. A trap indeed.

Thanks Skylark: keep them coming.

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