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Bunch of Fives by Brock

Posted by shirleycurran on 27 March 2020

Our first reaction on downloading Brock’s puzzle was delight at the original grid. Then there was a moment of consternation as we read the repeated ‘five’, ‘five-letter’, ‘fifth’ etc – eight times in all, including the title. We were left with no doubt that we were going to find something to do with that number to highlight in our completed grid.

Brock’s clues were fair and clearly had to be unambiguous since we could initially place only the first and last letters of our solutions in the grid (- shape? It isn’t really a ‘grid’ is it?) and although HADDOCK, ALPHA CENTAURI, EXCESSIVENESS, ARCTURUS and TICKETLESS were among our early solves, we couldn’t enter them yet but just a few potential routes for those long words to take.

What we could do, though, was spot that somethng fishy was going on. We soon had HUSS, COD, HADDOCK, PLAICE and SKATE. Brock was giving nothing away. All but the fluke were clued with non-fishy definitions. Of course I did see Brock’s entry ticket for the oenophile outfit, ‘Tintin’s friend put on Rhenish drinks (7)’ We put ADD into HOCK (the HOCK ‘drinks’ the ADD – nice!) getting Captain HADDOCK, Tintin’s friend.

I love Rhenish wine so was rather surprised to read ‘Not much drunk (half leaving bottle) (6)’ Of course, I realized that Brock was already LIT so that half the BOT(tle) could go leaving the TLE, to give LITTLE (not much). What masterful cluing! Sadly, though, he now brought in the BEER. “Mix-up with beer in order of bananas (7)’. MUS with ALES giving us an ‘order of bananas, MUSALES. What a mess! But cheers, anyway, Brock.

Soon we had five seas, too: AZOV, CASPIAN, BALTIC, BLACK and WHITE, four of them disguised as a prince, excessively cold, bad luck, and coffee, and a set of stars: VEGA, CANOPUS SIRIUS, ALPHA CENTAURI, and ARCTURUS. The asteroids followed: CERES, IRIS, EROS, PALLAS and VESTA. It was the most obvious set that I saw last of all, the digits; THUMB, INDEX, MIDDLE, RING and LITTLE. However, it was only after working out the pair of messages that we saw how these groups, STARFISH, SEA, DIGIT and ASTEROID suggested four thematic synonyms. I learn something with every Listener solve; I had no idea that a starfish was an asteroid – ‘a member of the Asteroidea’.

With a full grid but no idea what to highlight, we could now read the first letters of each of those groups and were told what to highlight, CENTRE AND TWENTY-FIVE OTHERS. We had to read the fifth letter of the fifth words which gave us CHOOSE THE RIGHTMOST’S OPTION – that was to solve an ambiguity. Of course when PISCES appeared sending its five digits out, we saw that we had Ss in cells 57 and 53, and chose the rightmost of the two.

A dazzling compilation. Thank you Brock.

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L4597: 'Bunch of Fives' by Brock

Posted by Encota on 27 March 2020

Feels like the puzzle of the year to me, so far at least!

I was only recently introduced to the term OP: it arose in a novel written for an online puzzle hunt that I and several others of the Listener community recently took part in. I suspect that clarifies that my playing of video-games peaked a long while ago. I understand OP to mean OverPowered, where a player or card etc is almost too strong in a certain situation. Of course my children laughed at me for not knowing!

On a related train of thought I recall, somewhat with awe, when the computer virus Stuxnet was first analysed. It had utilised four previously unknown or unaddressed vulnerabilities (so-called zero day attacks, for those that love the jargon). Stick with me!

So how many new (zero day?) features were concurrently involved in this puzzle? There was the hiding of five each of Seas, Stars, Fish, Asteroids & Digits/Fingers. There was the hidden message based on first letters of those 25 clues [CENTRE AND TWENTY FIVE OTHERS], asking for the centre and 25 others to highlighted. There was the re-use of Asteroids / asteroidae as those minor planets and the ‘family’ of Starfish. There was the use of fish – well, PISCES – to create each ‘arm’ of the central starfish. And, for me, the pièce de resistance, the fifth letter of the fifth word in those 25 clues to spell out another message, purely to remove an ambiguity as to which S one should pick for the SE arm of the Starfish. [CHOOSE THE RIGHTMOST’S OPTION] If that feature ain’t OP, then I don’t understand the term!

The letter to be added at the centre? “I’ll have a P please Bob.” Sorry, I meant Brock. A Blockbuster of a construction. Delightful!! Fabulous!!


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4596, CRNT: A Setter’s blog by Twin

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 March 2020

Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938. Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. Robin first appeared in 1940, the Flash in 1956, Spider-Man in 1962 and Iron Man in 1963. I first appeared in 1985, and I mention all these dates, tongue-in-cheek, because I know that the superhero theme is not of interest to all Listener solvers (and also that I’m bringing down the average age of Listener setters a little), but my point is – there’s been time to get familiar.

Actually, this puzzle was in part my revenge for all the poetry I’ve had to look up over the years. I’m a fan of superhero movies – I’ve also dabbled in the comics a little – and I thought that, if I’ve got to google the works of Robert Browning, John Keats, William Blake et al, it’s only fair that I point the Listener community towards Peter Parker, Bruce Wayne & Barry Allen. Also, the Superman emblem is familiar, I think, to almost everyone – there is a case to be made that he is the most iconic fictional character of the 20th century – so even those solvers who can’t tell their Captain Marvel from their Wolverine should still be able to enjoy that, I thought.

The idea of converting alter egos to superheroes was a fairly obvious one – although the mention of ‘disguise’ in the preamble came very late in the day – but I wanted to do a bit more than that, which is where the idea of highlighting the famous S came from, even though I wasn’t initially sure how to go about achieving that. An early attempt to have every cell in it as an S was always doomed to failure, and stabs at spelling out a message were not very hopeful, in part because of the non-linear shape. Eventually I hit upon the idea of using letters from KAL-EL, which helpfully gave me a couple of vowels and a couple of consonants to work with, and I started by trying to enter superhero names in the grid with those constraints, and without being too obscure. In the end I only managed five, with HULK not quite managing to make the grid, which was a bit disappointing but probably inevitable (and I was fortunate to be able to get AIGUILLETTE across the middle in the pattern I needed). Understandably, most solvers seem to have back-derived the answers to the thematic clues after entering the superhero name, rather than solving the clues first.

Using additional letters in wordplay is a tried and tested technique, and not particularly imaginative, but I’d never tried it before so it was partly a personal challenge to see if I could do it – particularly as I wanted to avoid using extra words yet again. It’s a fun technique and I can see why it is so often favoured – it also allowed me to get a further nod to the superhero genre with Thor being involved in 12a, and reference to my beloved Beatles in ‘Improve Let It Be’.

The title seems to have left a few people scratching their heads, so for anyone still scratching: it’s Clark Kent without the letters from Kal-El (which, in case you haven’t googled, is Superman’s birth name). I came up with it when I noticed the large crossover between the two names, and I thought that I should have a reference to the mild-mannered reporter somewhere in the puzzle – I was considering changing the title, but was reassured when one of the editors spotted what the title meant before discovering what to highlight, and it helped his journey through the puzzle.
One last point that went possibly undetected by all: Superman’s birthday is (usually) 29th February, hence the date of publication. Tenuous, perhaps, but may have raised a smile somewhere.

Thanks to my test-solvers (Apt & Trelawney), the editors and of course to John Green.

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CRNT by Twin

Posted by shirleycurran on 20 March 2020

We often say that we learn a lot from Listener crosswords. The other Numpty woke me this morning saying that he had understood the CRNT of the title. “Of course, those are the letters missing from CLARK KENT when you write KAL EL”. I had never heard of Clark Kent or Kal El until last night. In asking Twin for a setter’s blog for his puzzle, I commented that he must be of a very different generation from me and he responded, amusingly, that this was his revenge for all the poetry he had had to look up after solving Listener crosswords. Touché!

Yes, I had heard of Spiderman, Batman, Robin, Flash and even Iron Man but hadn’t a clue about their real names and we came to those clues in a rather backward way, having decided, with an almost full grid, that those super heroes had to fill our empty cells, but not understanding the clues at all, or why they were the disguised versions of five ‘two word answers’.

It took my dear ally Wiki to tell me that Bruce Wayne is Batman, Barry Allen is Flash, Tony Stark is Iron Man, Dick Grayson is Robin and Peter Parker Spiderman (how can I have wasted my youth reading all of Shakespeare’s plays and learning poetry off by heart when those gems awaited me?) However, we didn’t really need to work out those clues as Twin’s clues were generous and, with a couple of missing letters, we had the message HIGHLIGHT KAL EL IN RED AND THIRTY-THREE LETTERS IN YELLOW. That was when Wiki told me that Kal El was the name of Superman when he came from the Planet Krypton and was adopted and given the name of Clark Kent.

I am sure I am not the only solver who scoured the grid for ages looking for one of his names before realising that, if we highlighted all the letters of Kal El in red and the spaces in yellow, we produced that thing Superman has on his chest (please will some aficionado tell me what it’s called.) A most satisfactory penny-drop moment – so thank you, Twin, for the education and the puzzle.

Oh yes, Twin, of course, confirmed his membership of the Listner setters’ topers’ outfit. The very first clue we solved was ‘Dry resort of Cowes (4)’ which gave us SECO* with an extra W. Then we found ‘Volume from Napa wine scholars (8)’ What a fine clue! We decided volume in the Napa Valley can be a LITER and that Twin has resorted to that crossword chestnut ASTI to produce his extra S and the LITERATI of ‘scholars’ (obviously comic book scholars!) Cheers, Twin – see you with your Asti at the bar in Stratford?

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Listener No 4596: CRNT by Twin

Posted by Dave Hennings on 20 March 2020

This was Twin’s fourth Listener outing, following on from Agatha Christie’s Orient Express, Doctor Who’s Tardis and, only four months ago, Connect-4.

Five clues consisted of wordplay only leading to thematic two-word answers that had to be disguised before entry. That in itself sounded intriguing. The extra letters in the wordplay in the remaining clues would give an instruction that had to be followed.

Great fun here with Spiderman and Iron Man giving the game away without too much difficulty. I needed to google for the names of the Flash and Iron Man, but (sadly?) I knew the others.

Flash Barry Allen (among others)
Spiderman Peter Parker
Iron Man Tony Stark
Batman Bruce Wayne
Robin Dick Grayson

That just left the instruction to be revealed as Highlight Kal-El in red and thirty three cells in yellow. E voilà, ClaRk keNT’s Superman logo.

Thanks for a super (pun intended) puzzle, Twin.

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