Listen With Others

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Listener No 4571, International Standards Organisation: A Setter’s Blog by Harribobs

Posted by Listen With Others on 29 September 2019

I used blocks of anagrams to cover the grid in a puzzle for the Inquisitor last year and was pleased with how neatly it turned out. I thought the device deserved another outing and embarked on ISO.

Countries represented by their flags were chosen as a theme because I liked the colourful solution. The editors, however, thought many solvers wouldn’t be too happy about all that fiddly colouring in, and added textual unjumbling as an alternative option.

The grid might look as though it were tricky to construct, but it wasn’t, thanks to the excellent grid fill software Qxw (available free from Quinapalus). A key feature of the software is the ability to select any group of cells and stipulate that they be filled by text from a special list. The text can optionally be jumbled, and so all the country anagrams were straightforward.

My source for the country names was the UN website. The site lists CABO VERDE rather than CAPE VERDE, following a request from their representative in 2013. The new name doesn’t seem to have been widely adopted yet, but the letters are close enough to suggest CAPE VERDE and a check on Wikipedia gives both names. MACEDONIA changed its name to NORTH MACEDONIA this year, after the puzzle had been completed.

Extra letters in wordplay were used to give the instruction to solvers. This method is sometimes considered overused but I find it helps considerably in cluing. Because the extra letter can be tried at various positions in the answer, it offers more possibilities for the components of the clue; and when there are fewer extra letters than answers there’s quite a bit of leeway in matching them up. So, in general the method should result in more natural sounding clues than the methods ‘misprints in clues’ and ‘extra letters in clues’, which are more constraining. It should even facilitate better clues than a puzzle with no hidden message at all. And it makes life easier for the setter too!

Thanks, as ever, to the editors for their rigorous vetting, and to the bloggers and John Green for coping with the graphical solution.


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L4571: ‘International Standards Organisation’ by Harribobs

Posted by Encota on 27 September 2019

That infamous quote: “The great thing about International Standards is that there are so many to choose from”  seems to apply here.

One might of course claim that the appearance of those standards body abbreviations in the grid were coincidence – but we solvers of course know better:

British Standards Institute (BSI), Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN) , Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and even ISO itself all feature in contiguous cells.  [I had thought for a moment that Flags were going to be involved, then realised my mistake …]

Well, there are twelve of them in this case, to be precise.  I’m hoping my tablet-based flag sketches meet the ‘only enough detail to be recognisable’ criterion in the Preamble …

SCAN0633 copy

After weeks of tedious IT issues (that I won’t bore you with) I have at last managed to get scans back into LWO & take copies of my Listener solutions – yay!

Great Standards pun, great puzzle, great fun drawing & colouring – thanks Harribobs!

Tim / Encota

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International Standards Organisation by Harribobs

Posted by shirleycurran on 27 September 2019

It is only now, on typing that title, that I realize its significance. Of course, we have created an array (or organisation) of international standards (or flags) and we needed those three letters, too, in the clue for COSINE ‘Function of national standards body in Europe revoked (6)’ By the time we got to that clue, we had the message the extra letters were producing (FLAGS REPLACE TWELVE NATIONS IN ARRAY) and knew that we didn’t need an extra letter, so it had to be that N + ISO in EC revoked, or returned.

There was some most satisfactory cluing here (but what do we expect? Harribobs was last year’s Inquisitor top setter wasn’t he?) Of course I checked the grid to confirm that he retains his right of admission to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit and he almost slipped up. I had to read a long way through his clues before finding ‘Sadly Ruby leaves constabulary, moving to the seaside (7)’ We spotted one of a number of subtractive anagrams and removed RUBY* from CONSTABULARY* producing COASTAL – I suppose that is port in a couple of senses, so ‘Cheers, Harribobs!’.

Superb clues and a fairly speedy solve for  us, though we struggled with our last three solutions. It is rather comical for us, living in France and speaking French, that clues that use French tend to cause us trouble. I suspect that we compartmentalise languages to avoid the mental chaos that thinking in the wrong language can produce in a crossword, so although ‘French author somewhat looked up to in Paris (4)’ was leaping out at us, as a hidden word, HAUT was almost our last entry. GENET was all too familiar too after years of French homework (why was that always the one that the boys left till last?) and in this case it was how it produced the Y that we needed for ARRAY that puzzled us. ‘French author often inside yearning has to see outside (5)’. It was the ‘often inside’ that we were attempting to fit into the wordplay – but, of course, it was part of the definition. Wiki tells us that GENET was initially a petty criminal, so ‘often inside’ and we have to simply fit {Y}EN into GET.

And finally there were the APPLES. A bit sneaky, I think, to use Cockney rhyming slang, ‘London flight dismays touring European (6)’. ‘Apples and pears = stairs’ so we extracted an A from APPALS and put that European into it. Hmmm!

But no complaints really. We were told how many words were entered in reverse and how many clues had extra letters and given plenty of room about how to submit our grid with those people who fuss about having to get out the children’s colouring pencils the option of resolving those twelve texts in words. (I did that as well in order to avoid putting one of those flags in the wrong place!)

Was I the only solver to wonder about ROMANIANS – they are a nation too and ROMANIANS anagram to SAN MARINO, which certainly has independent country status. Oh the pitfalls of Listener solving! But many thanks to Harribobs – what a delightful compilation.

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Listener No 4571, International Standards Organisation by Harribobs

Posted by Dave Hennings on 27 September 2019

It really doesn’t seem to me that it was nine months ago that we had Harribobs last Listener, the very enjoyable A Secret Unlocked based on Histiaeus sent Aristagoras a message tattooed on the head of a servant. But indeed it was! Shows how time flies when you get to my age.

Harribobs has had some interesting and enjoyable puzzles over the last few years; the first was back in 2015 if my records are correct. Many of them have had incredible grid construction. Here, the preamble told us that a number of answers needed to be entered in reverse. It also told us that there would be an ideal solution and an acceptable textual solution. I dreaded that there would be a requirement for more drawing — I’ve lost track of how many Listeners have required artistic skill this year.

As it turned out, I had three options to choose from in completing my submission. The ideal solution was spelt out by the extra letter in the wordplay of 32 clues: Flags replace twelve nations in array. It didn’t take too long to see that, excluding the perimeter, there were twelve 3×3 blocks in the grid, each of which contained an anagram of a 12-letter country name. These were, top left to bottom right:


So… I could take the “less ambitious” way and just write each of the twelve countries in the grid. (I assumed that would be top to bottom, left to right, rather than in a circle.) I decided that I wasn’t going to do anything less than was ideally required. However, I don’t have a set of coloured pencils any more, and anyway I didn’t really fancy spending a couple of hours drawing each of the flags — although I know someone who would! I decided to scan the grid and paste each of the flags onto it from the internet. Hopefully JEG would think I’d done it by hand!

Thanks for yet another entertaining geographical puzzle, Harribobs.

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Listener No 4570, Bright Spark: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 24 September 2019

I like science and I like a good story, whether it be fact or fiction. Myths have played a part of several puzzles of mine, but the Kite experiment created by Benjamin Franklin is one that is clouded in mystery as to what really happened. I am sure this incredible figure in American history came up with the idea and probably tried it in some manner, however the outcome of it, perhaps is more questionable.

The pictorial representation of recreating the experiment in a Listener appealed to me; the remarkable coincidence that STRING / KEY and STRING / KITE, each hold the letters of (lightning) STRIKE could not be passed aside. The grid was naturally going to be longer in its vertical dimension to fit all the letters including LEYDEN JAR in a nice 3×3 section at the bottom, plus a zigzag LIGHTNING shape at the top. However, I wanted to create a final denouement leading to the “potential” result and therefore ELECTRICITY fixed the width of the grid to 11 letters. This took a considerable amount of fiddling with the grid to ensure real words after removals. Working from the bottom up, SEE A WOLF and SEA WOLF, was one of those fortunate finds in Chambers. Interestingly, I have just been on qat and it fails to come up with this change, so I am pleased even now that I discovered it. I had to weigh up whether to have a different E in that column or sacrifice an E from LEYDEN JAR. I liked the SEE A WOLF change so much that I thought that once the Kite experiment was drawn, it wouldn’t disappoint too much to destroy it slightly to create the ELECTRICITY.

I clued the puzzle in the standard Shark fashion, which tends to be at the hard end of the spectrum. I do not intentionally do this, but given I prefer puzzles that make you think when solving the clues, it seems a natural result of Shark puzzles. Of course, a carte blanche or jigsaw grid will naturally require easier clues to start cold solving, but this puzzle did seem to tax quite a few (according to the feedback). However, after the grid was completed and endgame realised, the overall feedback was pleasingly positive. Glad you enjoyed.


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