Listen With Others

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‘Four and a half…?’ by Sabre

Posted by Encota on 11 August 2017

The nine hidden words in this puzzle spell out, I think, the beginning of a well-known early problem in algebra, namely: “The square root of half a number of bees...”, perhaps made more famous in the Scheherazade series of puzzles.

In the original, it goes on to say that, ‘The square root of half a number of bees in a swarm leave a jasmine bush, as do two others (I paraphrase); 8/9ths of the swarm of bees have remained in the bush.  What is the total number of bees in the swarm?’

As many of us will have had drilled into us in maths at school when converting word-based questions into algebra, “First let the number of bees be ‘b’ ” (of course, what else would you choose?)

Then the above translates into:  8b/9 + sqrt(b/2) + 2 = b                      Equation (1)

Re-arrange with the square root by itself on one side, such that both sides can be squared without pain: sqrt(b/2)=b/9 – 2.  Whether it is that squaring process itself has introduced an additional solution is another matter!

So it leads to (b – 72)(2b – 9) = 0.  To make such a product of two numbers =0 then clearly either the left hand or right hand bracket must be zero, so b=72 (or b = 4 and a 1/2, hence Sabre’s Title with the QM, a somewhat strange number of bees in a swarm – especially as it requires minus 1.5 bees to leave the jasmine bush originally – apart from the obvious Monty Python reference – see below).

To check your answers, you might now have tried putting each answer back into equation (1): b = 72 slots in easily, as 64+6+2 does equal 72.  However, putting b = 9/2 back in only works when you recall that the square root of a number can be + or -, such that (1) becomes 8/9 * 9/2 – 3/2 + 2 = 4 1/2.

Other Monty Python fans might mention the new role for ‘Eric the Half A Bee’ in the alternative solution.  [Aside: how does anyone think to write a song called ‘Eric the Half A Bee’?]

But wait a minute.  Has Sabre been reading our site’s ‘About The Bloggers’ section to note that I am an avid Steven Wilson fan?  Coincidence that SW’s most recent release (at the time of writing: roll on 18th August!) is the mini-album 4 1/2 ?  Surely not…


[Steven Wilson: 4 1/2.]

So we’re after 72 bees in the final puzzle. Or, literally, should I say Bs.  I can find 21 definitive Bs and 51 cells where the clashing letters are two apart – and if one squints a bit then B=2 – so perhaps I should be changing each of those to a letter B, too – that would end up with 72 of them in place.  It feels like it must be the right thing to do, especially given the quantities of each, but I am sure I’m missing something subtle in the Preamble.  And is the ambiguous entry 6a’s BOBBLY /BLOBBY for L in BOBBY, or have I missed something else entirely (very likely).  Hmm.

My choice of clue for the week is 11 across, the superb all-in-one clue [with extra word bracketed out]:

  11.  Disease in parts of [the] garden, tips of each turnip affected (12)

…reveals the disease of turnips, FINGER-AND-TOE, that affects the taproot, combined with the wordplay including ‘parts’ as a Container-and-Contents indicator (as in ‘parting the Red Sea’), ‘tip’ as a first letter indicator and ‘affected’ as an anagram indicator.  In all,
putting IN inside {OF GARDEN E(ach) T(urnip)}*  Delightful.

This clue got me thinking: I wonder how often a clue has all the hallmarks of a serious convoluted (I’m hesitating in using the word cryptic) clue but is all a bluff and is actually a near-enough straight clue?  A simple example would be the above clue but with ‘each’ changed to ‘any’, for example.  We’d all be scrabbling around trying to make the wordplay work, when actually it was all definition.  Perhaps they should be encouraged just a little more by crossword editors? Or would that simply help those who favour the ‘bung in from definition’ approach, rather than savour every intricacy of each clue?  I may have answered my own question!

cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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Four and a Half ….? by Sabre

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 August 2017

72 Bees

We were hoping for an easy puzzle as we had to get up early on Saturday morning to fly to Manchester to celebrate the 1500th appearance of the Inquisitor crossword together with the editor, John Henderson, his Fifteen Squared bloggers, his team of test-solvers, a large group of setters (including 15 or so Listener setters) and lots of enthusiastic solvers. “What a neat little grid and short preamble” I mused, and then saw the name of the setter. There is no way a Sabre crossword is ever going to be easy!

“A riddle taken from literature”, “nine extra words to be removed before solving”, “clashes”, “an ambiguous entry” and the requirement for “a literal solution to the riddle” in the final grid. It didn’t sound too ferocious and we set to work.

The ambiguous entry was the very first that we solved. ‘Spot bachelor, look, one of two in bathtub (4)’ gave us BLOT (B + LO + one of the two Ts in ‘bathtub’). Well, it gave me BLOT but it gave the other Numpty BLOB as there are two Bs in ‘bathtub’ too. Surely the editors wouldn’t allow Sabre to be so careless – but how was the choice of a T or a B going to resolve an ambiguity? Of course it did, some time later (7 hours for me!) when that small letter made all the difference.

Yes, I hadn’t forgotten to confirm Sabre’s continued membership of the Listener Oenophile outfit and he confirmed it rather dubiously with ‘Shrub drunk, Sabre not well (12, 2 words)’ giving SNOWBALL TREE. No wonder Sabre was not well as a few clues lower down we found, ‘Fruit, one half barrel’s gone off (12)’ another anagram of I BARRELS GONE with the first of the extra words we were hunting for (half). It hadn’t finished: ‘Philosopher’s active in drinking after hours (7)’ put A(ctive) into LOCK IN to give us LOCKIAN. Cheers Sabre! I hope you’ll cross the Atlantic one of these days so that we can mutter about fiendishly difficult crosswords and Knights’ moves at the bar at one of the Listener Setters’ dinners.

We were soon muttering about the extraordinary number of Bs in solutions like BOBBLY, HUBBUB, BIBBLE-BABBLE and BABBLER and about the numerous clashes that were appearing in more than half of the cells that intersected. Sabre’s clues are tough in any case and all those clashes meant that we were almost cold-solving. Our solving was interrupted by the need to react to a neighbour’s burglar alarm, the need to cook dinner and pour ourselves some stiff drinks (!) and it was approaching midnight before the light started to dawn (well, in a metaphorical sense!)

I suddenly realized that all those clashes were indeed consistent in nature so that if we had an A, the other letter would be C. An S could clash with a Q or a U – just two letters apart. TEA could, of course, help and our grid-fill speeded up. What’s more, we teased out something about THE SQUARE ROOT OF HALF A NUMBER OF BEES. I wonder how solvers who have no access to the Internet or who refuse to use it identified an 11th century Indian author’s riddle. I copied out what I was told was a quadratic equation and the other Numpty scribbled for a while then announced that the answer was 72, (since there are always two potential answers to one of those things and the other, ‘four and a half’ was impossible, as you can’t have half a bee). He retired to bed muttering imprecations about Bs and left me working out how my grid was going to contain 72 of the things.

Of course that explained the title too and I understand that some clever doggies actually managed to identify the theme from the words ‘Four and a half …’ What can I say?

That word ‘literal’ was a real give-away wasn’t it? If all of those clashes separated by 2 (2 = B) were added to the Bs in the grid we might get 72. It was 2 a.m. before I had a potential solution with a few loose ends – OPORICE? an old word for medicine? SEWEL? a malkin? – I actually resolved my last doubts on the train into Manchester for the IQ event, and, using BLOT, got to a grand total of 72 bees.

Poat’s HARE appeared gloriously in Serpent’s grid last week so I thought my desperate hunt for him was over BUT IT WAS NOT TO BE! “What is a malkin?” I asked Chambers and he replied, of course, “A cat (as in Greymalkin in Macbeth), a haggard old crone, a scarecrow (the SEWEL in this case) and a HARE”. Now that really was devious! The hare was not even crouching in the preamble just below the grid but lurking half way down the clues. There has to be a limit to these aberrations – any self-respecting hare would present itself properly in the grid!

All the same, this really was impressive! What a feat to manage to get all those bees into the grid. Thank you, Sabre!


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Listener No 4460: Four and a Half… by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 August 2017

One of the advantages of looking after Listen With Others is that you get to see setter’s blogs before pretty much anyone else. This will possibly include background into how the idea came about, how difficult it was to set and what input the editors had to the preamble and/or some of the clues.

One of the disadvantages of running Listen With Others is that you get to read something in a setter’s blog that makes you discover sooner than otherwise that you’d buggered the whole thing up! Depression sets in, and you realise that another all-correct year has slid down the plug-hole.

To start with, Sabre’s clues are tricky enough. When it comes to the endgame, they can be fiendish. Last year’s had Tristram Shandy as its theme and the “As sure as I am I — and you are you” quotation. This week, we had to solve the puzzle, find a riddle in literature, solve the riddle, and then do something appropriate… like throttle Sabre!

In fact, the clashing technique, which I identified after only a few clues, helped with getting a lot of the grid filled. They were always two letters apart in the alphabet.

The riddle began The square root of half a number of bees… was from a long work by Longfellow. Including the words the, of and a as obvious extra words certainly needed a craftsman’s touch. 11ac in particular Disease in parts of [the] garden, tips of each turnip affected (12) took me ages to unravel — IN in (OF GARDEN ET)*. The riddle continued “…and also eight-ninths of the whole, alighted on the jasmines, and a female bee buzzed responsive to the hum of the male inclosed at night in a water-lily.

The riddle itself was easy to unravel, taking me only four attempts (the square root of 81/4 is not 9/4). Bizarrely one of the solutions I came up with was 4½, but surely Sabre wouldn’t be so helpful with the title. Eventually 72 won through.

I next tried to find the ambiguous entry, and luckily got there fairly quickly. 3dn Spot bachelor, look, one of two in bathtub (4).was either BLOT or BLOB. I had opted for BLOT.

It took me about half an hour to suss out what was required with the clashes. It wasn’t the letter between the two letters, but just the letter B, of which there were already a fair few in the grid. A quick tot up of the number of that I had gave me 70 because, in the euphoria of solving a couple of clues, I had forgotten to pencil in a clashing letter or two.

Checking the grid thoroughly, I needed BLOB at 3dn to make 72!! I remember thinking at the time “Wouldn’t it have been more cunning for BLOT to be required?” Apparently, it would have been… and was. I haven’t checked my grid to find where I went wrong, but I have read Sabre’s setter’s blog. Surely I hadn’t miscounted the number of Bs. I must have done that a fair few times as it was.

Oh well, c’est la guerre. It doesn’t stop me being full of admiration of Sabre’s puzzle. An excellent riddle, and so well implemented. Many thanks.

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Listener No 4459, Shock Treatment: A Setter’s Blog by Serpent

Posted by Listen With Others on 7 August 2017

Off the top of my head, I can no longer remember what inspired me to set a puzzle about baldness. I’m a lazy solver and set puzzles I’d like to solve, so I tend to use themes that don’t require much recourse to reference books (including dictionaries). The basic ideas for Shock Therapy – having some letters leave the grid, having those letters spell out the condition ANDROGENIC ALOPECIA, and replacing the resulting gaps with synonyms of WIG – came pretty much simultaneously. It was convenient that the combined lengths of three obvious wig synonyms was equal to that of the condition.

I decided to use a circular grid with the centre containing the condition and the synonyms, the idea being that the central region would represent a bald spot. Each radial element of the grid would contain two entries, with the outer entry providing an extra letter with which to build the wig synonyms and the inner entry losing the last letter to form the condition. (My original working title was Hub Caps, with the wig synonyms being “caps” for the central hub. I changed the title to Shock Therapy following feedback from my wonderful test-solvers David Thomas and Norman Lusted, who have each solved every barred puzzle I’ve compiled.)

The main obstacle was finding a grid-fill so that (i) replacing the condition with the synonyms would leave real words in the grid, and (ii) the grid didn’t contain too many obscurities. Not surprisingly, given the constraints, even the excellent Qxw software failed to find a grid-fill, and this even after I had relaxed condition (ii) and opted to use the ukacd.txt dictionary instead of my usual custom (and limited) dictionary.

It was at this point that I decided to use jumbles for the answers in each inner radial entry and revert to my usual dictionary. (I convinced myself that using jumbles was reasonable thematically, perhaps indicating “damaged” hair from which bits were breaking off; I leave it for the reader to decide whether I was deluding myself!) I also redesigned the grid to increase the amount of cross-checking (given the additional difficulties the jumbles would cause the solver). Despite the substantial amount of cross-checking, Qxw was able to find a grid-fill easily and it was now a matter of iteratively improving the selection of entries. The solution grid I submitted to the editors is shown on the left.

In time, Roger wrote to me saying he’d solved the puzzle and the idea was fine. However, and it was a big however, the circular grid was a non-starter: unlike many circular grids, the inner rings didn’t share cells with two or more of the radial elements, thus making the cells in the inner rings impossibly small for many solvers to work with. Moreover, the cells in the outer rings were excessively large (and thus wasted precious “real estate”).

Roger made the brilliant suggestion of “unwrapping” the grid, to form a rectangular grid, and inverting it, with the inner and outer radial entries becoming the upper and lower column entries, respectively. This had the effect of the letters of the condition being lost from the “head” of the grid, which was entirely consistent with the theme. Even so, the clues, all 54 of them, needed some judicious trimming in order to fit the puzzle into the space available. Roger’s help and experience was again invaluable.

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Shock Therapy by Serpent

Posted by shirleycurran on 4 August 2017

I have a tiny suspicion that there has been some collusion between Serpent and Poat as YES, that elusive HARE in four letters in a straight line has finally climbed prominently to a glorious place at the top of Serpent’s grid. I’ve been saving my best HARE for this long-awaited event and here he is. Thank you Serpent (BOA – BOAT – POAT?) Not just a HARE but a stripey horse too. He has long been the Numpty bloggers’ favourite – ‘Stripey horse (5)’, though Serpent’s clue was rather more complex, ‘Foreign football official hounded Zagreb (5)’ as we had to remove a letter from the wordplay ‘hounded Zagreb’ (with that rather lovely anagram indicator ‘hounded’) and place it at the top of the ‘Upper down’ clues instead of whatever jumble that clue produced. This was the first clue we solved and we hooted with delight as the ZEBRA was slotted in. We took the C to the top of the column and at once opted for GREAT (or GRATE) as the unjumbled entry of ‘Find time to compete (5)’ T + RACE as GRACE would involve no unjumbling. That put a C above our grid.

Of course, I had scanned the clues to check Serpent’s continued right to membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit and his clues were astonishingly TT, so that I had to scan his final grid to find evidence of a CRU at the bottom of column 11 (hidden in ‘Material used in hire car upholstery (4)’ – ECRU) and RED at the top of column 13 ‘Death by hanging with decapitation (6)’ which gave us decapitated PENDING = ENDING = DEATH, which unjumbled to REDING or ‘advising’ when we had replaced one of its Ns with the R that was extra in ‘Gloomy literary sweetheart (4)’ D[R]EAR.

I had, a first suspected that SUAVE, ‘Sophisticated aircon in 4X4 with electronic starter (5)’ (AC in SUV + E) was a translation of SOAVE suggesting that the Italian wine was sweet and sophisticated, but Chambers disillusioned me – the dry white wine is named after the village of Soave! However, that clue did send a C to the top of the column that finally converted DINGY to a ‘Woman’, CINDY, and gave us another letter of that two-word condition – G. So cheers, Serpent, see you at the bar in Paris. Well, maybe we should be opening a bottle of Champagne to toast the HARE!

This was very clever and very meaty compiling wasn’t it? The lower half of our grid filled fairly quickly and we had taken enough letters to the top of the grid to see the humour of the title. WIG, TOUPEE and HAIRPIECE were slotted in, so that solving could speed up, though we took far too long to work out what the condition was, as usual because of our careless reading of the preamble. It had to be, and of course was, a form of ALOPECIA but I had overlooked those words ‘(starting at a point to be determined)’ and our solve was almost complete before we nudged ourselves and saw that ANDROGE…NIC was split.

Completed with a real sense of satisfaction but we had to do a careful check that we had selected the correct extra words to use as definitions since we had one slight doubt. HURRIED, WOMAN, EULOGY, EDDIES, PASS, FIGURE, IMPLEMENT, JUDGEMENTS, LEGEND, WILLOW, ADVISING, SIMPLE, VAINEST, FISH, FLAP LABOURERS, and RIVER all fitted with the words that had appeared at the top so that we realized that we had assumed that ‘reversal’ was our anagram indicator in clue 50, when, in fact it had to be ‘abuse’, leaving REVERSAL as our missing U-TURN. What a superb compilation, thank you, Serpent.

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