Listen With Others

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Listener 4528: ‘Escapee’ by Dysart

Posted by Encota on 30 November 2018

What a timely puzzle this was – thanks Dysart!  With numerous cryptic puzzle outlets commemorating the 11th November, what more could one ask for other than the combination of Wilfred Owen’s poetry and its placement at the heart of Benjamin Britten’s ‘War Requiem’?  The latter was performed this (Remembrance Day) weekend at the stupendous music venue that is Snape Maltings (along with numerous other places, I am sure), here in Suffolk away from the bustle of London and close to the home of Benjamin Britten (who, along with Peter Pears, is buried in nearby Aldeburgh’s churchyard).

It was a good chance to read the poem too – I see there’s Owen’s original writings available on the Internet, for those interested.
Tim / Encota

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Offender by Chalicea, Setter’s Blog

Posted by shirleycurran on 25 November 2018

Setter’s blog Last One by Chalicea ‘Offender’

When I ask setters for a Listen With Others setter’s blog, they regularly respond that they set the puzzle so long ago that the process has been obscured by the mists of time so, exceptionally, I decided to keep a written record of the entire setting, vetting, editing process. Who knows, it might be useful for a new, hopeful Listener setter to read about the years of work before the adrenalin moment when the final product appears in the Times.

May 29th 2016, I unexpectedly received a proof from Roger for Ad Nauseam. It was my birthday – what a fine present! (I hadn’t expected it to appear for a while). I had just sent off to the Magpie one that, with a bit of tweaking, might have replaced it in the queue (Massive) and feel that it is important to get them into the queue so needed to create one. This is the first time I have deliberately set with the Listener in mind and not simply sent one because my vetters suggested it was appropriate.

Busy for a week compiling a month of cryptic Farmers Guardian crosswords – got those out of the way, then on June 7th started hunting for a theme. I had just created ‘Absent Letter’, ‘Massive’ and had in the Listener queue ‘Predicament’, all using the idea of a letter or letters significantly placed within the grid. I worked right through ODQ looking for one more appropriate letter and, of course, found the ‘Thou whoreson zed, unnecessary letter’ the Kent quotation from King Lear. I test-solved a friend’s version of this some time ago but could see a different way of handling the theme.

My idea was a Z in the centre of the grid, composed of words containing Z all of which must be adapted to remove the ‘unnecessary letter’ from the grid. I hoped to use misprints to identify the 36-letter quotation and possibly to hide the replacing words in the clues.

Checking on Dave Henning’s Crossword data base revealed four previous crosswords on what is an obvious setter’s theme. Only one of these was in the Listener (Radix) and all handled the theme differently. One was by Ifor – one that I test solved – so I needed to clear that with him. (His went to Magpie and he had no objection to my re-using the theme). Of course, when this crossword was accepted, the editors pointed out that the theme had already appeared a number of times.

I spent the rest of the day working on a grid. 13X13 seemed the obvious size. I got up to 4.8 mean word length with seriously flawed unching and almost abandoned the idea.

June 8th – before attempting in a new format (I was considering 11X11) I fiddled for a few hours and was delighted when a possible grid with 5.51 mean word length and ‘acceptable’ unching appeared. It had Z-DNA in it, that I thought would have to be converted to C-DNA or B-DNA, neither of which is in Chambers, and C-in-C would have to replace ZINC in the submission grid. The DNA clue seemed to be a serious flaw but when I discussed the grid with husband Charles, he said “Why not EDNA? That’s in Chambers.”

Having spent a total of about 10 hours creating the grid I began work on the clues. After a couple of hours attempting to work out misprints, I realized I simply couldn’t do it and reluctantly decided to opt for extra letters produced by the wordplay. A count revealed that 19 replacement words had to be hidden in the grid, some of them very difficult to conceal (DITE, C-in-C, JEEP, LUTE, AISLE, DRIBBLED, SICEL, SATI, AGATE, EYRA) I had considered simply giving definitions of those in the clues but decided that would be messy and impossible for the solver. Then I spotted the fact that there were 51 clues and if those 19 words took 19 clues, I was left with 32 which could contain the quotation less the initial THOU (rendering it slightly less easy to spot for the solver).

I spent the rest of the day cluing in clue order (working down from the top and up from the bottom of the downs – I had to do it that way as the device required it). After about 8 hours of cluing I had 16 clues. Unusually fast for me.

June 9th. I worked all day on clues and almost finished all the acrosses, then remembered a message from Editor Shane, years ago, that required Rasputin (the Artix, Ilver, Chalicea compiling team) to rewrite about a third of our clues as we had link words in them – not permitted in the Listener when there is no equivalence between definition and wordplay (as in this case, where the extra letter device is being used). I had to back-track and rewrite, and also adjust clues that Charles, on a quick read through, rejected as ‘poor surface reading’, ‘way too easy’ etc. 

Half of the extra words were still to place so I now focused on down clues where they could be concealed and I managed to hide all but two (AGATE and LUTE) The clues were now more than 2/3 completed in two days of non-stop setting (another 8 hours or so).

June 10th. With some switching of extra words from across to down etc. I placed the last two extra words and was left with just twelve words to clue – several fairly difficult because of the z or zz in them as obviously I had already used all the Z abbreviations. I spent about six hours on these and tweaking to see that no device word was used twice. A total of four full days’ work and the first draft was ready for vetting.

June 12th I asked Artix for a test-solve. His initial reaction was ‘Like it’ but then he found serious flaws and suggested

1 That I anagram or jumble as many of the extra words as possible as they are glaringly obvious.  I responded that this wouldn’t work as only twelve will anagram, leaving a mixed bag.

2 That all the zs in the clues give the game away at once and that I remove them from the wordplay.

I spent about five hours rewriting the clues where Z appeared in the wordplay and moving the extra words around since the Z of the quotation still has to appear and clearly cannot appear where there are Zs removed. 

17 June I rewrote the preamble, changed the name from ‘The Last One’ to ‘Offender’ (since the ‘end’ letter of the alphabet has to go ‘off’ somewhere) and asked Ifor to look at it.

20th June Shark, having a free weekend since he had been the test-solver for Artix’s  ‘No Offence’ which appeared on that Saturday, test solved and gave fabulous detailed input. I spent three hours adapting clues accordingly.

21st June Ifor sent valuable input correcting flawed clues with some superb suggestions (SACRED BEETLE and JULEP – which has earned great solver approval) I spent about two hours adjusting.

22nd June. I sent ‘final document’ to Artix who found a few flaws and unfair clues. It took me one hour to incorporate all but one of his suggestions. I think it is ready to go. About 50 hours so far.

Tim King (our newest LWO blogger Encota, said he would do a test-solve. I sent him the ‘final’ version. He solved it carefully, gave it the thumbs up and suggested that I could use the letters in the two bottom corners of the grid for an extra hint to Kent. This added a final touch but caused worry for some solvers as the actual character in the play is the EARLOF KENT. Mr Green suggested, when entries were arriving with both KENT and EARL OF KENT that there should be a slight adjustment to the solution notes, admitting both as (EARL OF) KENT.

As my ‘Overseas Outing’ (St Patrick expelling the snakes from Ireland) appeared on the weekend of this year’s Listener dinner, I didn’t expect to see ‘Offender’ in print until mid 2019 (yes – about three years from compilation) so I was delighted to receive a proof from Editor Roger Phillips in late September (could it be that he was deliberately placing a relatively easy one after a rather tough one?) No rewriting was required, though Shane and Roger had vetted a number of clues and adjusted 12 of them as well as polishing the preamble. They had found the puzzle of ‘about average difficulty’ and ‘slightly easier than average’ – their comments ran to five A4 pages.

Clearly I owe thanks to those editors and vetters and to JEG for his meticulous marking and forwarding of the lovely bag of solvers’ comments and to those generous people who commented on-line or sent their encouraging words directly to me. I really was astonished that the puzzle proved to be so popular.

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Listener No 4527: Offender by Chalicea

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 November 2018

Like three others before her (Schadenfreude, Dysart and Hedge-sparrow), this was Chalicea’s second Listener of the year. The first was the Saint Patrick’s Day puzzle Overseas Outing

Here, we had 32 clues with an extra wordplay letter, and 19 with an extra word. Well — they should be easy to disentangle! It was nice to be told how many of each; so often we’re just told it’s “some” or “most”. I don’t mind telling you that it actually didn’t make it any easier for me to do the disentangling.

But I get ahead of myself. Has Chalicea confirmed her membership of the Zealous Enthusiasts Drinking the Sauce? Well, of course she has — by its omission! Yet again she has gone out of her way to appear abstemious, here by omitting obvious Z-words like BOOZER, SOZZLED and SWIZZLED, as well as SHIRAZ, SLIVOVITZ and ZINFANDEL (which could become Shiraq, Slivovita and Finfandel, places in Eastern Europe, familiar to Listener solvers). See you at the bar in York, Chalicea.

In fact, this turned out to be one of Chalicea’s more tricky oeuvres. I was somewhat disappointed very early on that TARDIGRADES didn’t have any reference to Dr Who‘s Tardis! However, she compensated for that omission with 1dn List Director etc, etc in order? These might do that (12, two words), an excellent &lit clue to CREDIT TITLES — (LIST + DIR + ETC + ET[c])*. Bizarrely, I never knew that that was the full expression for credits.

It wasn’t too far into the solve that a few Zs in the top and bottom left gave the game away. Moreover, this enabled me to guess that they would all appear in the grid in the shape of a giant letter Z. A bit more work was required to jog my memory about the letter zed in Shakespeare’s King Lear: “Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!” I’m not sure that feeling is supported by American English where they seem to use it wherever possible.

And those extra words? Well they all had to slot into the grid so that the zed words became something else. DITZ became DITE, ZINC became C-IN-C and SNAZZIER became SNAPPIER. Very entertaining.

Well over two hours for this one, so thanks for a good challenge, Chalicea. I think putting KENT under the grid as the Speaker was a bit superfluous, and I pity anyone who thought the words were spoken by Cornwall or Gloucester. (Perhaps that was the reason for the hint SE in the two bottom corner cells.)

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Listener 4527: ‘Offender’ by Chalicea

Posted by Encota on 23 November 2018

Today’s Sesame Street is brought to you by the whoreson letter Zed …

2018-11-14 12.55.30 copy

Alternatively … for those Listener solvers who’ve recently seen ex Porcupine Tree lead man Steven Wilson in concert [Who? who?? Ed.], clearly delighted with his new Fender guitar, the Title here ‘Of Fender’ was a large clue.  Combine that with the shortform P.TREE hiding in contiguous squares bottom left and a large hint to the Porcupine Tree track “The CREATOR has a MASTER TAPE” gleaned from the entries CREATOR, MASTER* and TAPE in the Grid, Chalicea is clearly announcing herself a secret fan of aforementioned Porcupine Tree.  Good choice, I hear you say [Really?  Ed.].

Screenshot 2018-11-14 at 13.04.19

I’m getting good at these endgames …


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4526, Quads III: A Setter’s Blog by Shark

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 November 2018

It is interesting how ideas come about. Quads was never called Quads until my test solver suggested it. Quads II was not called Quads II until after I submitted the puzzle to the Listener editors. I only changed that when I stumbled upon the Greek cross puzzle some time later and it was by sheer coincidence that Quads II had a “four” based theme at its core. I then requested that the editors change the title, so that a series could be formed. A quick check on Dave Hennings’ site and this Dudeney style transformation hadn’t been done.

Where does one start with this type of puzzle? One thing I did want was to include as much “four” based material to Quads III as possible to ensure the Quad theme was relevant. Clearly the grid already had this by cutting into four not once but twice, both forming new square grids. So I scoured Chambers for a final highlighting word. There aren’t many in fact, especially not starting with quad-, so TETRAMERAL seemed the obvious choice as it was 10 letters and I could split that up into separate 3/2/3/2 cells with each part in a separate aspect of the grid. It also seemed obvious that I had to do something with the reconstructed corners and highlighting GREEK CROSS in diagonals made sense. Once again these would be divided into the separate sections.

Reverse engineering is often a requirement when setting these types of puzzles. TETRAMERAL is fixed in the initial grid and so GREEK CROSS would be also. It would not be a Shark if I didn’t put the effort into making real words. I therefore concentrated on the corners ensuring I had made real words when reformed, whilst keeping a symmetrical grid. I stress to all those that might wonder: I never use any type of computer software in constructing these types of grids. This is how I first set about making the grid, with the corners highlighted to ensure that I can keep an eye on joining them up together to make real words.

A possible approach to start is separate the outer perimeter into blocks of 6 with 90-degree symmetry (i.e. splitting the E and M with a horizontal bar). I also kept in mind that I was probably going to need a 9-letter word in order to keep the average word length up, which could span two of the corners.

Once the corners were formed, the centre had to be filled. Thankfully with a little bit of fiddling, I could make it work by using the prefix entero-, which is not ideal, but saved me having to rewrite the four corners. I did not know at this point how I was going to ensure that the solver knew where to make the cuts. I think every setter needs a bit of cruciverbal luck. I noticed that the letters that straddled the edges of the cross where the cuts finished were completely different. My original grid had PERDUE instead of PERSUE and ABELIA/COURBET instead of AMELIA/GOURMET. BDEINRTU only anagrammed to TURBINED and UNDERBIT, not very relevant, but with minor tweaking revealed TERMINUS, which had every letter different and pertinent to the intersection of the cuts at the perimeter. I couldn’t be happier.

Now to the clues. I recall the late Roddy Forman (Radix), stating that if you can make a clue gimmick relate to the theme of the puzzle, it will make the puzzle so much more relevant and enjoyable. I try to do that, and have succeeded in constructing a few novel gimmicks over the years. Lines 3, which won me the POTY for the Magpie, had double letters in certain clues that spelt out an instruction that linked to double letters in the grid. I recall Mash pulling me to one side at the January Magpie do, congratulating me on how I often have thematically relevant gimmicks in my puzzles. However, in reality gimmicks can only rarely be linked to the theme of the puzzle. This one had to relevant.

This is where I have to thank (and berate in equal measure) my good friend, test solver and co-setter on occasions, Artix, for the fourth letter idea. We were in a hotel in London (those of you who read these blogs might notice a theme in that!) and I mentioned that I had created a puzzle which required a 4 gimmick. You can imagine my response at his suggestion of every fourth letter in every word. Fab… but insane! Hey, I like a challenge. Some may recollect the Mr Magoo puzzle where every clue’s words’ first letters spelt out the entry – and the clues made sense. Well, that is insane, so surely by using certain clues, I could do it. I don’t know how Mr Magoo did that puzzle, but I can tell you, it is a tricky task (and mine only had 11). By the way, I deliberately ensured it was only 11, as this was a quarter of the total number of clues (44), making another Quads reference.

But how did I lead the solver to the 4th letters? Although it is not thematic, misprints in the definition followed by splitting and incorporating letters into the wordplay, I have never seen before. I therefore thought it was worth a shot. The feedback from solvers contains several comments on this novel idea, so I would be interested to know if it has ever been done, or if I am the first to come up with this idea. BTW, I apologise to John Green for the tricky task of marking the puzzle.

Unfortunately for me it was not easy and took me a long time to perfect. Even though my ultimate goal was to achieve a puzzle that will be liked and remembered, Shark-infested waters are not for the faint-hearted, and I realise that this puzzle might not be a calm ride. However, with all the extra effort culminating in a bit of classic Dudeney, I hoped solvers would appreciate this as a Listener to remember.

Talking of Dudeney, when I spotted the grid dissection idea, I had no idea of the connection with Henry Dudeney, I just liked the idea and how it could be portrayed as a crossword. His classic Haberdasher puzzle was recreated as a POTM by Ploy in the Magpie in 2014, which I solved and is elegantly animated on Dudeney’s Wikipedia webpage. The more I read about Dudeney and his tête-à-tête with Sam Loyd, the less sure I am who invented the concept as they both have published it in respective books early in the 20th century. Here are the illustrations with Dudeney on the left and Loyd on the right.

It just so happened that in 2017 it was 100 years since Dudeney illustrated this puzzle in his book entitled “Amusements in mathematics”. I was hoping this puzzle would be published in 2017. However, one logistical difficulty after another meant that it had to be postponed. Immaterial really, as I was just glad the editors felt it worthy of publication in the Listener series.

For all those wondering about Quads IV, I am not sure I can top this puzzle and so I might have to stop at Quads III. Who knows?

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