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Listener No 4650: Two Names by Deuce

Posted by Dave Hennings on 2 Apr 2021

The theme of Deuce’s first Listener in October 2019 was something that didn’t exist five years ago — Brexit. This week, hopefully, a less contentious theme with a person to be identified by the seven numbered (but unclued) entries in the grid. The remaining clues, in alphabetical order, contained an extra word with two hints given by their first two letters.

Scanning grid lengths and answer lengths, the only 9-letter unnumbered entry was in the penultimate column. Its clue was therefore Monastery farm in Midi in dire aerial [assault] (9), and LAMASERIE was slotted in [MAS in AERIAL*] — nice to get, but at this stage totally useless!

Back to the top, and ALAE, ALARUM, ANT, ANTI, AROMA and ASP made me wonder whether every entry began with the letter A. Luckily BALLOT and BEMA disabused me of that. I also noticed that there were an awful lot of people dotted around the clues: Lowry, Cleopatra, Dorothy, O’Connor, Tarzan and Wolff. Oh, and not forgetting Rees-Mogg — bloody Brexit again! [Not quite. Ed.]

Just under an hour saw enough answers for me to be able to start filling the grid. Using LAMASERAI, the top right corner started me off, then across the top and down the left. Unclued 7ac was obviously SAPIENT, so we were looking for a wise man, and it looked as though 3ac at the bottom was MAMMALIA. Linnaeus came to mind but I couldn’t remember his first name. Luckily, Wiki could — it was Carl.

Begrudgingly, my favourite clue was probably the one mentioned above: Rees-Mogg’s old post here to some extent called it original [sin] (6) with its reference to William Rees-Mogg, the father of the current Member of Parliament for North East Somerset, and a former EDITOR of The Times.

The first two letters of the extra words in clues revealed two hints: He is like the protagonist of Genesis two twenty and A name to conjoin as in the close of the passage. Reaching for my old school bible, Genesis 2:20 soon revealed And Adam gave names to al cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; followed by but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. (It’s a mystery to me why we’re told not to start a sentence with “And”, the Old Testament is littered with them.)

The seven unclued entries gave the taxonomy for all of us, but specifically the “thematic person’s self-description”: ANIMALIA, CHORDATA, MAMMALIA, PRIMATES, HOMINIDAE, HOMO, SAPIENS giving the binomial name Homo Sapiens.

So the preamble told us to rearrange the top row. Thus, CURSE LIANA L N gave CARL LINNAEUS and then a related person had to be highlighted. Wiki to the rescue again to find that Linnaeus’s wife was SARA MORAEA and it only took two (!) passes through the grid to find her reversed in the bottom row.

Remembering to change SAPIENT to SAPIENS, all was done. Thanks, Deuce.

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Listener No 4649, Get Weaving: A Setter’s Blog by Paddock

Posted by Listen With Others on 28 Mar 2021

Should I ever be called upon to choose a suitable soundtrack for my puzzle setting career, it will certainly not feature Edith Piaf warbling Je ne regrette rien”, my tendency being more towards the Frank Sinatra school of regrets. Oh yes, during that period between submitting a puzzle for editorial consideration and reflecting on its reception by solvers, I’ve had a few — but as you are about to learn, they are not too few to mention (and anyway, Frank, surely the barrier to comprehensive regret-mentioning would be superabundance rather than paucity?).

The most vexing of them fall into three broad categories. Worst of all, perhaps, are the times when it has become clear from the online forums (which I check repeatedly on publication day with hope and trepidation in unequal measure) either that the endgame required a mental leap which was inadequately signposted or that the finishing line could not be confidently identified. Regardless of the merits of the rest of the puzzle, such faults inevitably leave solver dissatisfied and setter rueful.

Next on the list come those instances where, upon solving the initial proof, I have discovered issues (usually manifested as some form of ambiguity) which seemed to me to render the puzzle unsatisfactory. In my early days of setting, I would tell myself “It’ll be all right, no-one else will notice.” Experience has taught me that if the only reason I can sidestep the hole is because I dug it myself, others will undoubtedly fall into it, and they won’t enjoy the experience; now, if there’s time to fix the problem I will, but sometimes the proximity of the publication date means that it just isn’t feasible (I guess that using test solvers might help here, but I’m too set in my ways to start now). Result: self-flagellation of the mental kind.

Lastly there are those puzzles which at a late stage I realise simply don’t do justice to the theme — “I should have included that name in the grid, or done the thing as a Carte Blanche, or spent longer developing the idea.” Even if the puzzle is reasonably well received, it still feels like a good opportunity wasted. And when you struggle like I do to come up with original themes, that is a cause for considerable regret.

If I manage to avoid these pitfalls, the resulting puzzle may still not be up to much but at least I will look upon it with a degree of authorial affection.

With Get Weaving, my starting point was the idea of intertwining two normal (but meaningless) clues to produce a composite with a relatively sensible surface reading. I then looked for a theme with a weaving connection, and the Arachne/Minerva story seemed to fit the bill perfectly, in particular the potential ARACHNE->A SPIDER transformation. Using interwoven answers to make up the weft would allow me (I hoped) to introduce the combatants into the grid without their names needing to span bars. I realised that the grid-fill for the solver would not be trivial, so I wanted the endgame to be simple and unambiguous.

The challenge of populating the grid was compounded by the need to include in a single block six pairs of words which varied only in their third letter, as required for the RACHNE/SPIDER change. Half of the 24 across solutions ended up being words which I would describe as ‘unfamiliar’ (to normal people, if not to those of us with multiple editions of Chambers on our shelves), but I didn’t feel that I was going to be able to reduce the ratio without jeopardising my last lingering trace of sanity.

For the interwoven clues there could be no redundant words, while the down clues needed to be readily blind-solvable. In an attempt to make things slightly easier for the solver, I determined that the first letter entered in a column would always belong to the first solution, and that where two across solutions were the same length the first word in the clue would belong to the first entry. Ultimately it was decided not to include this information in the preamble, although some solvers apparently worked it out for themselves.

An extra (self-imposed) requirement was that the unwoven across clues had to be made as sound as possible: I couldn’t see the editors wanting to rewrite them, and I certainly had no wish to do it myself! In the event, writing these clues didn’t in itself prove inordinately difficult; the main issue was that producing half-decent surface readings meant that the separated clues were quite a bit trickier than I would have ideally liked. The high proportion of uncommon words contributed significantly to that problem, a pair such as ESSENE and TEASEL being unlikely bedfellows.

I knew that the finished puzzle wasn’t easy, and I was concerned that the down solutions might be of very little help in the solving process. I was reassured by the fact that both vetters managed to battle their way through it, and when I came to tackle the proof myself I found that solving the down clues was in fact the key to cracking the puzzle. I can’t recall ever completing a barred crossword without doing a certain amount of ‘reverse engineering’ (and I see no reason why a clue cannot legitimately support a hypothesis as well as give rise to one), but it was clear that the across clues here were going to require an unusually generous dollop of it.

I wasn’t surprised that the response on the forums was mixed – those who see the grid-fill essentially as the means to reach the endgame were always going to be disappointed, and on top of that the solving process here could be viewed as either an exacting challenge or a disagreeable slog. Those who described the puzzle as ‘an old-fashioned Listener’ didn’t venture to add whether that was a good or a bad thing!

And as for regrets? None on the three counts listed at the start, though I do wish that I had been able to make the individual interwoven clues easier to solve, or at least to parse. But hey, I did it my way…

Paddock, March 2021

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Listener No 4649: Get Weaving by Paddock

Posted by Dave Hennings on 26 Mar 2021

This was Paddock’s fourth Listener with the previous one being just over a year ago with No 4577, The Gaudy and its Inspector Morse theme. This week we had something that I’d never seen before — two clues interwoven! Luckily answers were entered normally, unlike the normal down clues where it was the two answers that were interwoven.

Listener 4649Starting with the acrosses, it soon became obvious that, unless a definition really stood out, I was pretty much stuffed. In 1ac Hated sham spending cuts following number one rule in such charged circumstances (7;5) for example Hated could be LOATHED, but no amount of trying the clue helped. The next obvious thing was that it was better to start with the down clues.

1 Confirm man leaving horse muck prepared earth in spring looked as though the first part could have some manure-y context but no joy. So 2 next Conservative serene about rejecting nuclear weapon bill — requirement for junket arising and CREESE/TENNER got me up and running.

3 passed me by, but 4 and 5 gave STAINS/MUSSES and EDDIES/ADHERE. No luck with 6 and 7, but 8 Selfie-taking device reached top of rankings, a stylish screen securing second place looked like CAMERA/something with that sneaky a belonging to the first clue no the second.

A bit more concentration on 1dn gave ASSURE (I was right about the manure)/BOUNED. From there, it seemed that letter patterns were the way to go as the across clues were still totally intractable. Thus 1ac started A/B+C/T with AC••M•• or AC••S•• being most likely. With the help of Mrs B’s cursed under hated I eventually got ACCUSED [ACCURSED – R] with the clue being Hated spending rule charged leaving Sham cuts following number one in such circumstances giving FACTS [ACT in (F + S(uch))]. So not only were the clues interwoven, it looked as though they were pretty difficult when disentangled!

Down the left-hand side of the grid, across the top and down the right and all was done. Not quite the quickest solve of the year — in fact pretty tough. I found it thoroughly enjoyable separating out the two across clues.

Not for the first time recently, I came across that sitcom priest TED in 7b plus a bit of off-the-wall humour in 9a What be that at rear of guardhouse? Mate, perhaps with ’TIS AN E and mate³ for the definition. It will come as no surprise to you that my favourite clue was 21ac Endless bonking injures aged duke drinking partner served drugged bubbly obscuring taste of Viagra (5;7) for DERES [clue here in bold, SERVED* – V(iagra)] and SEDATED [(SE(x) + D) around DATE].

The endgame required us to identify the names of two competitors, one on each side of the grid and then replace six letters of one to “reflect the outcome of the contest”. It didn’t take long to identify ARACHNE on the left and MINERVA on the right. The former then had six letters replaced to reveal A SPIDER.

Thanks for all this, Paddock. Very enjoyable with a fun clueing gimmick that made some clues tougher than disentangling Christmas tree lights.

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Get Weaving by Paddock

Posted by shirleycurran on 26 Mar 2021

We read this preamble with growing dismay; ‘the two answers must be randomly interwoven in the columns’. That sounded rather like jumbles, and we read that it was the clues that were ‘randomly interwoven’ for the across entries. How does one begin a crossword like that?

Well, of course, I begin by searching the clues for any hope that Paddock may retain his space at the Listener bar with the elite setter oenophiles. There’s initial hope in ‘Compound extreme lying about bottling that is …’ but that was almost the last ‘interwoven’ clue we solved and we decided it had to be END ‘lying about’ so giving DNE and that was ‘bottling’ IE, giving DIENE. Not much hope there!

Things improved with ‘TV presenters unusually ordered to relocate’. We ‘ordered’ ANT and DEC ‘unusually’ and produced DECANT which Chambers tells me is ‘to move (people etc.) to another area’. Now what is Paddock decanting? There was ‘RED’ a couple of clues further down in REDONE – ‘perhaps worked over by bolshy eastern guards (RED E around ON) – none of that entirely convincing.

However, I imagine all solvers worked from the top of the grid down, finishing with DERES and SEDATED, which, of course, put themselves in the grid as they were our remaining letters, and by that time, we were truly admiring the cleverness of Paddock’s construction (and the unusual difficulty and complexity of his clues!) and what do I find? ‘Endless bonking injures aged duke drinking partner served drugged bubbly obscuring taste of Viagra’. Hmmm. I mutter in blogs about the surface readings of clues which sometimes give an implausible picture but there isn’t much ambiguity about the picture painted there. I’ve put on my disapproving look (and laugh) and decide Paddock had no need to decant the red, his skilful crossword has thoroughly earned that bottle of bubbly (even if it is obscuring the taste of Viagra). Cheers, Paddock.

Fortunately we realized early on that the clues were not entirely ‘randomly’ interwoven since the words of each indivicual clue kept their own order, just as did the letters in the two interwoven down clues in each pair so we were able to weasel out answers from potential letters even when we couldn’t separate the clue threads and solve the clues, but we had completely filled the grid before MINERVA and ARACHNE appeared. What a fine end game! We changed poor ARACHNE into A SPIDER, happy to see that only real words emerged in our tapestry. What a fine piece of work!

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L4649: ‘Get Weaving’ by Paddock

Posted by Encota on 26 Mar 2021

My thanks to Paddock for an excellent puzzle – just the right level of difficulty, I felt.

I had the grid filled by end of Saturday, with a few question marks here and there where I hadn’t quite parsed the clue-pair as yet.  After a day of rest (ok, other puzzling) I polished off the last few parsings on Monday morning, with all done by 9:10.

One of my last three to sort was (with one of the interwoven clues shown in bold):

1. Hated sham spending cuts following number one rule in such charged circumstances

It was interesting to me how hard I found it to be certain precisely which words were in each clue-half.  For example, “number one in such” for S seemed to take me an age to spot.  Yet it seems so obvious after the event!

Another was:

16. Top fragrance EU had withdrawn left leader wanting standards for non-flammability revised

For some reason my mind went blank associating ‘fragrance’ with AROMA.  I had AMORAL pencilled in the grid and it still didn’t jump out at me.  Again, once highlighted as above, it seems so obvious!  I guess the crossword clue as a one-way function would make quite a good discussion topic.  One to save for when we all next meet at a face-to-face Listener Quarterly, perhaps.  Oh, and the WP for the letter N above made me smile – not perhaps the obvious choice of word from which to derive it!  Aside: I wonder if anyone has used antidisestablishmentarianism in a clue to derive a letter A yet – if not, then maybe I’ll be the first!

And the third was:

14. African predicant declines priest’s cape conceding over case for stalls and initially
          expensive pews.

I had DOMINEE as an almost-certain in the Grid and could see DOMIN(o) but there seemed to be so many possible Container&Contents_indicators (over; case for; stalls) to put the A in SETS vs picking the EE from E(xpensiv)E  that it took me ages to see ‘stalls’=installs.  Once I had that and SETS for ‘declines’ then all finally fell into place.

What I also loved about this puzzle was the mild assist one got from the checkers.  From the solved Down entries sometimes it would narrow down to two options, sometimes more – but they were enough to give a gentle assist to the clues in the other direction.  And then a few Acrosses in place nailed some checkers into place, so allowing other uncertain cell options to be narrowed down further.  This process was very satisfying, I felt.

Oh, and I bet I wasn’t the only one to celebrate my first letter in the grid – in the top right, an S as the first letter of STOLID or SHEKEL.  That took about 20 mintues, I think!  Colouring the Down entries helped a lot – see diagram.

Finally, the theme was, of course, impeccable!  Arachne, the weaver and Minerva, battling it out.

Thanks again to Paddock. A beautiful puzzle!!

Cheers & stay safe,

Tim / Encota

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