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Spirit Time by Skylark

Posted by shirleycurran on 18 Nov 2022

It is always a pleasure to see a crossword from one of the very few lady setters and there was an added grunt of delight from the other Numpty when we saw just three lines of preamble with, apparently, only one gimmick – a misprint in every clue that must be corrected before solving (though indeed, there was another gimmick when those corrected letters spelled out SHADE FOUR TITLES SEEN CRYPTICALLY PLUS AUTHOR’S NAME.

That, of course, came later. First I had to check that Skylark retains her place in the Listener Setters’ Oenophile League. She didn’t leave any doubt. ‘Opens one Parisian Brasserie in centre, hiring cook (6)’ We changed that to ‘hiding’ cook – or DO and put that into UNE and the heart of the brasSerie to give us UNDOES. ‘Boldly talks of risks in drink (8, two words) gave us risEs or PEAKS in SUP, so SPEAKS UP. The alcohol continued: ‘Faithful, once sincere, taking wine for rector (4)’ We decided the Wine had to be Line and REAL became LEAL. ‘Drinks in Glasgow involved peanuts after departure of unruly pet (4)’. That pEt had to become pUt to give us the Scottish version of ONES – ANES as a subtractive anagram. Alcohol flowing! Cheers, Skylark.

Solving moved steadily ahead and when we had read that we had to SHADE … AUTHORS NAME we saw ATKINSON in the diagonal. A few possibilities presented themselves – DIANE, GRACE and SHANE – but the K that went in with OKTAS told us that we were to find four titles of Kate Atkinson’s novels presented cryptically in the grid. Three appeared at once: ‘A God in Ruins’ (Yes, I saw that the Poat hare had sneaked onto the cover!), ‘Emotionally Weird’ and ‘One Good Turn’. Finding ‘Not the End of the World’ took us a little longer. Nice one, Skylark!


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Listener No 4734, Definition: A Setter’s Blog by Gnomish

Posted by Listen With Others on 13 Nov 2022

The inspirations for the puzzle were the two definitions of space (the other being “intervening distance”) and the definition of DEFINITION as “sharpness of outline, visual clarity”. I really liked the “material bodies” definition, found by chance. I understand that its vocabulary owes something to the philosophical literature, but the lexicographer should take credit, all the more so because you’re little the wiser after reading it.

There was a second sequence, the submitted means of confirming SPACE, but it depended on a “close but no cigar” pun I lost faith in before submission, and which the editors declined, subsituting the initial letters scheme. It’s there, although not organised neatly, and using the same values of abcde.

An 11×13 grid would have been ideal with the words in the external rows breaking THATINWHICH/HAVE EXTENSION, but the remainder of the definition would not have extended into them as they did; the fourteen letters of MATERIAL BODIES floating about in the grid would have been a very different proposition.

The overlapping of the messages was pure serendipity, which I gratefully hung on to. Naturally, I looked into whether applying the sequence in reverse column order, reverse row order, starting from the bottom right hand corner, etc. produced any further possibilities. I recovered most of my senses eventually.

My main regret was the possibility of a correct solution for some by simply guessing at it, having identified the definition, and being unwilling unravel the rest. Feedback suggests that this was not the case, however, with at least one doughty solver actively preferring to see the whole thing through.

The puzzle took a considerable amount of time to put together. Thanks to the Listener editors, the solver who tested it and gave pertinent feedback, QXW, and all solvers providing their feedback too — very welcome, and all points have been carefully noted.

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Definition by Gnomish

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 Nov 2022

Eleven lines of preamble! What are we in for? My dismay increases as I read on and learn that letters are going to be extracted from answers and moved into those external cells. We are going to decipher a sequence abaaaaaaacdee to select cells that will account for every cell in the grid. Four clues are going to form a cycle passing on their definition to the next clue in the cycle and the initial letters of these clues (numbered b c d e) will establish the theme word (with ‘a‘ to be deduced). Applying the sequence to grid rows. We have to use the sequence to show the ‘whole definition’ and to learn what to do with the rest of the grid. (I suspect that we might be instructed to erase things but it is a long time before that is confirmed!) I am thoroughly out of my depth, pour a G and T and begin solving.

G and T? The very first clue we solve is ‘Wine producers spoil Mosel and Reims (9)’ Of course, that gives SOMMELIERS and a letter has to come out of that word – but which? We’ll be passing through Reims tomorrow on our way home – if the French refinery strikers allow us to get that far. I’ll raise a glass to Gnomish who obviously confirms his membership of the Listener Setters Oenophile Outfit. Cheers!

Our grid fills fairly well though we have an empty top left corner (with that cussed little word STROBE – yes, it was defined as ‘groove’ in 23d, producing a P, initial clue letter, but it was a while before we had the A C and E and the definition SPACE. We had to extract pairs of letters spelling INTERVENING DISTANCES, and know which words in columns or rows were losing a letter before being sure of the four clues that were left. (Of course, Chambers spelled it out but I was rather slow on the uptake.)

A friend who is an infinitely superior solver managed this puzzle in a few hours on Friday (it took us until late on Saturday). He kindly sent me his solving procedure:

“Once I had ‘intervening distances’ (nice that the space between the g and d matched the only case where the two letters were not touching in the clue), I noticed that there were 13 letters in the sequence.  Since we had to find 12 letters, I figured that a, b, … represented the number of cells separating the letters with a cells before the 1st letter and e cells after the last.  Given that the whole grid had to be represented then

a + b + 7a + c + d + 2e + 12 = 144

b=23, c=3, d=8 and e=1 from the cycling clue numbers => a=12   (Since the initial letters of clues 23, 3, 8, 1 give PACE, a had to be a clue starting with S, so a=12 was likely).

This led to COLUMNSEREAS.  I suspected from the beginning that we were going to erase the rest of the grid and EREAS is an obvious mixture.  I then noticed that just reading strictly left to right did give ERASE.

COLUMNS suggested reapplying the sequence from column perspective instead of rows and I quickly saw that MTERIALBOD would match OLUMNSERA from the original search.  Since I was looking for MATERIAL BODIES, it was easy to finish.

Of course it did not happen as fast as this recap implies…”

So we erased it all – except for those MATERIAL BODIES and the rest of the Chambers definition of SPACE. I am sure a number of solvers will have commented that this one will give Mr Green a rest! I suspect there won’t be a large number of entries, either. It was tough. Thank you Gnomish.

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Listener 4734: (Double) Definition, by Gnomish

Posted by vaganslistener on 11 Nov 2022

Welcome back to Gnomish, aka Simon Haynes, who teased us with his first Listener (4653) in April 2021, with a busy grid full of the elements of A Rake’s Progress. That involved multiple devices to delay us and a sequence of alphabetic differences between successive letters of that phrase, all encapsulated in a preamble which Gnomish in a setter’s blog in this place noted had been tamed by the editors… Sounds familiar?

I didn’t of course look all that up before I began, as I’d been trying to shake of a cold and just wrapped myself up on the sofa with Chambers and dived in. I decided the preamble would make more sense once I’d solved some clues, and made reasonably steady progress, though the difficulty level was high enough that I was cherry-picking rather then going through them systematically. In several cases the letter to be extracted was not fully specified by the grid, and choices would rely on deciphering the message, but a combination of Qat’s letter-set solving powers and a trip to the study to use the full-text search facility of Chambers on my PC cracked the definition with about half the clues solved. THAT IN WHICH {MATERIAL BODIES HAVE EXTENSION turned out to define “space”, which was helpful but a shame as I thought at first we might be on track for the famous “cake long in shape but short in duration”. 

I’d isolated the four likely definition-swapping clues by this point, so decided to try and crack the prologue. I was glad to see that my deductions about the values of a, b,c,d and e (12, 23, 3, 8 and 1) from the clues fitted the equation 8a+b+c+d+2e+12 {for the letters to be isolated} = 144 that seemed the best way of interpreting the instructions, and that also fitted with the emerging INTERVENING DISTANCES message from the extra pairs of letters in the clues. Before trying to apply all that I needed to solve the rest of the clues though… They were a good set with some nice touches. 19a “Gags broadcast that shows actor is female (3)” for TRIX was clever but not flagged as a suffix, so of course I wondered why an actress called Trix was involved for some time before the penny dropped, and 34a ‘Nar{in}e mole initially overlooked, a hairy spot” (6) for AREOLE was fun, if a little odd.

With the grid filled it was back to the preamble, and The Counting Of The Letters began. Some are good at it. I fluff it. But with more care than I can usually muster I worked my way along the rows, allowing 12 spaces before the first letter, 23 before the second and so on, and the resulting message (see the green highlighting) gave COLUMNS and ERASE, so I dutifully repeated the exercise on the columns and came up with the pink highlighting, or at least I did once I realised that our setter had cunningly brought in the A and I from the side grids.

All that work gone to waste (though not quite in the league of burning the grid and sending in the ashes …). Everything had to go apart from the words of the DEFINITION, as per the second grid above. Or at least I hope that that’s what was required. It does look wan and lonely compared with the one on the left.

All in all a quality construction, so many thanks to Gnomish and it’s good to know you are properly back in the saddle so I imagine there’ll be more on the way, even if the current backlog on editor Shane’s desk is now 85! Now why doesn’t someone do a deal and publish 52 of those as a book and get the oil back in the machine?

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Listener No 4734: Definition by Gnomish

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 Nov 2022

Here we had a Gnomish puzzle which was only his second Listener. His first was last year’s Descent, based on William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress. However, his first thematic puzzle recorded in the Database was back in 2003 (titled ____(33)___) and was a D grade that was voted Puzzle of the Year. Yikes! What was in store for us (or more importantly, me) this week?

Well, a long preamble was. Lots of thematic words, an a, b, c, d and e which came together as abaaaaaaacdee, and an endgame that had ‘daunting’ written all over it. First of all, the clues, and ten of them needed two letters to be removed before solving and then one answer in each row and column needed moving to the external cell around the grid. And four clues needed to pass their definition to one of the others.

I thought I was off to a good start with 1ac Emotionally influenced by poet, finally makes me intense (4) where the intense looked like it could reduce to tense. Not that helped me get SMIT [(make)S + MI + T] straightaway. It would turn out that most of the two letters to be dropped would not be so forgiving.

In fact, the grid came together in marginally less than an inordinately long time! I wasn’t helped by initially entering 21ac as STRAN[GL]ERS which made 6dn and 14dn impossible to unravel. SDEIGN and THEREIN finally came to the rescue to enable [ST]RANGLERS to appear.

Favourite two-letter-drops were in 20dn and 11ac. 20dn Ineptly maul most of short piece reconciling vocal changes (7) was UMLAUTS [MAUL* + STU(b) recoiling]. 11ac was More homy contestant weaving material (6) with contestant becoming contest [C + OSIER]. I was flummoxed for a few minutes as I read it as More horny!

And so to the endgame. The ten clues with letters to be omitted spelt out intervening distance. The clues in which definitions moved were 23dn (LUSTRE) whose definition a cut-glass pendant was at 3dn (TILED, not come across this meaning before) where bound to secrecy was at 8dn, some African countries (for MAGHREB) having moved to 1dn which had lost groove (for SCROBE) to 23dn. Confused? Well, I was. Anyway, the initial letters of those clues gave PACE, and APACE and SPACE were the only contenders with a being A or S.

Looking up SPACE, I spotted two phrases: “that in which material bodies have extension” and “intervening distance”, so a was definitely S. I hoped I was on the home straight. The sequence abaaaaaaacdee had to give numbers for selection in the grid. It was unlikely the S clue was 26dn so 15dn seemed more likely. It didn’t take much time to realise that that was also wrong and we needed to look in the across clues at 12ac! Sneaky, Gnomish.

Thus we had 12, 23, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 3, 8, 1, 1 — ensuring we used them as the distances between. This spelt out COLUMNS ERASE. Reading the columns in the same sequence, and using the letter above column 3 and to the right of row 10 enabled us to reveal MATERIAL BODIES. Rub out all the work needed to get there and we had the full definition.

A word to the wise though. Before sending off your solution to St Albans, check and recheck everything. After I had sealed my envelope and put a stamp on it, my brain went through some sort of time loop. I realised that I had put the definition in as “that in which material bodies have expansion”! Prise open the envelope, chuck the erroneous grid away in disgust and write it out again, thinking myself lucky that it wouldn’t take long.

Great puzzle, Gnomish, and a contender I think for the AGC.

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