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Posts Tagged ‘Encota’

L4546: ‘Ripping Yarn’ by Nutmeg

Posted by Encota on 5 April 2019

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Thanks first of all Nutmeg for a delightful puzzle.  It’s great to have a mix of puzzle difficulty in the Listener and the gentleness of this one was a welcome relief compared to some in recent months!  Easier – but not too easy.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nutmeg at an event in Manchester a year or two back and, like I said to her then, her puzzles are always a pleasure and, in my view, should be required study for anyone aiming to write “the perfect surface”.  If you don’t already, do look out for her regular publications in the Guardian, for example.

Two examples from ‘Ripping Yarn’ follow: ok, so the single misprint in each definition gives the setter an extra degree of freedom – but that extra wiggle-room was definitely made the most of in:

What might make Americans rude?  Trace of arrogance (7)

Where of course ‘Americans’ becomes the coffee ‘Americano’ and the answer is (ROBUST+A) ROBUSTA, a type of coffee.

Spooner’s to suggest protection for men facing enema (6, two words)

(yielding, in that, TIN HAT for protection against the enemy) …

… though I am still trying to recover from the mental images this surface initially conjured up 😉

I did experiment to see what other options there might be that satisfy the construct: ALengthOfTime around ATypeOfStitch.  I could only come up with:

“Stay In Tonight” or “Second kettles kettle” (no apostrophe), ”  Others involving the ‘screw’ stitch have naturally, for the sake of decency, been suppressed here 😉

Enough of my nonsense.  My thanks once again to Nutmeg!


Tim / Encota

PS I have very few claims to fame but singing in the rabble-of-a-school-assembly in the first ever episode of Michael Palin’s Ripping Yarns, called ‘My School’, is one of them.  Amazing what trains of thought every Listener crossword can set running …


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L4543: ‘Migratory Birds’ by Malva

Posted by Encota on 15 March 2019

Warm wishes from Sunny Suffolk, the home of RSPB Minsmere where numerous fans of this puzzle most likely congregate before heading off to warmer climes for the winter.

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I greatly enjoyed the moment when it became clear that birds, one of which featured in every clue, ‘migrated’ from one clue to another before solving could finally take place.  Of course half the fun was finding that the wordplay nearly worked in some cases before the move but was in error – and it was that which allowed me at least to see what was actually going on.

There were 38 clues/birds to migrate: I sorted the first 25 of them, then resorted to a small checklist (see right hand side of diagram above) to compare the remaining (13) birds at that time with no new home with their potential wordplay ‘nests’ [I think this analogy has gone way too far: Ed.]

I particularly liked the subtlety in the clue,

  Idiot putting any odd bit of heron under beetle (4):

Now we’ve seen DOR for beetle before (and I’ve forgotten it several times, too!), so the idiot looks like it may well be DORK.  But how does the final K come from the rest of the wordplay?  Well, one of the birds still looking for a new home is the ‘KoKaKo’: and ‘any odd bit of KOKAKO’ is the letter K, so all is sorted.  That also used up one of the two remaining birds beginning with a K, allowing me to be certain that the one left, KINGFISHER, moved to 28d’s,

At the start, prion to roll up wooden ball 

The wooden ball was a KNUR, made up of K+RUN<, so replacing ‘prion’ with ‘kingfisher’ sorted that one out too.

The correct repositioning of the birds in the clues was for me the most fun part.  There were three jumbled birds also hidden in the grid, in vertical lines.  I think I went through all of Mrs. Bradford’s 5-letter birds in all the columns and could only find – jumbled in contiguous cells – VIREO, TEREK and CRAKE, which I’ve highlighted.  I’m not sure I haven’t missed something far more subtle hiding there, but what I’ve done meets the spec of the Preamble, so I called it a day at that point.

Prior to that I had hunted out as many 5-letter birds as I could find in each vertical, in case that was going to give me further enlightenment – you may detect their faint tracks in the image above.  And when I was reminded by Mrs B that ‘Wonga’ was a bird then I did try, naturally with a very high level of interest, to find it in the grid.  However, it appears that bird has flown.

Finally, I did quite like the Sarf London description of birdsong at 32a, pronounced TWI’ER.  I’ll get my coat …


Tim / Encota

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L4542: ‘Have Fun, It’s Wordy’ by Kea

Posted by Encota on 8 March 2019

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If you were a setter (or editor) trying to encourage some of the ‘I-only-solve-48-out-of-52’ Listener solvers – you know the ones (and it may well be you!), those who see the four numericals each year and suddenly decide that they are really busy that day, the front door step really does need sweeping etc – to try a numerical, then what Title might you give a Listener Numerical to encourage the more word-oriented solvers to have a go?  Clearly the answer is: “Have Fun, It’s Wordy“, as Kea has chosen for this week’s puzzle.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, I always love it when the puzzle number plays some part in the overall story.  Here the puzzle’s number 4542 is used as the example in the preamble which, when spelt out with repeated letters suppressed, gives FOURTHSANDIVEYW.  Which, naturally, is a jumble of HAVE FUN, IT’S WORDY.  Delightful – who needs the puzzle itself after that level of elegance – thanks Kea!!

I think in the past I have identified up to seven different levels of ‘assist’ one can have in Numericals.  Today I’ll pick on three and then focus on one, the use of Excel to help with solving.  Most people have access to Excel on one machine somewhere or other – especially those people who read blogs.  So, the three levels:

  1. Pure pencil and paper only
  2. Assist using a spreadsheet program – hereafter known as Excel 😉
  3. Custom coding.  Nowadays this is often in Python, though C, BASIC and many others are often used, too.  This is normally a fairly accurate test of the coder’s age: I use C, for example (but only when pushed!).  And anyone this week loading their program serially on paper tape into an Elliott 703 computer, then do leave me a Comment 🙂

For those who like type (1) then this week you’ll have been in for a treat, as the puzzle is reasonably solvable by this means.  Spotting that at least nine of the 3-digit entries are used as the arithmetic expression for other letters (in clues B, C, D, E, H and c, e, f plus, by inference, k) is useful.  Also noting that, what with the letters BCJKMPQZ not being used in appropriately-sized word-based answers (after all, for example, no ZILLIONS are featured 😉 ) then the max total of all remaining letters is <= 253 and thus all such 3-digit entries at B, C, D, E, H etc must begin with a 1 or a 2.  G and H both appearing multiple times as – or in – arithmetic expressions helps a lot, too.  And, given its length of (6) [and that a (down) cannot begin with a 0], A can immediately be narrowed down to either 11 or 12, with its associated ‘n’ being either 53 or 82.  In good, traditional fashion I will leave the rest as an exercise for the reader 🙂

For those of you already using type (3), then you’ll most likely already know more than me on the subject, so I will move on very quickly …

So, today – Excel!  A program almost too powerful for its own good, the basic user barely gets beyond adding and multiplying, with a bit of formatting to make the output look more readable.  [And, if an accountant or analyst, there will be numerous cases of calculating Ratios, as I’ve heard that an accountant’s life isn’t complete without Ratios:  Pens per Employee, P/E ratios etc.  I digress …]

Useful functions.  Intro: if you rarely or never use functions, don’t be frightened.  Select a cell in a new Excel workbook, type in an = sign followed immediately by the start of the function name.  A selection will appear.  Click/ double-click on the one you want, then fill out the brackets with the items prompted, often by clicking in other cells to select them, and then close with a final bracket and press return.

Things I used (or could have used) in my Excel solving route for L4542:

  • =VLOOKUP().  Very useful if you want to select a value associated with, say, a letter.  I had a table with:
    A  1
    D 4
    etc. in it, in adjacent cells.  Using the whole table as part of the input meant that calculating sums of letter values was easy.
  • =CODE().  This useful function returns the ASCII value of a character in a chosen cell.  If that sounds like gobbledy-gook then, yes, it is.  However, if you take 96 away from the answer for lower-case answers, or 64 for upper-case answers, then you get L4542’s ‘value’ of each letter.  Try it!  Type the letter T in cell A12, then ‘=CODE(A12)-64’ (ignoring the quote marks) in cell A13.  Repeat as required.  Easy!
  • the $ sign in a formula.  Apologies for those to whom this is obvious – but I have seen grown men(!) struggle with this!  I read the $ sign as a ‘stick’ sign.
    If you put, say, ’10’ in cell A1 and ‘=2*A1’ in cell B1, then the value displayed in B1 will of course be 20.  If you now copy that formula into C1 by the click&dragging of its bottom right small square, Excel will be ‘clever’ and assume you wanted C1’s contents to equal 2*B1.  But what if you wanted it to be 2*A1 still (for some reason)?  Then in B1 change its formula to ‘=2*$A1’ and press return, then click&drag that into C1 and you’ll have what you want, it will ‘stick’ with A.  Now use this to create a simple Times Table Square, with say 1 to 10 along the top and the side, where each content uses something like ‘=$A2*B$1’.  when you drag this formula into other cells then the A will ‘stick’ and the 1 will ‘stick’ with the other adjusting to match the position of the cell.  So a distant cell might become ‘=$A10*J$1’.  Much easier to do than describe.  Try it!  Use the built-in help (or Auntie Google) for support.
  • String handling functions. A posh way of saying dealing with words.  Sort of …
    • =CONCATENATE()  joins together all strings separated by commas in the brackets.  So if cell A1 contained the wordstring EIGHTY and A2 contained SEVEN, then the formulae (in, say, cell A3), =CONCATENATE(A1,A2), will have the value EIGHTYSEVEN.  If you wanted a space between them you could add the string containing a space =CONCATENATE(A1,” “,A2)
    • =LEN() gives the number of characters in a string.  Typing in A4, =LEN(A3), will display a value of 11 or 12, depending if you’d added the space above or not.  In solving L4542 it is probably better not to!
  • With those functions, plus the usual ‘=SUM()’, much of this puzzle can be solved much more easily.
  • Additional things you may wish to explore, if you are feeling keen:
    • Selecting a character in a string.  Try out ‘=RIGHT()‘ and similar, carefully following the syntax that Excel prompts you for.  You can use this multiple times, nesting them, if it helps.
    • Excel’s ‘Data’ menu’s Text to Columns and Remove Duplicates (i.e. duplicate rows).  To try the latter, type the characters N, I, N, E, T, Y in six adjacent cells in a column.  Select them all and press Remove Duplicates on the Data menu. It will delete any rows that are duplicates, in this case resulting in NIETY in a column.  Combining that with CODE or VLOOKUP in the adjacent column and summing the results is one way of getting a spelt-out total for a word.
    • Conditional Formatting on the Home menu.  If you wanted to highlight all cells in the sheet containing, say, the value 24, then Select all cells (i.e. click on the triangle at top left of the sheet so all go light blue) and follow the instructions, picking a bright colour of your choice.  You can then easily scan a small spreadsheet to spot which ones are of more interest.  Again there’s no substitute for trying it!  There are of course better tools if the size of the spreadsheet is becoming significantly larger, though beyond the scope of this blog!

That’s plenty enough for one blog.  If you have any tips that you think would be useful to those who’d like to use Excel to help them solve numericals then do please post Comments.  And if this has been useful to just one solver than it has been worth writing!!


Tim / Encota

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L4541: ‘Doing the Rounds’ by eXtent

Posted by Encota on 1 March 2019


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Was I the only one fooled by the relative simplicity of the Across, Ascending & Descending clues?  And the 6-letter circular ones?  I suspect not …

The ‘solver vs setter’ battle only really started after all the above were in place.  A bit of deduction re. the Preamble led me to suspect that the triangular-curved sections each also required a letter to be added – and so it proved.  So nineteen x 12-letter answers were still required, with six of the letters available in each case.  I solved three or so quickly but then it slowed right down.

I particularly liked how, in those ‘triangles’ near the corners of the ‘hexagon’ where two adjacent sections were unchecked, that each must be filled with a common pair of letters – both are A in the top left’s 6 Round’s PEARL DISEASE, for example.

This grid was an excellent construction!  Based on the FLOWER OF LIFE pattern with 19 intersecting circles, it must have been fun setting!!

I also particularly liked some of the misleading definitions, with my favourite being ‘Supplier of sensational information’ as the definition for SCIATIC NERVE.  Loved it!

My thanks again to eXtent.  This was one of the two I end up solving overnight each year on the Eurostar to & from the Alps, which makes it even more memorable.  Great fun 🙂

Tim / Encota

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L4540: ‘Chalked Up’ by Nudd

Posted by Encota on 22 February 2019

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Many thanks to Nudd for a fun puzzle.  I solved this one overnight on the Eurostar from the UK to Moutiers and, what with having to hand-draw the grid as I only had the puzzle on-screen, it took me to somewhere North of Paris to complete.  I think, if you screw your eyes up and look at it in a certain light, then even my representation above looks similar to the WHITE HORSE of UFFINGTON, to be found on WHITE-HORSE HILL.

I particularly liked how there was no ambiguity at all as to which letters needed to be used to form the final ‘white horse’ – and the 3, 4, 10 & 11 letter info in the Preamble made it a pleasure to solve.


Tim / Encota

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