Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Posted by shirleycurran on 16 Aug 2019

I have memories of Nebuchadnezzar’s last spectacular crossword which was a tough one to solve so I open this with some trepidation. I am expecting a fair splashing of alcohol to confirm his membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Elite – and there is: ‘Satyrs reviewed drinks menu, wanting case (6)’ gives us (w)INE LIS(t)< (SILENI), and with that wine list to hand, he chooses a vintage, ‘French vintage and its vessel? (5)’ CRU + ET. Here is someone with taste – none of that ASTI that appears in so many crosswords. “Cheers, Nebuchadnezzar!”

What a long pre-ramble. “Almost as long as the clues!” someone commented to me, and it had so many ‘stages’ in it that it was somewhat disconcerting. I should have spotted what the ‘work’ was straight away wth that division into segments 3 2 2 2 3 1 and 5 cells, but must admit that our grid was almost complete and we had T E CUMM N S on the bottom row before the penny (Ed. Don’t you mean ‘leaf’?) dropped.

l(a

le

af

fa

lls)

one

l

iness

Yes, I admit that the title had led me to expect something from a Shakespeare Folio, even though ‘the full text of a work’ was rather a give-away (and the e e cummings poem is yet another that I have studied with students).

It took us a while to catch on to the fact that the use of left-right mirror symmetry in the grid was the key to entering solutions. ‘Every answer zig-zags either left or right and down’ led to attempts to enter letters diagonally – which got us nowhere at all, and we had cold-solved all but about ten of the clues before a real grid fill began.

There was some very subtle cluing there too but fortunately, once a solution was entered at one side of the grid, it was possible to find a skeleton of the matching solution on the other side. Grid almost full with T E CUMM N S on the bottom row and four more instructions to obey. Clearly we can give cummings his I and G, and if we assume that DUET at the left has to ‘interchange three letters’ it can create SOLITUDE (which I believe is the theme of his poem) and give him his e.

We have the nine letters of LOWER CASE appearing (or not appearing – omitted by wordplay) in sixteen clues – that was the difficult bit of the solve. I have to draw a falling leaf through those letters, and, of course, submit my entire grid in lower case. What a spectacular compilation! Many thanks to Nebuchadnezzar.

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His by Nebuchadnezzar – Thinking outside the box

Posted by shirleycurran on 1 Dec 2017

Not a long pre-ramble but one that caused us some trepidation as we read that there were extra words (yes, I called that a setter’s cop out last week but it was used in an original way to get pairs of letters this week), clashes (ugh!), and one or two omitted letters in 16 clues that were to lead to a closed outline. What’s more, there were two clues with wordplay only. Yes, those are what gave us our pdm after several hours of solving.

I believe I have seen Nebuchadnezzar, glass in hand, at a Magpie event – he’s an established compiler there (Magpie plug – six Listener-style crosswords available each month and a lively editorial with a mass of crossword related comments) but this seems to be his first Listener crossword, and what a debut! Does he get his admission to the bar at the next Listener setters’ dinner in Paris? Resoundingly “Yes”. ‘Dipso, drunken pest? (6)’ was his first alcoholic clue and that gave us PSOCID with an extra C emerging from the wordplay. “City’s dropping prohibition from us (3)” gave us URBAN dropping BAN and an extra O in the wordplay, so that we entered OUR.

An entertaining clue ‘Camp bed, beer or [blonde] afterwards, displayed heartlessly (4)’ produced that extra word giving us two letters (RA) of the message and we heartlessly used LA(G)ER and LA(T)ER to enter LAER. Not satisfied with the blonde and the beer, our drunken dipso pest concluded his alcoholic references with ‘Pub stop — Queen entering place of debauchery (8)’ HO = stop and ER enters STY producing HOSTELRY with yet another of those extra letters, L. See you at the Paris hostelry Nebuchadnezzar? Santé!

We solved slowly and steadily and it eventually became evident that a square or box was being created by those omitted letters and they were spelling something about COLUMBUS. Wikipedia was, as usual, a great help here and led us to something I should have seen far earlier as I had a puzzle published on this very theme on the crossword centre’s message board not quite five years ago. My ‘Thinking outside the box‘ was a far simpler puzzle just called Beyond the Pale. We needed a further prompt to finally produce the penny-drop-moment we Numpties needed. Clue 1d clearly spelled DUDENEY: ‘Admirable fellow’ = DUDE and ‘the old’ =YE, ‘mathematician at last’ =N both returned (with a fine reference to the mathematician of the theme) – so there it was. LOYD seemed to be the inevitable accompaniment, as the other clue consisting of wordplay only at 31d but we needed a long scribble on a sheet of paper to justify that (‘encyclopaedia’* – ‘piece’*, ‘about’ = C  and ‘a number’ A N. Yes, we muttered imprecations at Nebuchadnezzar at this point!)

However, all was now clear. Our theme was the nine dots puzzle. We still had some improbable words appearing in our grid at 13d and 14d, 24ac and 36 ac but those were going to incorporate the clashes that had to become the dots of the puzzle. How cleverly that message was concealed. We scribbled out the ‘omitted wordplay’ letters and, sure enough, there it was. REPLACE WITH DOTS/ CONNECT WITH FOUR STRAIGHT LINES WITHOUT LIFTING PEN.

Of course, drawing the box was no problem but, at first, it seemed to us that there were four possibilities for the solution to the nine dots puzzle. Ah, no. Nebuchadnezzar was far too cunning for that. (Nudge, nudge, remember to read and obey every word of the preamble!) ‘with a unique solution guided by the original contents of the affected cells’.  We found THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX in those clashes and a well-placed I and T in the grid margins. Brilliant! How very clever! Of course that was a problem for the setter and I went back to my own use of the theme and found a more simple way of resolving it.

Ah, the Poat hares. Nebuchadnezzar may be a new Listener setter but of course they were there, if, as usual, somewhat jumbled. I was a bit worried about that clue ‘Fleeces hot (supermodel) overcome by a French hauteur (7)’ but decided it wasn’t a case of mis-spelling or stripping the coat from the animals. (It gave us UN AIRS around H(ot) = UNHAIRS).  My vote this week went to the little creature ‘thinking outside the box’ and gambolling on the bottom line of the grid.

Listener No 4476: His by Nebuchadnezzar

Posted by Dave Hennings on 1 Dec 2017

A new Listener setter this week, although he does have a couple of C-grade Magpies to his name. I didn’t (and still don’t) know whether this pseudonym is taken from one of the kings of Babylon in days BC, or a 15-litre bottle of champagne.

An intriguing method of revealing the message this week — an extra word with the letters either side of it spelling out two instructions. Some clashes and all occurrences of the letter K (!) needed special treatent according to one, and a unique solution to the puzzle would be indicated by the second. 16 other clues had wordplay omitting one or two letters, the missing letters giving a related phrase.

I started off fairly well, with 6ac ABSEIL and 10 UNTENABLENESS, the latter Indefensibility of exotic dancer Anne’s new blue set (13) helped by the ABLE and NESS standing out in ANNE’S N BLUE SET (oh, and the UN- too). All this meant that I reckoned to be finished within the hour.

Famous last words, of course, since the extra words (which were only in 30 clues) seemed cunningly hidden. Moreover the missing wordplay letters weren’t easy to identify either. I suppose the most tricky was 17 Effective failing condition, too, after shift — back by six! (4) where the exclamation mark was truly warranted — TOO shifted back in the alphabet by 6 to give NI[S]I.

And then there was 14dn Once true life account [filmed] in river holds Universal certificate (9) for INDUBIOUS — BIO in INDUS containing U. I wasn’t helped by thinking that the life account would be BIOG, but finally Mrs B helped with that although it still needed an age to identify the Indus.

All in all, a tough solve, certainly in excess of four hours. [Nearer five, I suspect. Ed.] I hoped the endgame would be slightly easier without too much grid-staring. Of course, the two wordplay-only cues, DUDENEY and LOYD, the two puzzle-smiths at 1dn and 31dn, didn’t hold out much hope for that. The two instructions spelt out Replace with dots for the clashes and the letter K (just one), and Connect with four straight lines without lifting pen.

The EGG OF COLUMBUS was the way in for me, although my first googling indicated that it was a way of standing an egg upright on its smaller end. Eventually, the way of connecting the nine dots without lifting the pen off the paper revealed itself and all was sorted.

I found this a truly enjoyable, taxing and satisfying puzzle. Many thanks, Nebuchadnezzar.

(PS Still don’t get the title!)

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Yes You Can by Atlas

Posted by shirleycurran on 3 Feb 2017

The equivalent of twenty bottles of champagne.

Atlas compiles one out of every two crosswords for the New Statesman but this is the first time we have solved an Atlas Listener crossword and it has been infinitely more challenging. I don’t really need to scan those clues for proof that Atlas qualifies for a place at the bar at the setters’ dinner since we sat at the same table last year (and anyway, in a massive way, his endgame is going to remove all doubt isn’t it?) but I check anyway.

There’s the BAR in the very first clue! ‘Beginning to excavate old prison bar from the past (5)’ We have already muttered approving sounds about the originality of the devices Atlas is using – seven clues in which ‘the wordplay omits one of more letters of the answer’, with definitions applying to ‘the answer to another one of the seven’, and ’24 other clues with one letter wrong; the incorrect (my italics) letters spell out an instruction that solvers must follow …’ Not just a new setter but a lovely change from those jumbles, misprints and extra letters in wordplay. That first clue gives our first example. E(xcavate) + SHOP which has to become STOP to give us an old word for ‘bar’ – ESTOP and provide the first of the letters of the message – an H.

There’s rather a lot of food after that: ‘Before I start to talk, finish trifle (4)’ DO + I + T(alk) = DOIT, then ‘Tommy’s bread to eat, returning to yard (5)’ GO (changing to RO) + TO< + Y = ROOTY. Next comes a GRILLROOM; ‘Space on mound first good place to eat (9, two words)’ G(ood) + HILL + ROOM with another of those letters appearing when HILL is corrected to RILL. ‘Dish, Tahitian, not a success (4)’ removing A HIT from TAHITIAN to produce TIAN. Odd cuts, chick peas and tea follow so I’m having my doubts about that bar ticket but then I spot that INN has just appeared in the grid when we filled in that astonishing word ENANTIODROMIC misrepresented Mao in doctrine of U-turns (13) (MAO IN DOCTRINE*) Yes, I shall drop that into polite dinner conversation, I promise!

‘Abandoned lodge away from the sea half forgotten (3)’ gave us INL(and) so we had a wrong letter L. The grid filled and we had a ‘shallow cup’, an ‘earthenware vessel’, ‘punch’ and a club so no wonder Atlas was ‘Zonked’ in 20d (with that NEBUCHADNEZZAR still to come!) That intriguing clue gave us one of our seven that had to switch definitions too. The hint was that we had letters for KIN and DRESS* to give DEERSKINS but a missing E. We had soon found our seven moving definitions: ‘synagogue storeroom’ GENIZAH, ‘…who occasionally let hair down’ RAPUNZEL, ‘Hardy heath’ EGDON, ‘Post impressionist artist’ CEZANNE, ‘Zonked’ DONE IN, ‘Exotic fruit’ BILIMBI and ‘Hides’ for those DEERSKINS and those missing letters spelled the strange word EINEG – but what was that word appearing round the EINEG? There was a bumper bottle, a NEBUCHADNEZZAR! So the GENIE was ‘back’ in the bottle. “Yes You Can”, said Atlas and that was what we had done- we had put the genie back.

We have some of those ‘wrong letters’ still to disentangle from what is often challenging wordplay. We can see, now, that we are required to HIGHLIGHT YOUR ACHIEVEMENT so we look for a wrong H in ‘A monkey? I don’t trust that suggestion of 14 shillings (6)’ SAGUIN was our solution confirmed by the U of NURS (yes, not NUTS – naughty, naughty, hand duly slapped but I do wonder how many will fail to see the hidden reversed NURS and will erroneously enter NUTS!) and we now decide that it is HA + GUIN(ea) – well, that was 14 shillings wasn’t it? And we have our final letter and highlight that massive bottle (Chambers: A large bottle, esp of champagne, the equivalent of 20 ordinary bottles!) and its GENIE with a smile. Many thanks, Atlas, a superb compilation!

The elusive golden hare

Post script – the elusive golden hare? Yes, he was there but cunningly turning a corner this time and still not appearing in four letters in a straight line!