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Posts Tagged ‘Sabre’

L4617 ‘Selfie’ by Sabre

Posted by Encota on 14 August 2020

Wow!!!   Thank you Sabre! See the report from other bloggers on more details of the puzzle itself. I’ll focus on a few of the clues and a mention of Excel as a helper.

My rather embarrassingly slow timetable for getting this finished summarises as follows:

–          Fri 4pm                                     Start

–          Sat 12 noon                               Only 30/50 solved + ‘extra words’ found

–          Sat 11pm                                  Only 38/50 solved

–          Sun 5pm                                    Nudged up to 42/50

–          Sun 10pm                                  Now 46/50

–          Mon 9.30am                             Full grid & messages

–          Mon 8pm                                  Grid updated with Goya columns

–          Mon 9.30pm                             Final grid ready to send!

Perhaps twice as long as any other in 2020.  OK, there was some ‘real life’ dovetailed with the above but bloomin’ ‘eck, that’s the toughest of the year by far for me!  I loved it!

The enumerations were, if you recall, always one out, so an indication of (6) meant that the answer had either 5 or 7 letters but you didn’t know which! As a slight aside, I always find not knowing the length of an answer slows me down considerably.

It took me two days(!) to derive any sense from what turned out to be ‘of root cylinder’ in 30a’s:
Only one (centimetre) length in crack of root cylinder (6)

Here the word in brackets (centimetre) was to be deleted before solving, then (A+L) fitted into STAR (‘crack’) to form STELAR, of a STELE, the cylindrical form a of a plant’s root.

Other ones I struggled with included:

27a Thoroughly beat (O’Flaherty’s) drunk (5)
which I eventually spotted was a triple definition of FULL.

38a (Britons) backward in language (6)
where I missed the now seemingly obvious definition of backward as HIND to form a simple charade HIND + I’ = HINDI. The clues – such as this – where one knew by this stage that a word beginning with B had to be deleted but not whether it was BRITONS or BACKWARD that had to go, really added to the challenge.

36d Picnic rolling (game) always making good day (5)
looked very likely to be DODDLE for ages (in the sense of easy, a picnic) but I couldn’t see why for a long time. It was only when all other entries made it certain to be DODDLE that I spotted it was GOGGLE (‘rolling’) with all Gs changed to Ds: sneaky! And I’d never thought of goggle-eyed as having that exact meaning but BRB is there to prop me up!

Once the grid was complete, two (connected) hidden instructions told us to ‘replace two columns in code add to them this puzzle’s heading’. Taking part recently in the recent fabulous Edric’s puzzle hunt had honed my Excel skills a little, so it was relatively straightforward to combine the CODE, CHAR and MOD functions. I know to many reading that’ll all be obvious! However, if not, then experiment with functions like =CODE(A1)-64 to find the ‘A=1 etc’ value of a character, =CHAR(A2+64) for the reverse, and something a bit like =MOD(B1,26) to make 1 and 27 the same, 2 and 28 the same etc. Where A1, A2, B1 is the cell that contains the value that you want to convert. Adding one set of letters (e.g SELFIEBYSABRE) to any other thus becomes simple to automate.

Oh, and I wonder how many people will have spotted the impact of converting all letters in the grid into pixels?*

Thanks again to Sabre!  Masterful!

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

  • Well, made you wonder, for just a microsecond !? And yes, I did try it whilst solving, ‘just in case’!

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Listener No 4617: Selfie by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 14 August 2020

It’s always nice to celebrate an anniversary, and here we were told that this puzzle marked 50 years since Sabre’s first Listener. According to the Sabre’s page at the Listener Crossword web site , this would be his 71st solo outing, with two other collaborations, one with Salamanca back in 1989 and one with Phi last year. That’s some feat.

(I find it somewhat depressing on such occasions to recall what I was doing back then. In this case, I was working as a Cobol programmer for Barclays Bank just off Tottenham Court Road.)

Anyway, here we were in 2020 and a nice self-portrait of Sabre appeared to be coming our way. But first, the clues, and you just knew they were going to be tricky, some more than others. Every one had an extra word, half lost a letter on entry, and half gained a letter. The first letters of the extra words would give features of the selfie, and the extra/missing letters would spell out a two-part instruction requiring changes to the grid and “leading to a different portrait”.

Oh. My. God. (That’s Twitter-speak for “Oh my god!”.) So onwards and upwards.

Needless to say, this puzzle was pretty much as tough as I was expecting it to be, starting with 1ac A summons involving New Zealand chief in stopping cause of oppression (10). Now when I say “starting with…”, I mean getting myself in a box after some time by thinking it was RIOTOUSNESS. After that, it was an age before ONEROUSNESS came to the rescue, with Zealand being the extra word.

I won’t go into all the trials and tribulations I went through with this puzzle, but will just highlight some of the clues that gave me pleasure:

30ac STELAR Only one [centimetre] length in crack of root cylinder (7)
STELLAR with only one L
36ac OVERREV Against following through on [shooting] gun too much (8)
V after (OVER + RE) with an extra word/definition to totally mislead
46ac YESTEREVE The aged give boxes antique sixpence [each] (not the first time), even recently (10)
YEVE around TESTER – the first T and not YE + something
4dn SAREE Bollywood [titans] covering tracks are evading shows (4)
(track)S ARE E(vading)
a simple (?) hidden
36dn (D)ODDLE Picnic rolling game always making good day (5)
GOGGLE with every G becoming D
a nicely misleading definition
39dn MANET Artist playing piece [in] E flat in conclusion (4)
MAN + E (fla)T

There were an awful lot of geographical references in the clues, including New Zealand, Quebec, Paris, Malham, Cadiz, Cambridge, Newcastle, Monte Cristo and Japan. Were these all places that Sabre has been to over the years?

I could see where Sabre was going with the initial letters of the extra words as Zimmer was emerging from the early acrosses. Eventually, we had Zimmer frame, bifocals, bald pate, toothless grin and hearing aid.

As for the instruction given by added and omitted letters, that was a bit more tricky. Replace two c.l… had me initially guessing that two cells needed to change. Oh no! Replace two columns in code and Add to them this puzzle’s heading. “Selfie by Sabre” was this puzzle’s heading, and two columns were completely unchecked. Just add one to the other.

(Note to self: the seventh letter of the alphabet is not F.)

Having sorted out my alphabet counting error, it didn’t take long to see the “different portrait” required by the preamble: GOYA’S DOS VIEJOS COMIENDO SOPA, Two Old Men Eating Soup. Painted in the early 1820’s, originally onto a wall of the Quinta del Sordo, a house in the outskirts of Madrid. It was transferred to canvas fifty years later. It was not a work that was unknown to me and is housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

What a fantastic ending. No self-portrait of Sabre (at least I hope not), but a portrait by Goya. Thanks a million for a fine puzzle.

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Selfie by Sabre

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 August 2020

What an achievement! 50 years of Listener puzzles! There are pages and pages of Sabre puzzles on Dave’s Crossword Database and,  of course, Sabre was part of Phibre and set with Salamanca too. In our early solving years we were daunted by those Sabre knights’ moves so I am relieved (initially) to read nothing of them in the preamble. Yes, ‘initially’, as we then see that there is to be an extra word in each clue, and a second gimmick, we are to enter half the clues with a letter added somewhere along the word, and the other half with a letter omitted. This suggests to us that our grid is going to contain non words. Consternation!

Clearly Sabre has to be an honorary member of the Listener Oenophile Elite but I check anyway. ‘Thoroughly beat. [O’Flaherty’s] drunk (5)’ has to produce a 4 or 6-letter word and Chambers obligingly tells me that FULL can mean BEAT and DRUNK. Well, that’s a rather tipsy start! The drinking continues: ‘Present drunk by [Otto] and others like spirits (7)’ We put HERE into ET AL and get a different kind of ‘like spirits’ ETHEREAL. The drinking continues. ‘Defect of US Rep [ends] in hostile remarks (5)’ gives us SHORTS. Not surprising then to find ‘Shaving the middle of [inebriated] Cambridge blue (5)’ We have a bit of a problem here, as both ‘inebriated’ and ‘Cambridge’ give us a
central R to go with AZURE to produce RAZURE, but by the time we get to this clue, we have found the features of our rather decrepit ‘selfie’ and know that we need an I to give a TOOTHLESS GRIN.

ZIMMER FRAME, BI-FOCALS, BALD PATE, TOOTHLESS GRIN, HEARING AID. Poor old Sabre! I have to speed up my solving to be sure I complete it before he conks out completely but can raise that glass anyway, as he’s clearly still able to put all those shorts away. Cheers!

These are tough clues and, for many, until we have cold-solved the crossing ones, we are entering, for example, CH HA AI, for CHAI – a more sober drink, ‘Tea [leaves] Chinese ones (3)’, but it is well after midnight that we work out the message produced by the missing or added letters and can work backwards to complete our grid.


It doesn’t take a genius to guess that columns 2 and 12 are the anomalous ones that are going to produce a startling revelation when we add to them (numerically) SELFIE BY SABRE. Are we balding, half-blind, deaf and doddery oldies going to receive a dazzling Sabre elixir that will restore our faculties and send us dashing into a second youth.

Oh dear, it’s maths again. With trepidation we do the sums and – oh, the disappointment! It’s a lovely endgame with no silly gimmick or grid-staring, but what do we find? GOYA’S DOS VIEJOS COMIENDO SOPA – two old wrecks relishing their soup in a Goya painting. Many years ago I was in a superb post-graduate language course at the Escuela Diplomatica in Madrid and the lectures included hours in the Prado, though we focussed on Goya’s happier, youthful paintings, not this very sad portrait.

We have to smile, though. This was a superb compilation and we suspect that Sabre hasn’t quite reached the skeletal state of those two old cronies, and still has a few crosswords up his sleeve. Lovely stuff, thanks.

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Odd One Out by Sabre

Posted by shirleycurran on 2 August 2019

We are travelling in northern Germany with three and six-year-old grandchildren so it is with a lack of crossword resources and some trepidation that I download the Listener and, of course I find Sabre. What fearsome gimmick will he have in store for us? Jumbled knight’s moves to be converted using a Caesar cipher? Well, not quite but there are five words in the clues to be decoded before solving, and we have to find that code using just those five words, as five solutions have also been encoded – one of them the ‘Odd One Out’ of the title.

Solving begins and races ahead – that’s rather disturbing, as with such a gentle grid fill, Sabre must have a real shocker of an end game in store. Of course Sabre speedily confirms his position in the Oenophile outfit with a tasty SEKT appearing. ‘Start off imbibing Cambodia wine (4)’ “Cambodia is K, isn’t it?” I ask the other Numpty and we enter SET around K. Just five clues further on we find ‘Medals for a dill wine(11)’. By the time we get to that clue there is only one 11-letter wine that will fit into our grid and we enter SCUPPERNONG. We can explain the PER = for and NONG = dill but how do we convert the medals into SCUP? Clearly that must be one of our encoded words. It takes a while to work out that a SCUP is also a PORGIE – but at least we have six letters of our substitution code.

MODEMS gives us less of a problem since FOPPERY must be the solution of ‘Frequency modulation of modems is folly (7)’ The OPPERY has to be ‘modulated’ and the only word it anagrams to is PYROPE – just three more letters of our code (we had P,R and E already). To define WARMAN, we convert FIDDLED to WARRIOR – and so it goes. But what can we with that ‘buy’ at the end of ‘Colleagues in the army secure good buy (7)’? WINGERS fits our grid but how can ‘buy’ become ERS (WIN + G + ERS)? We can’t turn BUY into vetch but we decide we can turn it into UMS = ERS.

When we have a reasonable number of letters of our substitution code, what can we do to find words that we have entered that will decode to give us five words of a kind? BACON looks to be a likely candidate but I decide I have to complete a further grid with the decoded words to see what emerges. I wonder, at this stage what the poor solver who has only his newspaper copy of the puzzle can do.

There’s rather a lot of wind that emerges and four hurricanes are evident but I waste some time attempting to find a CADRON or a GECAN in some obscure language before opting for the most obvious word, a wind instrument, the OBOE.

Thank you, Sabre, that was a tough challenge.

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L4563 ‘Odd One Out’ by Sabre

Posted by Encota on 2 August 2019

What did we do before the existence of VLOOKUP in Excel?  Another of those ‘First World’ problems, I hear you say.

For those who don’t regularly use it, imagine having a built-in lookup table that can be used to automagically update the rest of your spreadsheet.

So, if after realising the answer to the disguised clue

Frequency modulation of modems is folly (7)

must be FOPPERY, and you (rightly) assume that Sabre has disguised an anagram of OPPERY* as modems, and that ‘modems’ should really have read ‘pyrope’, then …

… simply add M alongside P in a Lookup table, D alongside R etc. and have Excel do the heavy-lifting for you.  A bit like this:

L4563 Sabre example 2

I always love it when I see Sabre’s name at the top of a puzzle, as it means we are in for a treat.  And sometimes they appear to have been much harder than this one – he has let us off lightly, I think!  Some of his trademark encoding, which must have been fun to create!  No knight’s moves this week, though!

Anyway, back to the plot.   There were five clues with one word (such as MODEMS<->PYROPE, above) encoded.  How are we going to spot those?

After a few checkers were in place, then the clue

Medals for a dill wine (11)

looked almost certainly to be SCUPPERNONG, a wine.  I can see PER for ‘for a’, and NONG for ‘dill’ (an idiot), but how does SCUP derive from Medals?  Looking up SCUP in the BRB shows it to be a fish, the porgy.  And an alternative spelling for that is PORGIE.  We already have M<->P and D<->R and E<->O and S<->E, so this looks right.  We now have letters for MODESA and L in our lookup table.

18d’s Dye unevenly, in play, half of shirts (6) looks like the answer must be KAMELA, so the letters -ELA must come from ‘half of shirts’, thus SHIRTS must be the encode version of a word beginning ELA-.  Our list so far tells us the word must be ELA..E, so we now have two more letters, R&T to add to our list.

The fourth encoded word was hiding in

Fiddled with an arresting power (6)

This looked like wordplay for ARM in {W AN}, i.e. WARMAN, so how does the definition come from FIDDLED?  Previous decoded letters give us .ARRIOR, and WARRIOR it is.

Finally of the five, 22d’s Colleagues in the army secure good buy (7) was clearly going to be WINGERS.  I could see WIN+G(ood) in the wordplay, but how did ‘buy’ become ERS?  The BRB yielded that definition for ERS – the bitter vetch, which the dictionary helpfully tells you is a ‘vetch’, which isn’t hugely enlightening.  Er, so how does this work? Um, got it!  So BUY<->UMS – sneaky!

So chuck them all in one’s lookup table – or the pencil-and-paper equivalent, either is fine! – and attempt the second half of the Preamble, i.e. which of the Answers/Entries might successfully decode to other English words.  There were several blanks to fill in but a consistent set soon allowed the words TORNADO, TYPHOON, BAGUIO, CYCLONE and OBOE to be found.  All connected by Wind, and one a clear Odd One Out.  I wrote OBOE below the puzzle.

A bit like this (note the VLOOKUP syntax in the function field, for those of us that need reminding) …

L4563 Sabre example 1

I did like finding that, at one stage of solving, one five-letter word appeared like it might decode to BACON – I had BACO- in place, I think.  Googling Bacon and Wind, I found ‘History of the Winds‘ by Sir Francis Bacon, which diverted me for a bit!


Tim / Encota

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