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Posts Tagged ‘Sabre’

Wiggles by Sabre

Posted by shirleycurran on 22 June 2018


My computer had just given me the dreaded blue screen of death for the third time in 24 hours so wasn’t going to be much help with the Listener and ‘Yes’ I do need it to work out Caesar cyphers, even, and complex anagrams. However, we pressed a few Esc and F11 keys and it limped into life and downloaded …. Sabre! ‘Wiggles’? Is that going to be bees in a hive wiggling their tails to guide us to the honey? It is certainly a beautiful grid (like Kea’s delightful chrysanthemum last year). I printed four copies to be sure (and we needed them!) and while the other Numpty gleefully slotted in the first solutions, did a quick check of Sabre’s right to a place at the Listener bar if ever he manages to make it across the Atlantic for the big dinner.

Of course he earned it with ‘A white rum each, if Bill’s about (13)’ It wasn’t rum at all, it turned out to be an anagram of LIEBFRAUMILCH – but no complaints. Cheers, Sabre!

The early clues went in quickly, with Sabre’s usual impeccable cluing and TRASH, PECAN, PRANG, AERIE, SHADE were solved in clue order but it was at once evident that we were not going to be able to enter anything in the grid until we had done an almost 100% cold solve. RUMPS (with a lovely nudge at a president who is launching a trade war today) ‘President’s denied front seats (5)’, knocking the front off TRUMPS to give us bums – (sorry for the indelicacy), DEFER, NUGAE, RICER, AGATE, BARRE, METIF, XHOSA, RETCH, BOILS, STAGE, APISH and CLEAN followed, but there were yawning gaps that had us worried.

We focused on the wiggles and were delighted when almost all of them appeared at once – though, even when we solved SNAKE FENCE and TAIPAN no penny dropped or wiggled. I had never encountered SPREAGHS but the anagram was generous and we groaned when finally we understood that ‘Search vile tent’ was telling us to FERRET BAD GER – that earns my ‘thumbs down rubbish clue of the week’ accolade. Of course, all those wiggles did was guide us in our ultimate grid fill, when there was ambiguity, so that we had the more or less accurate set of letters in the unclued octagons and squares. I have coloured their snaky tracks in my grid above. What a relief it was when they finally slotted into place.

Natrix natrix

It was the NATR?X ????IX that after about 8 hours of solving finally swam into view. (Yes, mine swim: they inhabit the ponds in the garden every summer, devour the newts and tadpoles and swim most beautifully). So the theme was evident: GRASS SNAKE. However, even with the help NATRIX NATRIX gave, there were still gaps and ambiguities in the grid and we had to find those three words CAE?A???I?? PAIRS to resolve them.

Oh no! It couldn’t be – this was pure Sabre: CAESAR SHIFT PAIRS. So that was the meaning of ‘the nature of the match is spelt out, (spelt?) in order, in the central cells of the 16 Squares (three words)’ No problem performing a Caesar shift when it is a one-letter move and ADDER quickly became BEEFS but there were a few EFS and BEEFS about the rest. COBRA was clearly lurking down at the bottom of the pond but it took my sick computer to tell me that he paired up with FREUD.

I expected two more snakes but it was not to be! TERRA and KERNE were the two words that those remaining squares suggested and we had to do a 13-place Caesar shift to produce GREEN, which, of course, is grass, and almost the entire alphabet, 22 moves, to produce our final grass GANJA, (giving us two grasses and two snakes) hmmm! Well, I suppose we can turn a blind eye to the ‘Pouches containing drug, heroin from Miami’, the ‘Bantu term for sex, also broad sex appeal’ – X + HO + SA (that word HO for ‘broad’ gets a thumbs down in some of the broadsheets!) and the ‘Narcotic in can … It really was a fabulous compilation. Many thanks to Sabre.



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Listener No 4505: Wiggles by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 22 June 2018

I don’t know what hit me first this week, the bizarre grid or the fact that it was by Sabre. After both had sunk in, I knew I was in for a tough challenge… which would probably last for the whole week! Sabre’s last puzzle was the one with all those bloody bees/Bs and tripped me up, primarily because I couldn’t read my own scrawl of a word I’d not heard of before (OPORICE).

Those of you who visit my Crossword Database may have seen that I try and describe the grid for each puzzle. The prospect of encapsulating this week’s in less than 100 words seemed daunting. Suffice it to say that there were lots of octagons and squares, the cells of which seemed to adjoin several cells in neighbouring pieces. Moreover, there were four unclued octagons and four unclued squares.

And don’t even think about an animation!

Needless to say — spoiler alert — I found this puzzle bloody difficult. However, I don’t know whether Sabre was toying with us, but five of the first six clues were a doddle: TRASH, PECAN, AERIE, SHADE and NIXER. Unfortunately, even with Wiggle 2 as CAPA, only the C of PECAN could be entered other than in pencil.

There was a brief flurry of extra clues solved, including Wiggles SPREAGHS, GURRAH and ATABEG, but like almost everything else it was unclear how. The top right corner had TRASH, SHADE, ELIDE and AERIE overlapping, but these still left lots of options for what went where.

I have to say that there was an awful lot of cold solving required here, and cross-checking didn’t seem to help me much. Consequently, progress was slow. In addition, I was getting nowhere with the (6,6) round the perimeter which was an alias for the theme (5,5). This started at 29 in the bottom right, which meant that the second word started in the top left, but that and the next were unclued so of no help yet.

Then there was the 3-word phrase spelt out by the central cells of the squares. At various times I had CARDINAL something, CAESAR crossing THE RUBICON, CAESAR’S CIVIL WARS, and others.

There were lots of clues that held me up for an age. Probably the most difficult was Wiggle 7: Narcotic in can seen bizarrely as obstacle to progress in Texas (10, two words). I wasn’t sure whether the obstacle was something like a river in Texas, or whether Texas was just an American indicator. It turned out to be the latter, SNAKE FENCE. Wiggle 21 was also tricky: Search vile tent for Asian tree-climber for FERRET-BADGER, which was new to me. I was also amazed at how long I took for 18 President’s denied front seats; despite his disgusting tweets being in my face every day, I kept on thinking of the usual suspects, Abe, Ike and Reagan.

So how did I crack this puzzle? Well, I had to cheat a bit. With NIXER at the end of word 1 of the perimeter, and XHOSA at the end of word 2, I wondered if the Xs were the central letters and, indeed, whether the two words were the same: ••T••X ••T••X. That’s as far as I got logically, and had to phone a friend (Tea) to get NATRIX NATRIX (in fact just the two Xs would have sufficed if you discount Perdix perdix).

It didn’t take much longer to ferret out grass snake in the ODE and confirm Natrix natrix. From there, jump forward another couple of hours to finish the grid and resolve the central 3-word phrase: CAESAR SHIFT PAIRS. I had forgotten that it was called his Shift Code. Thus, two pairs of thematic Octagons tied up with the four unclued Squares. The two grasses were GREEN and GANJA, and the two snakes, ADDER and COBRA. These code shifted to TERRA, KERNE, BEEFS and FREUD, respectively.

Wow! I really thought I would be stumped by this one, but perseverance (and a cup of Tea) paid off. It would be easy to say that this was unfair: too much cold solving, not enough cross-checking, etc. But surely this sort of puzzle sorts the men/women from the boys/girls. Congratulations if you managed this in under two hours, especially if you sussed NATRIX NATRIX from just the two Xs.

Thanks for a tough challenge, Sabre. I hope I got there unscathed.

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Mental BLOCK? ‘Wiggles’ by SABRE

Posted by Encota on 22 June 2018

Trying to solve a Sabre?  Can’t make progress?  Mental block?

If so, then simply write, seemingly haphazardly, BLOCK in one of the Octagons.

Mental BLOCK

Inspiration will then suddenly follow – perhaps it’s a Caesar Cipher, you’ll think to yourself.  [Really??  Ed.]  To test your theory, count the number of dissected squares in the overall puzzle (there are 16) and ‘add’ it to the above letters in the usual way and write the result in the same Octagon:


SABRE immediately appears, again largely clockwise, proving your Caesar Cipher theory.  Apply the same approach to the rest of the empty shapes in this puzzle ‘Wiggles’ and you are sorted.

But I’m getting ahead of myself:

Have you ever re-watched episodes of Fawlty Towers, and early on been wondering if this is the one with the Germans in, or the one where Basil is trying to put up the moose head only to be interrupted by Sybil asking him if he’s going to put up the moose head, or the one with the fire drill and the fire, or the one where Basil gets a bump on the head or the one where he is running around like a mad thing and doing ’the funny walk’, or

… only to find that all of those happened in the same episode.  I’d go as far as suggesting that solvers may one day look back on this puzzle in a similar way: “Do you recall the Sabre that was that tessellation of the plane in octagons and overlaid squares”, or “the Sabre which intriguingly had clues called Wiggles”, or “the Sabre where the hidden creature’s name was given in both Latin (natrix natrix) and then English (grass snake)”, or “the Sabre where one of the answers had to be created by Caesar-shifting other answers to form a pair” or  …

… only to find that all of those happened in the same puzzle.

And, of course, with any work of art such as this, the artist should always sign their masterpiece, in this case using the 5 pieces required for the dissection of either the square or the octagon, naturally:


For the avoidance of doubt, I loved it!


Tim / Encota

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And now for something completely different…

Posted by Encota on 11 August 2017

OK.  We’ve done the sums.  The answer could be either 4 1/2 or 72.

Inspect the grid.  There are only five pairs of unambiguous letters B (hereafter known as Bs, or Bees) in the grid not separated by a Bar.  Convert these pairs of Bs from Bs to five Bees.  [And obviously 72 is way too big so can be ignored 🙂 ]

That leave minus Half A Bee to be found.  The Preamble talks about one ambiguity: clearly this is the possibility of the third letter of 25 across – is it an O or an E?

Use your favourite means for picking O(dd) or E(ven).  I keep a six foot insect-carved version of the 18th Century gambling game known as E-O in the billiard room for exactly this purpose.  The ball falls in Even, so E it is.  Row 7 now contains ERIC (the half a bee).  For those that need reminding, try

Finally subtract half a bee using the usual accounting convention of placing it in brackets. We now have five bees, less half a bee: 4 1/2 bees now found.  Simples.

2017-07-23 13.54.06

Tim / Encota

P.S. And the ‘Eric The Half A Bee’ Python song’s lyrics include, if I heard them right:

Half a bee, cruciverbally
Must either sail, or rival 3…

[Good grief!  Ed.]

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‘Four and a half…?’ by Sabre

Posted by Encota on 11 August 2017

The nine hidden words in this puzzle spell out, I think, the beginning of a well-known early problem in algebra, namely: “The square root of half a number of bees...”, perhaps made more famous in the Scheherazade series of puzzles.

In the original, it goes on to say that, ‘The square root of half a number of bees in a swarm leave a jasmine bush, as do two others (I paraphrase); 8/9ths of the swarm of bees have remained in the bush.  What is the total number of bees in the swarm?’

As many of us will have had drilled into us in maths at school when converting word-based questions into algebra, “First let the number of bees be ‘b’ ” (of course, what else would you choose?)

Then the above translates into:  8b/9 + sqrt(b/2) + 2 = b                      Equation (1)

Re-arrange with the square root by itself on one side, such that both sides can be squared without pain: sqrt(b/2)=b/9 – 2.  Whether it is that squaring process itself has introduced an additional solution is another matter!

So it leads to (b – 72)(2b – 9) = 0.  To make such a product of two numbers =0 then clearly either the left hand or right hand bracket must be zero, so b=72 (or b = 4 and a 1/2, hence Sabre’s Title with the QM, a somewhat strange number of bees in a swarm – especially as it requires minus 1.5 bees to leave the jasmine bush originally – apart from the obvious Monty Python reference – see below).

To check your answers, you might now have tried putting each answer back into equation (1): b = 72 slots in easily, as 64+6+2 does equal 72.  However, putting b = 9/2 back in only works when you recall that the square root of a number can be + or -, such that (1) becomes 8/9 * 9/2 – 3/2 + 2 = 4 1/2.

Other Monty Python fans might mention the new role for ‘Eric the Half A Bee’ in the alternative solution.  [Aside: how does anyone think to write a song called ‘Eric the Half A Bee’?]

But wait a minute.  Has Sabre been reading our site’s ‘About The Bloggers’ section to note that I am an avid Steven Wilson fan?  Coincidence that SW’s most recent release (at the time of writing: roll on 18th August!) is the mini-album 4 1/2 ?  Surely not…


[Steven Wilson: 4 1/2.]

So we’re after 72 bees in the final puzzle. Or, literally, should I say Bs.  I can find 21 definitive Bs and 51 cells where the clashing letters are two apart – and if one squints a bit then B=2 – so perhaps I should be changing each of those to a letter B, too – that would end up with 72 of them in place.  It feels like it must be the right thing to do, especially given the quantities of each, but I am sure I’m missing something subtle in the Preamble.  And is the ambiguous entry 6a’s BOBBLY /BLOBBY for L in BOBBY, or have I missed something else entirely (very likely).  Hmm.

My choice of clue for the week is 11 across, the superb all-in-one clue [with extra word bracketed out]:

  11.  Disease in parts of [the] garden, tips of each turnip affected (12)

…reveals the disease of turnips, FINGER-AND-TOE, that affects the taproot, combined with the wordplay including ‘parts’ as a Container-and-Contents indicator (as in ‘parting the Red Sea’), ‘tip’ as a first letter indicator and ‘affected’ as an anagram indicator.  In all,
putting IN inside {OF GARDEN E(ach) T(urnip)}*  Delightful.

This clue got me thinking: I wonder how often a clue has all the hallmarks of a serious convoluted (I’m hesitating in using the word cryptic) clue but is all a bluff and is actually a near-enough straight clue?  A simple example would be the above clue but with ‘each’ changed to ‘any’, for example.  We’d all be scrabbling around trying to make the wordplay work, when actually it was all definition.  Perhaps they should be encouraged just a little more by crossword editors? Or would that simply help those who favour the ‘bung in from definition’ approach, rather than savour every intricacy of each clue?  I may have answered my own question!

cheers all,

Tim / Encota

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