Obvious theme ignorance 101

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, coming to you today from beautiful Toronto, Ontario, Canada so this will be a brief post and I won’t have a scan.  I can add it when I return to Americaland tomorrow.

OK, what have we here – Calmac!  I had a pretty awesome failure last time out with Calmac, so let’s see where I can go wrong this time.  This Listener came out while I was on the road, heading to Charlotte for the ROC Race (were I also spectacularly failed).  So I was mostly doing this on a friends sofa while he was complaining about a sore tooth.

What have we here – misprints in definition, and there’s a LOT of clues here  Big grid with small entries mostly (ooo eerr).  These give an instruction… hmm, so it looks like we’re in real word territory which is a good thing when I don’t have Bradfords and the like with me.

There is a 1 across and although it looks pretty obvious now, I could not see it at the time, so that was a fail on the 1 across test (oh dear).  Much better luck on 5 across, an anagram of TASER and we’re away (though I incorrectly put in that it delivered JOLTS).

Since I had an entry in the middle, I started working from there and something became clear pretty quickly – SARAJEVO BOSNIA was hiding in the middle column.  Erudite, worldly people at this point probably cottoned on to the theme, I jotted it in and wondered what on earth Sarajevo was significant for.  Wasn’t there a Winter Olympics there once?

Moving over to the left side of the grid, there’s another long unclued entry at 1 down, and with FOR,DS now figured out it looks like it’s going to be FRANZ FERDINAND.  Isn’t that a techno group?

Oh… he was murdered around 100 years ago, right?  Did it happen in Sarajevo?  Shouldn’t I have known this?

Yes, he was, and the murderer appears to be lurking in the other side of the grid, GAVRILO PRINCIP – which was needed to get some pesky answers out in the Florida corner.  OK, so now we have a grid and a message.  And Sarajevo’s probably part of it.



What’s an EJELT?

Can tasers do something than JOLTS?  VOLTS (and is taser in Chambers?).  Aaaah so 12 isn’t to RAIL it’s to RAIN.  And now it’s an EVENT that occurred near a river.  In Sarajevo.

So the Wikipedia article on the assassination of Franz Ferdinand has no details of the name of the river.  There’s an APPLE BRIDGE (nowhere to be found).   Earlier on I’d noticed JACK quite close to 22 across (it was the title of the puzzle after all, may as well pay attention to that part of the grid).  So a bit more online atlassing and there it is – the MILJACKA… and the abbreviation R to make the shape of a cross.

22 is VERMIL which is red, so I highlighted my cross in red, I thought there might have been something to do with the formation of the red cross, but that was another time altogether.

So woohoo! I think I got this all sorted out and in, and I learned some stuff I probably should have known anyway, so thanks Calmac!

Feel free to laugh at my ignorance and see you next week when Jago tells us that it’s time to go home, since it’s over here.


And this is why I found “Life of Pi” disappointing

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, inexplicably still in existence, at this point probably just to annoy a certain setter.

This week we recommence battle with Stick Insect – I have very much enjoyed the last few Stick Insect puzzles (Systems Analysts made it into my top 5 for 2012), and so I was looking forward to this one.  What have we here – blank grid, entries going every which way, and encoding to a digit.  I wonder how many people of the anti-number brigade read that bit and stopped?  Hmmm… this sounds intriguing.

OK – I have to put something in here.  While I was typing this up, I just got a call from tech support, where I had called in a problem with my computer.  The first question?  “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?”.  Yep – the IT crowd lives!

Back to Stick Insect.  There’s not a lot of guidance here, but let’s get started – there is a 1 and it is in the conventional direction of across, and it’s a pretty gentle anagram for KISLEV with an extra D so that’s a big pass on the 1 east test.  Wooohooo!  I approached this by going through the clues from top to bottom rather than looking for crossing letters – this was working out pretty well, since there were, as the preamble said, lots of clashes, but the clues were, for the most part, straightforward.  I suspected that the letters of the title would be in separate groups, and it started off that way, but then an error put M and Y in the same group.  That can’t be right.  At this point I decided to start again, and take advantage of something silly my printer does, which is default to printing a huge grid.  Here’s the first attempt…

My first working grid for Listener 4299, Godly Mix-up by Stick Insect

Take 2.  Yep, I had some entries going in the wrong direction.  Near the end I had trouble finding which groups Q and K fit in, so to get those last few entries, I was making liberal use of Word Matcher’s “any of a set of characters” option but including Q or K as an option either time.  Eventually – full grid!  And not the best idea of what to do next.  The message read DIGITS KEY LETTER FROM EACH CLUE FOR NEXT STEP READ ZERO AS TEN.

Hmmm… do they mean the digit of the misprints?  That doesn’t seem to give anything.

Do they mean the first digit of each clue answer?  That doesn’t seem to give anything.

Is it a permutation of 0-9 and not just in the order of GODLY MIX-UP?

Is it the letters in every cell?  BINGO!


Hmmm… OK.  I can see POINT in the top row, and YOU PLACES in the bottom row.  POINT YOU PLACES?  What does that mean?  And what is going on with the top left?  PICS?  PIIS.

Clang… PI IS 3 POINT…. TO 80 PLACES!!!!

My second working grid for Listener 4299, Godly mix-up by Stick Insect

The jaw drops.  Did Stick Insect manage to encode pi in a puzzle, and hide two messages in clues to the point that 10 encoded cells are playing double duty, hiding the theme and hiding the information to get at the theme?

I am in abject awe.  This is the best puzzle in recent memory.  Stick Insect has more than cracked the top 5 here, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Ascot Gold Cup material (what material is the AGC made of?).


In my awe of finishing it off – I didn’t round up the last three digits.  Yes, of course I was working off of a listing of PI, and it wasn’t until after it was in the mail that I noticed – the last two digits, that I wrote in as 8,9,9 don’t match the encoding.  Even though it’s right in front of me.

Victory (and an admirable one) to Stick Insect.

2014 tally:  22-0-3

Feel free to laugh your collective asses off at me in comments, and see you next week when Calmac asks us to put 22 acrosses in a grid 14 entries wide.


If pianists are animals, what does that make drummers?

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, America’s favorite crossword-sometimes-solving blog.  And happy ‘Merica day!  USA USA USA!  The fireworks started up here around 10 last night and don’t appear to be abating anytime soon.  Freedom, apple pie and cryptic clues for all!

Yes, I’ll be spending the 4th looking for an open drinking establishment, and doing the Listener crossword.  I think it’s appropriate.

But before we begin this (since most bars won’t be open for another hour or so anyway), let’s see what challenge comes this week and wrap up last week – over at t’other blog, there’s an interesting setter’s blog by Aramis, pointing out that I missed that TRISTE was an anagram of TETRIS, another nice touch to that crossword.

Now to this week’s challenge – and it’s Nibor.  I failed on the last Nibor (tagged at the bottom) by messing up the endgame, so let’s see if I can keep that run up.  What have we here – letters have to be restored to clues – these make alternating letters of a set (I don’t think I’ve seen that technique used before).  There’s some unclued entries that give a hint to the theme and something to be highlighted.

Hmmm…. well let’s see.  There is a 1 across and it’s a pretty gentle CRAM with an L needing to be inserted.  CAMUS, ATTACH, MATINEE and THEIST later a tantalising proposition is on offer… the person responsible is S??N?S???? and the second letter of the source crosses the second letter… could it be SAINT-SAENS and CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS?  It would fit with the title… let’s put it in and see… WREATHE, SALAAM and MIASMA later it looks like I’ve cottoned on to the theme with five entries solved!

Damn I’m good.


This means there’s going to be a lot of sursolving – though I didn’t mind much with this one since trying to pick the movements out of the extra letters was pretty fun and I didn’t spot PIANISTS until near the end.  But in the end this took me a little over an hour, and that wasn’t a bad thing, after I got done with this I went back to ironing out the last of the Tetris people – the puzzles went to John Green in the same envelope.

my working grid for Listener 4298, Safari by Nibor

Thanks, Nibor – that was fun, and I suspect if you weren’t as familiar with the theme (anyone who took music at any level in Australia in the 80s was inundated with it), I expect it would have been tricky, though there was a clear way in to the theme.  And a Victory to George!

2014 tally:  22-0-2

Feel free to tell me I had a lucky guess and it won’t happen again, and see you next week when Stick Index plays DJ and mixes some gods.

I thought he’d be more of a minesweeper guy

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, taking lateral thinking to its obvious conclusion.  Ifor’s puzzle from last week seems to have kicked up a mini e-stink, about how the interweebs needed to be used to make the connection to a play nobody’s ever seen a production of.  I wonder if anyone solved it by finding the previous Pirandello play on this site?

So what faces us this week?  Aramis – either a new setter or a newdonym, so hi Aramis if you’re looking in.  Carte blanche grid, answers entered as Tetris pieces, some four-letters, some eight-letters with two pieces touching. Hmmmm.  That sounds tricky.  A bunch of answers to go in the middle squares to take care of checking, the rest coming from some literary bits.  Wow.

I guess we go in and try to cold solve this middle bit, eh?  There is a 1 across and it could be one or two answers… it’s a long one (which may be what she said), and the first part doesn’t seem to make much sense, but the second part is definitely NOES.  Better luck on the next row with W,ALL,A and PER SE becoming TERSE.  Maybe this won’t be so bad.

Fast forward to about two hours later… a little over half of the across clues solved (some of them in bits), but not doing so hot on the tetris pieces clues.  Big problem is that I cannot for the life of me figure out the first or the third one.


What can be done here?

ZEST needs to go along the bottom in an I, and I doubt the editors and vetters would let a setter get away with four unchecked letters of the theme lying across the bottom (yes, this was completely faulty logic as in the end there were two of them on the sides), so that ES near the left hand side looks pretty good.  There’s a LLA in the third row, which looks like a good place to put OLLA – so that O has to stick down into the seond row.  CHOU has to come before OLLA, so it might fit mostly on the bottom row with the U either side of the O in OLLA.

CHO… and a Z?

Could it be SANCHO PANZA?

If it was, that would put both parts of ANODISED on the bottom left and help out a lot!  Now, where does DON QUIXOTE go (a bano surely)?  Doesn’t look like it’s on the left hand side since I’ve got DE thanks to ANODISED.  I penciled it in on the right hand side, but as I was working up that side with the tetris pieces, there was going to be nowhere for EFIK to go (which sounds like a part of an IKEA instruction set), so DON QUIXOTE had to go on the top.

Wow… this was a painstaking crossword… I needed all of the thematic assistance in filling the grid! I didn’t get the quote until I had FIGURA, which I put in a search of the spanish text that is helpfully on Project Gutenberg).  I figured there had to be a WINDMILL somewhere and finding most of it on the diagonal to get the thematic phrase helped out on fitting things together particularly in the top right corner.  I made things harder for myself by checking that I had placed RANT (what an amazing definition) in the grid, when I hadn’t, and was looking for an 8-letter solution to my last clue (UGLY).

Nearly a week of piece-fitting later… a grid!

My working grid for Listener 4297, Tetris by Aramis

Phew – I think I can claim a victory here, but it was a battle!  This was a very very tricky bit of crosswording, and for a while I didn’t think I was going to be able to submit it (I may not have made the deadline).  Thankfully the thematic stuff was the opposite of last week’s – if I hadn’t fluked on SANCHO PANZA early, there would be no way at all I would have been able to complete this.

But it’s a wound-licking Victory to George!

2014 tally:  21-0-2

Feel free to tell me how to get my blocks off and see you next week when Nibor introduces us to his favorite web browser.


Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword where a brilliant start to the year has come to a crashing halt in the last two weeks.  Does Ifor allow a chance to crawl out from the doldrums?

We’ve had Ifor three times, and I’ve made a tag for the bottom of the post, though I think it was funny that the last Ifor resulted in a lengthy thread on how to print the Listener, which for me reared its ugly head again last week when the grid printed HUGE (but you’ll find out about that in a few weeks… dear Listener editors, I hope I’m not breaking some sort of rule here).  I have enjoyed the other Ifor offerings, which gave me some hope that I could get somewhere with this.

And hope was what I needed, desperately, since I started this in one of the dourest of locations, the waiting room of the Social Security Office in Asheville, North Carolina.  Hells waiting room has no wifi, and I forgot to bring Bradfords, so I was there with just my phone and a grid.

All answers have something leave, and across ones are real words or phrases, so down is gobbledygook.  Some extra wors in down clues help us out and there’s a blocked in cell for an authors name.  Hmmm… that’s obscure, maybe it will make sense later.

There is a 1 across, and it appears to be a straightforward one – LOG(ORRHEA) and we are away.  I have to take five letters away and be left with a real word, eh? LOGO?  RHEA?  GORE?  None of the checking down answers were particularly helpful so I moved on.

13 turned out to be the lucky start with OUTER HEBRIDES having to coexist with NEROLI OIL, TURCOPOLE,  SMARTENED, CORIOLANUS and RESIDENTS, all of which were losing a pretty large number of letters.  If we lose all the E’s R’s and the S and H we can have OUTBID fitting with the down answers, also missing those letters.

Aaaaah… there was a similar trick in a domino themed crossword last year, where only the letters in DOMINO showed up in the grid.  Let’s go solve and see what letters need to be removed.  Some hunt-and-pecking later and it appears C,R,A,H,E and S are the extra letters.  What’s the significance of that?  It could be ARCHES (and there’s SPANS as an extra word in 38 down)… it could be CHARES (there’s HOUSEWORK).

Double aaaaaaaah!  Oh dear what an unfortunate coincidence!  There was a very recent Spectator crossword where the unclued lights were definitions of the various anagrams of TREES… that must be what is going on here!

At this point I was in good shape – I knew how many S,E,A,R,C,H letters had to be let out of each entry, and there were some pretty impressive deletions – I wonder if Ifor intended the lengths of answers to be given, since taking INANENESS all the way down to INNN was very sneaky.

Finally it was down to one answer… ?OOING with only one deletion… you can see my scribble… Chambers suggests B,C,L,M and W for the first letter… LOOSING looks kind of like the definition.  Aaaah – is it LOO(can),SING(produce tinnitus)?  Hmmm… it’s the best I have to go on, and the LOO part seems solid.

Woohoo – we have a grid!

My working grid for Listener 4296, Playgroup by Ifor

But the work is not done… the central square has to be filled in to produce an author… something to do with the removed letters, and if it’s diagonal it has to be something to do with LIPPIN?LLINON or NITTDU?IODIII.  The former looks more promising.  The first name could be CHARLIE?  Or ALICE? Google for authors named CHARLIE… this isn’t going to work.

OK… titles… titles with ARCHES in them?  Titles with CHASER in them?  Titles with SEARCH in them…. “Six Characters In Search of an Author”… we’ve had that before in a Listener – back in 2009 with “At Arm’s Length“.  PIRANDELLO could be made out of the letters in the middle, just not using the whole diagonal.

Aaaaaah… I think I get it – although HUNTING and TO FIND are both in down clues, they’re all needed for the clue, so SEARCH isn’t defined?

Anyhoo… I don’t need to point that out, so I think I can call this a Victory to George.  A bit of confusion, and that rare case where it took almost as long to find the theme as it did to complete the grid.  And thanks to two previous crosswords for showing me the way.  The ship may have been righted.

2014 tally:  20-0-2

Feel free to tell me that I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (but I’m still looking), that it’s great that the US outlasted both Australia and England in the World Cup, and see you next week when Aramis brings the Listener into the world of 90’s video games.

Breaker breaker, we have a problem

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, where failure came back to town last week and boy did it feel familiar.  Can we settle back in with the second of the numberwords for the year – this time it’s Zag – Zag entering the list of setters who are a double threat with letterical and numerical puzzles.  I struggled, but eventually came through on the last two Zag puzzles, you can read about them in the tags at the bottom of this entry.

OK, what have we here.  Entries are coded, then uncoded, then recoded, then derecoded and are referenced in the clues in the unredecoded versions.

I read the preamble the first time and went “Huh?”.

I read it the second time and went “Is it a two-way cipher?  In that case this could be easy”.

I read it the third time and went “Oh, maybe it’s not a two-way cipher.  Damn.”

OKeydoke – it looks like a couple of the clues reference each other and some others are squares, and that’s probably as good a place to start.  The top and the bottom rows contain all the digits 0-9 once, which means both decoded and undecoded, so it looks like we’re on the hunt for two squares that share no digits.  Phew, there’s not too many of them.  OK… and 20 codes to 1 (but 1 doesn’t necessarily code to 20), and the last digit of 1 has to be the encoded version of the last digit of 18 and is the square root of 20… which now seems to eliminate 1 to 361 and 20 to whatever digits encode to 361.

Yikes… OK, I drew a line through squares and put the pre-encoded version in the top half and the reundeenencoded version in the bottom half.  There were still four options for unencoded 20, and I got a few more steps in… whatever 1 encoded to had to encode back to 1.  12 down had to be 900 or 961, and 1 had to encode to 4 or 9…

But hours of permuting later… that’s all I’ve got.

my working grid for Listener 4295, Codebreaker by Zag

Once I’m in the failing mode, I’m well into the failing mode!  I have no idea what the next logic jump was that I was meant to have made, but with a crossword this tight, I’m sure that it has to be done in a very linear progression.

Victory (two in a row!) to Zag and the Listener Crossword.  Breathe a sigh of relief fellow mediocre solvers, I am still very much one of you.  I wonder if John Green was nervous over the lack of poorly-addressed envelopes coming from the “deep” South.

2014 tally:  19-0-2


Journey to the bottom of the Thames

Welcome back to George vs the Listener crossword – another late one but I blame my dentist this time, for taking the term “appointments” rather loosely.

I am very much a pen-and-paper solver.  I have done the electronic versions of the Times, Guardian and Independent crosswords, but I much prefer printing them out and writing them up.  Unfortunately this was not an option when Hedge-Sparrow’s latest Listener appeared – I was in Washington DC with my brother’s family, and was then driving to stay with a friend just outside of Raleigh who didn’t own a printer.  Time to try the all-electronic version of the Listener!

Save the page from the Times as a pdf…

Recreate the grid in Crossword Compiler.

Get to solving!

It’s Hedge-sparrow!  I’ve enjoyed all of Hedge-parrow’s offerings, and we have an unusual shape of a grid, and words removed from clues, OK… message from most answers… hmmm and 12 clashes.

There is a 1 across, and it looks like F(OPP)ISH, so there’s an extra ELIXIR, a pass on the 1 across test and we are away!  I made a spreadsheet of the clues, the extra words and the first and fourth letters to see what I could get – there’s definitely EXTRA WORD at the start but then it gets pretty jumbled. Also looks like LETTERS at the end with a few more unused ones.  Hmm…  and what do I do with the ones where two letters had to be taken out, though only DRIFT ROUND and MEADOW PIT had been found at that point.

I guessed the theme pretty early on – particularly when GEORGE and most of JEROME appeared in the grid, this was going to be Three Men In a Boat territory.  Wow… when did I read that?  Early high school? Wikipedia to the rescue – they went up and down the Thames.  MONTMORENCY would have the right number of lettters to fit in any of the long down answers, and would make real words with the across answers.

From 27AC-34AC, the first and fourth letters had no meaning at all.  What’s going on in that part of the grid… oh, all those have clashes.  So maybe only the answers that do not have clashes contribute to the message.  Let’s only put the first and fourth letters of non-clashing answers shall we?  If we also eliminate 16 down there is a message…

my sreadsheet for finding the message in Listener 4294, Trio by Bark by Hedge-Sparrow

OK, Thames towns clued from those extra words.  And I think there has to be a clash at 42AC, but I can’t work out the clue.  Hmmm… oh dear.  Well maybe it will come together – here’s what the grid looked like, and a clash to be found in 42 across, presumably with 16 down.

My working grid for Listener 4294, Trio by Bark by Hedge-Sparrow

So now I’ve got to figure out the towns visited by the other extra words… STEER+CAR-MAKER can be OX+FORD.   Here’s where I got…

attempting to get the town names

And… with three towns agonizingly eluding me… that was the end!  I could not solve 40… I couldn’t put those last few together and the amazing streak to begin the year is OVER! Failure at number 20!  Victory to Hedge-sparrow (who I had accidentally referred to as Shackleton in the first version of the blog)!  Normality resumed as inability to put it all together rears its ugly head again.

Oh well…  at least no trees died for my failure.

2014 tally:  19-0-1

Feel free to tell me that I missed the most bleedingly ovious clues and towns, and see you next week when Zag goes and breaks codes all over us.


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