In the follow-up, did they harvest meat balls?

Welcome back – it’s Listener 4444, so may the 4’s be with you!

I thought we had a new setter this week but it appears to be a newdonym – the Listener webpage lists Handyman as an alias for Shark.  There’s a lot in the preamble – modified entries, wordplay only clues, missing letters in wordplay, things to highlight and a strangely large number of non-Chambers words.  Hmmm?  An asymmetric grid too!

A look back shows I failed miserably at the last Shark offering (Quads II), so here goes nothing!

1 across was unclued so we have to look at 10 across, which I’m afraid to say was one of my last solved, so a big fail on the 1 across test.  Next up was OOMPAH – MA in OOH with the P unindicated. Nothing seemed to fit along with that, although it struck me that 9 down looked like an anagram clue with far too many letters.  Pity I was on a plane without wifi, I think if I’d put it in to an anagram solver straight away I could have made this one a romp.

Instead I managed to get myself in all sorts of messes – one being rather amusing – at 23 across I had TAT as half of TATTOO since I’ve seen a lot of henna tattoos around.  I shrugged at TESH as looking like it kind of fit, and went on from there.

Eventually I got to an anagram solver, put in the letters from 9 down and there was SEVEN HILLS OF ROME – which would fit if the first character was the numeral – is it 6-9 that give us a year?  If so, then 6 would be 1 something – ONE-MAN!  7 would be another number – 9PENCE!  So the top row was P?N?RAM?19?7.  PANORAMA?

A googling of PANORAMA shows me that in 1957 they ran the Spaghetti Tree video! So the extra letters read APRIL FOOL (confirming AMUSER), and there’s TRUNK in broad daylight in the zigzags.  On one side, a BOUGH hangs out with SPAGHETTI draped over it, and on the other side… well there’s BRANC which is nearly BRANCH and a SPAGH but no ETTI.  There’s an ITT?

Took me a while to convince myself that there was an option for TAT.  MEH fits the definition and puts an E and a H where they need to be – and there is MEHNDI in Chambers to fix up that mess.  Woohoo!

My working grid for Listener 4444, Food For Thought by Handyman

Oh boy did I make that harder than it was – fun puzzle Handyman!

Game over:  Victory to George, 100% completion, woohoo!

Odd postscript – NUNGA was quite vulgar slang in Australia in the 70s, so I was surprised to see it here.

Anyhoo, feel free to call me a nungamuncher and see you next week when eXternal requests some strange.

Mind the Watford Gap

Welcome back to George vs the Listener, the blog that occasionally catches up.  Now go back and read my notes on the last two puzzles, that were added late and out of order.

Did you do it?  Slacker!  You’re as bad as me.

Kruger time – what have we here – a strange grid with almost symmetry, carte blanche, lots of 6 and 7 letter entries, extra letters in wordplay, an unclued entry.  Gee, Kruger, why don’t you add knight’s moves and a playfair while you’re at it.

It appears that the key is solving 1 down, which I could not solve on a first read. So a big fail on the 1 down test.  However I was a sneaky bastard and did a chambers text search for “orbital” to learn that INEQUALITY can mean a deviation from orbital motion.  Thanks for the definition, Kruger!  We are away.

So then it was some stone-cold solving, and a few lucky finds after two passes through the clues – UNIT, ANCHOR. DYNAMO and ELTON work well and confirm INYALA (which I never did figure out the wordplay for). Since neither of OAST or FRIS begin with an I, they have to go in the bottom right, which might work well with EASIER, allowing SERAI and CRUSE to go in.  Not sure if it was by design but I didn’t have many words that sat around for too long looking for a place to fit – OCEANIC, GENTEEL and CESTUS were among the longer waits, and eventually I took a punt on CESTUS going in the bottom left because it didn’t look like it was going to fit anywhere and they appear to be nice word-finishing letters.

I was about two-thirds through the grid fill when the message started to make sense – ANSWERS CONTAINING N  TO THE TOP AND S TO THE BOTTOM and lo and behold there was NORTH and SOUTH already in the grid (and all in unchecked letters!).

Phew… nearly there – DASHPOT and ERNANI were the last two in, and wow was that a sneaky clue for ERNANI, had to read two articles on the opera to find out that the character was originally named Don Juan.

Full grid – looks like DIVIDE goes in the unclued entry and now we just have to find what is there to highlight – NORTH DIVIDE SOUTH?  The circled letters are an anagram of WATFORD which when I enter it into Google immediately comes up with the NORTH-SOUTH DIVIDE, which the confirms the title which is one way of thinking of an EAST-WEST divide (though some will use the Colorado or Mississippi river for that in order to put themselves in their favored demisphere).

My working grid for Listener 4443, Not The Rockies by Kruger

OK – this was a monster solving effort – I think five or six sessions poking at clues, and I dread to think how much time was invested.  It all came together nicely, and I don’t know how much it would have helped to get the message earlier.  I never did see the wordplay for INYALA but I don’t think it can be anything else (I just looked up the solution).

Game over – Victory to George, 99% completion!

Feel free to tell me that I need to ditch the lack of EA and see you next week when handyman offers to pay me in vittles for brainpower.

Isn’t a Rabelais some sort of French mustard?

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, strangely midweek edition.  The solution to Towser’s puzzle has been out for a few days now, and I’ve just seen it.

I didn’t completely finish this puzzle – I came very close, but when I got to the point where I was faced with adding in bars and counting number of entries, I figured that life was too short (and I was rehearsing two shows and preparing for a conference), so that was as far as I got.

I’ll admit this puzzle was very frustrating in the middle – I ended up with most of the grid filled but only two clashes.  I haven’t been using Bradfords’ a lot, but in this puzzle it was invaluable – FOULARD managed to get me going again after a long pause and with it crossing PASTA I could see PANTAGRUEL as a possibility (confirming INK IN at 22 across), with GARGANTUA already in place, which means we were looking at a theme of RABELAIS.  The misprints that lead to FRANCOIS and RABELAIS were the last two I found.

In the diagonal was METAGRABOLISE which contains an anagram of RABELAIS (and as I know now – the words of the title – GOT ME).

My working grid for Listener 4442, Got Me! by Towser

Very very odd puzzle – quick beginning, painfully slow middle, quick end – well near end, since I didn’t go through with the adding bars section.  So let’s call this ultimately a Victory to the Listener Crossword.

Game over – 92% completion.

Feel free to tell me that I could have told you I failed five days ago, and see you in a day or so when Kruger presents a puzzle that is clearly not the Rockies, but may or may not be the Bullwinkles.

Yeah, there’s going to be another delay

Was hoping to get this done last night, but got delayed in trying to get back to Asheville.  Hopefully tomorrow.

At last, a Listener that describes me

Welcome back to George vs the Listener, where the obvious could be staring me right in the face and I’ll be missing it.  Colleague time!  I usually do pretty well in filling the grid on Colleague puzzles and then mess up the endgame so let’s see what sort of form I’m in here.  Four-line preamble – looks like all across clues are normal, down clues have some extra letters, and there’s something to hunt for and highlight in the final grid (I know someone who will be looking for a HARE).

OK – it’s been a hell of a day so far, and I have to get on a plane soon – so come back for the exciting conclusion.

Colleague has reminded me that I did not end up writing another puzzle and did not come back to this, like the flibbertigibbet I am.  So here’s some thoughts on “It’s Dark Up Here”

– This was solved in one rather long session (three hours or so) ending up around midnight on Friday.  There haven’t been any super easy Listeners lately, so this was around the shorter end of the time spectrum

– All across clues were normal and the grid contained all real words.  This helps.  I spotted fairly early on the circle connection of the words that had to be removed from the down answers

– I had a completely filled grid before any clue what the theme was.  I saw PAUL and HILDA and googled to get the connection to “Ever decreasing circles”.  I don’t think I ever saw the show but I remember being at a dinner once where Douglas Adams was the guest speaker and he said that the character of Marvin the Paranoid Android was based on one of Marshall and Renwick, I can’t recall which.  Before making some very odd TV shows (I did like “One Foot In The Grave”) they did some radio stuff and produced just about the funniest book ever – “Best Seller!  The Life and Death of Eric Pode of Croydon”. So I think my favorite part of the solving process was reminiscing about Marshall and Renwick.

– OK, so that lead to finding EVER DECREASING OOOOOO in a ring in the middle which was not enough letters, and didn’t include the OR and OD cells.  Hmmm…

– A bit more googling of EVER DECREASING CIRCLES brought up the story of the OOZELUM BIRD, which I thought I had never heard of, but Wikipedia nudged me to remember that it was what they were hunting in “Carry On Up The Jungle”!  It flies in ever decreasing circles and disappears up its’ own arse… I know how it feels!

This was a fun puzzle, and I apologise to Colleague for the short shrift given.

My working grid for Listener 4441, It's Dark Up Here, by Colleague

Nostrum? More like Noclue!

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, brought to you today by global confusion in Daylight Savings time – after Sunday England, the US and Australia will all be on Daylight Savings time, until next weekend when Australia drops off.

OKeydoke – what have we this week?  Mr E!

There was a lot going on here – the preamble said 2 modified clues, 25 extra letters in wordplay, two modified entries and two jumblies.  Wow that’s a lot.  At least it appeared that the grid was going to contain real words.

Which was a saving grace – I don’t know if it was using very tricky wordplay to get the eventual message in but I had a really tough time with these clues, and a lot of answers went in using what at Times for the Times they call “biff”ing (bunged in from definition).  Fairly early on I figured out DIRECTION wasn’t going to play nice with the rest of the grid, and although I had written it next to the clue with a question mark, it took me longer to realise that PLEASE was the other answer (I already had L from ELMO and R from BRIERED so I didn’t write PLEASE into the grid).

My way to the theme came out of a hail Mary from 2 down – with ??IL?R there and knowing I had letters from PLEASE and DIRECTION, SAILOR sounded like an option – the rest of the letters are an anagram of CENTIPEDE, and Googling SAILOR and CENTIPEDE together brings me to a Huxley reference to the Lewis Carroll “Why is a RAVEN like a WRITING desk”, with the rejoinder “There’s a B in both and an N in Neither”.  THERE’S AN N IN NEITHER is the right number of letters, so that must be what we are looking for.

DRIVING TEST can become WRITING DESK and RIVEN can become RAVEN.  A bit more juggling and I have a grid.

My working grid for Listener 4440, Nostrum by Mr E

What I don’t have anywhere is THERE’S AN N IN NEITHER.  Hmmm.

I drew a line through the middle to see if anything popped out.

And I am stumped.

I never became unstumped.

Victory to Mr. E and the Listener Crossword… no clue what I’m missing here.

Game over – 75% completion?

Feel free to tell me that I need to brush up on my Carroll, or Huxley, or whoever, and see you next week when Colleague describes the state of my brain.

I’ll trade you HS2 for HB2 anyday!

Welcome back to George vs the Listener crossword, the blog that is on time due to Daylight Savings Time having already started in the US.

Hedge-Sparrow time! Interesting grid shape, some jumblies, something in circled cells, two things to change.  This could be a tricky one!  I remember starting this at a small burger chain (I don’t eat meat but this place does a grilled vegetable sandwich I love), and maybe I was so excited about the upcoming vegetable sandwich that I utterly outdid myself on poor starts – I looked at 5 across, figured it had to be some anagram of G-AGED-L (maybe LAGGED or DAGGLE) and confidently wrote it in at the top, which of course was one of the unclued entries.

I don’t think that’s likely to be topped as a pathetic start.

Realising how bad that was, it took me until 23 across, P(HOT)O to finally make a start in the grid.  Very strange grid fill, I had most of the right hand side of the grid done in the first solving session, but nothing other than AKELA with a question mark on the left.  My messages from the words removed in the down clues didn’t make a lot of sense either, it looked like PROPOSED was one of them, but at the end I had T?SE and S?WO which didn’t look promising as the end of messages.

I came back to it after a few days, and the penny dropped on 14 down – B(L)OATING was my entree to the left hand side, and suddenly the bottom left was complete.  LONDON looked good at the bottom right, and some anagram of EUSTON with it – aah – is that RAILWAY NW TO SE at the end of the message?

I had to Google “Proposed railway London Euston” to find out about High Speed 2, connecting Euston with CURZON in Birmingham (BIRMINGHAM doesn’t fit at the top left, but STREET does, so I assume CURZON is a STREET).  Now it looks like the messages read ENTER PROPOSED RAILWAY NW TO SE and REMOVE SIX TREES BUT KEEP HS TWO.  With that I finally finish the top left corner – ZILBAR as an anagram of BRAZIL was the last one in.  CURZON and EUSTON aren’t anagrams, they are just reversed.

Putting the letters of HIGH SPEED TWO across the diagonal reveals the six trees – HOLLY, GARDENIA, SYCAMORE, YEW, ELDER and SALLOW – rather nicely only in the spots where letters had to be changed.  That was a nice touch, Hedge-Sparrow, and the beginning of the phrase CAN’T SEE THE WOOD which means FOR THE TREES goes in the bottom.  I’ve highlighted the trees, I know they have to be erased for the solution.

My working grid for Listener 4439, Where Falls the Axe by Hedge-Sparrow

Intriguing solve – very slow start but a fast finish (just like the trains, right… I slay myself).  I liked the final grid very much – my only quibbles are that I can’t see the wordplay for AKELA or DEISM, but I don’t think they can be anything else.

Game over – Victory to George, 98% completion.

Feel free to tell me why people need to get to Birmingham in such a hurry and I’ll see you next week when Mr. E apparently tells me to stop playing the guitar.