Stick a pin in me, I’m done

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, sadly back on home soil again – if you are looking for a party situation par excellence, I can highly recommend New Orleans. I hope those that went to the Listeners Annual Dinner had a good time and a speedy recovery (and my very best to Jane who is recovering from something quite painful and unsettling).

OKeydoke – what have we here – biggish grid at 13×13.  Lots of clues, but all normal. 13 clashes (hmm…) and some replacements/deletions at the end. Better get solving then!

The first three squares in the grid are for down entries, so we are left with a 4-across… and a partial fail on the 4 across test – as the definition and the second half of the clue seem to be pointing at BOMB(a), but I can’t figure out what sort of BOMB from the rest of the wordplay.

11 across INGATE gets me going, and most of the left hand side of the grid came together pretty handily… but with no clashes (though the M at the end of GYM looked tempting). This was a bit of a theme – I had a very hard time finding clashes – my first definite one was not until IDEES/WINE.  There were a number of all-checked entries where I was pretty sure there was a clash and had to play with letters to find them (SECATEURS/GEAN for example). From the clashes it became apparent that we were replacing the letters in SUMMER FLOWERS with letters to make real words. I was at one point convinced there was going to be one clash per column, and scrutinised column 2 over and over to see if I had missed anything.  It got down to the last two unfilled squares in the grid both needing to be part of words with clashes (RADULAR and DOME – the last being one of those pesky, all-checked entries).

I was relieved like nobody’s business when I put in the extra letters to word wizards and got LEPIDOPTERIST, who would use a BUTTERFLY NET.  I had noticed ORANGE PIP and DUGONG in the grid, which could become ORANGE TIP and BUGONG – AGGER could become EGGER and so we are looking for butterflies and moths.

Three fairly long solving sessions later – et voila!

My working grid for Listener 4492, Mad Toms Traps by Hedge-sparrow

Wow that was an intricate puzzle. Fortunately the endgame didn’t take anywhere near as long as the gridfill, which was a real hunt and peck for the clashes.  I believe I can call this one a Victory to George, and with the quantity of the thematic matter in the grid (look at that – the only answers that don’t end up being part of any thematic material are OBAN, MAAING and ORIBI) everything needed to be completely understood for a solution

Game over: 100 %

Feel free to tell me that I should just go for the ether, and see you next week, when Nutmeg puts an imp on the railroad tracks.


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.






We’re going to need a bigger quinquereme

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword.  Big Grid Day!  Lots of unclued, but it’s Hedge-sparrow and I have generally enjoyed Hedge-sparrow puzzles.

OK – thematic has two non-overlapping wordplay only clues.  The first one looks like SA,LADS but we had food last week so that’s probably wrong.

Across have extra letters, some downs have jumblies to be removed… OK.  No 1 across yet again (of all setters, it’s Sabre who will break the long run of fails on the 1 across test, but more about that next week), in fact we have to go all the way to 6 across, at least it’s JUD(e),AS and our poet starts with a J.  Don’t know many poetic last names that start with a J so maybe we are heading to JOHANNES or JOHN.  Well if you take an O out of COOL AIR and anagram you get LORICA which fits the definition and the first name theory is looking like a good bet.  Can we go three for three?  I,RID – there’s the H.  George you are a solving machine… that comes to a grinding halt on the next clue.  Oh well…

By the way, speed solvers of US crossword do them that way, don’t bother looking for checking letters until the end, just solve using all acrosses or all downs.

So it was back to piecing together grid fills – the anagram of IVORY stuck out in 15 down, so I don’t think SALAD is going to be right, ivory would be pretty painful in a salad.

I was going OK but not great – big gaps in the grid, more of the acrosses than downs solved, 19 looks like it should be PREPARED but why and how?  Time to try to make something of the letters I had in the across clues…


Wasn’t JOHN MASEFIELD a poet?  A trip to Googleland shows that not only was he, but there’s a short poem called “Cargoes” which might be the inspiration for Bjork’s “Hyperballad” which lists off a bunch of stuff.  This is one laden ship!

OK – hands up who else?  With the poem at hand I managed to fill in all of the unclued entries (though the one I was looking at had AMYTHYSTS instead of AMETHYSTS, but 1 down has to be ERNE, right?) and was then essentially done with the puzzle then and there.

There doesn’t really seem to be any need to solve the thematic entries now… I still have a few blanks and some quibbles with the down clues, so I went hunting for the items listed in the poem that hadn’t made it into the grid (most of which appear to be in the first stanza).

There was some devilish fun here – I’m glad I went back and looked at them, because clues like 4 down, requiring the removal of SWEET WHITE WINE, more than half the clue made me giggle – ditto taking PEACOCKS out of 2 down reducing the clue to replacing YR,I in EYRIE with RN to give what I thought it had to be, ERNE.

The ship (in the poem I was reading as QUINQUIREME, but in Chambers as QUINQUEREME) has to be the thematic word required, since all this stuff was aboard.

Sheepishly – here’s a grid, with a grand total of zero of the thematic clues actually solved.

My working grid for Listener 4417, HMS Arcady by Hedge-Sparrow

The poem was fun, the puzzle was fun, but I feel a little cheap in not doing a slab of actual solving, but what is George vs the Listener if it’s not about cutting corners and taking the path of least resistance.  Particularly when there’s a Sabre looming large!  Cheap-ass Victory to George!

2016 tally:  32-2-5

Feel free to tell me that should really be a push, and see you next week when Sabre has a puzzle that describes most of my solving skills.


A miscellany of word-lovers?

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, another year, continuing mediocrity!  Well it appears Stick Insect threw me a bone in last week’s puzzle and I didn’t even spot it for my “Clues of note”.  This could be a new level in thick.  Let’s see what can blow by me this week with Hedge-Sparrow.

What have we here – nine clues which need a string of letters before solution, the rest need a single letter and and there’s unclued entries.  Looks like we’re treated to real words in the grid and close to normal clues again, so woohoo.

2 is unclued so we have to go all the way to the 9 across test!  NEAR,ER gets us going with an extra O in the clue so a big pass on the 9 across test.  I made pretty good progress on the top left corner of the grid, including finding the first two strings that needed to be removed – UTTERL which could anagram to TURTLE and WORC that could anagram to CROW.  Animals?  Fairy-tales?  The message looks like it starts with OMNIUM GATHERUM, but that doesn’t seem to mean anything,  Hmmm.

1 down looks like it’s heading for UNKINDNESS… where have I heard UNKINDNESS before?  Look it up – oh… it’s a collective noun!

OK – I haven’t updated to the 2014 Chambers yet (I guess I’d better get on that) but those of us who are still relying on the 2011 version are well aware that if you’re looking up a word beginning with M you’re likely to get flustered by the positioning of those red pages… the first of which is a list of “wonderful collective nouns”.   That page has EXALTATION and MURMURATION so the theme is nailed!  Woohoo!

Hedge-Sparrow wasn’t letting us off that lightly though, since not all of the collective nouns are in the Word-Lovers Miscellany, so there was still a little dictionary trawling to do.  I had the hardest time with verifying WISP for SNIPES (it’s not given as a collective noun per se, just a flock… but I guess a flock is a collective noun so it’s a meta-collective noun) and finding where WHALES could be removed to give the definition for GAM.  The leftover collective noun is the one right in the middle – MURMURATION for STARLING.

My working grid for Listener 4329, Doubtful Association by Hedge-Sparrow

I didn’t submit this in time (a habit for the year, I’ll admit none of my Listener solutions for the year have made it to the UK yet… I’ll start sending in soon, maybe), but I wonder if STARLINGS would be graded as incorrect?  It brings up the interesting notion as animals being actual units, which shouldn’t be stated in the plural.  When I hear a U.S. chemistry educator spouting on about the number of “moles” of substance I die a little inside.

Clues of note:

While I like the “extra letters in clues” device, it seems there was a reliance on two or three letter words that became one or two letter words that had to be inserted as a container, so I had a harder time finding notable clues this time around.  There were some gems!

5 down:  Blacked up desert rat beheaded old Turkic warrior (TATAR)

(extra letter L for Backed up) so RAT and then another RAT with the top taken off, reversed.  That’s some nice deceptive clueing, lots of indicators for TAR but unraveling the clue to get the right ones was fun

22 across:  Art college stops folding chair transport using cusion  (AIRCAR)

(extra letter string FOLDING CHA for GOLDFINCH) so RAC in AIR.  The definition is a little bit of a giveaway but that’s a masterful hiding of a tricky letter group.

So I believe we have a Victory to George and the year is off to an unblemished (if unsubmitted) start, and a rather fun puzzle from Hedge-Sparrow

2015 tally:  3-0-0

Feel free to tell me you’ve memorized exactly at which letter the Word-Lovers Miscellany begins, and see you next week when eXternal for some reason has us chasing after briefs

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.

murder mystery

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword – busy couple of days, and so I’m getting to this well after the solution is out, so not sure if I have that much to add to the general conversation, but here goes… it’s Hedge-sparrow, making a sixth appearance in George vs Listener world.  I have to say that Hedge-sparrow has made quite the impression on me, with the really tricky clash-resolution tour de force  Here and There, before that was some super colliding in Mass Production, the speed of light  in Metrical Variations, Charlie Darwin in S, and wormholes (hey, they popped back for a visit recently) in Travel Agents.  The first four had pretty sciencey themes, so in my note to Hedge-sparrow I beseeched a return to scientific or scienfictional themes.  Was I to get it with A Murder Mystery?

Three detectives, ciphers, evidence in the grid, a few DLM+1 clues (I may have coined that phrase, the device was in a Spectator puzzle a few months ago as well).  Side by side clues for down answers concealing a long message explaining the cipher.  OK… sounds like a wealth of thematic stuff, let’s get into it.

There is a 1 across, but I couldn’t get it on a first read-through.  No luck with 12 across either, but at 13 I hit the first of the DLM+1 clues with CAPO and we’re away.  That crosses 2 down, which has to be SWANS or BAYOU, but only one fits, so I can place both SWANS and BAYOU.  I got lucky with a number of the down clues that way, it seemed if I could solve one half I could solve the other half so it was a two-for-one.

With seven of the DLM+1 clues worked out it looked like it was going to be the HOUSEMAID who was the victim.  I was missing the I and S which helped confirm BUTTER.  The longer message took a bit more working out – I had KILLER and LETTERS and then tried to make the message meet in the middle.  KILLER FIRST THEN UNUSED LETTERS.

Moderate panic when I thought this was going to be a Playfair square!  But that wouldn’t work, not all of the messages are even numbers of letters.  Phew… So maybe it’s a simpler cipher – write HOUSEMAID then the rest of the alphabet and match it… Aha – now we have DRAPED OVER FLOOR, FLOATING ON LAKE and AT BOTTOM OF GARDEN, and we can work out the detectives as MAIGRET, FR BROWN and WIMSEY.  I’d already spotted BODY in the middle, and GROUND above the body.  So maybe it’s under the ground and Wimsey is right?  But there’s MERE under the BODY.  So it’s definitely floating on the lake.  Hmmm… I guess the bottom of the garden doesn’t mean under the garden does it?  So I changed my mind to B. FR BROWN.

Now I see I’d missed EDEN as the garden.

My grid for Listener 4232 - A Murder Mystery by Hedge-Sparrow

One long session later and we’re done – I think I had this in the mail on Monday, and I believe I can actually call this one a Victory to George.  Very fun puzzle (but how about the sciencey stuff next time, Hedge -sparrow?).

2013 tally:  5-3-2

Feel free to tell me that I need to get on to these earlier (I know I’m out of town next Friday so I should write it up before I leave), and see you next week when Wan gives us a puzzle in which to find my dear Watson.

Hey – I forgot the funniest part… I really do need to write these up earlier.  Looking at the conversation on the Crossword Center, and the note on the Listener site – looks like I lucked in to the weapon in a funny way – I saw DRAINO and thought “Oh, he’s fed her DRAINO and tossed her on the lake”.  Then looked at Chambers and saw that DRAINO isn’t there.  But it was still nagging at me, so I looked up  ?ONIARD and there was PONIARD!

I still think it should have been DRAINO

Here, there, and almost crumpled up into a ball and thrown across the room

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword.  It’s a dreary Friday morning here, and I’m just back from an amazing couple of days of a comedy festival in Columbus, Ohio.  One of those situations when you get through the week on adrenalin, coffee, lots of local beer and wine, doing shows, and the first time you actually feel time is when you get home and realize they expect you back at your day job the next day.  Oh well…

So you know how last week I wanted an Alan Turing theme from Hedge-sparrow and I got one from Hotspur?  Well the next week when I saw Hedge-sparrow as the setter I thought all my pagan festivals had come at once!  Not wanting to pick favorites, but I’ve really enjoyed every Hedge-sparrow Listener, all four of which have appeared in George vs the Listener Crossword – Mass Production from last year with the circular supercollider grid, Metrical Variations with the speed of light lurking in the centre, Darwin turning ape into man with S, and wormholes everywhere with Travel Agents.  Four for four with Hedge-sparrow and can we be having science two weeks in a row?  Awesome!

What have we got – everything needs amendment, one clue is funny buggers, and there’s some ambiguity.  OK…  and extra letters and omissions… wow.  There’s a lot here.

There is a 1 across and it’s a nice gentle CO(MPOS)ED and the entry has nine spaces so something’s got to happen.  With OVERPLAY at 2 down, probably a letter or something has to be inserted in COMPOSED.  But we’re making a start – actually I found the clues rather agreeable, but wasn’t getting much of the grid together in a first sitting.

I had decided to work on this one on Sunday, and a friend of mine was so bored he decided he’d come around and help/watch.  He’s been interested in cryptic crosswords a while, and I’m not sure this is the best way to get started, but what the hey!  So with huddled over the coffee table company, on I pressed.

Strange how having more than half of the clues solved, but yet still a pretty empty grid, how the obvious could be missed – the down extra/missing letters were looking like ALL ENTRIES ARE REAL ????S so of course I immediately wrote in WORDS as the last set of misprints to look for and wondered why I couldn’t solve any of the last four, but then started banging in real words everywhere (much easier to do for the shortened entries).

I started keeping track of those extra/missing letters and still couldn’t find the clue that was the odd one out. I’d narrowed it to 28 across (where I could see one definition and thought I had wordplay), and 10 down, where I could see a definition that works, and part wordplay, but a lot of what seemed to me to be unnecessary words.  I also had a few answers where I couldn’t see what needed to be inserted (20 down).

Finally I figured out that TERMS was the last word in that message and was left with a predicament…

– all clues “solved”, though not sure whether 28ac or 10d was the culprit.

– a list of 46 I think letters that didn’t seem to match the letters in either 28 or 10

This led to a good three hours of me staring and scribbling, and my friend reading all about Pluto and Ceres.  Aaaargh!

Next idea – it looked like about the same number of words had letter added to them and subtracted, so I started a closer list of what was added and what was subtracted.  I have a problem with the number of “i’s”, but it’s looking a bit more promising down that path.

Eventually we were both exhausted by trying to figure out what was going on and went out to drink.

I don’t know if I’ve been so frustrated by a puzzle before… every day I came back to it, and every day I threw it back aside.  Why do you torment me, Hedge-sparrow!  So great fun before, so what is going on here?

Final charge… I think I’d so convinced myself that it was 10 down that I was ignoring little 28 across.  And the last few words in the clue have three I’s in them. Hmmm… let’s write it out and try to match the letters to the insertions/deletions.

Working out the substitutions for Listener 4196

Eureka!  Both 20 and 32 need an R, and an I has to be taken out of 28.  The middle letter of 28 is an N(the unused letter) and so it’s MANIA losing an I.

WOW!!!!! It wasn’t in the mail until the weekend, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got it right (actually, it’s past 11am here, so let’s look it up – YES!!!).

my grid for Listener 4196 - Here and There by Hedge-sparrow

Victory to George.  Yikes!  Please, Hedge-sparrow, more science next time, though this was a real challenge!

2012 tally:  21-0-4

Feel free to complain about my lateness in putting this up, not updating George vs Azed despite getting two HC’s in a row, or anything else, and see you next week when we have a menage a deux with Bandmaster.