Archive for the Crosswords Category

Crossword Collision

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , , , , on July 28, 2019 by telescoper

I was thinking recently that it’s been a while since I posted anything about crosswords, and today I got a nice surprise that gives me an excuse for a short post.

As a subscriber to the Azed Slip detailing the outcomes of the monthly Azed crossword puzzle competition, I knew a week or so ago that I’d got a VHC (`Very Highly Commended’) in Azed No. 2456. That’s not enough to merit a prize but at least gets me on the scoreboard for this year’s competition. I have been entering this competition for almost 20 years with decidedly modest success, though I did reach the dizzy heights of 15th place in 2010/11. I stopped for a while when I was at Sussex, as I switched to the Independent whose prize crossword yielded a steady stream of dictionaries. I resumed in 2017 but have found it difficult to get back into the swing of writing clues (at which I’ve never really been very good anyway).

Anyway, Azed No. 2456 was a `special’ puzzle of a type described as `Collisions’. All the Across solutions consisted of two words with one or more letters in common entered in such a way that the two words run into each other. The pairs of words are clued in such a way that the definition part relates to the full word, but the cryptic indication relates only to the part not involved in the collision, i.e. omitting the overlapping letters. Down clues were `normal’, which helped a lot in providing checked lights to help in solving the trickier across clues.

The puzzle was fairly tricky to solve but, as always with the Azed Competition entrants also have to compose a clue of their own. In this case the pair of colliding words was TRACTOR/TORMINAL. My clue (which I don’t think was all that good, really) was:

One feeds paper endless number of gripes threatening to replace Tory with Liberal

Here `One feeds paper’ defines TRACTOR (re: tractor-feed printer); `endless number’ is TRAC (i.e. TRACK with the end missing and with number meaning a track on a record); `of gripes’ defines TORMINAL; the rest is MINATORY (threatening) with TORY replaced by L for Liberal.

You can find the (far better) prize-winning clues here. There’s no actual prize for a VHC – except for a warm glow of satisfaction – but y effort was at least deemed good enough to get my name in this week’s Observer:

But if that wasn’t enough it turns out that I also won this week’s Everyman!

I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve been named in both Observer Crossword competitions. Now that is a nice collision!

P.S. In case you’re wondering the reason it gives Cardiff as my address is that (a) I still have a house there and (b) I’ve had some problems with things being delivered to Ireland from the UK and (c) I recently found a stash of sticky address labels with the Cardiff address on which saves the hassle of writing my address out on each entry.

 

 

Winners and Losers

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Politics with tags , , on May 30, 2019 by telescoper

Hopefully the hecticity of the last week or so will now begin to die down and I can get on with the rest of my examination marking, which I hope to complete today.

Now to a couple of updates.

Yesterday I took delivery of the above book. Regular readers of this blog will probably not recall that I won the Financial Times Crosssword competition way back in February. The prize never arrived so I contacted them to ask what had happened. It must have got lost in the post, but they kindly sent a replacement which arrived promptly. The book is not a dictionary, but is about the story of the creation of one – the Oxford English Dictionary to be precise. I look forward to reading it!

The other matter to be updated concerns the Irish Elections to the European Parliament. The counting of these proved to be a slow process but watching the regular updates on the web as votes were transferred is actually rather fascinating. It’s surprisingly difficult to predict where second choice votes of eliminated candidates will end up. The Green Party seems rather `transfer-friendly’, for example, whereas Sinn Féin is not.

In my own constituency of Midlands-North-West it took thirteen rounds of counting to pick the four MEPs: one for Sinn Féin, two for Fine Gael and one strange but probably harmless Independent. The turnout was about 50%. I think Fianna Fáil made a tactical error by fielding two candidates: neither had enough first-preference votes to make the cut.

I was worried that the dreadful Peter Casey might sneak in in fourth place but he fell well short of the required transfers, though he still got a worryingly large number of votes. The Irish Media are making the same mistake pandering to him as they have done in the UK with Nigel Farage: he gets far more airtime than the other candidates despite being obviously unfit for office.

Elswhere, Dublin elected MEPs from the Green Party (1), Fine Gael (1) and Fianna Fáil (1) and one Independent standing under the banner of `Independents for Change’ (I4C). The incumbent Sinn Féin candidate Lynn Boylan lost her seat. The 4th candidate here will only take a seat in the European Parliament if and when the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

As I write there’s a recount going on in Ireland South, but it looks like the winners will be Fine Gael (2), Fianna Fáil (1), I4C (1) and the fifth (who will only take up a seat after Brexit) will probably be from the Green Party. It looks like incumbent Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada (and unsuccessful candidate for the Presidency) will lose her seat, but the count is very close: only a few hundred votes are in it, hence the recount. UPDATE: in fact there will be a full recount of the whole ballot, which could take weeks.

Overall it’s clear that the losers are Sinn Féin, who lost two MEPs (and also about half their councillors in the local elections). After appearing to improve their vote share in recent years this is a definite reverse for them. The party that gained the most is the Green Party, with (probably) two MEPs and a strong showing in Midlands-North-West. I wonder if they can keep this momentum going for a General Election?

Interestingly, unlike the rest of the `United’ Kingdom Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system for European Elections too. There Sinn Féin came top of first preferences and won one seat, with another for the Alliance and one for the DUP. That’s two-to-one in favour of `Remain’.

160 Years of the Irish Times

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Politics with tags , , on March 30, 2019 by telescoper

With all the shenanigans surrounding yesterday’s non-Brexit Day I quite missed the news that March 29th 2019 was an important for my newspaper of choice, The Irish Times, which was first published on March 29th 1859, the front page of which is reproduced above. Initially The Irish Times was only published on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays but it became a daily paper a few months after its launch, in June 1859.

The first edition promised to

make a first-rate Irish newspaper, complete in its details, sagacious and consistent in its policy and faithfully reflecting the opinions of the most independent, intelligent and truly progressive portion of Irish society.

That pretty much applies to it now, I’d say. Interestingly, though, it started out as a staunchly Unionist paper and every one of its editors until 1986 was a Protestant.

I don’t buy a paper every day but I do always get the Weekend Edition, which is full of excellent writing (even if often disagree with its take on various things).

It’s interesting to note that the front page of the first edition was dominated by goings-on in the House of Commons in Westminster, as is today’s edition. Plus ça change..

The only real drawback to the Irish Times is that it doesn’t have a very good cryptic crossword. Fortunately, the UK papers give theirs away for free so I now do the Financial Times, Guardian and Observer Prize Crosswords without buying them.

Back to Victory

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Maynooth with tags , on February 17, 2019 by telescoper

Well, I got back to Maynooth from my little tour last night, on time and not too knackered. Credit where it’s due to Ryanair, in that all three flights I took last week (Dublin-EMA, Luton-Copenhagen, and Copenhagen-Dublin) were in good order and on schedule, as well as being very cheap.

Today I’ve been in the office for a few hours catching up on some preparation for tomorrow’s teaching. I’m starting a new topic in my Engineering Mathematics module so had to assemble a new problem set for distribution.

That done I downloaded a batch of weekend crosswords. I’ve decided not to buy any more British newspapers and to get my news instead from the Irish Times. However, the Financial Times, Guardian and Observer all put their prize crosswords online for free so I can keep up the crossword habit at a much lower cost.

Downloading this week’s FT Prize Crossword, I found that I’m actually a winner:

It’s interesting that two of the three winners are based in Ireland, though I would not wish to over-interpret this datum.

I wonder how long it will take for the prize to reach me in the post? It’s
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, not a dictionary but a book about a dictionary. Meta.

Sad about Everyman

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , , on January 28, 2019 by telescoper

As if the world weren’t crazy enough, yesterday the Observer served up this as its Everyman Crossword puzzle No. 3772:

The Everyman crossword boasts a long tradition of good cryptic puzzles, going back as far as 1945. It has been set by various people over the years, including none other than the great D.S. MacNutt whose book The Art of the Crossword is a must-read for all cruciverbalists.

Most recently the setter of the Everyman Crossword has been Colin Gumbrell whose puzzles have been consistently enjoyable and well-constructed. They’re not as challenging as Azed, but I always like to tackle the Everyman puzzle as a sort of warm-up exercise before doing that one. Sadly I hear that Colin has been forced by ill health to stop composing crossword puzzles. I’m told that the 20th January puzzle (No. 3771) is to be his last. I send my very best wishes to Colin Gumbrell at this time, as I’m sure do crossword enthusiasts everywhere.

Incidentally, Colin Gumbrell also sets the Antico puzzle in The Oldie, a very enjoyable thematic puzzle that I do every month. I’ve won the prize for that one  a couple of times, though not recently. The Oldie has two crosswords, of differing levels of difficulty, labelled `Genius’ and `Moron’, respectively.

It seems the Observer had to find a crossword setter at short notice, which is some kind of excuse for the offering above, but it’s still the worst crossword puzzle I’ve ever seen in a supposedly quality newspaper.

Why?

As an example of the duff clues, take a look at 1 Across:

Loses hope as spa dries. (8)

The answer is DESPAIRS (defined by `loses hope’) and an anagram of SPA DRIES. But where is the anagram indicator?

Now look at 1 Down:

Adorn a device for measuring up to 11 yards? (10)

The answer to this is DECAMETRE (defined by `11 yards’) and clearly intended to be a soundalike (homophone) for DECK A METER (Adorn a device for measuring…). But where is the corresponding homophone indicator?

The clue to 14 down is

Foreign Miss by design or inadvertently (9)

The solution is SIGNORINA (`Foreign Miss’) and a hidden word, but no indicator thereof.

I could go on. The whole puzzle is littered with such deficiencies. D.S. MacNutt – who was a stickler for fairness and precision in his clues – must be turning in his grave.

And who puts a full stop at the end of a crossword clue? I’ve never seen that before!

If this is the way the Everyman puzzle is going to be from now on, I won’t be wasting any more time on it.

 

Azed Christmas `Play-tent’ Puzzle (No. 2428)

Posted in Crosswords with tags , on January 20, 2019 by telescoper

I haven’t done a blog post about crosswords for a while so I thought I’d post a quickie about the Christmas Azed Puzzle Competition (No. 2428), the results of which were announced this week. One of the few things I really enjoy about Christmas is that the newspapers have special crossword puzzles that stop me from getting bored with the whole thing. I had saved up a batch of crosswords and gradually worked my way through them during the holiday. I left the Azed puzzle until last because, as you can see from the image above (or from the PDF here) it looks rather complicated. In fact the rubric was so long the puzzle extended across two pages in print edition of the paper. I therefore thought it was fearsome and needed to build up courage to tackle it.

The title `Play-tent’ is a merger of two types of puzzle: `Letters Latent’ (in which solvers have to omit one letter wherever it occurs in the solution to the clue before entering it in the grid) and `Playfair’ which is based on a particular type of cypher. I blogged about the latter type of puzzle here. In this ingenious combination, the letters omitted from the appropriate clues together make up the code phrase required to construct the Playfair cypher grid.

It turned out not to be as hard as it looked, however. I got lucky with the Letters Latent part in that the first four letters I found had to be removed were F, L, K and S. Taking into account the hint in the rubric that the code-phrase consisted of three words of a total of 13 letters from a `familiar seasonal verse’ , I guessed FLOCKS BY NIGHT, which is thirteen letters long and fits the requirement for a Playfair code phrase that no letters are repeated. It was straightforward to check this by looking at the checked lights for the bold-faced clues, the solutions to which were to be entered in encrypted form. Most of these clues were not to difficult to solve for the unencrypted answer (e.g. 18 across is clearly ABELIA, a hidden-word clue). Thus convinced that my guess was right I proceeded to solve the rest of the puzzle. The completed grid, together with the Playfair grid, is shown here:

It took me about 2 hours to solve this completely, which is quite a bit longer than for a `Plain’ Azed puzzle, but it wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I anticipated. People sometimes ask me how to go about solving cryptic crosswords and I have to say that there isn’t a single method: it’s a mixture of deduction, induction, elimination and guesswork.Leibniz was certainly right when he said that “an ingenious conjecture greatly shortens the road”. If you want to learn how to crack these puzzles, I think the only way is by doing lots of them. In that respect they’re a lot like Physics problems!

But solving the puzzle is not all you have to do for the Azed Competition puzzles. You have to supply a clue for a word as well. The rubric here mentions the word three words before the code phrase, i.e. SHEPHERDS. Although I was quite pleased with my clue, I only got a HC in the competition. You can find the prize-winning clues together with comments by Azed here.

For the record, my clue was:

What’s hot on record? You’ll find pieces written about that in guides!

This parses as H(hot)+EP(record) in SHERDS (word for fragments). The definition here is `guides’, which is a synonym for shepherds (treated as a part of the verb form).

I’ve said before on this blog that I’m definitely better at solving puzzles than setting them, which probably also explains why it takes me so long to compose exam questions!

Anyway, it was an enjoyable puzzle and I look forward to doing the latest Azed crossword later this evening.

Update: today’s Azed Crossword (No. 2432) was quite friendly. I managed to complete it in about half an hour.

Everyman

Posted in Art, Crosswords with tags , , on December 16, 2018 by telescoper

Having finished the Everyman crossword in this morning’s Observer, I was reading a review of some books about Pieter Bruegel in the Times Literary Supplement where I found mention of a piece by that artist also called Everyman.

Here is the work, an ink drawing on paper, of dimensions 20.9cm by 29.2 cm made in Antwerp in 1558 and currently in the British Museum.

According to the catalogue, the work is called Elck in Dutch, which means ‘each’ or ‘everyone’, but is usually known in English as ‘Everyman’.

The scenes in the drawing illustrate proverbs or sayings. The central proverb concerns Elck who vainly seeks himself in the objects of this world as he stands over a broken globe. With a lantern he searches through a pile of barrels and bales, a game board, cards and objects which signify the distractions of life.

To the right, two more Elck figures play tug of war with a rope, illustrating the saying, ‘each tugs for the longest end’.

In the background on a wall hangs a picture which continues the moral theme. It shows a fool sitting among a pile of broken household objects gazing at himself in a mirror. He is Nemo or Nobody, as the inscription below him informs us: ‘Nobody knows himself.

To me it seems that Elck is searching (no doubt in vain) for something worth keeping in the junkyard of human existence. Perhaps he should perhaps have a go at a crossword to cheer himself up?