Archive for the Crosswords Category

The Affair of the Missing Trophy

Posted in Covid-19, Crosswords with tags , , on May 13, 2021 by telescoper

A few weeks ago I posted about my first ever First Prize in the Azed Crossword Competition. At the end of that post I mentioned that I was eagerly anticipating being sent a silver trophy called the Azed Instant Victor Verborum Cup to hold for a month before passing it on to the winner of the next competition.

Unfortunately it seems that, owing to a combination of the Royal Mail and Covid-19, the Azed trophy has gone missing somewhere on its travels. In fact it hasn’t even reached the winner before me (a Dr S.J. Shaw) yet. The chances of it being located, retrieved and then sent to me before it would be time to send it on to the next winner are now remote so I don’t suppose I’ll ever get my hands on it. Ho hum.

Still, I did get a nice card from Dr Shaw explaining the situation and sending his congratulations:

I hope the trophy is found because it would be a shame if the tradition of passing it on came to an end, but it’s not such a big deal that I’ll miss out on having it on my mantelpiece for a few weeks. At least it absolves me of the responsibility of ensuring it reaches the next winner…

A First in Azed

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , , , , on April 25, 2021 by telescoper

I was roused from my Sunday-morning lie-in by the news that I had actually won First Prize in the latest Azed Competition. The best I’ve done previously was third place, and that was almost a decade ago!

As I’ve mentioned before, the monthly Azed Competition puzzle involves not only solving the Azed crossword but also supplying a cryptic clue for a word or phrase given only as a definition in the crossword. This competition is tough, partly because Azed is a stickler for syntactical soundness in submitted clues, and partly because many of the competitors are professional crossword setters.

I’ve struggled this year to find the time and the energy to make a decent attempt at the Azed competition, but the latest competition puzzle was published on Easter Sunday so I had Easter Monday to think about it. Solving the actual puzzle wasn’t too hard this time, which gave me plenty of time to work on the harder bit of composing a clue.

The target word was FILATORY (a machine for spinning thread). For some reason the first thing that popped into my mind was Greek Mythology, specifically the Moirai (Fates) who between them weave the tapestry of life, but one of whom, Clotho, spins the thread. I noticed that one can find the letters of TRIO in FILATORY leaving FAY+L. I looked up FAY in the One True Chambers Dictionary where I found that in its meaning as “fairy” is is derived from the Latin Fata. Even better. I just need to find a way of putting an L into the mix but as a standard abbreviation for “line” that wasn’t too hard.

My clue was

Fay trio with line in weaving? One spins thread.

The second part is the definition (a filatory spins thread) whereas the first part is the word play, FAY TRIO with L forms the basis of an anagram, with “weaving” as the anagram indicator (“anagrind”) instructing the solver to form an anagram.

I think the mythological connection between the two parts of the clue lays a false trail that disguises the definition a bit so I was quite pleased with this effort, thinking it might just get a VHC. I was very surprised to find it winning outright and am absolutely delighted!

I’ve expunged the first line of my address from the scan for obvious reasons, though it is there in the newspaper. I presume it is there because the winner of the Azed Competition not only gets a prize in the form of book tokens but is also sent the Azed Instant Victor Verborum Cup to hold for a month before passing it on to the winner of the next competition, when the result of that is announced, in this case about a month from now. The next Competition puzzle is in next week’s Observer, published on May 2nd. The following day is a Bank Holiday in Ireland so I’ll be able to have a good go at that too.

Presumably the trophy will arrive in the post at some point. With the current state of the mail service between Ireland and the UK I only hope it arrives before I have to send it on to the next winner!

Eye Solved Cyclops

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , on August 21, 2020 by telescoper

I am a long-term subscriber to Private Eye but since I have moved to Ireland the issues occasionally get lost. This morning I found No. 1527, published on 31st July. It’s too late to send in the crossword for the £100 prize, but I did the puzzle anyway.

I remember a while ago staying with a friend of mine – also an Eye subscriber, but not a crossword fan – and with his permission I did the puzzle in the copy he had lying around. When I showed him the solution he said that even with the answers he didn’t understand it. I think this is not an uncommon reaction from people who don’t attempt cryptic crossword puzzles regularly, so I thought it might be fun to post my solution to this one along with the clues so perhaps you can see how they work. I don’t think the Eye puzzle is really all that difficult, as cryptic crosswords go, although there are some in-jokes and there is quite a lot of fairly coarse humour!

If anyone wants any of the answers explained then please let me know through the comments box.

Incidentally, the person who sets the crosswords for Private Eye under the pseudonym Cyclops is called Eddie James and he also sets crosswords for the Guardian under the pseudonym Brummie. Presumably he’s from the Midlands.

No Azed celebration…

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords with tags , on July 26, 2020 by telescoper

I heard today that the special lunch that had been planned to celebrate the 2500th Azed crossword puzzle has been cancelled. It was first planned to take place in May (to coincide roughly with the publication of the 2500th puzzle), then postponed to September and now cancelled altogether. The venue, Wadham College Oxford, is not hosting any large events for the foreseeable future.

I wasn’t surprised by this news, but it is a shame. I was looking forward to using the event as an excuse for a break. I wouldn’t have gone just for the lunch, obviously, but would have stayed for some time either side.

On the other hand, travelling from Ireland to England and back in September would have been difficult, not least because I might have had to quarantine for 14 days in both ditections! Even without that it would have been a disruption to the preparations for the new academic year.

So I guess I’ll be staying here for the rest of the summer, though I might taje a short break somewhere in Ireland if I can.

Anyway, going back to the crosswords I got an HC (highly commended) in the latest Azed Competition (No. 2508). That was a first for me as it is the first entry I have sent in by email rather than in the post. At least I know it arrived safely. As usual I enjoyed solving the puzzle much more than composing a clue. I’m definitely a solver rather than a setter. Next Sunday will be another competition puzzle so I’ll see if I can do better in that.

Azed 2500

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords on May 10, 2020 by telescoper

Long before this Covid-19 lockdown started I had been planning to attend a lunch, due to take place last weekend, on Saturday 2nd May, at Wadham College Oxford, in honour of Jonathan Crowther who, under the pseudonym Azed, has been setting cryptic crosswords in the Observer for the best part of 50 years. The occasion for this planned shindig was the publication of the 2500th Azed Crossword. I went to a similar celebration about a decade ago when the 2000th Azed puzzle came out and enjoyed it a lot.

Sadly, but of course understandably, the Azed 2500 lunch was cancelled (or at least postponed until September) but the crossword appeared today (above). It looks a bit tricky, but it will have to wait until later because I have many other things to do.

I haven’t been doing crosswords as regularly as usual during this period. The main reason for that is lack of time and energy caused by my current workload, but it’s also the case that most newspapers are no longer running their competitions: without the possibility of a prize I don’t feel do enthusiastic about solving the puzzles. The Azed Competition is still running, though, so I’ll definitely give this one a go.

Anyway let me take this opportunity to thank Azed for all the challenging yet enjoyable crosswords he has set over the years!

Update: I managed to solve the puzzle, which was indeed tricky: it took me a good couple of hours! Now to compose a clue for 34 across!

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.