Archive for Independent

Scotland Small?

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on September 18, 2014 by telescoper

Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland _small_?
Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner
To a fool who cries “Nothing but heather!” Where in September another
Sitting there and resting and gazing around
Sees not only heather but blaeberries
With bright green leaves and leaves already turned scarlet,
Hiding ripe blue berries; and amongst the sage-green leaves
Of the bog-myrtle the golden flowers of the tormentil shining;
And on the small bare places, where the little Blackface sheep
Found grazing, milkworts blue as summer skies;
And down in neglected peat-hags, not worked
In living memory, sphagnum moss in pastel shades
Of yellow, green and pink; sundew and butterwort
And nodding harebells vying in their colour
With the blue butterflies that poise themselves delicately upon them,
And stunted rowans with harsh dry leaves of glorious colour
“Nothing but heather!” — How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!


by Hugh McDiarmid (1892-1978)

Crossed Words

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , on October 28, 2012 by telescoper

I’m still a bit fragile after a sudden bout of illness. Judging by my symptoms – and the fact that the worst of it seems to have passed in about 24 hours – I think it must have been this (i.e. the dreaded “Winter Vomiting Bug”). You’ll be relieved that I don’t intend to go into the details on here.

Anyway, being out of action all day yesterday has put me behind on a number of important things, including the weekend’s crosswords which also reminded me that it’s been a while since I posted anything in that particular file on here.  I did manage to get out to buy yesterday’s Independent, but haven’t started the puzzle yet. Incidentally, I should mention that I recently won the Independent Crossword Prize for the NINTH time. That means I’ve accumulated nine copies of the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus in little over a year. I keep getting envious comments from people who’ve been entering this competition for years and have never won, but I seem to win it regularly every few weeks.  I have one copy of the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus at home, one in my office at work. I gave one to my mum and the rest I’ve distributed to colleagues at work. I’ve even started a waiting list, although I may move on from Cardiff before I can fulfil all the requests…

Anyway, I was cheered this morning when I discovered that I’d won a VHC (“Very Highly Commended”) in the Observer’s Azed Crossword Puzzle No. 2105. This puzzle was a “special” with the theme “Collisions”, introduced with the following rubric:

Down clues are normal. Each across entry consists of two answers which ‘collide’,  i.e. they overlap by one or more letters, the overlapping letters always appearing in  their correct order. Across clues consist of definitions of each of the full overlapping  answers and subsidiary indications of each minus the overlapping letters. Definition and subsidiary indication for one answer precede those for the other, but either  may come first. Numbers in brackets indicate the lengths of complete entries. One  across answer consists of two words. Competitors should submit with their entries  a clue in the style of the other acrosses to the unclued ‘collision’ at 1 Across, which  must be deduced.

I’m always very wary of unclued lights, but in this case it was quite easy to deduce TITANIC/ICEBERG was the combination that went with the overall theme as well as fitting with the other clues. I didn’t think that, for a “special”, the puzzle was all that difficult to solve but I did find it a mighty struggle to come up with a clue in which the join between the two separate parts was reasonably well disguised and which had a reasonable surface reading. My attempt was

Showing sex appeal in leather, very large bird knocked back cold fish

I’ll leave it to the reader to parse the clue and see how it fits with the instructions.

Anyway, with that I’m up to 10th place in the Annual Honours Table, but with only 3 out of 13 puzzles completed there’s plenty of time to fall back to my usual position!

Now, time to see if I can eat something without unwanted special effects….

Crosswords and Prizes

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , , on June 24, 2012 by telescoper

It has been a while since I last posted anything in the box marked Crosswords, so I thought I’d while away a bit of this dreary Sunday morning with a few thoughts on that topic.

Less than a year ago, I switched my Saturday newspaper from the Guardian to the Independent (see here for the reason). I’ve been doing the Independent Prize Cryptic every week since then, except when I’ve been away. I find it significantly more satisfying than the Guardian puzzle. I’m not sure the Independent‘s crossword is harder – although some of my friends think so –  but there seems to be better quality control there than at the Guardian.

I still occasionally do the Guardian puzzle at weekends by downloading it from the web. Yesterday’s celebrated a centenary – not difficult to guess whose! – but it wasn’t a particularly interesting puzzle, and I thought some of the clues were very clumsy.

Anyway, somewhat amazingly, I’ve actually won the Independent crossword prize no less than six times in the nine months or so since I starting doing it. An immediate inference from this is that there must be many fewer entrants than for the Guardian weekly puzzle, which I only won once every few years. The other side of this is that I’m accumulating dictionaries at an alarming rate. The prize for the Indy cryptic competition is The Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, a substantial tome that retails for about £20. I now have one in my study at home, one in the sitting room, and one in my office at work. I gave one to my mum a while ago, and the other two I’ve given to colleagues at work. I’ll probably be disposing of a few more copies like that if things carry on the way they have in past months. I’ve even started taking advance orders…

I haven’t been doing so well this year in my favourite crossword competition, the Azed puzzle in the Observer. I started well enough, but then drew a blank on a number of occasions and slipped back down the table. However, this week I got another score with a VHC (“Very Highly Commended”) in Azed 2087, and am currently in equal 24th place. There’s only one competition puzzle left, and I’m a long way off the pace set by the leaders, so I’m not going to finish much higher than that even if I do well in the last competition.

Anyway, my clue for the word ROCKET was:

Dicky ticker – love might make this one race!

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to parse, although it involves a “comp. anag.” It goes without saying that the prize-winning clues are much better than my effort!

Incidentally, I noticed yesterday that my post about the Azed 2000 lunch a couple of years ago was getting a bit of traffic. I don’t really know why, but in the course of looking around I saw that there’s a nice collection of photographs of the event here. I couldn’t embed any of them here as they’re protected.

The general reaction of people I work with to all this cruciverbalism is that it’s a waste of time. I actually don’t agree, except insofar as everything is a waste of time when you think about it. Crosswords for me are a form of mental jogging. They exercise a brain in a way that’s different from the usual things it is faced with. In my case, a lot of my work involves puzzles of various kinds. Some are mathematical, connected with my research, but the most difficult ones are bureaucratical: trying to work out what all the paperwork is for and how to fill it in without losing my rag. Despite a complete lack of empirical evidence to support this assertion, I think doing crosswords keeps my brain from ossifying and enables it to think more flexibly. Or maybe I protest too much. Perhaps I just enjoy them.

Setters and Solvers

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , , , , on February 26, 2012 by telescoper

I realise that yesterday I said I only had time for a quick post, and then proceeded to write >1000 words on the subject of Masters degrees. Today I really only have time for a quick post, as I have to finish writing my examination paper (amongst other things).

Anyway, I haven’t blogged about crosswords for a while so I just thought mention a few things. Some time ago I switched from the Guardian to the Independent on Saturdays. The Guardian is a sad case. As its circulation falls, the price continues to rise. It is now getting more expensive virtually by the week. It comes with stacks of tedious supplements which go straight into the recycling bin anyway. There’s much less of the Independent and it’s both higher quality and cheaper. There’s a lesson there for the Grauniad, I think.

More importantly (for me) the Guardian’s crosswords have gone rapidly downhill and I much prefer the Independent’s setters nowadays. I do occasionally do the Grauniad prize one by downloading it from the net, especially if it’s Araucaria, but most of the other setters are nowhere near as good. Since I started doing the Indy crossword last year I’ve won the prize, a rather splendid dictionary, three times. I’ve got one in my study at home and one in my office. The other I gave to my mum. If I win any more I’m not sure how I’ll dispose of them. Perhaps I could open a shop?

The magazine bit of the Independent has a more difficult crossword called Inquisitor. I’m not sure about these at all. Sometimes they’re really good, but too often they require so many modifications to be made to each solution before entry into the grid that they become completely tedious, and the completed puzzle just looks like a random jumble of letters. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my crosswords to have words in them. Last week’s (Inquisitor 1217) was an extreme example, with “thematic modifications” all over the place and some parts of the puzzle completely unclued. It turned out that you had to remove every third letter of each solution before entering it into the grid, the theme being an obscure and entirely unclued reference to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner “And he stoppeth one of three”. I got there in the end – I find I can’t leave a puzzle incomplete once I’ve started – but I didn’t post it off in protest at how unsatisfying it was.  I don’t mind difficult puzzles, but they have to be fair: leaving huge parts of the puzzle unclued means that it’s just guesswork rather than logic.

My favourite crossword is still Azed in the Observer. I got off to a good start in this year’s clue setting competition with a run of VHCs (“Very Highly Commended”). However, I didn’t have time to do the Christmas Azed and have therefore slipped down the league table a bit.

I got an HC in the last competition, No. 2070, in which the word to be clued was MISTREATMENT. My clue was

Kinky “Master” welcoming one into pain or wanting abuse

i.e. anagram of MASTER including I running into TORMENT with OR missing (wanting); abuse is the definition. It’s OK I suppose but admittedly not as good as the prize-winning entries.

This word is tailor-made for an &lit type of clue, which Azed seems to like. The winning entry for this one was of this type

Abuse T. Emin’s art met?

So you can read this as “abuse” (an anagram indicator) of the subsequent letters to make MISTREATMENT or the whole clue itself as a definition. Azed seems to allow a lot of slack in the definition part of such clues, but I’m not at all convinced that “T. Emin’s art” has ever been actually mistreated so I don’t like this as much as some of the other clues. It’s not my decision, however, and I have to say some of the clues in the list are really superb, much better than my mundane effort.

I love solving crossword puzzles, but I find setting the clues extremely difficult. I think I’m the same way with physics too. I like solving – or trying to solve – problems of various kinds, but I find setting them very hard work. That’s why it takes me so long to write examination papers, and why I consequently have to go into the office on a lovely spring sunday. It would be much easier to set exactly the same paper as last year, but of course no self-respecting university teacher would ever even dream of doing that….

Energy Inversion

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 12, 2012 by telescoper

Like many people I’ve just received my gas and electricity bills. Unlike many, I can actually afford to pay them. My little terraced house is actually pretty easy to keep warm, even in the very cold weather we’ve had recently. I’m helped in that by the next door neighbours, who seem to have their heating on all the time thus warming one side of the house for me. I do occasionally put a few logs in the fireplace and treat myself to the comfort of the resulting blaze, but that’s not really necessary to keep warm, just me being a bit  bourgeois.

Coincidentally, the Independent recently ran an interesting article about fuel poverty and the inflated profits being made by the energy utilities in the United Kingdom.  The two are obviously connected, and it seems quite clear to me that the primary mechanism by which the public are being exploited is through the infamous ratchet. When wholesale fuel prices go up the regulator Ofgen allows the utilities to increase their retail energy prices accordingly. When the wholesale price comes down again, the retail price remains high and Ofgen does nothing. Next time wholesale prices rise, retail prices go up again, and so on. Prices to customers increase monotonically, with the inevitable result that the poor get squeezed and the companies’ profit spiral upwards.

There’s talk of the regulator getting tougher with the bastards companies concerned, but there’s been talk of that for ages. Nothing of any consequence ever happens. Meanwhile, vulnerable people, especially the elderly poor, die in the cold. It’s yet another sickening example of  the grossly distorted priorities of the world we live in.

I don’t claim to have an answer to all forms of capitalist exploitation, but reading my gas bill did give me an idea to help with this particular one. In common with many customers, my gas bill (from SWALEC in my case) is constructed in two parts: “standard energy” (which is quite expensive) and “discounted energy” (which is much cheaper, little over half the cost per kiloWatt-hour of the standard tariff). The way this works is the first 1000 kWh or so one uses are charged at the standard rate, then the additional energy consumption is charged at the discount rate.

This pricing system seems pretty normal, but it suddenly struck me when I got my bill as being completely the wrong way around. If one instead were charged the discounted rate initially and the higher rate for the excess, that would (a) benefit the poor, who presumably live in smaller houses than the rich and therefore use less energy to heat them, and (b) discourage profligate energy use beyond the switch-over point. Such a pricing system would give each user an “allowance” of cheaper energy, but charge them at a higher rate if they exceed it.

Inverting the tariff system in this way would  both help the most vulnerable and provide a real incentive for heavy users of energy to increase their efficiency. No point, though, in expecting the cartel of privatised energy suppliers to do something like that off their own bat. They’re doing very nicely out of the status quo and have no reason to change it. Dead pensioners don’t have much effect on their profits.

P.S. It also occurs to me that the £200 winter fuel payment currently paid by the government would be more efficiently targetted if it were passed on directly by energy utilities in the form of free energy to its elderly customers. I’d even make the case that they should pay it out of their own profits…

Another Crossword Competition

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , on October 24, 2011 by telescoper

Flushed with success after winning a prize in the Saturday Independent crossword competition (even if it is yet another dictionary) and flying high at No. 6 in the Azed Annual Honours List I thought I’d have another go at setting a puzzle for my readers. There were some complaints that my last crossword was too difficult, so here is a slightly simpler one for you:

Across                                                       Down

1  Current symbol for ego?                    1  One visual organ, we hear


Telescoper Crossword Competition

Posted in Crosswords with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2011 by telescoper

Having had a busy weekend reading grant applications and referee reports in advance of next week’s meeting of the Astronomy Grants Panel, I’ve been unusually late completing the weekend’s crosswords. As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve given up buying the Guardian in favour of the Independent, whose crosswords are much better in my opinion. I managed to do the prize crossword in the newspaper without too much difficulty, but the magazine supplement has a much more testing one called Inquisitor. In addition to being quite a challenging cryptic crossword, this usually has a twist in that one has to highlight (or sometimes delete) letters entered into the grid according to some theme. I’m a bit skeptical about these extra tasks, I suppose because I think a good crossword doesn’t need any such embellishments. I have to say, though, that it is  a different kind of challenge from the usual cryptic and I might warm to it given time.

About a year ago at the Azed 2000 dinner I had the opportunity to chat with some professional crossword compilers. It seems one gets paid around £150 (give or take) for setting a crossword in a national newspaper which isn’t a lot considering how difficult it is. One of the features of the Azed puzzles in the Observer is the monthly clue-setting competition, which I enjoy entering, but I’ve never tried to compile an entire crossword.

However, after finishing this week’s Azed  and Inquisitor puzzles I suddenly hit on a potentially lucrative idea. I’ve decided to start a crossword competition of my own. Here  is Telescoper Prize Crossword No. 1, inspired by Azed’s “Carte Blanche” puzzles…

Instructions for solvers. To enter the competition, devise a set of clues and solutions that fill the above grid in the manner of a typical Azed puzzle. Mail completed grids, together with clues to me at:  Telescoper Prize Crossword No. 1, PO Box 16  (across), Cardiff. The best entries, as judged by me, will win 27p in (used) postage stamps plus the chance to see their crossword in a national newspaper with my name as setter.

As a business plan, this simply can’t fail. It’s nearly as good as running an academic journal!


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