Saturday, 21 July 2018


Welcome back to the Eclogue Blog.

On 7 July 2018, Inquisitor 1550 hit the "i" with the latest in what has become a bit of a theme for this setting partnership in this publication, namely comedy sketches or series.  We have previously tackled Two Soups (Victoria Wood), Are You Being Served?, Dinner for One, Red Dwarf, The Ladykillers and 'Leg over'.

It was perhaps inevitable that our attention would turn to arguably one of the best-known and well-loved television sketches of all, namely FOUR CANDLES, with its clever wordplay and simplicity.  This sketch was always on our radar for a puzzle, but was moved up the list somewhat when comments were made about the recognisability (or otherwise) of comedy sketches in various other blogs, not least, the Two Soups one.

The original drafting of the puzzle focussed on the version in "All I Ever Wrote" by Ronnie Barker, which ends with KNOCKERS, rather than BILLHOOKS.  The former was used in the touring stage production of the sketch, but not the (argubly more widely known) television version.

As verbal ambiguity is the very essence of the sketch, we were always looking to employ a homophone device in the clue-ing.  It is noteworthy that the initial response from the editorial process was in recognition of the effort involved - "I must say you do make rods for your own backs when clueing(!); however this was very much enjoyed by all."

The preamble reads: "Eclogue provided the clues verbally, but each contains one word which has been misheard by the editor, while two were missed altogether. The initial letters of the correct words in clue order spell out most of a thematic list, the missing items from which must be highlighted in a contiguous arrangement of the theme."

This puzzle celebrates the famous FOUR CANDLES sketch by THE TWO RONNIES.  The initial letters of corrected homophones in clue order provide PLUGS, SAW TIPS, HOES, PEES, PUMPS, WASHERS and BILLHOOK, the items on Ronnie BARKER’s hardware shopping list in Ronnie CORBETT’s store.  The first item FOUR CANDLES (FORK HANDLES) must be highlighted in the grid.  IVY sounds like IV, the roman numeral for four (linked to ROMAN CANDLES at 24 across).

It is perhaps unsurprising that a crossword based upon a comedy sketch of verbal ambiguity has itself some ambiguity.  After all, homophones generally are ambiguous simply by the nature of pronunciation, to say nothing of regional accents prevalent throughout these lands.

Eclogue do catch up with blogs and suchlike connected with their puzzles, but usually refrain from comment.  We did note this time however a tendency for solvers to over-complicate matters and would like to apply the following "cold towels" (they're not the things you use in the garden by the way!).

"The missing items" are the four candles, not the sketch, the actual candles.  While these are placed on the counter by RC side-by-side, rather than in our configuration, they are unambiguously straight, so any attempts to highlight wonky night-lights would have wasted a stamp.  Could we have indicated the nature of the arrangement? The original idea was to indicate the 'number' hash symbol, but as this is more normally presented obliquely, any reference to that was ruled out.  An indication of symmetry may have helped some, but it would have raised the dander of many.  The symmetry only exists within the configuration (and if we apply it to the letters, only in mirror form about diagonal axes of the shape), and not to the grid as a whole.   With one candle, in plain view within ROMAN CANDLES, it was deemed that no further assistance would be necessary this time around.

In terms of the list of letters, we didn't say they were going to be either the correct or the misheard versions deliberately (e.g. no reference to 13-amp etc), only that they were most of a 'thematic list', which is itself ambiguous (of course).  On that point, the sketch does not confirm whether RB wants one or two "bill hooks" (fade out occurs before RB responds), it is only written in plural on the drawer in the shop.  So anyone looking for the plural has only inferred what may or may not have been on the shopping list, as did we when selecting the singular (which had the same number of letters as the originally intended KNOCKERS of course).

We always marvel at the ingenuity of solvers to find new ways to confound or delay their solve, some intentional (See Inquisitor 1444: OURS), others less so.  However, the excellent editorial solving / checking team provide a high level of scrutiny to any oversight by us setters.  Anything that all of us have missed, is more likely than not, purely in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Sequence 3

Featured as Puzzle No 1840: Sequence 3 by Eclogue in the April 2018 issue of 1 Across.

Unclued lights provide the names of the eight most recent holders of an office to be deduced.

Sequence 3 Solution Grid

The unclued lights are the surnames of the eight most recent Speakers of the House of Commons, starting from HYLTON-FOSTER and coming up to date with BERCOW.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Do or Die

Another circular puzzle from Eclogue, this time appearing in the March 2018 edition of Crossword Club.


Radials are entered in straight lines, half rim to centre, half centre to rim.  The second ring from the rim provides a quotation and its source (in ODQ), written by an author whose full name can be found in the second ring from the centre.


The second ring reads “UNA SALUS VICTIS NULLAM SPERARE SALUTE” from Virgil’s AENEID, which translates as, “The only safe course for the defeated is to expect no safety”.  Virgil’s full name, PUBLIUS VERGILIUS MARO is shown in the second innermost ring.

So "Do or Die" is an approximation if the sentiment expressed in  the quotation.

Solvers' Comments:

"Circular puzzles are always a favourite."

"What a brute!  My grudging admiration for the setter.  Had it not been for the word AENEID and the ODQ I would have been absolutley sunk."

"Nice change to have no grid searching or highlighting this month!  Not easy to copy out!  A bit of a struggle and some of the clues not very Ximenean!  Glad I finished it in the end.  Thought the letters appearing looked like Latin, the Aeneid appeared - easier after that."

"Circular puzzles are always fun to solve but I suspect their composition is tricky."

"The offset among the inmost rings made infilling tricky.  Confusion at clue 1 between UP and RUNS and UP in SETS.  Who is little Mary in clue 31?  A little Latin goes a long way."

"What a wonderful crossword!  One of the best ever."

"Very enjoyable and very fair with some nicely misleading double-takes in the clueing: 3, 8, 10, 18, 27, 33.  Not entirely convinced that PRANA is a 'countable' noun.  Loved 28 (a little grimly)!  Suspicious of the homophonic integrity of 16."

"A very neat circular puzzle.  I liked that staggering of the bars in the second ring from the centre, so that the puzzle was not chopped into four-entry sectors.  The internet would diminish the gap for solvers who are unfamiliar with Latin, I found."

"Bit easier than expected, mostly because of very helpful clues."

"Another enjoyable puzzle."

"Excellent puzzle.  NABLAS took ages to find and I would not have got it all if I hadn't found an unusual definition for preposterous!"

"An interesting and well-constructed challenge.  Quite a chalenge, helped by the relatively early identification of the author and thence the quote.  Some necessatily obscure words but always fairly clued.  Thanks."

"The offset between rings 4 and 5 reduces the usual tendency of these circular puzzles to break up into blocks of four words, but it makes the grid harder to read.  A challenging adaptation of the classic circular grid, and still I managed to make a mistake in transcribing.  Clue/answer 9 takes the prize for originality, but my favourite was 31: I'd never encountered J M Barrie's term before.  Was there a reason for using this grid?  At any rate , I am relieved that I am safe."

"A neat theme which was cracked (luckily!) since I solved 21-27, found SPERARE and rushed to ODQ.  Good test, though."

"Very satisfying.  Some very tough clues kept the quotation, its source and the author hidden from us until near the end.  We still don't understand the wordplay for 31 and so perhaps the answer is wrong.  Of course, the really difficult part was copying out the answers on to the entry form!"

"AENEID came out early and I thought 'I know that bloke' and with my friend google, the rest was easy."

"I've set dozens of these and know how difficult it is to get a complete grid with all Chambers words and include valid rings.  Congratulations to Eclogue!"

"A very satisfying puzzle, particularly with the off-set second ring."

"Having the third-from-centre ring offset made solving easier, I think.  This was some compensation for having the quotation in Latin.
31.  I don't understand the wordpaly.
34.  I hope this isn't as bad as I think it might be.
35.  'Preposterous' seems a bit superfluous.  It's an inverted delta but I don't think that qualifies.
37.  Not in C."

"A satisfying challenge that became easier when I had enough letters in VERGILIUS to identify the author.  Congartulations on finding author, work and quotation with the requisite letter counts.  Some clues took more decoding than others but - as I expected with Eclogue - all proved to be impeccably sound."

"I don't think I've seen this pattern of checks before.  I like it!  Queries and quibbles:
19.  Can there be more than one PRANA?
24. Can't find ORD as a beginningless sturgeon.
31.  Who is Mary?"

"Working with answers going askew in circular diagram gave me a pain in the neck, but won nevertheless.  An ingenious twist.  Not too difficult once the 'arna vinumque cano' guy appeared - schooldays revisited!!  Testing but fair."

"The occasional circular is always welcome though this one lacks a circular theme and the unching clues caused a few problems - but pleasant to solve - and educational."

"I liked the way the grid structure differed from that of the traditional 'Mass' circular grid.  Virgil and Edward Thomas in one Edition!  Bliss.  A return to schooldays."

"10 was indeed a challenge.  Very nice."

"Good selection of words, but I am left wondering why the quote, other than the happy coincidence of a 40-letterquote by a 20-letter author.  Good for a circular puzzle, but not an obviously circular theme."

Man in the Middle

Eight unclued entries share a common link (four one way and four the other) the conjunction of which will provide the “man in the middle” who should be highlighted (seven cells), thereby requiring solvers to determine the order of the two letters to be entered in the cell that is initially blank following completion of the grid.  Answer lengths refer to grid entries.

DICK can precede FRANCIS, TURPIN, VAN DYKE and WHITTINGTON, while DICK can follow CLEVER, CRESSIDA, MOBY and PHILIP K.  The “Man in the Middle” is therefore DICK DICK, giving the central highlighting and the ordering of the two letters (KD) in the initially blank square to offer both KICKER and DICKER to 25a.