Thursday, 31 January 2013

Seasons Greetings III

A relationship of sorts appears to have developed between Derek Harrison's Crossword Centre and the Eclogue setting team. With two Christmas crosswords (Seasons Greetings I and II) and an Easter Special (Cross-over) to our credit we ventured to offer a third Christmas puzzle, serially labelled Seasons Greetings III!

The puzzle that appeared was not the original. This had involved a much more intricate grid but difficulties in the design stage forced a rethink, which became increasingly complicated. As a result, Logogriph set the grid to one side and commenced an altogether different idea. Once again a seasonal theme was incorporated into the puzzle. If there is an aim of the Eclogue 'brand' it is to stretch the boundaries somewhat on existing or new ideas, whether it be themes or derivations of them. We have already provided some fairly convincing Christmas cards, a puzzle that involved a web finale and one where the ultimate solution was a hole where the grid once was. Therefore a puzzle that extols the Xmas theme through its nominal collection with Christmas Island seemed relatively modest by the precedent standards, but the idea of a Christmas jigsaw (I'm sure these must've been a tradition in households other than ours) and a little web-based research just moved the difficulty and interest up a level. All solutions were five letters in length and had to be fitted into the grid jig-saw fashion. In the completed grid two geographical names could be discerned in the two main diagonals and a search on the Internet would lead to the correct thematic location...a name of two words to be written beneath the grid for the final submission by solvers.

Derek and an American crossword enthusiast, Frank Pasterczyk, undertook the checking process and once their responses and suggestions had been dealt with Derek very kindly accepted the puzzle for publication as the Crossword Centre's December 2011 crossword. And so it was, in late May 2011, that Seasons Greetings III went into the pipeline to await its publication date.

We were in for a surprise. A few days after publication Derek wrote:
"The Seasons Greetings III is going well but Trevor and I are amazed at the choice of places that are coming with the solutions. So far we have had North carolina, New York, Milawaukee among others. Given that I announced that a "seasonal" puzzle was on its way, we have decided to mark all wrong. I'm not sure about the stats but I guess it's about 50% wrong. I never thought of any other answer when Frank and I tested the puzzle."

Eclogue replied:
"Thanks for this - Google is indeed a very dangerous thing for the unsuspecting crossword solver.

Unknown to us, Silver City and Murray Hill do both appear to be suburbs of Milwaukee, but the two spaces rather than one as well as the festive connotation make this a pretty poor choice. I struggle to justify the other choices, which look like bad guesses.

Google ranks the correct answer for a specific search as 9th (but still first page), Yahoo does not. However, a search in Wikipedia leads only to Christmas Island.

Presumably much of the commentary asks questions like 'why Milwaukee'? or similar, which must surely cause the solution to be doubted.

We may have inadvertently caused a trap, but it is an interesting albeit unanticipated one."

The statistician, Trevor Crowther, agreed:
"For what it's worth I concur with everything said. An 'inadvertent trap' sounds good. I am sorry for Eclogue that this has occurred. I certainly did not see it coming. Nobody has got any clue answer wrong yet. Sloppy searching when people had another month to ponder. Yes, it looks entirely plausible that they were guessing in hope.
I will hold the line and mark everything wrong except C.I. unless otherwise advised.
I do hope this does not detract from what I though was a really neat and fun-to-work-out puzzle."

In the event there were 19 incorrect out of a total of 52 entries - but a large proportion of the feedback was positive:

Seasons Greetings III by Eclogue CC prize puzzle Dec 11 Comments
[Added remarks by Trevor are in red]
There is a Silver Hill (pop est 1146) in North Carolina, and there are roads (for instance in Greensboro NC) called Murray Hill there too. There are neighbourhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the two names, but the ‘incorrect’ answers do notallow for the puzzle’s festive title. The setters acknowledge that Milwaukee was an ‘unforeseen inadvertent trap’ for those using Google, but note that a Wikipedia search for each of the two ‘features’ would lead to the right answer.
1 This was great fun to solve, many thanks to Eclogue.
2 Thanks to you and Eclogue for an enjoyable puzzle, which was eminently solvable yet required enough fiddling to allow the solver a feeling of satisfaction on completion.
3 A pleasant enough solve, but a bit of a disappointment after the delights of I & II.
4 A great deal of cold solving necessary before one could start to fill the grid, which I don't really like, but some nice clues.
5 Slightly flummoxed by what goes under the grid. The preamble implies a single location while there are two lines. The two diagonals give MURRAY HILL and SILVER CITY - a bit of Googling unearths them as a pair of suburbs of Milwaukee. I spent a lot of time hunting around Oz, as Broken Hill is nicknamed SIlver City, and there was also a Murray Hill in Manhattan (sure to contain, one feels, a casino called Silver City...).
6 This brilliant little puzzle presented a daunting challenge, but it was fun to work out. The Seasons greetings clue (SALTS) should win some kind of prize.
7 Eclogue's seasonal offerings are a welcome regular feature now and this novel puzzle provided much enjoyment. After cold-solving about 80% of the clues, the 5-letter words could be arranged in their correct quadrants to reveal the diagonal features. I certainly envy Eclogue spending Christmas 'Down Under' - my parents have recently returned from a tour and it sounds like a wonderful place to live.
8 Thanks to Eclogue – great fun.
9 Very good puzzle, mostly common words, but the jigsaw aspect kept it from being trivial. And a nice ending that I did not see coming.
10 Eclogue created another Christmasterpiece!!
11 I enjoyed this puzzle very much. Please pass my thanks to Eclogue
12 This was fun. Happy Christmas!
13 Thanks to you and Eclogue for another Seasonal teaser. I submit an answer in which I am not totally confident. I think my grid fill is ok, but can only unearth Milwaukee as the location - it definitely is one correct conclusion, but I am not sure whether it will be the correct conclusion as there may well be Murray Hills and Silver Cities elsewhere.
Again this was a thoroughly testing, and by now traditional, challenge from Eclogue - thanks to them. It was a struggle to cold solve a good proportion of the clues, capped by the test of slotting them all into the correct places.
14 I sailed past Christmas Island once and to be honest it did not look a great holiday destination! I only hope Eclogue likes phosphate mines.
15 Merry Christmas Eclogue and thanks for a tough challenge.
16 A nice obscure location!
17 I started well and thought it wouldn't take long, but then about halfway I slowed down and after that it took ages! I almost gave up several times, mainly because of the need to cold solve all of the clues, but managed to keep going. I enjoyed the format, although no crossing letters meant it was a slog!
18 Eclogue had me stumped for some time. I think I got there in the end; congratulations to him for an interesting (and taxing) puzzle. I almost gave up with OTTEY!
19 I found this puzzle very enjoyable - a lot of cold solving but the clues were fairly straightforward. A quick search of Wikipedia confirmed Christmas Island as the destination.
20 Thanks to Eclogue for an entertaining puzzle with a nice denouement. I have to say puzzles where practically every clue has to be solved unchecked aren’t my favourite, but the clues were well written and most of them could be solved without a reference to hand, so I could carry it around with me and solve it on the go. It took a bit of persistence to find the thematic link, but nothing wrong with that. I liked the clue to OCTAL, but wasn’t sure about ESMEE, and the OTTEY definition was a little loose.
21 I thought that loved = ESMEE was a slightly dubious definition, and I still can't rationalise the wordplay for RURAL. Otherwise a very enjoyable puzzle - both the clue solving and the jigsaw at the end.
22 My thanks to the setter as I thoroughly enjoyed this puzzle, though it took me far longer than it should have. I think it would be fair to say that perseverance rather than skill got me there in the end.
23 I had Silver City and Murray Hill but was unaware of any location in which they both feature, so was reluctantly going to put New York as a best guess, fully aware that a good crossword should not leave doubt for a successful solver. I then finally took heed of the title and did a seasonal search with North Pole, Santa and such just in case, and came up with Christmas Island. I'm surprised and quite impressed that Google doesn't hit this one directly. Well spotted Eclogue.
24 Spent ages trying to justify Ottey until I discovered her on Wikipedia. Rosso is not in Chambers but an Italian adjective. I suppose you can talk about a glass of rosso rather like a glass of vino. Also needed the internet to find Christmas Island and the two features. There is a city called Murray Hill in New Mexico but no real mention anywhere of Silver City unless you pair it with Christmas Island. Apart from that, it was fun putting the words together! Just the final justification took a bit of time.
25 A very enjoyable Christmas Crossword. Many thanks, Eclogue.
26 This was very challenging and not sure if New York is the required location. Murray Hill and Silver City are certainly in NY on Google map. [Murray Hill yes, but I can’t see a Silver City in NY]
27 I had some gaps and some wrong answers, but in trying to force things into the required pattern I saw the correct answers emerging - most pleasing. The only thing I'm not happy about now is the location - after much googling it looks as though we could be in Manhattan or some other part of New York, but a more satisfactory answer seems to be Milwaukee, or if you require two words I'll put Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Regrettably, unlike the fictional premise SG3 was built upon, Eclogue actually spent Christmas in dear old blighty - maybe next year? And what odds for an SG4 to continue the series - Logogriph continues to spin increasingly tangential advent grids which are clued into coherence by the ever-patient Eclipse, so you never know. There are after all, only 11 Crossword Centre puzzles till Christmas.....!

Monday, 21 January 2013

Seasons Greetings IV

Continuing the Seasons Greetings series at the Crossword Centre, Eclogue continues to strive for themes which are off the main-stream, which is no mean feat in the over-crowded jamboree that is the festive season these days.

The premise for this puzzle was the humble and much maligned Brussel Sprout.  Now Logogriph can't speak for anyone else, but he's quite a fan of this humble seasonal veg and was positively ecstatic to find websites dedicated to all things Sprout-like.   The grid was going to have to be circular (a first for Eclogue) and while there was a temptation to require solvers to use an entire green pencil or highlighter in a colour-fest-par-excellence, this was quickly rejected as to do so would have been seriously prejudicial to the rarely encountered purple side of the sprout family.

Also rejected, was any linkage to the works of the UK writer, Robert Rankin who regularly included Sprout humour in his earlier books, in particular the 'character' of Barry The Time Sprout, as well as such titles as Sprouts of Wrath and Sprout Mask Replica.  Indeed, Rankin's official fan-site is entitled 'Sproutlore'.  Pure escapism, but probably just a little too obscure for our seasonal conundrum.

That left a puzzle derived from Sprout varieties of which there are indeed many.  The first entry on a Google search of "brussel sprout varieties" yields the following site, which was the source for the thematic material:  Brussel Sprout Varieties

With an even distribution of sprouts through the rings of the grid, it became clear that a 50:50 compilation of inward and outward radials was going to be too tricky to achieve.  This puzzle actually coincided in its construction with a puzzle heading to the Magpie (of which more anon, we hope), which used an even distribution of entry between inward, outward and then two entries which looped through the entry section running off one edge to return to the edge of the same sector, one in each direction.  This seemed an excellent chance to repeat the measure, but even this necessitated the use of a couple of relatively obscure names.

Last year, SG3 caused some comment regarding possible (albeit unlikely) alternative locations for the thematic locations (which were in fact to be found on CHRISTMAS ISLAND).  So, with a hint of devilry, Logogriph included REBELS as a solution which given the method of entry was potentially reversible.  Therefore a correct entry needed solvers to actually count how many of each direction / start point were included in the 32 clue answers, or rely on luck.  Six of the ten incorrects unfortunately relied on the latter which deserted them in the final analysis.  

Each clue contained a misprint and in clue order these spell out a definition of the theme to draw solvers towards our humble vegetable hero.
In the testing stage some difficulty was encountered in the two afore-mentioned proper names, BROLIN, a one-time Swedish International footballer who eventually played for Leeds United and SHUAYB, an admittedly obscure Koranic prophet.   Although Logogriph is an ardent footie-fan (Eclipse probably less so), he was surprised that the nemesis of England's 1992 Euro campaign was not more widely known, particularly given the trail of turnip-emblazoned tabloid journalism that surrounded manager, Graham Taylor in its aftermath.  However, even without this knowledge, both names could be found through searching the Internet and it was eventually agreed all round that the puzzle was 'doable' and was accepted for publication.

In the final analysis, SG4 recorded 36 entries, of which 26 were correct.  The puzzle was set alongside an easier offering from Centrigram which garnered 56 entries of which 50 were correct.  So the sprouts didn't agree with everyone, but judging by the comments received, the challenge (for that is what it most definitely was) was generally enjoyed.

Thank you, as always to all solvers who commented and attempted our challenge.   Maybe, just maybe, there will be an SG5 in 2013 - hopefully, one that won't give additional indigestion!

Happy New Year.



1          This was a hard puzzle, made more difficult by the fact that I refused to believe, until the evidence was incontrovertible, that I was working a puzzle about Brussels sprouts.  I was hung up forever on 5, which I have concluded is the most Brit-centric clue ever written. Eventually the "NIL-ORB reversed" wordplay hit me, and copious Googling led to the soccer (yes! soccer, I say!) story.

2          My thanks to Eclipse and Logogriph for a very challenging puzzle.

3          I found this very difficult. Many good clues with some apparent but false misprints. It did not occur to me for a long time that East London could indicate anything but Cockney (the anagram was obvious, but the misprint wasn't), and #5, the last to fall, was baffling for this non-English non-fan of football… The preamble seems to allow, if not require, that the entries that exit the circle re-enter on the other side of the circle (e.g. the remaining letters of 1 go in spoke 17, etc.) but I could not complete the grid this way, so I guess that's not the intent. Also, I was expecting a Christmas theme; apparently the connection is that they're part of the traditional Christmas dinner in the UK (my condolences), but they aren't here, so this was elusive as well. Most of these, at least, are not in Chambers, and they're not all that easy to find on the Internet either; I found only one page that has all of them. Topnotch puzzle.

4          Was I being particularly slow, or was this a brute? I laboured for quite some time until I scrambled two segments together. I then very luckily guessed from L and U that the centre had to be Brussels, and my 'Bubb' had to be part of 'bubble' then did a search on sprouts and bubble and found a list of varieties, a few of which slotted into the grid (Bedford Fillbasket for sure managed to fix a lot of letters!).  From there, it was a question of part stumbling, part solving, part back-solving and I finally got there - I think. The last to fall was that accursed gypsies clue - I might have twigged it much sooner had it read 'gypsies heard ..' etc but for ages I just could not see how the wordplay related to faughs.
Anyway, I found this one hell of a workout, and Eclogue really tested my solving ability and patience, Very satisfying to finish, and once again an enjoyable seasonal test. Many thanks Eclogue, I look forward to being beaten up again next year.

5          This was a toughie but I really enjoyed it. I even like the subject matter!

6          Thanks and Season’s Greetings to Eclogue, whose puzzles are always a welcome challenge at Christmas. This was the hardest Greeting so far, and there were times when I thought it might go the same way as the Brussels sprouts on the children’s dinner plates. The theme was fun, and fell out quite early when I googled Royal Marvel, but it still took a long time to finish, with some devious misprints and definitions. The last clues to be solved were 1 to 4.

7          Much more of a challenge. Initially I misunderstood the preamble and thought that entries going beyond the rim or centre should continue on the opposite side, eg 26 at 10, till I realised this could not possibly work. With slightly more than half the clues solved, I was stuck for some time. Eventually I realised that the innermost ring could be Brussels and the great oracle Google came to my rescue to find varieties of Brussels Sprouts and let me fill the first and third rings. Anyway thanks to Eclogue for a stiff workout and for managing to incorporate both an Islamic prophet and a Swedish footballer into a crossword, and now I await an opportunity to show my knowledge that Bedford Fillbasket is a variety of sprouts.

8          Congratulations to Eclogue - this was very tough!  Caught as a homophone indicator? Amazing.

9          I quite enjoyed this, but the rather loose clueing has left me unsure of some of the entries.

10        Seasons Greetings was much more of a challenge, I really thought I would never solve it (and I'm still uncertain about a couple of the entries). I am much better informed than before about Brussels sprouts. My wife, who grows them, had not heard of any of the varieties, so could not help. I found 5 a problem, knowing nothing at all about football. Again, no clue really stands out, though 17 and 21 were elegant and tricky.

11         Rather hard to get through as there was limited ability to research sprout varieties (I jotted down eight from a website earlyish on, only to find seven unused - there are oodles and no one site seems to give more than a smallish percentage) and hence limited feedback from the grid.

12        It has taken me all week and was very difficult for one not acquainted with sprouts.

13        You either love or hate them, and I'm in the love club. That was a tough challenge to find the different varieties as without them I'd have struggled on a few clues.

14        Unlike previous Eclogues, we found the clues to be really tough, not helped by a few dodgy definitions and the unmentioned clashes . However, we got there in the end  [Unfortunately for this solver, there were no clashes - Eclogue]

15        This was a VERY tough puzzle I thought - probably the hardest of the year. The clues were difficult with some of the misprints very tricky to spot, plus the thematic material was not a message (as I expected) and completely (apart from Brussels) unfamiliar to me.   Still overall it was an enjoyable challenge…

16        I found this a real challenge and was nearly defeated before I really got going. There were some excellent and devious clues and the theme only became apparent at a relatively late stage. I particularly enjoyed the way that some of the misprints were disguised with some "red herrings".

17        Eclogue’s offering was a real challenge, as anticipated, involving an awful lot of cold solving until Brussels revealed its festering self in the central ring. I remain uncertain whether I really wanted to know as much as I now do about the varieties of sprouts I might continue to avoid. Still, an excellent puzzle, which kept me well occupied on a lengthy train journey.

18         struggled at the beginning with trying to cross over the middle to a quadrant on the other side.

19        Phew! One which I concluded with a sense of relief, or even release from torture, rather than fulfilment. The clues were very difficult and the thematic information very hard to find. Time and again I came across what looked like definitive lists of sprout types which still did not contain the ones I needed. Still, we complain if puzzles are too easy so thanks for a mighty challenge. (Pity about the misprint, Kinshasha, in clue 23).