Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Who's The Daddy?

In a previous blog posting, we suggested that if you ever saw a bespectacled commuter travelling on the 8.56am train between Winchester and London Waterloo reading a slim volume of a seemingly obscure work, it could well be Logogriph researching the next Eclogue project.  The advice would've been well-heeded as, in the search for something light-weight for the journey, "Burning Bright", a play-novelette by John Steinbeck came to hand.  (Yes, Logogriph has yet to join the Kindle revolution, preferring the physical exertion of turning pages to looking at a screen, which forms far too much of his existence already). 

Although it is nowhere near as famous as "The Grapes of Wrath" or the more size-wise similar "Of Mice and Men", it does possess the same flow and dialogue style of those works for which John Steinbeck is better recognised.  It seems only fair to warn our solver in Skelmersdale, that Logogriph has several similar volumes, but no plans yet with respect to Sweet Thursday, Tortilla Flat or similar, but who knows?

The main characters in the book are Joe Saul and Mordeen, a married couple, Friend Ed, their long-time friend and Victor, Joe's assistant. The ageing Saul is desperate for a child and Mordeen, suspecting he is infertile and in order to fulfil his wish, becomes pregnant by Victor. When Joe later discovers he is indeed infertile and the child cannot be his, he is helped through the crisis by Friend Ed.

The introduction page cites the William Blake poem "The Tyger" and there's nothing that Eclogue like more than two potentially inter-connected themes.

The book's title is taken from William Blake's poem The Tyger and misprints in the clues spell out the second and fourth lines of the poem. In the initial grid WILLIA_MBLAKE appears at 25 across and this must be replaced by JOHNSTEINBECK in the final grid. Lastly, three of Steinbeck's main characters (JOE SAUL, MORDEEN and FRIEND ED) were to be highlighted in the grid and below the grid must be written the answer to the question 'Who's The Daddy?' - VICTOR, an apt description for the successful solver.

It has been interesting to read comments from solvers who struggle to Google an appropriate title or author.  Many were seemingly held up by trying for TIGER rather than Blake's spelling of TYGER, which would have eliminated a lot of possibilities, or by some rather more recent incarnations of the "Burning Bright" title by among others TRACY CHEVALIER, but these were either too long, too short or didn't allow for real words to appear in the final grid.  Indeed, JOHN STEINBECK provided two of the letters of the characters to be highlighted specifically to confirm the correctness of that outcome.

Eclogue much prefer puzzles that have some degree of ingenuity that indicates that the setter has had to go to some efforts to produce the challenge before the solver, and particularly enjoys those that have some form of grid manipulation as an outcome, especially when the result still yields dictionary-found solutions.  With electronic aids, it is becoming too easy to churn out vanilla puzzles, which while nice enough, don't quite have that sparkle to be memorable.  We're not saying that ours necessarily achieve this, but that is what we aspire to.

The other aspect for us is to provide something that a solver doesn't know.  Our crosswords aren't designed to be an exam or a pub-quiz where knowledge can be repeated by rote, but to allow solvers to explore something hopefully new and enjoy the discovery that may result.  It was a Listener many years ago, based on the Five Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers, for example that introduced Logogriph to a queen of crime-writing and similar nuggets have been acquired over the years since.  The inquisitive mind will always read around the subject, explore new avenues and who knows, share that knowledge with others.  All very Fahrenheit 451 (which we've already done as a puzzle in the Magpie!) but you get the idea.

Not that nearly forgotten literature is our only source of inspiration, as hopefully you will soon discover.  Logogriph also does a lot of work with LOCO, the London Comedy Film Festival, through which there is a veritable gold mine of potential material, but maybe some of that is just a little too obscure.  It is however a great way to brighten up what is described as the most depressing week of the year at the end of January (2014 festival just finished, but they hold events throughout the year)-

Published on 18th January 2014 in the Independent as Inquisitor 1317, Who's The Daddy? is our third submission to this series.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Seasons Greetings V

Continuing Eclogue's almost traditional Christmas contribution to Derek Harrison's Crossword Centre, Seasons Greetings V is perhaps somewhat tamer than its immediate predecessor in this Yuletide roll.

It's that time of the year again, although by the time this reaches the cyber-inter-thingy it'll actually be a long-distant memory, stirred only by the ghost-of-credit-card-bills-to-come.  As the less-than-inspirational title confirms, this is the fifth year that Eclogue has provided seasonal fodder for the Crossword Centre.  We've Walked backwards for Christmas, completed a Christmas Card, dabbled our toes on Christmas Island and had more than our fill of Brussels Sprouts.  So where do we head this year?   Enter stage left, Messrs Skellington and the Boogie Man, to provide the pantomime backdrop to connect the similarities between Frankincense and the Mary Shelley classic.

In constructing the grid, this time Eclogue went for the Left-Right double-clue technique, another first for them.   Although, we can't remember who the puzzle was by, the inspiration came from a Left-Right puzzle that used TITTLE-TATTLE as 1 across, which we think appeared in the Crossword Club, many years ago.

With reference to Tim Burton's film The Nightmare Before Christmas, misprints in clues spelt out NIGHTMARE BEFORE XMAS - the nightmare here being FRANKENSTEIN therefore apearing in the left-hand side of the grid before FRANKINCENSE (representing Christmas) appearing in the right-hand side.  What made this idea more effective was having a high-degree of similarity between the lights on each side, particularly as FIDDLE-FADDLE, differing by only 1 letter, provides little in the way of help.

It is probably the film that most people remember, but we can heartily recommend the original poem whose YouTube link was kindly provided in the comments (number 4 below).

One correspondent had previously expressed concern at the possible glut of traditional fare in crosswords appearing around Christmas, so a nod in that direction was included in the clue at 20ac:

"Nasal glow eccentric's seen reflected being almost certainly a trial once (5,5)"

which was an attempt to conjure up an image of some hackneyed red-nosed creature but no-one seems to have latched on to this.

There were 52 correct entries (54 if you include the compilers) and just 7 wrong, albeit these look like post-prandial typos rather than anything more serious, with only one entrant opting to put the apparent 'horrors' of Christmas in the left hand side, preferring to side with the Mary Shelley creation for their festive repast.

 We received 33 comments for SG5 and really are rather pleased by the reaction to this one, maybe the season of goodwill did indeed encompass all cruciverbalists in 2013!

So will Eclogue squeeze out an SG6 in 2014 - only time will tell, but even if we can't, through Noel Fatigue (a pathological desire never to have to sit through an episode of "Deal, or No Deal" ever again!) or whatever, then we're delighted you enjoyed the journey.  Yo Ho Ho!


1          Thanks to Eclogue for an amusing puzzle.

2          Thematic 1D's highlighted in festive  seasonal colours, just because. Also, I object to referring to Frankenstein as a nightmare, when he was mostly just misunderstood.

3          A bit of festive fun, though we might have left it till Xmas.

4          Please pass on my thanks to Eclogue for a very enjoyable Christmas puzzle.  If you are not familiar with the theme you might enjoy this version of Tim Burton’s original poem read by Christopher Lee.  It is only lasts about 10 minutes and is fun to watch:

5          Very enjoyable. I really liked the theme of the two Franks.  Thank you.

6          I enjoyed your Christmas Special. Thanks for the entertainment.

7          Good stuff!

8          Another really enjoyable puzzle from Eclogue thanks. Sod's law of course I guessed and got it the wrong way around first time!  I would say that I look forward to next year but they are coming around too fast as it is.

9          We enjoyed this entertaining puzzle by Eclogue. Frankenstein appeared very early in our solve but we couldn't believe our eyes, as he hadn't much to do with Christmas, so we kept on puzzling until the penny dropped and Frankincense appeared. Of course we had the two sets of words (or at least, the second half of the sets) on the wrong sides of the grid. It was amusing the way [they] deliberately confused us with similar words in the two sets. Nice one, thanks to Eclogue.

10        A very clever piece of work.

11         Thoroughly enjoyable seasonal puzzle; thanks to Eclogue.

12        I liked this one very much, especially the very original grid… I always enjoy Eclogue's solid clueing and original grids. Some of the misprinting in this one were extremely clever and well-disguised.  My only concern is the phrase in the preamble "When viewing the grid in conventional order," which I understood to mean that the misprints would produce the title in the order of clue entry, rather than the order listed, ie that a misprint in clue 2 might be after 3,4 or 5, if said misprinted definition was the right-hand 2. In the event, this was not the case. What was this phrase intended to add?

13        This puzzle from Eclogue was a lot of fun, much helped by guessing Frankenstein quite early, which in turn led to the misprint message. Many thanks to the setter.

14        Finding NIGHTMARE BEFORE XMAS is not quite necessary for solution; it would have been if he'd made 10A be ITCHES rather than ITCHED, since then the bottom 7 rows could be swapped independently of the top 5.  A nice Christmas offering…  (Frankenstein was the mad scientist, not the monster, but perhaps that is more nightmarish.)

15        A gentle introduction to the festive season and none the worse for that!

16        I enjoyed it - much as I tend to with offerings from these chaps. I seem to recall that it was a fair challenge with a nice set of clues which yielded gently ... but as a long-time supporter, it was painful to be reminded of the 'shambolic Leeds side' (of which we have seen quite a few in recent years). Of course I guessed at how the grid needed to be filled, and guessed incorrectly, so a bit of shuffling was required in the closing stage.  My thanks to Eclogue.

17        A lot easier than last year's!  I was pleased to note that FIDDLEFADDLE continues a fine tradition for these L&R things.

18        Fell into place very quickly after I realised the similarity of several paired answers implied the ricochet nature of 1 across.

19        Good fun, this.  A nicely constructed grid with a clever amount of duplication between the two halves to keep me guessing where entries had to go, and an entertaining representation of the Nightmare before Xmas theme.  Thanks to Eclogue for the fun.

20       This was a nice puzzle for the occasion - simple idea that worked well and fun to solve.

21        Very entertaining.

22        Another fine and very clever grid from Eclogue, and fun to solve with just the right level of challenge.

23        Not too much of a challenge. Fortunately for me, my initial guess at what to put on each side worked out to be correct.  Thanks to Eclogue.

24        Many thanks, very entertaining.

25        A considerably easier Eclogue than last year's brassicanerie… a lot of fun to be had anyway, notwithstanding an early strike on the 1 downs which, when coupled with mis-spelling FRANKINCENSE made for some confusion on my part.

26        I found Seasons Greetings by Eclogue to be thoroughly engrossing and what we have come to expect from this setter.

27        Having failed miserably on previous Eclogue Xmas offerings, hopefully I have managed to solve one correctly!  Nice theme, well worked with some fine clues.

28       Thanks to Eclogue for Christmas fun.  I imagine writing double clues must be difficult, especially in the design of good surfaces.  10a Acted to turn tide ..., 18a Counted votes ... and 17d Senior at old tavern were excellent, but my favourite was 5d Conducted measure on top player ....  Some of the corrected letters were wonderful; mug providing feed and Clever's flip were a delight.

29           Many thanks to Eclogue for another enjoyable festive challenge. I've never attempted a 'right and left' style puzzle, let alone one with misprints, but I found the level of difficulty to be well-judged. It took a while for me to get going due to the similarity between the two halves, though I suspect this was the intention all along. I was slightly disappointed that for a 'Seasons Greetings' puzzle there was only a little Christmassy content, though this really is nit-picking in what was a fine puzzle.

 30      Seasons Greetings indeed, cottoned onto the "Nightmare before Xmas" pretty quickly, and with the Tim Burton classic being a big favourite in our house this time of year was looking for some 12 letter characters to fit the bill. No such luck, anyway, it all fell into place in the end, (after a second grid was printed out and refilled correctly).  Thanks to Eclogue for the challenge.

31        Tricky, but clever, and the film title held the two theme words together nicely.

32        When I found the two answers at 15a, 9d and 11d, I thought that fitting the answers into the grid would be more difficult than in turned out to be. I was expecting that the conventional order of the grid would give the corrections in a different order from that in which the clues were presented, and that title would be required to determine that FRANKENSTEIN should come before FRANKINCENSE.  I found the misprint in 14d the hardest to spot, since I had been satisfied with 'provide, perhaps' as the definition and so thought the misprint must be in the second clue.  I quite enjoyed the novelty of having a left-and-right grid where both sides had quite a bit in common and an unusual Christmas theme.  Thanks.

33        I can hardly believe 4 years have passed since the first of Eclogue's seasonal specials - please convey thanks to him once again for a great 'Left and Right' puzzle. The misprints in each clue spell out the title of one of my favourite Tim Burton films, the musical 'Nightmare Before Christmas', abbreviated to Xmas, suggesting that FRANKENSTEIN at 1d (left) should come before FRANKINCENSE at 1d (right). This in turn determined the correct positioning of the across clues from 10 onwards, thence all the down clues and the remaining acrosses.  Even the entries at 2 down and 9d were thematically placed to provide further confirmation of correct entries - in the end, not such a FIDDLE-FADDLE !

Thursday, 2 January 2014


For our solver in Skelmersdale (you know who you are!) eagerly awaiting the next Eclogue puzzle, you're in cluck... errr luck!

This puzzle started as an exercise in putting several 15 or 30 letter phrases into a standard blocked grid - the length as well as the requisite word breaks being the main constraints in construction.  However, the exercise quickly turned into something with a hint of the macabre, once the two 30 letter phrases "I give unto..." and "the chickens have..." became viable options.   So this became Eclogue's first trip into rather dark humour, both of the marital state and of morbidity generally (neither of which Eclogue are pleased to report, they have any complaints about!).

It was not by immediate design either that M_DI_S presented itself along the middle row during construction, but this also looked like too good an opportunity to miss, as Will Shakespeare bemoans his lot and gives of his all, we can but surmise as to his state of mind when he made the extraordinary bequest.  The result is of course that MR (Shakespeare) DIES - alas poor Yorick etc. etc.

Now, Eclogue are sure that Anne Hathaway was probably the kindest and most gentle of folk and make no insuation to the contrary, but there was clearly a terrestrial day of judgement before the sonneteer put down his pen for the last time.  And so, the chickens metaphorically represent this.

The use of long lights brought a trait that we have seen frequently in the dailies, particularly the Guardian where Araucaria, Enigmatist and the late Bunthorne are particularly noted.  Eclipse followed in these hallowed footsteps and clued these phrases with several lengthy anagrams to exercise our poor solver.
So as to ensure fowl play, the extra letters generated by wordplay spelt out four farmyard males of the chicken variety.

The puzzle fitted nicely in the Magpie schedule, being decidedly 'A-grade' in nature and so from the hatching to the despatching proved a relatively short time indeed.  We hope solvers admired our pluck and weren't spitting feathers by the end of it.

Judging by solver comments, there was a fairly staunch defence of the Shakespeares , suggesting that our tongue-in-cheek connection was probably without foundation.  However, although the quote was correctly attributed, the essence was not intended to be that specific - it merely served an amusing purpose and was a 'light bite' compared to Eclogue's more usual heavy-weight offerings.  The Magpie solvers commented as follows:-

  • I thought it was pretty obvious what Will's bequest was, but I couldn't remember the exact wording. I thought it was surprising that the two 30-letter answers could fit together as they do in the grid, but I suppose if they hadn't the puzzle could have been set differently. 
  • I suppose the theme could be largely ignored by the solver, but I did need to recognise the chickens to guess the last few extra letters.
  • Don't understand about central line, but I enjoyed the long entries. 
  • Good to have a blocked puzzle from time to time. Just about A grade.
  • I'd have been upset not to recognise this, living near Stratford!
  • Grid finished, I hope, but have to admit I don't undrstand the theme or what "MR DIES" has to do with anything.
  • Simple and straightforward. OK for a gentle opener.
  • Not sure what to say about this one! Although blocked and fairly easy, one or two of the clues required guesswork. One extra letter in a two-letter word is almost impossible to arrive at and can only be worked back to from the answer - I wouldn't find this entirely satisfactory in a harder puzzle.
  • No difficulty at all, but enlivened by nice anagrams for many of those challenging long lights. VALVASSOR, ODONATIST, RAWNS and BARCAROLE were new to me. As for the theme, from my reading of the mystery I'm not sure we can infer that "the second best bed" bequest was _necessarily_ a slight to Mrs S. What is clear is that the S's had an unconventional relationship (for their time).
  • A pleasantly simple opener to the issue. The two phrases fit the grid neatly, although I'm not taken by the idea that Shakespeare was revenging himself on his wife in his will, so thematic coherence was a bit lost.
  • I thought that this was quite tricky for an A grader with the 2 long anagrams being particularly hard to fathom. I'm still not sure what the connection between the chickens and Shakespeare's bed is but it was an interesting solve nonetheless.
  • The smallness of the theme was easily compensated for by the impressively large number of 15 letter entries.
  • I must confess to missing the point of puzzle... If this is an A, there's not more to it than the two main phrase/quotes, is there?
  • The long entries made this an easy puzzle to solve if not to set.