EV 1490 (Hints) – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1490 (Hints)

Enigmatic Variations 1490 (Hints)

BORICAHF by Piccadilly

Hints and tips by The Numpties

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

Piccadilly has been setting EV puzzles for over a quarter of a century and, of course, we meet him in the Listener series, but this one is a new departure for most EV solvers.

Preamble:  Answers to the four asterisked clues are to be encoded using a Playfair code-square before entry in the grid. The three unclued entries have been encoded using the same code-square, as has BORICAHF. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended. 

We rarely encounter Playfair code-squares but proXimal has given some help (below). Solving the clues will almost complete your grid, with just seven solutions and the title in cyphertext.


1a           Wasps’ nest in Lothian near centre of Dalkeith (4)
The clue leaves us in no doubt that we are looking for a Scots word. Chambers confirmed the word we created by putting together the two 2-letter clue elements.

12a         Number turned west a moment ago in Scotland (4)
As above, we were left in no doubt of what was needed. The number that ‘turned’ had to be a short one.

13a         Hit arm twisting catgut in Peebles (6)
Our usual comment – the convention of underlining the definition part of the clue on Big Dave’s site probably gives a solver all she/he needs. (Piccadilly is really giving Scotland a look in this week! The Scottish Numpty knew this word.)

15a         Fen reeds scattering spores (8)
It is useful to remember that the thematic cryptic crosswords treat hyphenated words as single words in the given word count.

26a         Gets a few unusual textures (8)
The comment at 13a applies here too. The solution word is fairly obscure

29a          A US soldier gets nothing money-changing (4)
That poor US soldier appears as a couple of letters in at least one cryptic crossword every week. Give him ‘nothing’ and you get an interesting word for ‘money-changing’.

32*a         Touched material (4)
It was clear to the Numpties that we had to solve these four asterisked clues in order to know what the original and cypher text were, so that we could attempt the Playfair code-square. It was a relief, therefore, to find a double definition clue – a word for ‘touched’ had to have a different meaning which was ‘material’.

33a         Denoting branch of English South Carolina quickly rejected (6)
We had no problem with the ‘South Carolina’ part of the clue. The 4-letter ‘quickly rejected’ word is rather more unusual.


2*d          Dog food (4)
As in clue 32*a, we saw that we had a double definition clue and Mrs Bradford gave us a 4-letter dog that could also be ‘food’ (no, I’m not suggesting we eat the poor creature).

7d           Tessa ran naked could be Anna’s _________ (8)
I believe it is the first time we have seen a clue of this type since we began the Numpty hints. You need to remember that ‘could be’ can be an anagram indicator, so you need to equate the two parts of the clue. Piccadilly earned our smile here for the plausible surface-reading that his clue produced with Tessa and Anna being rather bold ladies.

10*d       Expert follows middle of current in rapid tidal flow (4)
We need the usual crossword answer for an expert following the ‘middle’ of current.

22d        Try, if for love, to change (5)
Here you have to change a word for ‘try’ into one for ‘change’ by adjusting some its letters.

24d         Sends out fellow for money, maybe help in identifying suspects (5)
The same device is adopted here as in the previous clue.

25d        Japanese lord put on king’s sealskin boot (5)
We didn’t know this word for a boot but, of course, it is in Mrs Bradford‘s list.

26d         Nail to top of elm tree (4)
The last of the clues to be encoded is as generous as the other three, and, of course, the encoded forms have appeared in the grid so that we now have eight pairs of original letters and the eight they encode to..

You will have found that completing the grid was not too difficult and, like us, you now have eight pairs of letters with their equivalences in cyphertext and just two empty cells in the grid – but how to proceed to find the keyword and decode the title?

proXimal gave us some guidance:

Playfair Guidance
Solving the clues for the four fully-checked, four-letter entries which are Playfair encoded in the grid is crucial for the final code-cracking. These four give the only information required to give you the Playfair grid.

Write the answers above the relevant coded entries on a separate sheet and split each in half to give eight pairs of uncoded letters and the code for each. As the example using BOXING DAY shows, the pairs will be coded either using the corners of rectangles or horizontally or vertically within the same row/column. You should find two pairs where the letters diagonally opposite in uncoded/coded letter pairs are the same — this means these letters could not have been coded using the rectangle method, as the same letter cannot appear in another corner in a rectangle. In fact, working out how these are coded using the vertical/horizontal method will give you a letter trio for each pair, both of which must appear in the grid in that order (albeit possibly going over edges).
You should now have two trios of letters which you know must go together in the Playfair grid. I’d recommend drawing some 5×5 grids and trying the trios in various permutations and see where you think they are approximately likely to be placed. Now look at the remaining letter pairs and their codings, specifically pairings which use letters of the letter trios which you know go together — is there a further pattern in these which repeats and could narrow down possibilities?
General points:
It is more likely that letters at the start of the alphabet will appear in the message or very start of the alphabetical sequence (highly unlikely the last row); letters towards the end of the alphabet will generally appear near the bottom or in the message, unlikely in the middle.
The message is almost certainly going to contain vowel(s).
Use letter frequency to make educated guesses about which letters are more likely in the message.
Try different permutations to disprove them and narrow down potential grids.
Look for an emerging message and what letters might go naturally together and try different alternatives using remaining letter pairings.
Remember the unused letters of the message will appear alphabetically further down, so any permutations contravening this should be disqualified.

Do please send in your entry and add your comments here and to the setters’ blogs that are appearing on Big Dave’s site on Thursdays and to the detailed blogs that also appear on Thursdays on  fifteensquared.

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8 comments on “EV 1490 (Hints)

  1. The end game was pretty tough! The help from proXimal should be gratefully accepted. I found it gave me a cluster of letters that I decided must stand fairly close to each other in the grid and mostly be in the key phrase too, and worked on from there, but there is no one logical path to follow or killer hidden clue that I could see, or a particular reason for the theme. So a challenging finish after a pretty easy grid-fill. That said, all was beautifully and fairly constructed as one would expect from one our premier experienced setters. So thankyou!

  2. A very enjoyable and interesting puzzle. I was pleased to be able to complete it before the Numpties hints were published, but that was only because the grid itself was relatively straightforward. I roped in my daughter, who loves codes and cryptography, to help with the endgame and between us we cracked it, although our brains hurt a bit trying to work out how best to start that section. Many thanks from us too.

  3. Right up my alley! This was my introduction to Playfair squares, so I appreciate that Piccadilly kept the clues relatively relaxed so we could focus on the endgame. I’d be game for more puzzles like this!

    7D takes the top spot on the podium today. Thanks!

  4. I don’t like Playfair codes! 7d made the puzzle worth persevering with, however.

  5. I haven’t come across Playfair codes before so thank you to proXimal for the very helpful guidance. Like others I found the grid to be relatively straightforward for an EV so it was good to have this balanced with a tough endgame.
    Many thanks to Piccadilly for providing an entertaining puzzle and to the Numpties for the hints – I didn’t need them this week but I’m sure that won’t last!

  6. Phew! That was some endgame. I have to say it seemed a bit out of proportion for what is, after all, a crossword, but maybe that’s partly my inexperience with Playfair codes. One needs to remember to work backwards when decoding the unclued entries to complete the grid.
    Thanks to piccadilly, The Numpties [altho’ hints to the clues were hardly needed] and proXimal for valuable guidance on working out the square.

  7. My heart always sinks when I see playfair codes. Don’t like them and don’t really see why you need them in thematic crosswords.

  8. Jeroboam, I have to admit that the Numpties totally agree with you and we would be happy never to encounter another Playfair square in our lives, but, like the Listener numerical crosswords, they seem to attract a numer of aficionados – some of the comments above and some that have come directly to us vouch for that. This one has probably been a great help to those of us who dislike them, becase of proXimal’s additional help.

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