Enigmatic Variations 1550 (Hints)
Elementary Solutions by A FEW
Hints and tips by Phibs
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The culmination of a month of puzzles that put the ‘eco’ into recondite decoding features a preamble and four preamblets, and is surely the work of a consortium.
Main Preamble: Each quadrant represents one of five ELEMENTARY SOLUTIONS; solvers must determine which quadrant each set belongs to. Clues are in normal order within each group. All entries except one at every stage are real words or names. Initial answers may not fit the space allocated. Solvers must highlight four examples of the fifth solution, each spanning two quadrants (16 cells). Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.
On first read through I somehow managed to overlook the sentence “Clues are in normal order within each group.” This means that the first six clues in each set of twelve will relate to the six across entries, top to bottom (there being one per row), and the last six will lead to the down entries, top to bottom, left to right (so, for instance, the last down entry in the NW quadrant is the three-letter one in column 4). Also, the differing layouts of each quadrant mean that for sets A, F and W, where all across answers except the last in A are entered normally, getting just a couple of these may be sufficient for identification, eg if the first two across solutions in a set are 5 and 6 letters respectively, that set must belong in the NE quadrant.
Clearly the solver needs to treat each set of clues as a puzzle in its own right. Wondering where best to start, I gave all four a quick once-over: E was quickly rejected (a good decision) since the answers to several clues weren’t going to fit in the grid, and I settled on W, although in retrospect sets A or F would probably have been easier options – they’ve all got to be tackled sometime, though!
Set A: The last Across answer must be reduced before entry, creating a non-word. The process to get from the change to the unclued entry depends upon certain “factories” to be discovered from consecutive misprints, occurring once in the definition part of each Down clue
So – normal across clues with one oversized answer (6th ac), and down clues with misprints limited to the definitions (which as usual are underlined in these hints). We’re told that the misprinted letters (ie the ones discarded) are those that we need to keep track of.
2nd ac Note: a cry or two of pain, catcalls?
A three-element charade, ‘cry or two of pain’ being used somewhat counterintuitively to indicate a plural.
1st dn Captain is coming up: maybe something goop?
The impostor isn’t hard to spot, but identifying the ‘Captain’ may require at least a nodding acquaintance with the works of Jules Verne.
3rd dn Continue to stand by daughter with a criminal tape
The wordplay includes a two-word phrase meaning ‘continue’, while ‘to stand by’ and ‘with’ link the three elements together.
6th dn Dusk sees me in Kent?
‘Kent?’ here translates to the compass point denoting that county’s position within England.
Solving the second and third across clues enabled me to position this set in the grid. Neither the reduced entry nor the unclued one should give too much trouble.
Set F: Single misprints in each clue need correcting before solving: the middle four corrections give a problem. Changing one to the letter it corrected gives a solution (12) involving a clearing process, to be exemplified by replacing one entry with a word formed from corrections to obelised clues.
Each clue has a misprint in wordplay or definition, and changes to the grid will be made after the initial fill. Here the letters to note down are the corrections (ie the ones introduced).
1st ac Herd of cattle tucking into brush, mostly tangled undergrowth
Spotting a potential impostor which could turn into a crossword regular (eg ‘start’, ‘rear’ etc) is the key to solving this one, but it’s been craftily disguised.
3rd ac Medic wearing apothecary’s coat, once patched
There’s a two-step decryption required in the wordplay – first you need to think of a common synonym for ‘medic’, then that synonym must be reduced to a two-character abbreviation.
2nd dn Suction voided airship’s exhaust
Again, we need to spot the ‘regular’ that’s been camouflaged, this time one with a single-letter abbreviation.
4th dn Quips about Queen’s cavalry?
We are looking for an uncommon meaning of the corrected word here, leading to a form of a verb often indicated in crosswords by ‘free’; the definition is of a very general sort (hence the ‘?’).
6th dn Very stale
A double-definition clue: in the first sense the answer is typically prefixed to ‘good’ or ‘cool’ by hip folk, particularly in the US, to describe something rather splendid.
The rubric will make sense when you’ve filled the grid and identified the corrections. Five obelised clues mean five letters, so identifying the entry to be replaced should be no problem.
Set E: Each clue includes two extra letters (not always consecutive), to be removed before solving, leaving real words. Solvers must deduce which four pairs to install where space allows (initially empty cells in entries from obelised clues) and which pairs not to use.
The only option here is to solve as many clues as possible and enter any answers that are the right length for the available cells. It looks as though we could end up with four empty cells which will accommodate the four selected pairs. I guessed that the two letters would always be taken from the same word, but there proved to be one exception (3rd dn).
2nd ac Informal shirt tail in audience
One of two clues where the removed letters are in the same word but non-consecutive. I’ve written before about ‘lost letter’ clues sometimes featuring an impostor which must be reduced to just a pair of letters (eg mine/mi, laid/ad), and this is an example. ‘In audience’ comes to the same thing cryptically as the more familiar ‘for audience’.
3rd ac Hear boy’s outside Ian’s to gatecrash
It’s not unusual for setters to use ‘bee’ to indicate B or ‘see’ to indicate C, but misprinted clues like these provide the opportunity for rarely-seen names of letters to make an appearance, the one here certain to draw approval from any pirates who are tackling the puzzle.
4th ac Victor blocks old Nato fleet that’s passing
Another clue where the impostor must be cut down to just two letters, the resultant word combining with ‘old’ to indicate a three-letter component. The required meaning of the answer is shown by Chambers as ‘archaic’, hence “that’s passing”.
6th ac Lawmakers for Empire, Ocean and Waves
The letters are lost consecutively from a word in the definition, while all three words in the wordplay are involved in delivering two constituents of equal length.
2nd dn Thrills with winning serve under pressure
The other clue that loses two separate letters from a single word; the answer (a verb or a noun) and the ‘winning serve’ enabled me to work back to the first part of the wordplay and thus identify the letters to be omitted.
3rd dn Olives: rinse, oddly not pickled
Here’s the one where the letters are removed from two separate words (which are as far apart as they could be). The answer is a very short word indeed.
5th dn Pasta (no starter) and soda served up for nine
Another ‘four-become-two’ impostor, the pair that remains being ‘served up’ to follow the starter-free pasta.
Not any easy set by any means. If you’ve got the correct letter pairs written in sequence, separating the good from the bad is straightforward; if it doesn’t seem so, you may have got something wrong. There’s no special significance to the words formed by the deployment of the four pairs.
Set W: Down answers are modified enabling completion of the unclued entry to show the reversal of a current process.
We can enter across answers, but we need to hold down ones back until we can see how to modify them.
2nd ac Brown pile of grains reduced
Mentally replacing ‘pile’ with ‘mound’ might help here; ‘reduced’ is used cryptically in the sense of ‘curtailed’.
4th ac Baby once affected let loose in shelter
When Chambers describes a word as an ‘old-fashioned affectation’ this gives the setter something of a challenge! The ‘shelter’ is a crossword regular.
2nd dn Some points capturing good colours
The ‘Some’ here is a distraction which can safely be ignored, while the ‘points’ could perhaps be linked to a harrowing experience.
3rd dn Mum grasps trim scythe handle
One of the words in this clue is an interjection which translates into a two-letter word of similar meaning.
5th dn Brush small pipe
The wordplay here comprises an abbreviation not given by Chambers (but in common use) and a verb masquerading in the surface reading as a noun.
Once you’ve entered some across solutions and solved a couple of down clues you should start to get a pretty good idea of how the down entries must be modified in order to fit with the crossers and ‘enable completion of the unclued entry’.
Having completed all four mini-puzzles, the shaded central squares will tell you what to look for, each example spanning a different pair of quadrants; the NW/NE one may be less familiar than the others, although it regularly turns up in crosswords. If you can find four that consist of 16 letters in total, then you can highlight them with confidence – there’s no potential for ambiguity. You may have noticed that the four letters making up the setters’ alias represent the four things traditionally considered Elementary; the substance in the centre is viewed similarly in a particular philosophy.
Thus my month at the helm comes to an end. One overarching theme, but individual puzzles of considerably varying difficulty, 172 misprints in clues, and some very clever grid construction. I’ve enjoyed my apprenticeship, and I hope that I’ve pitched the hints at around the right level (all feedback gratefully received).
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