Enigmatic Variations 1561 (Hints)
Thirtieth Anniversary by proXimal
Hints and tips by Phibs
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The Enigmatic Variations series was started by James Leonard (RUSTIC) in 1992. The first puzzle was published on 18th October of that year – entitled GREETINGS, the perimeter of the completed grid contained the message ‘WELCOME TO THE NEW SUNDAY TELEGRAPH PRIZE CROSSWORD’. Leonard edited the puzzle from its inception until his death in 2013, at which point Chris Lancaster (SAMUEL) took over the responsibility. When Chris moved on in 2019, the current editor, Steve Bartlett aka proXimal, took over.
Preamble: To celebrate the EV’s THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY, clues are given as ‘Threes’ and ‘Zeroes’. Answers to clues under the heading ‘Threes’ are entered as jumbles in the shape of the figure three, comprising the three numbered cells indicated and the column of five cells to the right of those; clues under the heading ‘Zeroes’ are entered around the indicated number, clockwise or anticlockwise, beginning anywhere. Letters in the 30 numbered cells must spell out two relevant two-word phrases (one in the upper half and one in the lower half), reading in conventional manner. The twelve corner cells could spell RUSTIC and SAMUEL. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.
The preamble is succinct and clear – essentially we have an Eightsome Reels puzzle using the ‘Zeroes’ clues, but in order to populate the 30 numbered ‘hub’ cells we have to solve the ‘Threes’ clues. I did take a look at a couple of the latter to confirm that they were reasonably tractable, but the only sensible way forward that I could see was to treat this as a puzzle of two halves. Firstly, we must use the Zeroes clues to complete the grid apart from the 30 numbered cells. Secondly, we must solve each Threes clue in order to establish the ‘missing’ three letters that must go into those cells – so for 1/6/11 if the answer to the clue were CIRCULAR and the five cells forming the backbone of the ‘3’ were ACLIR, we would know that the cells 1, 6 and 11 will contain C, R and U. In what order? We have no idea – until we get to the endgame we can only put CRU against the three cells.
When it comes to the first part of the solve, the clues have to be relatively straightforward in order to compensate for the initial lack of structure, so once you’ve got started things gradually become (at least a little) easier. To gain that initial toehold, one needs first of all to blind solve the clues to two adjoining ‘reels’ – let’s assume that they are side by side, and the solutions are TWISTING and CURTSIED. The three consecutive shared letters are IST/TSI, so there are only two ways these can be entered (below). The fact that the shared letters are reversed in the second solution means that the entries will both run clockwise or both anticlockwise (if they were in the same sequence, eg TWISTING/BRISTLED, then one will run clockwise and the other anticlockwise).
Once we have filled the unnumbered squares, stage 1 is complete and our attention turns to those Zeroes. We have five letters that form part of each answer, though in no particular order, so by solving the clue we can determine the missing three, which at this point we should either write against the clue or pencil into each of the relevant cells as ‘a/b/c’.
3/8/13 American author from Alabama welcomed by bard, perhaps
The element indicated by ‘bard, perhaps’ could equally well have been given by ‘Elvis, perhaps’ or ‘Tina Turner, perhaps’.
4/9/14 Recovered those swimming away from Outer Hebrides at sea
The two anagram indicators in this subtractive anagram clue are ‘swimming’ and ‘at sea’. The covering that is being repeated usually involves earth.
16/21/26 Live species split and scattered out of the Ark
A three-part, 2+2+4, charade leads to a word which whilst not literally ‘out of the Ark’ has not seen active service since the nineteenth century.
18/23/28 Child crossing cycling lane finds black garnet
Two elements of equal length take part in the wordplay, the one that is ‘cycling’ already being on view in the clue, while ‘crossing’ is used in its sense of ‘to pass from one side to the other of’. The word ‘finds’ is there solely to link the wordplay to the definition.
3 Dye enveloping a river is defilement
The ‘dye’ here indicates a four-letter word (verb or noun, take your pick), while the ‘river’ runs through Wensleydale. Remember that in barred puzzles the indefinite article normally only appears in a wordplay if it has an active role in it.
5 Alleged unionist shot former president (two words)
Here we are looking not for a president of the USA (although I spent a while seeking just such a one), rather the man who twice blocked Britain’s entry into the EEC, as it was then.
8 Rabbit circling the boxes lacking access points
The ‘Rabbit’ is of the type that Chas and Dave sang about (“with your incessant talking, you’re becoming a pest”), while resolving ‘the boxes’ is best done by finding a four-letter synonym for ‘the box’ and then putting an S on the end.
18 Four inside property pass summer lethargically in LA
The ‘in LA’ qualifying the definition indicates that we are looking for an American spelling lacking the initial letter of its nine-letter counterpart in British English.
22 Bounders from Spain hosted by bishop wearing robes
A bit of a Matryoshka clue, the smallest wordplay element being contained by the next up in size which is itself contained by the largest element.
27 Sound and smell around in class
The smell here is the sort that is almost invariably associated with wine, while ‘class’ is a verb with the meaning ‘rank’.
28 No second choice for mineral
The last element of the three-part charade here is an adjective equating to ‘choice’ (or ‘exclusive’).
29 Drop off letter from ambassador, this oddly lodged in recess
In this clue, the ‘ambassador’ indicates the two-letter abbreviation for the title of respect accorded to such a personage, and ‘oddly’ tells us to extract the letters in the odd-numbered positions from an adjoining word. This particular recess is likely to be found in a church.
30 Hiding primarily in cave, bats are apt to bask in sun rarely
A tricky one to parse, where a six-letter wordplay element is ‘hiding’ a two-letter fragment extracted from words within the clue. The solution is given by Chambers as ‘rare’.
That’s stage 2 done with. Now for the fun bit – we need to write out each of the three-letter combinations for one of the phrases (so 1/6/11 to 5/10/15 for the first one or 16/21/26 to 20/25/30 for the second) and start looking at possible options for the first few letters. While there are 243 choices just for the first five, many of these can be discounted immediately – Wordle regulars may be at an advantage here. If the groups were L/G/O, T/A/R, E/M/E, S/O/A and F/P/T, the first pair could only be LA, GR, GA, OT or OR, and progressing from there the only likely option for the first five would be GREAT, leaving L/O, T/A, E/M, S/O and F/P for the remaining rows. You should find that both the first rows here yield similarly few likely options (but bear in mind that the first word may run into the second row), and working out the remainder of each phrase should prove relatively straightforward.
I’m sure that James Leonard would have approved of this puzzle, and been pleased to find that his brainchild was still in good health after 30 years, albeit somewhat bruised by recent events. Some very nice (and, in general, not too taxing) clues made for an entertaining solve. I was a little concerned when it seemed that a recent Prime Minister was starting to emerge in the first phrase, but that proved to be a false alarm. I thought that the unchecked corner letters spelling out RUSTIC and SAMUEL was a lovely touch, as was the inclusion of a relevant name at the end of the fifth row. A very fine puzzle that I suspect took some time to construct.
Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾🥾🥾/🥾🥾🥾🥾 (A good deal of blind or semi-blind solving is required. No great mental leaps are necessary, but none of the stages is trivial)
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