EV 1597 Hints – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1597 Hints

Enigmatic Variations 1597 (Hints)

Illumination by Vagans

Hints and tips by Phibs

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

I believe that we may be dealing here with an episcopus vagans, or wandering bishop. My usual source of information on all things historical is 1066 and All That, but it appears to be silent on this subject. However, what I have gleaned from other sources is that the Middle Ages engendered a Wave of Wandering Bishops, deflocked clerics who considered domus to be wherever their mitres came to rest. The Sitting Bishops, who were trained to recognize a crook at a hundred ells, declared their itinerant counterparts parsonae non gratae and united against them under the banner nolo episcopari (‘no nasty episcopalians’), mercilessly moving them on using crosiers especially sharpened for the purpose. The Wandering Bishops were thus a Bad Thing, whose only lasting legacy is the expression ‘long time no see’.

Preamble: Solvers are invited to find ILLUMINATION in a crucial page in a historic book of evidence which has been damaged. Unclued entries name the book’s title (four words) and four key witnesses (one in short), all to be highlighted along with 34 other cells whose letters are omitted in the wordplay of their clues (in five cases causing its total loss). Blocks of adjacent cells naming symbols of each witness, one in each quarter, must be highlighted (16 cells total) and their illustrations optionally restored. Single extra characters in 17 otherwise normal clues confirm the page’s location. Chamber’s Dictionary (2016) is recommended.

So we’ve got six unclued entries, which can wait till later. The wordplay in a bunch of clues is either deficient or, in five instances, completely absent – note that, in practice, where the wordplay is partial, the part that is indicated remains undivided in the answer, ie ‘English departed’ (->ED) could be the wordplay for FED but not END. I decided to enter the unindicated letters in lower case so that I could readily keep track of them. 17 further clues include an additional character (the choice of word is significant) that must be removed before solving – note here that, contrary to normal practice, the removal of the character does not always leave a real word. You will find that there remains just one clue which is gimmick-free.


16a    Heraldic flower girl (4)
There’s clearly a single letter not accounted for by the wordplay here, but the ‘Some first names’ section of Chambers confirms that there are two valid options for that letter – it turns out to be the earlier one in the alphabet.

17a    Scots scrape distinction (5)
There are two possible answers to this one, the correct one requiring the ‘Scots scrape’ to produce four letters.

18a    Cate’s cross, and sozzled after fool’s return (5)
The imposter isn’t difficult to deal with, but the two-letter word indicated by ‘sozzled’ is less obvious – it’s given by Chambers as slang for ‘on the way to being drunk’, which is perhaps not quite the same thing, officer.

19a    Humblest local river retreat (7)
The ‘local river’ is a barred puzzle staple, while the ‘retreat’ is the sort that birds might be found occupying.

28a    Refresh memory of AI? (6)
The (brief) wordplay here leads to a slightly whimsical (hence the question mark) 1-4 description of something possessing artificial intelligence.

34a    Squeaking sound of runt found in cloudy Kenya (5)
In ‘extra letter’ clues it’s always worth looking for words not often seen in crosswords which can lose a letter to produce a word with a single-letter abbreviation, eg ‘chard’ -> ‘hard’ (=H). In this clue we also have a couple of less common abbreviations, the IVR one including reference to the part of the continent wherein Kenya is found.

35a    Mexican dish closing appeal for Spanish donkey (5)
Another option open to setters for accommodating the extra letter is to add it to an indicator, eg ‘misusing’ for ‘missing’ (extra U). The appeal is of the sort exuded by Clara Bow in the 1927 film of the same name.

36a    Sullen gourmand no longer teetotal working (4)
The wordplay involves a subtraction, indicated by ‘no longer’, of the form (A – (B + C)).

39a    Rand reportedly freed from fibrous growth (6)
It’s quite rare to find an imposter in an extra letter clue that turns out to be the subject of a homophone. When checking your answer, you’ll need to look at the definition in Chambers not of the adjective but of the verb from which it derives, since it is the past participle thereof.


3d    Some items lack magnetic unit (5)
The combination of extra letter and deficient wordplay gimmicks carries a high risk of ambiguity in ‘hiddens’. My first thought was that this clue was of the latter type, but it turned out to be the former (the answer being the same either way).

5d    Zeta 5th in French rank? The opposite (4)
I mentioned that in some instances the loss of a character from the imposter left a non-word, and this is a case in point. ‘The opposite’ here tells us that we should interpret the preceding ‘X in Y’ as ‘Y in X’.

6d    Problem arising in competition puzzle 8 (6)
The ‘competition’ word can also describe a busy person.

7d    Dash beneath floor endlessly leaking (6)
While ‘endlessly’ would usually suggest the lack of a conclusion, here it indicates the loss of both the first and last letters from another non-word.

25d    Summer child forward in embrace of Alderaan princess (7)
The word for ‘forward’ has made previous appearances in the wordplays for 18 and 36. If you only know one Alderaan princess, or even one extraterrestrial princess, then you’re ok.

26d    Trick last adults playing children’s games (7)
‘Trick’ leads to a verb, while ‘last’ produces an abbreviation.

Definitions in clues are underlined

The unclued entries will suggest themselves at some point during the solve, and the precise source material should be readily identifiable even without the 17-letter locator. Finding the symbols should prove relatively straightforward – there are three possibilities to look for in the SW corner, but the one that is required will be easily spotted. Don’t forget to highlight the unclued entries and the symbols and the letters not indicated by wordplay (converting them to upper-case if like me you initially entered them in lower-case). Should you wish to visually enhance the end product, the preamble gives you licence to display your artistic flair; but if, like me, your painting skills are confined to the Dulux colour palette, then you can ignore that step.

The two clue gimmicks made this tricky to start with, but once the pattern for the ‘defective wordplay’ entries became clear the solving process was simplified.

Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾🥾 (Suitable for all except those new to themed puzzles)

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6 comments on “EV 1597 Hints
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  1. This looked way too complicated at first reading of the the preamble, but once I got going the clues were fair enough to identify either missing or extra letters. Identifying the subject fairly early on helped a lot, providing extra letters.
    However, after identifying the four symbols I am unsure what is meant by restoring the illustrations. As this is optional I may pass on this.
    Many thanks to Vagans and for the helpful hints required for some clues

  2. At first I felt the same way about it as Steve [above] and agree that the generous clueing helped make it more “doable”. The identities of the book and the witnesses and the pattern of highlighting emerged fairly early and helped fill the grid. I found the end game a bit of a struggle, even tho’ I knew broadly what the end result should be [assuming I’ve got it right]. The call number generated by extra characters is very sensitive to spacing in Google – the desired result emerged only when I entered it without spaces. And it’s a pity the 16 characters for the symbols can’t maintain symmetry, but it’s still a nice representation.
    Thanks to Vagans and to Phibs for the hints and the hilariously apt introduction.

  3. Well, I filled the grid and got the witnesses and their symbols but maybe life’s a bit too short for the rest? Thanks to Vagans and Phibs.

  4. Very enjoyable, as was the introduction. Phibs – I’m struggling a little to understand your end / fed illustration. I can’t see anything in the preamble to rule out the idea that any word containing E and D in that order, adjacent or otherwise, might be clued in this fashion (ignoring issues around fairness) by “(definition) English departed”. For example, if the highlighting were to reveal “men are from mars…” then “correct English departed” could give EmenD. Or have I misunderstood?

    1. Thanks, Ifor. Mea culpa. The bit you mention was intended as a hint rather than an interpretation, but the example made no sense – there is only a single unindicated string in FED and in END! It now reads “…note that, in practice, where the wordplay is partial, the part that is indicated remains undivided in the answer…” The ambiguity in 12a was in my mind for the purposes of the example, but the accompanying words were less than helpful!

  5. Thanks, Phibs. Evidently we can each see and agree with what the other was saying. “In practice” clearly distinguishes my general point from your puzzle-specific one.

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