EV 1621 (Hints) – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1621 (Hints)

Enigmatic Variations 1621 (Hints)

Playing the Game by Kcit

Hints and tips by Phibs

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

We have a novelty here – the first EV puzzle I have ever seen where the title doesn’t feature as a single phrase in the preamble. Anyway, I asked Bard “What might be the theme of a crossword called ‘Playing the Game’ which involves two-digit numbers?” His response was swift, extensive and…no help at all.  I sensed that Bard’s sort of game was the electronic kind (tennis is probably a little beyond him at the moment), since he came up with stuff like:

♦ Power-ups: Temporary enhancements or advantages gained in a game, often represented by two-digit numbers indicating the duration or effectiveness of the power-up.

♦ Lifelines: Additional chances or opportunities provided to players to avoid losing or improve their chances of winning, often represented by two-digit numbers indicating the number of available lifelines.

I just hope this puzzle is more fun than Bard’s version.

Preamble: Each of the 25 2×2 blocks into which the grid could be partitioned is to be assigned a number by adding up its four letters on the A=1, B=2…Z=26 basis. Clues are in alphabetical order of answers which must be fitted in where they will go. Each clue contains a redundant word, to be removed before solving. A two-digit number can be derived from each pair of clues, in the presented order, using the lengths of the redundant words: if the first clue of a pair yields PLAYING, and the second GAME, the number is 74. Solvers should cross off the 2×2 blocks containing these numbers. There are three possible names for the GAME hidden in the grid; solvers must highlight the one in a completed row, column or diagonal of 2×2 blocks. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.

So we don’t need to concern ourselves with the two-digit numbers at this stage, just the fact that we have to remove a word from each clue before solving it (the cryptic reading will not ‘work’ while the stowaway is still in place), and note the length of the removed word next to each clue.

For ‘remove a word’ clues, I often recommend trying to identify words that look out of place in a crossword clue; here, however, the only significance of each stowaway is its length, so the setter has an enormous range of possibilities to choose from. Therefore we should be looking for words that enhance, quite possibly deceptively, the surface reading of the clue – something like ‘start of race’ for R might become ‘start of bike race’, with the BIKE being removed and yielding the number 4. It’s fair to assume that the stowaway will not exceed nine characters in length, but that won’t narrow the field down much.

Don’t be put off by the lack of clue numbers, because we’ve got all the bars, and – importantly – the clues are presented in alphabetical order of their answers. The usual approach in these situations is to focus on the long answers which intersect each other – here this applies to both the four nine-letter solutions and the four seven-letter ones; if you can get at least three of the answers to either group, or a mix of nines and sevens, you should be able to work out how they fit into the grid. There is an alternative method if the clues to the shorter answers prove easier to solve. The two across entries on the top row share their first cells with down entries – this means that for the second one, say, there must be a four-letter answer and a six-letter answer which have the same first letter, and because of the alphabetical ordering their clues will be in relatively close proximity – so if you can find a (4) and a (6) that are close together in the clue list, they could well relate to those two lights, and if their first letters turn out to be the same, then it becomes even more likely.

Remember also that if, say, the answer to the fifth clue is CHIPS and to the seventh is COD, the sixth clue must lead to an answer that begins with C, with the rest of it falling alphabetically between HIPS and OD.


Clue 7    Bad dog seizing a rare seabird (5)
If you’re using an old version of Chambers you may find that the bird in question has failed to land there. Once superabundant in Bermuda, then thought to be extinct due to predation and habitat loss, eighteen nesting pairs were discovered in 1951; the bird is deemed to be the second rarest seabird on the planet, behind only the magenta petrel.

Clue 8    Drunken sot leaving Central American state fruit tree unharmed (6)
A proper name is deprived of the rearranged letters of a word in the clue.

Clue 10    Chromium, loose, molten – boiling oily liquid (7)
It might appear that there is ambiguity over which of two consecutive words is the stowaway, but in this type of clue what is left after the removal of a word may not have a meaningful surface reading, but it must be cryptically sound – and that includes punctuation. So in ‘first to stop scratching’ for S, the stowaway could be ‘stop’ or ‘scratching’, but in ‘first to stop, scratching’ it can only be ‘scratching’, leaving ‘first to stop’, since ‘first to, scratching’ makes no sense cryptically.

Clue 13    Mushroom, fairly distributed around, retaining silver cap (9, two words)
Often a ‘mushroom’ in a clue translates to CEP, but here it is the definition; the ‘around’ in the wordplay leads to a single-letter abbreviation.

Clue 16    Written text on record cited charge between rugby posts (9)
I hadn’t previously seen ‘rugby posts’ used to indicate one or more occurrences of a particular (capital) letter, and perhaps strictly speaking they should be ‘goals’. Anyway, two sets (complete with crossbars) contain a 1+3+3 charade indicated by three single-word elements.

Clue 17    Legislature beginning to head home over exploitation (5)
Here the ambiguity is real, but it doesn’t matter since both potential stowaways in the 1+1+3 charade are the same length.

Clue 20    Art-song was seriously heartless (4)
With just four words, including the stowaway, it’s a fair guess that ‘was’ will play an active part in the wordplay by leading to another word.

Clue 21    Something in Socrates, not initially awfully funny, runs on (7)
The wordplay elements contribute 4, 1 and 2 letters respectively to the answer, the definition of which puzzled me slightly – ‘Something in Aristotle’ might be more precise.

Clue 22      Musical symbols not decided in advance? Not entirely (5)
The flexibility around the choice of the extra word means that the setter, should they so please, can mess with our heads by adding a word which appears to reverse the meaning of another word or phrase. Here the setter so pleases.

Clue 25    Wet, frequently warm in Seychelles (5)
One of the classic methods of misdirection is to use a word which fulfils one grammatical function in the surface reading but a completely different one in the cryptic reading, eg ‘solid ground’ for IDOLS.

Clue 27    Man noted speed: London police picked up Petty Officer (5)
The underlining is probably enough of a hint here. As a point of interest, while in the right circumstances ‘picked up’ can be a reversal, homophone or containment indicator, it can’t here mean that the London police are containing the Petty Officer, as indicators in the past tense are not allowed – ‘Chap picks up one’, ‘Chap picking up one’, ‘Chap will pick up one’ or ‘One picked up by chap’ are all ok for MAIN, but ‘Chap picked up one’ is not, because it describes something that happened in the past and does not continue into the present.

Definitions in clues are underlined

Having filled the grid, we need to group the lengths of the stowaways into 14 pairs and write down the resulting two-digit numbers. We can then add up the letter ‘scores’ of each 2×2 block in the grid – if the total matches one of our numbers, we will put a cross through that block and also tick off the number. We should end up with 14 blocks crossed off and no numbers unaccounted for. By this point you will probably have worked out what the game is – remember that the name to be highlighted is the one that appears in a completed row, column or diagonal of 2×2 blocks.

Despite the ‘extra word’ gimmick, the clues were friendly for the most part, and the small grid meant that getting the first few answers in place was less challenging than it can sometimes be with this sort of puzzle.

Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾🥾/🥾🥾🥾 (One of those that might look daunting but is relatively straightforward)

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2 comments on “EV 1621 (Hints)
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  1. Unnumbered clued crosswords always look daunting, even if the answers are in alphabetical order. Here, though, the clues for most part are quite generous. It was working out how to complete the task that required a bit of thinking.
    What an ingenious and appropriate way to complete it though. A pleasure
    Thanks to Kcit and Phibs.

  2. As Steve says, the clues were generous – and the a-z presentation more or less compensated for the lack of checkers. The process of crossing off numbered blocks was straightforward and the 3 names relatively easy to spot. But it is only once one realises that one has been “playing the game” all along that the cleverness of the puzzle is revealed.
    Thanks to Kcit and Phibs.

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