EV 1628 (Hints) – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1628 (Hints)

Enigmatic Variations 1628 (Hints)

Could Be by Jaques

Hints and tips by Phibs

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

I asked Bard, “If you COULD BE a crossword setter or a crossword solver, which would you prefer, and why?” His response made me think that as a setter he might struggle with the 400-ish word limit on an EV composition, since it could hardly be described as terse even after a few sentences have been edited out.

“That’s a fascinating question! While I certainly admire both roles, I believe I’d lean towards being a crossword setter. Here’s why:

Creativity and Innovation: Setting a crossword feels like crafting a miniature world full of intellectual challenges. stimulating.

The Aha! Moment: The joy of setting a clue lies not just in its construction, but in the anticipation of the “aha!” moment when a solver cracks it.

Constant Learning: Creating crosswords requires a vast and ever-expanding knowledge base. You need to be conversant with obscure trivia, wordplay techniques, and historical references to craft truly engaging puzzles. This constant need to delve into new topics and refresh your vocabulary feels enriching and keeps me mentally agile.

Of course, solving crosswords has its own appeal. The thrill of unravelling a complex clue, piecing together the grid bit by bit, and ultimately conquering the entire puzzle is intellectually invigorating. However, I feel the creative process of setting the challenge holds a special kind of satisfaction for me. Ultimately, both setting and solving are valuable parts of the crossword ecosystem. While I’d personally choose the path of creation, I deeply appreciate the dedication and skill of those who tackle the puzzles I (or others) craft.

But who knows, maybe one day I’ll try my hand at both! Perhaps I’ll set a puzzle and then solve it in reverse, just to understand both sides of the coin even better.

Thanks for prompting such an interesting thought experiment!”

What a nice bot!

Preamble: Twelve of the clues are missing a letter that solvers must restore before solving always making a real word and wordplay in twelve further clues gives the defined entry less one
letter. These letters, taken in clue order, COULD BE helpful for the remaining entries, whose clues are otherwise normal. Numbers in brackets indicate the length of entries. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.

It sounds as though we’re dealing with three different types of clue, with there being twelve of each type: (i) clues missing a letter; (ii) clues where the wordplay is deficient by one letter (eg ‘Firm about rent’ for CRISP, C+RIP, missing letter S); and (iii) clues which are normal but where we clearly have to do something with the answer prior to entry – in at least some instances, the grid entry will be a different length from the answer. In this sort of situation I put a couple of column headings like ‘clue’ and ‘wordplay’ alongside the clues, and when I find a missing letter in the clue I write it under the first column, while a letter that the wordplay fails to deliver goes in the second column. This probably isn’t strictly necessary here, since they all seem to contribute to the same message, but it will enable me to make sure I’ve ended up identifying twelve clues of each type. In the first instance, the answers to normal clues will have to be noted down ‘for later’ and a line put through my two columns alongside that clue. We hope to see a pattern emerging with those ‘type (iii)’ answers which will enable us to start entering them in the grid.

Remember when dealing with the type (ii) clues that the term ‘wordplay’ can legitimately describe another definition, so ‘Fish smell’ could be a clue for STENCH (TENCH, letter not delivered by wordplay S).


9a    The old lock’s aluminium is scratched (4)
In the wordplay of this subtractive clue, the idea is that a consecutive pair of letters that one word ‘has’ (ie contains) is removed from it.

13a    African instrument almost crazy sell in Zaire (5)
In missing letter clues, we should be on the lookout for words that could be turned into familiar indicators by the addition of a single letter, eg ‘fist in face’ becoming ‘first in face’, leading to an F in the wordplay (missing letter R)…

20a    Trade unionists not accepted slight suspicion concerning nun (8)
…as well as trying to spot words (often those not regularly seen in clues) which can, with an extra letter, produce a word with a single-letter abbreviation, eg ‘cod’ becoming ‘cold’, leading to a C (missing letter L). In this clue we also need to mentally insert one of those imaginary commas between ‘accepted’ and ‘slight’.

21a    Senior sons adopting material for morning shave acquired from these? (8)
Two abbreviations contribute a total of three letters to the answer, but the main chunk is the name of a type of material associated with…well, a particular time, but not a time of day.

24a    French soldier, private, abused pawn? Oui! (5)
The convention of underlining the definition in these hints should be enough to point solvers in the right direction. The question and exclamation marks can be ignored.

27a    Beginning for many in garden aiding digs? (4)
Certain missing letters can be quite hard to incorporate in clues, and setters will on occasion add a redundant word to the clue simply so that they can remove the desired letter from it, eg ‘Group paced around a mansion’ for SEAT (SET placed around A, missing letter L), where the clue is perfectly sound without the word ‘placed’. An alternative interpretation here is that the intended definition involves not one word but two, with the first qualifying the second, though the result is rather ungainly. Either way, the word formed by adding a letter is the same. In the cryptic reading, ‘garden’ is a verb and relates to the use of a particular tool.

32a    Extremely huge eight taken from oyster beds in large tank (7)
The note against 13a is equally applicable here. The oyster beds share their spelling with a word that might be indicated by ‘worries’ or ‘casseroles’.


1d    Power still harder for Scots (4)
In clues with gimmicks, setters will sometimes find themselves needing to stretch definitions close to breaking point. One word of the definition here has to have a letter added before being pre-processed into another word which has the required (figurative) sense; only then can the whole be seen as an indication of the answer.

4d    Peered at fish in the ea (4)
It’s not obvious as it stands, but this is a homophone clue.

5d    Liqueur additive and spirit’s aid to preservation? (9)
The ‘spirit’ is a familiar, three-letter one, while the ‘preservation’ is of health, or perhaps even life.

6d    Ample fluid cutting opening in major op (4)
The key to this one is spotting that the second word is an anagram indicator.

7d    Combustion engine finally sitting under cross belt (6)
The ‘cross’ most often found in cryptics is the offspring of a yak and a cow (sadly not a ‘yow’) that has various spellings, the two-letter version being the most useful to setters. The word ‘sitting’ can be ignored.

14d    Seconds after EU returns SNP’s to scratch independence, a source of irritation? (8)
Although the wording of the clue might suggest otherwise, the four wordplay elements combine in the order B + C + D + A, with B being reversed. The “SNP’s” is there to indicate that the word meaning ‘to scratch’ is Scottish.

16d    Reorders broken old fireback (9)
There are two equally valid answers here, associated with different missing letters. I initially guessed that the absentee was an A, but I was wrong.

28d    Pats heap’s quantity of dry goods (4)
There’s an anagram indicator in play here, although it’s not on view in the clue as written – Chambers gives it as a noun only, which would normally rule it out for such a role, but in practice it’s often used attributively.

Definitions in clues are underlined

Once we’ve established how to enter those ‘type (iii)’ answers and filled the grid, our work is done.

A puzzle where all the difficulty lay in dealing with the three different clue types. When the secret of the type (iii)’s was revealed, all became clear. I can only reinforce the message provided by the missing letters.

Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾🥾/🥾🥾🥾 (Not a trivial grid-fill, )

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3 comments on “EV 1628 (Hints)
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  1. Fortunately the penny dropped about a third of the way thro’ but that didn’t make solving the clues a great deal easier. Pretty tough and a bit of a slog.
    Thanks to Jaques and to Phibs for valuable help.

  2. Almost completed the grid (with help from Phibs) before gaining a vague notion of what was helpful for the remaining entries, and after investigating a biblical red herring (see Chambers), the rather more obvious answer to the 24 letter message finally leapt out at me. I will take appropriate action now … and start on 1629.

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