Enigmatic Variations 1555 (Hints)
The Rules of the Game by Ifor
Hints and tips by Phibs
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Ifor has a reputation for producing top-quality puzzles which are neither simple nor mind-bendingly hard and are extremely rewarding to solve. No pressure then, Ifor…
Preamble: All across answers must lose two or more letters to form the real-word entry according to one of three RULES OF THE GAME, applied in order within successive groups of three. The eight clues to three- and four-letter down entries each contain an extra word. Consecutive pairs each share a synonym (sometimes involving obsolete or dialect usage); the four synonyms, all of three or four letters, when taken in clue order form two thematic surnames. The name of the game must be written under the grid. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.
Initially we’ll be blind-solving the across clues and making a note of the answers until we can work out how to enter them, but we do know that (i) the grid entries are real words, and (ii) we can work out their lengths from the number of available cells. Since the order of the letters will not change, this means that in some instances we should be able to take a good guess at the grid entry – if the answer to a clue were REDOLENT and there were six cells available, we could be confident about pencilling in RELENT; LEGATION could lead to LEGION or LEGATO, but in true hokey cokey style we could at least put the LEG in. More good news is that as soon as we solve any down clues (eight of which contain an extra word) we can put the answers straight into the grid. Our best bet is almost certainly going to be a two-pronged attack, trying to solve some clues from both sections so we can start to piece things together. Also, it’s going to be worth marking off the across clues into seven groups of three so that we can look for patterns emerging in, say, the third answer of each set, which may allow us to start modifying and entering more of our stockpiled across answers, remembering again that the entries are real words.
10a Fine rain (dry on the spot) (6)
A 4+2 charade wherein the first element is an alternative spelling of a word shown by Chambers as ‘poetic’ and the second involves one of the many meanings ascribed by that dictionary to a very common word.
12a Shift debt over, ignoring lead of bank in organised spending (8)
A two-part wordplay, the second element involving two changes being made to a word in plain view in the clue.
15a Fisherman casting nets in one river after another (6)
The first river is specific and (approximativement) 777km long; the second is generic and very short indeed.
16a Supporter of penultimate item turning up early in small restaurant (9)
This one might hold you up – the linking word ‘of’ makes the wordplay a little tricky to untangle, but once you ignore it and mentally replace ‘item’ with ‘letter’ all should become clear.
17a Embrace enveloping a Shakespearean prince like spiritual leader (8)
‘Embrace’ is an old meaning of the verb required here (which could also be indicated by ‘fasten’), and the Shakespearean prince contributes the nickname bestowed on him by Falstaff. Remember that in barred puzzles the articles ‘the’ and ‘a/an’ are normally only included in wordplays if they fulfil a function.
25a Nothing but two lines in piece to be played (6)
A two-part (or three-part, depending on how you look at it) charade and a context which suggests that the answer is a piece of music…but it ain’t.
27a Facial hair is to be left in blunder after restyling (8)
At first glance the word ‘is’ might seem just to be linking the definition and the wordplay, but it’s actually a key part of the latter, where substituting ‘to be’ with ‘replaces’ should prove helpful. The answer isn’t given by Chambers in the exact form seen here, but that shouldn’t cause any problems.
33a Join with a greeting, having time for opening exchanges (9)
I would advise ignoring the word ‘with’ (which links definition to wordplay), imagining a comma between ‘opening’ and ‘exchanges’, and mentally removing the first two letters from the last word.
34a Amino acid derivative is synthetic, manufactured without so much base (7)
This time the word ‘is’ does just provide a link, while ‘so much’ must be interpreted as it would be in ‘so much less said, so much sooner mended’. The ‘base’ is that crossword regular which translates into a single letter.
2d* See standard practice previously reversed in area, sometimes with fewer restrictions (4)
The word for ‘practice’ is obsolete (hence ‘previously’) and coincidentally differs only by its central letter from a synonym that is in common, er, employment. The definition might appear to contain an extra word, but the one you need to extract is elsewhere.
4d* Level one restraining inhabitants (4)
The convention of underlining definitions in these hints may be of some small assistance (!) when it comes to identifying the interloper.
6d* Goddess visits disciples, missing set turning up piecemeal (4)
The ‘set’ gives us two letters which must be manipulated twice prior to use, the second operation (indicated by ‘piecemeal’) telling us to consider the letters separately.
9d Flew across deep ravine without waste of effort (11)
The ‘deep ravine’ provides the three-letter form of a word which may be (relatively) more familiar in a four-letter form and with the meaning of ‘waterfall’. Chambers gives ‘across’ as having a possible sense of ‘from side to side of’.
13d Describe conclusion of the series in specific time (9)
While ‘specific time’ and the word it indicates here might appear to be complementary, somewhat counterintuitively they can also be synonymous.
22d Looked up, taking steps in dreary leggings (6)
One wordplay element here is ‘steps in dreary’, wherein you need to interpret ‘steps in’ as something along the lines of ‘regular traces from’.
28d* Refuse tip, missing a good one in bargain (4)
A word which appears in the clue is subjected to three similar but separate deletions.
*extra word in clue
The common features of the answers to be processed using rules 1 and 3 emerged fairly quickly, but until I entered the solution at 23a I (perhaps understandably) hadn’t entirely grasped how rule 2 operated. Regarding the definitions extracted from the down clues, the pair at 2/3 (leading to a three-letter word) are straightforward, and their partners at 4/6 not too tricky (particularly if you’ve already dealt with the first pair). The first definition in the 28/29 pair (which leads to a four-letter word) is the one to focus on, and once you’ve cracked that pair (or you’ve already worked out the theme), the tricky 30/32 pair should yield. If you haven’t recognized the Game from the entry modifications, googling the two surnames will get you over the line and enable you to confirm that you have applied the Rules correctly. Don’t forget to write the name of the game under the grid.
A very clever puzzle, and one of those grids that (because the manipulation occurs pre-fill) is much more impressive than it might immediately seem.
Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾🥾🥾/🥾🥾🥾🥾 (Those new or relatively new to EV may find it hard going, though not impossible. A certain amount of blind-solving is required.)
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