EV 1581 Hints – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1581 Hints

Enigmatic Variations 1581 (Hints)

Aircon by Ifor

Hints and tips by Phibs

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

Ifor is a name of Welsh origin, meaning ‘archer’, and also the label given to the Implementation Force, a NATO-led multinational peace enforcement unit deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1995 and 1996 under the codename Operation Joint Endeavour. However, I suspect that the alias assumed by today’s setter owes more to the Deefor Dog, Ellfor Leather and Peefor Pleasure school of nomenclature. Let’s hope we’re not dealing with Ifor Impenetrable…

Preamble: One answer in each row must have one letter wherever it appears moved to the right-hand column to name one AIRCON. Solvers must highlight 11 cells showing the AIRCON next door plus three showing his possession and connect a further seven in a closed loop to show his repetitive activity. All down clues contain an extra letter; in clue order they name three missing people. One cell contains two letters; numbers count cells available. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.

We can ignore the second sentence for the moment, but everything else is relevant to the grid fill. At the outset we can’t enter across answers which don’t fit (except in specific circumstances), so we’ll just have to keep note of them, along with the difference in length between the answer and the number of cells available (shown in brackets); if the difference is one, then the letter to be moved occurs only once in the answer, but if it is two, then it is a letter that appears twice which must be omitted and written (once only) in the right-hand column. Where the difference is two and only one letter occurs twice in the answer, then we know exactly what’s required – eg if there are five cells for the answer STUNTED, the entry must be SUNED and a T must be placed in the separated column. If as the solve progresses we find that there is one letter too many in an answer and based on the crossers we have a pair of letters for a single unchecked cell (eg answer SHIFT, four cells available, checkers leave S?FT), then we will have to put an ‘either/or’ in the right-hand column (in the example, H/I) and work out which letter stays and which moves based on the name which emerges in that column – as it turns out, this happens in four instances. For rows with two entries, if you find the oversized answer then the other one must be normal, and vice versa; rows 3, 6, 8 and 11 contain only one entry, so the answers relating to these must all be oversized.

We need to remove a letter from all the down clues before solving them, but the answers we get can be put straight into the grid. Intriguingly, there’s a cell that will contain two letters. Chances are it’s going to be in a down entry, so we need to be on the lookout for an answer that’s one letter too long for the available cells – we won’t be able to enter it, though, until we’ve got some crossers.


1a    Inhaler provided inside mostly free with emptied shot (7)
Disentangling the wordplay here requires some mental effort – the first word therein delivers two letters, the last is an anagram indicator, and each word has an active part to play.

17a    Duck appear, having mark behind the head (4)
The wordplay here demonstrates a novel way of indicating the movement within a word of a single letter, in this instance the abbreviation for a pre-euro currency.

20a    Living in mud in French region (6)
You might suspect that the ‘in’ is there to link the wordplay to the definition, but it isn’t. An alternative wordplay for the answer would be ‘large, luxurious car cut short’.

32a   Steep estimate (4)
A double definition clue, but not an easy one. In the first sense of ‘[to] steep’ or ‘soak’, the word is usually spelt with three letters and is something of a setters’ favourite. The second meaning should be more familiar.

34a    Doctrine embraced by independent case rendered free from earthly disturbances (6)
A single-letter abbreviation is part of the anagram fodder, and the three-letter word for a doctrine is much more often seen as a suffix at the end of the names of specific doctrines.

37a    Gad about in presumption exactly what one’s looking for grabs first place (8)
This time the ‘in’ should be ignored. The ‘presumption’ leads to a four-letter word and the last eight words generate the remaining five letters of the answer.

40a    Elderly bully rejected opening medicine in story heartlessly adapted (8)
There are quite a few qualifiers that can be applied to indicate that words or meanings are shown by Chambers as ‘obsolete’ or ‘archaic’, and ‘elderly’ is such a one. Chambers doesn’t give ‘reject’ as meaning ‘to throw back’ (OED shows this sense as ‘rare’) but here the name of a drug which certainly could result in loosening (ie ‘opening medicine’) is reversed inside a rearrangement of four letters.

42a    What’s positioned to screen ring of light from the east? (7, two words)
This is an &lit clue, where the whole thing constitutes both wordplay and, when read another way, definition. In the wordplay, the first two words indicate the first element, while the next two indicate its position relative to the second element, which itself is indicated by the next three words and manipulated according to the last three.


4d    Greedy stops in journey, with time taken by obese individual at first (7)
It’s fairly easy to spot the imposter here, and the definition makes a lot more sense once the extra letter has gone. The wordplay (which begins at ‘journey’) involves four elements with lengths of 2, 1, 3 and 1 letters respectively.

7d    Shoot underground in city, taking cover (6)
With ‘remove a letter’ clues it’s always worth looking out for words which can be modified to produce another word with a single-letter abbreviation (eg ‘hoot’ -> ‘hot’, abbreviated as H). That approach will work molto bene here.

8d    Letter skipped foolishly without backing of department (3)
The letter comes from the Greek alphabet, while the word which ultimately provides the anagram fodder starts off as seven letters.

9d    Bar newer voyages limited by extremes of geography (6)
Once again the imposter supplies the material for an anagram. Reconciling the definition with the answer might prove a tad ticklish, but in the first part of the 20th century ‘half a bar’ was slang for ten shillings or a ten bob note.

19d    Irons stretched along yards remain, planted with flags (9)
Here the imposter must be modified to produce the first part of an insertion indicator – one that I’ve not seen before and which needs to be interpreted figuratively.

26d    Poet‘s period on watch checking ruin (6)
The comment for 7d is equally applicable here – having identified and corrected the imposter, this containment clue should readily yield a proper name which appears in Chambers, but not as a headword.

33d    Finished poem as before, without force of oratory (4)
As mentioned at 40a, there are many qualifiers available to indicate archaic words, although the one here is perhaps an odd choice, given that an archaism is not obsolete. The imposter must be changed in order to produce a rarely-seen letter selection indicator.

35d    Before risking vessel put in burning alcohol (4)
In this clue the imposter turns into a reversal indicator.

Definitions in clues are underlined

Having got nine definites and four either/ors in the right-hand column, it should be possible to work out the name and thus the thematic context. Alternatively, googling the names of the three ‘missing people’ will get you there. Google will again come to the aid of those who are not familiar with the theme as a whole, the identification of which should lead you to the second individual. Thankfully, his first name is in plain sight, which makes finding his surname close by in the grid relatively straightforward. At this point, you may ask yourself whether the presence of two letters in one cell reflects an unfortunate miscalculation on the part of the setter or a cunning plan; if you assume the latter, and you know a bit about that second person, then you should be able to locate his ‘possession’ (he didn’t have many from which to choose). The last step is probably the hardest, and in order to work out what’s required you might need to have recourse to a YouTube video showing a scene involving the two principals and the possession. The seven cells to connect should then be clear, and the bit about the ‘closed loop’ means that seven lines must be drawn; their shapes should approximately reflect the thematic cycle. In the absence of instruction to the contrary, you should join the centres of the cells, avoiding the temptation offered by the cell walls.

This was not an easy puzzle. The grid fill was far from trivial, and the last part of the endgame was challenging. The construction, as we have come to expect from this setter, was exemplary. In most years solvers would probably have found the endgame easier in January than in November.

Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾🥾🥾🥾 (Rewarding, but distinctly chewy. Probably not suitable for those new or relatively new to themed crosswords)

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1 comment on “EV 1581 Hints

  1. Wow – that was a tough one. I started with the down clues as the answers didn’t need to be manipulated before entering in the grid. Having an imposter in every clue (rather than some clues) also helped. The theme jumped out once I had enough perimeter letters to guess the name of the AIRCON but the endgame still took some time to unravel particularly the ‘closed loop’. Thanks to Phibs for the pointers on this one.
    Thanks to Ifor for the challenge – I enjoyed every minute of it.

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