This is Hedge-sparrow’s fourth Listener puzzle; the previous three concerned wormholes (3988 Travel Agents), Darwin’s writings on evolution (4067 S), and Einstein’s theory of relativity (the special variety, 4064 Metrical Variations). If I’d known that Hedge-sparrow was of a scientific bent, it might have helped; but there again, probably not. Here we had a circular grid with thematic things to discover in three of the rings and a number of circled cells which result in an end-product. All very interesting, and the usual groups of four radials each contained one entry entered inwards, one outwards, and two jumbled. Just to add spice to the jumbles, one was to a 6-letter word and the other to a 7-letter word with one letter being dropped before entry.
While the jumbling of half the clues didn’t necessarily mean a lot of cold solving, it did mean that I abondoned my usual quick first pass through the clues. Instead I found myself concentrating on groups of say 6 or 8 clues and worked my way more slowly round the grid. The clues were an interesting mix of the straightforward and complex. Take 2ac: Broken enamel hiding trace of yellow hydrocarbon which is obviously Y in ENAMEL* giving AMELYNE (although I needed Bradford’s to help with my hydrocarbons). On the other hand, 4 is End of fine maiden over with turning ball around close of play — it’s the start of something. In my opinion, there’s a lot going on here, and it turned out to be E (end of finE) M (maiden over) + ORB< (ie reversed) around Y (close of plaY) to give EMBRYO. I tend to dismiss clues that make my brain hurt until much later in the solving process.
So, after about an hour I had 16 clues solved, the last three being 33 LANOLIN, 34 ANNONA and 35 ABSORB. I normally pencil in the entries for this type of puzzle inwards, but since the second B of ABSORB cannot be in the innermost ring I entered it outwards. Looking at the grid after doing a full circuit, I saw LAB in positions 33, 34 and 35, and E..O at 25-28. It seemed obvious to me that I was looking at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, known as CERN, from it’s original name, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire. It probably also meant that the LARGE HADRON COLLIDER (LHC) was lurking nearby! With 19 letters it would make up the letters not entered in all but one of the 20 segments of the grid. Voilà!
I won’t say that the rest of the puzzle was a doddle, a great deal of care needs to be taken with the Listener. However, I think I completed this one in about 2½ hours, so pretty good on that front, and certainly helped by early identification of the theme. Finally, the circled letters in ring 2 were SSIGBOGHON which could be made into HIGGS BOSON, entered in the central circle. The particle is named after Dr Peter Higgs, an English theoretical physicist, who predicted its exixstence back in the 60′s, I think. A lot of people have been looking for it ever since!
A really neat puzzle from Hedge-sparrow with excellent clues, nearly all of which had very good, and often devilishly misleading, surface readings. My favourites were 15, with its reference to the expenses scandal, Government given accommodation failed to declare income (GHOSTED); 33 Fat lecturer takes an old lodger in (but not ‘er dog sadly) (LANOLIN) which just made me smile; and 40′s comment on the greedy power companies Group of utilities about to seize money — not good! (TOOLBAR)! I’m looking forward to the next one from this entertaining setter.