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Listener 4074: Printer’s Devilry by Qid

Posted by Gareth Rees on 12 March 2010

I see this is the first puzzle by Qid, so an unknown quantity. Chambers advises “q i d abbrev: (in prescriptions) quater in die (L), four times a day.”

There are twelve clues each of three types: letters latent, Vigenère enciphered, and misprint. The latent letters spell out two keywords for the cipher, and the misprinted clues spell out a “corrupt form” of the keywords (in the incorrect letters), and a four-word anagram of the keywords (in the correct letters), which should be written below the grid.

The description of the Vigenère encipherment is a bit ambiguous: for each answer we use “one or other of the keywords” but there’s no indication of how to choose which one. Also, the example shows FLY enciphering to RUM, so perhaps all the enciphered forms are real words, but the rubric doesn’t explicitly say so. Presumably this is left for the solver to discover.

The clues seem fair and after about three hours I’ve got something over half of the answers, though the grid is still a bit bare because I haven’t been able to enter any of the enciphered words.

In the case of SASSAFRAS NUT there’s only one possibility for the latent letter, but in the other cases I need the crossing words and the fact that the keywords have no repeated letters to resolve the ambiguities:

1a PLASTERSTONE with latent E.
14a NEOTEINIA with latent T (this was an entertaining subtractive anagram: MARIE ANTOINETTE minus MATTER).

20a STENGAH with latent A.
33a ENERGETIC with latent C, G, or I.
3d SASSAFRAS NUT with latent S.
6d STOP SHORT with latent H.
9d STRING PEA with latent R. I don’t understand this clue: “Vegetable stored in pantries when cooked is gram” seems to be an anagram of PANTRIES plus “gram” ⇒ G but I can’t figure out how “is gram” clues “containing G”. It would have been better if it were “with gram”, for both the surface reading and the wordplay. So maybe a mistake?
21d UNILOBULAR with latent U.

I have three misprints:

24a “Ferns in Laramie as briefly cultivated” ⇒ MARSILEA and the misprint is A for I, so the corrected wordplay has “is briefly” ⇒ S.
5d “Which prayer may have held a quick service” ⇒ TENACE with misprint R for L.
8d “Bewitch tsar—not Alexander the First, by the way” ⇒ OBITER with misprint S for E.

I have seven words needing to be enciphered. Since I have some of the ciphertext, I can deduce letters that must appear in the keywords:

16a KAIM enciphers to T_N_, so the keywords have I_E.
17a DERE enciphers to _ _A_, so the keywords have I.
27a OUZO enciphers to _OA_, so the keywords have TA.
7d BASS enciphers to T_E_, so the keywords have R_L.

(I also have 28a TANK, 31d ANAL, and 32d TEFF, but no crossing letters.)

There are a couple of clues that I can’t figure out:

22a “I’m of use when surveying gear Dr No nicked” ⇒ RANGE ROD with misprint N for … for what? Could be L giving “licked”? K giving “kicked”? W giving “wicked”? I guess I’ll have to resolve this later.
25d “Spurs and Saints idly crushing the Magpies” must be “Saints” ⇒ SS around “Magpies” ⇒ PICA giving SPICAS, but I don’t fully understand the wordplay: what’s “idly” doing in the clue? Is there a misprint? Or does this need to be enciphered?

Let me take stock of what I’ve got so far.

  • Latent letters: across E T A [CGI] down S H R U
  • Incorrect letters from misprints: A R S
  • Correct letters from misprints: I L E
  • All letters in keywords: AEHILRSTU

Moreover, I know from the encipherments that the keywords contain the patterns TA, R_L and I_E.

So could the keywords be ETAOIN SHRDLU? The rubric says that the keywords form “a two-word entry in The Oxford English Dictionary”, so let me check.

etaoin shrdlu The letters set by running a finger down the first two vertical banks of keys on the left of the keyboard of a Linotype machine, used as a temporary marking slug but sometimes printed by mistake; any badly blundered sequence of type.”

That resolves the latent letter in ENERGETIC (can’t be C or G, must be I), and I can start enciphering the words. It’ll be useful to have a bit of code for this:

(defun encipher (plaintext key)
  (loop for a across plaintext
        for b across key
        concat (let ((c (+ a b -64)))
                 (format "%c" (if (> c ?Z) (- c 26) c)))))

The words for which I have intersecting letters can be enciphered right away:

16a KAIM enciphered with INET → TONG
17a DERE enciphered with AOIN → ETAS
27a OUZO enciphered with ETAO → TOAD
7d BASS enciphered with RDLU → TEEN

Now it looks as though the across answers are enciphered using ETAOIN and the down answers using SHRDLU (which matches the locations of the latent latters), so it seems likely that:

28a TANK is enciphered with INET → COSE

And moreover, all the encodings so far have yielded words, so guessing that this is systematic, it’s possible to find (by trying all three possibilities) that:

31d ANAL is enciphered with LUSH → MITT
32d TEFF is enciphered with RDLU → LIRA

So far all the enciphered answers have been four letters long. There are twelve such answers, so it seems likely that all of these (and only these) are enciphered. Also, since the rubric explained that the keywords are used “cyclically” (presumably within the set of across or down answers) I can work backwards and deduce what the plaintext must have been:

12a entry B_T_ was enciphered with ETAO, so answer is W_S_. That’s WASE → BUTT.
4d entry S_ _ _ was enciphered with LUSH, so answer is G_ _ _. That’s GULL → SPET
2d entry L_ _ _ was enciphered with SHRD, so answer is S_ _ _. That’s SALK → LIDO
29d entry _G_ _ was enciphered with SHRD, so answer is _Y_ _. Don’t know this one.

Now I know what the misprints need to be, so I can get to work on them.

10d “The dud ages badly, visibly dying” ⇒ STAG-HEADED with misprint U for A.
30a “Male bachelor in line, equally active” ⇒ NIMBLE with misprint E for S.
23d “That woman in Goa tormented the Indian until satisfied” ⇒ GHERAO with misprint H for I. But that means my theory for 24a is wrong, since I can’t have two correct letters I. So maybe the misprint is A for E, so that the correct text is “es briefly” ⇒ S. No, that doesn’t work either, I already have a misprint for E in 8d.
11a “Medicine doctor is against prescribing—even NICE takes exception—oops!” ⇒ DIAPENTE with misprint O for T.
15a “Website’s topless fun in adult hint of lesbianism” ⇒ PORTAL with misprint perhaps I for O.
13d “Old priest came to get candle grease?” ⇒ SPERMACETI with misprint L for D.

So what have I got in the way of misprints?


























And the remaining correct letters are HNRU. The phrase that “Linotype operators would often have had in mind” must be TO RUSH LEAD IN.

So that means the misprint in 24a must be A for U, with “us briefly” ⇒ S. In 25d it must be D for N, turning “idly” to “inly”. and in 22a it must be N for R, turning “nicked” to “ricked”. The very last misprint must be T for H in 35a and sure enough “One who’s left, for example, a toy on granny’s demise” ⇒ LEGATARY, a rather nice &lit.

There are two more enciphered entries, one of which I can do.

34a entry T_ _ _ was enciphered with AOIN, so answer is S_ _ _ and courtesy of Wikipedia’s List of British Field Marshals, that’s SLIM → TARA.

The last four latent letters are now easy to find:

36a CONIROSTRAL with latent N.
19d TRAMMELLER with latent L.
26a APOTHEM with latent O. Excellent &lit: “What joins centre of hexagon to point at edge (not within)”.
18d TAMPONADE with latent D.

And the final enciphered entry is _GLI which must be UGLI, and it was enciphered with SHRD, so the answer is BYTE. I see: Seven Pillars of Wisdom was BY T. E. [Lawrence].

This took me a long time, more than five hours (including writing this blog), but I made steady (if slow) progress and never felt as though I wasn’t going to finish.

The construction forced particular clues to have particular misprints, and this led to some awkward placement of misprints (as in 25d, where the word “inly” is superfluous to the clue, and only present to be misprinted) and some ambiguity (in 22a, where there looked like several ways that “nicked” could be a misprint of an anagram indicator, and in 24a, where there were three ways for “as briefly” to be a misprint of something clueing the letter S).

Finally, the title. Is this a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “Printer’s Devil” which featured an infernal Linotype machine and its satanic operator?

One Response to “Listener 4074: Printer’s Devilry by Qid”

  1. Gareth

    An excellent blog for what I found to be a pretty tricky puzzle. I also had a few options for the ‘as’ and ‘nicked’ misprints and felt they were a bit dubious! In case you haven’t sussed it yet, the STRING PEA clue ‘Vegetable stored in pantries when cooked is gram’ should be read as gram being stored in the anagram of pantries. It’s also good to know that the code used has a name; I’ve not heard of Vigenère encipherment before … nor seen the Twilight Zone episode!

    Finally, I assume the 5 hours blog time doesn’t include actually keying it in and building the images … otherwise the puzzle could only have taken you about 20 minutes!


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