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Listener 4096: Some Assembly Required by Mr E (or A Solver’s Introduction to Setting)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 13 August 2010

Mr E’s sixth Listener, and his second this year. His last two have been his golf score card and one with the instruction to cut part of the diagram, cut it in half and send it with the rest of the grid. As a result of these, and others, Mr E is a setter who’s puzzles I really look forward to, although one day I’m sure he will trip me up.

The preamble has no reference to clashing letters, my current bête noir, but states that most clues contain ‘what seems to be an arbitrary irregularity’. Hmmm, that sounds ominous. I may be hankering after clashes before too long.

Unfortunately (and I mean that), the challenge from Mr E didn’t last too long, and the irregularities unfolded pretty quickly. 14ac Old slave’s tongue nearly cut (4) must be good old ESNE, which here looks as though it’s trying to be a hidden word. Then 18ac Each lecturer held in care of Queen’s prison (6) looks like it’s COOLER with OL in CO plus ER, although the first O seems a bit of a mystery. A bit of a gap now, with 3dn being the next clue solved, European Union holding up half of team’s money (6) and we have EU and ELE(ven), with Bradford revealing EKUELE. So how about one word in each clue being a letter of the alphabet: O for each in 18ac, E for tongue in 14ac and K for up in 3dn? It looks promising, but this is the Listener, and I’ve still got to work out how to use this information in conjunction with two unclued entries and three normal clues. I’m sure trouble lies ahead.

4dn looks like it’ll be an anagram of Belém teams I and another letter, but a bit of doodling fails to reveal an obvious word. 8dn’s obligation must be ONUS and 28dn is ZARF, both seemingliy normal clues. So I’m guessing that they contain different letters of the alphabet. A quick count of clues, and there are 29, so how about three normal ones and 26 where one word in each is replaced by a letter of the alphabet, each being used once. Finally in my first pass through the clues, I get 29dn which is HIVE, another normal clue.

So I have six clues solved and the beginnings of the theme sorted, but no idea what to do next … except get solving! Despite knowing what I know about one word in each clue representing a single letter, some of them are reluctant to be teased out, although EMBLEMATISED/S is a good start (with help from Bradfords which has EMBLEM under Represent). I must say, however, that I thought the device great fun; does anyone know if it has been used before?

The grid is completed in a little over three hours, with some excellent clues on the way, and some nice surface readings, especically the sailors eating their rather poorly prepared tiramisu!! A minor trap is 1ac which could be either AGEE or AJEE, but is necessarily the latter in order for each letter of the alphabet to be replaced once in the clues. The next thing I do is to list all the letters of the alphabet in order against the word in the clue that they replaced. It reads gobbledygook of course, and certainly doesn’t reveal any message. Next I take the three normally clued words and read out their equivalents:

HIVE Mistakenly cite hopi tongue and we get a clue to ETHIOPIC at 5ac … excellent!
ONUS Each expert’s holding prize giving the clue to APIECE at 1dn
ZARF Grandma’s tiramisu uses wine for 30ac ASTI

Looking at the four remaining unclued entries, we have 11ac P.CKM.W (PICKMAW?), 33ac L.DYB.G (LADYBUG?), and probably ROSETTA and ILLUSTRATEDS. My guess is that the first two use the letters of the alphabet not used for the three clues already constructed.

Using our letter substitutions for P.CKM.W, we get African ? grew up getting ? area, with city (J) and dry (Q) fitting the gaps to give a clue to ROSETTA (ROSE + TT + A). L.DYB.G gives Our ? started rioting after ? publications, the final two letters (X and T) being used to fill the gaps with people and hurtful, thus giving ILLUSTRATEDS (US + anag STARTED after ILL).

So, another nice puzzle from Mr E, although not as hard as some of his other offerings, but nevertheless very entertaining. He is still high on my list of setters to look forward to.

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