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Merchandise, by Adam, Whoopee! Jumbles!

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 October 2010



Numerical puzzles still top my list of pet Listener hates but jumbles follow very close behind. The problem is that one has to do so much cold-solving before the jumbled words fit into place. A friend asked me how we go about these and I explained how we squeeze all the letters of the jumbled word into each of its lights using a very sharp pencil, then using an equally sharp eraser, remove them, one by one, as they are allocated their correct place. He hooted with laughter; “You are not saying that you fit all of UROKINASE into one tiny light then delete bits!” His solution is to have the jumbled words on little pieces of paper and delete the letters when they are used. 

Whichever the method, this proved to be relatively straightforward this week and not only did we shortly have an almost complete grid. We also had a fair inkling that the quotation of 11 words was going to be spread through the entire grid. Why? Well, there were some fairly unusual words used to complete this grid. I agree, there usually are in Listener crosswords, including the usual alcoholic touches (but the dipsomania was all mine this week – no imbibing in this one!) When you see HITACHI, CAMSHO, CHENET and CLUPEA rubbing shoulders, something is probably going on in that area of the crossword. 

That corner, with its obscure words (well, they were to me) was the last one we solved and we patted ourselves on the back and slept on it, deciding that finding the quotation ’embedded in a regular way’ could be done over Saturday breakfast. Hah! 

Fortunately it was raining on Saturday so we had plenty of time to gaze hopelessly at this grid. I wonder how many other people spotted all the hidden red herrings: DEARIE in a diagonal led me to suspect that we were dealing with Alice in Wonderland; we found elements of  SALT, POTATOES, APPLE PIES and ‘PLEASE MIND IT’ and ‘EAT US’ before resorting to using MERCHANDISE as a cipher.  We tried the diagonals and considered chopping up the grid and glueing it together, or converting it to a cylinder. There was a lot of head-scratching before we applied some logic on Sunday morning. 

With an 11-word message hidden in 143 letters, there had to be a useful letter roughly one in three times. That is basing our calculation on the assumption that this utterance was by Mr Joe Six Pack whose average word-length in everyday parlance is 4 letters. Had this been German Chancellor speak, we would have had to use a higher figure. We had already attempted to find a phrase by examining every 2nd, 3rd, 4th letter in the rows. Why do we focus on the rows? As soon as I used the figure three and read the columns, there it was: “HE SAID I LOOK FOR BUTTERFLIES THAT SLEEP AMONG THE WHEAT” Alice Through the Looking Glass is one of my favourite books and soon confirmed that these poor butterflies were converted into MUTTON-PIES. That seems just as evil as all that wren battering we did last Christmas! Now we understood why that word DIPTERIST figured so prominently down the centre of the grid.

My only feeling at this point was a  numpty grumble. I wish the requirement had been actually hidden in the crossword rather than in the preamble – that ’embedded in a regular way’ left a wide open field and turned a fine, relatively easy grid fill into a marathon searching task: solving was one task and the word-search the second.

While I was thankfully highlighting all the relevant lights in pink, Mr Math had resorted to the computer and was writing a simple programme in THIN BASIC, into which he fed the requirement for  phrases that were produced by every second, third, fourth or fifth letter and so-on, and, of course, came up with the same phrase. Shortly afterwards a friend suggested another site that helps with this sort of thing:

I followed Hugh Stephenson’s very open-minded articles on ‘cheating’ and wonder what he would have to say about using this kind of tool to find a short cut to a solution. To my mind the situation is rather like Munro climbing. I feel that I have ‘bagged a Munro’ if I have walked to its summit from the nearest public transport access point. If someone decides to put a cable car to within half a mile of the summit, sobeit. I’ll use it rather than slog fifteen miles to the Fannichs through acres of midge-ridden bog. 

As usual, the numpties were challenged but our conclusion was that this was a very elegant and memorable crossword. Many thanks to Adam. 




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