This was Ten-Four’s fourth Listener puzzle. Previously, we had 3914 Zones, 3963 A New Year Message and 4072 The Isolated Word. Although Zones, which involved a neat bit of encoding, was a bit of a pig to check for mistakes, I seem to remember that they were all fairly straightforward.
The same could not be said for Carte Blanche en Tore!!
For a start, it was an empty grid. Not just a 12×12 empty grid; no, it was a 15×15 empty grid: no bars, no numbers. Moreover, it represented a torus with the bottom glued to the top and the right glued to the left. Yes, this was going to be a three-dimensional nightmare! The extra letters given by the wordplay in each clue would, I suspected, lead to an endgame that would also be far from plain sailing.
The only thing that helped slightly was that there were an odd number of across clues, so the midpoint at 26ac would be in the middle of row 8. My first idea for this clue (Sharper Winter Olympian perhaps pockets prize) was STARKER, (TAR in SK[I]ER) but the wordplay didn’t really work. So on with 1ac, and RETRIAL could be entered … somewhere in the first row! And, with help from Tea, I got REMBLAI for 1dn. A good start, but one that gave a false sense of security. Apart from a few exceptions, most of the remainder of the clues proved a real tussle. Indeed, the empty grid that I started with was still pretty empty after half an hour!
About three hours in, and I had just over half the clues pencilled lightly in the grid. It was about that time that I decided to try and fit some of the clues together to begin to form something a bit meaningful. I had finally got the central answer, SPIKIER. With across answers PYAEMIC, RAWHIDE and MADISON, I tried interlocking SWERVED, MASHIES, PASSKEY and CHIGOES. The centre of the grid was beginning to take shape. Obviously the numbering of the clues gave some indication of their positions in the grid, but it was still a tricky exercise. The fact that only 1 and 47 had both across and down entries didn’t really help much, especially since BEGORED at 47dn (Bloody old boy’s up in bed) was a late clue for me.
In fact, Ten-Four had teased us with some real horrors. 2ac Design from the East adopted by Eastern princess turned out to be an &lit clue for RANGOLI (RANI around LOG[O] reversed), a word I’d not encountered before. GOLIARD, AEMULES and WAIVODE together with ATTASKT, AKRASIA, MESITZA and DIDAKEI also fell into this category. And then there was 29dn Boring journey with a fop (two words) for GAS WELL (G[O] A SWELL), boring here being a noun.
The extra letters in each clue’s wordplay resulted in:
YOU CAN DO UP TO SEVEN
JOIN EACH PAIR OF KS WITH LINES THAT DON’T CROSS
My initial doodle highlighted the central hexagon with the seven letter Ks connected. It was obvious that this was only the start. Given the description in the preamble of connecting dots, every point of this hexagon had to be connected to every other point with straight lines, none of which crossed. The central point was connected to the other six, OK; now it was necessary to ensure all the others were connected as well.
So I devised a worksheet in Word consisting of the grid surrounded by eight other sets of seven dots in the same pattern. Since the grid represented a torus, this would provide the basis for working out how lines disappearing off one side of the grid would appear at the opposite edge. It was then relatively, and I stress relatively, easy to work out the correct way to connect them. Amazing!
It was then necessary to construct the diagram for submission. The first question: Was there a clue as to which orientation was required? I had the lines going from bottom left to top right, but a mirror image was also valid. I looked in the diagram and clues for some sort of indication. I found nothing, so assumed that either would be accepted.
It was a requirement to add the bar pattern, including perimeter bars, but not the clue numbers. I commiserate with anyone who missed just one and would be marked wrong even though every other aspect of this tough puzzle was correct. (If I’m one, please don’t tell me!) I must say that I think the addition of bars in this case was entirely unwarranted … except that I suspect it made John Green’s task a little bit easier. And was it necessary to put the bars resting on the perimeter on both sides of the grid?
This minor niggle aside, this was a fantastic puzzle. A great idea, a well-crafted grid, and some really tricky clues made this a top-class Listener. And Ten-Four becomes another setter whose puzzles I will approach with trepidation in the future.