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Listener 4138: The X-factor by IOA (or Please, not Simon Cowell!)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 10 Jun 2011

It’s not often that The Listener catches me by surprise (!), but I really wasn’t expecting a numerical puzzle this week. Until this year, it was always on the last Saturday of February, May, August and November, but now it’s the week before that. Anyway, for whatever reason, I’d forgotten it was coming and was sort of disappointed, although that isn’t to say that I don’t normally enjoy these mathematical sojourns.

IOA, according to my records, has set two previous Listeners. The first, in 2000, was a ‘normal’ crossword, and the second, in 2004, was a numerical. Here we had a straightforward 7×7 grid with the clue numbers, as well as the clues themselves, represented by letters. The endgame would involve decoding the grid and following the instruction revealed. I assumed that the code would be based on the values of each letter used in the solution, or, less likely, using A=1, B=2, etc.

The first point of entry for me was given by the clue numbers , since 1, 5 and 13 were both across and down in the grid, so equated, in some order, to A, R and V which each had two clues. Clue U UUUU – UUU + UU + K was the first proper clue to attempt to solve. Trying all values of U from 2 to 26, only U = 7 or 9 gave a value that would fit those clues’ entry lengths. Thus U = 7 gave an entry of 2107 + K and would fit 7dn (4); U = 9 gave 5913 + K and would fit 9ac (4).

Using clues A, V and X, I soon had A = 1, X = 2 and V = 13, leaving R = 5. From clue R, K = 4, and I really was on my way.

I think this was the first numerical for some time where I didn’t end up having to solve the puzzle for a second or third time due to some problem, perceived or real. I remember the last numerical in February where the preamble stated “ambiguities in four cells must be resolved” and I had found only two (in fact there was only one!). That led to a resolve, but here there was no such problem, and I soon decoded the instruction: Shade evens but rub out all of odds. Ergo X. Not for the first time in a Listener, a lot of hard work disappeared as I erased most of my solution!

So, I think it fair to say, a relatively easy numerical from IOA, so thanks for that, especially given what was to come two weeks later!

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