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Listener 4218: System Analysts by Stick Insect

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 December 2012

Stick Insect’s third Listener this week. It comes a year after Lawbreaker, in which MAXWELL’S DEMON required highlighting, not in contiguous cells, but jumping the two central rows of the grid. I wondered what trick he may have up his sleeve this week.

Listener 4218Well, for a start, he had decided to supply us with only 16 clues which needed to be fitted into a circular grid … without clue numbers! I spied a tough period of cold solving ahead, followed by a somewhat interesting endgame relating to the Nth letters of clues.

Surprisingly, I needn’t have worried. Clues 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 were straightforward, with only a little bit of help from Mrs B. Clues 6, 7 and 8 also fell easily, and Stick Insect was helping us with easy anagrams or initial letters.

Then I came to clue 9: Switch opening from language of disease. No luck after a couple of minutes spent on this, so on with 10, 11 , and all the others through to 16, although clue 12 held me up a bit before leading to TUNAS. Back to 9, and I was still stumped.

A bit of analysis of the middle letters of all the answers I had showed that clue 9’s mid letter was a B and ran adjacent to CABER. I started slotting the answers into the grid, and soon got RABIC as the missing answer and the grid was ready within an hour of starting. I couldn’t believe that I was done so quickly.

Listener 4218 Grid aOK, the grid may need a bit of rotation, but I felt that identifying the Nth letters of the clues would be fairly easy. We were told that N was provided by the number in the outer cell with a dot, and of the eight permutations, four would lead to a meaningful thematic hint.

The grid I started with is shown on the left, and had a 9 in the dotted cell but that led to rubbish, so I moved the grid through 90 degrees so that 12 was in the dotted cell. Still nothing. And the same for 11 and 8.

I was stumped. Surely pivoting the grid around the 9-11 axis would still give the same set of letters for the dotted cell! I decided to try the grid fill again to see if there was another devious solution. Luckily (and I empasise luckily), I got a slightly different grid. This time, it was 13, 2, 10 and 7 that would go through the dotted cell. It was, of course, the same grid as the first time, but pivoted around the horizontal axis not the slightly skewed 9-11 axis. The outer dot had stupidly made me think that that was the point about which I should pivot the grid.

Listener 4218 TrajectoriesThis time, the Nth letters spelt out meaningful hints if 2, 10, 7 and 13 took turns in the dotted cell:

Two space missions

Leaving from Earth

Passing gas giants

Flying to the stars

… four perfect descriptions of the Voyager spacecraft, 1 and 2, both launched 35 years ago.

Finally, we were required to draw two thematic lines through the dots in the grid, and these would obviously represent the trajectories of the two missions, carefully passing through only the cells containing VOYAGER 1 and 2. That fixed 2 in the dotted cell so that the trajectories ran from dot to dot, representing the planets Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. I tried (unsuccessfully, I think) to show that Voyager 2 was actually launched before Voyager 1, but was soon overtaken. The animation below shows the point perfectly.

Another interesting point is that after flying by Saturn, Voyager 1 was flung northwards away from the ecliptic plane, while Voyager 2 was flung southward after its encounter with Neptune.

An absolutely first-rate puzzle from Stick Insect. I wondered how long I would have been held up if my second grid had been identical to the first. Perhaps I would now be awaiting the solution, having been stumped.



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