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Listener 4273: Conflict by Pointer

Posted by Dave Hennings on 10 January 2014

I know of the difficulty of Pointer’s puzzles more by reputation than experience. Most of his puzzles have appeared in Magpie and, while many have a benign C rating, most have a D (tricky) rating… with the odd E (fiendish) thrown in for good measure. This is his third Listener, the first being No 4099 Double Devilry with its identical 9×9 grids, and the second No 4159 Crovvword with its Greek architecture theme. I got the Crovvword wrong because my spiral drawn through VOLUTION in the endgame only had seven quadrant arcs instead of the required eight. I was determined to avoid such a lax mistake this week.

Of course, the avoidance of a mistake would probably depend on whether this was a tricky or fiendish puzzle! At least this was the last puzzle of 2013, rather than the first of 2014. There’s nothing worse than making a mistake with the first puzzle of the year… and trust me, I know!

Listener 4273Although there was an extra word in every clue, with the initial letters spelling out an instruction, there were also six clashes to be found (at least we were told how many this week). Reading the preamble further did not relieve the feeling that I was in for a bit of a struggle. The endgame would require us to “sort out another problem with the clues to get the correct form of the puzzle”. I had a horrible feeling that this would need one of those mental leaps that I generally find hard. Only time would tell how I got on.

Well, I got on OK to start with. The acrosses at 11 EVADES, 13 OINT, 17 CAN and 21 YERKS meant that the top of the grid was looking promising. I think this was a master class in how the judicious use of extra words in clues can make life tricky for the solver. Take 23ac, for example, Lyrics initially cut embody secret writings (4). Was it ‘lyrics’ that were cut as in ODE[s], initially cut as in [o]DES, initially as in L, or was it just the extra word and meant nothing? In fact, it was the definition, and the ‘initially cut’ referred to [c]ODES. And that was one of the easier clues.

I got a few more clues, including 18ac MILLHAND and a fair smattering in the bottom left corner before taking a break. Now I wouldn’t normally mention when I take breaks, but it caused me not to recognise one of Pointer’s clues when I resumed and some time later slotted HANDMILL in at 5ac. It was only when I entered MITHER at 8dn that I clocked its similarity to HERMIT at 5dn and thought I saw what was going on. Down in the bottom right was 41ac TURNDOWN which could fit with what I had at 29ac to give DOWNTURN with DIETED and TEDDIE crossing.

And so, I moseyed on down to a finished grid, with my mind getting ever more confused by the initial letters of the extra words. No matter how much I tried, they didn’t make sense:


Perhaps it spelt out the directions to take from square 1: east, east, south, south, horizontal (!), down, right, inwards… No it just wasn’t working. And what of the clashes that were and weren’t used in the grid? They normally have some sort of significance. Here we had TRCOTR and DDRIEL. Obviously the latter set could be unjumbled to give RIDDLE, which certainly described what I was faced with, but little else.

At this point, I’ll just mention the clue to 9dn: Monsters taken from film [overpower] a king (4). What a devious mind Pointer has: MONSTERS, INC (film) – MONSTERS + A to give INCA.

Back to the endgame. Well, it didn’t take tooooo long to work out what Pointer was telling us with those HANDMILL/MILLHAND, HERMIT/MITHER, DOWNTURN/TURNDOWN and DIETED/TEDDIE pairings. I got a new blank grid and swapped the place each occupied and then tried to fit the other words around them. What a delight when everything slotted in nicely. And then, more joy when transcribing the initial letters of the words given the positions the clues would be in for the new grid: Discarded letters should be used to form a synonym of the title. Well RIDDLE was hardly that!

I was also left with a bit of a concern. Obviously I had just moved the words around in the final grid, such that, for example, TANKER moved from 14dn to 12dn. OINT on the other hand moved from 13ac to 36ac clashing with KARKS, to give OINK as the new word there, since there were still clashes. The trouble was that in the new grid, I had only five clashes to resolve, FITRE. It wasn’t hard to see that the synonym of the title had to be STRIFE, but try as I might, I couldn’t get an extra clash.

I’m afraid that I can’t really explain how I made the next leap! At some point (luckily not too far down the road), it dawned on me that TANKER, a word that wasn’t part of any clash in the new grid, wasn’t actually clued. It had been DANKER at 14dn where the D clashed with the last letter of OINT. So 12dn was DANKER, and we had to unclash the words in the original grid, move them around as before, and then resolve the new clashes. How does this guy’s mind work?! And was it intentional that the “wrong” way had only five clashes to ensure that perseverance put us (ie me) on the right track?

Can I just take time out here to mention the clue at 14dn: Sequel to German bitter? Wetter [youth]! (6)? DANKE + R indeed! (I’m not actually 100% sure what’s going on here, as I thought that “Bitte” was what came before “Danke” as in “Thanks.” “A pleasure.” Anyway, a broad grin crossed my face.)

Listener 4273 My EntryAnd so the clashes did indeed spell STRIFE, as well as describe what I had gone through over the previous hour or so. The final submission needed very careful attention. EMURE disappeared to be replaced by EMULE, the word clued by 34dn, and DITTED went, replaced by DIETED, clued by 29dn.

All in all, une pièce de résistance. A superb idea, amazingly implemented and excellent clues. If only the title had been Jigsaw! Thanks anyway Pointer… I’m dreading your next!

One Response to “Listener 4273: Conflict by Pointer”

  1. dyste said

    Dave, thanks for your explanation of 9d (INCA), which had me totally mystified. For a long time I had a tentative ORCS, which I changed only when it became clear that it generated too many clashes. I loved the puzzle, but really didn’t think much of this clue, which is impossible to solve if you don’t know the film. I suppose I might have a had a chance if I’d been ten years old. Fortunately the entry was fully checked in both grids.

    The other clue I didn’t like was 14d. You’re right that ‘bitte’ is normally the sequel to ‘danke’, but there are contexts when it may the other way round, so that didn’t bother me, but the whimsical addition of R didn’t make linguistic, homonymic or any other sense to me. It seemed distinctly Araucarian and out of place in the Listener.

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