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Listener 4287: Primed to Begin by Spud

Posted by Dave Hennings on 18 April 2014

Spud’s first Listener was over three years ago, with No. 4107 European Revolution. The theme there was Rubik’s Cube which now seems to be making a comeback… or didn’t it actually go away? This week, we had most clues with an extra wordplay letter — now was that going to be 26 of the 51 clues, or 50? Moreover, and somewhat unusually, we were to be given a choice as to how many cells to highlight in five sections of the grid.

Listener 4287A lot of the clues were fairly straightforward, and after fifty minutes, most of the NE and SW corners were complete. During this time, a couple of things crossed my mind. With 13ac Unchosen, finally dividing fresh gains — country vegetables (6), ‘unchosen’ seemed a strange word to use for its last letter. Even more strange, the word started off one of the down clues as well. Moreover, ‘highlight’ started off a couple of clues, as did ‘coming’ (although this didn’t stand out until much later).

At this point, I had the following letters from the wordplay: ob···rv···nu···ues···ir···t···or···, with the possibility of OBSERVE at the start and CLUES in the middle. I finished the remaining clues relatively smoothly, with a couple of pleasing &lits on the way: 20ac Jumbled, a mostly g[e]rmane answer (7) for ANAGRAM; and 32dn Rest [w]ho must be different (6) for OTHERS. The full message was then revealed as:

Observe prime numbered clues’ first words

Going through the across clues 13, 19, 37, 41, 43 and downs 2, 3, 5, etc, I got:

Unchosen fully coming as guests. Highlight one of four couples. Unchosen names, or mostly highlighted, coming

A puzzled look must have crossed my face as that sounded a bit dubious. It was alleviated a little by seeing the invitation that needed highlighting in five sections of the grid:


I looked for guests in the grid, only to be met with an army: Reg (two), Inga, Lew, Roy, Jo, Mac, Mia, Steve, Alf, Joy, a couple of Umas and a whole slew of Eds. I seemed spoilt for choice, so went back to the message spelt out by the first words of clues. Obviously, the way that was intended to resolve the rather weird message was to recognise the significance of the two ‘unchosens’ which were both at prime number 13, one across and one down. I can’t say that I consciously took this logical step, but I found myself writing the first words down in the order 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 (just once), 17, etc. That made a much more satisfactory message:

Highlight one of four couples. Unchosen names, fully or mostly highlighted, coming as guests

Listener 4287 My EntryEverything thus became clear. The four possible couples were Adam and Eve (a total of 31 letters) or Ada and Steve (32 letters), or — and the whole point of the puzzle — Ada and Eve (30 letters) or Adam and Steve (33). The date of the puzzle is the date on which same-sex marriages became legal in the UK. The guests names were the ones not chosen as marriage partners.

So, despite the somewhat circuitous route of getting there, thanks to Spud for a really fun outing. This is probably the closest link between a Listener puzzle and a current event that there has been.

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