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Listener 4303: QVWKE VBCFA by Nutmeg

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 August 2014

Nutmeg’s fifth Listener this week, although she (I believe) has had a fair smattering of Inquisitors, EVs and Magpies. Her last Listener was no. 4240 Forlor with its mobile phone theme, and this week we had to discover a Playfair codeword… not, on past performance, my favourite deciphering exercise. The six thematic entries were clued without definition and had to be encoded on entry.

Listener 4303Well, they were clued without definition, but were all the names of 14 27s, ie Itinerant pastor leaves establishment (6) Invader striking at trooper, perhaps (5)s. It would have been a good start to solve one or both of these clues straight off, but that was not to be.

I remembered from the last few Nutmeg puzzles that they were on the tricky side, and I was expecting nothing less this week. I decided to check the thematic clues that would need encoding. Whilst the two across ones eluded me, 4dn Good earth ploughed up (6) was an obvious anagram, and GARETH jumped out. 25dn Doctor caught in unruly demo (6) looked like it could be MODRED, and I suspected we were in the land of King Arthur and his knights. I had thought that his name was spelt Mordred, but Wiki gives both spellings.

Off to a cracking start then… except, of course, neither of these two knights could be entered in the grid as they needed encoding first. Mind you, the title could be Round Table, but since my Playfair skills weren’t too hot, I decided to try and crack a few more thematic clues first. 14 and 27 still proved elusive.

In fact, I decided to try and crack the whole grid first, since that may just help a bit, and I was pleased when 12 [n]EARL[y], 13 R in SEEM<, and 15 hARD Soil were quickly solved. Unfortunately, 36 ALL in RIDES* and 37 [r]ESTORE* were the only other acrosses to get solved on my first pass.

On to the downs, except they each had an extra letter in the clue which needed removing before solving. Helped by the M of MEERS, I managed 1dn DAMP, even though it needed Chambers to reveal that, in mining, damp is any gas other than air! A grand total of two other down clues were solved in my first pass: 22 Mason scratching marks in new border temple (4) NAOS and 32 Bedsides where all patients bare … their bottoms! (4) ELSE.

This certainly proved a tough solve, but gradually the entries were teased form the clues. I even got three of the remaining thematic entries: 24ac GAWAIN, 9dn LANCELOT and 18dn TRISTRAM. However, it needed Wiki again to identify Row about old Liberal (6) LIONEL, not REITOL as I thought at first!

I scanned the grid to see if I could identify the two knights hidden there. Their coded forms given by the extra letters in the down clues didn’t help: FBQDHMLW CABHTDFD. It needed all my Playfair skills to disentangle the six relevant grid entries… skills that, as I have said, I don’t really possess.

Listener 4303 My EntryI know enough that pairings where a letter is in the plain as well as the coded version is a place to start. Here, MODRED provided DR→RZ and ED→AE. The first gives DRZ as a sequence (either across or down), the second DEA. What I forgot for a few minutes was that DEA could be in the order A··DE or EA··D. Anyway, the DRZ could be in the bottom right corner (Z is more often than not the last letter in the square), with EA in columns 1 and 2 and possibly BC between the A and D.

A bit of fiddling (no, not very scientific) and KNIGHT’S MOVE was the code phrase and that gave PERCIVAL and BEDIVERE for the two knights provided by the down clues. These two could be seen crossing the grid in a knightly fashion and, with a bit of highlighting, all was done. The title was indeed Round Table.

Another joust with Nutmeg was at an end, and a fine and enjoyable puzzle it was, thanks.


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