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Listener 4307: Spiral of Salami and Walnuts by Wan

Posted by Jaguar on 5 September 2014

A Listener solving year is surely the cruciverbalist’s equivalent of a marathon. In which case, we’re approaching the 18-mile mark with this, the 33rd puzzle of the year. For Marathon runners that is  known as “The Wall”, the point where the body’s main energy reserves run out and running (or solving) becomes noticeably harder. Will Wan’s wordy work worry wary Wall watchers? OK, that was terrible…

Wan makes his second appearance in the Listener this week after a scientifically-themed debut last year, Listener No 4233, featuring Mendeleev and elemental symbols moving between clues. For this puzzle the first thing I noticed, naturally, was the bizarre title. Surely an anagram of some sort? Especially with that “together representing a relevant discoverer” in the preamble. Unfortunately for now nothing seemed to emerge so I suppose I’ll have to gloss over that certain hint and get on with solving the clues.

And what a set of clues, too! Some of my particular favourites:

  • 32ac Denoting a type of therapy people of Kerala take to get self-confidence back (8) ([NAIR EGO R] reversed: lovely surface reading)
  • 42ac  Method of dyeing’s naff, sounding backward? (4) (homophone of “tacky” reversed!)
  • 1dn Starts to regret eating after meal (6) (R[egret] E[ating] + Past; again a lovely surface).
  • 25dn A bird impression done by a seal sounds just the same (6) (Another homophone of “signet”)

Indeed many of the clues had a very elegant surface, and one or two also had particularly inventive wordplay. But what was going on on those “thematic clues”? In many of these it wasn’t too hard to track down the modification, e.g. in 3dn the answer was TAIRA and strongly suggested Marzipan should become Aria for (aria+t[offee]) reversed, and then 7dn was “Slip [m]ON[k] paper…” for TYPO. But I couldn’t seem to see the connection between the words or the discarded letters; and, as the grid became filled, I was staring at words such as at, wood, um, aria, eye’s, on, oral, us, eat, angle… and (obviously, in hindsight) seeing nothing between them. And there was nothing obvious appearing in any spiral in the grid, either.

4307So with a complete grid, the modified clues included 2dn, 3dn, 5dn, 7dn… oh. Prime numbered clues? I’ll bet that’s no coincidence. And then you look at the words affected. Marzipan lost its 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th letters and retained the prime 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th to make aria, and so on through the set of modifications. So that’s the connection! And perhaps this will explain the highlighting, too? Highlight the 2nd, 3rd, 5th… letters in a spiral growing out from the centre. Going clockwise starts off promisingly enough, yielding “A GIT…”, or “SIT HEY…”  but soon breaks down after that. Going the other direction and we find, eventually, HIGHLY SEASONED SAUSAGE AND EDIBLE TREE SEEDS. An odd message, but it defines “salami” and “walnuts”, and very artistically hidden.

All of which leaves just the one mystery of who the “discoverer” is. All such mysteries break surprisingly easily on Google, and a search for “prime spiral” brings up the Ulam Spiral on Wikipedia, discovered by Stanislaw Ulam. Whose name can be anagrammed to make “salami walnuts”. As is often the case in such puzzles, the setter’s route and solver’s route are almost exact opposites. I can well imagine Wan scribbling down all sorts of anagram possibilities for such a weird name, and might well have considered “satsuma in wall” or “animal was slut” before settling on this particular choice. Or perhaps he came across it first time. We may never know.

 

 

We’re approaching about the time in the year for the third numerical puzzle of 2014. I was expecting it this time, actually, and sort of got my wish, even if it took me a while to realise that! Presumably we can enjoy that one next time out. In the meantime: a bizarre title, but a fine construction and some lovely cluing. Thanks, Wan!

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