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Listener No 4321: Solitaire II by Xanthippe

Posted by Dave Hennings on 12 December 2014

Well I was ready for the mathematical this week, and pleased to see Xanthippe in the chair again. Part of me thought that it would be Elap’s turn, and I was a bit nervous of what he would have on offer, but he would have to wait for another few months.

Listener 4321Here, we had a preamble that took up about twice the amount of space as the clues, and that couldn’t be good! We were to solve the clues, fill in the grid, and then play a game of solitaire. We were given hints as to what order the pegs would need removing: 0 then F down to 1 followed by three thematic words. I wondered if this game of solitaire would be needed at any point in the actual clue solving. In fact, I didn’t have to wait long to find out since the preamble told us that it would. (In hindsight, I think this was an unnecessary hint and should have been left for us to sort out.)

Anyway, the clues were of the type that I enjoy, whereby we were given a series of properties and told which clues fitted which property. Of course, this also told us which clues did not fit with any given property. This clue type certainly makes a pleasant change from the THIS * THAT = THE OTHER that is the norm. We were also given a list of the entries in ascending order. The entries themselves were in base-16.

There were a few properties which enabled me to pencil letters in the grid: only numeric digits were n, letter digits were l, only odd digits were o, as were the last digit of odd numbers. Multiples of 10 obviously had a 0 for their last digit. Care had to be taken with some of these properties as they were also in base-16, such that 64 (which is decimal 100) did not end in 00.

I liked the look of 14ac, 14dn and 15dn being greater than E00, and 16dn only letter digits. This made 14ac [EF][EF][ABCDEF], and since it didn’t have a repeating digit, it was either EF[ABCD] or FE[ABCD]. Moreover 16ac did have a repeated digit and was divisible by both 6 and 10. This meant that it had to be CC0. I was up and running.

From here on, it was a very enjoyable journey, deducing certain digits, eliminating others, and fitting the numbers into the ascending sequence that we had been given. Of course, I had the almost obligatory dead end… or at least I thought I did. My logic proved just a little faulty.

As is my wont, I’ll leave a full breakdown of the solving process to Shirley others (or, indeed, the Listener web site).

One of the features of the final grid was that, since we were told that O and I would be represented by 0 and 1 in spelling out the words, 2 to 9 could only appear once, namely in the initial countdown from F to 1. If S could represent a 5, then we would have been told. This enabled the entries at 17ac and 18ac to be resolved uniquely.

Thus I had a full grid in about three hours, and I was left wondering what three “thematic” words could be spelt out in the second half of the game. These words would have to consist only of the letters A–F, I and O, and the 9-letter word seemed as though it might be strange to say the least.

After a lot of umming and aahing (which spanned a couple of days), I wondered whether the words would be from one of the long lists in Mrs Bradford. I checked the 9-lettered fish… nothing. I also wondered whether the word ‘solitaire’ had an unusual meaning, but before I could reach for Chambers, I found myself checking Mrs B’s list of birds. BECCAFICO was there for the taking! Finally reaching for Chambers, I found that a solitaire was “an American or West Indian fly-catching thrush”.

Listener 4321 My EntryEliminating these letters from the grid, I was left with COB and DODO. However, it still took a bit of time to work out the exact sequence of the solitaire game. Commiserations to those solvers who got the mathematical bit, but failed with Xanthippe’s choice of birds. As with many Listener’s I had begun to think that the last step would stump me, but I got there in the end, I think.

Thanks for the enjoyment, Xanthippe.


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