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Listener No. 4326: Coincidence by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 16 January 2015

It was the last Listener of the year, and also Sabre’s annual outing. Sabre is the master of clashing entries and knight’s moves. Here, every entry bar two had one letter replaced by another. However, these weren’t referred to as clashes, so I expected something sneaky would transpire. The endgame would require two coincidences to be extracted from these pairs of letters.

I also made a comment in large letters in my notes that, according to the preamble, “Lengths in brackets refer to grid entries”.†

I was pleased to get 4ac Monsieur’s horrid BO is compounded by this? (11) OK, it was an obvious anagram and seemed likely to have some chemical connotation of which I was ignorant. Consequently I looked up compounds in Mrs B, and failing that fed ‘M horrid BO is’ into Tea. That didn’t work, and I suspected it was because of † above. I tried ‘Ms horrid BO is’, and was pleased when BROMHIDROSIS popped up. I didn’t feel at all guilty at using a cheat so early in the game.

That just left the question of which square had the double letters. I opted for the central column… nice and symmetrical.

Moving on to the entries dropping down from 4ac, RAZMATAZ was a gift at 5dn and the entry “only given in etymologies” was the simple yet enjoyable 6dn Wave to Latin master in Hyundai (4) UNDA. One thing that I enjoyed with these clues was the way that Sabre identified obsolete and other sorts of words. In the UNDA clue, for example, “to Latin master” was the give-away. Elsewhere, we had “as was” and “that’s dead” defining obsolete words and giving smooth surface readings. We also had 17ac Rounded, narrowing bodies seen in all of Dior dresses (7, two words), which was TURNS OUT, with TOUT being defined by ‘all of Dior’, ie TOUT in French. What a superb surface reading.

Solving was pretty slow for me. This was partly due to the fact that you couldn’t really rely on any crossing letter to help with an entry, but it was also due to some deviousness of the highest callibre by Sabre. For example, 7dn He needs this for that lady friend of Hermione (3) — HE needs ‘R’ ON to give HER (that lady), and RON (Weasley) is a friend of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. Similarly, 21ac US coin is in proportion to louis-d’or? (7) was QUARTER, obviously a US coin, but also telling us that ‘is’ (2 letters) is a quarter of ‘louis d’or’ (8 letters)! A couple of exclamation marks wouldn’t have gone astray at the end of that clue.

I was somewhat unsure about 25ac Hope letter-opener’s diamonds scratched pendant (5), which looked like EARBOB. I wondered if there was a ‘[D]EAR BOB’ letter, a bit like a ‘Dear John’, but I couldn’t find any support for this. If it was just DEAR – D + BOB, then I couldn’t understand the definition ‘Hope’.

As the grid filled, I had a fair few of the central squares containing two letters. It didn’t take long to see MINUTE HAND and HOUR HAND eventually making themselves known, and thus the coincidence was revealed.

I was still nowhere near identifying any of the letter replacement that was required. EXPIRATION at 11ac and SPACE CADETS at 35ac, for example, didn’t have any clashes with crossing entries, so I assumed that either the unchecked X or T would need replacing — and that could be by any letter! It seemed to me that this puzzle would need solving in a particular sequence:

1) Solve all the clues and end up with a full grid with all the clashes marked;

2) Identify the clock times involved in the clashes and list the corresponding pairs of letters;

3) Make the letter replacements in the grid-fill.

I eventually finished stage 1 and proceeded to identify the times at which the minute hand and hour hands coincided. It seemed unlikely that these would appear as “Somewhere between half past seven and a quarter to eight” or “Just before eleven minutes past two”. No… Sabre would be far more precise. Even “Four twenty-one and forty-nine seconds” wasn’t exactly right.

I listed out the clashes that I definitely had in the grid. 1ac was S/T, 4ac was I/U/W, 11ac was totally unknown, 12ac was N/T, and so on. The list looked daunting, but, with a bit of trial and error, I had the two times. In fact, I worked backwards from the THREE/EIGHT at the end of the calshes, and got SIXTEEN AND FOUR ELEVEN*TH MINUTES PAST THREE and TWENTY ONE AND NINE ELEV*ENTH MINUTES TO EIGHT.

Even the next step required a bit of thought. I divided the list into two: 20 letters related to the across entries, and 18 to the downs. This point was at * in the times above. Thus, by inspection, the first letter of 1ac was S or T and the first of 1dn was E or T; 1ac therefore became TOUL, with a different letter needing to be swapped in 1dn.

Listener 4326Working my way round the entries was great fun, partly because I knew I was nearly done‡, but also because I appreciated what an incredible feat it must have been to construct the grid.

My grid was complete, and all that remained was to “illustrate the cause of the coincidence” in the central column. It thus transpired that ‡I was nowhere near done, as I was faced with a dilemma. Was I meant to (a) just leave the letters side by side; (b) have the letters of MINUTE HAND completely hide those of HOUR HAND; or (c) write the letters of MINUTE HAND over the top of HOUR HAND.

(a) didn’t seem right, although the squares could represent the hands with the letters just annotating them left and right. I decided against this.

(b) seemed accurate, but I just felt that we would be given more of a hint about this in the preamble; also, the crossing entries were no longer words, and I felt that would definitely have been flagged.

(c) similar reasoning applied here, and anyway, who would be able to tell that I had the correct letters in the central column if they were scrunched into pairs?

Finally, I decided on a fourth option (d): write the letters of MINUTE HAND above those of HOUR HAND so that they were in a straight line.

Listener 4326 My EntryAnd so, remembering to highlight NOON in row 4, that’s what went off to St Albans, although deep down I really wanted to go for option (c). Luckily this wasn’t the first puzzle of the year and I wasn’t all-correct anyway. However, having spent so long on it, it would have been a waste to fall at the last hurdle. Only time would tell what the accepted solution would be.

Anyway, thanks to Sabre for a phenomenal puzzle. Time after time, he pushes us to the limit… as he must do to himself when he comes up with his ideas!


3 Responses to “Listener No. 4326: Coincidence by Sabre”

  1. Nick said

    I didn’t attempt this puzzle, Dave, but I did look at the endgame with a fellow solver. I couldn’t see how it could be other than side by side as I didn’t think that The Listener wouldn’t allow the across entries to be affected without saying. I also thought that ’cause’ was critical in the preamble meaning that solvers weren’t expect to demonstrate the actual event but demonstrate what causes it, i.e. both letters in the same place which in crossword terms in just both letters in a cell. I did think that it might have been better if the requirement had been to show the actual hands coming from the bottom of the grid to give noon though.

  2. Nick said

    Sorry about the typos, I need a proofreader.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Nick. I agree with everything you say and option (a) does seem to tick all the boxes. I was just worried that, not being an expert in the jargon, “in crossword terms is just both letters in a cell” wasn’t true. I have it on good authority that this ambiguity was not foreseen. Sometimes (not often) it’s possible to read too much into it.

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