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Following the Brief by eXternal

Posted by shirleycurran on 13 February 2015

Certain signs?

Certain signs?

The title Following the Brief said nothing at all to me at first, but the preamble to eXternal’s compilation gave a series of steps we were going to follow that would clearly make sense in the end. Of course, I had to check that eXternal still qualifies for the Elite Oenophile Listener Setters.org and, with consternation, read right down the across clues encountering tobacco, new food, fish and a range of computer clues but not a drop of alcohol. Thankfully eXternal more than redeemed himself, after dubiously dabbling with ‘possession of grass’ by ‘Stone stopping the many becoming drunk? (8)’ which gave an &Lit clue to AMETHYST (ST in THE MA[N]Y*), then ‘Scene of maritime struggle, sailor regularly heaved out lurid alcoholic drink (6)’ AB + U[I] + KIR and his ‘Short time until party (4)’ giving SEC T[O].

We solved steadily but with some difficulty until CERTAIN SIGNS led us to a quotation ‘CERTAIN SIGNS PRECEDE CERTAIN EVENTS’ (Oh thank you for Wikipedia) and Cicero. I had no idea that Cicero was known for his declarations about brevity but the other Numpty has read some popular novel about his slave Tiro, hiding in the Arras (or was that Polonius?) and taking down an interview in shorthand.

A little research confirmed that this was our theme and solving speeded up when we could locate the four clues where a ‘number of consecutive letters’ had to be omitted: NOT[AT]E, OPE[RATIO]N, POS[SUM]S and S[AND]PIT. Oh yes, we were being exceptionally numptyish, as the word-count had spelled these out for us from the start. It is good advice, isn’t it, that I received from Samuel when I first started LWO blogging? “I always read down and up the first and last letters of clues and check the word length before beginning to solve – it can save a lot of time.”

We had AT/ RATIO/ SUM and AND. We had to change these in accordance with the quotation, so they had to become ‘certain signs’ – more of that later – and precede certain events.

By this time, we had some ‘events’ in our grid and, by inserting those letters in the cell before OPERA, CIRCUS, CENSUS and DRAMA, we were removing the letters I,R,T and O. These could clearly form TIRO, the fellow who slavishly followed Cicero, and a little hunting produced his name, running backwards in (n)ORIT(e). That was a straight line so we highlighted him. The inserted letters gave us SENATOR, SATURATION, MANDREL and RESUME – real words. This was entertaining setting.

What was left to do, after we had filled the few remaining gaps in our grid. Hmmm! We had to decide what signs we would insert in those cells. Discussion ensued. I was all for putting in the signs that I (as a one-time shorthand typist and a modern user of the Internet) would automatically use for AT (@) RATIO (/) SUM (+) and AND (.) but I married a nuclear physicist (the other Numpty) who painstakingly explained to me that (:) would be the scientific preference for RATIO and that a whole range of symbols defines SUM, depending on the context (+ for digits, ∪ for sets, the sigma symbol (Σ) for series and an elongated ∫ for integrals). What would Tiro have used? The sigma, probably, but he certainly used the ET (Latin AND) symbol for which he is known (it isn’t on my keyboard – a sort of right-leaning cliff edge!)

Dilemma! This has been an enjoyable solve (Thank you eXternal) and here we are again, wondering how to complete our grid and whether the editors will throw up their hands and say “Accept anything, little squiggles, dots, splodges – whatever!” Yes, I have carefully checked the BRB and see that (Σ) and (:) appear in the mathematical symbols appendix as SUM and RATIO but if @ and & (which appears defined as ampersand) are acceptable, I imagine the other possible ‘signs’ have to be as well …..

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2 Responses to “Following the Brief by eXternal”

  1. Jaguar said

    Turns out some of the ambiguities were accepted, which is perhaps only fair, although not all of them (eg a Union is not a sum, nor is an integral). Nice puzzle from eXternal, though.

  2. shirleycurran said

    Yes, there’s an interesting discussion of that issue going on on Derek’s message board where both views appear very clearly. I am glad the editors were reasonable (to my mind) about this as it would be sad for anyone to be ‘eliminated from the all-corrects’ so early on for using a plus sign.

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