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Listener No. 4330: Following the Brief by eXternal

Posted by Dave Hennings on 13 February 2015

Here we had eXternal’s second Listener, following on from last year’s fine puzzle with it’s There-was-an-old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly theme. This week there was a preamble that I assumed would make sense once the endgame was complete, but until then a quotation would need to be identified, spelt out by the extra wordplay letters. There were also four answers that would lose a number of consecutive letters before entry. Luckily, we were given answer lengths for those, so they were easy to spot.

I don’t know whether setters make the left-hand side of the grid harder than the right, but this week 1 SENIOR, 10 PROOF and 15 CHEESE were not the first clues that I solved. Instead, 5 FOULED, 13 ESPRIT and 14 CENSUS were slotted into the top right quadrant, followed by the crossing 7 URNED and 8 LISPER. I was thus able to get 16ac Measure for computing peak in network (5) NEPIT. I’ve come across this word elsewhere recently and not given it a second thought. This week, however…

Listener 4330For nepit, Chambers has “see nit4“, where we are told “(comput) a unit of information equal to 1.44 bits (also nepit). [Napierian digit]”. Now, for binary digit, Chambers gives “(comput, telecom) either of the two digits, 0 or 1; the smallest unit of information (usu in short form bit).” So if a bit is the smallest unit of information, how can there be a 1.44 of it?! Neither the ODE or the online OED has “nepit”, so where has Chambers got it from? (I’m resigned to never knowing.)

I tried to zip through the remainder of the clues before I could be sidetracked further. Unfortunately, eXternal wasn’t going to make my life easy, and the fine clues took slightly longer than the top right corner had led me to expect.

I got the first of the answers that needed consecutive letters to be omitted fairly early, being in the top right quadrant. 6dn OPERATION had RATIO omitted to give OPEN. The three other answers were also downs: 2 NOTATE lost AT, 32 POSSUMS lost UMS or SUM, and 33 SANDPIT lost AND. Given the quotation spelt out by the extra letters, I decided that 32 actually lost SUM. This quotation was by Cicero: Certain signs precede certain events, or, in Latin “certis rebus certa signa præcurrunt”.

This quotation wasn’t in the ODQ, nor at the back of Chambers, so a bit of online research was required. Further research revealed the “person who slavishly followed the brief” to be Marcus Tullius Tiro, Cicero’s slave and, apparently, an early proponent of shorthand. Now, although he can be found backwards in row 2 PROOF ESPRIT, he can be found more pleasingly in consecutive letters of the bottom row NORITE STATUE.

All that was left was to resolve the preamble: “A number of entries can be regarded as examples of the final word of the quotation, and the contents of certain cells must be changed in accordance with the quotation and the omissions, producing representations of new words.”

OK, the last word of the quotation was “event”. Was 6dn OPEN one of the events? Perhaps the SENIOR OPEN (1dn 6dn)? I decided to identify the “fallout”, which obviously meant the letters that were to be replaced by the four signs that I had identified. Thus I had 1ac SENIOR becoming SENATOR, 22ac MOREL becoming MANDREL, 4 RETE as RESUME, and 23dn SATURN giving SATURATION. The @ sign and & were obvious candidates for the first two modifications. Luckily, referring to the Mathematical Symbols at the back of Chambers, I got Σ for “sum” and : for “ratio”.

Thus I had finished the puzzle. But how could those four words be seen as events? Well, of course, they couldn’t. It took me such a long time to look at the entries to the right of and below the four signs to see what can be regarded as examples of events: CENSUS, CIRCUS, OPERA and DRAMA. At last, the preamble made complete sense!

Listener 4330 My EntryA final bit of tidying up was to identify the answer that is only given as part of a phrase in Chambers. This was 20ac README, given by Chambers as readme file. (Lots of computation going on this week.) Bizarrely, “readme file” appears for the first time in Chambers (2003); the nefarious “nepit” goes back to at least 1988!

Thanks to eXternal for a neat implementation of the thematic quotation and for causing me more grief than it should have.


2 Responses to “Listener No. 4330: Following the Brief by eXternal”

  1. Dale Johannesen said

    Re “nepit”: see “nat (unit)” in Wikipedia.

  2. Thanks, Dale, although a bit beyond me, I’m afraid. However, nice to know that “One nat is equal to 1/(ln 2) shannons ≈ 1.44 Sh or, equivalently, 1/(ln 10) hartleys ≈ 0.434 Hart.”

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