Listener No. 4341: What’s On? by Nod
Posted by Dave Hennings on 1 May 2015
Nod’s last puzzle was based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The one before that (his first Listener) was built around the Caesar Cipher. I wish that I’d known that before starting 1ac in this puzzle.
The initial letters of extra words would tell us how to “form the grid entries”… a slightly strange wording, but hey ho. 1ac was (3) in the clue, but with an entry length of 4. 4ac, on the other hand, was (9) in the clue, but with an entry of 8. Meanwhile, 12ac was (4) and 4, and 13ac was 2 different with (5) and 7! Now, I suppose that some smart-arse scientists would have tumbled what was going on at this point, but not I (as I’m neither a smart-arse nor a scientist).
19ac One who brings up messenger starting with right instead of black [magic] (6) was the first clue I solved, REARER, and I pencilled it in the grid. Next came 28ac Poor and hungry at first, my [servants] that used to express disgust (4) for PHOH. I suspected that those extra words were going to be causing me all sorts of problems. (If only all my suspicions could be that accurate!)
The acrosses yielded only a few more clues, but I was mightily relieved that I solved the 12-letter down entries at 4 Using this editing method could see daunting [test] cases put out (11, three words) and 6 Peculiar [magnifying] lens adjusted for occurrence during syzygy (12, two words). CUT AND PASTE (one letter short of its entry length) and LUNAR ECLIPSE (no letters short) were pencilled in, the latter coinciding nicely with the first E of REARER and the P of PHOH.
Unfortunately, as more answers were pencilled in the grid, this coincidence of crossing letters letters proved to be very much that… a coincidence. After about an hour, I had a right old mishmash of pencilled letters generated by a paltry dozen or so clues. Luckily (and I can’t stress that enough), the initial letters of the few extra words I had identified read · T· · · · · U M B · · S O F, and a bit of examination of possible extra words in the early clues enabled me to see that we were dealing with the atomic numbers. Eventually the initials would lead to Atomic numbers of elements making answers.
So, I was home and dry. Well not quite. Having digits going one way in the grid didn’t make getting letters going the other way particularly straightforward. And what with those pesky extra words in the clues, this puzzle proved to be one tough little cookie.
About three hours after starting, I had several little isolated pockets of unsolved entries, and it was a case of revisting the puzzle on and off over a period of three days. Care had to be taken with some entries where alternatives existed. 16ac CONSOLATION could begin 68716 or 27716. At one point, I thought it would be fun if Nod included elements whose atomic numbers were greater than 99. Of course, having thought that, I promptly forgot it. Consequently, entering 25dn HECHS as 26116 caused me all sorts of problems with solving 32ac Bones put back in American leisure suit for protective cover (8), and when I finally got GEAR-CASE, I was confused since it had 8 for 25dn’s last digit. It took quite some time for me to realise that Hassium Hs was element 108 and 25dn was 26108.
Finally, the grid was complete, and all clues had been satisfactorily solved. Remember I mentioned 1ac Delay as ancients did cry Caesar and shifted a few places (3)? I needed the crossing numbers 9·25 to see that it might be FUB. At first I thought “Delay as did cry Caesar” was the definition, but the rest of the clue didn’t seem to work. Hold on, perhaps the letters of ‘and’ were shifted in the alphabet… not a lot, but just a bit. It was not to be, but I felt I was on the right track and examined shifting ‘cry’. Indeed, FUB was 3 letters on from CRY and I realised what was going on. Nod hadn’t just shifted the letters of ‘cry’, he had them Caesar-shifted (probably should be hyphenated). Ouch!
Of course, what was required next was to thoroughly check my solution. I had made a couple of silly transcription errors which had held up my solving process, and it was important that none were left, especially in unchecked squares.
So thanks to Nod for a tough challenge. I’ll be on the lookout for another Caesar shift in his next puzzle. And for those of you still stuck on the title, I have it from an inside source that it’s elementary, my dear…!