What’s On by Nod
Posted by shirleycurran on 1 May 2015
Full marks to Nod for brevity of preamble – three lines! That has to be this year’s record. However, our faces fell at once when we read that we had to remove a word from each clue before solving and that the initial letters of those words were going to spell out a hint about how to ‘form the grid entries’. That sounded like a lot of cold solving before we were going to enter anything.
‘Numbers in brackets are the lengths of clue answers’. We did a quick check of word length and produced very strange statistics. Some clue answers were shorter than the space allocated, some were the same and some were longer. We know that Nod sets numerical crosswords normally and should have twigged at once (especially with that amusing title) but we had to do quite a bit of solving before deciphering the message that made everything clear.
However, I am racing ahead of myself. First, of course, as if I had any doubt, I had to confirm Nod’s membership of the Listener Setters’ Imbibing Club and that didn’t take long. First there was ‘Rarely honour with drink, albeit in [American] cocktail (6)’ which gave us the generous LIBATE anagram. There was ‘Anyone [imbuing] that with moderation (3)’ giving W + HO, then all moderation was thrown to the winds with ‘Drink juice with last of sangria replaced by current [wine] (3)’ SAP, with I for A. Cheers, Nod!
We attempted to fit the solutions that came thick and fast into the grid, but, of course, with all those clashing word lengths, got nowhere at all and had to simply keep solving and work out the message given to us by the extra letters. MAKING ANSWERS came first – not a lot of help as we knew we were attempting to do that. Then the first p.d.m. as NUMBERS OF appeared and we were able to guess at ELEMENTS in the eight letters between those two sets.
Even a Numpty could guess at the word the first six letters were spelling out; so we had ‘ATOMIC NUMBERS OF ELEMENTS MAKING ANSWERS’. We saw this device a year ago in a Radix Magpie (but, as Nod’s setter’s blog is going to tell us and I naughtily preempt – crosswords go to the editors years in advance of their appearing and we are not plagiarising, but simply unlucky that we have adopted the same theme and that the lottery of when a crossword appears has put another with the same theme somewhere ahead in the queue).
We checked half a dozen of the solutions we already had and breathed a sigh of relief – they worked once the letters were converted to atomic numbers of the elements. In fact, this process was far easier than it initially appeared to be as many words produced a unique set of possible numbers.
We did pause along the way to admire two superb clues among the many that earned a smile or a happy murmur. ‘Delay as ancients did cry Caesar [and] shifted a few places (3)’ That was masterful – we had to Caesar-shift CRY three places along in the alphabet to give FUB, an old word for ‘delay, or fob off’. However, my absolute favourite was ‘What might change cheerful Glaswegian into [ragged] canary silk dress? (5)’ To change CANTY to CANARY requires T as AR and I find that a TASAR is a dress. Wow!
Of course, there was a smile at the title, too. Elementary, dear Watson. (I believe that is apocryphal – Holmes never actually said it did he?)
And the Numpty red-herring? Why did it take us so long to fit those final clues? Well, first of all, there was HECHS. It looked like the answer to ‘Make front of Jock’s pants hot [eliminating] his surprised exclamations (5)’ but I played for far too long with ‘Kecks’, changing the K for H giving HECKS. Well, Nod would tell me I couldn’t convert that to atomic numbers of elements to fit five cells (2 6 19 16) so a rethink and, of course ‘pechs’ is a Scottish word for ‘pants’ too so I could enter HECHS as 2 6 1 16. Home and dry? Noooo!
GEARCASE (SACRA< in GEE) was a fine candidate for 32ac. and that parsed as 32 18 20 34 but surely there couldn’t be a clash? I would say that my last hour of solving went into these two clues and the ultimate realisation that we were going to use those recent additions to the table of elements – the 100 to 109 pack (Seaborgium indeed!) and there was HASSIUM Hs at 108, that allowed me to enter HECHS as 2 6 108. I can just picture the cunning smile on Nod’s face when he saw that potential devious twist.
I know that there is a setter’s blog coming explaining how Nod managed to create this grid of numbers, made of converted real words that were composed of only the letters that could use the elements. To my mind, this is Bletchley Park-style thinking and, in truth, working backwards from the numbers we had in the grid to those final difficult words in the south-west corner LUV, HECHS, GEARCASE, COCCAL was a mighty challenge that kept me going until midnight, but I am all admiration. Many thanks to Nod.