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Listener 4342: Triskaidekaphilia by BeRo

Posted by Jaguar on 8 May 2015

BeRo has been setting Listeners since before I was born, and today’s puzzle therefore marks the passing of another from the “old guard” of crossword setters. This would be the fourth time I have attempted a BeRo puzzle, and all four have been brilliant (even though I got none of the last three right in the end). Truly an inventive setter, and the crossword world will certainly miss him.


 

As to the puzzle itself, I wanted to start with a cautionary tale. As I opened this puzzle up and read the title, “Triskaidekaphilia”, which my minutes of training in Greek allowed me to translate as “three-and-ten-love” or “love of the number 13”, it took no time at all to guess the theme number. Further signs confirmed that, eg the clue numbering system 1, … , 9, A, B, C, 10 — ie base 13 — and then Z = 20 (= 26 in base 13), and so on. But still, I wanted to be sure, and so I went off to check the prime factors of 4342 and 2015.

And disaster! My first hit on Google was this site, which assured me that 4342 = 2*2171 and 2015 = 5*403 and that 403 and 2171 are therefore prime numbers! What?! And thus began five minutes of frantic head-scratching as I tried to confirm that the prime-factor calculator on that site worked. Turns out that it does work most of the time but for whatever reason thinks that 403 is a prime number despite giving 390 = 30*13 and 416 = 32*13, and then obviously 403 = 31*13. I can only assume that there is a bug in the code such that a number has to divide by 2,3,5 or 7 in order to be considered “not prime” — as a remarkable check of this you can try 121 (=11^2) on that site and it will confidently tell you that this square number is prime! Ho hum… Don’t use that site. Thank goodness I believed BeRo enough to not trust the result, although really I should have just checked that 13 goes into 2015 and 4342 myself.

Headache over, it was on to solve the puzzle itself. With plenty of endgame promised, BeRo was kind enough to give us normal clues and in general they were not too hard either. Probably the trickiest thing was keeping track of the clue numbering as Crossword Compiler insists on sticking to decimal numbering. More than once I was puzzled by clues not fitting before remembering they had to go elsewhere… but with clues like 36 ac SLEDGED (S(trauss) +(Be)l(l) + edged), with its surface reading evoking memories of the 2006/07 Ashes Test at Adelaide, to enjoy, it was worth the pain of switching between bases.

Eventually, then, the grid fill was complete, and the 13 consecutive 13th letters starting from 21ac gave “SIX x NINE ADAMS”, with the famous answer 42 as revealed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. 42 in base 13 is 54 in decimal numbers, as some clever people spotted… but not Douglas Adams, as it turns out.

I also noted that the middle row so far contained only the letter A, and there was an abundance of A B C D E letters in three corners of the grid.  This was spoiled rather by a possible O due to one clash, and a G and N nearby, and of course the bottom-left with no apparent pattern at all. So what was going on, I wonder.

At least the clashes led naturally enough to GEORGE ORWELL, although having still read none of his works I wasn’t necessarily further forward. The problem turns out to be that I wasn’t really thinking cryptically enough, stuck on the idea that the sequence was made of 169 individual numbers (or maybe 13 separate sequences of 13 numbers), both ideas of course going nowhere until it dawned on me that “additionally” meant ” by adding [the numbers in each shape]” and “multiple” meant … well, multiple — as in 13, 26, 39 etc. rather than multiple separate sequences.

This hurdle crossed, it was easy to complete the middle row entirely with A’s, check that the total of a 5-5-3 shape in the top-left corner was 26 if you chose E rather than O, and following the logic around allowed all clashes to be resolved into numbers 13, 26, 39… 169. Goodness only knows how much work went into setting up the letters in the grid to make that work, and BeRo can be easily forgiven for allowing a few non-words to creep in.

Which left me with the “striking thematic example” to sort out. This, too, turned out to be what it meant literally rather than “a thematic example that is particularly noteworthy”, as 1984 opens with some reference to the clock “striking” 13. Converting this into B98 and we’re done.

BeRo’s last Listener, then, and one that joins Shackleton’s recent effort in setting the benchmark for 2015’s Gold Cup. Wonderful stuff.

Readers may care to note this blog contains 793 words, a number also divisible by 13.

4342

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