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Listener No. 4378: Present Day by Horvendile

Posted by Dave Hennings on 15 January 2016

Well, here we are with the last Listener of the year, and it’s by a new setter called Horvendile. (I think that makes five first-timers this year.) However, for those who are not Playfair fans, Horvendile says tough… a whole 15×15 grid of encoding lay ahead, with the code-phrase at its centre.

Listener 4378It seemed pointless scanning through the clues in order at this stage since identification of the code-phrase seemed the number one priority.

I focused on 41ac since it had its first two letters coinciding with the last two letters of the code-square. WYCH was straightforward.

A bit of playfairing now emerged: if two letters to be encoded are in the same row or column of the code-square, they must shift backwards or up since they encode to the same two positions and can’t be opposite corners of a square (if you get my drift).

Thus WYCH led to the last three letters of the code-square being WYZ, with X appearing in the code-phrase. This technique also helped with FROLIC at 35dn, which meant that the F went above the entry, and R was its first letter. WHIP at 23ac also ensured that the phrase began with P and 29ac BORATE resulted in BO being a part of it… perhaps BOX?

After only a quarter of an hour, I felt I was getting close, but it was not to be. So, pointless or not, I decided to scan all the clues and see how many entries I could get, paying special attention to those that strayed into the central area. There were 56 clues altogether (and four unclued ones that were thematic). My first trawl through got me just over a third.

I thought that 38, 39 and 40 down might help, but they were proving elusive. Eventually 38 Eccentric Scots Guard fit the bill (6) proved to be WEIRDO, followed by 39 Old jacket was used on my rising out of bed (6) for WAMPUS (WAS around M UP<). In the end, they didn’t help much at all!

Unlike 12dn Work with great singer, one barely seen up? (6) — GODIVA! So the phrase began with PA…. However, all that Christmas food and drink must’ve addled my brain since I still couldn’t see anything.

I was now over two hours into the solve, and I managed to deduce another bit of useful information about Playfair encoding. By chance, I noticed that the first I of 19ac TE-LE-VI-SI-ON and second I of 8dn SI-MI coded to the same letter. Thus, M and V must be in the same column to give diagonals MI/-? and VI/-? with ? as the same letter (I think I’m drifting again). I slotted M and V in the second column of the code-square to see what would happen.

Listener 4378 My EntryFive minutes later, and with a bit of doodling, I was able to identify (well, guess at) PACKING BOXES as the phrase. However, it still took me another two hours to fill in all the remaining holes in the grid, culminating in the unclued entries SOLANDER, CANISTER, FIST & SHOE.

Now it struck me that there was ample room for coding mistakes in this grid. I already had a list of all the answers, so I independently wrote their coded versions alongside and double-checked my submission. It seemed OK.

This was an incredible piece of work from Horvendile, not least for realising that it could be done at all! Thanks for a tough challenge.

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