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Listener No. 4406: The Bard’s Coupling

Posted by Dave Hennings on 29 July 2016

or… Dunmow Flitch by Kea

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It was 8:30am on the morning of my birthday, and I was faced with a Playfair puzzle. Actually, I was faced with a double Playfair puzzle, one square consisting of the puzzle’s true title and attribution, the other using an anagram of The Bard’s Coupling, a hint at the theme. Would this be more, or less, tricky than Horvendile’s Present Day where every entry had to be Playfair-encoded. This week, the setter would only become clear once the first Playfair square had been completed. Luckily it was one where no letter recurred, which meant our mystery setter, unless he was a newbie, could be Artix, Charybdis, Ifor, Kea, Pieman, Rasputin, Sabre, Shackleton, Tiburon… the list seemed endless.

Listener 4406Eight answers had to be Playfair-encoded on entry using Playfair 1, and one definition in each clue pair had to have two adjacent letters decoded using Playfair 2. Before starting on the clues, I examined ‘The Bard’s Coupling’ and wondered if DOUBLE was part of the code. That left THARSCPING, but DOUBLE SR NIGHT-CAP didn’t seem to have any thematic relevance to anything I could think of. Or perhaps DUPLICATE was in there somewhere.

I will start by saying that this was one tough nut to crack. Rather than describe the start of this puzzle for me (which can be summarised as ‘slow’), I’ll describe the ending (which can be summarised as ‘just as slow’). Suffice it to say that CAOGULASE and HELLWARDS helped a bit at the start, although not as much as 9-letter words normally would!

After some hours solving, I finally rationalised 1ac Compare less instant backing for Stones with babes during drug fix: I’m thinking “scrubby” (6). This was almost certainly AGATES (I had the G and T — and felt like having one) but it took some time to decipher (SET AGAINST (compare) – INST)<. The remainder of the clue baffled me, although scrubby looked like it was the word that had been encoded.

I was making steady progress on Square 2, and by this time I already had DU encoded as UP (duped became upped in 10,32ac), EA as UN (speaking became spunking in 16,26ac), AC becoming CO (sacred became scored, 3,23dn), and a few more besides. It took me some time to realise that Wonk’s in 12,30 became Yank’s, justifying BEJEWELED having the US single L.

I also reckoned that I was probably dealing with Kea, Pieman or Sabre as the mystery setter, the clues were that tough. I had excluded Artix due to his No Offence just last month.

Listener 4406 Square 2 1
Listener 4406 Square 2 2

From the clue word encodings I mention above, DU as UP and AC as CO would give DUP and ACO in a single row or column. Perhaps I was right with DUPLICATE. With seen becoming sent at 9,20dn, that gave ENT also in a straight line, and with EA giving UN, I had the vague beginnings of Square 2 (see right). Could it become DUPLE and possibly BACON?

Some time later, with more clue encodings identified, I managed to complete Playfair Square 2, as shown here, although I had no idea what exactly DUPLE BACON RIGHTS could refer to.

Onwards with some thoughts on 15,27 Perhaps mails special text for actor “resting” with papers of quality, wearing wrap (6; 6, two words) which looked like a simple MISSAL, although I couldn’t see any coding in text for actor. Eventually, I sussed that Perhaps mails was the definition, with foils being encoded as mails and SWORDS being the entry.

And what about the second part of 1,34ac? The problem here, of course, was that I sloppily thought that Stones was the definition, and was desperately trying to decode babes as part of the definition for 34. It turned out that AGATES was definied by Stones with bands and had nothing to do with the clue to DUMOSE. I seemed to be going out of my way to make life difficult for myself!

Meanwhile 7,13 Cardinalships in trouble about wheeling past all that rush with lone flayers to cant about God in Indian city (9) was such a convoluted clue that I couldn’t even guess at where the break between the two parts sat. (I guess there is a surface reading in there somewhere….) For those still in the dark, HATS (cardinalships) in WOE (trouble) + RE (wheeling, ie reversed) gave WHATSOE’ER (all that), with TOSS (cant) about D (god) in AGRA (Indian city) giving TOADGRASS (rush with lone flowers).

And I can’t let 5,14dn go, Tool to make smooth cut (one that does leaning) chopped Welsh lard to heck (9). Chopped WELSH LARD for HELLWARDS was easy enough, but where was the encoding in the first part of the clue to give FILLISTER ( FIL[e] (to make smooth, cut) + LISTER (one that does leaning). That left Tool as the definition, but without any encoding. At last I realised (I think)… it was an encoded &lit, if such a thing can exist. Substitute planing and the whole clue reads as a definition, with FIL[e] (tool to make smooth, cut) + LISTER being the wordplay. This was certainly the work of a master.

Listener 4406 Square 1 1
Listener 4406 Square 1 2
Listener 4406 Square 1 3
Listener 4406 Square 1

I managed to derive Playfair Square 1 before I had completed the grid. At 1dn, HAYLEY gave AS··PC, thus HAS were in line. 5ac FUTONS gave HF··UV, so UFH were in line, and with GNUS giving ·LFU, ASUFH had to be in line. Given NS encoded as UV, this meant that they were in line vertically. With PACA→·GHE and EY→PC (1dn), E & P were in line with A, and C & Y were in line with H. At 33ac, CE→ER, so CER were in line. I sketched out these thoughts (see right).

Looking for letters that might make the bottom row, only RSV seemed to fit, so I rejigged the grid and with the E and A staring me in the face in columns 1 and 2, I knew that KEA was my nemesis. It didn’t take too long to work out the rest of the code phrase from the letters not yet used — DUNMOW FLITCH BY KEA. In Great Dunmow, this is a slab of bacon which is presented to any couple who can satisfy a Judge and Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in a year and a day they have not wished themselves unmarried again. I guess that can be described as DUPLE BACON RIGHTS!

Bizarre is the only word for that, but Phenominal is the word for this puzzle as I completed the grid a short while later.

Listener 4406 My EntryA quick highlighting of VERULAMIAN, and all was ready to go. Well, not quite. I had to rationalise the clue to VITALIZED at 30ac animated Tory Betty and Teddy. I could see LIZ (Betty) and ED (Teddy), but what Tory had anything to do with VITA (life). It was only when Goolge threw up Vita Sackville-West that I discovered that Vita was a short form of Victoria… as was Tory. News to me!

Kea, thanks for the biggest headache in many a month, for a stunning concept and for the devious idea of having two Playfair code squares in a puzzle. Ill buy you a drink next time we meet (very shortly, I hope).

Listener 4406 Flitch


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