The Bard’s Coupling; Dunmow Flitch by Kea
Posted by shirleycurran on 29 July 2016
Oh no! That was our initial reaction when that horrid little Playfair square appeared at the right of the grid, though we couldn’t fault the grid with its dual symmetry (and, as a fellow solver pointed out to me later, it was pangrammatic – that’s a sign of the master and a fair hint that we are dealing, here, with one of the stars) Oh no, no, no. It got worse. there was not just one Playfair code in use but a second one ‘another Playfair code phrase that is an anagram of The Bard’s Coupling and provides a hint to the theme’.
Of course, we feed that into an anagram solver and get … precisely nothing. This looks ominous, as we are not going to be able to solve those eight symmetrically placed clues that are enciphered or even enter any of the other solutions to these paired difficult clues until we manage to solve two or three that intersect.
Well, whoever this demon setter is, I can maybe confirm that he retains his ticket for the Listener setters’ boozy do (after all, I could hardly expel this setter could I?) but consternation. I find a drug fix, ‘…with babes during drug fix: I’m thinking “scrubby” (DUMOSE) and ‘substance’ ‘On account of substance on next page’ (OVER + LEAF), some bananas, ‘Little Welsh girl gnawed bananas’ (GWENDA) but not much wine or even beer. Then he redeems himself when we solve ‘…book sack for lags in Barlinnie’ (which we decide has to be laRK in Barlinnie) giving us GAL + RAVAGE. And what is that? Chambers tells us that it is a ‘noisy frolic’/ ‘riotous merrymaking’. Cheers ‘Mr Whoever you are’, see you at the bar!
Solving was tough to say the least. GWENDA, GNUS, FUTONS, ACID, PACA and HAYLEY (I didn’t much like that clue) appeared fairly quickly, but, of course, they had to be enciphered so we couldn’t enter them and the last two of that set of eight single clues were the last two we solved. ‘Blonde bombshell backs having a cut’ DORSA less A giving us DORS. (I wonder how many younger solvers have heard of Diana Dors – though, of course, if you feed ‘Blonde bombshell’ into Wiki, she leaps to the forefront.) Then ‘Ordinary rector and Anglicans are boring’ PIE + R + CE. The definition puzzled us there and I wasn’t aware that PIE could be ordinary.
Fortunately we were able to begin a grid fill with HELLWARDS intersecting with COAGULASE and GALRAVAGE and we were away. Some of the easier clues now peopled our grid: SHMO, VESPER, DIESEL, SWORDS, HEELBONE, FLEAMS and we were slowly able to build up sets of pairs of letter with which to construct the ‘other’ Playfair code that anagrammed to The Bard’s Coupling (with, of course, the letters that don’t appear there forming the last nine letters of the Playfair square). Just a hint of a theme emerged when that gave DUPLE BACON RIGHTS, and that was confirmed when VERULAMIAN appeared rising in the secondary diagonal.
Who he? I ask the knowledgeable Numpty and learn that that is ‘of or relating to St Albans or Francis Bacon. Baron Verulam, Viscount St Albans (1561 – 1626)’ “Everybody knows that” he says scornfully. A red herring here! I jump to the conclusion that our unknown setter must be Trev – Mr Green of St Albans.
However, the clues are there. Bacon is, in some way, our theme and here I strike lucky. We have to find the keyword in order to complete the enciphering of FUTONS and so on. Of course I resort to an on-line Playfair Cipher, I need only feed in one set of paired letters DO leading to UD in the Qinapalus tool and I am given a string of words from which DUNMOW FLITCH leaps out at me.
The Dunmow Flitch is a familiar concept and vaguely ties in with the ‘Duple Bacon Rights’ of the original key phrase and more so with VERULAMIAN. I excitedly attempt to encipher FUTONS using DUNMOW FLITCH BY TREV but, of course, immediately realize that TREV cannot be our culprit as that would give two Ts. There are only two available vowels (since U O I and Y are already used) Now which setter has a short pseudonym with the letters EA? You don’t need to go to Dave Hennings’ Crossword Database to work that one out. Great setting whoever you are! Thanks.