Listener No 4419: Common Acid Test by Stan
Posted by Dave Hennings on 28 October 2016
This week we had Stan’s third Listener although six years have passed since his last, No 4111, News Quiz. That had as its theme the fact that Alaska is the most northerly, westerly and easterly of the American states (it straddles the date-line), with Hawaii as the southernmost.
Here a blank grid stared at us… almost literally. The grid needed to be contructed by us with square cells, not all of the same size. The clues were in normal order and were of the extra wordplay letter type. The extra letters would spell out what the finished grid would represent and need to contain.
Since the grid was symmetrical about the NW–SE diagonal, the number of across and down clues would be the same, ie 20. That meant the first down clue was Hesitancy built up amongst teetotallers? Oh dear, Shirley, an ex-alcoholic! That was ABULIA, but would have to wait till I scanned all the acrosses first.
That proved worthwhile, with the first three, AUREUS, APERCU and HERB, being scribbled separately from the grid. I applied a bit of logic to the situation, with the expectation it would be wrong. If AUREUS and APERCU were along the top row, then where would HERB go? I decided to delay any more logic until I had finished scanning the acrosses and downs.
That proved depressing, with only KEEN, OBELI, SCELERATE and GALA being solved across. The downs were slightly more promising: ABULIA, UPPER, RED DEER, IBSENITE and a handful of others. So, back to the logic, and it looked as though the top left square would be 2×2 and contain A. That would enable ABULIA to use that square with UPPER dropping down from AUREUS and APERCU. My money was on the bottom right being 2×2 as well.
I wondered how many other 2×2 squares would be lurking in the grid. As I solved Assailant mother stabbed with nail for ATTACKER, the extra wordplay letters that I had read ILL…A.E.M…, and Illuminated Manuscript was a relatively easy spot.
Next came ARPENT and BREED, but they messed with UPPER and RED DEER, so perhaps we had a 3×3 square in the top left corner. And bottom right? Luckily a bit of thought made me reaise what we were dealing with. Well, the extra letters had actually told me, and it was more likely that the top right square would be the ‘illuminated’ bit of the diagram.
All that was left was to spot Stan’s slightly trickier clues, and after a couple of hours I had a full grid with a single 3×3 square. The extra letters finished with Versal in largest cell. I needed to look that up in Chambers: ‘versal² n an ornamental letter at the beginning of a section, eg in an illuminated manuscript.’
So I guessed that just a large letter A like the one that was currently in my grid, would be inadequate. Something a bit more ornate would be required, but there was no ‘solvers will not be penalised for lack of artistic ability’ in the preamble. I decided to leave the really flamboyant stuff to Shirley and just made mine ever so slightly flamboyant for my submission.
Chambers gives acid test as a test for gold. I assume the title is therefore a reference to gold leaf frequently being used in illuminated manuscripts, but I’m not 100% sure of this.
A very enjoyable and novel puzzle, thanks Stan; luckily not as daunting as the grid at first made it seem.