Listen With Others

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The Code Duello by Agricola

Posted by shirleycurran on 29 December 2017

Oh no, not Playfair! We read the preamble and things only got worse. Somehow, we were to use wordplay that was going to emerge from extra letters in the wordplay of the clues to discover two thematic characters who were probably in some way going to duel. One apparently would have twelve letters to his name and the other ten. Their names were going to somehow suggest the code words and we had to use a different code word for 1 and 10. A thematic animal was going to appear that would resolve any ‘uncertainty’. (Good word, that! We have books about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and Schroedinger’s Cat and the hint was there, but, of course, we didn’t spot it as we started solving).

Yes, I read through the clues, as, even if, as seems to be the case, Agricola is a new Listener setter, I needed to justify his membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit. I didn’t need to read far: ‘Please bring booze: Earl scrapped cockfight (3)’. Hmmm – I’m not sure that surface reading told me much but we decided it had to be BYO (bring your own) and E, so a BYE had to be some sort of scrapped cockfight and the Big Red Book confirmed that.

So what kind of booze was it? I skipped a couple of clues where we had ‘Yankee chases tea wrapped in gold seal (5)’ Yes, Agricola was getting into his stride now; that had a fine surface reading and was nicely deceptive, as the seal turned out to be an OTARY and not a cuppa that the Yankee was chasing (Y after T[E]A OR). Then ‘Tropical island mostly holds off site fouler (7)’ We worked backwards to NA[U]R(U) with SITE* to get NASTIER and now we had realized that those double clues were each giving us two words with only the first letter changing so TASTIER was the solution to the spumante clue, ‘Nicer bird drinking spumante (7)’ Ah the inevitable crosswordese spumante! It was a TER[N] drinking it but I think we can say cheers Agricola! Be careful not to overdo the alcohol though! Towards the end of the clues, ‘Mouths muddled exclamations, half-cut (5)’ (exclam)ATIO[N]S* giving OSTIA sounds  as though all that alcohol didn’t go down too well. Maybe you’ll be at the setters’ dinner in Paris in March drinking something of better quality – see you there!

We solved steadily, some fairly compact and amusing clues and a couple I moaned about, ‘Trials without charity for eczema sufferers (4)’. The other Numpty was muttering at me ‘Look up that eczema charity on the Internet’ but it was a while before we found NES which, with W/O produced WOES and an extra N, and we guessed at KRONE (which was confirmed later by the Playfair encoding) but still don’t understand the clue ‘Earlier paper about Copenhagen interpretation of Bible cut just after betting game (5) Twelve words to produce five letters? Hmmm. (The other Numpty tells me that clue is thematic, in that the Copenhagen interpretation was part of an argument about the foundations of wave particle duality and that ultimately, it doesn’t seem to matter, as they are the same).

Enough muttering! After a couple of hours we had two sets of wordplay: I RODE UNSTEADILY IN SEWING MACHINE and SAID G’DAY ON BUDDHIST MOUNTAIN (yes, it could have been ‘IN’ as we still hadn’t sussed the KRONE clue).  Sewing machine? Well I have a lovely little Husqvarna, but that has too many letters and Elna has too few. Must be SINGER. SCHROEDINGER has a fine anagram of I RODE in it but that doesn’t quite work. There’s an extra I and that CH to justify. Oh, clever Agricola! Chambers tells us that CH is an obsolete dialect form of ‘ich’ or I.

By this time, the other Numpty was downstairs watching the snooker but he’s the physicist and when I shouted down “It’s HI ZEN BERG – a “heard” clue giving HEISENBERG”, he nonchalantly shouted back “Then the key words are PARTICLE and WAVE”, and, of course, they were, as was demonstrated by the Braingle Playfair solver minutes later. Quinapalus does the same. It is amazing, I think (and I have no qualms about using such resources even if I admire those who work out the Playfair for themselves). Entering just two pairs of letters gives that string of possible key words and, of course WAVE and PARTICLE are there.

The Internet tells me that the particle belongs to Heisenberg and the wave to Schroedinger, who was a wave-mechanics man, but there is supposed to be a thematic animal appearing to resolve any ambiguity and, of course, when I select the right set I find, not a hare (Schroedinger’s hare? No, Schroedinger’s bat? I wonder how many solvers will enter that!) There’s his CAT to highlight. Nice! I love the way the Playfair game was thematic. What a fine debut, thank you, Agricola.

Randy Hare

The Poat hare? A fellow solver sent me an amusing email before even beginning to solve. ‘Bet you a glass of wine in Paris that the duelling pair are the Tortoise and the Hare.’ (Nice idea but he lost didn’t he!) But is it really fair to hide the hare in the clues? ‘One local hare among game lacking purity (12)’ and what self-respecting hare would be among that gone-off venison or whatever? Of course the game was CHESS surrounding [H]ASTEN giving us UNCHASTENESS. However, it was the cheeky little fellow climbing up the grid towards all those DOES that had appeared in the endgame who caught my fancy.

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