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Listener No 4505: Wiggles by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 22 June 2018

I don’t know what hit me first this week, the bizarre grid or the fact that it was by Sabre. After both had sunk in, I knew I was in for a tough challenge… which would probably last for the whole week! Sabre’s last puzzle was the one with all those bloody bees/Bs and tripped me up, primarily because I couldn’t read my own scrawl of a word I’d not heard of before (OPORICE).

Those of you who visit my Crossword Database may have seen that I try and describe the grid for each puzzle. The prospect of encapsulating this week’s in less than 100 words seemed daunting. Suffice it to say that there were lots of octagons and squares, the cells of which seemed to adjoin several cells in neighbouring pieces. Moreover, there were four unclued octagons and four unclued squares.

And don’t even think about an animation!

Needless to say — spoiler alert — I found this puzzle bloody difficult. However, I don’t know whether Sabre was toying with us, but five of the first six clues were a doddle: TRASH, PECAN, AERIE, SHADE and NIXER. Unfortunately, even with Wiggle 2 as CAPA, only the C of PECAN could be entered other than in pencil.

There was a brief flurry of extra clues solved, including Wiggles SPREAGHS, GURRAH and ATABEG, but like almost everything else it was unclear how. The top right corner had TRASH, SHADE, ELIDE and AERIE overlapping, but these still left lots of options for what went where.

I have to say that there was an awful lot of cold solving required here, and cross-checking didn’t seem to help me much. Consequently, progress was slow. In addition, I was getting nowhere with the (6,6) round the perimeter which was an alias for the theme (5,5). This started at 29 in the bottom right, which meant that the second word started in the top left, but that and the next were unclued so of no help yet.

Then there was the 3-word phrase spelt out by the central cells of the squares. At various times I had CARDINAL something, CAESAR crossing THE RUBICON, CAESAR’S CIVIL WARS, and others.

There were lots of clues that held me up for an age. Probably the most difficult was Wiggle 7: Narcotic in can seen bizarrely as obstacle to progress in Texas (10, two words). I wasn’t sure whether the obstacle was something like a river in Texas, or whether Texas was just an American indicator. It turned out to be the latter, SNAKE FENCE. Wiggle 21 was also tricky: Search vile tent for Asian tree-climber for FERRET-BADGER, which was new to me. I was also amazed at how long I took for 18 President’s denied front seats; despite his disgusting tweets being in my face every day, I kept on thinking of the usual suspects, Abe, Ike and Reagan.

So how did I crack this puzzle? Well, I had to cheat a bit. With NIXER at the end of word 1 of the perimeter, and XHOSA at the end of word 2, I wondered if the Xs were the central letters and, indeed, whether the two words were the same: ••T••X ••T••X. That’s as far as I got logically, and had to phone a friend (Tea) to get NATRIX NATRIX (in fact just the two Xs would have sufficed if you discount Perdix perdix).

It didn’t take much longer to ferret out grass snake in the ODE and confirm Natrix natrix. From there, jump forward another couple of hours to finish the grid and resolve the central 3-word phrase: CAESAR SHIFT PAIRS. I had forgotten that it was called his Shift Code. Thus, two pairs of thematic Octagons tied up with the four unclued Squares. The two grasses were GREEN and GANJA, and the two snakes, ADDER and COBRA. These code shifted to TERRA, KERNE, BEEFS and FREUD, respectively.

Wow! I really thought I would be stumped by this one, but perseverance (and a cup of Tea) paid off. It would be easy to say that this was unfair: too much cold solving, not enough cross-checking, etc. But surely this sort of puzzle sorts the men/women from the boys/girls. Congratulations if you managed this in under two hours, especially if you sussed NATRIX NATRIX from just the two Xs.

Thanks for a tough challenge, Sabre. I hope I got there unscathed.


One Response to “Listener No 4505: Wiggles by Sabre”

  1. Steve said

    I had exactly the same issue with 18 — having got a brand new 2016 copy of Bradford’s Lists for my birthday, I considered every single president there with minute care before giving up and moving on to yet another cold solve. The answer came to me in the middle of the night, and I have now pencilled Trump into my copy of the Lists. Funny how the current US president can be forgotten when one is concentrating on the historical list!

    I also spent far too much time on my final unclued pair. Having assumed that GREEN was a snake reference, I went for the (dis-satisfyingly plural) NAGAS and ended up with nonsense after the shift. I then tried every letter apart from S until eventually hitting GANJA and smacking my forehead as I realised it was “grass” and “snake”, not “snake” and “snake”.

    Thanks for the write-up — reading about your difficulty with it has made me feel a lot better about my own struggle.

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