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Listener 4524:  ‘A Little Night Music?’ by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Encota on 2 November 2018

2018-10-14 14.25.32 copy

Text of my letter to The Editors & The Statistician follows …

I liked this puzzle a lot – please pass my thanks on to Hedge-sparrow.

However, I was left with one uncertainty in the endgame, as explained below.  Was this a very subtle ‘elimination round’ to reduce greatly the number of people all-correct so far this year, something missed, or something else entirely?

For me this reduced to: “Of the eight owls that I can find in the grid, which one should I not highlight (and why)?”

[“Eight?”, you may say.  Well, I could find those listed in the table below]

This table summarises my dilemma:

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 07.19.29

For the eight candidate words to highlight (assuming I haven’t missed other ones), I’d categorise them as:

Definitely OK (all-green rows in the above table): LONG-EARED, LITTLE, TAWNY, SNOWY, BARN.  That’s 29 of the 44 required characters.

Required at the very least to have a chance of reaching 44 total: SHORT-EARED, ten characters.  Even though not in Chambers, it can be easily found in other reference books.  That brings the total up to 39 characters used in six words.

Thus leaving the solver to choose between EAGLE and DESERT to provide the remaining 5 characters.  But which one to pick?

  1. As per my table above, one might discount DESERT because it is entered upwards in the grid.  However, a precedent has already been set in the puzzle with the phrase TU WHIT TU WHOO in the grid, so clearly Upwards entry is allowed in this puzzle.
  2. As per my table above, one might discount EAGLE, since only the single word EAGLE-OWL appears in Chambers.
  3. As per my table above, one might discount DESERT (owl) because it isn’t in Chambers.  However, we allowed SHORT-EARED above when it wasn’t in Chambers, so a precedent has been set for allowing words / phrases not in Chambers but that can easily be found in other reference books, which DESERT OWL of course can.  Therefore no reason to discount it.
  4. As per my table above, one might discount EAGLE since it’s the only one of the eight that couldn’t correctly be the answer to; “What sort of owl is it?” An EAGLE simply wouldn’t be correct.
  5. Finally we come to the (possible) clue provided by the setter’s name, Hedge-sparrow.  It’s given as one word (i.e. hyphenated) but Chambers only gives it as two words.  Is this a clue to think carefully about the hyphenated possibility?  But one couldn’t shorten Hedge-sparrow to HEDGE, that’s a different thing entirely.  So, similarly, I don’t think EAGLE-OWL could become EAGLE, that’s a different thing entirely.  Therefore DESERT is the stronger candidate.

So, after all that thinking, it appears to me that either DESERT or EAGLE could be argued as the correct five extra letters but that DESERT ‘wins by a nose’.  I suspect it would be harsh to mark either of these as wrong – but I’ve little doubt that I have missed something!

One might also argue that, if one picks DESERT, only the MADGE equivalent owl (BARN) was already there prior to the five letter changes – the other six appearing only after the five letter changes.  That would feel a nice touch in the puzzle’s design, though there doesn’t appear to be anything in the Preamble saying this must be so.

The only other secondary argument that tempts me to highlight EAGLE is that, if one owl had been missed in the setting & editing process, then that one missed would almost certainly be DESERT.  Or the argument’s converse, EAGLE is easier to spot.  I don’t think that makes it any more right, though!?

Thanks to Hedge-sparrow (Hedge sparrow?) for an intriguing puzzle.  I look forward to seeing the resolution to the above in a few weeks time!


Tim (the setter Encota)


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