Listen With Others

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A Secret Unlocked by Harribobs

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 Jan 2019

We already saw Harribobs in March with his ‘All things must change’ and he is becoming a familiar Magpie name. There was something familiar about the first three lines of his preamble too – a familiar classical story – though, at this stage of our solve, we couldn’t pin it down

I did my usual hunt for the alcoholic clues but Harribobs was being relatively sober with Christmas just around the corner. There was just ‘Cordial he spotted in places around Ulster (6)’ What a clue! It had to be ‘A SEED round NI’ giving a poor replacement for Ireland’s Guinness, but I guess it must suffice. Cheers Harribobs.

We muttered a bit about the fact that the word lengths were those of grid entries, which, in 34 cases, were not the lengths of the solutions – and we counted the remaining clues, establishing that there were 13 that would indicate the theme to us. That was probably going to be the first or last letter of those clues and STEGANOGRAPHY was our first confirmation of the theme. The other Numpty explained to me that there are a number of complex Internet-related means of operating steganography but clearly this crossword would have to use a more approachable method.

The other Numpty also reminded me of the story of the servant who had a message imprinted into his skull, over which the hair grew, so that his head had to be shaved for the message to be read, and the secret was unlikely to be revealed by the uninformed slave or to fall into the wrong hands.

WHAT HAIR CONCEALS appeared next and we had to struggle work out the first half of the message since so many of our extra letters, as we fitted them into the cells in tiny pairs, turned out to be in unches. I initially suspected that we were removing the first, or last, letter of a solution but that theory collapsed when RACISTS had to intersect with SEASONAL. However, solving proceeded steadily and we were soon able to see USE TEMPLATE AND NOTE WHAT …

‘… an instruction that must be used along with the above text’ it said in the preamble, and a letter count established that there were 169 of them in the brief account of ARISTAGORAS’ machinations but how were we to find those five words? I initially copied the 169 letters of the template into a new grid then compared them with our solution grid, expecting to find five words in letters that corresponded. A fine red-herring.

We are in California, and my daughter-in-law who saw my struggles, said “Aren’t you just looking for the letters of H A I R? That’s what your message says.” Of course: ARISTAGORAS’ REVOLT AGAINST PERSIANS HISTIAEUS. There it was. Yet another very clever device to use in a Listener crossword.

Many thanks to Harribobs.


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