Listen With Others

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Listener No 4534: A Secret Unlocked by Harribobs

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 January 2019

Harribobs hasn’t been on the setting scene for very long but has had some great puzzles, such as the recent Go West, Young Man (except that was over at the Inquistor). This, his second Listener of 2018 followed on from Exchange of Letters with Henry Longfellow’s Kéramos as its theme.

This week we were treated to a short two-sentence story with a mysterious ending. From the preamble, it would seem that this would be needed in association with an instruction to be revealed by letters omitted from 34 answers.

As I expected, the clues were sometimes tricky but always fair. The only one I had trouble deciphering was 17ac System of weights to be seen in Provence (5). Obviously a French word, it was only when I had three letters did avoir pop into my head. So, nothing to do with être; I’m assuming that it reads as a voir but not sure.

Anyway, when all was complete, it wasn’t quite complete! There were a couple of ambiguities that needed to be resolved, eg the AL in ARSENAL/SEASONAL. It didn’t take long to finish them so that the omitted letters spelt out Use template and note what hair (not hlir) conceals.

My initial reaction was to highlight the hair-fixated US TRUMP **** in the middle row and be done! However…

As I note above, this needed to be used along with the two-sentence story. Now there were 169 squares in the grid and it seemed obvious to see how many letters there were in the story. At the end of line 1, I had 81 and I knew I was on the right track. All told there were indeed 169. Constructing a second grid with the story reading from left to right, top to bottom, I noted the positions of H, A, I and R and then highlighted them in my original grid.

After two lines, I had ARISTA… and this time wondered if I had got it wrong. Persevering, it transpired that the message was “ARISTAGORAS, REVOLT AGAINST PERSIANS — HISTIAEUS”. A bit before my time, but this refers to the “…Ionian Revolt against the Persian Achaemenid Empire” about 500BC — thanks, Wiki.

All that remained was to fill in the theme under the grid which was indicated by the clues to answers not requiring a letter to be omitted. Two quick scans of the clues followed, firstly examining their initial letters, and then their last. The last letters gave STEGANOGRAPHY, the concealment of something within something else, here a message inside another message.

One of the first examples was that where Histiaeus sent a message to Aristogoras by marking it on a servant’s shaved head and waiting for the hair to regrow before sending it on its way. The message was hidden until the head was shaved by Aristogoras. Thus, the two-sentence story was finally explained and the secret un-lock-ed!

A lot of checking and double-checking then followed to ensure that the highlighting was correct and that I had correctly spelt the theme word. (I’m still smarting from spelling SCAUMBURG with a BERG in Harribobs’ puzzle about the German postwar chancellors.)

As expected, a fine puzzle from Harribobs.


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