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‘Transformers’ by Yorick

Posted by Encota on 6 Dec 2019

Blimey! Not only were the Clues in Yorick’s puzzle very challenging – nearer the end I was solving at around 1 per hour! – but the entry technique was sneakily tricky – at least for this solver!! This must have been one of the hardest puzzles of the year as I don’t remember when I was last still finishing off the puzzle on the Monday morning!

You may well know the sort of progress – the sort when you’ve solved, say, 25 out of 40 of the clues and even have most of the hints for the endgame guessable – but have little idea what to do next! The swapped-around hints appeared to read:

  • ROTAT…

… with a few other gaps here and there. It was interpreting these that I had trouble with! I initially assumed that E-W meant enter the answers from right to left, and that N-S meant enter one Group of answers up the page. How wrong I was!!

I had drawn myself a little table, with Groups 1 to 4 across the top and the list of four techniques (above) down the side. And started to try and eliminate which couldn’t be which – Group 4 can’t be ‘NORMAL’ entries, as the word NORMAL came from that Group’s hidden word, that sort of thing. My next step was the one that wasted me a day! I noticed that 3- and 8- letter entries could only go in Across positions in the Grid. So, I thought, surely any Group containing any (3) or (8) length clues cannot have a NORTH-SOUTH FLIP applied to them ‘as a whole’ (as the Preamble states), since surely N-S FLIP can only apply to Down entries? Can’t it??

This soon led to a contradiction whose details I won’t bore you with (LIONS and RHINO appeared to have to be entered vertically but they couldn’t fit) – and so I was stuck!

I next tried swapping all Ns for Ss (and v.v) in what seemed to be an appropriate group before entering the results – but that went nowhere, too!

Eventually I re-started the Gridfill by assuming Group 1 were to be entered Normally and tried some interesting jigsawing of them until the gaps left looked a bit like some of the other Groups’ words. Those finally slotted in – but what now?

I had already found two of the Misprints and was trying to interpret them. My initial assumption: ‘bad’ in Group 3 looks like a possible Anagram Indicator, ‘backing’ in Group 2 looks like an ‘Across’ Reversal Indicator – all fell apart when ‘heads’ appeared in Group 4. I tried hard to interpret that as a ‘Down clue’ Reversal Indicator but (luckily) couldn’t convince myself. So what now?

I then wrote out the letter-specific changes from the three Misprints:

  • p becomes b
  • d becomes b
  • p becomes d

Those looked more interesting! The first could be achieved with a N-S Flip, the second with an E-W flip, and the last with a Rotation. Aha!

I did wonder if all entries needed to be in lower case, given the transformations above, but found that fell apart when an N flipped N-S had to look the same as an N flipped E-W (e.g. where SENNIT meets REINS in the bottom left hand corner). So capitals it must be.

As I type this it’s now Monday morning and for perhaps only the third time this year I’ll have to put a First Class stamp on my combined (here 4581 + 4580) entry to ensure it gets to JEG in good time for Thursday – and keep the faith with the Postal Service, of course!

My thanks go to Yorick for what must be one of the most challenging puzzles of the year! And I wish John Green the very best of luck with marking all those transposed characters!!

Tim / Encota


I only noticed (on the Tuesday after) that the paper copy of The Times on Saturday (in the UK at least) came with a ’tracing paper’-based ad for a new VW on the outer cover.  Clearly this was planned all along – and almost certainly commissioned – by Yorick and the Listener editors, as an essential tool for the Solve.  Thus could we draw the puzzle Grid on it, then enter Group 1 from the front the Right Way Up, two Groups from the back of the tracing paper (including one of those inverted), and finally Group 4 from the front again, this time with the Tracing Paper upside down.
Unfortunately I only realised this after I had finished solving it – this could have saved me hours!  I even missed the hint for the alternative clue for VIEW in Group 3:  “VW surrounding – that’s a thought” So obvious after the event …
Or maybe not 😉


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