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Tour de Force by Kea

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 May 2020

Well, if it is by Kea, it is sure to be a tour de force. Isn’t he competing with Shackleton and Elgin as the holder of the most Ascot Gold Cup wins? (I think Kea has the lead in his Kea role and alter ego.) It is a clear preamble (not a pre-ramble this time!) I know that Kea, in his editorial role, is currently in a mode of trimming and polishing setters’ clues (to put it bluntly, removing the verbosity) in a search for greater succinctness  so he obviously mustn’t offend himself, and we find a mere 40 clues with 3, 4 and 5 words in some of them.

(Some years ago, I commented to an editor that I thought that 12 words should be the maximum tolerated in a clue and he responded with horror that we should be aiming at an average of 6 – and Kea has allowed himself a 13-word clue for UBUNTU but maybe that should be used in one of those ‘clue-writing’ competitions to see whether a shorter clue is conceivable – probably not.) Most of these were models of brevity.

‘Occupier sustained colonist (6)’ gave us TEN(uto) + ANT = TENANT

‘Diana glimpsed in hallucinations (6)’ gave us (Hal)LUCINA(tions)

‘Bouncer gets bar back (4)’ Returned RAIL to get LIAR.

Oh yes, of course I checked Kea’s grid and clues carefully to see whether he retains his admission ticket to the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Outfit and have to announce the very sad news that that last clue was a paltry attempt and it looks as though the editor has to go. The ‘bouncer’ may have been removing drunkards from the bar but Kea’s RAIL reversed is a poor apology and LIAR has no claim at all. Sorry, Kea!

But what a stunning compilation. We laboured long and hard to solve these tough clues and, with a number still missing (RAMEAU, VOXELS, SQUIRR, RAVENS, PUTELI, ZENANA) could make a putative grid fill but were unsure of the order of the letters in the outer circles. TURN LOOSE had to fill that first circle, but we had completed our solve before I realized that those eight letters are part of the ETAOIN SHRDLU (most commonly used letters that figured in a Listener crossword a few years ago and, of course all get you a single SCRABBLE point).

Happily, CENTRIFUGE appeared and RABBLE (possibly) a little further round that circle five. I went to bed still musing, well after midnight – but doesn’t the mind do surprising things (or is it the obsessive setting and solving of crosswords that fills a lot of these lockdown days?) “SCRABBLE”, I annonced at 6 a.m. and the other Numpty turned over in bed and went back to sleep. The rest was easy as TEA helped me to produce USING SCRABBLE VALUES FOR MASS – and all that was left to do was to complete my last few words making sure that, for example, the Z of ZENANA was flung by centrifugal force, to the outside of the circle. Yes, I’ve been reproached for making abusive comments about ‘Aren’t I clever?’ setters insisting on using pangrams in their creations, but clearly must concede this time – and we were warned (helpfully) in the preamble.

Don’t get me onto centrifugal force! I spent three tough years training as a ski instructor a long time ago and the oral exam required quite a lot of understanding of the physics of ski turns, which, to my astonishment, was somehow explained as deploying centripetal force – I didn’t understand it but just learned it off by heart. But it was good here to remember that Z gets you a 10, X an 8, F a 4 (?) Yes, of course the values are different if you are playing with a French or a German set as we do here, and you even get different quantities of each letter as Z is easy to use in French, for example.

Be careful with Kea! He condemned a lot of us to ignominious depths with his TABU/TAPU some years ago – so I initially coloured one example of each letter of the alphabet pink (Was that because we might have put NOELLE as our girl rather than JOELLE?) Then I checked that I had three radials with no letters moved (green) 7 with two letters moved (yellow in my grid) and 26 with just one letter going outwards.

Where was the potential ambiguity? Ah, could we have been tempted to put ONAGAR for ONARAG, or ONAFLL for ONALLF? However did Kea do it? Brilliant!


4 Responses to “Tour de Force by Kea”

  1. Alan B said

    This really was a tour de force. There was a lot to accomplish: solve the clues, fill in the answers leaving amibiguities where forced to do so, make sense step by step of the message in Ring 5, and finally discover and understand the thematic message so that all ambiguities are resolved.

    All of that took three days, on and off. My enjoyment and appreciation of this puzzle was not only in cracking it but also, afterwards, in admiring the clever, detailed design, using a theme (Scrabble) that no doubt all solvers know quite well. It was an amazing gridfill too.

    I got all except the last word of the Ring 5 message, but it was bot needed, SCRABBLE VALUES being the key phrase that unlocked the instruction and indeed the whole theme. I was happy in the end to have an almost complete solution, having sussed the theme completely. – I had to leave four clues unsolved and was happy to do so, although I realised later that I should have got them.

    I’d like to add my thoughts on the centrifuge idea. There is no such thing as centrifugal force. The only forces acting on any items that are moving inside a centrifuge are the centripetal force exerted by the inside wall to keep the items inside (i.e. stop them from going off at a tangent) and the force of friction exerted by the floor that gets them moving in the first place and keeps them moving at right angles to the centripetal force (also tending to pull them inwards from a straight path). All items, regardless of mass, would end up against the inside wall. So is Kea’s grid representative of a centrifuge in action? Yes (roughly speaking), because the momentum of the greater masses would counter the friction more easily than that of the lesser ones, and the operator (Kea) only has to be clever enough to get the machine going at the right speed and stop it at the right point in time to get the result depicted, the heavier items having hit the inside wall first. Simple.

    (I left Physics behind at school in Year 12 and am open to correction on any point I have made here!)

    I echo what has been said about the economical, precise clueing exemplified here throughout. I wish I had encountered this setter before, because in retrospect I gave up too easily on the few clues that defeated me. At the back of my mind I was making it 50% likely that these were weak clues, and I wasn’t mentally committed enough to place absolute reliance on them. That was particularly true of HELLAS, which I remember best because I was seriously misdirected by one bit of the wordplay (the setter’s intention, surely!) in a way that I could not believe when I saw the answer. Congratulations to Kea, and thanks to Shirley and the other bloggers here.

  2. Thaks, Alan. I really appreciated your scientific explanation of Kea’s centrifuge.

  3. Alan B said

    You’re welcome. What I posted was a slightly shortened version of what I wrote first in draft, and a casualty of that shortening was the omission of any mention of gravity. But gravity only explains why all the pieces start off at the bottom and stay there.
    I avoided describing a ‘perfect’ system without friction (but with, if you like, several compartments as per the grid), because it would not produce the desired result! When the centrifuge is set in motion, all items inside the chamber will ‘gravitate’ pronto to the wall and not be arranged neatly in radial lines. That would have been terrible!
    Kea may or may not know any of this. It’s a damn good puzzle anyway, and he set the rules irrespective of whether the physical world respects them!

  4. Roger Phillips said

    I (Kea) know that centrifugal force isn’t real, but it’s not unusual for crossword themes to be based on popular fiction!

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