Listen With Others

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Listener 4715: Singles Only by Twin

Posted by vaganslistener on 2 Jul 2022

A sixth Listener from Twin (Colin Thomas) although also suggests he is behind Remus who brought us a Unicycle Lord of the Rings puzzle just over a year ago. His ‘Tip-top Condition’ won the Ascot Gold Cup for 2020 puzzles and involved binary numbers. All in all, expect a high quality puzzle with good construction and perhaps a maths background…

The title Singles Only echoed the possible number theme – it’s too early for a Wimbledon puzzle – but otherwise gave nothing away. My own style of preamble is narrative and whimsical: this was more like an algorithm!

With a carte blanche grid and alpha-order clues there was nothing to do apart from dive in and start cold-solving. The clues were no push-over and it took from Friday tea-time to Saturday coffee-time on and off to crack all bar a couple, which had to be worked out later, with no obvious way of starting to enter them. One 9-letter answer had to go across the middle, but the adjustments to entry length made the usual focus on the long words, looking for crossing entries, more or less impossible. Similarly the message from the extra letters was in grid order so that couldn’t be guessed to jump start the process either.

In the end, with more or less a full set of clues, I decided the 3-letter words had to go into the grid unmodified, and praised the Lord for the K in SKA that meant it had to cross SKEGG. That in fact proved enough of a toe-hold to mean that the grid was then quickly filled, and the messages discovered – and the word SUDOKU eventually dropped the penny in my brain. After that it was just careful work to calculate the numbers to be entered, and although the sudoku looked a rather easy one I didn’t want to fall at the last hurdle so typed it into a solving app, and the job was done. Even then I mistranscibed one number and the app produced a solution which thankfully warned me that it was not unique, which rang an alarm bell, and checking back was needed to put things right.

I wanted the clue “To Victorian goon, no one for smut? Poor goon! (6)” to be ECCLES, but it was of course very properly the wonderful word DRONGO + T. “Ante/stake: Parisian china plates (4) was clever for AMIS + E, as was “Pass hare <hare-bells ring> from Inverness Firth, say (5)” for COLIN + R, which also raised a groan.

Why was it a carte blanche? I can only think it was to delay the reading of the extra-letters message and make out solving journey more strenuous. No bad thing in itself, and this could easily be a Gold Cup contender again because of its well-controlled complexity and layered solution – but it did leave me feeling a bit like the reluctant cross-country runner that was my 13-year-old self, longing to escape into a good book. It will be interesting to see what others make of it.

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