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Listener 4734: (Double) Definition, by Gnomish

Posted by vaganslistener on 11 Nov 2022

Welcome back to Gnomish, aka Simon Haynes, who teased us with his first Listener (4653) in April 2021, with a busy grid full of the elements of A Rake’s Progress. That involved multiple devices to delay us and a sequence of alphabetic differences between successive letters of that phrase, all encapsulated in a preamble which Gnomish in a setter’s blog in this place noted had been tamed by the editors… Sounds familiar?

I didn’t of course look all that up before I began, as I’d been trying to shake of a cold and just wrapped myself up on the sofa with Chambers and dived in. I decided the preamble would make more sense once I’d solved some clues, and made reasonably steady progress, though the difficulty level was high enough that I was cherry-picking rather then going through them systematically. In several cases the letter to be extracted was not fully specified by the grid, and choices would rely on deciphering the message, but a combination of Qat’s letter-set solving powers and a trip to the study to use the full-text search facility of Chambers on my PC cracked the definition with about half the clues solved. THAT IN WHICH {MATERIAL BODIES HAVE EXTENSION turned out to define “space”, which was helpful but a shame as I thought at first we might be on track for the famous “cake long in shape but short in duration”. 

I’d isolated the four likely definition-swapping clues by this point, so decided to try and crack the prologue. I was glad to see that my deductions about the values of a, b,c,d and e (12, 23, 3, 8 and 1) from the clues fitted the equation 8a+b+c+d+2e+12 {for the letters to be isolated} = 144 that seemed the best way of interpreting the instructions, and that also fitted with the emerging INTERVENING DISTANCES message from the extra pairs of letters in the clues. Before trying to apply all that I needed to solve the rest of the clues though… They were a good set with some nice touches. 19a “Gags broadcast that shows actor is female (3)” for TRIX was clever but not flagged as a suffix, so of course I wondered why an actress called Trix was involved for some time before the penny dropped, and 34a ‘Nar{in}e mole initially overlooked, a hairy spot” (6) for AREOLE was fun, if a little odd.

With the grid filled it was back to the preamble, and The Counting Of The Letters began. Some are good at it. I fluff it. But with more care than I can usually muster I worked my way along the rows, allowing 12 spaces before the first letter, 23 before the second and so on, and the resulting message (see the green highlighting) gave COLUMNS and ERASE, so I dutifully repeated the exercise on the columns and came up with the pink highlighting, or at least I did once I realised that our setter had cunningly brought in the A and I from the side grids.

All that work gone to waste (though not quite in the league of burning the grid and sending in the ashes …). Everything had to go apart from the words of the DEFINITION, as per the second grid above. Or at least I hope that that’s what was required. It does look wan and lonely compared with the one on the left.

All in all a quality construction, so many thanks to Gnomish and it’s good to know you are properly back in the saddle so I imagine there’ll be more on the way, even if the current backlog on editor Shane’s desk is now 85! Now why doesn’t someone do a deal and publish 52 of those as a book and get the oil back in the machine?


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