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Listener No 4734: Definition by Gnomish

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 Nov 2022

Here we had a Gnomish puzzle which was only his second Listener. His first was last year’s Descent, based on William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress. However, his first thematic puzzle recorded in the Database was back in 2003 (titled ____(33)___) and was a D grade that was voted Puzzle of the Year. Yikes! What was in store for us (or more importantly, me) this week?

Well, a long preamble was. Lots of thematic words, an a, b, c, d and e which came together as abaaaaaaacdee, and an endgame that had ‘daunting’ written all over it. First of all, the clues, and ten of them needed two letters to be removed before solving and then one answer in each row and column needed moving to the external cell around the grid. And four clues needed to pass their definition to one of the others.

I thought I was off to a good start with 1ac Emotionally influenced by poet, finally makes me intense (4) where the intense looked like it could reduce to tense. Not that helped me get SMIT [(make)S + MI + T] straightaway. It would turn out that most of the two letters to be dropped would not be so forgiving.

In fact, the grid came together in marginally less than an inordinately long time! I wasn’t helped by initially entering 21ac as STRAN[GL]ERS which made 6dn and 14dn impossible to unravel. SDEIGN and THEREIN finally came to the rescue to enable [ST]RANGLERS to appear.

Favourite two-letter-drops were in 20dn and 11ac. 20dn Ineptly maul most of short piece reconciling vocal changes (7) was UMLAUTS [MAUL* + STU(b) recoiling]. 11ac was More homy contestant weaving material (6) with contestant becoming contest [C + OSIER]. I was flummoxed for a few minutes as I read it as More horny!

And so to the endgame. The ten clues with letters to be omitted spelt out intervening distance. The clues in which definitions moved were 23dn (LUSTRE) whose definition a cut-glass pendant was at 3dn (TILED, not come across this meaning before) where bound to secrecy was at 8dn, some African countries (for MAGHREB) having moved to 1dn which had lost groove (for SCROBE) to 23dn. Confused? Well, I was. Anyway, the initial letters of those clues gave PACE, and APACE and SPACE were the only contenders with a being A or S.

Looking up SPACE, I spotted two phrases: “that in which material bodies have extension” and “intervening distance”, so a was definitely S. I hoped I was on the home straight. The sequence abaaaaaaacdee had to give numbers for selection in the grid. It was unlikely the S clue was 26dn so 15dn seemed more likely. It didn’t take much time to realise that that was also wrong and we needed to look in the across clues at 12ac! Sneaky, Gnomish.

Thus we had 12, 23, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 3, 8, 1, 1 — ensuring we used them as the distances between. This spelt out COLUMNS ERASE. Reading the columns in the same sequence, and using the letter above column 3 and to the right of row 10 enabled us to reveal MATERIAL BODIES. Rub out all the work needed to get there and we had the full definition.

A word to the wise though. Before sending off your solution to St Albans, check and recheck everything. After I had sealed my envelope and put a stamp on it, my brain went through some sort of time loop. I realised that I had put the definition in as “that in which material bodies have expansion”! Prise open the envelope, chuck the erroneous grid away in disgust and write it out again, thinking myself lucky that it wouldn’t take long.

Great puzzle, Gnomish, and a contender I think for the AGC.

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