Listen With Others

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Listener No 4747

Posted by Dave Hennings on 10 Feb 2023

An intriguing puzzle this week with no setter or title printed above the grid. However, after what promised to be a very tough challenge, all would hopefully be revealed. [Note to self: change to the past tense here.] Indeed, the setter turned out to be * [Nts: insert setter here], whose last puzzle was * [Nts: insert title here] about * ago [Nts: insert time period here], and very * it was [Nts: insert appropriate adjective here].

Anyhow, onwards and upwards, and we had a text to be deciphered in the grid. Sixteen entries were to be jumbled before entry and an extra letter to be removed from the remaining clues plus one of the jumblies, but not in the definition. This would help to reveal the text to be entered above the grid. I wondered why there wasn’t just a box under the grid to be completed, captioned Text. [Nts: delete this if it turns out to be obvious.]

For 1ac Puppet government taints realm regularly with corruption (10), I smugly entered MARIONETTE with the a in taints being removed. Down from there, APING, ENMESH, TEACUP and ENGENDERED were also quickly solved although ENMESH didn’t have an extra letter in its clue so needed jumbling.

Feeling fairly happy with myself, I was disappointed that my solving slowed down from there on in and I realised that the setter probably had some experience behind him. The clue to 26ac Key part about commonest ingredient of Caesar salad (8) reminded me of a puzzle sometime ago which used a similar technique with assassination or the like to indicate the letter s. Needless to say, I thought that the clue referred to the a in Caesar salad, not just Caesar, and that held me up for ages. It was ESCAROLE [ESC + ROLE around A].

It was after about half an hour that I thought we had a puzzle by Sabre, and that explained the difficulty and also meant that there was probably more difficulty ahead. I was pleased to be proved right! However, I particularly liked the extra help given by there being real words outside the region occupied by the ciphertext which looked likely to be the central 4×7 region. In hindsight, I didn’t make nearly enough of this feature of the grid until near the end.

Time for my favourite clues.

  • 19ac Hide structure close to apartment with steel (5) for TEPEE [(apartmen(T) + EPEE and a nice definition]
  • 27ac Wore short top with short dress (7) — SPORTED [(TOP + DRES(s))*, first short becomes shot]
  • 7dn Part of service incorporates acupuncture to some extent (6) for TEACUP [(incorporaTE ACUP(uncture)]
  • 13dn One who abstains in Congress a lot, possibly to sway opinions (10) for TEETOTALER [(A LOT)* in TEETER, opinions becomes pinions]

I suspect that I wasn’t alone in wondering what the hell was going on with the letters given my the extra letters in clues, but Anagram Myszkowski it was and Google helped to confirm that it was a transposition cipher proposed by one Émile Victor Théodore Myszkowski in 1902.

One thing that was immediately evident, courtesy of the anagram hint, was that the letters in the ciphertext were the same as those that would be in the plain text. I had by then sussed that this would give the title and setter of the puzzle to go above the grid. Writing out the 4×7 ciphertext, TAPS/TNIH/BSRN/NIEP/OCTY/RIPE/SORE (or NIPE/RIEP), I noticed (don’t ask me how!) that TRANSPOSITION CIPHER was hiding there jumbled, and striking those letters and BY, that left, not SABRE, but SERPENT! Bravo! Of course, checking the correct encryption/decryption using the technique with keyword ANAGRAM confirmed this.

Many thanks for a fine puzzle, Serpent. Apologies to you for thinking you were Sabre, and apologies to Sabre for the misattribution.

[Notes to self are deprecated at LWO as they invariably get forgotten about before posting. Ed.]

[See what I mean?! Serpent’s last puzzle was about 18 months ago: no. 4668 Impossible Construction about squaring the circle, and very enjoyable. Ed.]


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