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Definition by Gnomish

Posted by shirleycurran on 11 Nov 2022

Eleven lines of preamble! What are we in for? My dismay increases as I read on and learn that letters are going to be extracted from answers and moved into those external cells. We are going to decipher a sequence abaaaaaaacdee to select cells that will account for every cell in the grid. Four clues are going to form a cycle passing on their definition to the next clue in the cycle and the initial letters of these clues (numbered b c d e) will establish the theme word (with ‘a‘ to be deduced). Applying the sequence to grid rows. We have to use the sequence to show the ‘whole definition’ and to learn what to do with the rest of the grid. (I suspect that we might be instructed to erase things but it is a long time before that is confirmed!) I am thoroughly out of my depth, pour a G and T and begin solving.

G and T? The very first clue we solve is ‘Wine producers spoil Mosel and Reims (9)’ Of course, that gives SOMMELIERS and a letter has to come out of that word – but which? We’ll be passing through Reims tomorrow on our way home – if the French refinery strikers allow us to get that far. I’ll raise a glass to Gnomish who obviously confirms his membership of the Listener Setters Oenophile Outfit. Cheers!

Our grid fills fairly well though we have an empty top left corner (with that cussed little word STROBE – yes, it was defined as ‘groove’ in 23d, producing a P, initial clue letter, but it was a while before we had the A C and E and the definition SPACE. We had to extract pairs of letters spelling INTERVENING DISTANCES, and know which words in columns or rows were losing a letter before being sure of the four clues that were left. (Of course, Chambers spelled it out but I was rather slow on the uptake.)

A friend who is an infinitely superior solver managed this puzzle in a few hours on Friday (it took us until late on Saturday). He kindly sent me his solving procedure:

“Once I had ‘intervening distances’ (nice that the space between the g and d matched the only case where the two letters were not touching in the clue), I noticed that there were 13 letters in the sequence.  Since we had to find 12 letters, I figured that a, b, … represented the number of cells separating the letters with a cells before the 1st letter and e cells after the last.  Given that the whole grid had to be represented then

a + b + 7a + c + d + 2e + 12 = 144

b=23, c=3, d=8 and e=1 from the cycling clue numbers => a=12   (Since the initial letters of clues 23, 3, 8, 1 give PACE, a had to be a clue starting with S, so a=12 was likely).

This led to COLUMNSEREAS.  I suspected from the beginning that we were going to erase the rest of the grid and EREAS is an obvious mixture.  I then noticed that just reading strictly left to right did give ERASE.

COLUMNS suggested reapplying the sequence from column perspective instead of rows and I quickly saw that MTERIALBOD would match OLUMNSERA from the original search.  Since I was looking for MATERIAL BODIES, it was easy to finish.

Of course it did not happen as fast as this recap implies…”

So we erased it all – except for those MATERIAL BODIES and the rest of the Chambers definition of SPACE. I am sure a number of solvers will have commented that this one will give Mr Green a rest! I suspect there won’t be a large number of entries, either. It was tough. Thank you Gnomish.

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