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Posts Tagged ‘No! Not Another Playfair.’

Present Day by Horvendile

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 Jan 2016

Our initial reaction on downloading Horvendile’s ‘Present Day’ was a delighted ‘Well, that’s a big grid, it will keep us busy for the rest of Christmas Day – Present Day – that’s today. It must be about Christmas boxes. What fun!’ Then realization dawned. That odious word ‘Playfair’ appeared, and not just that. ‘Every entry is Playfair-encoded using the code-square that must be completed in the centre of the grid.’ Oh well, I imagine the ‘four unclued entries’ will give us a hint about the keyword. But no, it gets worse, as they are considered ‘entries’ so clearly are to be encoded too. How on earth are we to find the keyword?

Of course, I scan the clues to check that Horvendile qualifies as an applicant for the Listener Merry Tipplers gang, but consternation! Perhaps we can award provisional entry on the basis of ‘Cause of special pain once (4)’ giving SAKE, but he seems to be determined to give the alcohol a miss in his clues, with ‘Welcome in NZ, I’m here working with AA (HAEREMAI). (Note to self, find him and make sure he has a drink in his hand at the coming Listener Setters’ Dinner!)

Complete plain text grid. What now!

Complete plain text grid.
What now!

Nothing to be done! Call this a crossword? We can’t cross any words and simply have to cold solve – and we cold solve and cold solve and … until almost midnight when we have solutions to forty-five of the fifty-six clues. Now come on, Numpty, you are being rather tough on poor Horvendile; some of these were super clues and what sort of mind can calculate how the enciphered clues are going to intersect to create a working grid. I just can’t imagine how he/she (well, there are two or three women amongst the setters) managed this feat and hope she/he will give us a setter’s blog.

For example, we smiled at ‘Work with great singer, one barely seen up (6)’ (GO + DIVA – well, she was naked up on a horse wasn’t she?) ‘Wanton cop abroad touring Romania (6)’ (That’s our French FLIC round RO, having a FROLIC) and ‘Cheese is dear around mid-January in Paris (6)’ (more local fare for us CHERE round (jan)V(ier) giving CHEVRE).

Of course we ‘cheat’ if using Braingle or Quinapalus is cheating and I truly admire anyone who solved this crossword without an Internet tool. Poor Mr Green, who not only has to mark the grids that come to him with just two normal words at the start of those Playfair squares, but also solves and functions without the help of the Internet.

I stay up well after midnight fiddling with potential ways into this crossword. We have already produced some data, several letters that have to be related. For example, I and P must appear in the same row (first); E and H must appear in the same row (could be the second but probably the third); O and R must be in the same column – and so on. But are we going to have to make these calculations for the entire Playfair square in order to find that key word? WAMPUS is a help since that W cannot encipher to itself, and we make the guess that the WY of WYCH will become the YZ of our Playfair square so that, putatively, we will have (U)VWYZ at the end of our square and X in our keyword.

I refuse to admit to how much time I wasted on XMASTIDE and other X words. We had WHIP at 23ac but no Internet tool, when I brainlessly fed in my IP enciphering to XM, and WY to YZ would give me any X words in the suggested keywords (or any suggestions at all). However, the list provided by that last couple included PACKING BOX and when I paired IP with PA, that seemed to work and seemed appropriate – and, of course, P in that cell, led to I at the end of the row. Of course, after we had used that keyword for a while, it failed, as sections of intersecting words didn’t agree. Back to the head-scratching. But ‘PACKING BOXES’ was provided and Eureka, that worked!

Later, a friend who made far less of a lucky leap (Internet aided) than I did, explained his logic – how, using those calculations of the placing of pairs of letters, he constructed the basis of his square. I include it here.

 “I worked with the general principle that if a pair of letters encode into a pair sharing a row (column) then the plaintext pair must also be in that row (column).  E.g. if you know AB->XY and X & Y are in the same row then A & B are also in that row. As for coming up with the key phrase, if (a big if) you can cold-solve those clues, I think you can infer:

WHIP: First row is PxxxI

BORATE: 2nd row is xxBOx

SHTETL: 4th row is LxxxT

WYCH: 5th row is xxWYx (which must be xxWYZ so X is in the key)

GODIVA: 2nd col in AxxxV

FROLIC: 4th col is xxFRx)

 So this much is deducible




UVWYZ   the U is forced of course”

 Enciphered 001Next morning, we laboriously completed our enciphered grid, which, of course, allowed us to decipher the letters of the clues that were still unsolved (KENSINGTON, S’BLOOD, VULNED, FINSKO, DAFTAR; seriously! How will my friends react when I produce those in conversation this week?) and we were left with four glaring spaces where we had to put thematic words. ??ST, ??NI???? SH??, and ????ND?? Four ‘PACKING BOXES’?

Oh how grateful I am for TEA. I simply fed those, individually into TEA and chose the most likely words from the many offered and enciphered them. No CONIFERS didn’t work (no Christmas cheer), but CANISTER did encode to KCXPHMFL, which fitted the encoded pairs and single letters already in place. In the same way, we found (with Mrs Bradford’s help) SOLANDER encoding to FGMPBEFL, and KIST and SHOE. I grumbled at first that SHOE was an adjective and the others were nounal, but no, Chambers tells me a SHOE is a sort of box for cards.

My clever friend was far more technical and I append his method.

“You can use TEA to give you possibilities for each theme word since if the cyphertext letter is x the plaintext must be one of the 9 (or 10 since I=J) letters in the same row or column as x. So the four patterns are:





 This was tough, tough, tough. Had we not managed to complete all this year’s Listener crosswords (whether correctly or not I do not know; it is too distressing to check and find an error as early as January so once they are in the mailbox, we forget them) I think we would have abandoned at the start. And to think that I complained about Sabre’s Knights’ moves, you can come back, Sabre, all is forgiven!

But seriously, congratulations Horvendile. If this really is a début and you are not Mash, Quinapalus or Sabre in disguise (and I did decipher Horvendile but it gave only fx ly je hc js) then it was a most impressive one.

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Oh, No! Not Another Playfair by Mordred

Posted by shirleycurran on 26 Apr 2013

Playfair first grid 001Ooooh No! Not a playfair! That was this Numpty’s reaction but the other one said “There’s nothing to them – let’s just solve and see what is going on.” And solve we did, at a terrific speed. Mordred gave us some very straight-forward clues and we really like that. No extra letters, misprints or quaint messages to extract from frantic Listener hoop-jumping – just clues! Wow!

We enjoyed some of them: ‘Buffalo Bill tours America drawing (6)’ FUSAIN fitted the letters we already had in place so we had to work out what FIN had to do with ‘Buffalo Bill’. Of course the BRB told us that a FIN is a five-dollar bill – great clue! We learned a few new words too: LASSU, SPOD, SPAWL and SNOOLED, but we couldn’t find any hint of membership of the Listener setters’ topers club. Mordred seemed to be setting an example of sobriety.

We once met an ex Brain of Britain who obliged himself to solve crossword clues in the given order and to do the entire Grauniad or Times crossword in his head (while we were still puzzling over 1 across). Our progress, for once, was rather like that and we worked from top to bottom, completing the grid, gleefully, in record time, but with a fearful sense of foreboding.

Playfair final grid 001We had, however, along the way noticed WORD PLAY appearing in the grid. (Clearly Mordred is resolving that issue – for him it is two words!) From the preamble, it was clear that we had to have nine letters left over after we spotted our ‘playfair code phrase’, so it had to have sixteen letters (to make the 25 of the 5 X 5 square). WORD PLAY GIVES FUN seemed promising and no letter appeared more than once in the sentence.

We worked out that that would leave us the letters B C H K M Q T X and Z (assuming, of course, that J and I cancelled each other out). It remained to check that each of those letters appeared only once in the remainder of the grid and Eureka!

We began to exchange the letters of the playfair square with those of the grid and things looked very promising. OASIS became BASIS and HOURS became LOURS but then it began to look rather like the results of those monkeys who, after years of random striking of keys, seemed, at last, to have struck Shakespeare (You know the story “Look Hank! I believe they’ve finally cracked it! ‘To be or not to be, that is thskuh zbtryfyfwhj&mmeho”)

We seemed to be doing what was required but are still profoundly worried that we have missed the final point and that the grid should have yielded real words. However, it was clearly no mean feat to compile a grid with each of those letters appearing once and once only, so perhaps it was too much to expect real words.

Thank you, Mordred. You have given us confidence in our grid-filling ability and we’ll learn in three weeks’ time if we have missed a subtle final move.

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