Fifteensquared

Never knowingly undersolved.

Azed 1967 – playing fairly

Posted by bridgesong on February 14th, 2010

bridgesong.

So far as I can discover, this is the first Playfair competition puzzle for around two years, the last having been 1804, which must have been in December 2007 (probably the Christmas competition) and which doesn’t appear to have been blogged on this site. If Azed has used the format for a non-competition word since then, I don’t remember it. Accordingly, it’s probably worth giving some background to the format in some detail for those to whom it may be new.

It’s a normal puzzle with the exception of four clues which have to be encoded before entry. The coding system known as Playfair is clearly explained in the instructions. It dates from the mid-nineteenth century and owes its name to Lyon Playfair, first Baron Playfair of St Andrews, but was actually invented by his friend Sir Charles Wheatstone, one of the pioneers of the electric telegraph. Playfair did a lot to promote the code to senior politicians, although it was initially rejected as being too complicated for use in battlefield conditions. However, it was eventually adopted by the War Office and may have been used first during the Boer War. As Simon Singh (The Code Book, Fourth Estate, 1999) points out, it can easily be cracked by looking for the most frequently occurring digraphs in the encoded material, and assuming that they represent the commonest digraphs in English. Of course, this method is of no help with such a small quantity of text to work from.

In the context of a puzzle of this kind, the recommended method is to solve the normal clues, which leaves you with a few blanks to complete. Unusually for an Azed grid, two of the shorter words have a double space unchecked. This is of course deliberate. You then solve the Playfair clues, which may be relatively easy (not sure that 32 across was that easy) and then try and encode them. To do this you need to find the codeword, and all you know is that it has no letters recurring. However Azed helpfully adds that it is linked semantically to the answers to the four clues. He doesn’t tell you its length.

In my case, I only managed to solve FLUNKY and UNDERMAN cold, but it seemed clear that I was looking for a word meaning something like “servant”. I tried that, but it didn’t work, but my next choice was “subordinate”. This very nearly worked, but not completely. I was clearly on the right track and when I tried “subordinately” it worked and I was therefore able to deduce the two missing clues and encode them.

This is what the word square looked like:

S U B O R
D I N A T
E L Y C F
G H K M P
Q V W X Z

Although the instructions do not say so explicitly, the remaining letters are inserted in strict alphabetical order.

Across
1 EYBIWK(FLUNKY) FLUNK + Y
5 SHAMUS HAM in SUS
10 MUSTELINE MUST + (rud)E + LINE
12 BROOK B + ROOK suffices to explain “bear” (if you take a rook as a chessman); I can’t see how the rest of the clue contributes, although a brook could be a run, I suppose. No doubt someone will enlighten me.
13 KNUT (s)TUNK (rev.).
14 OROGEN *ERGO NO (also an anagram of Oregon).
15 RAMIST RA + MIST. The reference is to Peter (or Petrus) Ramus.
16 SIDELINED SIDE + LINED.
18 RCERNIFS(OFFSIDER) OFFSIDE + R; an Australian term for a subordinate, hence the reference to the Wallaby.
19 BIEGOPTA(UNDERMAN) Hidden in “blunder – many”. This may seem an easy clue, but according to Don Manley’s Chambers Crossword Manual, the setter should make the Playfair clues easy ones.
24 SCREWBALL SCREW + BALL
25 MATOKE ATOK in ME
26 SORTIE *TORIES
28 ETEN (m)ET (m)EN; Utgard is the land of the giants in Norse mythology, and the word eten, meaning a giant, has an Old Norse derivation. However, I wasn’t entirely happy about “identically headed” being used to mean “remove the (same) first letter from each word” until I noticed that Chambers gives one meaning of “head” as “to remove the head or top of”.
29 COIGN CO(mpany) + *GIN
30 TERRAFORM *TOR FARMER. I checked the derivation of this word in the OED, and found that its first recorded use was by a writer under the name of Will Stewart in Astounding Science Fiction magazine in 1949. Other writers published in the magazine that year include Theodore Sturgeon (Minority Report), Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L Ron Hubbard.
31 ESSENE *SENSE + E(nergy).
32 LIANRS(JUNIOR) UNIO (a genus of mussels) in J(a)R.
Down
1 EMBOST (Lif)E + *TOMBS
2 YARR Hidden in “flowery arrangement”.
3 BLOODLETTERS LO +*OLD in BETTERS.
4 IMOGEN MOG in IE + N(ew).
5 STERNE TE (Lawrence Laurence) + RN in SE.
6 HETAERA ETA (a Japanese term for the lowest class of worker) in HERA.
7 MINIFICATION MIN(now)  +I + A in FICTION. What a ghastly word.
8 UNUSEFUL SUNU(p) (rev.) + *FUEL
9 SET-TOS SET + SOT (rev.)
11 SINIC Compound anagram (take the letters of “a house” from “Hoisin sauce”).
17 IMITATES I + IT in MATES
18 ROCKMAN Double definition
19 BEMETE MET in BEE.
20 PREIFE Hidden and reversed in “liquefier pointed up”.
21 TESCO Another easy compound anagram: take “an error” from ” a corner store”.
22 ABROMA A(ustralian) + BRO + MA.
23 OLENUS O + U in LENS.
27 IGOR First letters of “in great operatic roles”. A reference to the opera by Borodin.

12 Responses to “Azed 1967 – playing fairly”

  1. Chris says:

    12. As well as the wordplay on B + ROOK, there are two definitions: brook (in British English) and run (in American English) both mean stream (and bear defines the verb brook).

  2. The Trafites says:

    When I saw this was a playfair, my heart dropped a bit, as although I can usually crack them it take me days messing about with a pencil and pages of graph paper.

    Having said that though, I did exactly the same – only cracked the same two playfair clues cold, and then guessed the code word on the second attempt, again trying ‘subordinate’ first.

    Ref: 12ac – I do not know what type of clue this would be labeled under, as it appears to consist of the word play (B + ROOK) and then two definitions (brook2 = bear, to endure) and (American run = small stream = brook).

    Nick

  3. Wil Ransome says:

    I wish I’d got SUBORDINATELY so quickly. This took absolutely ages because of two red herrings that were my own fault: having solved the easier two clues (1ac and 19ac), I deduced that DE was in a cycle and therefore horizontal and quite possibly below the clue-word. Eventually I solved 32ac (although it seems a pretty awful and extremely difficult clue and I have quiet doubts about its soundness) and this gave ORS in a cycle; again I made the false deduction that ORS, because of the close proximity of the letters, was horizontal near the bottom, with P, Q and U at the top.

    Laurence Sterne, surely.

  4. bridgesong says:

    Wil

    I find that it’s usually easier to guess the clue-word than to try and deduce it directly, especially when you’re given a broad hint as to its meaning. The method you tried is recommended by Don Manley in his Crossword Manual, but with so little data to work from, it really is very difficult.

    Sorry about misspelling Laurence!

  5. bridgesong says:

    Wil

    On reflection, Lawrence as in T E Lawrence, but Laurence Sterne. So perhaps the clue is wrong?

  6. Bob Sharkey says:

    One gripe – ‘three proper names’ not in C. I count four – Sterne,Imogen,
    Tesco, and Igor. One mistake – I failed to spot min(now) in 7D, and went
    with minimisation. A sniffy response in the slip is expected.

  7. Harris says:

    I too slipped up on 7D. I had min(now) but couldn’t parse the last part and decided to go with ‘minimisation’ as it seemed to fit the def very well. A careless mistake, particularly given that I spent quite a while on this tough puzzle.

  8. Bob Sharkey says:

    I parsed minimisation as MINIM + I in SAT ON???. I was persuaded by the first def. of minim as ‘orig. a least part’ and assumed that ‘now forgotten’ referred to this original meaning. On the proper names I note that Imogen is listed in the first names section, but Igor isn’t.

  9. Don Manley says:

    I think Azed blundered over T E LaWrence and LaUrence Sterne. I thought two of the Playfair clues were hard but the decoding relatively easy from the other two. I usually manage the decoding without Scrabble tiles these days. MINIFICATION will catch out a few I guess, sadly.

  10. Bob Sharkey says:

    I think that the judge may yet call for a print, and allow a dead heat. One word has a
    clear subsidiary indication, the other a precise definition, per C. I correct my parsing, above, as MINIM + I in I SAT ON???

  11. bridgesong says:

    I see that I omitted the I in my explanation of MINIFICATION, and have now added it. I too considered MINIMISATION, but couldn’t make it fit the last part of the clue (“I lie about one”).

  12. Meic says:

    Wheatstone also invented the concertina. There should be scope for a very inventive thematic puzzle in that!

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