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What a coincidence! - RTC3
Random Thoughts on Crosswords Cryptic and Concise + Recherché Times Crossword Clues Considered
What a coincidence!
I always look forward to Sabre's Listener crosswords, and Coincidence (No. 4326), the final puzzle of last year, provided a most enjoyable post-Christmas solve. It had a fairly ordinary-looking barred grid (10 rows, 15 columns), and the preamble began:
Before entry into the grid, each clued answer must have one letter replaced by another (in two cases, the letter and its replacement are identical). These pairs of letters taken in clue order provide two examples of a coincidence; the unclued entry, when completed, illustrates the cause of the coincidence. Lengths in brackets refer to grid entries. Solvers must highlight in the completed grid a further (4-letter) example of the coincidence.
It fairly soon became apparent that there was something fishy going on as the obvious answers to some of the clues needed one more letter than was available in the grid. Further investigation showed that the upper part of the middle column needed to accommodate two letters in each checked cell, and that if taken in the order they appeared in the clue answers (with unchecked cells filled in appropriately), they could spell out MINUTE HAND and HOUR HAND. This tallied with the two examples that had been emerging from the pairs of letters mentioned in the preamble, SIXTEEN AND FOUR-ELEVENTH MINUTES PAST THREE and TWENTY-ONE AND NINE-ELEVENTH MINUTES PAST MINUTES TO EIGHT, as well as the 4-letter example, NOON. The coincidence of the title was clearly any of the points at which the two hands of a clock (on a wall) lie at the same angle to the vertical.

I've written before (here) about my difficulty with puzzles where two letters have to be written in a single cell, but in this case the theme of the puzzle provided a wonderful "Get Out of Jail Free" card: at the point where the hands of a clock coincide, the minute hand as near as dammit hides the hour hand, so obviously the middle column should contain just the letters MINUTE HAND. What a brilliant coup - so typically "Sabre"!

Except that when the solution appeared, it showed the middle column with HOUR HAND alongside MINUTE HAND, though I was relieved to find that MINUTE HAND on its own was allowed as an alternative. It turns out that the solution with MINUTE HAND on its own hadn't occurred to Sabre as a possibility; however, around a third of those submitting solutions had opted for it, which is presumably why it had been allowed. There doesn't seem to have been a great deal of online discussion of Coincidence (at least on respectable sites). Jaguar (who actually submitted a solution with both letters) wrote on Listen With Others:
I expect Sabre is shaking his head, sadly, that the solution he intended wasn’t regarded as unambiguous after all (I expect he preferred just MINUTE HAND in the middle column, since just because a letter was changed in PREACH (U/N)P before entry doesn’t mean you then still have to enter all the letters; my counterargument to that was that the hour hand is rarely perfectly hidden, as it’s usually fatter than the minute hand.)
(That was my assumption too, but we were both wrong.) On the other hand, Andy Stuart (who thought this was "not one of Sabre's finest") wrote on The Crossword Centre's Message Board:
I'm astonished that an alternative solution has been allowed. I cannot believe that was Sabre's intention. With only MINUTE HAND entered in the central column, the completed grid doesn't illustrate the cause of the coincidence. It also breaches the first sentence of the preamble, one of the consequences of which is that PREACH UP has to be changed to PREACH NP. Nowhere is there the suggestion that this change must be subsequently ignored. Finally, a solver submitting the alternative 'solution' hasn't demonstrated an understanding that the unchecked cells require two letters as well.
None of Andy Stewart's arguments cuts any ice with me, but I can see it would have been better if Sabre had made his intentions rather more clear. And, as someone who feels that more than one letter in a cell should be avoided if at all possible, I'd have much preferred it if he'd clarified things so that the MINUTE HAND solution was the only acceptable one.

If you haven't yet tackled yesterday's Listener puzzle (Conduit by Loda, No. 4331), you might like to know that the enumeration for Clue 41 should be (3), as given on the Times Crossword Club's website, rather than (4), as it appears in the printed edition of the paper (at least in my copy).

Current Location: Ealing
Current Mood: slightly disappointed, but relieved

3 comments or Leave a comment
valerian1967 From: valerian1967 Date: February 2nd, 2015 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Setters are generally fair and the Listener hardly ever asks one to depart from the default position or do something clever without explicit instruction or confirmation. Any belief I have about what the setter is trying to achieve is always trumped by the preamble.

I have little hesitation here in saying “side by side” is the default option and “minute hand covering” is a clever option requiring additional confirmation. “Minute hand covering” may be viable and perhaps is more elegant, but I have to choose the default option because I want the win.

tony_sever From: tony_sever Date: February 3rd, 2015 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Unfortunately, Philip, the preamble was written in English, which, in common with other natural languages, is prone to ambiguity - though of course, on the plus side, this ambiguity is one of the things that makes English cryptic crosswords so enjoyable in the first place. You seem to be making the same mistake as Andy Stewart in imagining that your interpretation is the only possible one. However, in my interpretation there's nothing in the preamble that rules out the "MINUTE HAND only" solution. The statement that
Before entry into the grid, each clued answer must have one letter replaced by another ...
doesn't preclude further adjustment of some of the answers, particularly if the title of the puzzle provides a helpful hint (as arguably it does here). The statement that
the unclued entry, when completed, illustrates the cause of the coincidence
is also satisfied since it shows how the coincidence is reached by the MINUTE HAND of a clock overlying the HOUR HAND. Andy Stewart's implied assertion that those who omitted HOUR HAND hadn't understood what the puzzle was all about is just plain daft.

And, as I'd rather hoped I'd made clear in this blog entry (and the earlier one I referred to), I don't accept your version of the "default option" since it involves putting two letters in a single cell - something I regard as breaking one of the fundamental rules of crosswords.

Edited at 2015-02-03 03:03 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 27th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)


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3 comments or Leave a comment