And this is why I found “Life of Pi” disappointing

Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword, inexplicably still in existence, at this point probably just to annoy a certain setter.

This week we recommence battle with Stick Insect – I have very much enjoyed the last few Stick Insect puzzles (Systems Analysts made it into my top 5 for 2012), and so I was looking forward to this one.  What have we here – blank grid, entries going every which way, and encoding to a digit.  I wonder how many people of the anti-number brigade read that bit and stopped?  Hmmm… this sounds intriguing.

OK – I have to put something in here.  While I was typing this up, I just got a call from tech support, where I had called in a problem with my computer.  The first question?  “Have you tried turning it off and turning it back on again?”.  Yep – the IT crowd lives!

Back to Stick Insect.  There’s not a lot of guidance here, but let’s get started – there is a 1 and it is in the conventional direction of across, and it’s a pretty gentle anagram for KISLEV with an extra D so that’s a big pass on the 1 east test.  Wooohooo!  I approached this by going through the clues from top to bottom rather than looking for crossing letters – this was working out pretty well, since there were, as the preamble said, lots of clashes, but the clues were, for the most part, straightforward.  I suspected that the letters of the title would be in separate groups, and it started off that way, but then an error put M and Y in the same group.  That can’t be right.  At this point I decided to start again, and take advantage of something silly my printer does, which is default to printing a huge grid.  Here’s the first attempt…

My first working grid for Listener 4299, Godly Mix-up by Stick Insect

Take 2.  Yep, I had some entries going in the wrong direction.  Near the end I had trouble finding which groups Q and K fit in, so to get those last few entries, I was making liberal use of Word Matcher’s “any of a set of characters” option but including Q or K as an option either time.  Eventually – full grid!  And not the best idea of what to do next.  The message read DIGITS KEY LETTER FROM EACH CLUE FOR NEXT STEP READ ZERO AS TEN.

Hmmm… do they mean the digit of the misprints?  That doesn’t seem to give anything.

Do they mean the first digit of each clue answer?  That doesn’t seem to give anything.

Is it a permutation of 0-9 and not just in the order of GODLY MIX-UP?

Is it the letters in every cell?  BINGO!


Hmmm… OK.  I can see POINT in the top row, and YOU PLACES in the bottom row.  POINT YOU PLACES?  What does that mean?  And what is going on with the top left?  PICS?  PIIS.

Clang… PI IS 3 POINT…. TO 80 PLACES!!!!

My second working grid for Listener 4299, Godly mix-up by Stick Insect

The jaw drops.  Did Stick Insect manage to encode pi in a puzzle, and hide two messages in clues to the point that 10 encoded cells are playing double duty, hiding the theme and hiding the information to get at the theme?

I am in abject awe.  This is the best puzzle in recent memory.  Stick Insect has more than cracked the top 5 here, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is Ascot Gold Cup material (what material is the AGC made of?).


In my awe of finishing it off – I didn’t round up the last three digits.  Yes, of course I was working off of a listing of PI, and it wasn’t until after it was in the mail that I noticed – the last two digits, that I wrote in as 8,9,9 don’t match the encoding.  Even though it’s right in front of me.

Victory (and an admirable one) to Stick Insect.

2014 tally:  22-0-3

Feel free to laugh your collective asses off at me in comments, and see you next week when Calmac asks us to put 22 acrosses in a grid 14 entries wide.



One Response

  1. Well I suppose I should like this puzzle really given that it’s right up my street, but I’m not sure I can honestly rate it so highly. I arrived at the final solution having solved not even half of the clues, and with great swathes of the initial grid left bare. Obviously it takes a bit of an inspired guess but enough information was there for me to be pretty sure of the final grid, bypassing all of the hidden messages in extra letters (and later in clues). A puzzle that allows such a short-cut is a puzzle with a bit too much of a weakness, I think. I feel a bit sorry for Stick Insect that I can’t appreciate it as much as I should, perhaps, but oh well.

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