3993: Argentum by Radix


Radix gave us one of the most difficult puzzles of the year. This was a Playfair code which took some devious steps to solve. As is expected from Radix it was superbly crafted with excellent clues, however, I am sure that opinions on this will be widely divided.

The letters from extra words gave the message, “In four pairs, both words must be
permuted similarly, and one then encoded”. 

It was obvious that four answers stood out as being permutations of their definitions - (35ac ulnare, 39ac overslip, 21dn long-head, 27dn Riyadh). The entry was the form indicated by the wordplay. The diametrically opposite answers had to be permuted similarly and then Playfair-encoded, leading back to the original answers.

ULNARE → NEURAL (order 361542), forcing SPRENT → RTSNEP, whose encoded form had to be SPRENT. Hence, under the encoding, RT → SP, SN → RE, EP → NT.

OVERSLIP → SLIPOVER (order 56781234), forcing WINSOMER → OMERWINS, whose encoded form had to be WINSOMER. Hence, under the encoding, OM → WI, ER → NS, WI → OM, NS → ER.

LONGHEAD → HEADLONG (order 56781234), forcing CONSIDER → IDERCONS, whose encoded form had to be CONSIDER. Hence, under the encoding, ID → CO, ER → NS, CO → ID, NS → ER.

RIYADH → HYDRIA (order 635124), forcing WHARFS → SAFWHR, whose encoded form had to be WHARFS. Hence, under the encoding, SA → WH, FW → AR, HR → FS.

The code phrase, MINCE WORDS could be discovered (try using the Playfair solver at http://www.quinapalus.com/playfair.html ) and the unclued words could be completed - hint, talk, news, sign (all defined by “word” in Chambers Dictionary). The title ARGUMENTUM was also an anagram and solvers had to “permute argument”, ie, “mince words”.

Extra words in clues are shown in square brackets with the relevant letters in bold.


1 Granny left [indoors] on Guernsey? (4)
COWL L on COW (granny =
 a revolving cap on a chimney pot.)
4 Victory by a few runs makes [fielders] more cheerful (8)
10 Inexperienced driver in a state after [overtaking] -- he worships crawlers! (10)
OPHIOLATER P (probationary driver in Australia) in OHIO + LATER
12 Take in exhausted [urchin] once spotted (6)
14 Fish [paste] to relish in Arbroath? (3)
SAR 2 definitions
16 Old coin -- head only [inscribed] -- head, not tail -- a piece of eight? (5)
OCTET O (old) + C(oin) + TET(E) less last letter
18 Switching sides, low-down attempt to wound [rival] (4)
FOIN INFO changing sides
20 Sound of smacking, [swish] or wham possibly (4)
22 Senior officers treat [bombers] with contempt (3)
DIS 2 definitions
24 Long to imbibe a few beers, flipping [thirsty] -- pour out! (8)
25 Not showing surgeon terrible trench-feet, I meant to hobble [whatever] (8)
ENFETTER anagram TRENCH-FEET less CH (surgeon)
27 Submarine sandwich [ordered] -- with half eaten, stop! (3)
HOA HOA(gie)
28 Floor 50 missed going back [down]? It's right at the top (4)
ROOF FLOOR reversed less L
29 Old-fashioned sentiment [schmaltzy] and affected (4)
POSY 2 definitions
31 Upright [musician] in Crete played (5)
34 Between two and three gallons, [strawberry] purée? (3)
DAL 2 definitions dal = decalitre
35 Bone [beagle's] not forgotten by river (6)
NEURAL NE + URAL definition - ULNEAR
38 Flora's very [persistent] and, for Scots, will negotiate (10)
VEGETATION V + anagram NEGOTIATE (will in Scots=bewildered, astray)
39 To escape the notice of [revolutionaries], Dominicans retired during break (8)
Ordo Praedicatorum  the order of Preachers, ie Dominicans) reversed in SLIVER
40 Chinese [Maoist] Government are undecided (4)

1 Deliberate trick [upsets] partisan (8)
2 Piers: William's initial [text] laughs about France (6)
WHARFS W(illiam) + RF (République française) in HAs (laughs)
3 Mischievous child, 11, [deserves] prison (5)
LIMBO LIMB + O (Roman symbol = 11)
4 Excited [sexy] women all right (4)
5 Melinite, explosive [igneous] mineral (8)
6 Nuclear anti-submarine [minesweeper] was not old (3)
NAS N (nuclear ) + AS (anti-submarine)
7 Concerning [Latin] in verse, Ovid's first, Vergil's second, Horace's third (3)
O’ER indicated letters
8 With nine angles, ie, one [reflex] angle and a number otherwise (10)
ENNEAGONAL anagram ONE ANGLE + N (number)
9 Score exhibiting decrease in tempo – [leisurely] time to end with (4)
RITT RIT (ritardando) + T (time)
11 A small channel in Sri Lanka is a major [yachting] route (10, two words)
CAMINO REAL A MINOR EA (channel) in CL (Sri Lanka)
13 Englishman – [negligible] love lost there -- in bad odour (4)
PONG PONGO less O (love)
19 Beginning to "play the fool" off piste he [dodged] a rock (8)
PSEPHITE P (1st letter of “play the fool) + anagram PISTE HE
21 Male, active, rising 70 (?), North German, [needs] dolichocephalic type (8)
HEADLONG HE (male) + A (active) + OLD reversed + NG Definition=LONGHEAD
26 Thanks, thanks, [thanks], and goodbye! (4)
TATA TA = thanks
27 Murderer (not English) [eats] sliced bread in SA -- it's capital there (6)
HYDRIA HYD(E) + RIA(L) Here SA = Saudi Arabia.
Definition = Riyadh
30 Animal tracks heading for [New] Hampshire (5)
SLOTH SLOT (tracks) + H(ampshire)
31 Essentially, children display special [needs] in the regions (4)
ENDS END cemtre of childrEN Display + S (special)
33 The two Ronnies, for instance, said to be brilliant [comedians] (4)
PEAR Homophone PAIR
36 By travelling north, salesman [delivers] (3)
REP PER (by) reversed
37 Tax cut [degraded] currency in Sofia (3)
LEV LEVY less last letter