The Fragmentation of Reality by Lavatch

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Listener crossword 4078: The Fragmentation of Reality by Lavatch (2010-03-20)

“Having solved the clues, solvers must choose between 65,536 possible solution grids.” For a computer programmer like me, that number is instantly recognisable: it’s 2 to the power of 16. So perhaps there are sixteen choices that have to be made, each choice being between two outcomes.

Eight of those choices will come from the clues in group A, where “definition and wordplay … lead to two real words which differ by a single letter.” Another four choices come from group C, where there are four pairs of crossing entries which clash. That must mean that the last four choices come from group B, where “clues appear with the wrong number, and with the wrong entry length; solvers must determine the correct locations for answers”. It’s not clear to me yet how that’s going to work. Group D is, thankfully, normal.

Solving is pretty slow to start with, and I’m not happy with my first answer. 21a “Difficulty besetting Roman deity least inclined to generosity” seems to be “difficulty” ↦ NET around “Roman deity” ↦ ARES giving NEAREST. Unfortunately, Ares was a Greek deity.1 Maybe he counts as a Roman deity too, by syncretism? Anyway, I can’t enter this yet because it’s from group B, so let me press on.

After about two hours, I’ve got a bit over a quarter of the grid. See the diagram above right: lowercase letters indicates choices, and the pink cells are the locations of the clashes from group C. From group B I have NEAREST, SAMURAI, which looks like it goes at 1a, and HASH, which could go at either 21a or 35d.

I wonder if the way group B works is that there are four pairs of answers which differ only in unchecked cells? That would mean that I need another entry fitting SAM_RA_. Aha! “Rodent hidden in regiment’s fruit” ↦ SAMARAS, and “Poet’s injuries to beloved” ↦ DEAREST. So I can fill in the checked letters from these, even though I don’t yet know which goes where. See right.

Now, I have a SAMURAI, and at 17a it looks as though there might be a WIFE if the clash there were resolved in favour of the W. The instructions for resolving the clashes is that they should “complete a full set of thematic elements derived from one of the titles”. So is one of these “thematic titles” that I’m looking for RASHOMON? I think it is, because the title, “The Fragmentation of Reality”, could work as a loose definition of the Rashomon effect, the storytelling technique from the film, whereby different witnesses to an event describe it in inconsistent ways. Also I can see 27d “Learned man named after god” ↦ PANDIT which will become BANDIT after resolving the clash. Also, 16d “Wretched publicity for dye” ↦ WOAD, and 30d “See unqualified tailor” ↦ CUTTER: after resolution of clashes these will combine to read WOODCUTTER.

And now that I know that 17a is _IFE, I can solve “Part of earth according to hypothesis not admitting uncertainty” ↦ NIFE. I note that had the clash been resolved as N, this would leave the word SERONS. So perhaps all the other clashes yield words however they are resolved?

With all this material inserted, the grid is about half full.

41a has a choice too: it could be TEHRS or TAHRS, but as it’s a group D clue I think this is a standard Listener trap for solvers rather than a thematic choice. “Pitches invaded by 200 goats, not 1” suggests the wordplay H in T[i]ERS, except that I’m not sure I can justify “pitch” = “tier” from the various senses given in Chambers. For “pitch” Chambers has the sense “degree esp of elevation or depression” and for “tier” the sense “row, level, rank, or layer”. Are these close enough? Anyway, I can’t find any justification at all for TAHRS, so TEHRS goes in.2

I don’t understand the wordplay for “Pious fellow’s lost head over Scottish cook”. It seems like it ought to be STOVE (a Scottish word meaning “to cook”) but how does the wordplay work? ST OVE[r] is no good, since R is not the “head” of OVER.3

Nonetheless, STOVE must be right, because I can see RASHOMON hidden at centre left. That means that the last answer from group B must be “Refuse to strip off initially in old-fashioned drag” ↦ RASH and indeed the wordplay yields [t]RASH.

The last third or so of the crossword goes quickly, and soon I have all a complete grid, with sixteen choices to make.

So, how do I resolve all of these? Three choices from group B are needed to display RASHOMON, so the remaining choice (SAMURAI/SAMARAS) must reveal the second “thematic title”. I can’t see that yet.

The choices from group C display the four witnesses from Rashomon.

What about group A? The rubric says, “One letter from each differing pair must be entered so that the affected cells spell out a thematic name.”

No Clue Answer (def) Answer (wp) Wordplay
7a Flocks of ducks in due course clipped Indian grass SORDS SORUS SO RUS[a]
11a Prejudice’s overthrown and society’s avoided awkward situations MIRES MIXES SEXI[s]M reversed
14a North African has home in place of round tower MINAR MINOR MOOR with IN for O
25a Whirlpool had depth in running water EDDY EDDA ’D D in EA
28a Turnips left to be eaten by birds after noon NAVEWS NAVELS L in AVES after N
6d Male monarch keeping record of the Falkland Islands KELPER HELPER HE ER around LP
9a Servicewomen with vanishing returns RENT RENS [w]RENS
29d Noble melody’s quiet before its end ARISTO ARISTA ARIA around ST

So the thematic name must be [Akira] KUROSAWA (the centenary of whose birth will be on March 23). Unfortunately, this doesn’t completely resolve which letters to pick, because there are the pairs MINAR/MINOR and ARISTA/ARISTO. I’ll need an A from one and an O from the other. Aha, I see: if consider the cells in grid order (across the rows from top to bottom), then it has to be MINOR and ARISTA.

That leaves one choice (SAMURAI/SAMARAS) which must reveal the second thematic title, presumably the one in which “one character will take on a greater than normal significance and must be ringed”. Here a disadvantage of my working methods becomes apparent: I create the diagrams for this blog as I go along, entering answers on the computer instead of in the newspaper. And to save time and space I omit the entry numbers from these diagrams. Which means that I have been staring at the grid for a very long time indeed before it occurs to me that the second thematic title must be SEVEN SAMURAI, with the entry number 7 being the “character [with] a greater than normal significance”.


  1.  The Listener Crossword website issued a correction: “21 Across should read ‘Greek’, not ‘Roman’.”

  2.  No, it was TAHRS. (TARS around H, the “not 1” indicating that the answer is not THARS = SEROWS from 1d.) So there goes my all-correct record!

  3.  Commenter Pat on Listen With Others explains that “Pious fellow’s” ↦ DEVOT’S, which is decapitated and reversed to give STOVE.