Printer’s Devilry by Qid


Listener crossword 4074: Printer’s Devilry by Qid (2010-02-20)

I see this is the first puzzle by Qid, so an unknown quantity. Chambers advises “q i d abbrev: (in prescriptions) quater in die (L), four times a day.” There are twelve clues each of three types: letters latent, Vigenère enciphered, and misprint. The latent letters spell out two keywords for the cipher, and the misprinted clues spell out a “corrupt form” of the keywords (in the incorrect letters), and a four-word anagram of the keywords (in the correct letters), which should be written below the grid.

The description of the Vigenère encipherment is a bit ambiguous: for each answer we use “one or other of the keywords” but there’s no indication of how to choose which one. Also, the example shows FLY enciphering to RUM, so perhaps all the enciphered forms are real words, but the rubric doesn’t explicitly say so. Presumably this is left for the solver to discover.

The clues seem fair and after about three hours I’ve got something over half of the answers, though the grid is still a bit bare because I haven’t been able to enter any of the enciphered words. In the case of SASSAFRAS NUT there’s only one possibility for the latent letter, but in the other cases I need the crossing words and the fact that the keywords have no repeated letters to resolve the ambiguities:

I have three misprints:

I have seven words needing to be enciphered. Since I have some of the ciphertext, I can deduce letters that must appear in the keywords:

I also have 28a TANK, 31d ANAL, and 32d TEFF, but no crossing letters. There are a couple of clues that I can’t figure out:

Let me take stock of what I’ve got so far.

Moreover, I know from the encipherments that the keywords contain the patterns TA, R_L and I_E. So could the keywords be ETAOIN SHRDLU? The rubric says that the keywords form “a two-word entry in The Oxford English Dictionary”, so let me check:

etaoin shrdlu The letters set by running a finger down the first two vertical banks of keys on the left of the keyboard of a Linotype machine, used as a temporary marking slug but sometimes printed by mistake; any badly blundered sequence of type.”

That resolves the latent letter in ENERGETIC (can’t be C or G, must be I), and I can start enciphering the words. It’ll be useful to have a bit of code for this:

(defun encipher (plaintext key)
  (loop for a across plaintext
        for b across key
        concat (let ((c (+ a b -64)))
                 (format "%c" (if (> c ?Z) (- c 26) c)))))

The words for which I have intersecting letters can be enciphered right away:

Now it looks as though the across answers are enciphered using ETAOIN and the down answers using SHRDLU (which matches the locations of the latent latters), so it seems likely that:

And moreover, all the encodings so far have yielded words, so guessing that this is systematic, it’s possible to find (by trying all three possibilities) that:

So far all the enciphered answers have been four letters long. There are twelve such answers, so it seems likely that all of these (and only these) are enciphered. Also, since the rubric explained that the keywords are used “cyclically” (presumably within the set of across or down answers) I can work backwards and deduce what the plaintext must have been:

Now I know what the misprints need to be, so I can get to work on them.

So what have I got in the way of misprints?


And the remaining correct letters are HNRU. The phrase that “Linotype operators would often have had in mind” must be TO RUSH LEAD IN. So that means the misprint in 24a must be A for U, with “us briefly” ↦ S. In 25d it must be D for N, turning “idly” to “inly”. and in 22a it must be N for R, turning “nicked” to “ricked”. The very last misprint must be T for H in 35a and sure enough “One who’s left, for example, a toy on granny’s demise” ↦ LEGATARY, a rather nice &lit. There are two more enciphered entries, one of which I can do:

The last four latent letters are now easy to find:

And the final enciphered entry is _GLI which must be UGLI, and it was enciphered with SHRD, so the answer is BYTE. I see: Seven Pillars of Wisdom was BY T. E. [Lawrence].

This took me a long time, more than five hours (including writing this blog), but I made steady (if slow) progress and never felt as though I wasn’t going to finish.

The construction forced particular clues to have particular misprints, and this led to some awkward placement of misprints (as in 25d, where the word “inly” is superfluous to the clue, and only present to be misprinted) and some ambiguity (in 22a, where there looked like several ways that “nicked” could be a misprint of an anagram indicator, and in 24a, where there were three ways for “as briefly” to be a misprint of something clueing the letter S).

Finally, the title. Is this a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “Printer’s Devil” which featured an infernal Linotype machine and its satanic operator?