Inquisitor 1714 Clouds by Phi

September 7, 2021

Prize for the most opaque preamble of the year will I suspect (hope) go to Phi, because after several read-throughs of today’s I was only a little wiser. Letters absent from the wordplay of some clues, thematic clues elsewhere where, suspiciously, word counts and lengths refer to grid entries. I’ve been at this game long enough for that statement to ring alarm bells.

When confused my policy is to jump right in and get on with it, which often bears fruit, but would only do so slowly this time despite TROIC right in at the start. What swiftly became obvious elsewhere was that the crossing letters in several answers seemed to bear little relation to the accompanying wordplay. Almost as if those were the thematic answers we were looking for.

Now, I’d already thought that all that stuff about numbers associated with the answers in different ways might be something to do with atomic numbers, so when it became clear that nothing but BEEHIVE would fit 14d, and that it also happened to be a nebula (clouds, see), I chanced upon a list of such things by somebody I’d not heard of called MESSIER, whose name looked suspiciously like the letters absent from wordplay in a number of clues.

Bingo. The Beehive Cluster is Messier 44, and RUTHENIUM which fits some of the wordplay in the clue is atomic number 44 too. At which point ORION and ANDROMEDA swiftly fell, and with it much of the top half of the grid.

The bottom half? After a false start looking at a contemporary rival of Messier’s, a little more googling found the CALDWELL list, the name again suspiciously similar to other emerging absent letters.

Which also cleared up the mystery of the clues for nebulae that crossed both halves, as they were evidently supplying wordplay for elements with atomic numbers that matched those in both lists, there being a Southern Beehive cluster too for example .

And the one normal one that was wrongly positioned? Well, the CRAB nebula is Messier 1, and therefore in the wrong place among the Caldwell lot.

And there we have it, not as impenetrable as it first looked. Unexpectedly therefore we have the rest of the Bank Holiday free for, well, more puzzles, it being a lovely quiet one here. 


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