“Coincidence” by Sabre

Oh, hell. On Friday, I downloaded the just-published solution to the final Listener puzzle of last year (“Coincidence” by Sabre) and noticed that I’d made a small error.

It was a brutally difficult puzzle — easily the hardest of the year, it seemed to me — involving a lot of letter substitutions, and although I made it to the end, answering all the clues and figuring out the two hidden messages (which were quite difficult to work out even once you’d figured out what they had to say), I failed to thoroughly double-check my “bookkeeping” and so missed one place where one of the two letters I had as being involved in the substitution didn’t match one of the two letters involved in spelling out the messages. Particularly stupid because I’d noticed something odd about that portion of the grid and didn’t spend enough time looking at it to realize what was wrong. Argh argh argh.

Americans have a time disadvantage with the Listener puzzle, though. You have two weeks from the time the puzzle appears to the deadline for entries. Entries are accepted only by mail, however, not by email, so if you’re in England you have about a week and a half to solve the puzzle and have it arrive by the deadline, but if you’re in America you have maybe three or four days. The puzzle appears on Friday, so I try to get my entry in the mail on the following Monday if possible. And this was a very difficult puzzle, as I said, and then Friday and Monday were both filled with family stuff for the holidays, so I didn’t finish until early Monday morning and I hurried it into the mail, and I never really had a chance to put the solution aside, sleep on it, and double-check it in the morning with a calm, clear head.

On the other hand, even a late entry counts toward the yearly statistics as long as it is sent before the solution has been published, even though it can’t win the weekly prize. So perhaps this is a lesson that if I smell anything wrong, I should hang on to my entry another day or two till I figure out what’s amiss, even if it means giving up a shot at the weekly prize.

I don’t usually check my solutions, so I have no idea whether my entries were all correct for the year other than this one. It’ll be a sad thing if it turns out that I missed a complete for the year due to one small error on the final puzzle. I’ll find out when the yearly stats are issued. But I’ve made errors on exactly three puzzles in each of the last three years, so the chances are probably not all that great of this being my only mistake all year.

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