23 August 2023

Fiendishly difficult cryptic puzzle

Every month I enjoy tackling the cryptic puzzle in Harper's magazine.  The December one that came this week is particularly frustrating.  I've figured out the 24 words in the clues, but I'm facing the task of fitting them into the dodecahedron.

The instructions note that there are 12 letters left over after "subtracting" the five-letter answers from the 6-letter answers, and those 12 letters will spell "the name of the holiday person to whom the puzzle is dedicated." (no indication whether that "name" is a proper name or an occupation or other descriptor and whether it is one word or two or three).

Here are the 12 letters: BEGIIILNNRRV

If I could figure out how to rearrange those 12 letters into a name, the rest of the solution would fall into place more easily.  Even Wordsmith's excellent Internet Anagram Server couldn't come up with any relevant one- to six-word solution - but perhaps names are not in its database.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.  [answer in the Comments]

Reposted to add another fiendish cryptic from Harper's:

I am in awe of the constructors of word puzzles like this.  To start with, the clues are cryptic:
12:  "Unlikely flier takes a long time to become one!"
The unlikely flier is a PIG ("when pigs fly...").  Add a long time (EON) to get PIGEON, which is a flier.  That goes in the hexagon numbered 12.  But... there's no way to know which of the six triangles gets the first letter, and there's no way to know whether the word turns clockwise or widdershins.

So you have to solve an adjacent hexagon clue.  Let's say you figure out clue 11, and the answer shares the letters P and I with hexagon 12.  Good.  But there's still no way to know which direction the words get entered.  So you have to solve a third adjacent clue to start fitting the words together in the grid.

These puzzles are a bit different from the traditional British cryptic grids, and are not for the faint of heart.  For an entry-level standard cryptic, I would suggest the ones posted on Sundays by The New Yorker.  That link should not be behind a paywall, you don't have to create an account, you can click the "settings" to include an "error check mode" that will alert you if you make a mistake while working the puzzle.  And best of all, when you finish (or give up), the answer key will indicate the proper construction of the cryptic entries.  Give it a try.


  1. I haven’t don’t the puzzle, but I can tell you that you’re looking for a proper name that is two words. I can give you more clues if desired.

  2. The letters for "virgin" are in there, but not sure how to make mother/madonna/Mary/Maryam out of the remaining letters BERLIN?

  3. If you're interested, I would be happy to work through placing the answers in the grid with you. That's definitely a non-trivial step if your brain doesn't immediately anagram things like some of us weirdoes. :)

    1. Already done. With the 12-letter name in hand, that provided the order for the twelve words in the dodecagon; then it just took ten minutes to sort out the couple duplicates and follow the arrows to insert the twelve 5-letter words.

  4. For proper name anagrams (and lots of other things), Nutrimatic(.org) can be very helpful


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