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An entry in Fortnightly Topic Challenge #42: Wordless Connecting Walls


"Why on earth are there blank spaces in your connect wall?"

"In my defense, you just asked me to make categories with four words in them; you never said how many categories."

"It's a 4x4 grid! How many categories do you think? Ugh, I need to get this published in five minutes!"

"That sounds like a 'you' problem to me."

"Are you kidding? It's your fault!"

"Hey, I delivered what you asked for, didn't I? I even went through the trouble of making cryptic clues! All right, here's an idea: publish it anyway, and call it the 'Hole in the Wall.' Just pretend the holes are intentional, you know, for the pun."

"That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard! And what if someone asks what kind of holes these are?"

"That's...a good question."

enter image description here


Notes:

  • The final answer is a four-letter word that answers the question, "What kind of holes are these?"
  • This puzzle assumes familiarity with the genre.
  • In case you have trouble viewing the image, here's the transcription.
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    $\begingroup$ Well, they're in your post, so they must be postholes! $\endgroup$ – msh210 Nov 2 '20 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ @msh210 can't argue with that :D $\endgroup$ – Ankoganit Nov 2 '20 at 13:47
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Given that the solutions to the cryptic clues are as follows...

A vessel with no obtuse ends! = CANOE = CAN + (n)O + (obtus)E &lit!

To give the greatest expression of pain = BESTOW = BEST + OW

This man, one who provides citations in the wrong way (a liar, primarily) is against common beliefs = HERETICAL = HE + CITER< + A + L(iar)

Mad genius eats ball of fire = IGNEOUS = GENIUS* around O ('ball')

Mark, in good shape, goes back, gets a drug = DENOTE = TONED< + E ('drug') (solved by @jafe in comments)

Gasp! That guy, placed at the top of the hall of fame? = PANTHEON = PANT + HE + ON (solved by @jafe in comments)

Got there roughly at the same time = TOGETHER = GOTTHERE*

Blazing row that shows escalation = GROWTH = _G ROW TH_*

Dry, dishevelled owlet = TOWEL = OWLET*

Reflection of a lake captured in fine instrument = THEREMIN = MERE< in THIN

Modern unit of weight = NEWTON = NEW + TON &lit!

The beer talks random nonsense = BLETHERSKATE = THEBEERTALKS*

...we next notice that these answers can be split into three groups...

...depending on whether they contain a run of letters which is an anagram of the numbers ONE, TWO or THREE:

ONE: CANOE, IGNEOUS, DENOTE, PANTHEON;
TWO: BESTOW, NEWTON, GROWTH, TOWEL;
THREE: THEREMIN, TOGETHER, BLETHERSKATE, HERETICAL.

Next, we should notice the numbers in the corner of each box that contains a clue:

If we treat these as indices and look up the letter in that position within the word, we can read 'A SLITHERLINK'. This implies to me that we now need to solve a grid-deduction puzzle based on whether each answer contains a 1, 2 or 3.

Our initial slitherlink grid and its final resolved state then look like this:

enter image description here

And superimposing this on the original connecting wall yields this:

enter image description here

Finally, as pointed out by @HTM in comments (nice spot), let's focus on the cells containing the 'holes', and specifically...

...the shape of the loop that passes around their cell borders:

enter image description here

We have here an implementation of the pigpen cipher! If we order the cells by their Roman numerals (and include the cells' central dots) we see this sequence:

enter image description here

This is the pigpen encoding for LOOP, which means that these holes are LOOPHOLES! What an incredibly apt name for them, considering they are formed by the slitherlink loop. Great puzzle!

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    $\begingroup$ Last one's rot13(qrabg<+r), i think? $\endgroup$ – Jafe Nov 2 '20 at 14:55
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    $\begingroup$ Note from the question that "The final answer is a four-letter word" (hopefully in the literal sense, not the idiomatic one). $\endgroup$ – msh210 Nov 2 '20 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Ankoganit No worries - happy to modify my answer once the edit is in :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Nov 3 '20 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ I think the gasp one is rot13(cnag+ur+ba) $\endgroup$ – Jafe Nov 3 '20 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ I believe the cipher is the rot13(cvtcra pvcure. Vs jr hfr gur Fyvgureyvax fbyhgvba rqtrf gbtrgure jvgu gur qbgf va gur rzcgl pryyf, jr trg gur jbeq YBBC, juvpu vf gur nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba - gurl ner “ybbcubyrf.”) $\endgroup$ – HTM Nov 4 '20 at 6:08

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