As we know, detonation is when a portion of the air/fuel mixture in the cylinder spontaneously ignites due to heat and pressure before the flame front from the combustion process reaches it.
As I understand it, if the beginning of the combustion process is delayed sufficiently (by retarding the ignition) then the piston will already be past TDC and on its downward stroke before the combustion pressure in the cylinder can reach the point where detonation would occur.
Of course, retarding the ignition is not without its own problems as it can reduce power output, and over-retarding is likely to cause engine overheating.
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