Nutmeg! That produced an instant smile. Anything compiled by Nutmeg is sure to give pleasure, be it in the Listener, EV or IQ series, in the Magpie or in the Guardian. Her Magpie Porkies was one of my all-time favourites with its delightful use of the AA Milne line ‘The more he looked, the more Piglet wasn’t there’. Her name is frequently in the top five in the clue writing competition in Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre: she was placed second in the last set of results. (And she gets a special smile from me as she is one of the very few lady setters of advanced thematic crosswords.) So what does she have in store for us this time?
A very short preamble – that can be the harbinger of a fearsome crossword. She speaks of a ‘few’ thematic answers that are clued by wordplay only, of a ‘few’ cells where letters from across and down answers clash and ‘must be replaced by a single dot’. That is intriguing. We solve 16 across first, ‘Stellar student’s briefly off course at the outset (7)’ (ASTRA(y) + L) and immediately notice that clue lengths are not always the same as the number of available cells, so happily, we can at once identify the suspect entries.
Of course, I have scanned the clues to confirm Nutmeg’s membership of the Distinguished Listener Oenophile Society and she confirms it with good taste, ‘Lose market’s top source of malt whisky (6)’ (M(arket) + ISLAY). We spot a few clues connected with jewels and food and the rather randy clue, ‘Indian open to any sex, a lot of wives wanting male (6)’ (BI + HARI(m)). Hmmm!
Solving is steady and enjoyable and the first penny-drop moment comes very quickly when HOLMES fits into the first of the unclued lights. “Ah”, says the other Numpty, “then WATSON must be 27 down and ADVENTURE will fill 17 down.” (We already had most of the letters.) Now we realize what we are going to colour, as we have BEECHES, BAND, LEAGUE and CARBUNCLE in the grid. We are going to have to invent some way of colouring those ‘copper’, ‘speckled’, ‘red-headed’ and ‘blue’. By my reckoning, assuming that only the ‘head’ of LEAGUE is coloured red, we need five more cells for a further treatment, in order to reach the 26 cells of the preamble.
We complete our grid fill, with a bit of a struggle in the top right hand corner, where we have that rather strange clue, ‘A single record recalled hosts knowing man’s name (6)’ That has to be the ‘One six-letter answer’ that ‘is entered in an unorthodox form (indicated by the wordplay) to as to suggest one adventure of Homes and Watson’. I LP reversed hosting HIP gives us PHIPLI, which is, of course, a jumble of Philip and suggests ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, so all is hunky dory – except for those dots.
We have understood that we are replacing the beginnings or ends of words with a dot, where clashes occur, and a moment’s thought reveals that these give SEE(thed)/(Lin)D (producing SEED), (a)ST(ral)/(Bih)AR(i) (producing STAR), BLEE(ders)/(se)P(tic) (producing BLEEP), SPL(enetic)/(overw)EEN (giving SPLEEN) and BLACK(en)/(tea)BALL (giving BLACKBALL). I look up PIP in Chambers and am delighted to find that those are the first five definitions for the word. So, with a smile, we put dots in those cells and colour them orange.
Many thanks, Nutmeg, great fun.