Since that wonderful Rubik’s Cube crossword, way back was it in 2011, we have been looking forward to the next one by Spud. Here it was, with a very modest little preamble that seemed to be saying that we would be able to choose what to highlight, as long as we stayed within the 30 to 33-letter range and ‘five sections’. There was that standard device, ‘In most clues the wordplay leads to the answer with an extra letter that is not entered in the grid; these letters lead to advice to be followed when highlighting.’
Of course, anyone who has struggled to produce an entire message convincingly using misprints or third or fifth clue letters knows that this device is the most forgiving. Less forgiving was the message that we ultimately deciphered, since those repeated words at the start of clues were rather a giveaway. Your first vetter or test-solver would be saying, “You have used ‘Unchosen’ twice”: “You have ‘Highlighted’ and ‘Highlight’ in your clues, you’ll have to change one of them”, and so on. We spotted that hint immediately and attempted, at once, to make sense of the first clue words. But, of course, the device was nicely concealed in prime numbers, OBSERVE PRIME NUMBERED CLUE FIRST WORDS as we learned later.
That was to come. First, I did a quick run through to check that Spud qualifies for the Listener Setters ‘ Imbibers .Org. and, sure enough he was indulging in ‘Medicinal drink implicated in parts (6)’ giving PTISAN* with an extra R, and ‘Spirit, not ancient rum, swallowed by father (6)’ (PA round NE + [R]UM = PNEUMA).
Solving proceeded steadily for a couple of hours with that message slowly emerging though we had one Numpty red herring when we decided that the Indian bird had to be an ARGUS in the clue ‘Indian bird bears hurtful, seedy coverage (7)’ AR[G](ILL)US we parsed, producing a peculiar FIRGT in our message. Clearly it had to be FIRST. Back to Mrs Bradford, as usual, and she told us that a SARUS is an Indian bird too!
I have a list of primes saved as a favourite since a recent crossword, so the message was quickly revealed. HIGHLIGHT ONE OF FOUR COUPLES / UNCHOSEN NAMES FULLY OR MOSTLY HIGHLIGHTED COMING AS GUESTS. (A quick parenthesis here. As we solved, I was muttering “We don’t seem to be producing an additional letter in MOST clues” – and the math Numpty put me right, “MOST only has to be more than half – 34 out of 51 – that’s MOST.” The same with this MOSTLY highlighted.)
We immediately spotted what was going on; not one of those days of grid staring that some of us in the Listener-grid-staring-club commiserate about. A WEDDING, PLEASE JOIN ADAM AND EVE, R.S.V.P. Then we saw STEVE and recalled something about a movie called Adam and Steve. We saw MAC and MIA too, lurking on the sidelines but the preamble was clear about ‘comprising five sections’ and they were marginalised and evidently not invited.
MOSTLY highlighted – clearly that meant that we could marry off ADAM and EVE, and STEVE would be ‘mostly’, or 3/5 highlighted and eligible as a guest, as would ADA, who would be ‘fully’ highlighted. Or we could marry ADAM to STEVE or EVE to ADA and so on. Just then, SKY News was talking about this weekend’s celebration of the legalisation of gay marriage in the UK, so, of course, we were reminded that this is a topical issue. (YET AGAIN! Hasn’t the media gone to town on this! They must be attempting to compensate for about a couple of centuries of ludicrous prudery and boring us all to tears with the fact that, at last, we are being treated like intelligent beings and allowed to cement relationships with whomsoever we like!)
Rant over! Did you notice that I had A WEDDING two paragraphs above. We were given free choice about what we highlighted with the constraints that it must be five sections and 30 to 33 cells. I wonder what JEG will do to an entry that highlights 31 cells inviting ADAM AND STEVE to A WEDDING of ADA AND EVE!
Thanks anyway, Spud. Piece of cake? Not quite! Let’s raise our glasses to the compiler and to the happy brides, grooms, whatever!