We’ve been saying it for years – “Read the preamble!” A slightly more careful reading of Pilcrow’s pre-ramble (well, it was a bit of a preramble this time) would have saved us some ultimate head-scratching. Two significant words there escaped our original perusal: ‘said’, and ‘nominally’. More of those later; first I had to check that Pilcrow hasn’t resigned his membership of the Listener Setters’ Imbibers Fraternity (sorority – whatever!) and what do I find? Barely a trace of alcohol. There’s a ‘Drop from trea[C]le say, lump under acceleration due to gravity (4)’ giving G + LOB, then ‘Maybe stee[R]s stomachs, containing arsenic repulsed by a medical man (5)’ A MO< round As, but it’s a fairly gloomy set of surface readings.
Things ‘flounder’, are ‘taken aback’, are ‘rough’ and ‘old’, ‘deficient’, faceless’, incompetent’, ‘tortuous’, ‘shortened in recession’, ‘snubbed’, ‘conceal crime’, and are ‘infested by forgotten bedbug’. Rather an ominous start to solving if Pilcrow was in that sort of mood!
Solving began anyway and the bottom left hand corner of the grid quickly yielded producing a rather strange ?YOT. That gave us three possibilities: RYOY, EYOT and PYOT and we went off on our first red herring – well, a black and white one, actually since the title was ‘Black or White’ and the Magpie (PYOT) is both. Were we in bird and animal country?
We continued to solve and the gloom was relieved when several words of a message appeared: ‘LORD MAKE ME AN INSTRUMENT OF THY PEACE’. That was Saint Francis of Assisi wasn’t it? Perhaps those other strange words that were appearing: WO?, ?OO and FOR? were going to be some kind of animals (WOL and ROO of A.A.Milne fame?) The significance of that ‘Nominally’ in the preamble took some time to creep to the surface of our solving processes.
The omissions in wordplay had produced F R PO A N C I PE S and we completely failed to understand how we had to read those, but worked backwards to POPE FRANCIS, then made sense of the instruction to read ‘the double omissions, followed by the single omissions’ and, of course, nominally we had another Francis and could put BENEDICT and JOHN PAUL into two unclued lights, producing the three predecessors of Pope Francis. So was the ‘Black and White’ connected to the smoke that appears when a Pope is selected by the Cardinals in the Sixtine Chapel? (Yes, by now, we had spotted SIXTINE and CARDINALS making a kind of extended cross that we must highlight in our completed grid.)
There was one more evil little word in the preamble. We had to find a series of five unclued entries and SIXTINE was clearly defined as one of them. With a grumble (well as a northerner who pronounces nothing the same way as you lot from down south, I haven’t a second’s patience for homophones, whether or not Chambers justifies them) we noticed that the hidden word CARDINALS was descriptive of the SAID (my caps.) five entries. So we filled our grid with WON, TOO, FORE, EYOT, SIXTINE and muttered a groan of thanks to Pilcrow. That was graceless, wasn’t it! Thank you, Pilcrow, I liked the Saint Francis link and solving was fun.