A couple of years have passed since Wasp’s last Listener, SPAD, which I completed without see the connection between ‘bits and bobs’ and ‘odds and ends’. It was likely that I would need to understand everything about this puzzle to complete it, including, as it did, seven unclued entries. The preamble seemed strangely worded: “… the omitted letters thematically describe the unclued entries, which give six more thematic items as 2ac…”. The word ‘more’ seemed superfluous … unless the omitted letters also formed a thematic item.
Since the entries across the top, and down the left, of the grid were unclued, I decided to start with 1dn Subsistence money invested in debt, taxes (4). BTTA was hidden in ‘debt, taxes’ and I wrote an A beside the clue since BATTA is ‘subsistence money’. 8ac R[E]TINA, 2dn MI[T]HNIC and 13ac MAN[T]A came next, and the top left corner was off with a bang. Unfortunately, 15ac [R]OSINA and 3dn KANDA[H]AR would have to wait to be entered.
As well as GLORIA, there were some straightforward anagrams to be solved with 4dn ERAS[A]BLE (LAS[t] BEER) and 5dn U[N]ABLE (TABLEAU – TA) which helped get the NE corner under way. Getting the top half finished was hindered by the lack of a clue to 2ac. The unclued 10dn looked like it would be GUFFAW, but that hardly seemed thematic to anything, although prefixed as it was by THE made me wonder whether it was a sister work to Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
I moved on to the bottom half of the grid, and was intrigued by 21ac Sloane possibly rebuffed in outskirts of Reigate — crazy (6). Obviously a reference to Sloane Rangers, but HAYWIRE was about an hour away from being solved since I didn’t realise that YAH was a noun as well as an upper-class ‘yes’. 16dn Skull fragment a medical officer found in suspect Albert (9) also had me trying to fathom MO in an anagram of ‘Albert’. That turned out to be A MO in SUS AL (I initially just had ‘medical officer’ leading to A MO in wordplay which I’m thinking isn’t acceptable).
Eventually, the grid was complete … except for the unclued entries. As well as the GUFFAW at 10dn, 2ac M • K E • U • L E looked like it could be MONKEY PUZZLE. Anyway, as is my wont these days, I did everything arse about face. Although I had Entered with a squash and a squeeze, I saw absolutely no reason to Google it! Instead, I tried to work out the ‘illustrative surname’ … obviously an illustrator. I had RFFECLH as well as what was in the circled square of 12ac. Now was the time for Google. I tried CHEFFLER, although I’d never heard of him/her.
As well as some links to unknown Chefflers, Google obliging asked me “Did you mean scheffler“. I said “Yes”, and top of the list was a Wiki article about Tony Scheffler, also unknown to me, but an American football tight end (whatever that is) … almost certainly not the subject of a Listener crossword! Next on the list, however, was Axel Scheffler. Needless to say, I hadn’t heard of him either, although his collaborator Julia Donaldson did ring a faint bell. And so their works MONKEY PUZZLE, THE SNAIL, THE WHALE, ROOM ON THE BROOM, The GRUFFALO, STICK MAN, and TIDDLER were revealed … as well as A Squash and a Squeeze. I had been right about the description containing a thematic item.
Now I had originally assumed that ‘letters ultimately found in … unchecked cells’ meant that one letter would be entered, and since all the unchecked squares in the titles equated to two letters, it was only the last letter that needed entering. Wrong! SCHEFFLER required the circled square to hold both S and E, so there was no reason to think that the other squashed, stuffed, squidged and squeezed squares were to be any different.
So thanks for a pleasant and relaxing jaunt, Wasp, although I’m not about to dash off and buy any of the books!