It was over two years since Charybdis’s last Listener, with its graph reflecting the exponential growth in the human population. Here we had 1 across being part of a simile from a novel, with the author to be highlighted in the grid. Presumably the simile wasn’t in the ODQ, since we were told exactly where to look for it… near the beginning of the author’s second novel.
Bizarrely, surprises were in store! But we weren’t told the nature of the surprises. Also, there were two groups of clues, but we weren’t told how they differed. Finally, there were ten unclued entries that were thematically related. Thanks for confusing me, Charybdis.
There was only one thing to do, and that was to solve a few clues. Luckily, when I came to 30ac Pair of horses dead in Senegal (4), things became clear (I hoped). Senegal is SN and a pair of horses is a SPAN, so it’s PA in SN, and ‘dead’ should read ‘dad’. The Group I clues looked as though they might have an extra letter. It made me wonder why we are ever told about extra/missing letters or misprints if Charybdis can get away with mentioning it so obliquely!
43ac Estate initially provided with altered dates and places (6) led to STEADS with ‘Estate’ needing to lose its first E so that it was the initial letter of State that took DATES*. So that was just two Group I acrosses dealt with, and sadly, I only got two Group I down answers in my first pass: 22 SCRAG-END, being SCR + AGEND[a], and 39 LADS.
What would the Group II clues hold? I assumed that it would be a different surprise, and the first clue, 38ac Aussie youth without grace backed into brigadier (3) was DAG, but had to go in a 4-letter entry. In fact, a quick check revealed that all the Group II clues led to answers one letter shorter than their entry. How nice of Charybdis to make life a bit easier here and give us answer lengths.
The Group II clues were much easier than Group I, and I got most of them fairly quickly. Presumably they would be need to have a letter added to give the entry, and that would no doubt be a real word.
Back to the Group I clues, and despite knowing there was an extra letter in every clue, some were quite tricky little blighters. Getting 26dn MONDIAL (‘ruing’ having a redundant G) enabled me to get 47ac Peers riot with leadership on vacation and earldoms in ruins (13, two words), LORDS TEMPORAL. It took me some time to be sure of this, since the wordplay of (ROT (‘riot’ without the I) + LP (LeadershiP on vacation, ie empty) + EARLDOMS)* wasn’t particularly straightforward, at least for me. It was a pity that this wasn’t 1ac as that would have helped me work down from the top of the grid.
No, sadly 1ac was the unclued key word, and it was some time later that INCONSPICUOUS could be seen struggling to appear. Even more sadly, absolutely nothing came to my mind as being ‘as inconspicuous as’ anything at all. This meant that the grid had to be completed before RAYMOND CHANDLER could be seen in columns 1 and 12. Google provided the title of his second novel, Farewell My Lovely with Philip Marlowe the hero.
Using the unchecked letters given in the preamble, I was already happy that the ten unclued entries were items of food and drink. The extra clue letters spelt out Unexpected item in bagging area, and the letters that needed to be added to the Group II answers spelt out Remove item. Little did I think that I would end up in my local supermarket, but I quickly scanned the grid (no pun intended) to see if any obvious item stood out. However, I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so missed the offending creature! I ended up at an obscure Ukrainian site, www.ae-lib.org.ua, which provided “Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”
Removing the tarantula that was now obvious in column 5, I saw that angel food (presumably the same as angel-cake in the UK) was lurking under the sneaky arachnid. At least it would appear when I completed my final submission grid. Or should I say that it would appear if I remembered to replace the TARANTULA with ANGEL FOOD on my final submission grid. I was, in fact, half way through creating that grid when I realised I was in the process of sending the spider off to St Albans!
So, a lucky escape at the end of an entertaining puzzle that brought together two seemingly disparate ideas. Thanks, Charybdis.