It’s a carte blanche puzzle, with one letter to be removed from a word in each row and each column (and moved to the margin), just to make things a bit more difficult. At least all the grid entries are real words. So let’s get started.
I have to confess that I’m no great shakes at cold solving. A first pass through the clues yields only five answers: COERCED (from which the only letter that can be removed is the D, leaving COERCE); EASTER (which could yield ASTER, EASER, EATER, ESTER); BAIRN (⇒ AIRN, BAIN, BARN, or BIRN)*; SARIN (⇒ SAIN, SARI); PLEAT (⇒ LEAT, PEAT, PLAT, PLEA).
* I might have been able to make faster progress had I checked all these words in Chambers, since this dictionary is lacking BAIN (OED: “A quantity of water or other liquid placed in a suitable receptacle, in which one may bathe”) and BIRN (OED: “The portion of a clarionet or similar musical instrument into which the mouth-piece is inserted”).
By good fortune all the deletions from EASTER yield _ _ _ER, and it looks as though it’s possible that COERCE intersects with the E. With nothing else to go on, let’s guess that this is right, and put in as many bars as I can deduce from the answer lengths.
It seems likely that the long down answers cross through the C and O of COERCE, and sure enough, they are ESPECIALLY (⇒ SPECIALLY) and PREORDERED (⇒ REORDERED), and this make it possible to get the long across answers, ENQUIRIES (⇒ ENQUIRES) and ERADICATE (⇒ ERADIATE).
The digraph QE in column 3 looks very unlikely, so I put in bars around the Q. I solve a few more clues: COUPLET (⇒ COUPLE), TOMCAT, APROPOS, NOODLE (which has a very nice triple clue, “Simpleton spent dole on some pasta”).
There’s four-letter down clue (“Greenish, endlessly twitching, eyes”), that from its position in the list of clues (comes after NOODLE but before the last two five-letter clues), I can deduce must have its first letter on row 5. So it’s either URP_ or EI_ _. It’s EINE (“Greenish endlessly” = EENI and “twitching” is the anagram indicator). And the symmetric answer is SLUR.
Putting in SLUR and EINE forces some more bars. Because no letters were removed from either SLUR or EINE, there must be other words in columns 4 and 7 (so that some letters can be removed from these columns), and that means there can’t be a four-letter word at the top of column 8 (because there aren’t enough clues to have a four-letter word at the tops of both columns 7 and 8).
Then I make a mistake. Somehow I’ve decided that there’s a three-letter answer on row 4, to the left of COERCE, so that on row 3 there’s a five-letter answer on its own. This allows me to put some more bars in. Wrongly. Next I get REAM (⇒ RAM, REM) and since this lacks an L it can’t intersect with SLUR. So I can put more bars in, but this leaves the grid rather poorly connected.
Surely a respectable setter like Xanthippe wouldn’t set a grid like this? It’s beginning to look as though I have gone wrong.
Yes, I’ve definitely gone astray. I need to put BAIRN at the top of column 2, and REAM at the left of row 4. But there’s no way for these to intersect, no matter which letters I remove. So I was wrong about the location of REAM. It must be on the right of row 3 instead. So backtracking, I get this:
The thematic word at the left of the grid is _ _[EA]DICT_ _ _ which looks like it could be PREDICTION or PREDICTIVE. I wonder if the theme is PREDICTIVE TEXT? Yes, TEXT goes at the lower left (“Tense UK retailer shunning new lines”).
Let’s decode the title using T9’s online translator:
and the instructions:
5646 2368737 63 2667328848359 68623733 23557 9484 287837
JOIN CENTRES OF CONSECUTIVELY NUMBERED CELLS WITH CURVES
263 26675383 843 74273 87464 896 78724448 54637. 2 84733
AND COMPLETE THE SHAPE USING TWO STRAIGHT LINES. A THREE
9673 75264 747273 6878 23 9748836 86337 843 4743.
WORD SLANG PHRASE MUST BE WRITTEN UNDER THE GRID.
The slang phrase must be DOG AND BONE, with the lines we’re instructed to draw forming a picture of the BONE.
So could the other thematic entry be MOBILE PHONE? That fits with BAIRN (⇒ AIRN), EASTER (⇒ ASTER), PLEAT (⇒ PEAT) and SARIN (⇒ SARI). That’s good enough for me, let’s fill it all in.
I find it can be a bit of a slog when I’ve worked out the code and the theme and know what I have to do, but I still have big blank areas of the grid, knowing that the remaining clues are the most difficult ones. But duty calls: back to the grindstone.
ECLAT appears for the second time in today’s Times: it was also in crossword 24,430.
SADIST seems quite sadistic, using two obsolete words, “no longer save” = SA and “old poem” = DIT.
“Judge acquitting Frenchman after one French impression” eventually yields IDEE (⇒ DEE) after much thought. I think it’s “judge” = DEEM, “acquitting” = removing, “Frenchman” = M, “one” = I, and “French impression” = IDEE.
“Guide with base moved down on printer’s plate” must be STEREO (⇒ STERE). I get “printer’s plate” (short for STEREOTYPE) but the wordplay eludes me for a long time. Eventually I figure it’s “guide” = STEER, “base” = E, “on” = O.
But one of the clues is beyond me. “Prop primarily supporting one edge of hide” must be SHORE (⇒ SORE). “Prop” = SHORE, “primarily supporting” = S, but how does “one edge of hide” = HORE? Someone, throw me a bone here.