According to my records, this is Kevin’s first crossword, but a sneaky part of me thinks it may be one of the regular setters using a different pseudonym as a one-off. Anyway, hands up all of you out there who, like me, saw absolutely no importance in the 23 March 1991 date?! Shame on those of us who’ve been doing the Listener (even if only sporadically) for twenty years or more. And please don’t tell me it’s just me that failed to spot it!! Not that sussing out its relevance would have helped with the crossword to any significant degree.
So, seventeen clashes to be found and replaced by the letter midway between them. I think I’ve mentioned before that a quick pass through all the clues is my preferred method of getting going. It has its drawbacks, as in this case, when it revealed a totally pathetic count of solved clues: three across and two down, with a clash where the Y of PROVOSTRY crosses the M of YAMA, enabling L to be entered. I did wonder whether the alphabet may be treated cyclically with the difference being M – Y = N, rather than Y – M = L, but nothing was given in the preamble to make me dwell on that. Luckily neither of the two letters in 1ac were clashes, and provide enough of a hint for me to get TRINITY TERM after only a short while fiddling with letters. I always try to spend a couple of minutes on an anagram by just doodling on my worksheet; I know that those of us with Tea, or who use Chambers Word Wizard, can cut anagram solving time significantly, but the satisfaction of getting them unaided is a real bonus. In the end, I didn’t need to doodle at all to get 5dn, beginning as it did I.T, with INTER-something seeming likely, and the TRAFFIC coming quickly from TARIFF … and I’ve never come across the word before.
21ac looked easy, with .HE.I.T, but since there’s no E in THIN RAY (an obvious anagram), it was likely to be a clash, and RHYTINA was the answer. NORMANS, VIETNAMESE, DISARRAY and AKEDAH were next, and then ERIDANUS which is a constellation I’d not heard of, and wasn’t in Chambers (that I could see).
That was pretty much the northwest corner of the grid completed, but I wasn’t expecting too quick a finish because sometimes Listeners just don’t work like that! Still, I had six clashes identified, five of which spelt out TIMES in a V shape … and still I didn’t tumble the theme. Having said that, when I’m solving clues I tend to concentrate on just that, and don’t give much thought to other requirements of the preamble unless I really get stuck. Of course, I do read the preamble fairly often, especially if it’s long and tortuous, which this one isn’t.
17ac was TAMALE and 15ac LIES, a bit tricky being rugby team LIONS – O (the ball) and changing direction (N to E); this gave a misleading pack, ie of LIES. A little trio of clashes near the NE corner gave LIS, and finally the penny dropped … LISTENER and TIMES are connected by 23 March 1991 being the date that the Times took over publication of the Listener crossword. So there are likely to be two sets of TIMES crossing each other near the southwest corner, and could LISTENER be in the shape of a cubed sign to reveal X(=10)3 = 1000, the number of puzzles published by the Times. Finally the ‘as calculated from a slightly earlier departure’ became clear, meaning that puzzle 3089 (the last Listener published on 3 January 1991) + 1000 gives the number of this puzzle.
The rest of the puzzle slotted into place fairly quickly. I’m a bit annoyed that I didn’t get SUPERSCRIPT earlier on (I concentrated too much on the NW corner), but JAYWALKER was a clue to enjoy. And so on through BELATEDNESS, CAGLIARI (for which Bradford’s came to the rescue, although not for the first time in this puzzle), and THUMBSTALL at last (for which Chambers came to the rescue).
A couple of clues needed special attention: 35ac, KREESE could have been CREESE, so needed careful analysis (SEEK returned holding last of heR plus E for energy), and 32dn, GREW, which careless completion could have resulted in GREY (GREY + With – Year). A tip to novices is to ensure that you fully analyse, and are happy with, every clue using both definition and wordplay. I think this was a fairly easy puzzle, ideally suited to Listener novices, with more than the normal number of anagrams, and a relatively straightforward final step. I write that from someone who knows the history of the Listener crossword fairly well; perhaps the novices among you did in fact find the final step a bit tricky.
A really enjoyable puzzle from Kevin, and a celebration which could easily have gone unnoticed. Here’s hoping that I see the next thousand puzzles through (by which time I’ll probably be a dribbling wreck).