Had this been our first ever Listener attempt, I believe we would have admitted defeat and never tried again. It was surely this year’s most difficult so far. Perhaps the numpties are just becoming numptier, but it seems to me that the difficulty increases, week by week. If last week’s Ks and Os didn’t deliver the KO blow to the ‘all-corrects’ there must be a fair chance that this week’s will. No, I probably underestimate you clever fellers. Perhaps you (unlike us) didn’t agonise all through Friday and Saturday and produce about half a gridfill.
We began by looking up Wet Wet Wet and found that it was a very well-known Scottish pop group with a lead singer called Pellow. We are obviously the wrong generation and had never heard of them but – BIG BUT – would the Listener Powers That Be tolerate a theme that perhaps fifty percent of us would have to consult Google for (I like prepositions at the end of sentences, Roddy!) Perhaps Pellow was a rather crude misprint for ‘fellow’, ‘yellow’ or ‘bellow’.
We began the usual hard labour of spending about fifteen minutes on every clue and achieving the grand total of twenty in place shortly after midnight. That is a kind of watershed.’ We shall persevere since we are half way there.’ Half way? Fond dream! We had spotted LA PUCELLE – a maid (could she be lovely Rita, meter maid?) and a potential JUDE – perhaps ‘obscure’ or even ‘Hey Jude’ and a Beatles theme, but there was that fearsome right-hand side of the grid, almost totally highlighted for unclued lights and looming large and empty.
These were difficult clues, especially with the double hurdle of unclued lights and extra words. We slowly collected six likely candidates for extra words: BEAM, BRAID, SONG, PIG, ROW and SONGWRITER. We even had SOMERSET at first, on the basis that ‘Somerset town historian turned up to cover game’ led to REPORT. Nice one – we have the historian ROPER, turning up after T(own) and REPORT is ‘to cover game’ leaving us ‘SOMERSET’ (incidentally the home for some time of the Lake Poets) – and one error leads to another and slowly into total disaster and despair.
Those misprints were our saving grace. We had FELT/FEET at 1ac, STAR/SCAR at 8ac, JUTS/JUGS at 29ac, and STEP/STOP at 31ac. (What a stinky little clue; ‘Setter has to break rule ignoring the last step in places’ – I come from the north, one of the places where ‘GIVE OVER’ is standard for ‘stop!’ but it took some head-scratching to put I’VE into GOVER(N) – ‘rule ignoring last’.)
We had PLANS/PLANT at 2d, WISH/WASH at 3d and a grand total of six of the seven. ECGOTA. It is a short step from there to COTTAGE (just a missing T that we found later in BANKER/BANTER at 32d). At last (and this was possibly our tenth hour of struggle) we realized that we were on home ground – DOVE (10ac) COTTAGE and Wet Wet Wet lakes (though the queues are so dense along the shore of Windermere these days that you’ll be lucky if you get to see the Lakes in the plural!)
LA PUCELLE, our maid, made sense now (Southey’s ‘The Vision of the maid of Orleans) but we were well into Sunday before examination of the longer clues (the ones more likely to lead to two-word synonyms of the Lake Poets’ works) turned up LENT LILIES (Daffodils) and OLD SALT (The Ancient Mariner).
We could almost complete the grid now but there were those unclued entries; ‘Each of six unclued entries is part of a word or phrase defined by an extra word in one of six clues. The added parts (not in the grid) are words that make up the members of a group’. It is spelt out clearly enough, but I went sniffing after red herrings for hours. There were more lake poets – Dorothy Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey, John Wilson, Charles Lloyd and Hartley Coleridge. Which six? And how were we to transform those extra words into six names? Doh!
Here’s how we did it – forget the poor unknown poets – let’s have just the three greats:
Braid = SOUT + unclued light ACHE (soutache – a narrow braid used for trimming)
Song = HEY + unclued light JUDE
Row = WORDS following unclued light EXCHANGE
Pig = WORTH after unclued light TAM
Songwriter = COLE + unclued light PORTER
Beam = RIDGE + unclued light PIECE
This was our third Lato crossword in our short Listener solving career. There were No 4012: Explanation (“Let me have men about me that are fat) and No 4047: Cut Out – both with literary themes. We should have been warned! If he is increasing the difficulty level to this extent each time, a real shocker is in store in a month or two. However, this was an impressive piece of work with so much to discover after the initial grid fill. Thank you, Lato, for filling our weekend too.