Schadenfreude has a great reputation so the numpties knew that this one was going to be a splendid crossword to solve. After we had gazed at it in near desperation for a couple of hours, and solved one clue (34d ‘Old or obstinate climbing plants’ – we had STOOR – but what was climbing? The plants or the old word for ‘obstinate’ – of course, we opted for the wrong one, so technically we had nothing at all in our grid) we weren’t sure there was going to be any splendid solve for us.
Progress came in one wild rush. I still don’t know what ‘Language Balancing’ has to do with the solution but we spotted NYNORSK ‘Foreign language new year number is “gold”, extremely slick’ (7). I learned to speak Nynorsk many years ago and struggled with the fact that ‘siv’ was replacing ‘sju’ and that everybody said both words to you to be sure that you understood - should have got that one sooner! We solved SHAMERS, SIRS, PATINA and ARKS and realized in a flash of brilliance (well, it was the other half of the numpty team!) that the polygon had to be a Maltese cross. No holding us now.
Chambers yielded ‘MECHANISM PROVIDING INTERMITTENT FRAME BY FRAME MOVEMENT IN MOTION PICTURE FILM PROJECTOR’. It was not difficult to extract those letters and words from clues, leaving us with far easier clues to solve. With the solutions that now leapt into view, the grid filled.
We could draw our polygon; it was clear where the remaining empty cells were going to be. So we drew in the eight points of the Maltese cross and fed M A L T E S E C R O S S into them. Yes, I know we were going about this in an upside-down fashion – the usual numpty way – and not studiously solving clue by clue. With all that help in place, asking our word-finder to find words that could have the extra letter in the appropriate place now helped us to solve our remaining clues.
Along the way, we recognised the brilliance of Schadenfreude in some of those astonishing words that could take in extra letters and fulfil his needs. With our Scottish background, we know the word HOWFFS, of course, but who would have thought a bit of Maltese Cross could be tangled with it to create SHOWOFFS? Yes, SALEM becoming SALEEM did require the appendix and was slightly below the brilliant level of the rest but anyone who grumbles should be challenged to produce something comparable. This was sheer joy and brilliant. Thank you Schadenfreude!