A thousand miles from home – no Internet, sticky hot and humid, an hour’s drive to a cybercafé. A new Times website appears but refuses my login details – request a new password – a peculiar new format eventually emerges but to get that sheaf of documents into print requires transport on a USB key – negotiations in a foreign language. We have no Chambers, no Bradford. The writing is on the wall! Time to call it a day and take up some other pastime!
How glad I am that we persevered. Spud’s European Revolution was worth the struggle.
Solving proved to be very tough on our knees in a plane with no Chambers to check whether COCH was Edmund Spenser’s carriage (‘shell has middle cut out’ – presumably CO(N)CH) or whether his ‘dingy’ could be spelled that way and be a COTT (‘Ad’s dingy about too much’ – with A as a misprint for E). Could LAKIN be the Virgin? (‘At one time the Virgil family found at city’s east end’ – LA followed by KIN).
We loved the range of the clues from topical and easy (‘Where Tiger starts’ – TEE) to fairly obscure (‘Seed derivative with a number over fifty’ – APIOL). There was even the usual Listener compiler’s quiet little romp and tipple (or so I thought) until his ‘fiasco’ turned out to be a FLOP and not a fine bottle of Barolo (‘Short sport leads to quiet fiasco).
This was inspired and luminous clueing! The only flaw was entirely of our making when we desperately attempted to make a word out of our scrambled ULERED?A, (‘A wild ox, once old, went first encircled by a clown’). The misprint was clearly going to be cLown/cRown and LAURELED looked pretty good but didn’t quite fit the word play and when we finally returned to Chambers, only the on-line version had the single L spelling (in its adjectival form). The Big Red Book seems to stick stubbornly to two Ls. Of course, we needed AUREOLED. I wonder how many others fell into that trap.
Reaching home after midnight with a complete grid and some intriguing messages appearing, (TURN STEEL BLUE and AUBERGINE, as well as a RUBIK’S CUBE ‘the puzzle to be solved’) sleeping on it was the best route to daylight.
What a thrill was awaiting us in the morning when we found AUBERGINE. If we had to highlight 54 cells in all, we were clearly looking for six faces of the cube (6 X 9 even for an arithmophobe) and AUBERGINE was fixing the position of the cube in the grid. STEEL BLUE appeared next, lying on its side. So we turned it and sat head-scratching for a while.
We constructed a couple of little ‘post-it’ cubes to see the possible positions of our remaining four sides and slowly teased out CHOCOLATE, TANGERINE, some GREEN or other and, finally, CARNATION.
The full extent of Spud’s genius hadn’t dawned on us yet, as I counted ‘amended cells’, attempting to choose among LIME, TEAL, PALE and a riot of other greens that would give us a total of 19 letter changes. We were muttering that this was rather an imprecise final step until we understood the full significance of turning that steel-blue face one complete rotation, so that four sets of letters rotated, just as in the original Rubik’s cube, and made those new words (NILE GREEN of course). This was spectacular! What an achievement! Thank you Spud – a memorable crossword and one of my three favourites so far this year.