Sheer magic – that was the verdict of the numpties on Charybdis’ Out to Work. As the grid rolled off the printer, some of the generous clues were evident: BASRA – a city of unsettled Arabs?; Kin(e) taking part in somBRE THRENody; vulgarity is an attribute of old maid going topless (p)RUDERY; Ne’er-do-well’s phone in say with wife and girlfriend – SCALLYWAG.
There were some fine images there, that half-naked old maid, and the double-dealing ne’er-do-well, in fact that is what made this crossword such a winner – the fine surface-reading of the clues, in addition to that enchanting little fellow who leapt out of the box at the end.
We already had an extra A and an E from the above clues and solving went on steadily from there with a few hitches. Fairly soon, it was clear that we were finding ‘OPEN THE BOX’ in the across clues, and MASTER OF NONE in the downs, yet 18ac seemed to give us an extra D (Maybe a little (D)one when effects seen by cardinal). We interpreted this as KIT by TEN but is a kitten a little DOE (to yield the N)?
A young animal caused us some head-scratching in another clue, ‘Immature ra(n)t, with more than half unhappy to get palm fruit. The solution was clearly PUPUNHA, and resorting to Chambers, of course, taught us that a PUP can also be a young rat.
The usual Listener compiler tipple was there; ‘Glass of beer one imbibed as tipple’, except that Charybdis seemed to be into PAINT as his tipple! However, with great excitement, I seemed to see a rudimentary bottle shape emerging in the clashes when we reflected them on the other side of the axis of SCALLYWAG. But it was not to be. Soon we had six of the clashes and the southwest corner to complete, and a primitive little man was emerging.
We had been having trouble with some of those southwest clues, but, by (as usual) working backwards, we were able to give our little Jack his final leg and solve ?LEA? ‘(B)one no longer to be relied on – it’s part of gut (5)’, as ILEAL and work out, ‘Shooting up? That’s dreary after uni(O)n’s split (7)’. What a subtle clue! We had to use the O as part of BOX, then remove the UNIN from ‘uninspiring’, to leave SPIRING! No wonder we struggled with that one. That gave us our final word, QUIPPISH, for ‘Query i(F) caught in pretentious wisecracking. (I have a problem with that one. ‘Quippism’ is not in Chambers, but it seems to me that it would better fit with the noun of the definition!)
We were ready to confirm that the figure was indeed Jack – a bit of number work. (T/P = J, T/A = U, I/D = M, A/O = P, O/R = I, S/U = N, S/N = G, – so we have JUMPING, followed by A/I = J, L/O = A, I/T = C, R/S = K, JACK of course!)
Since we had to OPEN THE BOX, we must assume that he was going to jump out and leave us, we were told, with real words – and there they were! Now, as we highlighted TAR, STEEPLE, QUARTER, and LUMBER (the ‘Jack of all trades: master of none’), and found our alternative definition for the little man, SPRING-HEELED (Chambers; ‘having springs on one’s heels, as in SPRING-HEELED JACK supposed to do great leaps and play pranks or commit robberies’) we were delighted to find that we were left with real words: UMBER; EARFUL; RECALS; URUS; OE; EASE; ABC; GULES; PALMS; LEA and ADS.
There was a fine red herring in the JACK PLUG that would have added a lovely symmetrical entry to the grid and JACK (the) LAD crept in at 20dn. I wonder whether Charybdis had originally considered those before opting for four Jack words that were all ‘new’ (and probably dismissing the LAD as a two-word Jack who would need extra cumbersome preamble words).
How sad, though to have to send Mr Green a rather amorphous grid. I got my pencils out and let the little Jack jump right back in.
‘Out of Work’ was a work of genius! That’s the numpty verdict. We loved this. Thank you Charybdis.