Listener 4140: Jumping to Conclusion by Sabre
Posted by erwinch on 24 June 2011
In over forty years Sabre has given Listener solvers a considerable amount of enjoyment but this, his 62nd solo puzzle, afforded me nothing but frustration and after four or five days without any progress whatsoever I gave up on it. This is the first time in twenty-five years that I have given up on a Listener before the solution was published. Trying to enter answers into the grid using knight’s moves became tedious in the extreme but it was a different story back in 1992 when I first came across the device in a crossword (Players by Law) – then I thought it inspired and was bowled over. We have seen knight’s moves on numerous occasions since, especially in Knights’ Tour by Wolfram (in 1996), but I have grown to dislike them in puzzles and after this shall be glad never to see them again. This is ironic since Sabre may have introduced the idea to crosswords or at least been an early exponent with his Knight’s Tour in 1971.
The main problem with them is that in a 12 × 12 grid there are literally tens of thousands of ways of entering a 7-letter word that starts in the centre square so the relevant clues could only be cold solved. I had two clues that I just could not fathom (19 & 23) and a third (5dn) that I had incorrect, which gave the interim grid as follows:
The letters in red were tentative entries. Nirly (35) seemed to fit in well with the double L’s of hallian (17) and man-milliner (8dn) and the end of surreynd (12dn). It seemed reasonable to assume that the X of ixtle (30) would check with the X of bordereaux (33ac) and that 23 would not begin with an X. However, I found it impossible to fit bordereaux from the second E to A since 5dn needed to be capas not capes.
I would maintain that clues with answers starting in the centre square would have to be scrupulously fair for the puzzle to be reasonably solvable so was that the case here? Looking at the two clues unsolved:
19 Reno’s first casino in resort: they allow varied bets (7) racinos – R + CASINO (anag) Well, I had never heard of racinos but given my general antipathy to all aspects of gambling then this is perhaps not surprising - I would rather go to the dentist than go to Nevada to gamble. The anagram indicator is not clear, with the two meanings of resort in use, and the definition is very vague. The Chambers definition is: a racetrack that offers additional facilities for gambling. I understand that this often includes vast numbers of slot machines where the term bet is not appropriate. I thought that Reno’s first casino might be an Americanism for the letter C, possibly the sea in Seabee. Resort could be spa and I considered spreads as a good fit to the definition. Racino only dates from 1995 and first appeared in the online OED this very month (June 2011):
I would certainly rate this clue as unfair but hats off to any solver who got it without aids – I doubt that I would ever have solved it.
23 Fossil elephant – tips of decayed ivory missing (9) dinothere – D + I + NOT HERE This is one that I feel I should have got but was rather favouring fossil as the definition with D + I missing from some sort of elephant. I had even looked through all the words beginning DI in Chambers but there are over 29 pages of them.
Now a look at the clue that I got wrong:
5dn Cloaks cut with square bottom (5) capas – S to the bottom of SCAPA I had the admittedly unsatisfactory capes – S for R in CAPER rather than capas. In the 5th edition at least, Bradford’s lists caper under cut although it is a mistake. However, it has been pointed out to me that the correct wordplay also works for capes – S to the bottom of ‘SCAPE. Escape appears as the answer to 13dn, which might be seen as making the latter wordplay less likely but it is a cruel clue if done on purpose.
As a contrast, some of the clues for entries not involved with the knight’s moves were among the easiest ever seen in the Listener and could be solved in a split second:
18ac Salamander once inhabiting New Territories (3) ewt – Hidden
42ac Lady (Elvira?) partaking of Chardonnay (5) Donna – Hidden
25dn Bewailed upset of bobsled: learner driver is ejected (6) sobbed – BOBS(L)ED (anag)
However, not all the clues outside the centre square were straightforward and yet another mistake in my interim grid came to light when trying to enter dinted (34). If the first jump was taken as D to the I of ixtle (30) then no final D was available. The mistake was in 38ac:
Lecturer’s boring moped badly damaged in collision? blood-red – L in BROODED (anag) My reasoning was that anything damaged in a collision might be covered in blood – hence blood-red and the question mark. Chambers Crossword Dictionary lists brood under mope and vice versa.
But the clue should have been read as follows:
Lecturer’s boring moped badly damaged in collision? bloodied – L in BOODIED
Dinted can then be entered into the grid by first jumping from D to the I of bloodied.
So, to sum up, I found this a mean and dispiriting puzzle – too many more like this and I would seriously consider abandoning the Listener for good, apart from the numericals of course. However, I should not want it to be seen as a blot on Sabre’s superlative record so shall instead just attempt to forget it.
Finally, here is the full solution for anyone who lasted the course – a small number this week I should imagine:
The two thematic words to be highlighted were the Arthurian knights and brothers Gawain and Modred. Mordred (ODE) is the more usual spelling of the latter although Brewer’s favours Modred and Collins has both. The main diagonals of the centre square were always the most likely to display the thematic words and I suspect that many of us will have considered knight errant at some point although this has already appeared several times in past puzzles.
Most of the above was written two weeks ago but as I write now I find that I have mellowed towards the puzzle. We can have no real memory of pain so the mind-numbing frustration that I felt in the heat of battle as it were has gone. After all, I presume that Sabre’s submission had gone through the usual stringent vetting process and the result was not found wanting. I would be among the first to complain if the Listener were made any easier and must concede that this was just not to my taste. Still, it will be interesting to see the general consensus on this.