It’s Friday… it’s five o’clock…. it’s… Crackerjack!
Well, no, it’s not – that particular TV programme finished years ago, and all I can really remember is Stuart Francis (not the excellent North American comedian of the same name) prancing about saying “Oh, I could crush a grape” whilst children stood on podiums trying to keep hold of armfuls of goodies. And cabbages. Were the cabbages a good thing? Hmm, I can’t remember. That’s what comes of having to spend Friday evenings eating tea quickly before rushing off to choir practice at the local church. It’s a little known fact that our church choirmaster taught Julian Cope music at secondary school in nearby Tamworth. Unfortunately we never got to sing Teardrop Explodes tunes in church, but that’s another story. And Monday nights were m uch better TV, anyway. Who can forget the heroes of G-Force fighting against the evil of Zoltar in Battle of the Planets? It’s a travesty – there should today a nation of forty-somethings saying “It’s Monday, it’s 4.35, it’s Battle of the Planets!” rather than bleating on about Crackerjack.
Okay, so there’s no Crackerjack, but let’s hope for a crackerjack Listener. Yes, I really did type that entire last paragraph as build-up to that rather rubbish pun. Oh, how LWO readers must have missed this. Hmm. Best not go there.
I know in advance who this week’s puzzle is by, as one of the trio of setters involved in Rasputin blogs regularly on Listen With Others. Hence I’ve been called into emergency action this week, as there’ll be no solving blog from Shirley. So, let’s print the puzzle off before I leave work, and see how it looks….
Aargghh! It’s a circular grid. Do I not like that, as Graham Taylor once said. I must confess to not being a big fan of circular puzzles. I’ve never really worked out why; it just seems wrong. And, if you try to submit the puzzle on the grid as supplied in the times or printed from the Crossword Club website, you end up having to squeeze letters into preposterously small cells in the grid. On that basis, I hope that there is justification for having a circular grid, or I will sulk!
Okay, three hours later. Picking up takeaway, etc, got in the way of Listener solving. Chicken Tikka Garlic with mushroom rice. Yum. Now it is Listener time. So what have we got?
The first read of the preamble is promising – circular puzzles often involve some radials being jumbled, which we haven’t got here. So far so good. Let’s just solve some clues.
So, let’s glance down to see if any obvious answers jump out.
5 Hooligan restrained by Court of Session confesses crime must be something in CS.. TOUGH, probably, giving COUGHS with an extra T. 21, Poor university merits trite remark looks like an anagram – UMERITS*? That must be TRUISM with an extra E. Interestingly, the next clue (which must contain some letters that match those in TRUISM) includes the words “is master”, which must surely yield ISM. So it’s not a big leap of the imagination to think that ISM are shared letters, so I can put somthing in the grid. That’s good, after solving only two and a half clues. Oh, and that answer must be EGOISM. Even better. The next clue, 23, includes the word ‘madam’, which normally indicates M, so I’m guessing that this answer starts with the M obtained from the two previous ISMS. So I’m after a publication that gets its top cut off…. WEEKLY would give an answer of MEEKLY, which would fit the definition. That’s good. I think I’d have preferred ‘supporting’ rather than ‘supports’ in that clue, though. Hence 24 must either end in ‘EEM’ or start in ‘MEE’. Don’t know. Let’s move on, noting that the outer ring, at this early stage, reads ‘YET’. The outer ring must surely contain thematic information (it normally does in circular puzzles), so I suppose it could be the actual word ‘YET’, or part of something else. Maybe we’ve got a circular puzzle based on EYE TROUBLE. Or even YETI. Surely any thematic message would be clockwise, rather than anti-clockwise, though? But this is just speculation, and we need cold hard facts. More clues.
Some time later, and Listener solving has been interspersed with Friday night comedy on BBC1. Essential viewing is now ‘Would I Lie To You’ at 8.30, where the interplay between David Mitchell (the comedian, not the author) and Lee Mack (umm, there’s only one of him as far as I know) is brilliant. Then it’s Have I Got News For You, and then Not Going Out, which again stars Lee Mack, as well as Tim Vine. How many people know that Tim Vine holds the official Guinness (other stouts are available) world record for telling the most jokes in an hour? And one of his jokes was voted the best of all-time in a recent BBC poll. Here it is, if you’ve missed it:
www.conjunctivitis.com. Now there’s a site for sore eyes.
If you like poor puns, then he’s your man. Anyway, inbetween all of this televisual frivolity, solving has continued apace. We’ve found some STIFFS in ODESSA whilst consuming some SALADS and wearing FLARES, got EMBOGged for a while (okay, it’s EMBOGS, but that doesn’t work), and sung some OPUSES whilst under ATTACK. In fact, we’ve solved over just over half of the radials in a couple of hours, and are now seeking some inspiration to try for a Friday night finish. And, we might just have it! It can’t be coincidence that there is CHURCH CL going anticlockwise in the NE part of the grid. And it looks as if my reminiscing about my days as a choirboy may have been some use as that must surely be CHURCH CLOCK. There’s only one poem that I know that involves the words ‘CHURCH CLOCK’, and that’s by Rupert Brooke.
So, let’s just google to remind myself of the words of the poem… Ah, there you go. I can write in ‘STANDS THE CHURCH CLOCK’ without further ado, except there’s obviously some way to go yet regarding the remainder of the outer circle and the other circle that contains thematic information – it will probably be made harder by the fact that there are words omitted, presumably to get the quotation to squeeze in to the number of cells available. Not sure what is going on with the message from superfluous letters, however. I do have the number FOUR there, so maybe the radial two is important? Hmm, not sure. Let’s solve some more. And see if we can rescue the hamster, who is trying to climb up the chimney.
Half an hour later again (and a typically rainy weather forecast – will spring ever arrive?) and there’s a flash of inspiration. We have ‘ALTER FOUR CELLS’ from the message, and there, sitting straight in front of us in the grid, are REVERT and BRONZE. Change two letters in each of those answers, and we get RUPERT BROOKE, the poet. Very nice indeed! And now something else becomes clear – the poem refers to ‘ten to three’, and, lo and behold, if we highlight RUPERT BROOKE, the poet’s name represents the hands of the clock in the correct positions for this time. I like that a lot.
Twenty minutes later, and we’re done. We have OLD VICARAGE in the cells containing circles, RUPERT BROOKE at ten to three, and the relevant lines of the poem in rings 1 and 5. All in all, an excellent treatment of the theme, and I’m glad that’s it only ten to eleven in the evening now, not ten to three in the morning!
If I did have one complaint, it would be that there are a large number of answers that are plurals, but I guess that couldn’t be avoided. And yes, with the grid being a clockface, there is justification for the circular grid. I’m pretty sure I remember a normal square grid being used to tell the time before (the time being 20:01 in a Listener themed around 2001: A Space Odyssey), but I think that’s the only other occasion I can remember a clockface being displayed in a puzzle grid.
Well done to Rasputin on their debut – I believe that the three members all have solo puzzles appearing this year as well, so the takeover of the world by the Mad Monk and his cohorts is most definitely on its way!