How to —– by Colleague
Posted by shirleycurran on 1 February 2013
Just one trailing little red herring peering over the edge this week. We Numpties were expecting a real stinker after last week’s relatively gentle start to the Listener New Year and, instead, got one that was a pleasure to solve with an informative and satisfactory endgame that didn’t leave us raging and wondering all weekend. (And of course, Colleague shares the Listener compiler enjoyment of tippling with a rather over-loaded glass, ‘Balloon, eg: its contents succeeded carrying half a ton (5) [GAS + S(ucceeded) carrying L – half 100).
Clues were slotted in quickly though it is fortunate that the other Numpty had heard of KARNO – a ‘comedian with an army’ (‘Dubious RANK O(f)*). There were a few new words for us to drop into dinner conversation this week: SYSSITIA – a Spartan way of eating in public, (it is a good thing that we were given a generous anagram, ‘Silly ass, it is you to start with …’), BIDARKA, ‘Invite large floater to join a smaller northern one (7) (BID + ARK + A) and JAEGERS, ‘Huntsmen square behind doctor shunning plant fibres (7). We had no trouble with the definition but it took us a visit to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable to work out that this was a reference to the original wool merchant who had a thing about plant fibres.
Ah yes, Brewer’s. Am I allowed a whinge? There are three copies on the shelf (two of them won years ago in lucky crossword draws) and although they make for very entertaining reads with arcane and esoteric knowledge, they were about as much use in the context of this crossword, even with that helpful hint in the preamble, as a chocolate teapot. I realize that an effective alphabetical index would be almost as long as the book itself but how else may we use it as a reference book? I challenge you to find the collective word for a group of antelopes or aardvarks in under five minutes! My conviction is that this was just a cynical move on the part of Colleague and the editors (even with that ‘received and understood, leading us to the definition under ROGER). Hooray for the Internet.
Whinge over. We had our full grid with a bit of doubt about TALA, MULE and LUTE (clever clues those!) We finally understood that ‘Apian sugar, thanks indeed (4)’ was a reference to the TALA of Samoan coinage, since Apia is the capital of Samoa. Chambers furnished us with the explanation that a LUTE is an ‘old stringed instrument shaped like half a pear’ (well, of course it is!) and we finally understood that our MULE was concealing cocaine and wasn’t some new form of Polyfilla (‘Use the other side in old wall for crack concealer? (4)’ MURE with L for R).
NOVEMBER, X-RAY, OSCAR, TANGO and ALPHA had been an early breakthough so we felt that we had confidently recognised the theme. The Internet (yes, Wikipedia, not Brewer’s) produced information about the shift in 1956 to what we now generally recognise as the radio code and a few minutes of searching produced those letters of NATO separating the old version from the new (NOVEMBER from NAN, ALPHA from ABLE, TANGO from TARE and OSCAR from OBOE) Finding the four that remained the same (CHARLIE, X-RAY, VICTOR and MIKE) took just a few more minutes – so why the Numpty red herring?
How to RADIO? How to SPELL? We were opting for that and I wonder how many solvers will! Somehow, though, it didn’t seem quite right and, after rule no. 1 for Listener solvers, ‘Read the preamble!’ there is rule no. 2 ‘If you have any doubt, it’s wrong. Think again!’ We thought again. ‘HOW’. Wasn’t that in the orginal alphabet? And what did it become? Aaaah.
Many thanks, Colleague. What a lovely compilation.