Of course, it wasn’t quite a blancmange, as we were given help, with clues related to ranks and files, but this help was mitigated, in that some of the words went beyond the line, so that we had to do some grid-filling before the intersecting words were a great help. Even then, there were tricksy ones like ICES, that slotted so neatly into the head of file 3 but preempted the placing of LIES and TICTAC until we moved it down a couple of squares!
Here’s an admission; it has taken about three years of regular solving of these puzzles for me to reach the stage where I actually look forward to the challenge rather than dreading Friday evening. There is a feeling, these days, that we will manage, even if it takes till Wednesday. (What a dangerous thing to say – will we be constructing wrens from numerical grids with knights’ moves graphed on tori next week?) That comment was simply to encourage newcomer solvers who regard some of these puzzles as almost impossible. Patient practice and familiarity seem to work.
Familiarity – hah! There was an obvious anagram at One ‘Rank ‘Pear sauces I’m cooking, specially made’ so we smile and begin to work on PEAR SAUCES I’M and get nowhere! We already have TALC at the end of Rank 1, and CASTAWAY, MOES and C at File 1, leaving the ULLIS at the head of File 2 but it takes us a while to resort to Bradford and find that there is a pear called CUISSE-MADAME.
(There’s something raunchy about pears isn’t there? I am reminded of Mercutio’s libidinous comments in Romeo and Juliet: Now will he sit under a medlar tree,/ And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit/ As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone./O Romeo, that she were, O that she were/An open-arse and thou a poperin pear! Naughty, naughty! Get your coat, Mercutio!)
We needed Rank 13 before we were really underway with out grid fill and from ‘One of I Zingari is no batsman — needs energy for delivery of mine? (12)’ we teased out CHAL (gypsy) followed by CAN’T HIT (he’s no batsman) and E (energy) to get something delivered by a mine – a mineral (what a sneaky definition!) CHALCANTHITE. We had a good laugh too. These clues were delightful weren’t they?
SESQUIPEDAL was, of course, written specially for us with all that French in it. ‘Une moitié de gosses’ – well, that’s SES (it was already in place in our grid) and ‘who locally’ – we say QUI -followed by PEDAL (ride in the Tour de France) and we get a word that refers to the pretentious use of ‘vélocipède for bike’. Nice!
Soon, the grid was filling itself. That’s masterful construction, I think, and we had MULTIPLY BY TEN and TIC-TAC-TO GAMES that leapt out at us. That was the penny drop moment, and what had seemed to be BYTES, turned out to be Os and Xs. We skipped the in-between stage once we had realized that no letters with a value of 2 were going to appear in our final grid (though one did! Hands up those who had BELTED in File 11 and had to change it to PELTED when the penny dropped – a forest of hands I see!).
We simply converted to 1 multiplied by ten, which gave us X ‘using a notation that accords with the description’ and filled in our TIC-TAC-TO GAMES, reflecting that in most of them, X was a bit of a cheat, filling in most of the squares while O was sharpening his pencil (of course, Ozzie had anticipated our reaction by telling us that we had a ‘mostly incorrect’ description of the remainder of the final grid). But not completely ‘incorrect’ – there was that last unfinished game in the south-east corner and X was able to continue his winning streak.
We were reflecting on the brilliance of Ozzie in constructing this grid where no letters worth 2 had to appear (though that might not have been as difficult as it appeared at first sight, as he had to avoid B, F, J, N, R, V and Z. Undoubtedly omitting N and R would involve quite a bit of wriggling but the others probably disappeared of their own accord).
All the same, this was a superb crossword wasn’t it? Thank you Ozzie for lots of fun!