Who said that short preambles go with difficult crosswords? Tangram’s Cuemasters had a mere six lines and for the numpties, at least, it proved to be very difficult – perhaps there is some truth in that notion. We understood that there were ‘letters latent’ here, that were going to be missing from the grid entry wherever they occurred, and that these letters were going to spell out a question.
It didn’t help us that the first clues we solved left us entering real words. A quick check with Mrs Bradford told us that WROATH was Shakespeare’s ‘misfortune’ and W + RATH completed the clue, ‘Will’s misfortune with horse-drawn carriage (5)’. We entered WRATH. ‘Act of appeasement: number backed annexing bits of Czech hinterland (5)’ gave us NUM< + C(zech) H(interland). That doesn’t sound like appeasement to me but never mind. MUNCH goes into the grid.
It seemed to be too much to hope for that both the definitions and the entries produced by the wordplay were going to be real words and indeed, our hopes were dashed as wordplay led us to TREENAI, UNHARSING, WINNOWR, CATCINESS and ACTINER.
For me, this type of crossword automatically comes in at about 7 on a 1 to 10 scale of difficulty (with Mash’s Klein Bottle and Sabre’s Knights’ Moves nudging the 10 level). The words that the numpties gleefully enter give little real help for filling the vast empty spaces on the grid.
Take 1 Across: we have found EMPUS[E] (Fliers might be damaged by such matter) (f)LU[TT]EN(t) (Essentially competent in language, allowed to come and go in Scotland) INA[U]G[U]RAL (Leaving earth, big bird soaring on maiden public exhibition) SHADBE[RR]Y (Persian king spending hot day with old Turkish governor: it bears fruit) and HICAT[E] (Tortoise I see invading cloche, eg). That means that we have the letters ELI?S?H?? for ‘Almost the best taste of India in singular tea plant (9)’ There is more than the usual grumpy numpty head-scratching.
Fortunately A MOONLIT DOOR appeared and daylight dawned (well, moonlight) as school poetry lessons were recalled. ‘”Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller, Knocking on the moonlit door; And his horse in the silence champed the grasses Of the forest’s ferny floor’. So we have a W to complete [W]EL[W]ITSCHIA at 1 across.
We had enough to suss out that we were being asked WHICH POEM A?EDAOO FEATURED A MOONLIT DOOR? Yes, we saw our error later -that AQUAMANILE/AQUAMANALE clue (Servant breaks a quality medieval jug) gave us the word play MAN in A QUALE, but we assumed that our extra letter was A when, in fact, I was needed to produce AGED 100. It was rather sneaky, though, wasn’t it, to use IOO for 100?
Still, we didn’t need that in order to see that THE ISTENERS had appeared in the tenth column, thus prompting us to put a latent letter L in the centre square (and, of course, into the CUEMASTERS title, producing CLUEMASTERS – so Roger and Shane are still alive and well despite Shark’s concern in his Continental Drift setter’s blog!)
We hadn’t quite finished. We had a Spanish province to find at 31 ac and had A?AGN. It had to be ARAGON hadn’t it with the O inserted? But that is a region of three provinces. Hmmm!
Enough grumbling. This crossword earned real admiration for the astonishing skill of its compilation. I wonder how long it took Tangram to find those obscure words that would produce the letters latent that gave the question. What a feat! I hope he will tell us in a setter’s blog.