We were expecting something like this. The Burns supper is coming up this month. “Cross … country”, I gloated, resting my hand on the Caran d’Ache pencil box, “This is going to be a Scottish flag – that white cross on blue!
Solving was a pleasure, starting with the bottom right-hand corner (as usual! Is it because some compilers set in the other direction and these are the last clues that don’t have quite the same flair?) YARRAN was quite a find, ‘Fodder mother kept from cobber’s horse’ – MA removed from YARRAMAN. We were warned that the solution was not in Chambers, though I found it in the ODE as well as Collins, albeit with the ‘fodder’ definition lacking – and ‘Yarraman’ was in Chambers to give us a helping hand.
Solving went on full tilt with only a few hiccups. Fortunately, half the numpty team has heard of PSMITH, that character in the Jeeves stories, (‘In essence, NCO’s a fictional character’ – SM in PITH) – we couldn’t find him in Chambers. PERL had us wondering for a while, ‘Learner following a language’. Is this a rather unorthodox reading of the Chambers’ definition of PER? (‘For each or a’ surely implies that PER means ‘for a’?) and DEVA really had us scratching our heads. ‘God out of condition to overwhelm with grief’. ‘Deva’ had to be the god and I suppose the condition is ‘a state’. ‘Devastate’ is ‘to overwhelm with grief’ but I couldn’t quite work out the wordplay. We toyed, for a whole, with DEAR, as that has adjectival and adverbial poetic meanings of ‘grievous’.
Of course, finding the instruction given by the ‘removed letters’ resolved those problems, ‘COLOUR APPROPRIATELY CELLS CONTAINING LETTERS OF THEME’. A bit of a vicious circle here. We need to find the theme to know what to colour and we need to know what to colour in order to find the theme. The initial grid had contained a rather evident cross in the centre (it didn’t look much like that putative St Andrew’s cross) and now that area was filled with an odd set of letters (SMSUSSYSUMWSYPSMUUPM). There had to be something there – PUSSY? MUMSY, SWUSSY?
We were suspecting, at this stage, that the Swiss flag was going to be our culprit – or perhaps, as a kind of partner for last week’s CERN, the Croix Rouge. The theme was to have 21 letters. We know that CONFEDERATIO HELVETICA, with its 21 letters, is one of the longest country names in the world (barring a few transitory ones like ‘The Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Hadjabariaihanistan’). Our Swiss neighbours proudly remind us that the Latin name was chosen for this country with its four languages (more of us here speak English than Romansch – unofficially there are five languages now!) That name confers a kind of impartiality.
‘Read the preamble’. It cannot be said too often. ‘These letters in clue order give an instruction …’ – ‘Colour appropriately cells containing letters of theme’. So we did! What a pleasure it is to have that final colouring to do!
That is when our admiration for MynoT’s construction surged. Not only has he organised his letters into two groups (those with letters of CONFEDERATIO HELVETICA – all of which appear several times in the grid, and those that are not there – OK with a few absentees, Z, Q, J, B, G, X, K but so what?) but also, he has engineered it so that, from his lovely symmetrical grid, a 48-letter message can be extracted. Now that is some feat. Many thanks, MynoT.