Shark! Well, he usually lives up to his pseudonym and this is sure to be a challenge, but a most enjoyable one too. I am expecting rather tough clues so am surprised when many of these are most approachable. Naturally I have checked Shark’s continued membership of the Listener Setters’ Toping Outfit and, of course he doesn’t disappoint as he even opens his clues with evidence. “Starved following drunk losing weight (6)’ gives us F [w]ASTED – and, becomes WASTED (thoroughly drunk) in the endgame.
Then we find ‘Serve stupefying drink in front of the Italian …(5) …restaurant from hostess counter (4)’ giving us AVA + IL and TART inverted = TRAT. It’s not surprising after that AVA and the TART turning up in the TRAT, he says ‘After knocking back fizz I’m behaving like a schoolgirl (7)’ (We found an extra S there) HISS IM gave MISSI[S]H. Next we find ‘Handle draughts? (7)’ Mrs Bradford suggests DISCUSS to us, and indeed, there it is in Chambers under Handle. Shark still hasn’t finished! ‘Gentlemen organised orgies (7)’ we are told, and it’s those Italians from the TRAT again – SIGNORE*. LSTO membership confirmed – See you at the bar, Shark (or sipping from another Ascot Gold Cup).
I rather like carte blanche challenges, especially when there is no rogue sneakiness and the clues simply slot in as soon as a grid is established, and this was the case here, so that we soon (about 90 minutes) had our first full grid with no doubt at all about any of the solutions. That is a rare state for us. What was even better was that as we solved, the other Numpty had been saying ‘Those letters are going to spell FOURTH DIMENSION’. We had a total of 21 extra letters and were not sure of all of those but fifteen conveniently spelled out those two words so with great trepidation (as we know this Shark has teeth) we began to search for forty cells that we could blacken out – 20 in the top and twenty in the bottom half of the grid, since we were told that we were going to construct a grid with 90-degree symmetry.
It was far easier than we expected (famous last Listener words! Why, oh why, after all these years, have I not learnt to read every letter and comma of the preamble?) After about ten minutes we thought we had the desired second grid. Doesn’t that look lovely! – and those desired words are exactly where we thought they should be.
It was fairly obvious that we couldn’t divide that into four pieces of the same size and shape that were anything other than quadrants, so I drew my lines and sat back smugly and began to look for length, breadth, height, and time – the fourth dimension.
I’m including these pretty pictures as a kind of lesson to myself. The grid staring went on for just as long as we had taken to solve the original crossword and got me exactly nowhere. It wasn’t until almost the stroke of midnight that I realized where those four words had to be (in the diagonals) and spotted the problem.
Actually there are two problems. Look at the four sides of the grid! The instructions are very clear. ‘The grid now has 90-degree symmetry and all entries are real words.’ (The italics are mine.) In my rush to finish, I had jumped a stage and had odd words like ‘SERVERSORE’. I had also highlighted the wrong I at the start of dImension. Numpty, READ THE PREAMBLE!
Second time round, of course, it was straightforward and this time the words were evident, and produced lovely changes, like SORELY becoming SORELL, Shark becoming WASTED or thoroughly drunk, in the place of FASTED or STARVED, a MODEL-T replacing MODELS and NAVAJO turning to NAVAHO (of course, if we had needed a hint, that was it! Who would choose NAVAJO to clue with that fearsome J if an ETAOIN SHRDLU letter was available?).
This was typical Shark – so much included in the grid, delightful clues and real smile moments like that astonishing clue to DEMENTIA where all the extra letters have to be extracted leaving only ETA, producing ‘Upset about condition of upper storey (8)’ (ATE<). There was, of course, a rather naughty clue; we laughed at ‘Wall Street office would be protective if attached to New York (4)’ JOHN(NY). A fabulous piece of compilation that left me feeling very frustrated with my solving skills – and a little bit ‘upset about condition of upper storey’. I can understand how Dave felt about his little blue port-hole in Nudd’s Yellow Submarine a few weeks ago. Lovely – thank-you, Shark.