Listen With Others

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3966 – Mercury's Whereabouts by Dysart

Posted by Listen With Others on 15 Feb 2008

Take Hartley..?

Saturday, 7.30 am The New Listener Year has begun, and already it’s going better than last year, when I fell at the very first hurdle thanks to a stupid transcription error. And in accordance with my new principles, I’m not starting the puzzle on a Friday night, but sticking firmly to using only the paper version to avoid similar problems. (I'm pleased too that since I started writing this blog I’ve discovered that I got Class right – was worried about this one, Candice was an oddly limp finale…)

So, Dysart. If I remember correctly, last year (or the year before?) Dysart had a great debut with his King Lear puzzle – I even wrote to him via JEG, which I don’t often do – so I have high hopes here. Reading the preamble, there’s certainly plenty going on – based on a novel, extra letters in across clues, thematic order to down clues with extra words and the answers needing treatment, and finally characters appearing in the grid. We’re only going to be able to put in across answers for a while – plenty of blind solving to be done here.

On a quick scan through the clues, 18 across is the first to fall: A love’s abandoned after onset of fit of depression must be FOVEAL with an extra S – the ‘abandoned’ sticks out too obviously as an anagrind. Soon after we have Lord deprived of power tries working – most unnatural – again, ‘most unnatural’ sticks out as a helpful definition, and with an anagrind next to ‘tries’, I’m immediately looking for …IEST. And there it is, EERIEST plus R.

But having felt pretty pleased with those 2, that’s pretty much it on a first go around for the acrosses. I suspect that Reinforcements blown up in lane – life lost is an anagram of IN LANE LIFE LOST but with one of those being an extra word. Probably not LOST as we’ll want the S for the plural. So LIFE or LANE… Nothing immediately strikes me, but I’m no master anagrammer.

Depressingly, a second, slightly more careful go through the across clues (admittedly, while weighed down with kids) also fails to yield much inspiration. I have a strong feeling that 1 across (Going back in time, one has first taste of Chilean wine) ends in –IC, but I can’t think of a wine that ends in –IC. Could be BARSAC, I suppose…

3 pm Back from an impromptu trip to the zoo. Spent most of the time chasing Leo and Flora who were constantly heading off in two different directions. You’ll know it’s us if you see a tiny giggling figure tottering past you gleefully, followed about two minutes later by a jogging adult shouting ‘Can you see the other one?’ over their shoulder.

Bishop leaves bribe; moderation’s followed by extremes of luxury. Dreadful! might have BRIE or RIBE in it, and I also suspect it’ll end in LY (extremes of luxury). That’s likely, in fact – with ‘dreadful’ as the definition. OK, then. So that leaves us with moderation, and a word meaning bribe missing B or RR. Bradford’s, please. We have HO as moderation. ..HOLY. And a bribe is a BUNG. UN(G)HOLY.

I’m now out in the garden, following Leo around the place as he enjoys the fresh air. Again, I may not be able to give the thing my absolutely undivided attention, but this is not proving a straightforward puzzle. No crossing answers and not a lot of blind solves unlocking themselves. Is the poet at 21 across an anagram of ‘hearts’? Nothing in the Bradford’s list, but maybe I have to work harder than that..? 30 across (Europeans from north-east, fast talkers (extremely)) must mean Europeans – NE..TS? Can’t think of a European with six letters that looks like that, though.

I think I need to check out the down clues a bit more seriously. That anagram from before – so it’s INLANELOST or INLIFELOST. STIFLE? something…? If I were to play the odds here, INLANELOST is more likely simply because of the F. –TIONS at the end? That leaves LANEL. NELLATIONS? No. But Bradford’s has ‘tenaille’. TENAILLONS? Yes, there it is in Chambers. So, extra word of LIFE. And there’s a TEN in the answer – might that be significant? I’ll look out for numbers in other down answers. Incidentally, we obviously have to do something to increase the lengths of the down answers – either by adding words or replacing sections with longer strings of letters.

Elizabeth succeeded after introduction to kick turn was unsuccessful in winter resort. Elizabeth is highly unlikely to have anything to do with the definition, so let’s think about winter resorts. Something comes after ‘introduction to kick’, so let’s assume K as a starting letter. That immediately makes me think of KITZBUHEL – but that doesn’t make sense. KLOSTERS does, though. K – LOST – ER – S. No number in that answer. Extra word of TURN. Together with LIFE – and looking through, we also have as potential extra words BOUT, SHOT, KICK, TRY, DEAL. Is something to do with games – all of those have a link to games (with LIFE being a ‘turn’ in a video game). Yes, and there’s MOVE too. And GO would be the extra word in Seven out of the south go east, breaking up part of a ring perhaps. An anagram of T-OUTH-EAST? ETAT SHOUT? HOT STATUE?

9 pm Looking at the very short across clue …like this old lover’s grave, I think I may have something. SO for ‘like this’ – and LEM(A)N for lover – makes SOLEMN. And the Europeans are Europeans from the north-east and are LETTS (the fast was LE(N)T).

Also, although I’m not totally convinced by the clue, I think Movement having distinct energy? Energy’s dissipated is GREEN – as in the the Green movement, and an anagram of ENERGY – i.e. GREEN plus Y. It’s not rock solid, but seems good enough.

In the downs, I think I can see NAMASTE in (Kick) a chap standing up half sober – it’s a form of greeting: A MAN reversed on STE(ADY). So, looking for patterns in the down clues, we have TENAILLONS, KLOSTERS, WHITE RAT, NAMASTE. (I should have noted that I also solved Animal’s violent (bout) with heartless tamer as WHITE RAT). Well, they all have TE in them. Could that be notes? We’ll see – let’s see if the pattern sustains…

If GREEN is right, then we have the letters GNY together in the extra letters. I can’t, off-hand, think of a word with that sequence of letters, so I’m going to assume that one word ends –GN – which means almost certainly there’s an I in front of that. Bones and front of skull found in rocks near Lyme Regis perhaps. With the I in my mind, and ‘bones’ in the clue, I think of INCUS and ILIUM – INCI – S or ILIA – S. A quick Google of Lyme Regis, which I remember has some distinctive geology so it shoudn’t be too hard to find. No indeed. LIAS would appear to be the answer. Let me just check that it appears in Chambers. Yes indeed (no mention of Lyme Regis there though…). OK, so that’s interesting. With LIAS and LETTS we have a double L in 12 down – and although there’s an S higher up, I wonder whether we’re looking at an altered version of TENAILLONS there? And you know what, KLOSTERS would fit (with some extra letters) in 13 down.

With an L from the theoretical KLOSTERS, I can have a guess at Inclined to give gratuity lodging in “Milton’s Rest” – gratuity is almost certainly TIP and Bradford’s gives me ALT as rest (probably should know that by now, actually) so that’s ATI(P)LT.

OK, so I’m now in that peculiar theoretical world where I have a number of potential answers based purely on what might fit without any reason why, but the hypotheses are helping me solve. If I’m right about TENAILLONS, we’ve got N and S as starting letters for Rushing sailors charge after Manx cat? and Being sick – messy could be messier respectively. Not that seems to be helping me much. Sheesh, this is as slow as I’ve been on any Listener in a while. Not easy at all.

I think I should try to tackle more of the down clues though, as it does seem as if they are likely simply to have something extra added to them rather than any major alteration, and might therefore get more crossing letters. Settling on Certify growth of PEP investment? Yes, according to report; no, on inspection, I hit Bradford’s on ‘certify’ – could it be NOTARISE? Yes – NOT A RISE – clever… Extra word of PEP. And it looks like NOTARISE could fit at 4 down, with V-M in the middle. VIM? Yes, there’s Vim in (e)down. Pep and vim? Yes, (e) is DEER, with Vim as extra word. And there’s ZEST as well. LORING. So there’s the link with the extra words – vim, zest, pep, go, kick… OK, that feels like a mini-breakthrough. Nevertheless, I’ve been at this for a few hours and have filled almost nothing of the grid. Bedtime, I think…

Sunday, 9 am I wake up with an idea about the ‘thematic order’ of the down clues. I’m pretty sure from last night that we’re talking about VIM inside NOTARISE in 4 down. But what I’m thinking is that this is the 5th down answer and vim is the extra word in the fifth clue. Which is indeed correct. Interesting.

I don’t have much more time to reflect on this as Leo and Flora have come down with chicken pox (concurrently, thank God). At least this explains why they’ve been in such terrible moods recently. But we had promised Rozalia a trip to the Natural History Museum, and she has already put on her dinosaur T-shirt, so I’d better make good on our promise – but obviously we can’t all go now. Actually, I’m rather looking forward to a father-daughter trip out without two tiny shouting companions. I’ll take the paper, but no Chambers or Bradford’s.

Throughout the day, in between visits to the animatronic T-Rex and the mocked up Kobe earthquake, I develop a pretty solid working hypothesis for the puzzle. I’m wrong about TENAILLONS – where it goes, that is – as it’s fairly trivial, having identified the extra words, what the lengths of the down answers need to be. That double L must be part of SPELL, which means NAMASTE as the only 7 letter answer there. I’m also wrong about GREEN – I think it may be LARGO – CLEAR GO with the E removed and with the C as an extra letter. DEER must be at 23 down – DETURNER – which means that 33 across begins with N. Being castrated, the ultimate cut, gets the highest note. NEUTER becomes NEUTE. NETE? I’ll check it when I get home, but I think that’s a note.

NAMASTE also gives us an E, not an S at the start of the 36 across. Which must be EMESIS, as in ‘emetic’, an anagram of MESSIER with an extra R.

8 pm Supper done, we’re settling down in front of the TV. I have a number of films I need to watch for work – there’s a whole bunch of remake possibilities that have come to us. There’s The Nanny, The Fallen Idol, The Go-Between and Touchez Pas Au Grisbi, which is the one I plump for, as that and The Nanny are the only ones I can take seriously as remakes – not sure the other two should be touched. So here comes some period French criminal slang…

3 down has LIFE in it, leaving LI-AT in the middle of it. Could that be TAMIL reversed upwards – CLIMATE? Look it up in Chambers – and we get CLIMATURE – region. A cure is an oddball, apparently.

And interestingly an ASCENT is a going back in time. 1 across has been bothering me for a while. Turns out I was wrong all that time ago with the wine thing. It’s TENT. I think 34 across is TORRENT, but I don’t know why. The fruit is P—O or P—B and Bradford’s suggests PEPO (new one on me…). That’ll be it. PE(A) POT. Extra letter of T. THE PAST. Hang on a sec, this is very peculiar. THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY… Yes, that’s it. The opening of The Go-Between – how odd, given my potential choice of film this evening. OK, so that makes sense of what I had already deduced but not explained about the down clues. A synonym for ‘go’ goes into the middle of the words.

Let me have a scout around for the principal characters. I remember that it’s LEO, of course, who is the actual go-between. Can’t remember the lovers now – Mary, is it? No, says Wikipedia, it’s MARIAN and TED. Can’t see them anywhere in the grid.

I hammer out a few more clues rather painfully (PLATH – it wasn’t an anagram of HEARTS), TECH (I thought that was ETCH for so long), NESTLING, ONEGA… Eventually, after the longest time (I really want this puzzle to be done now, it’s 10.30 and I want to go to bed), I decode PLEONS at 7 across which has to be (a) one of the oddest words I’ve had in a while, and (b) one of the tougher clues in the puzzle. Parts of crab, or lobster possibly, I nearly chucked in pool, once, which I believe breaks down as ON (shortened ONE) in PLESH, with the H as the extra letter. But there’s my LEO, anyway. Now, what’s he going between…

11.30 pm Dysart, you swine, I’ve finally spotted MARIAN split into half, one going up, one going down. Which makes (b) PLEONASTE, another fantastically difficult clue – Seven out of the south go east, breaking up part of a ring perhaps. Especially sneaky giving seven as a word rather than a digit, and obviously impossible until 7 across is solved, and that wasn’t going to happen quickly. And I’m sure that LEO in PLEONS is a deliberate red-herring.

Still, an ultimately enjoyable puzzle, one that was very difficult to break into but once that major leap had been made, was rather more straightforward but never easy thanks to some pleasantly (and at times unpleasantly) tortuous cluing. Best puzzle of the year so far (although I enjoyed Solitaire too) but we’ve barely started

Roll on Listener Fest 2008. o-Go-d night.

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