Life's a twitch…
Friday 5 pm I’m breaking my usual rule (or rule of this year) of only using the Times itself to solve the puzzle (to avoid transcription errors) because I’m on my way to Oxford for the weekend. Just Oxford, by the way, not Thame – I was nowhere near an all-correct last year, nor was I a setter – but I can pretend by being near the Listener dinner. We’re going down to see my parents for a theoretical weekend of relaxation – I say theoretical because in common I imagine with most young parents, the blessed help and time-off we get with childcare by visiting the grandparents is generally offset pretty equally by the stress of having to prevent our children from tearing apart a house that is as childproof as a bone-china carving knife.
Still, I get the Times delivered at home on Saturday and can’t bring myself to pay Murdoch twice over – and it’s not often that I have a train journey all to myself, so all in it was too good an opportunity to miss. So here I am on a surprisingly empty train on the way to Oxford with a cup of tea and a copy of Bradford’s. And Unusual by Mr Lemon. The preamble is fairly straightforward, although my heart sinks slightly at the clashes, as I’m currently struggling with Magoo’s Magpie puzzle (9,4) which involves single misprints in all entries and am finding it a struggle. Still, although cell by cell single misprints and clashes could be the same, the former has far more variables than the latter so this should be easier. I think Mr Lemon did that Harry Potter puzzle last year which I rather enjoyed, not least for having a very contemporary theme, which doesn’t happen in the Listener that often.
Enough. Let’s get to the puzzle. It’s clearly one of those ‘get started and it’ll all makes sense’ puzzles. Downs would seem to be the place to start as they are unadjusted clues.
For no particular reason, 27 stands out straight away. Dido’s not in favour of taking capital to Carthage looks pretty much like ANTI and C. I’m assuming that Dido will work as a definition of ANTIC. I don’t have Chambers with me, needless to say – and in fact, my parents house has the odd dictionary set-up of having the full OED but no Chambers. Which is fine for the obscure words that I need definitions for, but not great for variant spellings nor for the satisfying sense of finding the exact form of words in the Chambers definition.
Rude rogue pointed is URDE – had that recently enough in the Magpie. And just above that, it’s fairly obvious what’s going on in Religious sorcery changing Eve’s heart into a thousand antelope, but I can’t find the words. Let’s look at antelope in Bradford’s. OK, so there’s KOODOO. I only know it as KUDU, but this makes sense. Another one to check when I can.
OK, let’s be a bit more systematic about this because these clues do seem fairly crackable. 2 down is a classic Bradford clue. I need two words that mean ‘glows’, one with an extra G. That’ll be [G]LEAMS. 3 down is Seaweeds sheltering fine fish. Another Bradford’s one. Three letter word for seaweed around F. ALGA? No, of course it’s OR[F]ES. After all this time solving puzzles I really ought to be able to do that without Bradford’s. Ah well…
Cultivate dog-parsley avoiding what would make gross floral transformation is presumably an anagram of DOPASLEY with some floral definition. DEOPLASY? SEPAL is in there, as is POD. We’ll leave it for now. Reformed lag – one Will’s put inside. Anagram of LAGONE. ENGAOL sounds like a Shakespearian word. Better check it but I have to say I’m rather pleased with how we’re getting on – this is far better cold-solving than I can usually manage. I’m encouraged to see how far I can go as it will make the acrosses that much easier.
Tear apart from either end is probably a palindromic word for tear apart. Can’t think of one or see one in Bradford’s so we’ll move on again. 7 down – Appraiser falsifying labour plus VAT, with no book entry – looks like an anagram of LABOURVAT with no V. VALUATOR, for sure. Didn’t know that was a word, but feels right.
Space to put in knife for cheese. Space is always EN or EM, especially in short clues. And a two-letter knife is DA. EDAM. Alteration and first of bowling changes – right in front of one’s eyes! is yet another anagram – seem to be an awful lot of them in this puzzle – ALTERATION + B. Looks like ANTEORBITAL. Again, not 100% sure that that’s a word but seems plausible.
And here’s yet another anagram, surely. Dark spruce curl in ordered fashion round peak of Annapurna. SPRUCECURL + A meaning dark. SEPULCHRAL – no, no H there. –ULAR? CREPUSCULAR. That’s the one.
Young pig eats one Scots raptor. A young pig is an ELT (a word for which I have great affection as it, together with SONGFEST, were the best Scrabble move I’ve ever made, bingoing with an empty bag to win the game. It’s happened once and I’m determined to live off the memory – I am, generally, not a good Scrabble player…), and ONE would make ELONET – I know that ELANET is a hawk, maybe ELONET is a Scots variant. Maybe Bradford’s can confirm.
Or maybe, you idiot, ANE is a Scots variant of ONE.
Too many sons of Jacob to look at the next clue, and the oxide is easily resolved by Bradford’s – It’s clearly another anagram but I can be sure now it’s CERIA.
That’s a reasonably healthy looking grid now. Time to tackle the acrosses.
Explains away defeat in time for getting so extremely short. ‘Explains away’ is the definition and we have -LO- -E- -VER – which makes me think GLOSSES OVER straight away. Defeat in LOSS in GESOVER. SO is in there too. VER is a short version of VERY. Which leaves GE. So that’s [A]GE for ‘time’. A as the extra letter.
Magistrate for 11 across – we’ll check Bradford’s again for a word for ‘magistrate’ with a U in it that can be swapped for an E to make a compound. BURGESS? Doesn’t seem hopeful.
Too many variables in Food and bird missing with girl to be bothered with that. Instead we’ll look at God injured tailless demon. God is generally RA, but there are quite enough 2 and 3 letter gods for that not to be a dead cert. A demon is a RAHU. That would be a tailless version of HURT, and R is the extra letter.
The charming railway announcement tells me we’re 12 minutes away from Oxford. Let’s see if we can complete our first thorough run through of the clues before we get there.
Fish officer may be expected to… has crossing letters of – LALT. LT is surely the officer. Could it be SHALT? SHA – for fish. SHA[D], probably.
16 across (…come out around French department after cutting gemstone for Edmund) begins EME, which makes me think of EMERGE. It’s likely to be a Spenserian word for emerald…
18 across has the shape of -O – -A-NO. Definition of ‘rake’ makes me think of LOTHARIO straight away. Anagram of author and oil – extra letter of U. And next we have Ascend from feast in centre of quod. U – – O? UPGO? Yes, P[I]G=feast.
The German pinches Estonian book. DER? EST? Hmm, not sure. SOP plus an anagram of SORE in 23 across – SOPORS + E? Will check that when I have a dictionary. I don’t quite get Oil rear part of foot and front of hoof – thanks to Bradford’s, I think oil must be OTTO. OT for rear part of foot and [H]O for the front of hoof, but where does the T come from?
In quick succession, I get LOOPY[O], OR[P]RA, DIAP[A]IR and yet another anagram; CANNINESS + ONL – NONSENSICAL + N. And there we are. We’re just coming into Oxford station. Admittedly I have skipped over a couple of clues that didn’t immediately reveal themselves.
(By the way, I’m aware that this type of comment can be a little annoying to some. All I can say is that I’m no great clue-solver normally so this puzzle must have been easier than most in this respect if not others. I know where my strengths lie as a thematic solver (generally, an obstinate refusal to be beaten and an enthusiastic use of any research means to identify a theme) but I simply don’t do enough regular cryptics these days to be that solid a cold-solver. The times that real solvers are embarrassed about with regular cryptics would represent top times for me.
I did fully intend that this blog would, in general, try to record my false trails and bad ideas where clues are concerned but inevitably it’s (a) harder to remember those and (b) a lot more work. In fact, I will try to do more of that going forward as I find it interesting when others do the same.)
8 pm Hurrah and woohoo for my wife – who has brought Chambers with her in the car. That’s feeding an addiction… And shortly before supper, I manage to check EMERAUDE, which is EMER[G]E and AUD (Vaud missing the V). It looks like we have the word GUIDE in the extra letters.
11 pm There’s yet another anagram at 26 across. CURLY + AND + O = CONDYLAR + U. And 19 down (Boosting kinetic energy in Europe has engineered brilliant discoveries) is HEUREKAS, thanks to Chambers’ help.
Hole drilled to get a variable mineral – I wonder if that could be TOPAZ. A Z for ‘a variable’. TOP as three letters contributing to a word meaning a drilled hole? I can’t quite see what that is. But Bradford’s gives me BORAX. BOR[E] + A + X. And Chambers also helps with the young fish that involves a son of Jacob – it’s ALEVIN.
Saturday morning I’ve done the usual pancake marathon and we’re going to be heading out soon. But there’s a little time and as is often the case, a fresh eye after a break provides fresh insights. The extra letters fairly obviously spell EUROPEAN – which means that the oil clue is OT + TO[E] (which I really should have spotted earlier). In fact it looks like A BIRD GUIDE EUROPEAN. Funny word order. Wonder what’s going on there. But presumably something to do with birds.
So that German clue is [D]ESTHER – I didn’t realize that ESTH could be Estonian as well as EST. Interesting. The last two clues that I manage to prise open are KA[I]REN (Food and bird missing with girl – I’d never have got that without crossing letters – there are just too many options in food, bird and girl) and ZERO (Queen’s cross about nothing – I always always forget about ZO, DZO etc as possibilities for ‘cross’). Hmm, with that ZERO, is this a pangram? We seem to have had quite a few unusual letters. X, Z, K, V – nope, no J or Q.
Well, the obvious thing to do here is to check out the clashes and see if something comes out of those. I’ll write them down in pairs and see what we get:
S/R T/E R/D – OK, this has some potential.. STR and RED both good starting points. H/F H/L U/A – not so good in one line. But RED FLA is good.
Continuing, we get a line of gibberish and RED FLANKED BLUE TAIL. A Google search confirms that this a rare sighting in the UK. So that’s the unusual. Can we find the commonplace? I can see ORBIN at the end of the list so I think we may be looking at some ordinary birds hidden somewhere. In fact, here’s a thought. The Bluetail came from down clashes listed in across order, so what happens if we list the clashes in down order…
…and sure enough we get THRUSH, ROBIN, SPARROW. So that’s the commonplace that we need to let slip away.
Well, that’s a perfectly fine puzzle, and an excellent introduction to The Listener for anyone who found their way to it today. The clues may have been a little more straightforward than some but the theme held out to the end. To my taste, that’s more interesting than a puzzle like Franglais or Inflation, which tell you the theme right at the front and leave you with essentially a straight cryptic with a twist to the clues. Still, I can’t say – with apologies to Mr Lemon – that it’s my favourite puzzle.
My puzzles of the year so far:
Carte Blanche by Homer
Mercury’s Whereabouts by Dysart
Solitaire by Xanthippe