Listen With Others

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Listener 3971: Franglais by Nutmeg

Posted by Listen With Others on 21 March 2008

6pm on Friday. Not feeling up to anything terribly hard this evening. The name of Nutmeg doesn’t set alarm bells ringing as far as difficulty goes, though I do remember she was responsible for ‘As Easy As Pie’ in the Magpie last year, which I’m still cross about getting wrong (though I’ve yet to come across anyone who’s ever heard of the phrase ‘as pleased as a dog with two tails’, harrumph). I made that mistake through assuming the clue was wrongly printed, which did occasionally happen in the old version of the Magpie, but I suppose there’s no chance of that in the Listener.

This is one of those simple-looking puzzles where the preamble explains everything you need to do; no penny-dropping moments expected. It seems such an obvious idea I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before – although those with longer Listener memories than I might set me right on this. In a way the theme is reminiscent of ‘D’ by Alban a few years ago.

So, once more unto the breach, dear friends, with 1a: Unstable Trucial State losing leader (joint) (12). Could be an anagram of ‘trucial state’ with an extra word in the clue somewhere, but a minute’s thought doesn’t get me anywhere useful. Not obvious; move on. 10a is unappealing too. Next one is Brainbox promoted in Council of Europe (5), which must be COUPE, but I can’t wrench ‘brainbox’ from either the English or French meanings. Irritating. And 12a, Endlessly stir round a second excellent cordial (6) is a clear enough construction with an extra word somewhere, but there are too many synonyms of ‘stir’ for me to want to spend much time on this without some crossing letters. I’m feeling rather mentally lazy just now.

13a is Amorous milk supplier finds uncle returning – tricky situation for Adelaide! (6): ‘Amorous’ is clearly the extra word here, but COWMAS doesn’t appear to be Australian slang for anything. It’s a relief to break my duck with 14a, a nice easy ABB. It’s properly woof- or weft-yarn, Chambers tells me, but sometimes warp yarn. One day, perhaps, I’ll know what any of that means. So now 2d has a B in it: Vehicle on test reversed into metal derrick (6). I know derricks are named after a hangman, but that doesn’t mean I can do the clue.

The other B is in 10d: Productive enterprise from 1 cent invested in super allotment (11). Well, an allotment in the clue means a ration in the answer, which makes this… FABRICATION. So how does that work – is ‘productive’ the extra word? No, ‘fabrication’ is in my Collins Robert French Dictionary, so I suppose ‘productive enterprise’ must be the French definition. The Collins Robert only has ‘making’, but that’ll do at a pinch. There’s no standard French dictionary for this puzzle, so we can be lenient.

17a is _R_ _: Baron and prince combine arms. If an English baron combined with an Ethiopian prince they’d make BRAS, which my GCSE French reminds me are Francophonic arms. Quite neat, that one. So 1d now has AB in it… A y-yarn that’s easy to get on with (7). Yarns again already? AFFABLE, anyway. No extra words to be seen in the clue so this must be French – and so it is. 24a begins EC: Flash church to get grave (6): again, it must be French, but four-letter synonyms for ‘flash’ aren’t leaping to mind just now. This stirred cordial at 12a begins FA… ah, the second was a mo, not an s, and this is FAMOUS with ‘cordial’ extra.

The derrick is _ _MBA_ but no closer to being solved. 3d has an O in it: Popular working party to select… (4). IN something, of course, but it takes a minute or two to get past the nicely misleading definition: ‘select’ is extra and IN ON means ‘party to’. The 10a I’ve been struggling with is now F_N_: Start to build without acceptable base. I was assuming ‘base’ = e, as it so often is, but this is actually ‘found’ minus U, and a French bottom. And eventually I pull TOMBAC out from the thicket of 2d, apparently a variously-spelled metal used for making cheap jewellery.

The unstable Trucial State losing its leader at 1a is now an ARTICUL and an ATION, meaning the same in French. Hmm. I can’t help feeling that ARTICULATION and FABRICATION are both something of a let-down – yes, they’re both English and French, but with this sort of theme it’s much more interesting to be forced to see a familiar word in a new way, like BRAS or FOND. Perhaps the stock of such ambiguous French/English words isn’t as big as I imagine. Anyway, 4d is a simple UPSTAIR and 5d an even simpler LIMA, both with extra words. 16a begins TA: Fashion covering nearly every part of body (5). Is ‘ton’ ever used to mean ‘fashion’ outside the crossworld? This is TALON, a Gallic heel. 6d must be ACOL, quite possibly the only bridge system named after a street in South Hampstead. So 13a begins MO – oh, it’s this dratted amorous milk supplier again. Could TOM be the uncle, as in the one with the cabin? Is a MOTWOC an Australian pickle? Unsurprisingly, no. After a moment gathering my thoughts, I remember that uncles are emes and ooms as well as sams and toms, so here we have a MOO-COW.

TROOPER is a gimme at 7d, and it turns out the brainbox at 11a wasn’t a COUPE at all but a French CRANE. Ah, and that’ll match the extra ‘derrick’ at 2d, good. NEWED at 9d, and another nicely ambiguous French/English PIED at 20a. 8d is Where false teeth are trouble to deal with (11, three words), beginning ONO_E… ON ONE’S PLATE, I suppose – yes, ‘to deal with’ will do as the definition. The grid’s starting to fill itself quite smoothly.

Bad mood among Labour’s leaders (3) is elegant for MAL at 33a. I’m slightly less happy with 22a: Indulge supporters’ requests on radio (6): ‘supporters’ is extra and it’s PLEASE, but given that ‘please’ and ‘pleas’ are etymologically linked I think the use of the homonym is a little weak, even if it does give a good surface reading. More hair-splitting with 23d: EMULSOR is an easy anagram, but I’m not sure ‘apparatus’ is quite precise enough to be the definition. 28a ends –LU so presumably LULU… no, it’s always wise to read the clue before writing in the answer: it’s BALU the bear. Dammit, that’s going to put ‘The Bare Necessities’ in my head for the rest of the evening. Ploughing on regardless, 25d, Enclosure with posts holds German with silk stock (6) starts _AM… ‘stock’ is extra and it’s SAMITE. ‘Enclosure with posts’ is clever for SAE.

Finishing post in sight now. CITE with an ignored accent goes in at 37a. 35a is TRAITS, apparently meaning ‘shafts’ in French, which I eventually justify with the Collins Robert translation of ‘trait d’esprit’ as a ‘flash or shaft of wit’, though ‘shaft of wit’ isn’t a phrase I’ve ever heard. ENTREPRENEUR fills the bottom row, and I guess accounts for the extra ‘tycoon’ in 7d. 18a, Discover agent carrying deadly disease (4), is a hidden RAGE, which I don’t think I knew was French for rabies. ELITE and DENT are easy, but 15d is Morag’s wide variegated plait (5): ‘variegated’ must be the extra word to account for PIED at 20a, but this is a Scottish word so I’m not doing it. 30d (Progenitrix used to be, but head flipped (4)) is a fine cryptic work-out for MERE, but would be even better if the surface meant something.

After LOWER at 36a, 26d looks very like SABLE: It piles up on shore as island’s rising. Well well, French for sand, I expect I knew that once. And a very cleverly misleading clue at 26a (even if, again, the surface isn’t everything it might be): Doctors once let this hospital go, but not completely (4). French doctors used to let SANG, being a san(atorium) and an uncompleted go. I’m held up for a while by 34a, which is BILLET but I can’t fathom the wordplay. Takes a minute to see that BI is (wordily but originally) defined as ‘pulled in both directions’. Finishing off: 24a looked like ECLAIR from the start but only now do I see why. HAGGLER, AGMAS, ATOP, and finally the not-as-nasty-as-I-expected BRAID was the obligatory Scottish answer. Fit the remaining French words to their definitions, double-check and post.

A good one, I think: short and satisfying. With such an apparently simple idea everything’s in the elegance of execution, and I thought this was very well done. Not terribly difficult clues, but not trivial either, and they raised a smile more often than many puzzles. Thanks to Nutmeg.

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