A Guest Solver's Blog by Simon Long
At this year’s Listener dinner, I found myself suggesting to Chris L (before I’d even drunk anything) that it was about time I tried my hand at writing him a solver’s blog. My allotted time now seems to have rolled around, and I’m confronted with the prospect of solving a puzzle and taking notes at the same time. Not sure how that is going to work, but we shall see…
Thursday night – let’s have a quick check at The Times site to see if the link is up. Yes, it is – ‘Keys : Cutting’, by Lavatch. Not a new setter – I recognise the name. A quick glance through the archives on The Times site reveals ‘Fallout’, from 2006 – the puzzle about Oppenheimer’s quote from the Bhagavad Gita. I remember enjoying that one, not least because it was one of the few Listener quotes I recognised without having to look it up – let’s hope that bodes well for tomorrow.
Friday, 4:02 pm, and the puzzle has gone live. Time for a quick look at work (it’s a slow afternoon) – print out my customary two copies, and let’s have a squint.
Very long preamble – one of those puzzles where it seems quite complex, and I’m sure it’ll make more sense as I get some answers, so I won’t worry too much about it now. Wordplay for some across answers is letters latent (the rest are presumably normal), and paired down answers with one extra word between – nothing too nasty there, so let’s look through the clues and see if there are any easy ones. Dig around in desk drawer for my trusty Rotring Quattro pen (very useful for Listeners, as it contains a pencil, a ballpoint and a highlighter), fire up Chambers CD-ROM (much more subtle than sitting here with the hardback open – although I do keep an old copy at work) and get cracking…
8 down – “In sea that’s turbulent, plant…” must be ANISE – Chambers confirms that’s a plant, so INFOLDS is the extra word there. We’re off.
Ten minutes later – nothing else yet. Hmmm – slow progress here. “Saintess tortured, ie, lacking…” must be an anagram of SANTSS with a latent letter – something to put out the flames? Extinguisher? Candle-snuffer? Can’t think of anything.
12 across – “Scandinavian city’s old and stupid” OSLO? O + SLOW? How does that work with 6 letters though? And it’s got an N in it from ANISE. Stockholm? Malmo? Copenhagen? Helsinki? Tampere? Running out of Scandinavian cities now. Ah – O + DENSE – is Odense in Scandinavia? According to Wikipedia, it is – third biggest city in Denmark. So no letter latent there.
6 down – “Footy games with lover of Scotland…”, O as the second letter. A memory stirs of a previous Listener where “footy” meant “of the foot”. PODAL? Fits – how does the wordplay work? Various combinations of PO+DAL don’t seem to produce anything meaning “games” – come back to it.
26 down – “…wide rolling dale and wooded country” – that must be WEALD, from W + DALE*. Extra word of THROUGH.
9 down must be a drink. “In Earth” must be IE or INE, and “climbing” gives EI or ENI, with “sunshine” in 2 or 3 letters around it. Sunshine? Can’t think of any synonyms for that.
30 down – “One unfortunately suffering game finishing early, one-nil”. Must end IO – need a game in 4 letters. Polo? That would give POLIO – is that one suffering from the disease as well as the disease itself? Check Chambers – yes it is – extra word of NERVOUS. Mind you, gives some odd final letters for the across clues – an O and an I. Must be latent letters at the end.
20 across – “After mixture is safe, ion undergoes hydrolysis” – must be an anagram of IS SAFE ION with a latent letter. Must end –ISES, which gives me AFION at the start, but I can’t make anything of that at the moment. I’ll need some more crossing letters.
28 down – “might force soldiers to produce some armour”. Soldiers must be OR – ah! VIS+OR, giving MIGHT as the extra word.
7 down – “Famous Hungarian” – BARTOK? LUGOSI? Can’t think of any others – there was that Listener with famous Hungarians as a theme a year or so back, but I’ve forgotten who they all were.
32 down – “Anglican clergyman – a bit of demonic spawn”. Might be a container, but I can’t see anything inside “demonic spawn” – so it must be D + “spawn. “Clergyman “starting with D – DEAN? EAN means “to give birth to” – that must be it. Probably ANGLICAN as the extra word, then – makes the first part “to chatter” around E. GAS for “chatter” – GAES is “proceeds” in Scotland. Both parts of that one are done then.
24 down – “Georgia following long Russian river” – GA for Georgia. There’s a River Volga – must be some other Russian rivers ending GA, but I can’t think of any.
2 down – “Pilots destroyed marine” is an anagram – AIRMEN. Should have seen that ages ago. NUCLEAR is the extra word in there then.
Well, it’s now 5:20, and time to think about heading home. 8 clues solved in about an hour, albeit with work-related distractions. Slightly above average in terms of difficulty then, but I’m making steady progress…
6:30, I’m back at home, and back at the puzzle. Trying to crack either of the two 10-letter down answers, but without much luck so far. Wonder if the second half is something meaning “figure” and an anagram of DEATH+RATE+R, but I can’t see anything.
I’ve got NANMIT as letters in the theme word, with 5 more to get. I could try guessing at them – not sure it would help to crack this bit yet though. I’ll give that a bash if I get stuck on the clues.
I do try to avoid any reference works other than Chambers where possible, but I’m going to have a shufti in the atlas and see if I can find any Russian rivers. Bloody map in the Times Mini Atlas is far too small – check online. Ah yes – PINEGA – that fits with PINE for “long”. Looks like the extra word is IN then.
Hmm – just looked at the theme word again. NANMITI—-. Something like
Right, back to the 10 letter words. DEATH+RATE+R – “figures”? Perhaps it’s geometric figures? Something HEDRA – ah yes! Eureka! TETRAHEDRA. Gives me an O in the theme word, too. That means that the other 10 letter down must be a writer, I guess.
31 across – I’ve got EE–I-. Clearly letters latent. “Sheep” might be EWE, minus W for “weight” giving the EE. So a dog from –I- – can’t think of one at the moment, but it must mean “estate”.
33 across – now I know it starts with a D, it must be DAHL + S, to give “pulses”. No latent letter. This four word phrase must be pretty short – 18 across clues, and two at least don’t provide a letter.
23 across – why do I think that’s APPEASEMENT? A for Austria, MEN for “people”, N for “leader of Nazis” – no, too many Ns. Something like that, though – looks like an &lit.
37 across – AD-IR-O (guessing that 27 down ends in I for “island”). I’m becoming increasingly unconvinced about POLIO – maybe it’s wrong? Because that could be ADMIRAL, which is a rank.
27 down – something ending in I, parts of a crustacean. “Sound of water”. Hmmm. PALPI leaps into my head – that was in some other crossword recently – a Magpie? PLAP – that’s the sound of water dripping, and PALPI are sense organs. Excellent – the bottom right corner is coming together.
35 across – has PO in the middle, which is a river. L–I for a city? Could be LIMA if POLIO is wrong, I guess – LIPOMA? According to Chambers, that’s a “fatty tumour” – sounds like a growth to me. Again no latent letter though, and it means POLIO is likely to be wrong.
POLIO must be wrong – let’s lose it. D’oh – 37 across is a compound anagram – ADMIRAL and SEEN giving “marine’s lead”. POLIO is definitely wrong, then – but yet again no latent letter. Are there any words in this phrase?
31 across – I’ve got -AI- for “dog”. Not a strong point, dogs. Or is it dog as a verb? TAIL? EETAIL? What might that be? Two words for “estate” If that’s the case, then 21 down has an L in it. “In any way” – AT ALL? Is “a tall” one who is “hardly to be believed”? No, but TALL is “hardly to be believed”, so A is “he”. One more letter for the theme word – a B from BRITAIN. Mind you, I’m no further ahead, as I lost the N when POLIO vanished. Just for the hell of it, what have I got now? NIAMITOB— Not looking like MAINTAIN any more. ABOMINATION? Right number of letters – means I need another A, another N and another O. NERVOUS could be an N. Hmmm.
22 down – what the hell does “affreusement” mean? An online French-English dictionary gives “terribly” – ah, it’s an anagram indicator. Must be SALE* – ELSA, I reckon. Bung that in – gives an O for my ABOMINATION. Can’t think of any word that goes after ABOMINATION, though. Worth a quick look in ODQ though…nope, 3 entries, and nothing that looks reasonable. Can’t be right. Quit trying to short-cut it, Long – solve the bleedin’ clues!
16 down – “Friend’s thrown away money” meaning “personal”? 5 letter word for “friend” with an M in it? Can’t think of one. Ah no – it’s “personal” with “friend” thrown away – INTIMATE less MATE giving INTI, which Chambers confirms as a Peruvian currency.
It’s 7:30 – time to put the dinner on. My Friday night routine – toad-in-the-hole with HP Fruity sauce, and the Listener – been the same ever since I subscribed to the website. (Before that, it was toad-in-the-hole, HP Fruity sauce, and mindless television…)
Right, sausages now in oven and batter sitting to rest. If INTI is right (and it looks it) then the one about hydrolysis isn’t an anagram, as it starts with a T.
Aaargghh! 6 down isn’t PODAL, it’s PEDAL – PE is games, and LAD is a lover in Scotland. But hang on – that makes ODENSE wrong. What the hell is going on here – ODENSE must be right, and so must PEDAL – so there’s a clash? Pencil in PEDAL for now. Don’t tell me there are clashes in the grid, please – they’d have been mentioned in the preamble, surely? Or was ODENSE a trap like POLIO? Or was POLIO right – I haven’t managed to find anything else that fits. Although – POLIO would fit where PEDAL goes and vice-versa….
I’ve just read the preamble again – “either clue can come first”. How much of a fool do I feel now? No wonder I couldn’t get anything to fit! You saw it here first, folks – the current holder of the Salver makes a beginner’s mistake by not reading the preamble carefully enough. Out with the rubber and let’s move some stuff around. GAES never looked good with a G at the end of 1 across, for a start – let’s swap that with DEAN. INTI and ELSA want to swap as well – that makes “hydrolysis” an anagram again. What a week to make a cock-up like this – it would be when I’m blogging it, wouldn’t it? I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever done anything as stupid as that while solving before. I bet Simon Anthony never has this trouble…
OK, that all looks a bit more likely. Is 23 across – the one about Austria – ASSASSINATION? Right number of letters if the S is latent – AAINATION. Must be something …NATION for “people” ANSNATION? ASNNATION?
If it is NATION, then 14 down ends in O. AT ALL fits where I have it, so that is the one about an “autocrat”. “Number Ten is leading” – NO at the end, TEN in front – what’s a TENNO? Ah yes – emperor of Japan – sounds like an autocrat to me. Bung it in.
20 across – the hydrolysis one. I’ve got SA-NI—-. Must end ES – SA-NI–ES, with OFI to add. SAPONIFIES – something to do with making soap? I’m sure that involves hydrolysis – and Chambers agrees! Our first latent letter, a P.
18 across is T—L-ON Something about a fortification – why do I keep thinking TENAILLON? Let’s look it up – “ a work to strengthen the side of a small ravelin”. Thanks, Chambers – that’s very clear. What’s a ravelin when it’s at home? Actually, doesn’t matter – “fortif” in the headword is enough for me. (Never noticed that Chambers flagged that before.) So TEN (“number”) + ILL (“wrongfully”) + ON (“assigned to work on”, I guess) – A is latent.
Means I know where PINEGA goes – had to erase that one earlier. Looks good for AIRMEN at 2 down as well – pencil it in for now.
So I’ve got AP-TI— for 29 across. “Note”? Might be time to sneak a peek in Chambers Crossword Dictionary. APOSTILLE looks good – can’t fathom the wordplay yet, so I’ll pencil it in and see if it helps.
36 across is E-G— (not A-G— as it was for most of the evening…) so that must be EDGING. HEDGING? Latent H? Chambers has hedge as “to guard” – that’ll do.
Dinner must be ready by now – 8:40. Have I really been at this for over 3 hours?
Right, back again. A brief culinary digression…
All these celebrity chefs publish recipes for toad-in-the-hole, and they are, without exception, rubbish. Most involve too many eggs, and end up the texture of leather. So, here is the definitive recipe – bear in mind I’ve made this every Friday night for about 15 years, so I know what I’m talking about…
Get a metal baking tin, preferably non-stick. Rectangular is best, about 30cm by 40cm. Put a pound of Tesco’s Finest Pork & Herb sausages in it, along with a large splash of vegetable oil (or a lump of beef dripping if you’re daring.) Put it in the oven at 200 degrees C (180 degrees if fan-assisted) – no need to preheat, just bung it in from cold.
Put 4 oz of cheap plain flour into a glass jug. Add a pinch of salt, and break in an egg. Add about a quarter of a pint of full-fat milk, and whisk to a smooth paste – the best tool is a French whisk, those things that look like a big metal spring. Once you’ve got a smooth paste, add another quarter pint of full fat milk and whisk like mad to get some air into it. Leave to stand for 20 minutes, by which time the sausages should be browning and the fat should be hot.
Rapidly remove the pan from the oven, pour in all the batter, and quickly return to the heat. Leave for about 25-30 minutes, until the pudding has risen and is golden brown. Remove from the tray and serve with lashings of HP Fruity sauce. Vegetables are unnecessary. The quantity above serves one, with a couple of cold sausages left over for breakfast on Saturday.
I should add that I owe my success at the Listener entirely to the above recipe… Well, that and the fact that my beloved other half has the patience of a saint and understands that any attempt to engage me in meaningful conversation on a Friday might is doomed to failure.
And now, back to the puzzle.
19 down is -I-L–I-, and the last letter is from the anagram of SANTSS, and the A has already been used, so it’s either S, T or N. Either a musician, or something to do with disintegration – pass.
13 across is TR—AL Might mean “specific” – TRIVIAL? Does that mean specific? According to Chambers it does. RI is religious instruction, but not sure about the rest. Hmmm – pencil it in for now.
17 across – looks like it might mean “confirm”. Another peek at Chambers Crossword Dictionary offers REASSURE – lose the Rs to give EASSUE, E + ASSUME less the M. That looks good – a latent R.
6 across must start in P and end in E, with a French name in the middle. Noble? Peer? No idea.
4 down – “man” seems to be BO on an all-too-regular basis, and with the hypothetical V from TRIVIAL, I’ve got BOV-I-. “Source of drinks” – well, it looks like BOVRIL, but VRIL can’t be a word. Blimey – according to Chambers, it’s an “electric fluid”. Never come across that before. So TRIVIAL looks more likely.
11 across is -I-O-E. Acting is A, so AI-O-E – “inspiration” – something to do with air? AIRHOLE? ROLE is a part, so it is A+ROLE with I in it, and a latent H.
3 down is -RI-N— Might be a musician – Brian someone? Adams is too long, and I think he spells it Bryan anyway. How about Brian May? He’s well-known – I’m not a huge Queen fan, but I do know who he is. BRAIN (“hit”) with A (“alto”) deferred gives BRIAN, but I can’t for the life of me get MAY from “electronic number”. But what does that do for my Austrian votes – A-ANATION, and it would have to be an N for leader of Nazis. ANANATION? Not sure where the other A comes from, either. Hmmm. Must be Brian someone…
Ah – ALAIN is a 5 letter French name that fits inside 6 across – PALAINE. Looks like it is missing a T – I know PALATINE is a hill, but is it “noble”? Ah yes – a noble invested with royal privileges. So that’s a latent T.
7 down is now LE-A-. King must be LEAR, horse must be heroin, so H – was LEHAR a Hungarian? Vague memory of him being a composer – check with Wikipedia, and yes, he was.
9 down is NE-U-, and it might have “sunshine” around the edges backwards – SUN is all I can think of (not a great synonym), which means it’s NE-US. I thought E was earth, but this looks like it might be NEGUS, which is indeed a drink. Ah – GE is Earth with a capital E – sorted.
15 across is HI-G-, and it might be a tennis player. I know nothing about tennis (or any other sport, come to that), but I’ve heard of someone called Hingis.. Is that how you spell it? Wikipedia again – and yes, that is how you spell it and she does play tennis. So without the fifth letter it becomes HINGS. I’ve got TH as the two previous letters in the thematic phrase, so is it a latent E? HINGES? “Service points”? No, it’s “points” – so HINGIS drops the fifth letter of SERVICE, which is still an I. Good stuff – most of the top right is done, and it’s just gone 10pm.
So, my thematic phrase is now THERAP, an O or S from APOSTILLE, and an H towards the end. THE ???? OF ???? – that would make it an O from APOSTILLE, and an F from EETAIL. Is there such a thing as a FEE TAIL? Yes there is – it’s an estate. So it is the THE ???? OF ???? – might be THE RAPE OF something, which sounds like an ABOMINATION. I think I’m getting warm.
So if it is APSTILLE – that’s STILL inside APE, so that works. Still haven’t justified TRIVIAL, but if we assume it is BRIAN, then 1 across is -ABB-D. Must be a G for German at the start, and then has to be E – if I’m right about the phrase, then there is no letter latent. GABBED? Second definition – gab is to brag, or to crow – so that works.
Is it THE RAPE OF THE something? Sabine Women is the only thing that rings a bell, and that’s two words. But if it is, then SAINTESS less IE has a latent E. S-A—, and I have NTSS left to use. It’s a plural, so it must be S-A–S – no idea.
Haven’t looked at 38 across yet – DA-E— Chambers Crossword gives DAG as a pistol, which looks good – DAGE—, and might have a latent T. Hmmm – nothing likely in the DAG… entries in Chambers.
What about 10 down? E-SE-S-E–, and might be a writer or a director. Famous film directors – let’s have a look in Chambers Crossword Lists. Of course – EISENSTEIN – Battleship Potemkin etc. Should have got that without looking it up. Has to be right – I’ll justify it later.
What about the theme – it has to be THE RAPE OF THE something. Let’s try Googling it – 360,000 hits, but the first suggestion is THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. Rings a vague bell. Hang on – Lock, Key – that looks good. Something like ABOMINATION with LOCK after it – has to be COMBINATION, surely – does that work? Yes, and it means that I’ve gone wrong somewhere in my letters, as I can’t see a word starting with C in the last pair of clues – hang on, yes there is, “called”. Excellent.
OK, so I’ve got a theory about the theme that seems to hang together. Let’s see if we can finish the last few clues.
BRIAN ENO! Not May! E for electronic, NO for number – that was inexcusable. Far more talented than Queen’s plank-spanker – really should have got that faster. Puts an N into ‘Austria’s people’ as well, which is good.
19 down – must mean “Nature’s disintegration”, then – -I-L–I-. Must start BIO, and end IS – BIOLYSIS sounds good, and it’s got an unknown (Y) and a soprano (S) in it. Is it a word, or have I made it up? No, it’s good – B for black, LIS for flower, something about IO – I’ll check it later.
25 down is -L–N-, and so must end in a T – PLIANT? That sounds like “easy to manage” to me. I inside PLANT – is that a shot? Yes, that’s fine. Nearly all done.
38 across must be SNASTS with a latent E. SENASTS – no. SNEASTS – no. SNASTES – that’s it. Candle-snuffers. Never heard of it before.
So 34 across is DA-ESAN – something STAN for an Eastern republic? Think I’ll use TEA now – no point looking up place names in Chambers. D*STAN gives DAGESTAN – never heard of it, but Wikipedia says it’s a republic in the Russian Federation. Good enough – I’ll worry about wordplay later.
Let’s say it is TRIVIAL – all we’ve got left is the Austrian clue. Can’t see that yet. OK, let’s deal with the denouement.
The Fear – both words capitalised. My personal contribution to the Listener solver’s lexicon – the term for a completed grid and a sense of bewilderment as to the final step that lasts for more than an hour. Common in puzzles by Dimitry, amongst others. However, I’ve got a number of likely-looking leads on this one, so we’ll try to keep The Fear at bay tonight…
I have THE RAPE OF THE LOCK and COMBINATION LOCK – so COMBINATION LOCK is the key. “The Rape Of The Lock” is by Alexander Pope, according to Wikipedia – that is the same number of letters as across the grid, and the line with the Austrian clue is A?NNATIONPOPT – that can’t be coincidence if I have to fit a thematic name into the grid. Too many letters in common. So what do I have to do?
It’s a combination lock – you must have to slide columns up and down to make words. Do you slide all of them, or just some? Presumably the letters wrap at the top and bottom.
The preamble references the last line of the poem – let’s look that up online. “And ‘midst the stars inscribe Belinda’s name.” The letters of BELINDA are available in the central columns – ignore the outer three on each side. I’m really close now – what are the stars?
Ah! TRIVIAL THINGS across the grid – from the quote on the Trivial Pursuit box – “What mighty contests rise from trivial things” – I remember that was by Pope. So I need to shuffle the columns to replace TRIVIAL THINGS with ALEXANDER POPE, and see what we get. Bit of scrap paper needed.
I haven’t got an X in the 4th column. The Austrian clue must be ANNEXATION – let’s put that in. X for vote, of course. Multiple possibilities for A and E in a few columns, but most are unique.
Half the columns filled, and I can see BEL appearing near the bottom. This must be right…
So, I’ve got –EM BELINDA IN-, and multiple possibilities for the first and end letters. Stars – -EMIN- – has to be GEMINI, surely – does that work?
Of course it does – bloody brilliant. So the denouement is GEM-BELINDA-INI. What a superb puzzle – easily in my top three for the year. Both a clever construction and a pleasure to solve. It’s just gone 11 pm, so that’s about 6 hours all in. One use of TEA, and a few lookups in Chambers Crossword Dictionary, and a Google for the theme – not too bad. Tomorrow morning it’ll be time for my usual rigorous checking, but it’s now time for a check of the newly-published solution – the Little Bo Peep puzzle – and then some mindless TV before bed…