Listen With Others

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3986 – Terminal Suspension by Schadenfreude

Posted by Listen With Others on 4 Jul 2008

Saturday evening. After a busy day, the entertainment in the couple of hours before dinner will be provided by the ultraprolific Schadenfreude and the rather oddly-named “farmer's” cocktail: two gins, one dry vermouth, one sweet vermouth, a dash of Angostura bitters, stir with ice, strain, drink. Not one for daily use, perhaps, but every now and then it hits the spot. I'm currently immersed in 'Islet' by Pieman in the latest Magpie, a twisted piece of concentrated evil, so here's hoping for an easy Listener.

Well, it's a slightly convoluted preamble, which I'm not sure I can bring myself to understand fully just now, but it looks like you have to remove a letter from either the clue or the entry. And highlight fifty cells! So it's one of those with lots of thematic gubbins hidden in the grid, which I guess explains its asymmetry.

Kick off with a randomly-chosen 31a: Sexual excitement ruins Sheila's pick-up (short of energy) (3). In crosswordspeak, Sheila is an Australian and Australians spend their days driving around in utes, so this is RUT with an extra I in the clue. The constraint whereby removing extraneous letters leaves real words, while admirable and certainly better aesthetically than leaving nonsense, does make it much easier for the solver to spot. So 32d begins U – oh, I've just seen that the given entry lengths basically tell you whether the extra letter is in the clue or the answer. Helpfuller and helpfuller. 32d is an easy CURIAE, so C goes up top.

22d, Some hot, turbulent, thoroughly violent film (9) is a neat clue for SHOOT-'EM-UP, although until now I thought they were only computer games. 25a informs me that LETO was Apollo's mother, a useful nugget which I'll have forgotten before the end of the puzzle, and ALDIS LAMP is another gimme at 20d. This looks like it's going to be an untaxing one – which I'm not complaining about in the slightest – so let's start again from the top and see if we can't knock it off this evening.

And indeed, much of the top left pretty much fills itself: RARER, NAME, PROA, MONOLINGUAL…. It's not that the clues are pointlessly trivial – in fact in many ways they're classic examples of how to write a good, clear, fair cryptic clue – but they're far from fiendish. Just as I'm picking up momentum, though, my presence is forcefully requested in the kitchen to put the marinaded veg (green peppers, red onions and mushrooms) on skewers to be barbecued with the pork ribs.

While the coals are heating up (never rush a barbecue, and always wait until the coals are glowing embers, not flaming, before introducing the meat) I potter along with Schadenfreude a bit more – GYNIE, NEAR GALE, UNAIMED – until it begins to look like LITTLE BO PEEP is lurking along the bottom. No idea why, but if so… yes, that would give MEWL, WOO and EMEU in the bottom left. (Quick gin and tonic at this point, and I'd like to recommend the 'Fever Tree' brand of tonic, available in Waitrose, purer and less sweet than Schweppes.) Back to the top, LEAPT, GASPY and BEASTIE all come without too much of a struggle.

11d has been bothering me for a while: Bird with lines on head (7). (Again: a nice plausible surface reading and a clear construction.) WRY is the obvious start, but the tempting WRYNECK doesn't really work. Chambers offers WRYBILL, which I originally discounted as I couldn’t see how 'bill' = 'head', but a more concerted effort now reveals the sense of 'bill' as in 'Portland Bill' as in headland. Now the misprints in the Acrosses are looking like BODY AND TAIL, which doubtless will make more sense shortly.

A few more fall, including the rather neat 5d: Flashy type close to girl? Indeed, in back seat (5). The 'a' in 'seat' is superfluous, giving TULIP, which I didn't know meant 'a showy person' but now that I do I'll use it with abandon. Chambers also tells me that TULIP is derived etymologically from 'turban', which seems worth knowing.

INTEMPERANTS, MUSCATEL, GANGREL, ENSEAM, SINUOUSE and TIMESHEET slot themselves into place, and the top row is now forming itself into something like WEEPING BIRCH, though heaven knows why. I'm assuming it is Little Bo Peep down the bottom, but I can't remember more than the first two lines of the rhyme. I know she had some sheep, and then for some reason she lost them and didn't know where to find them, but I forget how the plot develops after that. And crucially, I don't remember where the weeping birches come into it. Hmm. Oh well, GRIOT at 14d and time for dinner.

Sunday, 8am. My idea of going back to Schadenfreude after dinner was pretty much doomed from its inception. However, it's a nice bright morning, and I'm throwing caution to the winds and writing in both WEEPING BIRCH and LITTLE BO PEEP. Don't understand why (a shepherdess under a tree?) but it gives me SPRAT and RIMUS. So the last six Acrosses, whose corrected misprints are supposed to spell out a thematic example, are MU_MO_. Um.

I think I'll call the other misprints 'Body and tail in each column'. (I'd idiotically had E as an extra letter in 1d, which held me up with the message.) After BASICITY and YAHBOO I have the bright idea of looking up MU_MO_ in the book, and out comes MUSMON, which is a musimon, which is a moufflon, which is a mountainous Corsican sheep. 37a, Tense game ending in this Ionian town (4), is either TEOS or TRUS but I have no atlas to hand. After ANNA and INDENE I'll assume TEOS and check later.

So, what's this all about then? We seem to be looking for sheep in each column whose last letters spell Little Bo Peep. But what's the tree doing up there? Ah – just seen the note in the preamble about the putative TEOS at 37a, 'can be found in an entry near its alphabetical position'. Sure enough, after a little searching, it's under Teian, and it's where Anacreon came from too. But why is it TEOS? Why do we need an O in that unchecked cell when there are plenty of other letters which wouldn't require an extra clause in the preamble? It must be thematically necessary, so… yes, there we are, Soay. OK, got it: the line 'wagging their tails behind them' now surfaces from my infant memory, and explains the title. So: Ammon, sheep, ram, teg, bident (a new one for me), Soay, hog, lamb, argali, urial, and the outsides are ewe and… pause while I count up fifty cells… mug. Bingo.

Later in the day, I Google the rhyme and find four extra (pretty forced and tedious) verses on Wikipedia, one of which explains the rationale behind the puzzle. All a bit peculiar really, but I suppose these extra verses must be in some reference book, or perhaps well-known to everyone but me. Overall this was jolly good example of an easyish Listener, with good (some very good) clues, a fiddly but not brain-twisting gimmick, and a lot of grid action at the end. The sort of puzzle one hopes will hook a few nibblers.

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