Listen With Others

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3988 – Travel Agents by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 July 2008

Friday 27th June, 5pm Yet another Listener debut, where are they all coming from? Have the established setters gone elsewhere or just dried up? There again, perhaps it is only the name that is new although Hedge Sparrow is no longer hyphenated in Chambers (since 2003).
The preamble doesn't make much sense yet but the down clues are normal, with the now usual superfluous letters, so I might as well get stuck in there:
·        1dn After mixing less rust follows as a consequence It doesn’t quite work with follows plural but I enter lustres + S as a rather clever semi & lit. Naturally, I always complete the grid in pencil – I wonder if everyone does?
·        3dn vowing + OV + O + OWING
·        4dn Eve + R
·        6dn Iris + C RIC(E) IN IS
·        2dn economics + H NOMIC in ECHO + S
·        17ac starts with TNI…, which won't be a real word

·        25ac grower + orchardman or one scattering seed ROW in GER
·        28ac Sium + here I in SUM
At this point I see that the entry at 13ac (sash) could be sower (one scattering seed), which turns out to be correct and the puzzle is virtually over as a contest. If we are to have real words throughout then lustres (1dn) must be wrong and it is amended to results + S.

Tidying up the loose ends:
·        The message revealed by the down clues is Shortcuts for space-time travel
·        The name of the thematic entities is Wormholes (NW-SE diagonal – to be highlighted)
·        Call time (21ac) is the familiar two-word phrase not found in Chambers
All complete at 9.30pm but I spend a further half an hour checking that all the wormhole splits are accounted for. Rather like last week's (Fizz Buzz by BeRo) this is a tedious business and I probably wouldn't bother if I were not writing this blog.
Post Mortem
So, an enjoyable and fine debut from Hedge-sparrow but apologies for having made such light work of it. If it is any consolation, while I can remember several from last year, I can only readily recall one debut Listener from prior to 2007 and that is Mr E's incredible And One Has Two: An Archaic Alphabet (No.3721, May 2003) – it is the subsequent puzzles that generally make a setter's name. It was unfortunate that the method of across entries so closely mirrored those in Reappearance by Poat although this time the shifts were at random and always resulted in real words. It would be interesting to hear of the experience of anyone who did not attempt Poat's puzzle.
Did the puzzle have thematic integrity? As it happened, Heather Couper's 30 part narrative history of Astronomy, Cosmic Quest, was playing on Radio 4 as I solved this puzzle. We reached part 25 with no mention of wormholes so they might remain a subject of conjecture. Hollywood likes to depict them rather as electric waterspouts, full of light and off course sound:

If they are to have finite length then why were no letters cut in two? “H” might be cut to two “I”s, “W” to two “V”s, “F” and “E” to “I” and “O” and “Q” to “C”, etc but it is all very subjective and unsatisfactory – there would have been complaints. We can happily conclude that the split words were set immobile in space for some impenetrable reason.
I am on record as saying that I don't read clues as such but did note that we had the return of single letter wordplay for some of the 27 superfluous letters in down clues:
·        3dn (O) Nothing (or first of Owing)
·        4dn (R) Right
·        10dn (F) Following
·        26dn (E) European
·        31dn (I) Current
·        33dn (E) Base (or last of Pie)
However, I think that we should be able to forgive this in a debut.
I shall finish with some general comments:
·        -lier appears three times moving within the grid
·        I liked the confusions in some across clues: orchardman or one scattering seed for grower (25ac)
·        play (sport) or bagpipe composition (port) (40ac)
·        blank panel or put in sphere for orb (44ac)
·        removing unwanted growth (47ac) or removing tare (48ac) for weeding

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