Best of Times or Worst of Times? by Andrew Varney
When in April I posted the following comment on the message board of Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre website, concerning weekly discussions of the Listener crossword,
Perhaps if we all wrote blogs there would be more feedback on clues. Maybe I will (we should) start trying to write a quick message to file at the time I (we) send the solution off then copy and paste it into the message board at the later date?
little did I realise what I might be letting myself in for!
Now on the evening of Friday 15 August, I take a glance at the Times website, see MynoT and a complicated looking grid and think aaaaagggh! (… well, I did only say possibly to doing this week’s blog!) I should explain that having just got back from family holiday a few days earlier, and being due to fly away on business in less than a week, I am not sure whether I will be able to make a decent attempt at this week’s puzzle. My best guess is that I will end up doing it on the plane to California.
I printed my ‘rough’ copy off the net and bought The Times this morning (for the neat ‘send-in’ solution), but get my first chance to look at it at all while waiting to have my hair cut just before midday. Let’s read what it’s about.
Second week in a row with no word lengths. Worked out easy enough in the end last weekend though. Not quite sure what “no entry spans any space outside the grid” means, but it will probably become clear. Two clues for each radial and one unclued. But the lengths? And why the central dot and does it mean something? Why is it included in the count of the rings?
Well, that’s as far as I got in the short wait to have my hair cut. Three hours later, en route to an ‘allotment festival’, I have my next chance. Since I have new glasses, as of yesterday, I am excused the driving until they are broken in. Only five minutes or so, but this weekend I have to take every chance I can get!
First look at the clues and I do not like the surface readings of many of them at all. What have fish (even little ones) got to do with diaries!? (Later when I get to them, I can accept this for the extended clues for the rings, but I am not impressed with many of the radials.) First thoughts –
1. Urn? Rare one = ‘un’? but surely that is local one, not rare one. Plus an anagram of cumin. Small fish = fry, tiddler, sprat? Logs for diaries?
2. First part means nothing to me. Then ‘ka’ in ‘set’ or ‘tela’?
3. At uni = ‘up’? or could it be curtailed space at uni = qua(d)? ‘squarp’ seems a possibility worth checking in Chambers later.
Another hour and half later, sitting in the playground near the allotment while the children play. I find it’s often a good place to read or to work through some clues, with less interruption than with the children at home. But today my wife is with me, so I’d better not get too engrossed: she’ll be expecting some conversation.
4. Can’t see anything
6. Second half looks like something in STET, sextet? but Oscar = O
7. No ideas
9. Got one. LIZ – no – LISE (EliSabeth) around A1 = LIAISE. And then Gabon’s IVR = G and the (large) marble is an ALLEY giving ALL(E)YING. Need to check variants at home.
11. An anagram without ‘at’, i.e. of ‘cor medic’? Cannot think of any parties matching this. Second part looks like it is a peculiarity of dialect, perhaps ric(h) in A is m = ARICISM. I cannot get it to make AMERICANISM. It would need an extra word for MEAN. Another to check in Chambers later.
12. The first part looks like an anagram of ‘gradation’ but aren’t there too many letters? We had an indirect anagram earlier this year, but it would certainly be unusual. The second part must be ___IOT.
That’s as far as I got, including the journey home. Just two definite answers is not especially good shape by Saturday night, but with almost no uninterrupted time spent on it and only half the clues swept over, it has been known to be worse!
Very early Sunday morning
I’ve been woken up with a nightmare. It was all related to an incident with an overly aggressive man about a parking space outside the library yesterday morning. It affected my wife and children badly at the time, but obviously had an effect on me as well, causing my subconscious to superimpose similar incidents from my youth.
Might as well take another quick look at the crossword to take my mind off it. At least it should provide some uninterrupted time. Looking back at my previous ideas:
1. I now see that it could be an anagram of rare I/a + cumin. This suggests to me something along the lines of ‘incineration’ and Chambers confirms CINERARIUM. Too many letters? OK, now I see, ring 8 can have two or more letters per quadrant.
3. No SQUARP in Chambers.
6. Sextet in Chambers leads to sestet where I find SESTETTO.
9. ALLYING confirmed, with ALLY as the variant for the marble rather than ALLEY as the variant for the verb.
11. It’s an anagram including ‘at’ (silly of me not to see immediately), DEMOCRATIC. I cannot see ARICISM in Chambers. (But just over an hour spent in total so far now, and it’s not looking quite so bleak.)
12. Bradford’s gives STRADIOT for the horseman. In the light of my discovery of the number of letters for ring 8, I have another look at anagrams of ‘gradation’. Using an old copy of Chambers Anagrams saves me a trawl through the big red book; it yields INDAGATOR.
With my mind diverted from worries about aggressive people and failures to get anywhere with a crossword I am solving ‘in the public eye’, it’s back to bed for the last few hours kip.
Half an hour so before bed, so let’s have a look at the rings. It’s been a wholesome family weekend before I go away on business for a few weeks, but it’s meant I’ve had even less time than normal to spend on crosswords. Burning myself on the toaster freed me from washing up this evening, but there were still other things to do. So with a thumb plastered in aloe vera, here we go with the rings:
2. ‘Prison room’ = ‘cell’ but ‘pot’ could be lots of things and ‘from’ wouldn’t make ‘tropical tree’ the definition as I’d expect. Can’t see anything obvious in Bradford’s.
3. At length soft mountain ‘Soft’ = ‘p’ or ‘B’. ALP. OK, now I see what it means about the answers not being outside the grid. Thus I’m looking for short words here. Berber, not active, on tower ‘Berber’ = Moor, Saracen? Bradford’s gives TUAREG – without A RE this becomes TUG (tower). In Hammemet encountered god Next part looks hidden. No not a god, simply MET as encountered. Then DEITY, FRY come immediately from god and varied diet: unknown and young cook. Could supplies rumps with a bit of nettle be FUNDS? Yes, fud is Scottish for the buttocks!
It’s been half an hour now, mostly spent on 2 and the first part of 3. I suspect it is necessary to spend this time cold solving, though, with such a grid and jumbled entries.
The existence of shorter words in ring 3 makes me rethink ring 2. It’s probably CAN for pot in prison, but could be JUG or possibly even other solutions. Room from tropical tree? SAL is a tree, but not in Chambers as an alternative for SALLE as the room. Can Bradford’s help? Ah, BEN rings a bell and sure enough (in Chambers) it’s a Scottish (inner) room. I’ll have to be careful with these two answers. There may well be other possibilities.
Middle of the night Monday/Tuesday
I have come down with a nasty bug in the last 24 hours. I am meant to be on a long-haul flight on Thursday morning and there is still so much to do in preparation. Not being able to sleep, for now I will settle for a Lemsip (not in Chambers, but lends itself to a simple anagram) and the Listener crossword. As you might expect, I’m not really in the frame of mind, but I see ENVOI at the end of the ring 5 clue (end poetically in green void), after a bit of work UNSEAMS (anagram minus E in us) for among us unfortunate seamen having avoided European rips in the past, and then INSURES drops out of Sunrise at sea makes certain. The Lemsip is beginning to work!
If the clues for the rings are so easy to solve, then maybe the radials are easier than I first imagined and I just need some uninterrupted time. Glancing back, I immediately see 7. JET PLAN E for aircraft design in black English and is it ROSEANTS for flower gets insects in turbans? No, I just thought ‘rose’ because of the association with English; Bradford’s gives TULIPANTS for turbans.
Back to ring 4, Note loud American Henry is FAH. For opening church in East End, ‘eche’ is not an opening in Chambers, but PREVE is an obsolete version of ‘prove’, the solution to to show First Lady after Prince declined, so has money must go with the former part of the clue. In English baron’s plot, ‘plot’ looks like it could be ENGINEER, but I can’t see how the ‘baron’ would work. Wait, I’ve got something wrong here; ‘declined’ is in the wrong place to indicate an obsolete ‘to show’, so instead I’m looking for the solution to declined English baron’s plot, which is EBBED.
After a little more sleep, I am up again in the night. This time I see that the solution to the horrible ‘fish in diaries’ clue at 1. is quite simply DIABLERIES, although until I checked I was not familiar with the blay/bley (‘the bleak, a small fish’; the entry at ‘bleak’ is more descriptive).
At this stage, I decide that I need some crossing letters. This requires me to start looking at word and entry lengths. Starting with radial position 1, in ring 2 only BEN fits, leaving CAN for position 7. Word lengths mean TULIPANTS must be central, but 2 letters in ring 8 from T, P and L do not work for radial position 9, so instead of CAN, JUG must be the answer in ring 2. I am glad I spotted this as an alternative answer originally! Was this a trap or an oversight by MynoT?
I also put in DEITY and FUNDS in ring 3, but decide I need further answers to proceed any further. So to 6 radially: After endless study three notes make dreary. De(n) press? Despair? That’s what I’m feeling now. What on earth are three notes? Triplet? Surely not ‘detriplet’? A lot of staring, thinking, checking Chambers and Bradford’s follows, but with little progress. REANIMATE (anima in rete) for soul caught in network to return to life does not help with four letters in the quadrant at 12 that I can see. I look at the letters I have for the thematic answer at 7 and think SUICIDAL! Fortunately it does not work. As I realise that I am looking at the wrong word anyway, I also accept that my fever’s back and go to bed.
Tuesday and into Wednesday
I am off work, and in between sleeping and suffering bouts of fever, I have enough lucid periods, dosed up on paracetamol and ibuprofen, to complete the puzzle.
On the Tuesday morning, I manage AMBERFISH at 2 before realising that what I already had would have resolved the four letters in the quadrant there anyway. One of the key moments is soon afterwards when looking at the letters in 7 radially. Not much is likely to fit GE—-[N,P]AL. I spot GERMINAL and guess that perhaps the theme is all related to seasons (it sort of fits the title and shape of grid).
Checking the definition in Chambers leads instead to months of the French Revolutionary Calendar. I suspect there are 12 months, giving all the thematic radial words. I hunt in vain for a list of them in the single-volume encyclopedia on the bookshelf, so search on Chambers CD-ROM instead. Now I am looking more closely, I realise that I have just put in the seventh month at radial position 7, and quickly confirm that all the months fit in at their relevant radial positions. I had put in THERMIDOR for the eleventh month, but my panic on discovering the alternative FERVIDOR is averted when I see it would clash with DEMOCRATIC. Rings 3, 7 and 8 can now be filled in completely.
I fill in some more, based on what I have already solved. With the crossing letters, the answers start to come quickly: DESOLATE (the three notes are ‘so’, ‘la’, ‘te’; that’s very good), LIONESSES (anagram), DORICISM (‘one’ refers to the party in the first part of the clue to give ‘do’), CRAG (‘cr.’ for creditor, not ‘lender’ as I had been assuming), ALNUS (since now not looking for ‘silver tree’ but simply ‘tree’), CHASM (got this from definition and took a while to see how it works, (ch. ’as M)), ALEVIN (Youngster having two drinks? like that clue) and SEALION (heraldic meaning).
I suddenly think, when looking at FRA –, this could be FRATERNITE, EGALITE, LIBERTE (or rather the other way around, of course). This probably occurred to most solvers as soon as they saw the French revolutionary theme. I can blame the fever! From then on, it’s just a matter of tidying up the loose ends. I was stuck for a while on 3 radially, trying to see how RHEUMATISM could fit (maybe it stuck with me because of achy limbs). I loved the clue for PENALTY (Fine as way back for one in compassion, LANE reversed for I in PITY) when I finally saw it!
Now as I type this up almost a week later, I am not away on business but still ill at home. Here are my thoughts in general about the MynoT’s puzzle. It was a nightmare to check when transferring to the ‘send in’ copy, but had a well constructed grid with just the right number of unches. In terms of solving, the experience was generally positive apart from some poor surface readings (and my circumstances). Yet another French-related theme – how many have there been this year? But I’d much prefer this year’s French to last year’s Latin!