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4041: Merlin’s Collection (or Brats and Rats)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 Jul 2009

I know Merlin does a few puzzles every month for the standard Indy cryptic, but has he done a Listener before? A quick look at the database reveals Merlin’s previous puzzles, including, oh yes, that damned Olde Treasure Hunt based on Sherlock Holmes’s Musgrave Ritual. That was back in 2006, and was one of three that I failed to finish that year. OK, there were another seven that I submitted but got wrong! These annual stats will be the death of me!

So, with much trepidation, on with the Motley Collection. And the preamble says it all: half the entries are Letters Latent (which I find quite tricky), and the remaining answers are modified in one of two other ways before entry. Sounds lovely! A quick zip through the clues in order and … good grief, only two answers!! That must be a record low. Perhaps my zip was a bit too quick. So I’ve got LABRADOR RETRIEVER and EAMONN (both anagrams), neither of which I can really enter confidently as I don’t know whether they’re LL or something else. Sod it, the dog has got 5 Rs, so I’ll put it in. It has to be said that there are another four or five fairly long anagrams that I spotted, but looking at the letters for a few seconds has revealed nothing. Giving each a few more seconds doesn’t help much either, with only ALIENIST getting solved and probably ALENST to go in.

This really doesn’t look promising, and one of the long slogs that I associate with Pieman seems on the cards. One saving grace is that the lengths of answers, as opposed to entries, are given. On the other hand, I notice that in many clues there’s 3 or 4 letters different between the two, all of which adds to the difficulty of looking at a set of crossing letters and getting an answer. Not that I’ve got many crossing letters at the moment.

A bit of a spurt now, with EJECTED and MAJORAT, and could that be ONOMATOPOEIC at 1dn? A bit of a tortuous wordplay: O + A MON (rev) + OE in TOPIC. I’ll confidently drop the Os before entry, and 19ac is (P)ENCIL CASES. Now when I say ‘spurt’ that doesn’t mean 10 seconds, but more like 10 minutes. I use a bit of electronic de-anagramming wizardry to get CASH RATIO, HALICORES and LYDIAN STONE, and Bradford helps with RAT-TAIL (grenadier fish). Hmmm … a few RATs around, and what do rats make? Pied Pipers! I spot IAN and TED and HAL, and the theme quickly (you know the speed of my quicklies by now) becomes apparent.

The rest of the puzzle fills out, and there are some really good clues in there with devious divisions between definition and wordplay: ‘very large / island’, ‘chariot’s crashed / in banking, it provides’, ‘unknown lyric was No 1 / in America’, etc.

My final comment is on PICARDY THIRD, which (a) I’ve never heard of, (b) I thought had been left out of Chambers until I looked under Third, and (c) I simply cannot the wordplay rationalise (is PICA the motley type?).

Still, a really tough and rewarding workout from Merlin. Thanks, I look forward to your next offering with tongue in cheek!

3 Responses to “4041: Merlin’s Collection (or Brats and Rats)”

  1. shirley curran said

    Dear Dave,
    Delighted to see that I am not the only blogger this week – ‘Where are those guys?’
    Picardy third (as I said below) caused me the same Chambers problem (which still bothers me – perhaps someone will explain its position).
    For the wordplay, PI appears with PIE etc. as a mixed collection (motley) and the CARDY bit is (for once) one of those more female things, an old-fashioned term for a CARDIGAN (an old-fshioned garment!) The third bit is obvious.

  2. erwinch said

    Dear All,

    Chambers has always had a few oddities such as Picardy third that do not appear where you might expect them although tierce de Picardie is found normally. For example, eggs-and-bacon is found only under birdsfoot trefoil. In previous editions, salt eel only appeared under eel but now also has a pointer under salt. These oddities are of course prized by setters who probably all spend hours combing Chambers looking for such things.

    Incidentally, it might be a couple of months before I post another blog here. Sadly my mother died and I have been preoccupied with all the clearing-up that is required. Losing a parent aged 91 is not so much bereavement as a celebration of a good long life but it still leaves a void.

  3. shirleycurran said

    Sincere sympathy, Erwinch, It is a tough time. Please, please come back in time for the next numerical as your colourful blogs are magic.

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