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Roc, by Loda – bird spotting!

Posted by shirleycurran on 6 November 2009

Following the on-line forum on the Times Crossword Competition (with astonishment – it takes the 8X8 junior coffee-break team just about as long to simply write the answers as it takes Mark Goodliffe to solve them), I was struck by the frequency with which solving blogs were recommended as helpful to learner solvers. Actually, I would go further and say that writing them helps too. Thinking through the solving process helps to rationalise it and develop it.

Relevance to Loda’s ROC? I think that almost a year ago, when we made our first attempt, we would soon have thrown up our hands in despair over this one. (Who said that his best qualification for Admiral of the Royal Navy was that he was frequently at sea? That’s us!) The extra complication of having to sort out the wordplay then find a thematic element to remove rendered this one of the most difficult we have encountered. And yet we survived.

JANITORIAL was a lucky start and the ORIAL part was soon confirmed by intersecting clues, but we were left with a three-letter element to find in JANIT (JAN, AIT, NIT, ANI – Great! Do we even use anagrams – TIN?)

We were delighted when KING CHARLES I appeared in the misprints. He isn’t allocated much space in the ODQ, and we had the OW of , “I see, all the birds have flown”, so we were on our way – but oh, so slowly!

Solving wasn’t helped by carelessness. I had miscalculated the length of some of the birds we were hunting for and thus opted for JUNIOR FEATHERWEIGHTS as the boxers but the wordplay was completely beyond me (though FEATHER appears in Chambers as ‘birds in general’) until my wise solving friend pointed out that BANTAM was a better fit with the wordplay (Journal) J IN OUR (seedy, i.e. anagram) BAN (bar) TAMS (caps) stuffed by W (with) EIGHT (number). The same calculation error (I fondly imagined I was working on a 14X14 grid) rendered the bird in INDETERMINATENESS (1ac.) very exotic. I kicked myself when I realized I was hunting for a simple MINA and not some ATENE or mythical beast.

ROC Wordplay is so often our problem and Loda’s crossword tested us harshly. The definition ‘sharp-sighted’ led us to HAWKEYED but we struggled for the wordplay – H (hot) A (essentially, i.e. middle of trAil) W (wife) KEY ED (leading journalist).
We spotted for hours and birds slowly emerged from the shrubbery: KA, ANI, TERN, HAWK, SCAPE, TREMBLER (for a while we  thought we were solving the Private Eye crossword, with the KNEE TREMBLER, and EROTIC ‘Wild rice including books, is liable to make man rise’ – really?) CROW, DOVE, MINA, BANTAM, SERIN, COB, and ERNE  …..

 Anyone whose grid-filling followed our pattern will recognise that we worked from the south-west corner to the north-east and that we still had two birds missing. Ironically, we had only two letters missing, too, in 11d (Oil producer’s staff without fresh water) TR?E – it was likely to be TREE and GOOSE-TREE exists (But it isn’t in Chambers – so what! Nor are SVEN, IJUI and RENO, but they are in the grid already and justified by perfectly sound clues!) TIME-SLAVES might well fit 23ac (After all, ‘doing bird’ is ‘doing time’ and the wordplay justifies SLAVES with LAVE in SS) – but all the other birds were literal ones, that fly and that sort of bird certainly doesn’t.

Of course, had we simply opted for the V of SLAVES and the E of TREE, it wouldn’t have made any difference to our grid, since the birds had flown, but, of course, the wordplay had to be sorted out to prove that we had the right birds – and thus letters. (Remember what Erwinch said, “If you are not sure that your solution is correct in a Listener crossword, you can be fairly sure that it isn’t.”)

Our wise friend came to our rescue and pointed out that there is a MACAW tree that justifies the anagram of MACE and WATER (fresh). Foolishly I had been attempting to take the F of Fresh from ‘staff’ (Oil producer’s staff without fresh water) and, of course, Shakespeare’s JACK-SLAVES.

All that was left to do was find the birds that merited ‘appropriately curved lines’: that didn’t take long. I like that word ‘appropriately’. It permits anything from a five-year old’s birdie squiggle to … well, I got out the coloured pencils and had a go. I wonder how many solvers spotted the AVES, ROC (rev.) and our French word, VOL, while they were  copying out the solution.

Thank you Loda, – challenging and great fun.

3 Responses to “Roc, by Loda – bird spotting!”

  1. Denis Martin said

    I was looking forward to seeing what you would draw for the birds, and I have not been disappointed. Well done Shirley!

  2. shirley curran said

    Thank you, Denis (but I thought you would be the one to point out that one of them is not exactly what Loda defined – you are probably too courteous! And I can draw this one better.)

  3. Hehe, great idea, thanks for posting!

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