The title sounded very promising. Here we were again in alcohol country – the Listener compilers rarely let us down! However, several hours into Poat’s brew and we were not a lot further on than the title. These puzzles seem to be becoming harder week by week (or is it the effect of age and the alcohol?)
The combination of six across entries that were thematic and clued without a definition, and columns each with a ‘letter removed wherever it occurs’ was challenging to say the least – even though we quickly understood that we were dealing with some kind of missive, when MASSAGE changed its A to E and gave us MESSAGE as our first solution (Manipulation when first of examinees replaces answer) Soon after that we saw Poat beheaded in ‘You’ll see me beheaded after conclusion of trial’ (S)ETTER after L.
The numpties found the clues impressive in their variety as we slowly worked our way through them. Three musical references (OBOES, LEHAR and ROSSINI), a couple of modern thinkers (LYSENKO and Dawkins – the one who ATHEISEs) an obscure animal (TAMANDUA) and the threatened MINKE WHALE, a bit of DIY (EARTHS), some modern slang (GREBO and TWOccER) and just a dose of Latin (ARBOR VITAE).
We were about a third of the way up the Matterhorn and I had only my Bradford (Yes, I can’t even climb without it these days!) so solving was really tough and the phrase that was emerging from the removed letters was not proving very helpful. We seemed to be ‘Baking’ something or ‘Laving’. It wasn’t until I was back at ground level that the BABINGTON PLOT appeared and all the extra words made some sort of sense; (MESSAGE, LETTER, EPISTLE, NOTE, MISSIVE, DISPATCH) and the gaps in my grid were filled.
I still don’t understand the wordplay for ‘AT A LOOSE END’ and I had put my entry into a bunghole and sent it to Mr Green before I learned that a CENOTE is a ‘deep natural hole in the ground with a pool at the bottom of it, especially in the Yucatan Peninsula’ (life will never be the same now that I know that!)
Although we knew of the evil betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots, the cipher still had to be worked out – Yes, ‘bunghole’ was a possibility, but so was ‘casket’, or even Walsingham, and I had conveniently recorded my letter equivalency the wrong way up, so the last stage of solving was not as speedy as it should have been but, to our astonishment, we got there. I am amazed at the ingenuity and ability of those Stuart and Tudor women (Mary and her step-sister Elizabeth) and even more at the genius of Walsingham the spy-master. I imagine he would have been among that elite band of Listener ‘all corrects’ had he been alive today.
Poat’s ingenuity amazed me too! After my missive had sneaked into the bunghole, a friend pointed out the astonishing fact that QUEEN MARY appears jumbled on the bottom line of the crossword and SCOTS on the top line. Thank you Poat!