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Listener 4121: Navajo’s To … (or What Colour This Week?)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 11 February 2011

“We asked 100 solvers whether they thought last week’s endgame from MynoT was fair or unfair. And our survey said …” Well, who am I to say, especially since it must be so subjective (and I’m not the producer of Family Fortunes or, for those of you Stateside, Family Feud — so much more confrontational!). I suppose that, since I at least got the colouring-in bit right, I would probably err (just) on the side of fair. If I hadn’t seen the Swiss flag, would I feel any less aggrieved if I knew that 116* other solvers had also failed? Absolutely not. So on with Navajo’s puzzle in the hope that it would be somewhat less controversial.

For a start, I believe that Navajo is a new setter, so there is no history to look back on to see whether his/her puzzles are tough or easy or somewhere in between. The preamble got me a bit worried, but then almost every Listener preamble has that effect these days. Four answers can be preceded by the title (and an article) giving them something in common. They then have a connection with a directive in the completed grid. And just to make this a bit tricky from the word go, 1ac (13) isn’t even in Chambers! (Yes, I know, in hindsight that should have been a clue in itself.)

Nothing to do then but crack on, and I was pleasantly surprised when my fisrt pass through the clues produced an avalanche of answers. 10ac ERNES, 14 GALERE, 15 ACHED, 16 HIT FOR SIX, 18 TAPES and 23 TOOTHACHE, and the top half of the grid was almost complete. What’s more, 16ac required that its 9-letter answer had to be crammed into 7 squares, and these discrepancies must be figured out by the solver. No need to guess too much that it must be entered as HIT FOR 6, although the 6 is in an unchecked square. A few more acrosses to finish off, and I got 30 PLANETOID, 38 POSTAL and 42 AUTOS — a bit pathetic for the bottom half really!

With so much of the grid already completed, you’d have thought that pretty much all the downs could be slotted in during my first pass through them. Sadly no, but a fair number: 3 NEAFE (nice clue: Make a fist of instant drink when there is no self-catering), 7 INHERITOR, 10 ECHT, 19 POETASTER, and half a dozen four letter words to boot. Even so, it didn’t take too long to finish the grid: probably 90 minutes.

I have to say that I thought the clues were very good, although obviously a bit on the easy side. The surface readings were excellent as well; as well as Nescafé above, there was 40 Answer her at start in competition; she’ll scream at the end [BANSHEE], almost written for Wife Swap (not that I watch it, oh no).

St Albans from the Air

And so on to finding the directive hidden in order to get it in the post by the end of the day, which happened to be the first Tuesday after publication. As I’ve said before, I tend not to start Listeners over the first weekend, unless it is by a setter who will probably deserve a lot of head-scratching. The list of setters in this category is growing alarmingly quickly! Letting my eyes wander aimlessly over the grid, it was only a few minutes before I saw ST ALBANS in row 10, and with HERTFORDSHIRE in the bottom row, and 63 GREEN LANE in the centre, we have the address that our entries are sent to every week. And a relief to be able to get a green pencil out of the case for highlighting.

So, as hoped, a puzzle very much on the easy side.

Except that I had managed to get away without solving most of the preamble! I had not identified the four clues which had to be preceded by the title; hadn’t identified what gave them something in common; nor found the nominal connection with the directive. The word ‘directive’ itself worried me, after all an address on its own is hardly that, being defined by Chambers as an instruction (or law). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it is imperative in a Listener to fully understand every clue and all aspects of the preamble, otherwise you run the risk of missing an important piece of the jigsaw. So, for me, the hunt was on to do just that.

First of all I had to find the four clues which could be preceded by the title of the puzzle (and an article). The title of the puzzle was “To …”, and looking at the sidebar where the regular weekly instructions on submitting an entry are found it says “Write your name and contact details in the space provided and send to: Listener Crossword …”. Perhaps Listener was hidden in the grid somewhere. ERNES + LIT is LISTENER, LATEENS + IR is A LISTENER, as is AESIR + LENT! Or perhaps the ‘nominal connection’ was John Green, although he is not used in the weekly address details, but so what. So I tried names. You’d think that would be futile, wouldn’t you? Well there was ERNES(T), (JOHN)NIE, (C)HARL(ES), (D)AVID, and even (GE)ORGIA! And my BRIAN was beginning to RUTH!

I even examined the post code, AL3 6HE, and do you know that, if DEIL is changed to DEAL, there were 3 occurrences of AL and six of HE in the grid. But DEIL was definitely right, and those of you out there who can’t believe that I still hadn’t seen the connection, I apologise.

I had been convinced from the very beginning that MOUNTAIN DAISY must be important in this puzzle, and I finally resorted to Google to tell me a bit more about this flower that Chambers refuses to recognise, and ten minutes later I had identified the three poems by Robert Burns**:

● To a LOUSE
● Address to the TOOTHACHE
● Address to the DEIL

I must confess to having heard of the Louse poem, but not the others. And why Burns suddenly got hung up with toothache we’ll probably never know, and why I got hung up on trying to understand the preamble is also a mystery. I’m still slightly unhappy with the use of the word ‘directive’, but no doubt the printed solution will make all clear, it usually does.

For a debut puzzle this was a good effort (sorry to sound like a schoolmaster): a nice theme, very good clues, but how many of you realised that it wasn’t a 100% symmetrical grid?!


* A number plucked from the ether.
** I’m obviously not an expert on Burns (or even Wordsworth), Kathryn!

One Response to “Listener 4121: Navajo’s To … (or What Colour This Week?)”

  1. Phi said

    This left me with a very unpleasant taste in the mouth, as I only spotted the address when I absently glanced at the puzzle a couple of hours after solving it. The fact that directive is not synonymous with address is unacceptable, I’d say, and I was interested to note that you too had only found two of the poems to be specifically entitled ‘Address’. (I looked for Mountain Daisy first – a long non-C word at 1a must be thematic, I felt.)

    Having done that, I glanced back at the preamble, which mentioned only ‘To A/The…’ and therefore identified ‘address’ as the supernumerary element. Which in turn meant that when I looked at the asymmetry and saw GREEN I didn’t register! Yet the asymmetry and the use of 1a did suggest Navajo was thinking about dropping additional hints to the solver.

    So, reasonable theme, nice clues, compromised execution/preamble, and ultimately not a pleasant solve.

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