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Listener 4122: Heart by Phi

Posted by erwinch on 18 February 2011

Sixteen years ago, Treasure Hunt II, marked an all-time low in my solving career.  This was a carte blanche Listener by Hellphire, Phi’s partnership with Hellebore, and I could not manage a single confirmed grid entry:
I must try it again to see if I can do any better now.  I would approach it by solving as many clues as possible and trying to fit the answers together on a blank piece of paper.  This is how I tackled Heart and eventually my initial attempt at the grid emerged as follows:
There was something odd here but it was clear that I had got my right and left-hand sides the wrong way round.  Word B (tectonics) was in plain view confirming my suspicions that word A was plate.  I had earlier found 13 synonyms of word A as extra words in clues – denture, engraving, silver, etc.  The first clue gave no trouble: Meadow’s lower ends filled with black vegetable (two words).  Meadow immediately suggested leaf as one of the two words and it was soon found in Collins:  leaf beet – LEA + B in FEET.  It is another name for chard, where it is only to be found in Chambers, and is also known as Swiss chard to continue a recent motif.  My final clue solved was 28 Man’s [cup] about to appear with drink Alec – ALE + C  I had thought that aled (full of ale?) might equal to appear with drink to give Aled but it is not in Chambers nor the OED.  The expression aled up is an entry in Jonathon Green’s Dictionary of Slang.
One of the enduring pleasures of the Listener is to reread an impenetrable preamble in the light of the solution to see just how much more or less we were told than we first thought.  Here for example, we were told that the answers would not fit the 15-column solution grid unless certain cells contained two letters.  Naturally we assumed that they would fit the 9 rows available.  However, the most telling part of the preamble was the final sentence:
The Chambers Dictionary (2008) is the primary reference; the answer to the first clue is not at its natural location and Collins English Dictionary may prove more helpful.
I would imagine that we all, at least subconsciously, read that semicolon as but.  In fact it was telling us that the answer to the first clue (leaf beet) was not to be found at its natural position in the grid, ie the NW corner.  Placing leaf beet in the NE and using 10 rows gave us the required initial grid with 180° symmetry:
The final step was obvious and the new pairings of letters – TL, EV, CR, etc – provided the new thematic material – faultline.  Finding the further two-word thematic phrase was not nearly so obvious and it took me the best part of a day, on and off, to eventually winkle out Mercalli scale – never heard of it!
So, Phi had spotted an aberration in Chambers (leaf beet) and with astonishing sleight of hand managed to incorporate it into the puzzle.  It is a pity that leaf beet was not thematic, it does not have heart-shaped leaves for example nor grow especially well on faultlines although it does form part of one in the grid.  Like most vegetables, it is no doubt good for the heart to eat the stuff and heartbeat is a good pun but there is nothing really thematic.  Had there been a strong link with say earthquakes then I think that this would rank with Sabre’s coup in finding a fact used in his puzzle Cards (Nov 2003).   I am repeating myself in saying that he revealed that it takes 52 letters to spell out Ace, Two, Three … Jack, Queen, King.  Nevertheless, I thought this a most accomplished construction.  Did not Phi tell us that he lost his position as a setter for The Times because his puzzles were considered too boring?   When we find a delightful Listener of this quality then that notion appears totally absurd.

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