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Listener 4127: SPAD by Wasp (or What’s My Theme?)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 25 Mar 2011

This week we have SPAD by Wasp, and what looks like one of the shortest preambles for sometime. Unfortunately, it indicated that all the across answers had to be modified in some way before entry. Still, eight down entries which were clued without definition and belonged to one of two groups would reveal all, I hoped. What’s more, the figures in brackets for the across clues did not tally with the size of the grid entry; it looked like we were being given a helping hand on this puzzle; many setters would probably make us work that out for ourselves.

Although 1ac eluded me, 6ac was BEDSPREADS, followed two clues later by what looked like an anagram of CLIENT in EC and was ECLENCTIC, a bit of a tongue-tier. 14ac LATITUDE and 16ac ENROLMENTS were straightforward, but 19ac, a mineral anagram of TEARING and E wasn’t revealed by Bradford’s (it later turned out to be EGARNITE). The only other across answer that I got on this first pass was 40ac FINGERNAIL. Not particularly fruitful acrosses, and of course nothing could be entered firmly since they all needed to be changed before entry. Perhaps the down clues would be more forthcoming.

They started well with 5 SALET, 6 BREE and 8 PENDANT. This last was the first clue without a definition, and with 9 ECCE, I had 6ac (remember BEDSPREADS) having to fit B.PE.. so it looked as though some letters were perhaps to be removed before entry of across answers. Not bad for 20 minutes into the puzzle. 17 LEPTA, 20 GIRDS, 31 CHEAT (without definition), 33 LAUND and 36 SOFA finished the downs and I had to admit that the grid looked rather sparse, so perhaps my optimism at the 20 minute mark was ill-placed.

It became obvious at some point, though, that the across answers were entered with every other letter omitted except for the last which was entered. Since each was either 8 or 10 letters long and fully checked they weren’t unfairly difficult. Nonetheless, I didn’t find it an easy puzzle to complete, perhaps in the order of 3+ hours. Some easy clues, plus some tough ones like the following:

15ac EASY DOES IT Act slowly: free rabbit and bear (10, three words)
EASY + DOE + SIT and it took me ages to get!
34ac NIHILITES Possibly the three nils — or rarely more? (10)
anag of THE III NILS
4dn BURDEN Prison where one’s dispatched for having points (6)
BIN with URDE instead of I, and a great surface reading with its warning to motorists!
22dn TINSELED Jackson’s made glittering selenium into metal light (8)
SE in TIN LED, being the American spelling; well I know a couple of Jackson’s and neither is American, so I’m not sure about this indication
29dn LEETLE Dwarf once sent up letters for low tension line
EL TEE (letters of LT spelt out) + L entered upwards

All in all, good clues, and I suspect that it was not an easy grid fill for Wasp.

And so to the endgame. I was left with (all nicely symmetrical in the grid) RESTRAIN, CHEAT, BURDEN, MAUTHER, PENDANT, MORSEL, DIGIT and CRATCHIT as the thematic answers which fitted into two groups. Well after staring at them for a few minutes, they didn’t look even vaguely thematic to me. They were, after all, just words, if you know what I mean, apart from CRATCHIT who is a Dickens character! So my guess was that the words had a certain pattern, but again none emerged. And what was with the title? SPAD, according to Chambers, is the abbreviation for Signal Passed At Danger. Well that seemed to indicate that I had passed some sort of indication that was intended to alert me to the theme, but obviously didn’t. Perhaps it was something to do with binary 10101011 but although I work with computers I couldn’t fathom it.

Those of you who read here regularly will probably know how important I think it is to fully understand every aspect of a Listener. Rarely do I fail at this, and I felt it was just a matter of time before it all fell into place.

Except that it didn’t, and the thematic groups completely eluded me! Luckily we weren’t required to put anything under the grid that revealed whether we had fully worked out whatever they turned out to be. What a stroke of luck! So well done to Wasp for having (hopefully only partially) beaten me with a good puzzle. I look forward to the revelation with interest, and I hope I don’t look too foolish!

2 Responses to “Listener 4127: SPAD by Wasp (or What’s My Theme?)”

  1. Michael or Andrew? I took “Jackson” here to be Mississippi’s capital. Unease at completing, then establishing theme as a bonus rather than a requirement — but puzzle fun.


  2. Strangely, I was thinking of Andrew, even though he’s been dead over 150 years longer than Michael! The transience of celebrity! The Listener site confirms that it was a reference to Jackson, MS, although I’d have thought that less well-known than the other two (plus there’s a Jackson in practically every American state).

    See Shirley’s blog for an explanation of SPAD.

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