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Listener 4145: Phi’s Keep (or Thanks, Plumrot)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 29 Jul 2011

Another carte blanche from Phi, following on from 4122, Heart (about techtonic plates), and 4061, 50-50 (50 years old and 50th Listener). Here we had some misprints in the definition, four unclued answers, no answer or entry lengths, and numbers having no significance apart from delineating clues (as in Heart).

But what was missing? It was present in Heart, and also in last week’s carte blanche by Shackleton: “Clues are presented in conventional order.” I reread the preamble; there was no mistake, it definitely didn’t say anything along those lines! It did say that not all cells are used and that only the bottom two-thirds of the grid had 180° symmetry. I suspected, given the title, that the diagram may end up being in the shape of a castle, but that wasn’t of immediate help. Only one thing to do, and that was get on with the clues.

I pencilled a line next to clue numbers 6, 7 and 8 as a possible start point for the symmetrical acrosses, and another alongside clue numbers 19, 20 and 21 as the split between acrosses and downs. I have to say that I wasn’t really sure that this would help much. It didn’t!

As I mentioned in my blog to Heart, my opinion of Phi’s clues has migrated from ‘straightforward’ to ‘tough’ over the last two or three years, and I was about to find out that he had no intention of slipping back into easy-armchair mode with this puzzle. I got these OK: 1 AURA, 6 UTE, 11 TELESMS, 13 PONTIANAC, 17 UNENTITLED, 23 DINGO, and even 26 EASY LISTENING. I can’t say I liked the indication of a hidden word at 23: Rolf Harris’s cheap recording omitted from account, with cheap being the misprint from cheat. I would find out later that there would be a reason for this!

32 NGOMAS and 38 PINNER completed my first pass through the clues, and then half a dozen more, so 15 at this point. The trouble was that ‘this point’ had arrived over an hour after starting and I had no real idea how the diagram would be looking since all I’d managed to do was doodle a few of the answers in the grid. I had also got a smattering of misprints, but …HY…O…T…IMB looked a bit odd and all that popped into my head was “Why do birds suddenly appear” from Close to You by The Carpenters.

As an aside, I used to solve the Listener, Inquisitor and Enigmatic Variations every week, but the latter two have been taking a back seat recently. That’s a bit of a shame, since most of these puzzles are good, and some have PDMs to match the Listener. Consequently, on Sunday morning, I decided to solve that weekend’s Inquisitor (Trilogy by Plumrot), partly because Plumrot was such an intriguing name for a (new?!) setter, and partly because the colour used for the grid was a disgusting puce!

Unfortunately (I suppose), it only took about an hour and a half, and turned out to have the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake as its theme. Returning to Phi’s puzzle later that day, and all became clear: A Keep / Peake, Peake being the thematic creator mentioned in the preamble, two works probably being Gormenghast and one of the Tituses, and the occasion being the centenary (or anniversary) of his birth.

As a result, my grid doodles became a bit more solid. I put MERVYN PEAKE in row 6, GORMENGHAST in the bottom row, and neatly slotted EASY LISTENING and ERADIATING in columns 5 and 11 to intersect with them. The start of the symmetrical acrosses was therefore clue 7, and the start of the downs was 21.

If you’re like me, you had a number of problems with the misprints, primarily because not all clues contained one. You start seeing misprints that aren’t there: 25 Hardy’s to pass on tanner with edges trimmed where I was convinced that Hardy would become Tardy. You see the wrong misprint: 32 Mangos pulped for African balms, where surely balms would become palms (rather than balls, in ODE). And some are just too well hidden: Kudus for Kudos in 40. The last clue to be resolved was 35 Party upset policeman in the lane in LA which needed the line to be checked in Chambers to see that it means ‘the odds, esp on football games, set by bookmakers (N Am)’.

And so, the grid was finished, and no highlighting required although I did opt to shade the sky above the castle black, mainly because I didn’t know whether I would need to surround the completed part of the grid with a black line if I left it blank. And as for the clues being in the conventional order? Well of course they were!

So another good tester from Phi, celebrating the CENTENARY of Mervyn Peake’s birth … just like the Plumrot Inquisitor puzzle. Hmmmm …? This one took slightly longer, however … about 6 hours, so thanks for that!

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