Listen With Others

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No. 4145, A Keep by Phi.

Posted by shirleycurran on 29 July 2011

I vaguely recall saying something about beginning to enjoy the carte-blanches. Some crosswordy god obviously heard me and decided to add to the joys so we received Phi’s current offering with no clue lengths or bars and the extra sweet touch that ‘The numbers have no significance other than to make clear the divisions between individual clues’. Just to add to the pleasures, we had misprints in an unspecified number of clues, unclued answers and a grid that was not going to be totally symmetrical.

Come now, Phi, weren’t you able to add a bit of invisible ink, a handful of knight’s moves and a playfair square as well as a smattering of jumbles? Shame!

Frustrated solvers attempt to storm Phi's keep

To be quite fair to Phi, he gave us a wonderful lead in to the theme in a five-letter title A KEEP. For reasons I shall never understand, the other numpty is quite a fan of Mervyn Peake and immediately muttered PEAKE, Gormenghast, a castle, a keep, Groan, Groan and lots of other mumbo jumbo that didn’t mean much to me until about five solves later, the misprints seemed to be saying something about a bomb. Google called. Not an hour into our solving, we had the theme, THE RHYME OF THE FLYING BOMB. What’s more, we had the occasion – July 9th, the centenary of Mervyn Peake’s death.

A friend who tells me he solved this one in about three hours said, ‘I wonder whether all the solvers who moan about carte-blanches have developed the instinct of going to the Internet to find out whose centenary falls on the day, or what significant event. Not a bad tip!

Plain sailing from there on? Well, I got there faster than with the Sabre a while back (I calculate a mere eight hours in all compared with my twenty then – which seems to have surprised all the clever fellows who think two should suffice). Having the title of ‘A WORK BY THE SAME CREATOR’ made finding the misprints much easier and by midnight, I was convinced I had seen a pattern of clue lengths between clues 7 and 20.

Yes, thank you, Phi. We work, these days, on the principle that a Listener crossword can never be as impossible as it looks at first sight. There will always be some clue in the preamble that will give us a key to a Gormenghast door – and, of course, there was. ‘THE SECTION OCCUPYING THE BOTTOM TWO-THIRDS OF THE GRID HAS 180 DEGREE SYMMETRY”.

The usual squabble ensued about what exactly that means. (Well, in crossword terms, it just means that you turn the grid upside down and it will still have the same bar pattern, doesn’t it? Shackleton gave us that lovely illustration of it with Papa Hemingway last week.)

Saturday saw us attempting to complete the 18 clues we still hadn’t ‘cold solved’. We’d found the tipple (does Phi honestly go for ASTI down under when there are such infinitely superior kiwi wines – well he did confirm my conviction that all these compilers are in the Listener compiler oenophile society) but didn’t have much else in those clues at the top.


I wonder, too, how solvers manage if they don’t have Ross Beresford’s Sympathy and TEA,  or Antony Lewis’ Crossword Compiler software. I fiddled around with the solutions I had and attempted to complete a 15 X 10 grid, beginning with Mervyn Peake and ending with Gormenghast but the lack of several solutions made this a most laborious process.

PONTIANAC (obligingly supplied by Anne Bradford’s indispensable Crossword Solver’s dictionary) and CAMPESINO were going to be in the two centre lines of the grid and that was the key. MASTIC fitted between them and the remaining grid fill was magic.

Of course, having ‘SGROAN’ made it clear that we were not needing TITUS ALONE or TITUS AWAKE, the one Peake didn’t live to write, and slowly the turrets rose from the crenelated battlements of our keep.

Needless to say, Phi had laid a trap up there too – a meutrière? – did you notice that the clue that led to RORT (Rolf Harris cheaT/P recorDING Omitted from account) could also have led to DINGO – another Oz word for a cheat? Oh the Gormenghastian deviousness of the whole thing! Even that initial instruction about the numbers was calculated to lead simple souls astray. In fact, the numbers did more than separate the clues. They gave us the solutions in conventional numerical order, just as, in my book, they should.

Only one nightmare left – putting in the bars but, that done, I couldn’t resist pictorially representing what it was like storming Gormenghast. The other numpty said , ‘You should have put a team in hard hats with a battering ram’. Yes, I know, but I can’t draw one of those.

Delightful, Phi (please ignore all the moaners about blanc manges and so on – it can’t be your fault that this was the fifth this year – correction, it is partly your fault as I see that two of them were yours!) Perhaps if we upped our subscription, we might qualify for a few bars and numbers (or even for no numericals if we paid double!) Enough. Many thanks!

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