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Crovvword by Pointer – vo vuccevvful!

Posted by shirleycurran on 4 November 2011

Crow word! (Crovv word?) Now could that be a misprint? Don’t be silly – you’ve been solving or attempting to solve these things for almost three years now and should have learned that the editors don’t make mistakes.  What is a crow word? Corvus, corbel, hoodie, boast? Are we going to have ornithology, architecture, hoodlums in the city, or is it simply a boast from Pointer that he has set us a cracker of an endgame (I added that bit later!)

This wasn’t the most speedy grid-fill ever (it took us about ninety minutes) but we thought the quality of the cluing was magic. There wasn’t a single clue where Numpty number two uttered his habitual “Oh, that’s awful!”

With friends, I have an endless discussion about the justification for ’30-second clues’ in a Listener crossword.  One of them invariably favours complexity and I, almost as invariably, require two or three ’30-seconders’. We had a few here: ‘To learn dance see the Queen’ (8) (What a silly surface reading!) DISCO + V + ER; ‘Aces seen shuffled, not a heart’ (7) (a)CES SEEN* = ESSENCE; Nürnberger’s welcome in hospital to stay over (4) H + LIE rev, ‘Rally gets bishop to retire from service’ (5) DEMO + B. Yes, I loved these and lots more of these superbly transparent clues.

Ninety minutes! Three years ago it took us all week to solve a Listener crossword. A year ago, we regularly needed the entire weekend, off and on – mainly on. Now we feel mildly frustrated if we haven’t filled the grid by the end of Friday evening.  So what is happening? I’m raising that question since I hear it being discussed so often. Is the Listener crossword becoming easier? ‘Decidedly not’ is my response. We have simply become more accustomed to the way the clues work and to the thinking of some familiar compilers. I believe that the super-solvers who claim standards have dropped are simply overlooking the fact that they are improving their Listener skills. The really ‘easy’ crossword, like Mr Lemon’s a few weeks ago, is a rare gift to solvers and is more than adequately balanced by complex requirements to do knight’s moves or draw graphs on tori.

Enough pontificating. We had spotted IONIC, DORIC, CORINTHIAN and CAPITALS only a few minutes into our solving, and our completed grid revealed ACANTHUS and ECHINUS. Capitals was an obvious hint about where to look for a message. (I have a few ‘Listener adages’ firmly embedded in the Listener convolutions of the brain: one is Erwinch’s comment about one’s solution being wrong if it isn’t obviously ‘right’ – that was paraphrased – and another is Chris Lancaster’s advice to look at the initial and final letters of clues before even starting a solve – even reading them upwards too!) CAPITALS – Yippee! CONSTRUCT EIGHT QUADRANT ARCS  STARTING AT THE TOP CORNER OF COLUMN.

Well, everyone knows what a quadrant arc is, don’t they? (Or, ‘doesn’t he?’ to be pedantic.) Sorry, no! Here’s someone who doesn’t! Numpty No 2 had to draw what he assumed would be produced by ‘eight quadrant arcs forming segments in a continuous curve. His little swirly sketch was spot on, but we needed to know what word we were looking for and it was single malt time, so we abandoned our search and slept on the problem.

A refresher course in the three orders of Greek columns was needed. How neat that these three columns in the grid were in descending order with the Ionic, the lowest order, lower down. Now I know (and should have known all along, having family in Greece, having worked there and having even dabbled in modern Greek) that the Acanthus tops the Corinthian column, the Echinus the Doric one and that the Volute supports the Abacus or Entablature of the Ionic. It is easy in retrospect but I was hunting for SCROLL or VORTICE or even SPIRAL in the grid.

We needed an eight or nine-letter word, and, over the breakfast of spiral Swedish cinnamon rolls, Numpty 2 announced “Ah, that’s it – VOLUTIONS!” (That’s what it’s like living with a scientist – one receives instruction in how a neutrino can exploit putative folds in the 11 dimensions and apparently exceed the speed of light when one is folding the pastry, and whirly buns lead to reflections on Ionic capitals!)

So there it is! This will undoubtedly be one of the favourites of the year. It was satisfactory in every sense: the memorable quality of the cluing, the quantity of the material hidden in the grid and the fiendish endgame. Definitely something to crow about. Aha, but of course, I finally found the volution to this crovv word – what vuccevv! Great, Pointer!

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