Mango consists of three people: Steve Mann (who is our founder and over the years has had most of the original ideas), John Guiver, and myself. On 2nd June 2007 — the day Initials by Mango was published in The Listener series — Steve emailed John and me (we do everything via email, with the three of us using distinct colours to avoid confusion) outlining his ideas for Mango #30, based on two Duke Ellington quotations, with Aristocats being the puzzle’s title.
His draft preamble and postamble ran as follows:
One word in each down clue requires a shift to a markedly different position before the clue can be solved. Initial letters of these words give a treated lyric (in ODQ6) that describes each down clue’s initial state. It may assist the solver if the answers to asterisked clues [19a, 30a, 12d, 16d, 18d, 20d, 21d] are entered first, with the assumption that a four-letter word has already been entered. The composer of the lyric’s score can then appear illegally. This and all clued entries are counter to a quotation indicated by two unclued entries [1a and 41a]. The composer’s thematic score appears appropriately positioned; solvers must write this (6, 4) beneath the grid and highlight two letters that are doubly relevant. Two down answers [ABIES at 5d, SHINE at 32d] must be scrambled before entry to complete a trio. Chambers Dictionary (2003) is the primary reference.
The last word in each down clue has to move to the front (make ‘a shift to a markedly different position’, or ‘swing’) before the clue can be solved and the surface reading makes sense. Initial letters of these words give “It don’t mean a thing / If it ain’t got that swing” with no vowels. 1a and 41a indicate a quote from Duke Ellington: “Playing ‘Bop’ is like scrabble with all the vowels missing”. LING was the first word entered in a normal game of Scrabble, followed by answers to asterisked clues, allowing Duke to appear illegally (names are not allowed) at 25 across, and scoring twenty five points, with KT (Knight) scoring double. (Count) BASIE and (Earl) HINES complete the trio of aristocratic jazzmen.
With his customary attention to detail, Steve noted that 1a and 41 were overunched, and also listed the pieces in a normal Scrabble set, which we needed later.
I suggested a few improvements to the grid and also suggested Aristocat as the title (ditching Basie and Hines), and John thought that we should “evolve the Scrabble game a bit more”. After much further discussion of numerous ideas, we eventually settled on:
In all but seven clues a letter must either drop out [vowels] or move left/right [consonants] before the clue can be solved (the surface reading often suffers); these letters reveal a quotation in ODQ6. Two answers clued without definition form the first part of another thematic quotation, also in ODQ6. They and the answers to the seven clues referred to above must be entered in accordance with the rest of the quotation. Solvers must finally highlight those seven entries [which include every consonant, including the consonantal Y, in YRDNG]. Numbers after clues refer to the entry length. Chambers Dictionary (2003) is the primary reference.
And John produced the following fill, which formed the basis of the final version:
This all sounds very straightforward, but it actually took us almost a year before we reached agreement.
We then set about writing the clues. As usual, Steve allotted each of us one third of the clues, and created a template document into which we were to write our efforts, each in his own colour (mine being red). We then said of each other’s clues either “That is brilliant” or “Maybe this would be better” or “Total rethink needed” or whatever. Emails flashed back and forth, and eleven successive versions of the clues document appeared, but eventually we reached agreement, after about only one month, in fact.
Aristocat was the last Listener using Chambers 2008 as the primary reference. We were relieved that we squeezed in just before the switch to Chambers 2011. Otherwise two of our clues (22a and 20d) might not have been allowed, as they relied on a 2008 appendix to verify that NANCY is a diminutive of AGNES and AGNES means CHASTE.
We wonder how many solvers will have noticed that it is only vowels that drop out from the clues, only consonants that move left/right. How many will have noticed that the highlighted entries represent a vowel-free game of Scrabble (involving every consonant at least once). How many will have enjoyed the puzzle (we have in fact peeped at AnswerBank and so feel quite confident on that score).
Roddy Forman (one third of Mango).
P.S. We are of course mortified that the clue to 42a failed to indicate two words, in spite of our having spotted a similar error in 23d. A friend has asked why on earth we did not have the puzzle test-solved, when the error would surely have been corrected. Mango has only once had a puzzle test-solved, I think, for a special reason that I cannot now remember. Curiously enough, though, Steve did at the last minute suggest that maybe we should send Aristocat to a test-solver, but I argued that a team of three, not to mention two editors, had no need to bother anyone else. Wrong again, Mr Forman!