Listener 4170: Mango’s Aristocat (or Is He in Debrett’s?)
Posted by Dave Hennings on 20 January 2012
For those of you that don’t know, Mango is not an individual, but an occasional collaboration between Radix, Seth Mould and Shackleton. Given this pedigree, it’s safe to say that you can expect a fairly tough and very entertaining puzzle. Their last was City Tour back in 2008, its theme being the Tower of Hanoi puzzle. It was a superb puzzle, just predating my LWO activities.
Here we had the last Listener of 2011, and the last using Chambers (2008) as primary reference before (2011) takes over. Personally, I was still trying to catch up with puzzle solving after the Christmas and New Year festivities, which invariably leave me tired and zonked out (OK … blotto, if you must)! As a result, it was the second Sunday after publication before I started Aristocat, and I prayed that there wouldn’t be any tricky engame to beguile me. There was an interesting clueing device in all but seven clues: one letter had to be omitted or alternatively moved to the left or right before solving. I was sure that I’d come across this latter technique before, but wasn’t sure where. Knowing the fixation that at least one of the triumvirate had with symmetry, I laid odds with myself that there would be twelve of each type of letter movement (left, right or out).
Little did I realise how difficult the clues would be. After all, it was not obvious whether one or two words in a particular clue would be affected. If two words, then the whole ‘sense’ of the clue could change, and I felt that my brain was being deliberately messed with! This was borne out by my first pass through the clues. The acrosses revealed only 14 ETERNAL, 27 EATHE and 39 LAMAIST. The downs started well with 1 PRECLUDE and 3 YRENT, but despite seeing likely letters that needed dropping or moving, that was it. I wasn’t really surprised to see that the few that I solved all involved omissions, and thus just one word changing in their clues.
With the help of 1dn, however, things started moving a bit more smoothly. 21ac was my first clue requiring the movement of a letter: Posh oven returned to base for mother, although it was a sneaky liittle movement, with the M just hopping across the space before it to form other. Still, at least I had a left moving letter, and we were told in the preamble that movements would alternate direction.
19ac Sedate Queen, unwell, in train broken down on outskirts of Zaire (7) was irking me. I kept trying to fit TZARINA to the wordplay, and although TRAIN was there, Zaire was not ZA, and there was no sedate or seated monarch to be found. It wasn’t Bradford’s that came to the rescue, but Chambers Crossword Dictionary. Although I sometimes find the division of words into letter lengths useful (here I was looking for a 7-letter word), in this case it wasn’t. Luckily my eyes wandered a bit and I saw TRANQUILLIZE further down with QU and ILL in the middle. What a stroke of luck! Except that there was now a 12-letter word, obviously thematic, to fit into an entry of only seven spaces. A few minutes later, I finally doodled with ruin left ten at 9dn and up popped INTERFLUENT. These two crossing entries made me feel fairly certain that only the consonants were to be entered; NTRFLNT and TRNQLLZE. But that was thematic how?
Well, the downhill ski to the finish was on, except that those of you who’ve seen me on skis will realise that I’m only a red-runner. In any event, about 5 hours after starting, all the pieces were eventually in place.
The central entry was DUKE ELLINGTON, the aristoc[r]at of the title. The only quotation from him in my ODQ (luckily I have one of the two editions mentioned in the preamble) is Playing ‘Bop’ is like scrabble with all the vowels missing. There is also a reference there to Mills where what is spelt out by the naughty letters in the clues can be found: It don’t mean a thing If it ain’t got that swing (the slang, and lack of jazz knowledge, hindered me for a long time). The music for this 1942 song was written by Duke Ellington.
As the lyrics hinted, the vowels were to be omitted from the thematic entries (symmetrically placed, of course), as they were from PLAYING BOP at 1ac and LIKE SCRABBLE at 42ac, the two clues without definition. It had taken me a bit of time to realise that these last entries were not simple phrases straight from the dictionary. Finally, there weren’t twelve of each type of letter movement as I had surmised at the beginning. Instead, and also thematically, it was the vowels that were dropped and the consonants which moved left or right.
Well, I may not have been right about that last point, but I was certainly right about it being a tough, fair and delightful puzzle. Great fun, guys. And among many fine clues, my favourite:
40ac So damn lazy up north (5) (which should read Son dam lazy up north, to give SWEIR)!
Political correctness doesn’t even come close!