We set to anyway and peace was quickly restored as one lovely clue after another yielded its secret. AHAB went in first; ‘Captain of whaler a hardy seaman (4)’ producing A H(ard) + AB and an extra Y. FL (Liechtenstein) is just over at the other side of Switzerland (I even worked there once, in Malbun, a delightful little ski resort) and that fitted with ATTEST to give FLATTEST ‘Must even Liechtenstein give evidence (8)’, so we had an O and a U when MUST changed to MOST.
The three different ways of producing extra letters gave Merlin lots of diverting ways to write clues and we thoroughly enjoyed solving this crossword. We must have been lucky, as the words YOU MAY KNOW quickly appeared and one numpty began to sing some song about ‘You may know by the clothes I wear that I’m a cowboy’. It was difficult to persuade him, even when ‘ALACRITY’ appeared in the down clue extra letters, that we were more likely to be in Shakespeare territory with a very famous huge knight.
Having ‘You may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking’ as the phrase was a great help, and, in usual numpty style, we worked backwards, easily spotting the source of the remaining extra letters and had a full grid with a distraught (anagrammed) FALSTAFF in the BUCKBASKET where the Merry Wives bestowed him before we took a break for dinner.
No problems? Well not many. We liked the way the extra N could be produced by BAG around SKIN or BANG around SKI for BASKING in ‘Report about skin getting exposed to sun (7)’. As usual I learnt a sprinkling of new words, TAGLIONIS (coats indeed! They sound more like some exotic pasta), TEKTITE and the unusual LABILE, meaning ‘apt to change’. Of course I was reassured that Merlin shared the usual Listener setter oenophilia with ‘SmAll beer? Stop stocking fine cask (8)’ giving PIN in HALT – HALFPINT, and a ‘college drunk mentioned’ (to give Tech + tight = TEKTITE).
Our only problem came when, after dinner, we decided to throw Falstaff into the River Thames and I became mildly troubled by the words of the preamble. We had to ‘replace him, yet more distraught … overwriting existing letters to make more new words’. It wasn’t difficult to see that LFAF/AFTS would convert ANGER to ANGEL, OTTERS to AFTERS, ENGRAINS to ENGRAFTS, SUMMON to SUMMAT and HAJI to HAFF, but what does OVERWRITING mean?
Chambers offers alternatives. One can ‘superscribe’, ‘cover over with writing or other writing’, or ‘type over and replace (existing characters)’. It seems to be that there are two possibilities there. Do we leave the original characters visible underneath? Hmmm! It is so often the preambles rather than the actual solving that give cause for doubt. It seems to me that either way of resolving the problem would be justifiable so I shelved my doubts and we left Falstaff at the bottom of the river after about two hours of very enjoyable solving. Many thanks to Merlin.