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Contused? or Confused? by Tea Leaves

Posted by shirleycurran on 16 March 2012

So long as it's black

Did I say I welcome carte blanches? You’re kiddin me! Well, it was just a tiny little grid (though 9 X 8 – that had us wondering!) No division into across and down clues, no realistic word lengths since the answers ‘are longer that their allocated space (which solvers must deduce)’ and the promise of a clash between an across and a down entry in every cell! (With that telling exclamation mark – clearly Tea Leaves was up to some kind of mischief!)

It didn’t take us long to find an extra word that suggested what sort of violence solvers might be tempted to indulge in. ‘One bite destroyed rubber fist’ was a generous anagram and the voluminous vermilion book told us that EBONITE is a kind of rubber, so we were clearly being prompted to have a fist fight.

We were soon nearly having one as, in  a lightning pdm. after we had solved half a dozen clues, Numpty Two said “Look, there’s a colour in every one!” (‘Hunt with zeal [for] scattered fruit’ had given us HAZELNUT, ‘Heart of forCEful anarchist wrapped in burial clothes’ = CERED’, ‘I let long garden develop into a vast area for growing opium’ resolved its anagram as GOLDEN TRIANGLE).

I was all for fitting those colours, one after the other, into the grid but the other numpty insisted we continue to solve – and so we did, coldly until we had forty solutions. That is probably why I like the blancmange things. If there are no bars or numbers, the editors clearly have to insist on meticulous cluing to make the solver’s task possible – and we certainly got it here from Tea Leaves.

Now I know that a SEAL is a footprint, especially of an otter (that will be this week’s bit of inconsequential information to drop casually into conversation!) and that with GREY, he can be found on those rocks. What a charming clue. I didn’t know that a RUSA was a deer either, ‘The northern deer without a a hint of trepidation makes charge ‘ = ‘T + RUS[A] + [T]repidation, giving TRUST. We had a fine natural history lesson as we solved, learning that a SLATER is a small crustacean, ‘Small crustacean has muscle and organ of hearing but no heart’ ‘(S+ LAT + E[A]R) and hearing BLUE MURDER when crows are ‘pursuing beagles regularly [to] guard eggs’ We know that a MURDER is a gaggle of crows but I wonder how long it took Tea Leaves to find that BLUE is BeagLesgUardEggs (regularly taking every fourth letter! Indeed!)

And, of course, there was the usual Listener compiler’s tipple in ‘Plastered deviant [suggests] sexual practice with local water and wine’ – a bit of sado-masochism too! (SM + EA + RED). Nice!

By now, we had an almost complete phrase appearing in the extra words ‘Applying fist to title suggests two colours: use second for every letter apart from ????? as described by Henry’. Yes, of course we had the usual numpty red herring and decided that this had to be Henry Ford who allowed any customer to ‘have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it’s black‘ – so we chose BLACK from the clue we still hadn’t solved, ‘Stiller comedy featuring ten grey eyes for Scottish black work unit’ (GR + EEN + B(lack) + ERG) when we should have opted for TEN.

Thus the final penny hadn’t dropped yet!

At last, Numpty Two allowed me to attempt my grid fill and it was with sheer delight, once I had decided to remove the colours, that the grid simply wrote itself with [CHAMPAGNE] SOCIALIST, [GOLDEN] TRIANGLE,  [GREEN] SICKNESS and [YELLOW] SUBMARINE forming a neat framework. And hey presto! What appeared in the centre? MODEL T FORD!

All our initial anxiety about the number of unknowns in the puzzle vanished, since  fitting the words we had into the grid gave us most of the missing letters of the remaining ones and we were able to work out the elusive OLIVER, for example. We needed a five letter colour to go with R (Twist handle conversely holding in motion – ‘Oliver’ must be Twist’s ‘handle’ and OR is holding LIVE – ‘in motion’ – subtle!)

So there we were, a full grid but not the slightest idea how we had fulfilled the requirements of the preamble. It was after midnight when I suddenly said “Aaaah. ‘Interpreting one of these words cryptically! We have to apply F is T to the title! A simple substitution code!” and scribbled furiously producing gobbledygook. “Don’t be silly, said a voice from the bedroom. It’s perfectly obvious, just change the F and you get CONTUSION, which  is ‘black and blue’ so you are going to use a blue pen for every letter except those ten that will be in black – Ford’s colour – Simples!”

And the clashes? Well, we had champagne in 1 across and green in 1down; I suppose that is a clash that continued in like style for the whole crossword. Perhaps Tea Leaves’ setter’s blog that he has promised us will resolve my niggling doubt about that.

So what was the optional extra? The setter might be allowed to thematically appear under the grid. I think his Tea has to be black (of just the T of it), which leaves blue leaves – but, equally, we might remove the TEAL (a dark greenish-blue colour) and leave merely EAVES. Hmmm – ambiguity here. Perhaps that is why it was an ‘optional extra’. I wonder what will happen to those of us who chose the wrong option! Clearly the cowardly custard’s option was to put nothing at all.

Great fun this! Many thanks to Tea Leaves.

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