Listener 4179: O Gather Twelve by Augeas (or Medieval Mouthful)
Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 March 2012
This was the second Listener from the Augean stable (and, yes, I made the same pun in my blog about the first). That one, #4130 Rattle, was about Nancy Mitford and headless chickens, but there has been an Inquisitor since then, #1192 <Dancing Girl, where Augeas had a waltz with Matilda. Both were last year, so Augeas is a relatively new setter.
Here we had clashes in 42 cells (about 30% of the grid), with the letter midway between the two being entered. Wordplay excluded the letters involved in clashing, but I didn’t know whether that would help or hinder. There was also a four-word theme to be entered under the diagram, and it looked like the Oxford Dictionary of English (which I do not possess) would be useful. I could see a visit to my local bookshop in Windsor being required.
1ac was easy … or at least it would have been if I hadn’t got ‘linguistics’ stuck in my head first. With that firmly planted there, PHILOLOGY wouldn’t come for another ten minutes. The first clue I actually solved wasn’t until 21ac Start of repeat broadcast which gave AIR, although I thought the subsidiary indication was the letter AR! However, 23ac DATA (si DT), 28ac WEIRDO (si WRD), 34ac ETUI (si ET) and 36ac DUOMO (si DM) had my inkling that it was vowels that clashed fully confirmed.
A quick look at the title, and there was obviously VOWEL lurking there, but I didn’t pursue this any further.
The down clues came quite fast, with 1dn PHYLA enabling me to get the alternative to ‘linguistics’ at 1ac. 5dn Ozzie greeting (no answer) daughter in gray — he’s smug and obsequious had me giggle to myself, with its wordplay of G’DAY – A + D in GY to give GOODY-GOODY.
After only an hour and a half, I had finished the grid. No, that’s not quite right — after only an hour and a half, I had one clue left to solve, and that was 20dn Men surrounding middle of Forum caught favourite of Romans (7). This was • : R : • N : (where : were known to be vowels). It took me a further 15 minutes to move ‘caught’ from the wordplay to the definition part of the clue and get MURAENA (MEN about foRum), “a favourite food-fish of the Romans”.
Finally I had to change the clashing vowels into the letters that were midway between the two:
|A – E -> C||A – I -> E||A – O -> H||A – U -> K||E – I -> G|
|E – O -> J||E – U -> M||I – O -> L||I – U -> O||O – U -> R|
So, not a toughie, but a really enjoyable puzzle from Augeas. I liked the way that the wordplay didn’t always reflect just the consonants, but included vowels that were in unchecked squares, since no unchecked square ‘clashed’. I don’t know whether it was a tough grid for Augeas to fill, but it certainly seemed so to me. The unching was generous in a couple of places, and I suppose a clashing vowel could be described as a semi-unch!
All that was left was to find the theme, almost certainly an anagram of the title. I was thankful that the preamble told us that the title was a cryptic representation of the theme, but I suspect that it would have been fairly easy to realise that, especially since ‘twelve’ couldn’t really relate to anything relevant. Despite thinking a trip to Windsor would be required to enjoy discovering it from a real book, my Encyclopaedia Britannica came to the rescue with THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT. I was quite surprised that neither Chambers nor Brewer’s had any reference to it.
I confess to never having heard of this late medieval change in pronunciation, so it was a pleasure to be enlightened. Google subsequently enabled me to read several fascinating resources, some of which had me making weird grunting sounds on and off over the following few days. Great fun … I can recommend it.