We downloaded this week’s crossword with more than a hint of trepidation. We have been treated to some hefty workouts of late and one is sure to be in store with next week’s numerical crossword. There was a murmur of relief when Lato appeared on the title line. ‘Talking Scouse’? What has that to do with anything except the almost incomprehensible airport announcements we have screamed into our ears when there is ‘Above us only sky’ every two or three months as we fly through John Lennon Liverpool Airport?
(We are British, if Scots count, but we cope far better with announcements in Athens or Lisbon than those awful Scouse screams and once saw the distress of some poor souls who had failed to understand that their plane to Bâle was about to leave despite shrieked ‘ultimate and very final last’ messages about a plane to ‘Boyzul’.)
We are told that we have a set of characters linked in a particular way and that there is just one character neither appearing nor suggested in the grid. In hindsight, that is subtle wording with no ‘who’ or ‘that’ to give the game away and one admires Lato’s pangrammatic grid where he has managed to include those awkward letters Z, Q, K and X in ZAIRE, EQUUS, SHAKILY and AVERIL.
We groan when we read that the wordplay is going to give us 17 extra letters in addition to those indicating the answer. Here we go again! ‘These will spell out a thematic hint.’ Here’s a Numpty confession; as usual, we solved this in the wrong order – first the clues, (or most of them) then the pdm, and last of all the message. ‘THINK SEQUENTIALLY’! One of us usually does but we had the Q of sq (following in 39ac) missing and a bit of a jumble lower down and it really did look like gobbledygook. I wonder how many other solvers worked the message out after they had satisfactorily completed the grid.
‘First the clues’, I said, but amusingly, our very last clue was the boozy Scottish one that demonstrates that Lato is a confirmed member of the Listener setter tipplers’ club. ‘Drunk Scots having shout on boat (7)’ No, it’s nothing to do with the bottles of malt being offered round on the MacBrayne’s Outer Isles hopscotch ferries. We have a beautifully deceptive FOU + ROAR giving us a FOUR-OAR double scull. Nice eh?
CLARIFIED BUTTER? That’s ghee, said a numpty after about an hour of solving. I wonder if these are in some way homonyms for characters of the alphabet (echoes of Qid’s wonderful ETAOIN SHRDLU crossword of a couple of years ago) but we had a full grid before the penny really clanged to the floor and we had to check that GHEE can also be GHI.
The endgame was plain sailing (to mix a metaphor) once we had realized that we were looking for a GERMAN CAR and not a MERC or COMPANY CAR.
So what were our characters?
The basics – ABC
Slang brilliance DEF
Clarified butter GHI
that missing J
Airline company KLM
Nationwide survey NOP
Fourth part (quarter) QR
Our friend STU who had to be highlighted
VW the second of the ‘two cases that are ‘less so’ being of only two letters, that German car and, of course, those crossword setters’ staples, the maths variables XYZ.
This was so compact and rewarding with none of that fearsome grid-staring. Many thanks, Lato.