The Numpties took a deep breath when we saw Mr E’s name at the top of this one. We’ve seen him at the E and of the magpie puzzles and we don’t usually have a couple of weeks to spare so we don’t attempt those. There was nothing for it – we waded in.
Surprisingly, the clues were solved fairly quickly. Perhaps we were encouraged by the habitual Listener compiler tipple. We couldn’t see any alternative for ASTI in 8ac ‘What could be most interesting in test? This Italian white (4)’ and ‘I’m rarely stupid unless I get drunk (7)’ – that was a kind gift of an anagram, giving INSULSE. There was another fascinating new word to drop in nonchalantly too, ‘Noticed any TANIWHAS around lately?’ (Water monster hoisted a sailor say? Nothing in it (7) A HAT round NIX rev – but that X had to go in as a W. Aha!).
Now we were starting to produce a few examples of word play that gave us Xs or Ys instead of the letter that was to be entered. I wasn’t sure how these were going to produce the coordinates, so kept a faithful record of the letters that went into the grid and, as our fill developed, we noticed that the down Xs and Ys seemed to anagram to TWO/TEN. Could those be the coordinates?
We thoroughly enjoyed a couple of clues along the way. There was that lovely UNNOTICED that came from ‘Warm perhaps, after middle of June – in camouflage? (9)’ (I’m reminded of that exchange between James McNeill Whistler, was it, and his friend Oscar Wilde. “I wish I’d said that!” “You will, Oscar, you will!) and the amusing use of Us in ‘Marks cars moving around on lines above us? (7)’ Brilliant that one!
Under two hours and we had a full grid with the across clues producing U? and SEPT. Yes, we had spotted the fact that faux pas in the preamble was leading us to numbers they use around here, UN and SEPT, so it looked as though we had our second co-ordinate and, what’s more, we suspected that when we drew them on our grid, they would produce the MAGINOT LINE. (Yes, I realize it is a bit early even for First World War crosswords, never mind ones about the Somme and the Maginot Line but who knows?)
Well there has to be a numpty red herring each week and this week there was a second one. No, not the Maginot Line, our letters were OSTUEGORGMICO and do you know what they anagram to? GO-GO COSTUMIER! I know we had a descent into football culture with Arsène Wenger and Arsenal this year and some of us muttered about that but really, this was going just one step too far! We hummed and hawed and grumbled our scorn and disgust and set to to find out about sixties fashion, go-go boots, Mary Quant, André Courrèges and Yves Saint Laurent. Eventually, since none of those appeared in any ‘congruent’ line to the GO-GO COSTUMIER one, we had a dinner pause. Always a good plan at Listener moments like these.
We returned refreshed and wondered whether our editors had really lost the place to that extent. No, surely those letters must produce something else? Like a shaft of brilliant light it came, ‘COGITO ERGO SUM’. All we had to find was RENE DESCARTES. The other numpty was in a muttery mood after all the go-go boots and swore that the second line, parallel to the first, was not actually congruent, but it was fine for me, as it produced EANECDRTSRESE. That couldn’t be pure chance.
Finished! Well, not quite. What was that bit about ‘The answer to the second question, ‘And whose line is it, anyway?’ is entered across, jumbled with just one letter changed’? I am not going to admit, here, how many potential solutions I found in the grid. Again, I was muttering about the editors letting that one through if, for example, the SEODCDRA of the fourth line was going to change its O to a T and use the ES twice. What a sly dog, Mr E and no wonder we were not required to highlight that one. It’s Sunday afternoon now, and I have just put pink highlighter on the words ‘ENTERED ACROSS’ in the preamble (of course, if you jumble them, you need to change the O of ACROSS to an E!) It was a delightful little addition, though, wasn’t it?
Thank you Mr E for a pleasant work out with a tough endgame.