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Polar by Kea

Posted by shirleycurran on 15 Feb 2013

Kea's Polar 001My all-time favourite Listener crossword was the one where Kea managed to chop the tree down, leaving the axe leaning against the stump. That was magic (though I am told that his safe-breaking, which was before my time, was even more spectacular). We can expect something special (and probably tough, as his usually are for us).

Surprise, surprise! The clues are not as difficult as we expected. However, we solve for a few minutes and begin to wonder whether he is losing the place. ‘Punk movement’s humourless arrival (7)’ It has to be POGOING as that fits with all the other clues that are already in place in that corner. I search the BRB to see whether any obscure definition of GO can be ‘arrive’. (You never know!) But it can’t, so we insert POGOING and move on.

The south-east corner yields quickly and again we are head-scratching. ‘Female name change in Reno, Nevada (6)’ A quick Internet check confirms that Nevada gives NV, so we change NVRENO and produce VERNON. It fits but that is a ‘Male’ name. What a lovely penny-drop-moment. So that is why it is called ‘Polar’.

Suddenly it all makes sense. We change BLACK to WHITE, LOOSE to TIGHT and WRONG to RIGHT noticing, of course, that Kea is naturally one of the Listener Compiler oenophiles with his ‘Tipsy when reaching garden district (5)’ (AS + KEW). He’s even ‘dropping barrels’ later in our solve (‘Money discontinued with bad construction worker dropping barrels (7)’ – with G(ood) BUILDER dropping B we get GUILDER) and suffering because there is ‘Someone soaking my meagre drinks (6)’ (I don’t understand the wordplay of that one but it had to be BATHER to give a real word, BATLER, in the converted grid.)

Hunting through, for the alcohol, as I habitually do, I couldn’t help noticing the quality of most of the surface readings. But then, Kea ought to be a star at that! There were some delightful word pictures like ‘Adolescent’s absent for late English bird (7)’ We have a mental picture of a stroppy adolescent standing up his date, and English bird because she’s late. That was my favourite clue because of the superb way LATE (one of those sixteen polar changes we had to make in the clues) became EARLY so that A(bsent) replaced E(arly) E(nglish) in TEENAGER, giving TANAGER. (Yes, that will be this week’s conversation stopper. “Seen any tanagers on the bird table lately?”)

Naturally the changes will be symmetrical. That helps us work out the more difficult corner and we opt for HEAVY, changing to LIGHT. It seems that difficult 19d has to be BATHER which will, thus, become BATLER and with lovely phonetic symmetry, we have five new words ‘WHITE, TIGHT, BRIGHT, LIGHT and RIGHT’ – how very right that sounds.

We have to run a check to confirm that only 16 of the solutions are not involved in the changes, and that we have managed to find a word changed to its polar opposite in each of those clues. As we do this, we find some amusing and subtle changes. ‘Partially roasted alive in Spenser’s case (5)’ led to the hidden solution STEDDE in ‘Partially roaSTED DEad’. In ‘One ruminates on seizing day Thatcher goes forward (7, two words)’, the Thatcher, or REEDER went backwards, seizing D(ay) giving a ruminant RED DEER. Wasn’t that lovely?

‘Everything occurring twice in Runaway Bride’s doings (7)’ was a fine example of an ongoing message-board discussion. Is it the clue or the adapted clue that should give the better surface reading. (Or, ideally, should it be both?) Here, it was the polar ‘Nothing’ (or O) that had to go into an anagram of BRIDE, giving DOOBRIE (or a thingummy or ‘doings’). What a superb clue – and it does seem to opt for the surface reading of the clue the solver sees (which, to my mind, makes sense).

The entire crossword was a model of impeccable setting with an integrated end-game – no flailing or hopeless attempts to leap through impossible hoops (and no stray red herrings). Many thanks, Kea.

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