This was tremendous fun from start to finish with not one of those Numpty moments when we disagree about our solving method and one of us stomps off to cook the supper. Well, in fact, the other Numpty was solving so quickly that all I could do was sharpen pencils, slot in the solutions and work out what the extra letters were saying.
Some great clues emerged. My favourites were 10 and 39 down: ‘Former heretic raised youth under Buddhist [esotericists] misleading prophet with thanks for American gum (6)’ leading to ZENDIK (ZEN + KID (rev)) and (BALAAM with TA replacing AM). Those will be this week’s words to drop idly into dinnertime conversation.
Soon enough those extra letters had an intriguing M D EAS I OHU and an anagram solver told us the astonishing fact that the HOUSEMAID was the killer. Down clues had produced KILLER FIRST THEN UNUSED LETTERS so what looked like insoluble codes proved to be magic and in no time at all, we learned that WIMSEY, F(athe)R BROWN and MAIGRET had all offered statements about where the body was.
Well, we could see the BODY floating on BUTTERMERE (that’s a truly beautiful lake in the far reaches of the Lake District not far from the village I grew up in) so we were not very surprised that it wasn’t MAIGRET who solved the crime with his BOTTOM OF GARDEN. WIMSEY’s DRAPED OVER FLOOR might have been easier for the maid than rowing out into the middle of Buttermere but FLOATING ON LAKE was clearly the description of what our grid showed since the body was ‘draped over‘ EDEN which seemed to be the only garden in the grid, and actually ‘under‘ GROUND which seemed to be the only floor. It remained for us to find a murder weapon.
We toyed with LEG (which was touching the BODY. I recommend Roald Dahl’s story ‘Lamb to the Sacrifice‘ which shows what an effective weapon a leg can be, especially if you eat it when the murder is accomplished) and SIDA (that’s French for AIDS) but I doubt either of those would have got past the Listener editors. I can imagine a couple of US solvers feeling thoroughly miffed if they choose ROD and it is marked wrong – see BRB, it can be a brick or a pistol in US slang. There was BUTTER too, but poisoning the butter seemed rather far-fetched, so we had to opt for PONIARD (that’s tip number three – after ‘Read the preamble’, and ‘If it isn’t obviously right, then it’s wrong’. Tip three; ‘Look along the diagonal!’)
What on earth was the housemaid doing killing with a poniard and floating the body out onto Buttermere? I don’t suppose we’ll ever know but it was tremendous fun, Hedge-sparrow. One of my favourites of the year so far.