This week’s preamble sounded slightly ominous as two poets (initial and surname) were to appear ‘by turns’ and ‘affected by a theme word’ that we were going to find in the circled cells. I had a horrible premonition that that word was going to be JUMBLES. Well, it was, really, wasn’t it?
I did a speedy read through the clues to check whether BeRo could qualify for the Listener Tipplers’ Exclusive Club and sadly found that he didn’t despite “low spirits” and a “nip” in another clue. However, one intriguing feature of the clues did emerge. I remember when I first began to contribute to Listen With Others blogs, when Dave Hennings and Samuel were the main bloggers with Erwinch sometimes adding his insight, Samuel commented to me, “I never solve a crossword without first scanning the initial and ultimate letters of clues as a message is sometimes hidden there. A quick scan can save lots of head-scratching.” Oh what good advice!
The hidden message was somewhat obscure at this stage but there was something there: EIGHTY SUNS HELLCAT EON TOT AMEN IF SKI AMBIENCE LIT DUMB. Hmmm! Well, those were initially observable and we had to find, in there, a couplet that would have the theme word omitted and a second omitted word that was to be written below the grid. Nothing to do but solve – and solve we did at an unusually high speed, beginning with GDAY ‘Traditional Oz salutation upset Dorothy Gale initially, alas (4)’ and working systematically through the clues, finishing with the top left corner.
There has to be a numpty red herring and, of course, there was. Those circled letters very soon resolved themselves into ANAGRAM but that said GRANNAM to me. Years of ‘teaching’ poetry have left me with lots of arcane information including the fact that both Meredith and Coleridge have GRANNAM in their poems, one of them with her sitting with a little lambkin at her feet. That was enough to waste quite a lot of Internet time. Not content with that, I then decided that we must be looking at Shakespeare’s ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun …” since TEETH, CHEEKS, EYES and HAIR were clearly the features evident in the grid. But where was the poet hidden?
Of course, that was the route to the solution. I, who am criticised for over-using the leading diagonal for hiding a message, took rather too long to consider the other diagonal – and in the opposite direction. Of course, there they were, J DRYDEN and J DONNE, both anagrammed and with their letters appearing alternately. From that point it was a gentle ski down a blue piste to ANAGRAM and THE ANAGRAM. This was so glaringly obvious that it should have led me straight to the ODQ at the start for there is ‘anagram’ and the link to Dryden.
What did I find in Dryden’s MacFlecknoe? “Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame/ in keen iambics, but mild anagram:” Sure enough, omitting “Anagram” from that couplet and working through EIGHTY SUNS HELLCAT EON TOT AMEN IF SKI AMBIENCE LIT DUMB in word pairs, it became immediately evident that PURCHASE had been omitted from those ‘initially observable’ letters.
Now to Donne. What does the Internet give me? OMG – a delightful description of Flavia!
“… For, though her eyes be small, her mouth is great ;
Though they be ivory, yet her teeth be jet ;
Though they be dim, yet she is light enough ;
And though her harsh hair fall, her skin is tough ;
What though her cheeks be yellow, her hair’s red …”
Poor Flavia! However, it was a short step from the poem to how the four features had to be “identifiably entered according to the nearest adjective”. Here we have small eyes, jet teeth, yellow cheeks and red hair. Wow! All done and dusted and with great amusement. I still haven’t really understood the title ‘Face Off’ but did appreciate how much BeRo had fitted thematically into his (her?) grid. Many thanks for a most enjoyable solve!