Numpty surprise. There is a Mango solution this week (the Vivaldi Four Seasons), then I open No. 4286 and it is set by Radix, with the addition to the preamble that ‘This puzzle is published posthumously, as Radix (Roddy Forman) died in January. His family has instigated the Radix Auditorium Jug, a new prize to be awarded each year for the first-time Listener solver who sends the most correct entries. The first recipient will be the best new solver for entries from this puzzle to the end of 2014.’
What a beautiful trophy it is too. We were able to get a preview of it at the Listener Setters’ Dinner which took place in Cheltenham the following evening with an astonishing 140-strong company but sadly, no Roddy. Sadly, especially at the end, when Roddy’s charismatic presence with the late group in the bar at 4 a.m. was lacking (I was ticked off for calling them stragglers this year – they were ‘the intellectual giants who could stay the course’.)
I have my doubts that the new solver who earns that distinguished trophy will start his (or her) solve with this week’s astonishing compilation but perhaps there is another solver like Roddy himself, Simon Long or Neil Talbot waiting in the wings. I wish her good luck and hope that one day, she has a shot at this crossword.
There was no Numpty need to scan the clues to see whether Radix qualified for the Listener Setters’ Distinguished Oenophile Elite, with James Leonard, he was a founder member, but it wasn’t the ‘[Cooly] to search north of the border when Senor imports liquor of French origin (5)’ (SR round KIR = SKIRR) in his hand in that photo of last year’s finale in the bar, but a glass of his favourite malt.
Of course, we started by admiring that beautifully symmetrical grid. A model grid!
I’ve said it before: a Mango or Radix crossword is bound to be impeccably set, so we launched into our solve with a confident smile and slotted in solutions with ease, pleasure … and growing consternation. They just didn’t fit together! What was going on? With two-thirds of the clues solved we had realized that only the clues where a word was to be removed could go into the grid, so we created a skeleton grid with the words LATELY, MINT, REENTER, SKIRR, SPOUSAGE, SEE, AT HOME, TIER, ACADEME, ISOTHERM, ETUDE and EYE.
Mystified now, we attempted to work out the way that letters and words were to move, as not a single one made sense to us. This was not typical Radix. First penny-drop-moment (and I had been ‘on-the -solve’ now for about six hours) – I kicked myself. ‘No Robbery’, I should have realized hours ago that that was telling me which twelve letters were moving and my FA??E??HANGE resolved itself to FAIR EXCHANGE.
Didn’t Roddy have us struggling to cope with Base 24 some weeks ago? The next break-through was to think alphanumerically (Aaah so that was what that word ‘Added’ in the preamble was telling us. When will I learn to listen to the message I keep spelling out in the Numpty blog? READ THE PREAMBLE!) We had to add those single letters to the words that were clearly the intruders in the twelve clues identified by those letters.
So ‘Girl who may wish to gulls two girls with sailor returning [f]are (9)’ was telling us to add F (=6) to GULLS, getting MARRY, and we had a coherent explanation of INAMORATA, which we had already entered into the grid. Some alphanumeric calculation followed and we were able to justify a number of words that hadn’t quite convinced us before: ARIOSTO, ATOCIA, DRAFTEE, (oh how clever, that OZ + E = 5, gave us the TE that anagrammed with F[e]ARED to justify DRAFTEE – this really was spectacular compilation!) LEADERENE, OILSKIN, NATURE (was that a mildly smutty clue? I had to ask the other Numpty to explain the ‘creative JISM’ that seemed to appear when I added H (=8) to BAKE – but this was already dazzling us by its ingenuity and we hadn’t finished!), PERSEVERE, AMAUROSIS, ARRANGE and RECIPE.
Almost all of those words had already been slotted into the grid because they were the only Chambers words that would fit or because, like AMAUROSIS, they were clearly related to the definition word ‘blindness’, but that was not so with the remaining 12 words that seemed to have no relationship at all with the clued word. Obviously LADYBUGS was clued by ‘North American predators fancy bald guys (8)’ (You flatter the bald gang, Roddy, I think they go for the Leonardo di Caprio filmy types!) but we were entering something like FISTICAL.
Several clues had unambiguous solutions and we could enter MEDUSA, ILL and ACTIN but why was I entering ILL when the clue gave me EWE (‘Crone’s an old one – jug’s not right (3)’ EWER less R)? By this time it was after midnight and hailstones and snow were beating on the windows – and we had to drive south from the Dales to Cheltenham in a few hours, so I decided to sleep on it.
Brainwave and Numpty red herring at 4 a.m. Add EWE and it comes to 33 and so does ILL. I spent those F. Scott Fitzgerald hours (between midnight and the dawn when the past is all deception and the future futureless) doing mental calculations that didn’t work, but, of course, the seed of the solution was there and Roddy, with typical kindness led the way with that other preamble word that we should have listened to. LIKEWISE.
Of course, those twelve extra words had to be added to words of the same length to give the entry word, so we were adding DOG to EWE to get ILL, ALL to MOD to get NAP, THOUGHTS to LADYBUGS to get FISTICAL. How long did it take Roddy to find such astonishing fits AND to disguise them so convincingly in clues?
It was a joyous downhill coast now, adding EDAM to GAGE = LEHR, LIQUIDLY + FRANKEST = RARITIES, ACTS + FOAL = GRUE, BATHING + ANTLIAE = CONTROL, CINEMA + BEEPED = ENSURE, BLESS + COOLY = EATER, TOILET + SPUING = MEDUSA (I am sure Roddy is up there somewhere smiling about that one – I am), INEPT + ROOST + ACTIN. I could even work backwards to the clue we hadn’t solved and find that IMMERSE minus FELLERS gave us CHASMAL (‘Contralto’s complaint, I’m not really gorgeous! (7)’ C + HAS MAL).
Sorry, this an unusually long Numpty blog, but then again, it was an unusually long Numpty solve and an unusually stunning piece of setting.
Thank you Roddy for everything.