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Listener No 4296: Playgroup by Ifor

Posted by Dave Hennings on 20 Jun 2014

Fahrenheit/Centigrade, The Flying Scotsman and the Dambusters raid are Ifor’s previous, and diverse, Listener puzzles. Here we seemed to be in theatreland, with a Playgroup, an author and a title to unravel. All answers were to be altered before entry but only the acrosses would be real words. At least we were given answer lengths, but the difference between those and the entry lengths varied significantly. For example, 1ac was (9) but only had an entry length of 4, whereas 5ac was (5) and 4 with 13ac (13) and 6.

Listener 4296Part of a title would describe how answers were affected, with the rest of it appearing elsewhere. I checked the first and last letters of clues, but they revealed nothing. An appropriate number of down clues had an extra word or phrase and trhere was an isolated central square to complete. Part of me already knew that this was going to be tricky!

I started off well, with 1ac LOGORRHEA and 9ac MOORISH, but both needed to be crammed into 4-letter spaces. It seemed that it wasn’t going to be as simple as vowels or consonants, but how about first versus second half of the alphabet? That would give OORR and OORS respectively. It looked like I could be on a roll.

I turned my attention to the downs, and was a bit annoyed that I could solve none of the first four, but 6dn, a simple anagram of ‘shaking her so’ yielded ROCKING HORSE. I confidently entered RONORS into the grid. 7 and 8 eluded me, but 9dn was an anagram of ‘tradesmen’, ie SMARTENED. I got ready to enter SRTN, but saw that 9ac began with O. Oh dear! 10dn was CORIOLANUS with ORONUS itching to get into its 6-letter slot, but also failing to mesh with [m]OOR[i]S[h].

For want of something better to do, I reread the preamble. “Only across entries are real words or phrases.” Idiot! Back to the drawing board.

I also failed with the anagram in 12ac A vole in endlessly rich novel, like Ratty (10) (it would turn out to be ARVICOLINE, a new word to me), but 13ac Route arranged, book travels on Scottish islands (13, two words) gave OUTER HEBRIDES and OUTBID popped into my head. So, in this case, ERHERES would be dropped. What if 9ac was MOOI and 9dn SMARTENED entered as MTND (omitting RSH and SAREEE respectively)? Everything would fit then. 10dn was an anagram of ‘social roun[d]’ to give CORIOLANUS which needed its initial C to be omitted.

I doodled ERHSAC as letters that were being dropped, et voilà — SEARCH. This led me to think of Hide and Seek which kids play in a group. Everything was coming together nicely… again!

After 90 minutes, a fair smattering of the grid was filled. This included 3dn Burrow hunting animals pass through by means of picking up trail of stench (6) GOPHER (which I temporarily assumed was both singular and plural) and wondered why they were described as ‘burrow hunting animals’. I checked Chambers and, after dropping the extra word ‘hunting’, thought Ifor was being a bit sloppy calling them just ‘burrow animals’.

I had also solved 22dn Slough council want Independent sacked (5) to give WITAN with ‘slough’ as the extra word and Mrs B helped me to identify ESCHAR, and that was an anagram of SEARCH.

I could also see KING OF LOONS trying to appear in the central column but I resisted googling that.

It took me another two hours or so to polish off the grid and identify the extra words in the down clues. These were ‘hunting animals’ RACHES (Ifor wasn’t being sloppy at all, and burrow and gopher were being used as verbs), ‘Hotelier’ SACHER (not in Chambers thought I, until I saw that he is mentioned in the entry for Sachertorte), ‘slough’ ESCHAR, ‘odd jobs’ CHARES, ‘spans’ ARCHES and ‘one following’ CHASER.

All the clues were excellent, with lovely surface readings. I especially liked 20ac Centre of London cleaner because of good staff (12, two words) for CHARING CROSS (CHAR + IN + G + CROSS). One of the trickier ones was 47ac Mob wedding venue — that one in old Rome (8) where CANA refers to the location of the water-into-wine ‘miracle’ and ILLE is Latin for ‘that one’. (Yes, I can still remember some of my old Latin, but very little RI!)

Listener 4296 My EntryWe thus had six anagrams of SEARCH, but no link that I could see to the children’s game of Hide and Seek! It took me a full half hour to work out what was going on, and it was another instance of it just popping into my head. Six Characters in Search… gave us the description of what was removed from the answers, and of course …of an Author appeared elsewhere — in the preamble! A delightful bit of misdirection. Thus PIRANDELLO, thematically missing his R, A and E, could be found in the main NW-SE diagonal, requiring a D to be entered in the central square.

A thoroughly entertaining puzzle with an excellent implementation of its theme came to a close. Thanks, Ifor.

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