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22 Across by Calmac

Posted by shirleycurran on 18 July 2014

Black Hand Gang 001I can add one to my tally of Listeners where we have guessed the theme before filling a cell. Well, hands up those who logged in to the Times site convinced that they wouldn’t fail to commemorate this hundredth anniversary of the opening of that conflagration that probably affected about half of the more elderly Listener solvers in one way or another. Apart from the photos on mantelpieces, when we were small, of ‘Billy who went down on the first day of the Battle of the Somme’, we women began to escape from total male domination (even if you lot still dominate the crossword world) as a result of it all.

The size of the grid was the next hint. A couple of years ago, I dabbled with this theme, convinced that it had great potential, and abandoned when long words like GAVRILO PRINCIP, FRANZ JOSEF, BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA, MILJACKA and SERBIA didn’t make for a very comfortable grid. So congratulations to Calmac that he persisted and even made them come together – no, I can’t say harmoniously can I?

With this rather dismal theme, there had to be a bit of Listener setter tippling amongst the clues but could I find any evidence of Calmac’s membership of the club? Sadly, no! However, for Numpty solvers, there was a lovely preponderance of anagrams and hidden clues. We started at the bottom right (such a good place to start!) and within minutes, had TEEN, SUMAC and PULP in place, so leapt to the conclusion that GAVRILO PRINCIP was going to fill that unclued light. Logically, his victim would fill the other unclued light at 1 down and we tentatively slotted FRANZ FERDINAND in there.

BOSN was our next lucky find and we surmised that it was going to be part of BOSNIA and soon I was hard put to write as fast as we solved. In a little over an hour, we had a full grid, with SARAJEVO completing that vertical column.

The late Enigmatic Variations Editor, Mr Leonard, in one of his gently encouraging messages to me, said ‘Attempting to get a misprint into every clue is biting off more than most setters can chew (or words to that effect). Leave it to the top setters and adopt a more generous device.’ I was reminded of that advice as we found one or two really forced misprints ‘Deaf eater’ for the Koala ‘leaf eater’, ‘Plant that’s brown for dyeing’ for ‘plant that’s grown for dyeing’ but have to admire the almost convincing set that Calmac produced.

Of course, there was a bit of Numpty head scratching, as our extra letters had spelled out ‘HIGHLIGHT TWENTY-TWO CELLS SYMBOLICALLY’ but the first part of the message was ‘Gobbledygook NEAR RIVERSIDE’. ‘Mask word by jolly ref’ (6) was holding us up but eventually, we decided that had to be a clue to VERMIL, which Chambers told us was a kind of bright red (giving VEIL round RM), so our last misprint told us that EVENT OCCURRED NEAR RIVERSIDE. That was clearly a prompt that our twenty-two letters were going to be the river and the city, and, of course, that added up.

‘Symbolically’! Well, they made a cross, didn’t they and that black cross was the symbol of the Black Hand Gang; but black? Can you ‘highlight’ in black. I can see some sparring ahead if that is the requirement and half the solvers have used the pink or yellow highlighter that came to hand.

Well, it was speedy, topicalĀ and a rewarding solve. Many thanks Calmac.

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2 Responses to “22 Across by Calmac”

  1. Jaguar said

    After a while it occurred to me that the title was just “22; a Cross” = number of cells and what shape they make, so that there was no need to fuss about colour. I went for red (as close as I could get to VERMIL) in the end, but it shouldn’t matter. A nice puzzle; a sad theme, and perhaps there will be many more on this subject in the next few years. I anticipate some Listeners drawing on War poems, so I suppose I ought to start reading “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori” (30 letters… 15-cells-wide grid perhaps?) and “If I should die think only this of me”.

  2. […] A glance back through past war-themed Listeners reveals that I’d predicted this theme about ten months ago. Is this a record for the earliest PDM for a Listener puzzle… […]

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