Carte blanche and such a long preamble then all those clues. It didn’t take the Numpties long to work out that there were clues to far more letters than we were going to be able to fit into the grid. ‘Some cells contain two letters’ … It was going to be rather a lot of cells! No matter how I compressed the clues, they were not going to fit onto two pages unless I printed the document in a size we couldn’t read. Still, experience has told us that a long preamble sometimes leads to a more gentle solve.
I read through the clues to check that Ferret is still giving us a fair sprinkling of alcohol. He confirmed his Tipsy Listener Setters’ Club membership already earlier this year, I believe, like Schadenfreude last week, we are having some repeat appearances! What do I find? Sadomasochism, a bit of dancing (!), a fair bit of travelling (Latin America, Australia, East Germany, Ionia, US islands, Italy, LA, Africa etc), and a rather queer diet of panini, grissini and fine vegetables, but not a trace of alcohol.
We solve upwards and it proves to be not such a bad idea, as we soon have the extra letters STA??C?SE, and it doesn’t require a huge leap to a putative STAIRCASE as the ‘one-word description of a prominent feature’. It is at this point that the other Numpty groans “It’s probably one of those archived black and white films that I used to see on the BBC on Saturday mornings – Rogers and Astaire always dancing up ****** staircases! When you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” I should have paid more attention to his mutterings but happily continued to solve.
These clues were extremely generous and about an hour later we had ‘CUT ALONG DIAGONALS’ and a rather strange ‘?ALLLEY FOLD ?ASHES MOUNTAIN FOLD D?TS’. I admit this didn’t mean much to me at this stage, but we had only just attempted to fit those words into the grid and I hadn’t yet seen that oh so evocative Listener word ORIGAMI anagrammed in the circles. How many veteran Listener solvers haven’t commented on Jago’s wrens as they solved this one? Now I know what ‘valley’ and ‘mountain’ mean in the context!
Oh dear, the grid fill! What a relief that we had most of the words. We also had the hint that there were two extra letters in SARABAND and it didn’t require too huge a stride to realize that that was going to intersect with that astonishing word ANDVILES (SARAB& and &VILES) to begin our fill, balancing with TEEMS and GINGAL on the bottom row. Isn’t Mrs Bradford great – where else would we find GINGAL to match that clue!
Had I realized earlier that those pairs of letters that were going to intersect were in eight sets of diagonal lines, the grid fill might have been easier. As it was, my grid was rather a mess for quite some time, especially around the middle and the bottom right where we had still to solve WONGA, LOGGING, SANDAL and OLEA. However, this was an entertaining challenge and we were left with the task of working out the endgame.
Whenever we have a Listener crossword with more than one letter to a cell, I try to put the separating bar in the appropriate direction but when this was a key requirement, it proved to be a daunting task. By this time, we had spotted SILVER SLIPPER and SWINGTIME and realized that it really was a ROGERS and ASTAIRE event, so we were going to construct a staircase for them to dance up. I know it wasn’t required but I couldn’t resist the challenge in the end.
And sure enough, there they were, dancing up the stairs, with him on the left and her on the right, just as in the film. What an achievement – the staircase grid, I mean.
Thank you Ferret – this really was a stunning piece of compilation!