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Listener 4325: Christmas Break by Poat

Posted by Jaguar on 9 January 2015

My own Christmas Break is just about to begin as I open up the latest, and last-but-one, offering of the Listener year. An unusually-shaped grid await and, frankly, I found the instructions rather intimidating at first. Still, let’s get started!

And it turned out that after all there was not as much trouble as all that. The down clues were normal and gave something to go on, and it was possible to fill in around these, so that within a couple of hours I was almost done anyway. Along the way I’d found some delightful clues! My favourite was 27ac with its sneaky little wordplay, Use this for shooting wild duck, doubling tail, giving [s]MALLARM from mallard with D (500) becoming M (1000), while the image conjured up from 14ac (Car(r)ot ID) was rather amusing!

But what was the theme? And what to do with all those extra letters? Evidently the bottom row was “Silent Night”, putting us firmly in the realm of Christmas, but then we knew that already. All attempts to make the left or right-hand columns make sense came to failure, although to be fair this wasn’t entirely a surprise as they were “cryptic representations” apparently so I shouldn’t be expecting words to emerge. It looked like TOM (or TOMMY?) and JERRY were emerging, but I wasn’t that sure about Jerry so dismissed that idea too.

Perhaps the preamble will be helpful? “Six regularly spaced letters” it said. It seemed likely that this would mean changing every other cell in some row or column. So I highlighted a few cells in a row and had a look to find words running in the columns. Nothing too promising emerged, but at least it looked like there could be some symmetry going on. Does the same work if I highlighted cells in the same column? Yes, although not so convincingly perhaps as there’s a row left other at either end. But wait! The cells I’ve chosen spell out “battle”. Coincidence? Surely not. And look at one of the rows, with “soccar” running through that A. If I changed it to E I’d get “soccer”, they played that famously in Christmas 1914. And in the top I could get from CABOLS to Carols, they sang those too…

And down the grid it ran: “Short-tived armtspi?e” could become “short-lived armistice” when I fix the mistake at 30dn (I had Pe-tsai, that appears in Scrabble’s dictionary and is a type of cabbage, so was just about convincing but I couldn’t fathom the wordplay; of course it’s TATSOI (hidden reversed in bacterIOSTATic)); and finally I can see “western front” near the bottom of the grid (again, having to fix a mistake, I had ANDS (from anodes? seemed vaguely plausible at the time)). And, finally, the letters that I didn’t used in the extreme columns could spell NO MAN’S LAND.

So I was almost done, apart from sorting those columns. Still, at least now I knew I wasn’t going crazy with some of my ideas for missing letters in clues, and soon I had FOTOMMYSSE and BOYJERRYAU to stare at and make sense of. Some internet research revealed that Fosse and Boyau are names of famous trenches, or trench systems, or some such, in WWI. So it all comes together nicely. Very nice, Poat, and a fine tribute to a famous event of WWI. Shame the armistice didn’t last long. No doubt there are plenty of crosswords to come that will mark what followed.

4325

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