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Listener No. 4329: Doubtful Association by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Dave Hennings on 6 February 2015

It’s been less than a year since Hedge-sparrow’s last puzzle (no. 4294, Trio by Bark) with its Three Men in a Boat theme. Generally, this setter’s puzzles have had a scientific flavour, with Charles Darwin, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, wormholes and the Large Hadron Collider all cropping up.

Listener 4329Here we had nine clues which needed a string of letters removing before solving, with the rest just losing one. The single extra letters would spell out a description of the theme. As a rule, I find extra letters in clues to be one of the easier manipulations required. Only time would tell if that proved the case here. Mind you, we weren’t specifically told if the removals would leave real words.

9ac More thrifty boy meeting the Queen (6) seemed as though it might just lose one letter, and the O in ‘boy’ was a likely contender. It didn’t take long to get NEARER, although that meaning of ‘near’ was new to me. 12 UNDO, 14 ATELIER and 18 LEHR came next, so it seemed reasonable to concentrate on the top of the grid… it’s becoming a habit.

6dn TULWAR was followed by 7dn Bonheur-du-jour, maybe, docked in old sea port (6), which was all in italics, a bit like all the clues I quote here. I needed to look up bonheur-du-jour which was a writing desk, so we had DES[K] in O SEA. I suspected that it should just have been the foreign word, bonheur-du-jour, that was in italics and that somebody had left off the italic terminator — </em> or whatever the printing equivalent is.

2dn Utterly engrossed by Old Ireland’s Fury (6) was my first clue with several letters that needed to be removed to give ERINYS (Y in ERIN’S) where the ‘utterl’ could be a jumble of TURTLE. 3dn XEMA and 5dn TATAR came next, and 2ac, which was unclued, was EX··T·T··N, and I plumped for that good old collective noun EXULTATION.

It seemed appropriate to open up Brewer’s, which I knew had a long list of such words, there called nouns of assemblage. Shock horror! It’s not EXULTATION, but EXALTATION. I think I knew that, but had just made a silly slip. Mind you, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be an EXULTATION of LARKS, both nouns are equally bizarre.

From there on, the solve was pretty straightforward, but entertaining nonetheless trying to extract the jumbles of animals from the clues. It was a shame that there weren’t a few more. I particularly liked 21ac Celebration disturbed Worcester, but not Eastern county (6) hiding CROW, and 22ac Art college stops folding chair transport using cushion (6) giving GOLDFINCH.

Thus the various collections that we had to unravel were:

EXALTATION (2ac) of LARKs (32ac)
WISP (c) of SNIPEs (10dn)
CETE (g-dn) of BADGERs (19ac)
UNKINDNESS (a) of RAVENs (3dn)
BALE (b) of TURTLEs (2dn)
PARLIAMENT (d) of OWLs (36ac)
MURDER (f) of CROWs (21ac)
CHARM (g-ac) of GOLDFINCHes (22ac)
GAM (34dn) of WHALEs (11dn)

Brewer’s fails to mention a BALE of turtles and a PARLIAMENT of owls, whereas Chambers Crossword Dictionary just omits a WISP of snipes. Brewer’s omission of ‘parliament’ is odd since, together with ‘murder’ of crows and ‘unkindness’ of ravens, I think it is one most often quoted. Chambers, of course, lists them all.

This left e across the middle as MURMURATION, a group of STARLINGs, which needed to be entered below the grid. Chambers notes this as ‘a doubtful word for a flock of starlings’, hence this puzzle’s title. (Would STARLINGS have been marked wrong?)

Listener 4329 My EntryFinally, the extra single letters in the clues read Omnium gatherum of Collective Nouns. The theme was last used in a Listener back in 2008 (no. 3967, Lots to Find by Franc), but more recently in Enigmatic Variations no. 1099, School Team by Kruger in December 2013. However, it’s always entertaining to revisit these eccentricities of the English language. Presumably French and German are more mundane?

So thanks to the solitary Hedge-sparrow, a bunch of whom would seem to be a host. (I’m not too sure what a collection of Stick Insects would be!)


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