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Listener No. 4339: Mixed Doubles by Shackleton

Posted by Dave Hennings on 17 April 2015

I was wondering where Shackleton had got to! It had been nearly two years since his last Listener (no. 4246, Construction) with its Led Zeppelin and the Tower of Babel linked by Stairway to Heaven. And who can forget no. 4079 Sine Qua Non in 2010 with Beethoven’s Morse Code Symphony!

Listener 4339This week we had an almost carte blanche, three lonely blocked squares on the main NW–SE diagonal. Did that mean that we were dealing with a standard 13×13 block puzzle? The number of clues (which were each two clues run together) indicated otherwise. Symmetry was about the main diagonal, and clue numbers gave the horizontal/vertical distance from that diagonal. There was an awful lot else was going on as well, but I decided that a cup of tea was needed first in order to recover from reading the preamble at least three times.

Clues numbered 0 must start on the main diagonal,, so I tried them. With a lot of concentration, the first Up east, torpedoed in sound where gravel has accumulated, succeeded in tilting over (5) yielded ERECT and ESKAR. The second was Henry, the fusty old drunk behind bar bought everyone drinks, initially about 8 or 12 pints (3) yielded HYE and that old Hebrew measure HIN. If this last clue (BEHIND – first letters of Bought Everyone Drinks) was anything to go by, I had a tough time ahead… and Shirley would be going apoplectic with the number of alcohol references in one clue!

So much for the 0 clues. Of course, I was absolutely nowhere near being able to slot them into the grid! I tried the clue 12 squares from the diagonal since the two entries would have to start in the top right and bottom left corners. I wondered why I hadn’t started on this clue first: Married profligate who’d adore wild bash, even after contracting ex (7). They turned out to be fairly straightforward: ADMIRER and HASBEEN.

Perhaps the clues weren’t going to be too tough† after all. I decided to go through them in my usual sequence, spending a bit of time on each one. I reached the end with precious few solved. I had been wrong… †they had tough written all over them!

And so began a solid five hours of attempting to cold solve these double clues. I was constantly aware of the fact that there were four clues with an extra word which had to be entered in the grid with some sort of symbolic substitution. I had identified none of these at the end of my first five hour session.

Luckily, I had solved a few such as PARTAN, CORCASS, FOETAL, HYE and SEEMLIER, which, together with CUMMER, POMFRET, CREOLE and HIN, enabled me to get some sort of jigsaw going in the southeast corner. Apart from that, however, the grid looked very sparse. I wondered if Shackleton was about to stymie me.

I restarted the following morning, coffee by my side. Obviously sleep had helped my brain as I began to make good progress. Not that everything went particularly quickly, but after about three hours, the grid was looking a lot healthier.

I had even managed to get to grips the symbolic substitutions, which were the numbers ONE, TWO and THREE. Now, you might expect that a setter would make these clues slightly easier. But this is the Listener, and this is Shackleton! Dull hybrid energy lesson reviewed after head of TU hands over first year marks — they may make some greens cross (6) led to TONELESS and MONEYMEN, with ‘hybrid’ and ‘cross’ being the extra words. As some riverboats steer up the creek with 1st of Dec temperature awful, ecstasy in bunk for Buffalo couple (5) was THREE-DECK and TWOSOME (T + WOESOME – E), ‘steer’ and ‘Buffalo’ being superfluous. I wondered why there wasn’t a FOUR in the southeast corner††.

Another couple of hours later and the grid was full. It was time to see what the last and first letters of the two individual clues spelt out. Fully extend each block N, S, E, W and The animals went in two by two. Aaah! That old nursery rhyme sung to the tune of When Johnny Comes Marching Home.

It didn’t take long to draw circles through the ELEPHANT and the KANGAROO, and a straight line through the ANT, WASP and BEE (which went in three by three). The last one seemed to be a MOTH in the southeast quadrant, but a bit more searching revealed a BEHEMOTH which, biblically, is assumed to be the hippopotamus, and a large cross went through it.

Listener 4339 My EntryFinally, most of the hard work that I had laboured through had to be jettisoned to reveal a large 2×2 crossword (†† that’s why) consisting of two ZOs and two OXen. All became clear, including the title, and I could sit back and relax.

And admire a masterpiece! Thanks, Shackleton. Either the Ascot Gold Cup has found this year’s winner… or we have another delight in store later in the year.

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