Wan’s first Listener was Elementary back in March 2013, followed by the highly seasoned sausage and edible tree nuts (Spiral of Salami and Walnuts) last August. Both had novel and thematic clueing and were very enjoyable. Here we had across clues, each with an extra letter generated by the wordplay, and downs, with a letter needing to be replaced in each clue.
I remembered that Wan’s last outings had tough clues, and I expected nothing less here. I was soon to find myself unsurprised. I started on the acrosses and gave up after eight clues, turning my attention to the downs. (Coincidentally, in the following week’s Inquisitor by Augeas, crystal meth popped up in a clue there, as in 17ac here. I hadn’t heard of TINA before, not indulging in that sort of recreation.)
As I said above, each down needed a letter replacing, although I wasn’t too sure why they weren’t called misprints. 7dn Carol is silly wasting gold on a series of repetitions of one passage (7) was the first answer to be slotted in, gold needing to be changed to cold to give ROSALIA. Then came 14 In some areas pedlar might shelter under car (6) JAGGER, and Mrs B was making herself very useful. I felt relieved that she wasn’t needed for 16 One pretending to scrub front part of block? (6), and [S]HAMMER found its way into the grid.
Just another three down clues were solved, and I felt quite deflated. A tough solve lay ahead. With the first letter of 42ac provided by the E of STATED, I entered EIRENIC and it looked as though I would be working my way up the grid… most unsatisfactory.
Luckily, things accelerated, especially with DITTY BAGS at 40ac. A short while later, AITCH at 37ac enabled 18dn Lender asks nerd to keep 37 annuals (9, two words) to be resolved as RED SHANKS, Lender needing to be replaced by Render.
Skip forward a few hours (!), and I had a complete grid. One thing that I have noted with Wan, both here and elsewhere (Inquisitors and EVs), is that every word in a clue has its job. I’ll mention just four more:
26ac Meeting place Mrs Simpson perhaps gets hint of abdication (5) had nothing to do with Wallis, but Homer’s wife, Marge: MAR[G]E containing A[bdication].
32ac, probably my favourite clue, Queen succeeds prince in more than one country (5) with R (queen) for P (prince) in P[L]URAL, country being used as an adjective.
None Tone in society lacking in sixth sense (5) giving IN S (society) omitted from INSTINCT (sixth sense).
8dn Excellent thing sister hiding
did dig to escape out of Luxembourg (7) for SR (sister) holding TUNNEL – L; it didn’t help the endgame that I initially had the corrected word as bid!
And so to the endgame. The extra letters generated by the across clues gave gnatcatcher, goslet, sea cob, and the replaced letters in the downs mining, drumbledor, worker. These turned out to be birds and bees. The correct letters in the down clues spelt out hatecc bnolcr tteasa oesg, and crossing out the ones used by the across clues left a g/G. Hmmm… that didn’t seem likely, after all that wouldn’t generate anything symmetrical about the horizontal axis. A short while later, and I had identified my mistake with 8dn, and the letter b/B was the one remaining — much more satisfactory.
So, we had to find some sort of large B (the wrong letter described by the title) made up of three blocks of birds and comprising 43 cells. An hour of grid staring later and I gave up for the day. It was the Friday before the deadline. Actually, I allowed myself a couple more minutes contemplating the puzzle as I lay in bed that night. I remembered what I had thought when reading the preamble: “one of the hidden members is in earlier editions”. At the time I had thought “some first names”, but as I drifted off, my mind recalled those pesky greyed out words in Chambers (12th edition) that had been dropped from the latest (which I do not possess).
Unfortunately, it was about an hour into the following day’s grid staring before my previous night’s thought returned. I reached for my 12th edition and started leafing through it reading the definitions of the grey words. After fifty pages, I remembered that there was an online list that might speed up the process. Indeed there was, and it gave the definitions as well!
I found four birds: chewink, glimmer-gowk, teru-tero, zoozoo. I was elated to find — eventually — TERU-TERO in a little C shape on the right-hand side of the grid. A few minutes later, and I realised what was going on, and three pairs of birds, overlapping, were highlighted. How could anyone argue with the preamble — that’s exactly what it told us to look for in the letter BEE.
A long, tough solve for me this week, but I had not been disappointed. Thanks Wan, great stuff. And thank goodness for those missing words!