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Mashonaland by Raffles

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 August 2015

Mashonaland? We had to begin by looking that up and it took us nowhere except somewhere not very helpful in Africa. Just a 12 X 12 grid and a preamble almost as long as the across or the down clues – there weren’t a lot of those! We have met Raffles a couple of times in the Magpie and once in the EV, so he is not a completely new name but this does seem to be a Listener début. (He or she? This seems to be a month for female crosswords, we’ve had Artix’s Dames and the Mitford sisters – are the ladies finally getting a look in? After we had completed our solve, it did seem as though the editors had decided to have a ‘ladies’ month!)

Is he/she applying for Listener Setter Topers’ Club membership? A quick read through the clues and I find not a trace of alcohol but there are a few promising clues and we begin with the obvious anagrams. CONTADINA leaps out at us. ‘Country and action dancing (9)’ and this is quickly followed by MARGHERITA, ‘Great harm I wrought (10)’, SIGNORA, ‘Surprisingly arousing, not posh (7)’ (though, rather ambiguously, this could have been SOARING) and ‘Society hostess leaving husband for National Opera’s lead singer (7)’ (S + OPRA[h] + NO – giving SOPRANO).

La donna è mobile

La donna è mobile

What a fine Numpty red-herring! ‘This has to be something operatic, she foolishly declares – Gounod, Wagner, Puccini or Verdi – there are contadini and Margheritas in all of them. Well, yes, maybe, but that wasn’t much help when, a couple of hours later, we had BACCHANTE, URSULINE and MONTESSORI to fit into our scheme!

What did quickly become clear was that we were able to enter normally any of the clues that were producing an extra letter but that these ladies had to be jumbled in order to fit into our grid. Groan of despair. How I loathe jumbles. They do seem to be rather a setter’s cop out, though, looking at the final grid, it is perfectly clear that Raffles would have been faced with a difficult task had he/she attempted to fit those ‘speakers of the two quotations’ into real, unjumbled words.

What is even more surprising is that Raffles was able to construct a grid that ultimately removed all ambiguity about the placing of the jumbled letters. I am not sure that I can see why the hint about putting ADOT in the third row was necessary since ambiguities seemed to be ruled out by the unches, which demanded identical letters – but perhaps one of the other bloggers will explain that.

So we had to laboriously work our way through the jumbles, one by one, eliminating the intersecting letters as they were confirmed. We know at once that this is going to be a time-consuming struggle but we also know we’ll have a few of this ilk to solve each year.

THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING was the first quotation to appear, and, sure enough, MARGARET THATCHER appeared in the diagonal, happily removing some of the ambiguities. We had wondered how SCHIAPARELLI could be jumbled to fill three unches, when there were two As, two Is, and two Ls but no triple letter – and what a find – ELEONORA DUSE, with three Es to fill 1 Across. Raffles must have gloated when he spotted her!

It took the Internet to give us ELEONORA DUSE, the first name that comes up if you ask it for ’19c Italian Actress’, and, of course, we were almost there. MONTESSORI, MARCHESA, MONA LISA, TELLUS and URSULINE had now appeared and we realized that any Italian lady would serve our purpose – so much for my theory about opera – and yet – who said ‘La donna è mobile’? We hunted for Guiseppe Verdi … and found DUCA DI MANTUA in the leading diagonal and he allowed us to complete our SCHIAPARELLI jumble. Not Mantova, but MANTUA, so that explained the words ‘not all using thematic spelling’.

Very demanding solving but it must have been even more demanding setting. We were left with the title and smiled when it broke down into MASH or SHAM LA DONNA. Many thanks to Raffles.

 

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One Response to “Mashonaland by Raffles”

  1. Shirley, without A DOT in row 3, I think O and A in both 13ac and 5dn can be switched.

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