Plants by Ottorino
Posted by shirleycurran on 9 October 2015
Ottorino must surely win the prize for the most daunting preamble of the year. Hands up anyone who spotted the theme at once. Well, actually, I am saying that with tongue in cheek as a solving friend tells me he had spotted the theme after he had solved just one clue! I can’t make a similar claim. We gazed at the preamble in disbelief and almost abandoned on the spot.
However, even though I have sat not far from Ottorino at a Listener dinner and seen him enjoy his glass of wine, I still had to check that he remains a member of the drinky gang. He left me in little doubt. ‘I provided centre for winos after seeing men cry (6)’ gave us ORISON (OR = men, SO = provided, N = centre for wiNos following I – Oh my, Ottorino, he placed himself at the centre of the winos, but I doubt a Listener beginner would get far with that sort of complexity – and it continued!).
What do I find next? ‘In power, nearly all men like a bevy (5)’ – well, I imagine some women like a bevy too, but this clue ultimately had to lose a V from be[V]y giving us VALIS (VIS round AL[l] -‘ nearly all’) ‘men like a bey’ being VALIS or Turkish governors. Ottorino followed this with a drop scone, fresh Dover soles, sandwiches and fruit but then he was back on the hard stuff with ‘Announcing “drinks”, then they’ll take one port (6)’ Of course we heard “Ciders” here and wrote SIDERS in our grid, beginning to realize that not only did a number of the ONEs and ALLs in the grid seem to be swapping places, but the As and Os did too, so that ‘port’ had become ‘part’.
The drinks weren’t over. ‘Commuting by deep sing[L]es joint avoids drunken cajoling (7)’ Our grid was becoming populated and removing J (joint) from CAJOLING* conveniently fitted COALING. That had to provide the L of VIOLETTA which we had to hunt for later but I am still mystified by the definition.
Our grid was three-quarters full before we were able to make sense of what we were doing. Before solving eight clues had to have ALL switched for ONE or ONE switched for ALL. “Ah, said the other Numpty – it’s DUMAS, the Three Musketeers ‘All for one and one for all’” – and sure enough, DUMAS had appeared on the third row of our grid. We changed DONEES to DALLES (meaning RAPIDS – a new word for us) PHONE-IN for PHALLIN, SCONE for SCALL (another new word) THRALLS for THRONES, STALL for STONE, ONE-EYED for ALLEYED, SHALL for SHONE and BALLS for BONES. Things were looking up!
We needed eight examples of simply an A changing to an O or the inverse. The Polish cap – CZAPKA – gave us our first, CAP/COP and the others followed quickly; SCALDS/SCOLDS, ROCKET/RACKET, SHACK/SHOCK, PORT/PART, PRAM/PROM, BOLD/BALD and the rather obvious BAX for BOX. Of course, commenting on the clumsiness of that last one makes me realize what a massive task of compilation Ottorino had taken on and how well he had generally concealed his subtle manipulations.
The other Numpty is a physicist so I am always astonished when he comes out with detailed literary and musical knowledge but he had no problem here. “It was Dumas’ fils – his son – who wrote ‘La Dame Aux Camélias‘, and there’s SON in the grid, so C must be VERDI who put it to music as La Traviata” he declared. Of course, with my usual delight at finding real words after a manipulation, I replaced DUMAS with VERDI and it was immediately obvious that POPADUM had become POPAVER, which clearly had to change to PAPAVER, giving us AMARANT in the place of AMORANT. VIOLETTA was clearly the Italian name we were discovering in our extra letters (beVy, plIant, pOops, singLes, ripE, Tone, Tin and bAulk) so we had our plants (nice title!)
All that was left to do was to highlight VERDI’s collaborator in the grid. With my usual nod of thanks to Google, I found PIAVE, and, sure enough, there he was. This truly was impressive compilation. Many thanks, Ottorino!