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Trapped by Eck

Posted by shirleycurran on 1 January 2016

EckEck’s preamble produced mild disquiet. We were going to look for either a missing letter or a letter added in each clue and these were going to lead to two different messages, a relevant location and clues to the identity of the puzzle’s subject. Mildly daunting – and it was still daunting even when we had completed the puzzle and worked out the endgame and looked for the location of that quotation from my favourite play and found it in ACT TWO, SCENE TWO, as we still had to find those hints to HAMLET in the extra letters.

This is backward solving, as we clearly didn’t really need LITTLE PIG, GREAT DANE, or MOUSETRAP WRITER, but we did have to work those out just to make sure that we were not missing some obscure final requirement, say to translate the entire puzzle into Danish or Sanskrit or alphanumeric characters.

However, I consoled myself by checking for Eck’s continued membership of the Listener Compilers’ Boozy Gang and he didn’t disappoint with ‘Mark stood behind son, drinking weak, stale pints (6)’ (OCHE S round W giving OWCHES – rather odd since OWCHE leads the solver to OUCH(1) in Chambers, which is ‘an exclamation of pain’, and clearly Eck intends us to parse this as STALE PIN[T]S and OUCH(2) is an archaic word for ‘a brooch’ – an error or is my BRB out of date?), then, not surprisingly after those stale pints, ‘Cara’s drunk luminous discharge (3)’ giving CAR[A]* = ARC. Not an encouraging dose of alcohol but “Cheers” anyway Eck, see you in the bar..

Though we now encountered an accomplished set of clues, solving wasn’t easy and we were mystified by ‘Prat receiving short stroke finally tenders for part of track (6)’ which somehow had to give a word to complete T?R?IL. Neither Chambers nor TEA could offer a solution. Fortunately the unclued lights 27 of 45 46 emerged as A KING of INFINITE SPACE and, with a murmur of delight, I was directed to Hamlet ‘O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams …’ and it took only a moment to find a NUT?SHELL lurking in the grid with ‘DREAMS’ anagrammed (bad) within it.

Problem solved – or almost. We were solving away from home and with no ODQ but, since T-RAIL fulfilled the requirement of ‘One cell contains a non-alphanumeric character’, we guessed that the ODQ must have added a hyphen to the Hamlet quotation and that A NUT-SHELL was to be highlighted and HAMLET be bounded inside it replacing his ‘bad dreams’. Nice one, Eck. I so appreciate replacement in crosswords when real words result – the sign of a master.

Yes, we still had to tease some clues to the identity of HAMLET out of those extra letters and finally we got that amusing LITTLE PIG GREAT DANE MOUSETRAP WRITER; I muttered about MOUSETRAP WRITER. Sure, it was a cunning red-herring leading the unsuspecting solver to Agatha Christie but it was not quite accurate for Hamlet (Yes, Hamlet is a bit of a fetish for me – I did spend my final university year reading from end to end of the shelves on Hamlet in Manchester’s library and there were hundreds of them – probably still are).

No, Hamlet was not the ‘MOUSETRAP WRITER’: he has inserted a ‘dozen or sixteen lines’ into a familiar play, probably a revenge tragedy, The Murther of Gonzago, in his attempt to reveal his uncle’s guilt (though the play also hints that Gertrude is the ‘mouse’).

Still, apart from that grouse and the odd ‘Ouch’, we very much enjoyed Eck’s puzzle. Thank you Eck.

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2 Responses to “Trapped by Eck”

  1. dyste said

    Re OWCHES, the following comment appears at the beginning of the Listener website notes on ‘Eck’s puzzle:

    The answer “owches” at 1dn was defined by “stale pins”, ie the plural of the archaic “ouch2” (brooch). Chambers currently cross-references “owche” to “ouch1” (the expression of pain) but that is an error that arose in the 2003 edition, when the entries for “ouch1” and “ouch2” were switched and the “owche” cross-reference was never updated.

    This begs the question why didn’t the preamble say that one answer is defined according to earlier editions of Chambers.

  2. shirleycurran said

    I understand that Eck is going to give us a setter’s blog in which he will talk about this problem.

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