Listener 4377: Russian Roulette by Rasputin
Posted by Jaguar on 8 January 2016
The penultimate puzzle of 2015, and as it’s a Rasputin (a trio of setters, including regular blogger Shirley), I’ve stepped in for a change. As I type this it’s the last weekend in Edinburgh before I go home for Christmas. Maybe 2016 I’ll start picking up crossword puzzling more regularly again, as it’s been a quiet year. But who cares about that really? On with the puzzle.
Rasputin, as I mentioned, is made of three setters better known as Artix, Ilver and Chalicea. Their work’s been around for the last six years or so, across the set of thematic series, but their first Listener, Painless, came three years ago and was far too tough for a fledgling solver as I was then. Better luck this time?
No bars in the initial grid? Argh! But luckily that soon turned out to be for artistic reasons rather than this being a genuine carte blanche or some such, so mainly I was bothered by that warning about twelve clashes. Still, better get cracking, and before too long it seemed likely that the “thematic area” was the 8*8 square in the middle of the grid, as the long perimeter clues turned out to be generous anagrams without that extra letter somewhere. So, the gridfill ticked along steadily, but after a couple of hours or so and with most of the grid filled I had only found the one clash. Time for a quick break.
Of course the cluing was tough, but fair, as you’d expect, but annoyingly the really tough ones also seemed to coincide with where the clashes were. It took some time to break into those awkward definitions in the middle, like 4dn CASE ((Eu)c[l]ase), 23ac LOPE (L + [P]ope( and 14ac SELLS (L in Se[i]ls), among the last I solved and containing fully five clashes between them, as it happened. Still, long before I’d cracked these the extra letters I’d managed to find seemed to finish with “Waste Land” — and, with the luck of a TS Eliot puzzle only three weeks ago, I’d only just come across the work (waste land = toilets? it seemed a good idea at the time…). Quite fortunate, and returning to the wiki page saw “A Game of Chess” jump out as the “title of part two”. The clashes I’d found by then featured a lot of Ps and Rs — or pawns and rooks — and the chain of PDMs had started well and proper.
It’s nice to have a preamble that guides you so unambiguously as to what to do next, isn’t it? As a bit of a chess fan, I only needed the first three letters ALE from the remaining 12 clues to guess that it was something to do with that great champion Alekhine, and GUN followed soon after. A little head-scratching, but it sounded familiar, and a google search later I found the relevant game, where the “gun” is the powerful alignment of two rooks and queen pointing down a file. The first game it was used had a position that aligned suspiciously with the various clashes, Rs and Qs etc. So that was the final PDM, and the remaining solve was working backwards from the final position to find the remaining clashes — neatly clearing up CASE, for example.
So a bit of an odd solve, meeting in roughly the middle after working out what the end position would look like, and quite a challenge! But a lovely final position, lovely theme (chess but not too boring chess), and some fine cluing from the trio.
Quick historical note: Alekhine’s notes for the game apparently stop a few moves earlier from the position depicted, so the final position isn’t necessarily the correct one. But there’s no harm in continuing a few moves to illustrate the point of Alekhine’s play at the end, when the “gun” is ready to fire as Black is forced to let his guard down.
For those chess geeks among you I’ve included the full game and some very brief annotations:
Alekhine-Nimzowitsch, San Remo 1930
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.Bd2 Ne7 6.Nb5 Bxd2+ 7.Qxd2 O-O 8.c3 b6? totally un-necessary, and the time lost from this ends up being fatal 9.f4 Ba6 10.Nf3 Qd7 11.a4 Nbc6 12.b4 cxb4 13.cxb4 Bb7? again far too passive, Black should try …Nf5 to put pressure on the d-pawn 14.Nd6 f5 15.a5 Nc8 16.Nxb7 Qxb7 17.a6 Qf7 18.Bb5 N8e7 19.O-O h6 20.Rfc1 White now begins to set up a deadly battery along the open c-file 20. …Rfc8 21.Rc2 Qe8?? the knight on c6 is now trapped, and white is free to build up at his leisure. 21. …Nd8 was necessary. 22.Rac1 Rab8 23.Qe3 Rc7 24.Rc3 Qd7 25.R1c2 Kf8 26.Qc1 the last piece of the “gun” arrives in place. 26. …Rbc8 27.Ba4 b5 28.Bxb5 Ke8 29.Ba4 Kd8 all of Black’s pieces are tied down, and if any of them moves White can fire his gun and blow through. Now to force the issue, White need only wait. 30.h4! Alekhine’s final masterstroke, soon leaving Black with nothing to do except lose 30. …h5 31.Kh2 g6 32.g3 1-0 Now Black must move a piece away from the defence of the knight on c6 or the rook on c7 (known in the trade as “zugzwang”).