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Listener No. 4377: Russian Roulette by Rasputin

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 January 2016

This was Rasputin’s second Listener, following on from No. 4188 Painless back in 2012 with it’s Old Vicarage theme. I had inside information that this would be a tricky puzzle, and I hoped that the title didn’t indicate that there was a 1 in 6 chance that I would shoot myself in the foot.

Listener 4377Here we had clashes in a thematic area of the grid, and Ras was kind enough to tell us there were twelve of them. Clues to all entries wholly or partially in this area had an extra letter in the wordplay which would help us with the first step in the endgame. Although we weren’t given the bars in the diagram, I pencilled them in anyway… it wouldn’t hurt and it might help.

1ac Abstractions of rotten incisors with pliers succeeded without using dodgy central part of drill (12) was probably an anagram (of INCISORS+PLIERS+S -RIL*), and a bit of doodling with —nesses and then —sions led to PRESCISSIONS within two minutes. I carried on with the acrosses in the hope that Ras was being charitable with straightforward clues, and was rewarded with 11 ROSEAL and 12 TALBOT.

It seemed perverse not to tackle the downs at this point. 1 Getting into tender, somehow reinsert more than 500 sheets (12, two words) beginning PR soon gave me PRINTER’S REAM. I noted that, whereas printer’s devil refers to the entry under devil, there is no such reference to printer’s ream being under ream. I fired off a letter to Chambers. (And who on earth decided that one of those consisted of 516 sheets of paper?)

2 RONEO, 3 SEA EEL and 5 ILK were soon slotted into place, as was 9 NOSE UP, but I couldn’t for the life of me work out why. Tackling the other 12-letter entries around the grid, 42 Four marks associated with uredines affected plant (12) was plainly an anagram of four marks (MMMM) and UREDINES, although I needed Mrs B to provide MIDSUMMERMEN. (The answer to 10dn would have to wait before it was revealed as STORM LANTERN.)

I cracked a few more clues before having to postpone my solve. All in all, not a bad trawl for my first hour’s work, but no clashes and only two extra wordplay letters to hint at the thematic area. At this point, I was guessing that it would be a circular area (perhaps a gun cylinder) and probably in the centre of the grid. I was also guessing that I would crack the grid with another one hour session the following day.

Wrong! It took the best part of another three hours. Gradually the message was being spelt out, and I could see that we were in Eliot territory again (following on from Salamanca’s Four Quartets a short while ago). the wtela— enabled me to identify The Waste Land as the source of the text for the day. This seemed to be an extremely long poem starting with “April is the cruellest month…” and consisting of five sections. Closer scrutiny would have to wait.

In full, the message read Title of part two of Eliot’s The Waste Land, and that was A Game of Chess. This was also provided by the letters to be rejected in the clashing squares.


Using those letters to index the clues gave ALEKHINE’S GUN, and a bit of googling identified it as either a cold war shoot ’em up computer game or a double-rook queen attacking position in chess. I had heard of Alekhine (though not his gun), so guessed we were talking chess.

Getting rid of the non-chess letters in the central 8×8 square left the final position in the game that spawned the phrase: Alexander Alekhine against Aron Nimzowitsch in 1930. On this page, Wiki does not give the final position. I eventually found the full game at

That just left 9dn NOSE UP to fully understand: Pull joystick back to achieve this sheer height over Lerwick, once wings almost rigid (6, two words). Pull joystick back to achieve this was the definition, with NOUP sheer height (steep headland) over Lerwick, once (obsolete Shetland word) wings (provides side pieces for) almost rigid (SE[T]). Easy, really!

Listener 4377 My EntryA wonderful puzzle from the Rasputin team, bringing together the two disparate themes of TS Eliot and chess. And note how the structure of the puzzle was helped by ‘Alekhine’s Gun’ and ‘A Game of Chess’ both having 12 letters, with the latter not containing any of the letters used for chess pieces (P, R, N, B, Q or K).

Roll on their next œuvre.

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