Awful by Towser
Posted by shirleycurran on 5 February 2016
A large grid! That was our first reaction. However, the preamble was relatively concise and didn’t cause us too much anxiety. We were going to be looking for twelve clues that had wordplay only, sharing a common definition, and we were going to modify those entries in a way that was to be suggested by a five-word phrase. “Probably down the leading diagonal” was my first comment. There was to be a thematic omission wherever possible, too.
Well, the omission wasn’t alcohol. I quickly did my usual check to confirm that Towser retains his place in the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Club and didn’t need to read beyond the first clue, ‘Rum affair with time for right rum (6)’ I like the way ‘rum’ appeared as an anagram indicator as well as the drink. “What’s TAFFIA?” I ask the other Numpty. “Some sort of West Indies’ rum.” Gin comes next. “Facetiously opposed to a drink (4) (AGIN) and then we have a bit of aristocratic tippling with an earl having to be restrained, ‘Keeps in drunk earl (8)’. Aah, that gives us PEKINESE and there’s no definition. Are we in doggie country for the theme?
Our suspicion is soon confirmed as our grid speedily fills and we encounter a POMERANIAN, GREAT DANE, KERRY BLUE, BEAGLE, BULLDOG, BASSET, SHIH TZU, SPANIEL, POINTER, BOAR HOUND and, of course, the SETTER (Towser – that’s a dog isn’t it?) but our early words in the top right hand corner of the grid have already demonstrated to us why several of the lights are shorter than the solutions. Perhaps it was that lucky spotting of SAFARI PARK, intersecting with REKISSED, REPAY and AFARA, that showed us that we needed to omit all Rs from our entries.
All the same, our dogs, even when the KERRY BLUE had lost his Rs, were too long for their kennels. Then light dawned. No, it wasn’t “Who let the dogs out?” With a hoot of glee, we recognise the joke that was my two sons’ favourite many, years ago. “My dog has no nose.” “How does he smell?” “Frightful!” (They were in the Primary section of the Geneva International School and determined to share what they thought was a hilarious joke. The school is multi-national with a number of languages and they had an early lesson in linguistics when they understood that the joke depends on the humorous use of a verb that can be both transitive and intransitive – ‘smell’ doesn’t work that way in other languages!)
Sure enough, there was the five-word line in the leading diagonal. With its help we soon had a full grid and only one query. Why were we omitting all the Rs. What have Rs to do with dogs? Chambers to our rescue. ‘R, sometimes called the ‘dog letter’ from the trilling of the tip of the tongue in its pronunciation in rhotic accents’. Hmm – what does that mean? Well, it certainly suffices to explain the game. Many thanks, Towser (Owser?).
Some time later a friend has enlightened me about that R, pointing me towards Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I should have remembered that comment of the Nurse in the rather salacious scene with Romeo and Mercutio sparring wittily.