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Listener No. 4384: XL by Harpy

Posted by Dave Hennings on 26 February 2016

In case you didn’t know, Harpy is the combined pseudonym of two setters — Charybdis and Ploy — each of whom has a long line of puzzles notched up under their own name. That said, this is only the second Harpy Listener, the first being based on a Shelley quotation and resulting in us having to shade a map of Venice in the grid.

Listener 4384This week, the clues were in two groups, A and B. A clues were in alphabetical order of their answers and needed a letter inserting before solving. Most clues were Group A, just five being in Group B which led to words which didn’t seem destined to end up in the grid!

More importantly, there would initially be 13 empty cells after the grid was complete. There were three 13-letter entries in the diagram, but only one 12- and one 13-letter answer. My money was on the central down entry being left vacant, with across entries straddling it. Only time would tell.

I decided to take the clues slowly, rather than initially whizz through them all quickly. The first was Is not, to an extent, going the wrong way round a racecourse (7), and while AINTREE seemed the logical answer, my first guess at the missing letter was ‘a’ to make ‘around’. I wasn’t happy with that, so looked up e’er/ever and saw that ‘any’ made more sense.

The second clue Man long ago might have started with this huge number between one and a thousand (5) (don’t worry, there isn’t going to be a paragraph for every clue!) was ALACK with Moan long ago might have started with this being the definition.

After about 30 minutes, I had reached clue 15, and the letters inserted into the clues I had solved spelt out Yo••a•cou•tryfi. Normally, I would carry on and solve all the clues before looking at what was being spelt out in any message, but country here was just too tempting. My ODQ index didn’t have anything under country beginning ‘yo…’, but near the top of the page was ‘From yon far country’, and we had AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad no. 40 (XL):

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

Another 30 minutes and I was half way through the clues with only had three gaps. I had already put CRENELLATIONS into the end column, and had just sorted out clue 21 Sexual activity almost is pointless with cap on (5) GAM[E] + IS – S (ie pointless) + C (cape) to go top right.

It seemed likely that AMBIANCE would go into row 3 with MONACTINE crossing it, and gradually the grid began to take shape. It still took another two hours to finish off the clues and fill the grid. The last thing to sort out before embarking on the endgame was to resolve clue 10 Roofing material to move like a sail snail in an emergency (8, three words) which at first looked like AT AN INCH with NAAN crossing the first N. It is defined as ‘(Shakesp) ready at hand’, but the wordplay made no sense — indeed nothing really did. Of course it was AT A PINCH.

In full, the letters inserted in the clues spelt out Yon far country and Fill five cells to make theme words. It took no time to complete SPAIN, CONGO, HUNGARY, KOREA and LAOS to give PANGAEA in the central column. LOST CONTENT were the two unclued entries “from the same source”.

I had found the Group B a bit tricky, but they eventually provided words to augment the remaining unclued entries: MALES + DIV = MALDIVES; PAAN + KIST = PAKISTAN; ARIA + MEN = ARMENIA; UKE + RAIN = UKRAINE; PORAL + TUG = PORTUGAL.

Slotting IN above PANGAEA gave LOST CONTINENT and we had to go back in time to eradicate the five countries that we had created by getting rid of that central column. I used scissors and Sellotape®.

Listener 4384 My EntryThis was fantastic stuff, as you’d expect from these two experts. So much thematic material that surely AE Housman had this puzzle in mind when he wrote the poem!

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