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XL by Harpy

Posted by shirleycurran on 26 Feb 2016

In Pangaea 00313 X 13 – that didn’t seem to be extra large so we decided the XL must refer to 40 something or other. However, the preamble was just a little bit XL and gave us a lot to think about. We had already realized that we had here a grid with no clue numbers – one with rather odd asymmetrical bars where the clues had to be entered jigsaw-fashion, and a set of clues that didn’t exactly match the word-lengths of the available lights. It got worse: in Group A clues, a letter was to be inserted before solving and these letters were to give us the first three words of a quotation and an instruction regarding some of the EMPTY CELLS! Yes, thirteen empty cells.

That was not all. There were to be unclued lights as well and when we had used that little set of Group B clues, we were going to mangle our grid in some way in order to remove the 13 connected cells.

One of the bloggers on the Times for the Times website, this week, amused me by commenting on the surprising bibulosity of crossword compilers. I would say that a pre-ramble like that one calls for a stiff drink and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few solvers ended the evening somewhat worse for wear. However, I needed to check on the bibulosity of Harpy’s clues and he speedily confirmed his membership of the Listener Setters’ Tipsy Team with ‘Abandoned one owing to bride’s bubby (7)’ Well, that had to be bubbLy didn’t it? (giving TO BRIDE* = DEBITOR) It really has come to something when even the anagram indicators are boozy words!

Harpy was then with the New Orleans crooks sKipping a half in snugs (5)’ (giving NO [cro]OKS) and not much further down he has shifted to SECO, ‘Description of some winEs in write up of process (4)’ (hidden).  Onto the beer next, ‘Get pOint and drink, pet (4)’ producing S + SNOG = SNOG. Not surprisingly, by the time we got to the Group B clues, Harpy was indulging in ‘Personal share of turnip spirit (3)’ (I’m not sure what the turnip was doing there but that gave us DIV). Cheers! See you at the bar in March, Harpy!

Indeed these were not ‘Stripey horse (5)’ or ‘Alas tit consumed wine (4)’ -style clues. Having colour-coded our grid and clue lengths, we lumbered our way half way down the clues with little hope of a grid fill, though an interesting Y– F– COUNTRY; FILL FIVE CELLS … fairly easily appeared from the extra letters we were inserting. Full praise to a compiler who escapes from the routine of ‘An extra letter in the wordplay in addition to those to be entered into the grid …’ or ‘A misprint in the definition part of the clue blah, blah, blah, …’ However, the result of a device like this one is a rather generous gift to the solver (and we needed one!) The question is whether these more difficult devices to implement are actually extra work for the compiler and less work for the solver.

I ambitiously began a grid fill when it seemed that CRENELLATIONS would fit our grid, intersecting with GAMIC and MONACTINE, and it seemed likely that the centre column would be the ’empty thirteen cells’ which prompted me to enter OXEYED-AISIES along the bottom of the grid. We were away and a relatively speedy gridfill followed with some rather odd unclued words appearing. MALES? PAAN? ARIA? UKE? PORAL? (Yes, hindsight has filled some gaps in those!) There was a moment’s doubt about IN-CALF which appeared as two words IN CALF under ‘calf‘ in Chambers but had its own hyphenated entry in the I section. I wonder whether little errors like that will be corrected in the new edition that is about to appear.

In Pangaea 002LOST CONTENT seemed to be appearing too – and didn’t that tinkle a very distant bell? Out came the ODQ and on page 416 of my lovely Seventh Edition with the Klimt Water Serpents on the cover, I find ‘Into my heart an air that kills/ From yon far country blows/ What are those blue remembered hills/ What spires, what farms are those? Ah, it’s from A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad No 40, so it looks as though we are on the right track. Are we, then, somehow going to be entering hills, spires and farms? That is our first thought.

Reading on, (as we are told to do in the preamble) we encounter ‘That is the land of LOST CONTENT’ and those two unclued entries are justified. Justified but not explained. With an almost full grid, time for another G & T and a bit of head scratching. We haven’t paid a lot of attention to those Group B clues but they clearly hold the key. These are almost ‘Stripey horse (5)’ clues, a double definition, DIV, a homophone, KIST, a regular letter clue, MEN, another DD, REIN and a reversal clue, TUG; but where are we going to put these letters. Aaaah! Light dawns and we suddenly understand what that unclued PAAN was doing: PAKISTAN, MALDIVES, ARMENIA, UKRAINE and PORTUGAL. My admiration for Harpy takes an immense leap – this is brilliant! And it gets better.

Our instruction told us to FILL FIVE CELLS TO MAKE THEME WORDS. We find SPAIN, CONGO, HUNGARY, KOREA and LAOS and realize that we have to fill one more cell ‘doubly’ turning CONTENT into CONTINENT and that central column spells IN PANGAEA. I chop my grid into two. It’s easier than attempting to do a triple fold and we were told to remove those 13 cells ‘eg by folding’, so I hope cutting and pasting is acceptable – this puzzle certainly was. Superb, thank you, Harpy!

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