Listener No. 4385: PD by Dragon
Posted by Dave Hennings on 4 March 2016
Another newbie hit the streets this week, and he sounded a fearsome creature. What’s more, he was following in Harpy’s footsteps last week with a very economical title that really didn’t give anything away apart from the across clue type… thanks, Dragon!
So, Printer’s Devilry for the acrosses; it would be interesting to see how the 13-letter entry in the middle of the grid would be revealed. The art of a PD clue is to give enough of a hint in the undevilled part to enable the solver to get some sort of idea as to what the full clue (not the entry) might be. (According to the Listener Crossword site, Printer’s Devilry was invented by Afrit in 1937.)
Looking at 1ac Hard work through Holy Week leads towel/coaster day (9), the reference to Holy Week should give a clue to Easter, and ‘to welcoME…Easter’ would be a good stab at what was going on. Of course, seeing that the entry had only 7 squares for the 9-letter answer gave this clue added mystery. Presumably, it was one of the four that needed to be “digitally enhanced”. Pencilling ME in the first two squares, I tried 26ac A diva that belting’s like Ethel Merman (13). My first guess was that ‘belting’ would hide the split, with ‘belts out’ something in the original. I decided to move on to the downs.
These needed thematic treatment, but at least the wordplay reflected the entry. 1dn Primarily more extreme and recklessly foolish (6) looked like it should be MEAR with ‘foolish’ being the definition. Pass! Next came 2 Earwig proves flexible under casing of elytra (9) and EAVES[D]ROP went into the grid. This was followed by STE[DD] and ASPHO[D]EL.
So, Ds were being dropped, and a quick look at my calendar showed that we were near the anniversary of Decimalisation in the UK on 15 February 1971. I remember it well since, at the time, I worked in the IT department of a British bank (not that it was called IT back then) and there was a lot of work in upgrading all the systems over the weekend, ready for Monday the 15th.
Anyway, back to Dragon, and I re-evaluated 1dn which looked like an &lit. clue, being an anagram of the initial letters to give MA[DD]ER. I solved a few more, such as PRE[D]ATE[D] and LAPSE[D] and confidently entered them in the grid. I also had another go at 26 with its H now in place to give SOUTH…, and a sneaky peek in Chambers revealed that the diva who ‘beltS OUT HER LINES, Sings like Ethel Merman’. (I loved her in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.)
In hindsight, I was perhaps lucky not to solve any on the right side of the grid too early. DIAPASE, PODESTA and PEDATE could easily have been entered with the wrong letter dropped, although the wordplay should have avoided that. It was 7ac that made me suspicious: Vanderbilt was a tycoon. Who has to invest? (6) looked as though the split would be in ‘has’, and ‘had …’ seemed plausible (but ‘oodles’ would have to wait).
I also thought that the break in 12ac Campaign speeches help but tows are needed (6) would give ‘but to win …s are needed’, and a bit of perseverance enabled INDEED to be (tentatively) slotted in. So was it back to square one? I now had two Ds in down entries that were supposed to be dropped.
Luckily 7dn came to my rescue with DIAPASE needing to lose its P, and the title suddenly took on added significance. I had initially discounted it as an anagram of ‘A ideas’ because of that D. Instead, we had both Ps and Ds dropping like flies from different halves of the grid.
As I worked my way through the down clues, some looked as though they were actually PDs, eg 10 Footy match arranged online? (6) and 34 Suck it, enjoying rickey — it’s the tops! (6)!
Others took a bit of thought to fully parse. 8dn This mayor’s no longer active — different in today’s Rome (7) was [P]ODESTA, a composite anagram: (ODESTA + MAYOR – A)* = TODAYS ROME. 9dn, on the other hand, just had a devious surface reading with Around the earth’s axis perhaps, a waste layer? (9) for DES[P]OILER was DEER (axis) around SOIL (earth) and was definitely my favourite clue. For inventiveness, I also liked 27dn Academic that is in cycling quartet from beyond Quebec (7) for STU[D]IER (cyclic IE in RSTU (four letters after Q)).
I must say here that I wasn’t happy with 19dn Beatle, we hear, old rocker, animated (8): S[P]IRI (betel!!) + TED. It seemed to be an indirect homophone, and we all know that indirect anagrams are a no-no. How would you like this clue: Jack in queue for an audience with the Queen? STICK (cue, sounds like queue) + ER! Still, I solved it.
Eventually, I had a full grid, and the central 15dn was completed as [P]ENNY[D]RO[PP]ING. The unclued 6dn and 39dn currently stood as just 1• and •1, courtesy of MERESTONE and ONE-SEATER at 1ac and 42ac respectively. These formed the four entries that needed to be digitally enhanced. With 8 and 10 letters respectively, the two unclued downs could only be NINETEEN and SEVENTY-ONE… 1971.
And looking back, I noticed that, not only did Ds and Ps drop from the left and right of the grid, but every column had an entry with the other letter. That must have been some grid to design.
All in all a very enjoyable puzzle from Dragon with lots of thematic pennies. Thanks too for the trip down memory lane.