Cycle 20% More by Smudge
Posted by shirleycurran on 25 March 2016
I quite like the way the levels of Listener difficulty are varied from week to week so you never know whether you’ll be done by 9 on Friday evening or still be sweating over it till Monday. I suppose this raises the whole question of how challenging and time-consuming Listener puzzles should be. Had we but world enough and time …
The title of Smudge’s ‘Cycle 20% More’ told us nothing at all. Were we meeting a new setter who is a fanatical ‘Green recycler’ or a seasoned setter sheltering himself (herself – I’m perpetually hoping that a few more lady setters are lurking in the wings) under a new identity to deflect all the flak that he/she suspects will come his/her way when solvers see his/her astonishing grid with three unches in six and strings of open lights? One seasoned solver commented to me “This will have to be something special to get past the editors with that atrocious grid!”
Half an hour after downloading the puzzle we had re-read the preramble (it was one wasn’t it!) and solved a mere eight clues and I hadn’t even checked whether Smudge earns his/her entry ticket to the Listener Tipsy Gang – so a check was due and I didn’t need to read far down those clues (with their sometimes highly implausible surface readings; if I said “Girl in family circle keeping bit of jumbly sofa and tree”, they’d think dementia has set in).
What do I find? ‘Lawfully gobbed spot of alcohol, 50% proof (3)’ We decided this was A(lcohol) + TE(st) giving ATE and that the L was moving into ‘gobbLed’ meaning that ‘Awfully’ had to exit the clue. I think Smudge will be staggering ‘awfully’ at the setters’ dinner in Windsor next weekend if he is into 50% proof! Next I find ‘Glass with whisky is often halved slate (6)’ We move the S here producing ‘late’ as the word to exit and S with MALT O, which Chambers tells me is coloured glass. Yes, I’m writing this blog in retrospect, when we had realized that those exiting words (WANED, DECEASED, GONE, WRAITH, LATE, JUMBY, HAUNT, SPIRIT and so on), are all, as the preamble told us, ‘loosely thematic and must be discarded’.
A music expert has explained this to me saying of the last two Gilbert and Sullivan creations that the song that gives the discovery that resolves the plot has the line, ‘The Ace is lowest, lowest, lowest, so you’re the gho-est, gho-est, gho-est’ (not one of WSG’s finest moments, though the generally overlooked last two have very good music).” he added. However, at this stage, we simply noted that lots of dead, deceased and wraith-like characters were leaving our clues.
In retrospect, too, I realize that Smudge had a BARMAN pulling a pint in clue 2d. ‘Weak thing that baRman may pull with note for its top (5)’ with the ‘baTWOman’ moving in from clue 33d, shedding the TWO to be used in the endgame and taking in an R as part of TENETS SURELY, as well as giving us FA + [p]INT = weak. and he was into the rum babas too! A definite entry ticket to the LTG with this mixture of malt, beer and rum!
What a stroke of luck that the letters that seemed to be moving in those across clues gave us A S SULLIVAN. GILBERT had to be there and as we were told that ‘the moved letters show the Creators going their separate ways’, we looked in the opposite direction and teased out WilliaM S Gilbert. Wikipedia time as usual in our Listener solves. What was their last production before they went their separate ways? Not my father’s favourites that I know well, The Mikado or the rather lovely Iolanthe, but a relative flop, The Grand Duke – and as I read the plot, my thought was ‘No wonder!’ Still, it did talk about the STATUTORY DUEL (which was likely to be the ‘thematic Contest’ that was to be revealed), the secret Sign which was eating a SAUSAGE ROLL (so we knew that sausages were going to ‘roll’ and were probably jumbled in ‘five rows of the filled grid’). Even better, we learned that the ‘discovery that resolves the Plot’ and dethrones The Grand Duke is that Aces count low in the ‘Statutory duel’ and that he has not, therefore, in the contest for the title, drawn the winning card.
I have been blogging this puzzle for at least five years, ever since Chris Lancaster asked for more contributors. My response, then, was ‘Sure, I’ll write blogs but they will probably be blogs about failing to solve’. (To which his response was ‘No problem, they would be just as valuable as blogs about successful solving’). The Numpties have made a few errors since then but never ‘failed to solve’ – even the Sabre Knights’ moves or Mash’s Klein Bottle. However, until that p.d.m. of the Aces dropping to the bottom of clues, I was despairing of completing this one. Suddenly we began to enjoy it as crossing letters helped us to solve clues and the grid filled.
As we were confident that THE GRAND DUKE had to go into 1across, we could almost side-step the complicated moving of words in the down clues and the extraction of parts to change the PFDFMJESTTCD of 1ac. and leave the jumbled letters of TENETS SURELY, though we still had to link clues 1 to 12 with the remainder to tease out the solutions.
A fellow setter who laboriously worked out this complicated step gave me his findings: FOURier -> Tier/ baTWOman -> baRman / lAgs -> lEgs/ babAs -> babEs/ FIVE-bar -> T-bar/ Quit -> Suit/ adeNINE -> adeN/ sKim -> sLim/ subJection -> subSection/ slEIGHT-> slY/ mAst -> mUst/ Ass -> Ess, which, of course, tell us that to those letters we had to add were 4, 2, A=1, A=1, 5, Q =17, 9, K=11, J=10, A=1, 8 and A=1. and leave the jumbled letters of TENETS SURELY.
A sausage hunt ensued. This was verging on the ridiculous – but then, so was that plot, and, of course, we speedily spotted SAVELOY, SAUSAGE, BALONEY and LORNE and my newest edition of Mrs Bradford’s gem gave us CORN DOG. Making those adjustments revealed the STATUTORY DUEL and we breathed an immense sigh of relief and returned to normal life.
What an unusually critical Numpty blog and, in truth, I am very impressed indeed by the ingenuity of the compilation, the vast amount of relevant material incorporated, and the superb use of this rather obscure theme. Perhaps it could have been made a little less tortuous, though, by removing a step or two? These were some of the toughest clues I’ve ever encountered and I imagine a number of solvers are still head-scratching. So many thanks, Smudge. Dare I say that we’ll look forward to your next compilation or should I say we’ll dread it?