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Against Expectations by Duck

Posted by shirleycurran on 6 May 2016

Duck 001Duck? Well we all know who that is. When I was just beginning to compile, I read Don Manley’s Crossword Manual from cover to cover and appreciated it enormously, learning something new on almost every page. Surprisingly, though, apart from those in the Manual, I have solved very few of his crosswords and see, from Dave Hennings’ Crossword Database that Duck hasn’t had one in the Listener series since 2009, so this was a relatively new experience for us. It cannot be denied that we become accustomed to a setter’s style and that tends to help in solving his or her crosswords.

In his manual, Don describes the Listener crossword as a ‘cruciverbal Everest’ and comments, ‘If, however, you find the blizzards blowing too hard in your face or your mental oxygen running low, there is no disgrace in enjoying lesser peaks’. I have to admit that when, after an hour or more of solving, we had a mere dozen solutions in place, we were tempted to head to ‘lesser peaks’ (or resort to a strong drink – I had, of course, confirmed Duck’s membership of the Listener Setters’ Oenophile Club – but only just – with ‘Time to drink up – I will eat that ice cream (6)’ ((T+ALE)< in (E)GO)  giving GELATO).

Scanning the clues for that trace of alcohol, I couldn’t help admiring the economy of the setting style. ‘Duck’ ‘me’ and ‘I’ tended to figure large but so did a ‘topless mistress’, a ‘bag brewing tea’, a few sheep, a headless dog, a snake, parasites, thin fish (poisonous too) and a rodent (what sort of mental preoccupations does that list suggest!) – and all of that in a mere 36 clues. Even the 12X12 grid was surprisingly economical – but not so the difficulty.

Of course, all solvers quickly came up against the problem. ‘Doctrinaire colonist has hurried to the fore (6)’ was an easy clue to [S]PED + ANT = PEDANT and that confirmed DANGER at 2d. ‘Dreading changes, one avoided risk (6)’ but produced a clash with SISTER, ‘Topless mistress unsettled nun (6)’ which was apparently an anagram of (M)ISTRESS giving SISTER with an extra S. But it was not to be, was it!

Similar problems occurred with 8d where the letters of across solutions gave us N?PS?RC. How could that be a solution to ‘Male sheep in scripture forage for berries (7)’? and 18d, NOTS?IR -Tree-dwellers seen in Bristol sing ostentatiously (7)’. We were growing more and more puzzled and frustrated, especially when the message produced by extra letters in the across clues told us to SEEK LETTER MIXTURE (G). It sounded as though we were being prompted to look for jumbles. I only realized, some time after completing our solve, that the preamble prompted us to look for those jumbles in ‘the six “rogue” clues (the italics are mine) and, of course, those Newtonian apples were jumbled, with words that told us so, in the clues. (‘Topless misTRESS Unsettled nun’ giving us, for example, RUSSET jumbled, which ‘unsettled the ‘nun’ or SISTER of the word the clue originally led us to). Devious stuff, Duck!

Fortunately, it was the ‘hint to the answers’, GRAVITY DEFIED’ that led us to look for something going the wrong way, and sure enough, there were IDARED, RUSSET, CRISPIN, BRAMLEY, CODLIN and RIBSTON (at least, they were there once the penny/apple dropped with BRAMLEY and we consulted Wiki’s list of apples).

And what about those “rogue” clues? Well, with the help of friends, I have now sussed them all. DANGER (the risk) and SISTER, (the unsettled nun) were obvious, and BRAMBLE wasn’t too difficult (I set weekly cryptic for the leading farming national newspapers with its massive circulation, of which Duck is mildly belittling in his manual with his slightly comical remarks that “It is just possible that The Modern Lady’s Weekly (my invention) may want a puzzle or the Agricultural News, but don’t think you can start with The Times. … recognise that you’re at the bottom of the ladder.”) BRAMBLING is both ‘foraging for berries’ and ‘a little bird’ and regularly creeps into my ‘bottom of the ladder’ grids which have a bird nina (look up ‘ninas‘ in Duck’s manual!)

CLASSES resolved the ‘Girl may be seen in revolutionary’s lectures (7)’ with C[H]E’S (of course! Even Duck resorts to crossword platitudes) around LASS, and FLORIN was FLIN[T] round the conventional crossword OR, producing a rogue extra T. The last clue we solved must have been the most obvious of the lot – a ‘hidden’ OLINGOS in ‘Tree dwellers seen in BristOL [S]ING OStentatiously (7)’. I suppose I just didn’t expect a ‘hidden’ clue from Duck. Most editors limit us to just one in a crossword, maximum two, as they are supposedly too easy to solve.

So to summarise, those alternative answers to the rogue clues gave us:

DANGER = DREADING* less I with an extra D produced

SISTER = (m)ISTRESS* with an extra S 

BRAMBLE = BIBLE round RAM with an extra I

CLASSES = LASS in CHE’S with an extra H

OLINGOS = hidden in (in Brist)OL SING OS(tentatiously) with an extra S

FLORIN = OR in FLINT with an extra T

Of course, that is a weakness of this crossword. It was possible to solve the crossword and be confident of having a correct solution without understanding those rogue clues. There were lovely penny-drop moments for the solver who persisted with them, but I wonder how many solvers, as with KevGar’s Conversation two weeks ago, short-circuited the process and had to go back to those clues and maybe work them all out.

Thank you, Duck, for quite a challenge.

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2 Responses to “Against Expectations by Duck”

  1. Gail Busza said

    “Of course, that is a weakness of this crossword. It was possible to solve the crossword and be confident of having a correct solution without understanding those rogue clues.”

    Perhaps this weakness could have been avoided by having the extra letters of the rouge clues spelling something to be written under the grid, ensuring that they had to be solved. However, this was a great puzzle from Duck.

  2. Gail Busza said

    ROGUE, obviously!

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