The title of Waterloo’s Literal Spling was quite a hefty hint wasn’t it? I was going to write HFTY hint but decided that I would be incapable of pursuing that line for very long so entertained myself, instead, by reading through Waterloo’s clues to confirm that he retains his place with the Listener imbibers and, of course, he didn’t disappoint, opting, almost from the start for high-class sherry. ‘The Spanish sherry, unfinished, with delicate charm (4)’ gave us EL FIN(o) which we decided to enter as LFIN.
We had already decided that there was an ELL missing from the heart of ‘Literal Spling’ (though first thoughts led us to wonder whether all the Ls were to change to Rs and Rs to Ls giving Literal Spring, for example). We also counted clue lengths, of course, and established that in this non-symmetrical grid with its astonishing two-letter solutions, the solutions were, all but one (‘Game using initials sound like two letters on the menu (4)’ = ICE PIE “heard” = I SPY, which we entered as ISPI) shorter than the given word-lengths.
What we had to do was fairly obvious, though we bickered about some of the entries. For example, an obvious anagram ‘Signed, rearranging details, eg cut (12)’ gave GESTICULATED. We had to enter that as G + S(ess) TI + Q(ue) LATED. However, we were entering the second I of I SPY phonetically as I, so why not enter the first G of GESTICULATED phonetically too as J? That’s how it appears in Chambers – ah, but then we look up G in Chambers and find that it is pronounced ‘je’. Why too, we wondered, were we entering a couple of Es in PRES + N (en) TIMENT? Wouldn’t PRSNTIMNT suffice? (especially as the ‘enn’ in DECENTRALISE was entered as N – DCNTRALISE). It was all mildly disconcerting!
Equally disconcerting was that southern R. ‘Exclude elephant stripped of degree (3)’ We had to remove a degree (BA) from BABAR, leaving BAR (to exclude). Perhaps in the south that is pronounced B + ar and the arrr is even rolled in Scots, but where I come from, we don’t hear that final ‘ar’ at all – think of a 5-barred gate (‘five baaed’ you would hear in the Dales – it’s a question of whether the tip of your tongue moves up isn’t it?)
Waterloo’s clues were generous and caused us little anguish. They even gave us a few smiles. SA (essay) being the solution to ‘Lamb product, perhaps? Yes a singular stew (5)’, when we were expecting a chop or a leg of lamb. and ‘River – wild rush, but no gold (5)’ giving T[OR]RENT, which we entered as TRNT.
I was surprised to see ‘Former partner and listless musician are exceptionally good (5)’ giving EXCEL (entered as XL) where ‘listless’ referred to losing the LIST from CELLIST. We don’t often see that device in a Listener crossword. But then, I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like this, so must just hope we got it right and congratulate Waterloo on his originality.