It appears that there’s hard … there’s really hard… then there’s Sabre’s “Out of Line”. Perhaps apart from one or two in the depths of winter that sleep deprivation on the overnight Eurostar ski train has almost entirely successfully blotted from my memory, this feels like the toughest of 2016 so far.
After solving a few clues, the only clear way to ensure the clues successfully ‘check’ appears to be to assume they all have to be entered as jumbles of the answers. But won’t that require cold-solving of (almost) all 40 clues? That sounds a really tough slog! Is there something else (easier?)? Surely there is.
One of my earliest spots was noting the preponderance of Js (in fact, now I stop to look harder, of Japan). I wondered if that was relevant.
I’d luckily solved most of the SE corner early on – CLOCHE, REIKI, PINAS, DUMPLING, SACQUE &, by a stroke of good fortune, IRUKANDJIS. Given some of these crossing words had only one letter in common, I felt I was probably on safe ground putting those common letters in. With a couple more added it was beginning to look like the first letter was moving to second place – ECLOCH for CLOCHE for example. Perhaps it was Biblical, Buddhist, StarWars-ian (or even Hessian?)… with the last becoming first? Perhaps that might be called BASE-JUMPING, at a stretch? Only 11 letters though. What about one or two answers where it seemed the fourth letter was jumping to the front. Did it involve a TRIPLE JUMPER, perhaps? But at 33d DOG has become ODG. So no appearance fees for Jonathan Edwards (even though at least eight clues did prove to be treated (by chance) with the method of the TRIPLE-JUMPER. There proved to be at least 12 cases of BASE-JUMPING too). Maybe just any random letter goes to the front? Hmm.
Horrendously slow! After 24 hours had passed I had cold-solved only about a third of the clues and had only eight (yes 8!) out of 144 characters firmly in the grid.
So I solved some more, focusing where I could on the leading diagonal, given the Preamble’s comments. After a long while I had a word beginning with D, second letter I,S or T (presumably I), with lots of options for each letter. I re-filled the grid with only the early unambiguous letters following one pass through and with a hint at that Diagonal:
However, it did look as if it could well end in -ous. So how many 12-letter words are there in Chambers that begin di- & end -ous (seven, I hear you cry in unison!). Of these, only DISANALOGOUS, DISCOURTEOUS, DISINGENUOUS & DISPUTATIOUS look as if they could have even the slightest connection with the Title. Looking at the other letters I had as options, and knowing that some were due to change, it still looked much more like DISCOURTEOUS than any of the others. So if it was, then what letter changes would be needed? 12a’s R in the third letter-slot would need to change to an S (R->S) for example. If it was a random letter moving to the front then I also had likely changes of J->U, E->R and P->E. not many words fit that requirement – but JUMPERS does! Only seven letters though. The only 12-letter relevant word I could quickly come up with was QUEUE-JUMPERS (which, surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be in my BRB version – it’s in the ODE though), which certainly ties in with DISCOURTEOUS and with LINE in the Title. [Returning to an earlier theme it also ties in with French ski lift ‘queues’ too ;-)] Let’s assume those are true for now and see how it progresses.
Once I’d assumed that there was always one letter that pushed its way to the front of the queue/line/word, then fitting the words together could, by comparison with half an hour before at least, now have featured on #GBBO. This still left the SW corner looking distinctly snow-covered, with a lot of white to be seen.
It had now got past 8 a.m. on the Monday and I still had seven unsolved. Swallowing my pride, I sealed up the envelope which had been waiting optimistically with Hedge-sparrow’s excellent puzzle from the previous week in it and, instead of sending in two at once, felt duty bound to send in L4417 alone. In Listener terms that pretty much defines for me what Sherlock Holmes would have called ‘a three pipe problem’- this, for me at least, is hard!
So, what was I initially missing? In 18d’s
“With intimate embraces beginning to offend Muslim prince (8)”
it took me what seems like forever to double-check in the BRB that there wasn’t an obscure meaning of ‘with’. And there it was – BOOM-IRON! I was off again! My lack of recall about Holst’s the Planets meant I spent ages identifying NEPTUNE as the Mystic in question in 22d. And I spent too long in a rut automatically translating the word ‘online’ in 23d into ‘e…’. At the time of writing I still have one not fully parsed at 26a (whose definition I love) but it must be right and it’ll hopefully come to me. Can it really be Spanish-speaking on Peru’s Mount Veronica? I may well be missing something!
12 noon on Monday – finished!
The puzzle featured some great Wordplay and Definitions – I’ll highlight just three:
“Styles of calypso, American soul being introduced (5)” – what a superb clue (SOCAS).
“Silly billy taking penny from deposit! (8)” – for DUM(p) PLING – again fabulous, I think! I have seen ‘!’ as the Definition before (in that case the enumeration was (11,4) ) but not in wordplay as ‘pling’. As another aside, as a logical extension, I haven’t seen the clue:
x3 !!! (7)
yet (for TRIPLING) but if/when you do, then perhaps you, like me, will have seen it here first. I must remember to use it one day! [See also blog’s title.]
“For one of rats you need 100 cats, say (8)”, another brilliant disguise of both definition and wordplay, just the sort of clue I enjoy, along with its clever TRA(i)TORS with C for I wordplay. I’d double checked Macavity et al, and the Pied Piper, just in case there was a quote I’d forgotten, before I got this one.
And finally, the finale. Just to keep the solver on his/her toes, Sabre has included two clashing cells on that leading diagonal. In the first (the first letter of 22d), J or E need to turn into a U. In the second (the fifth letter of 24d), J and (either Q or U) need to turn into a U. The last line of the Preamble reads ‘must be replaced by a letter that immediately follows it…’ so, even though the second needs to be a U by the end, it gets there by firstly being a Q. This means the first letter of 24d has to be a U. And if that doesn’t catch at least one poor soul out – who has relaxed after seemingly getting over all the difficult hurdles only to trip on the final straight – then frankly I’d be amazed. And the whole of the assumed QUEUE-JUMPERS from earlier (including Q->U and E->U) is now justified.
Great puzzle, but definitely not for the faint-hearted: I’m now off to watch Only Connect for a bit of light relief. Loved it: thanks Sabre!!
Tim / Encota
P.S. If you’d like to try one of my 15×15 cryptics, I had another published today (at the time of writing) on Big Dave’s Rookie Corner. All feedback on that welcomed.
PPS Two days in, when still not complete and with the Listener puzzle buzzing around my head, I needed some light relief so thought I might have a go at DIY Clue Of the Week. This week’s word just happened to be SWORDFISH. I got so close to sending:
“‘Sabre meets tautog’ perhaps summarises this jaw-breaking beast (9)”.
Whether this is best as a clue for SWORDFISH, or should have been enumerated as (9, three words) for this puzzle ‘OUT OF LINE’, I’ll let you the reader decide.