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Listener No 4418: Out of Line by Sabre

Posted by Dave Hennings on 21 October 2016

When I sent my solution to Wan’s recent puzzle, I included a note to JEG that I was going on holiday the following Tuesday and, if the next puzzle was by say Sabre or Schadenfreude, I might overrun the deadline. As it turns out, Hedge-sparrow came to my rescue. However, it was a close call… Sabre was waiting for me on my return from Portugal. This was almost exactly a year after his last puzzle with its Tristram Shandy theme.

listener-4418Here, every answer needed a thematic modification before entry. The endgame would need the replacement of some letters that followed them in a theme word which needed to be discovered. My first guess for the modifications was that a letter needed adding, removing or replacing.

As I made my first pass through the clues, I was beginning to think that Sabre was being fairly lenient with us. 1ac CORKED and 6ac HOSIER came fairly quickly, and the obvious anagram at 11ac INTERNISTS encouraged me to continue with the acrosses rather than switch to the downs. Sadly, only another half dozen were forthcoming, but they included ULTRONEOUS and OBJETS D’ARTS, so I felt I was on a roll.

The downs were woeful, and just four were capable of helping me, with only UTTERMOST being of any significant length.

I slowly teased out a few more answers, including the fine &lit at 14ac Styles of calypso, American soul being introduced (5) for SOCAS. Even so, after about two hours the grid was looking a bit sporadic and my only guess for the thematic modification was jumbling. But a whole gridful of them?! With a lot of across answers in the top left, I had a hunch that 4dn For one of rats you need 100 cats, say (8) would help me suss the theme. I could see what the wordplay was trying to tell me, but I couldn’t get it. I decided to put the puzzle to one side for 24 hours.

The following day, and I got TRACTORS almost at once… another great clue (TRAITORS with C for the I). I also finally got 1dn Services black Lada with no momentum when turning in it (6) where I could see that B + LADA – L needed to be reversed, but I thought just ‘momentum’ for L was a bit inaccurate. And indeed it was; how could I think that Sabre would be so sloppy. L was supplied by ‘momentum when turning’ and the BADA didn’t need a reversal but was just in IT to give IBADAT.

All this just made things more confusing, and it was time to take stock. It seemed that every letter in IDABAT clashed with its crossing entries, but that just seemed too extreme, even for a Listener. Even for a Listener by Sabre! A bit of doodling, and finally it became clear. I managed to see that one letter could move to the front with the remainder just being entered in order. In a way they were jumbled, but in a very simple way.

I was on the home straight, except that those of you who come here regularly will know that I’ve said that before, only to be faced with a home straight on a steep hill.

And so it was. A few more hours down the line, and the grid was finally complete. However there were a lot of clues that still needed justifying. I had noticed early on that Sabre had a tendency to put things back to front! For example, 3dn Number without jacket, more than in Perth (3) had me stumped for far longer than I think it should have. I initially guessed it was PIU, being OPIUM missing its first and last letters. Except that would have been ‘in Rome’ not Perth, and ‘more’ rather than ‘more than’. It turned out to be the ‘more’ that was without jacket — N + [M]OR[E] with the definition being ‘than in Perth’.

Some others that had me scratching my head:

26ac RESOLE Veronica’s possible win after reserve is put to last once more? (6)
OLE (veronica being a movement in bullfighting) after RES (reserve)
I’m still not sure how ‘possible win’ leads to OLE
28ac TRAMPER Take time off work, following lead of Tongariro trekker (7)
R (take) + TAMPER (work) – T (time) after T (lead of Tongariro)
31ac FEME Money due keeps woman in court (4)
FEE (due, noun) keeping M (money); another clue with the wordplay back to front!

And finally, the two really devious clues:

18dn BOOM-IRON With intimate embraces beginning to offend Muslim prince (8)
BOON (intimate) around O (start of Offend) MIR (Muslim prince)
WITH is the definition — see Chambers!
20dn DUMPLING Silly billy taking penny from deposit! (8)
DUMP (deposit) – P (penny) + PLING (exclamation mark, yes the one at the end)
now I’ve worked in IT all my life, and I’ve never used the word pling before, yet C says its (comput sl).
And the one that made me laugh out loud: 2dn Notedly at certain intervals, priest for example drops goon on his head (6) for ECCLESIASTIC – ECCLES!

The final bit of work was to identify the theme word. If a letter now on the NW–SE diagonal also appeared in the theme word, it was replaced by the letter after it. So far that diagonal read DIRCO J/E ETPO J/Q R. The clue here was the Q which obviously had to be replaced by U, which meant that the J did as well. Unless there were two Js in the word, the J/E became U as well. So a word with JU, QU and UE in it. As I doodled those three pairings, QUEUE seemed a likely outcome and I didn’t need to cheat to see that JUMPING would follow it. Except that would mess up the I on the diagonal, so it had to be JUMPERS.

listener-4418-my-entryDISCOURTEOUS was the word that described QUEUE-JUMPERS. In my view that’s far too polite a word for them. A quick check of the whole grid followed, and I made sure that I had the correct letter placed in the unchecked square of 24dn SACQUE.

And so another Sabre marathon came to an end. Thanks to him for a tough challenge. It was a simple idea, but perfectly implemented.


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