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A Bit Up in the Air by Phi

Posted by shirleycurran on 25 November 2016

phi-a-bit-in-the-air-001Phi? We thoroughly enjoyed his last one, ‘Off We Go’ where the players left the stage one by one to leave just Haydn in the finale of his Farewell Symphony. I wonder whether we will have a musical theme again (we know that Phi compiles the crossword for BBC Music and, indeed, that a 20th anniversary crossword will be appearing in 2017).  We smile as we see a relatively short preamble then struggle to work out what it is telling us (but isn’t that so often the case? The preamble makes sense as you solve or, occasionally, only after solving). At least we understand that we are to find twelve redundant words in clues and some kind of double definitions in eight other clues. There is going to be an anagram which is clearly going to identify the theme for us but, mercy be, no misprints, jumbles, extra/deleted letters or any of those over-worked gimmicks.

Of course Phi retains his seat in the Listener Setter Oenophile Upper House, but I check all the same and he leaves me in no doubt. I’m surprised he’s opted for Irish whisky in his very first clue, ‘Source of Irish whisky is arable land (5)’ but then with a smile, we see that ‘Irish’ has to be an extra word since the clue leads to IS + LAY – Islay, so Phi is behaving like a true Scot.

Only three clues further down we find ‘Greedy types securing most of Indian drink for small amounts once (8)’ PFENNIGS = PIGS around FENN(Y) which Chambers tells me is the same as feni, an alcoholic spirit produced in Goa from coconuts or cashew nuts. A bit of a comedown after the Islay malts but sobeit. Fortunately consumption picks up again towards the end of the clues with ‘Miss supporting German wine (in limited quantity) (5)’ and there’s restraint too, as that gives a single glass G + LASS. Cheers, Phi!

Heads or tails!

Heads or tails!

Whilst scanning through those clues, I admired Phi’s cluing economy, even where we suspected that we had found the clues with ‘two definitions to words differing by one letter, and wordplay for the remainder of the entry, as in ‘Participating in Wagner in Johannesburg,say, with a fixed look (7)’ which suggested SHARING and STARING with word play for SA and RING. The next suspect is ‘Encourages busy store to stock unknown screws (7)’ which gives us EXHORTS and EXTORTS with wordplay STORE* round X giving us the remainder of the words.

Our third find gives us our first pdm. since we have taken note of the title ‘A bit Up in the air’ and suspect that we are tossing a coin. Again we find words differing by an H and a T, LATTER and LATHER in ‘Modern soap trade I should abandon after a reversal (6)’ with RETA[I]L< producing the shared wordplay. So H and T are  the letters that differ and we realize that when we toss a coin, we cry ‘Heads or Tails’.

We find BLASH/BLAST, STRINE/SHRINE, HOSS/TOSS, LASTING/LASHING and CORNIST/CORNISH (yes, there’s as much music as alcohol in this one, not surprisingly!) and those words have produced four clashes in the grid. So what do we do now? We have been highlighting putative extra words as we solved and have produced rather a mixed bag: IRISH, HOPE, ABUSE, ROAD, ACCEPTS, OBOL, RELENTED, AFFIDAVIT, (and a second) AFFIDAVIT, IMPRESARIO, SANDAL, and SET-UPS.

There’s the usual bit of grid-staring, then light dawns. We apply ‘Heads or tails’ to that set of words and, hey presto, we get HEADS OR TAILS and left over, an anagram of those words, I HERALD A TOSS. I do like the way this thematic unity is progressing.

With a full grid, we now have to decide about those clashing letters and to our delight, see that those diagonals, each turning back on itself, spell out the two phrases when we select the correct option. Nice one Phi!

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