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Listener No 4437: Forgotten Middle Rows by Encota

Posted by Dave Hennings on 3 Mar 2017

A new setter this week, although for some reason he sounded familiar! However, he also had a Magpie mathematical appearing at the same time, so I didn’t really know what to expect. A somewhat daunting preamble faced us here, with every clue requiring thematic treatment before solving, “sometimes with changes in spacing, punctuation and/or capitalisation”… sounded a bit Printer’s Devilish!

listener-4437I wasn’t really surprised that I didn’t get off to a very good start with my quick scan through all the clues. 10ac Half of Maoridom turns arable (4) looked as though it could be ROAM or MODI, but I couldn’t see any definition of a farming nature with either.

I struggled all the way through the first column of acrosses, and the only thing that I noticed was the predominance of A words: ‘Aid’, ‘Ada, ‘Asian’, ‘Academy’, ‘Aiden’ and ‘Aden’! The last three acrosses were at the top of the next column, and the last of these 42 Artful trick angling this leg (7) enabled me to see ‘this leg’ leading to SLEIGHT. Could ‘angling’ be missing a T or M from ‘tangling’ or ‘mangling’? Back to 10ac, and it didn’t take long for me to change ‘arable’ into ‘a ramble’ and confirm ROAM as its entry with Ms missing from the clues.

I decided to visit the downs rather than go through the acrosses again. 3dn Morgan’s local river runs (3) was EAR (that local river seems to be cropping up an awful lot lately), and the M had to be dropped from ‘Morgan’. So the downs looked like they’d gain Ms lost by the acrosses.

A short while — and a dozen down answers — later confirmed the extra down Ms, soon followed by confirmation of the missing across Ms. Whatever the theme turned out to be, I was full of admiration for Encota having taken on such a tricky challenge.

After nearly two hours, and I had 6 MATTER and 14 SURFACE DETAIL as two of the unclued across entries. To me, these looked to have a science theme to them, but the latter wasn’t in Chambers so I was perplexed. I finally had to resort to a bit of googling, not for 14ac, but for 12dn which looked like it would be STONE[M]OUTH. I was rewarded with references to the novel by Iain Banks, and I have to admit that I have not read any of his books, nor did I catch the TV adaptation. What’s more, I could have looked at the letters I had for 36ac, •H••L••BR•IST, for several weeks before deducing THE ALGEBRAIST from those letters alone!

listener-4437-entryAnother forty minutes saw a full grid with CO[M]PLICITY and CANAL DREA[M]S providing the other two thematic Iain Banks novels for the down entries. I had also discovered that he wrote science fiction novels, such as MATTER and SURFACE DETAIL using his middle initial M to distinguish them from his non-SF works. I have to admit that I have not read any Iain M Banks novels either! His middle name was MENZIES.

It was sad to note that he had died less than four years ago at the age of 59, but pleasing to see such a popular author remembered in this way by Encota. Two bits of trivia are worth noting: Iain Banks has now had an asteroid named after him, (5099)iainbanks; and the film adaptation of Complicity was directed by Gavin Millar, who was a film critic for The Listener from 1970 to 1984.

All in all, an enjoyable and enlightening puzzle. Thanks, Encota, and I hope to have an Iain (M) Banks novel in my possession by the time I get to Newcastle. I’m just sorry that I haven’t been able to come up with a more exciting animation this week. [I see you’ve beefed up last week’s rather lacklustre Clean-up Operation though. Ed]

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