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Nostrum by Mr E

Posted by shirleycurran on 24 March 2017

‘Nostrum’ said the other Numpty – well, that’s Mare Nostrum, the Med, isn’t it. But we shelved that useful bit of information and it was quite a long time before we returned to it.

sea-legs-001It didn’t take long, though, to confirm Mr E’s continued membership of the Listener Setter’s Tipsy Club, though we realized fairly early on, when the letters in the circles produced MAD HATTER (a great favourite of mine) that we were at a tea party, of all things, with Alice, the Dormouse and the March Hare. (That dratted HARE. I thought Hedge-sparrow had done for him a week ago by having the four HARE letters in a straight line run over by the HIGH SPEED TWO!)

Mr E gives his game away at once, ‘Relating to absorption of smells surrounding drunkard (7)’ gives OSMIC around [S]OT = OSMOTIC – so we have a ‘sot’ and ‘drunkard’. Apologies Mr E but there it is in the clues! See you at the bar next Friday? Cheers!hare-and-hatter-001

We back-solved, really, since as soon as we had the MAD HATTER, we were able to complete the truncated question produced by the extra letters in the wordplay of clues.  ‘WHY IS A RAVEN LIKE A WRITING DESK?’ has produced years of entertaining answers (even though Carroll himself told us that ‘The Riddle. as originally invented, had no answer at all’).

Our friend that elusive HARE isn’t much help in solving the riddle as we are told he hasn’t a clue either:

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: `what’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

We could see where to change a solution to insert RAVEN. RIVEN had already appeared in our grid ‘Poet’s raft, forcefully sent away without leader (5)’ = [D]RIVEN, Keatsian RAFT and the Spenserian word for the past participle of RIVE, and the only likely place to insert WRITING DESK was where we had DRIVING TEST, ‘Nancy’s score in extremely precise examination (11, two words)’. How I like that clever clue: VINGT in DRIEST. In fact, our first scan through the clues had shown us a whole series of beautifully convincing and deceptive surface readings – what a fine compilation!

001Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is the source of so many great crossword themes and Martin Gardner’s ‘The Annotated Alice – Lewis Carroll‘ exhaustively deals with the details of Carroll’s brilliantly absurd fiction. I remembered that E.V. Rieu provided the most popular solution to the riddle which is as absurd as the riddle itself – and Gardner’s note confirmed it: ‘There is a B in Both’ (and an N in Neither’ is often appended).

We still had to find the two solutions that were to be jumbled to produce a new question and Mr E’s grid made it clear where they were to be found since the answer to 2d was obviously PLEASE: ‘Like meadows in Peru (6)’ LEAS in PE, and 36ac seemed to be DIRECTION: ‘Dreadful battle without a sense of purpose (9)’ DIRE ACTION less A. So we had to jumble PLEASE with DIRECTION to produce the two words that were to fit into those lights and complete a new question. TEA is so useful for such problems. I do sometimes wonder how solvers with no access to such tools manage to solve complex anagrams and the like. We are given the words that clearly fitted those lights in the grid – CENTIPEDE and SAILOR.  With a whoop of triumph, I announced ‘Why is a sailor like a centipede?’ It’s yet another of those groan-worthy Christmas cracker jokes isn’t it? ‘They both have C legs’. We thought all was done and dusted – but oh no, we had a considerable amount of head scratching before seeing the C formed by MEDITERRANEAN, even though the LEGS were leaping out of the grid at us.

Mr E had given the essential clue hadn’t he? ’17 cells, located symmetrically about a horizontal axis: that told us very clearly that one cell (at least) had to be in the centre row of the grid. Thank you, Mr E. Great fun.

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