Listen With Others

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It’s Dark Up Here by Colleague

Posted by shirleycurran on 31 March 2017

I wonder how many other solvers initially imagined we were somehow going to be considering the legendary flier Icarus (though obviously it wasn’t very dark where he flew – so near the sun that his wings, glued together with wax, melted). We were at the Annual Listener Setters’ dinner event and the hotel had kindly printed out the puzzle for me but the grid hadn’t appeared, so while the other Numpty began to solve, I was hand-drawing the grid into the empty square. I realize that this passion is some kind of OCD (Obsessive Crossword Disorder). I wonder how many other crossword solvers would go to that extent!

Still, I did have time to check Colleague’s right to admission to the Listener Setters’ Imbibers Outfit and thus to check whether he would be among the valiant band who survive the post-dinner party where the ultimate heroes last almost until dawn, at the bar. I didn’t have to read far. ‘A degree of acidity (to such a degree a taste of tannin is lacking) is a symptom of thrush (6)’ (A PH + THAT – T[annin]. The Australian Shiraz we chose was most acceptable so I don’t know where Colleague got his acid beverage with no taste of tannin but “Cheers!” anyway, Colleague.

Actually, the situation worsened with, ‘Turned right on with a mix of acid and cleaning agent perhaps (5)’ giving RT< + ON A and Chambers confirmed that TRONA is a ‘native combination of acid and normal sodium carbonate’. No wonder we had the clue ‘Disheartened [Circassian] is one who commonly vomits (6)’ HUR[d]LER.

The word CIRCASSIAN stood out as being an ‘extra word that must be removed’ in that clue and, as our grid filled, we removed a ‘series’: ANTARCTIC, VIRTUOUS, TRAFFIC, FAMILY, DRESS, CROP and HUT. We had country dance lessons at school and the ‘Circassian Circle’ was a popular dance and we soon saw that the other words could all be followed by ‘Circle’. It was the other Numpty who commented that each was a letter shorter than the preceding one so that these were ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’ but we overseas solvers were, as usual, totally ignorant of a TV series of that name (helpfully, of course, provided by Wikipedia).

Wiki gave us a list of names: MARTIN, ANN, PAUL, HOWARD and HILDA and four of them appeared almost symmetrically around the margins of the grid with HILDA being spelled out by the five letters that had filled those circles. A little bit of head-scratching followed. We found the name of the series that we had to highlight, with six Os completing the name but that gave us only 20 letters and we needed 28. Who was the flier?

Clue 29 had given a hint that hadn’t meant very much to us at first, ‘Greatly affect where our flier disappears (5)’ clearly had to be UPEND. When we drew ‘ever-diminishing circles’ with the names in the outer one of the grid margin, an inner circle, using the double-letter OR of DIOR and CENSOR, that had intersected, and the OD of BLOODHOT, that we had squeezed into one cell spelled OOZLUM BIRD.

Faithful Wiki told us that this was a legendary bird that flew backwards in ever-decreasing circles until it disappeared up its own fundament. Could The Times really be telling us that the bird was to complete its peregrinations up its own rectum? We laughed and decided that it had to be so – but dilemma! How do we depict that?

If the bird is flying backwards (DRIBMULZOO) then the DR is going to disappear into the OO and that would satisfy the hint in the preamble that the fifth character was displayed in a thematic manner (her letters were in circles). However, if the bird is to disappear when it enters its anus, we shouldn’t see the D and R any longer. Dare I do that? It leaves CENSOO and BLOOHOT with a fashion designer DIO. No! It’s almost impossible to create an advanced cryptic crossword without this sort of ambiguity isn’t it! Many thanks to Colleague, anyway. A relatively gentle puzzle for what was a busy time for setters and solvers.

Post script – the GOLDEN HARE? “Hare” was a forbidden word last night at the dinner since a large number of potentially ‘all correct’ solvers had been eliminated because of that elusive beast. Each year, there’s a table quiz and the team at the winning table fills its bronze casket trophy with sweets to be distributed the following year. Last year’s winners had a sense of humour as what was hiding underneath all the fudge and caramels? Not just one but a whole series of little golden hares! Here’s one of them.

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