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Listener No 4441: It’s Dark Up Here by Colleague

Posted by Dave Hennings on 31 Mar 2017

Colleague’s seventh Listener greeted us this week. His last had the Aubrey holes at Stonehenge (Spots), and then there was the sneaky How to —— (with Hotel as its missing word rather than Spell) from five years ago.

This week, just eight down clues with an extra word and no misprint wordplay shenanigans. Solving started relatively quickly with acrosses 1 APHTHA, 9 NEUR (the prefix mentioned in the preamble) and 15 LAIRS enabled downs 1 AND HOW, 2 HURLER and 4 HASID to be slotted in. Thus the top left quadrant was soon fleshed out, despite never having come across the slightly weird 13 Work at growing up becoming like one-time immigrants to Crete (8) for DORISING.

Two extra words that I had ditched from down clues were Circassian and Antarctic and these were soon joined by dress as LIENTERY was slotted in at 12. It seemed to me that any similarity between those three extra words was purely in the mind of the setter.

It hadn’t escaped my attention that three clues had letter counts that disagreed with their entry lengths. 18ac Spiritual guide drops in reference to court fashion designer (4) was DIRECTOR – RE CT to give DIOR but it took some time for me to suss 5dn Homer keeps being virtuous for moral guardian in Rome (6) where the inclusion of Homer and Rome prevented me from seeing homer=cor which would normally come to mind fairly quickly. [You know Homer was Greek?! Ed.]

I strayed down to the bottom right and that was soon fairly complete, followed by the bottom left where I don’t think I’d come across DODDY before, and was surprised that the clue didn’t reference Knotty Ash! SCHMELZ at 24ac Decorative glass produced by East London rascal with earlier marks unknown (7) was also unknown, as was its subsidiary SCHELM (SKELM), a rascal in South Africa (not Whitechapel).

After about 2½ hours the grid was complete, and time for the endgame. It included BLOODHOT at 21ac where the OD had to occupy the same cell, as did the OR at 18ac and 5dn.

In the end, th extra letters in the down clues had no meaning in common but were of decreasing length from 10, 9, 8 letters down to 3. This brought to mind Elfman’s Revelation of John in June 2015 where the countdown led to Rocket Man.

Four characters from a related series were also in the grid together with a fifth in the circled squares. I jotted down H A D L I, but don’t ask me why I went anticlockwise. It didn’t take long to see that it should be HILDA, nor that there were four other names in the grid: HOWARD, MARTIN, PAUL and JESSE. Luckily, despite not having seen many episodes, I was aware of the programme Ever Decreasing Circles, a BBC sitcom starring Richard Briers and Penelope Wilton. I was also aware that there wasn’t a character Jesse, but ANNE (or was it ANN), to be found here in the top row.

Back to the preamble which required us to find both a legendary flyer and its habitual flight path. Pegasus, Unicorn, Roc and Emu all crossed my mind while trying to unravel this bit. And what about that OR and OD crammed into single cells? Did they form part of this flyer? However, I remembered that I hadn’t fully resolved 29dn Greatly affect where our flyer disappears? (5) with its reference to our flyer who disappears UPEND. Ah, yes, the OOZLUM BIRD, and in the course of the next ten minutes, I had it highlighted in the centre of the grid and EVER DECREASING OOOOOO around it.

Now, I have to admit that the programme wasn’t one of my favourites. I found the lead character, Martin, extremely annoying with his obsessive attention to procedure and detail. [Having said that, I’ve just watched a few minutes on YouTube and it had me giggling!!] Despite that comment, I thoroughly enjoyed Colleague’s puzzle with all its thematic content — and its title! Thanks a lot.

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