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Food for Thought by Handyman

Posted by shirleycurran on 21 Apr 2017

We download an unusual grid that is neither square nor symmetrical and the title ‘Food for Thought’ doesn’t say much either. Handyman? A new name, too, though with that set of well-crafted clues, he is clearly not a novice setter. Can he be admitted to the Listener Setters’ toping club? I have to read a long way down the clues and solve most of them before finally encountering ‘Frantic swallowing energy drink (4)’ MAD around E gives us MEAD. That’s an alcoholic drink made by fermenting honey and water – so welcome, Handyman, to the club. Cheers!

We solve upwards, thoroughly enjoying the clues and soon the lower half of the grid is complete, with not much idea of the theme except that at 30d, the words STILET, ZILA, COSTUS, KICK-IN and ENIAC have given us TICIN?. That could be TICING or a place not very far from here TICINO. Is this about Switzerland? Isn’t LATTICINO some kind of Venetian glass? Chambers confirms that it is, so here we have the first of our clues with word play only. ‘Latin scratched from Italian glass (6)’

We had assumed that our Swedish king ‘Blast absent monarch in Sweden (5)’ was GUSTAV (GUST + A with an extra V to give us one of the nine extra letters) but a rethink suggested an F and the other Numpty pronounced ‘Seven Hills of Rome’. We ‘doctored’ REMOVES LION FLESH’ and crowed with delight, neatly filling that right hand side of the grid.  Of course, the ‘seven’ had to go in as a digit, so we now knew which four consecutive clue answers needed to be modified before entry.

We seemed to be in Italy too, with those hills and as we continued to solve, ‘Handle boat with sides splitting (6)’ suggested LUG + (c)ANO(e) so we had another clue with word play only giving us yet another place not very far from home for us – LUGANO. Bells began to ring and the penny dropped. The extra letters were spelling out APRIL FOOL and, of course tomorrow is April 1st. This must be about what must be the all-time classic.

It took a visit to faithful Wiki to establish the year and the details. Panorama, 1957. Of course, we remembered with delight that fabulous April Fool’s joke, and we were now able to fill in 1 across, producing three more clues that had to begin with numbers. ‘About to call up individual (4)’ gave us 1MAN (ON + NAME<). ‘High degree of neatness in almost reformed enclosure in French city (6)’ gave us 9PENCE, ‘NINEPENCE’ being ‘a high standard of neatness’ and made up of NICE surrounding NE(w) PEN. Finally we had ‘Health recommendation following one American interrupting end of war (5)’ This gave us 5 A DAY, made up of F I + VE DAY interrupted by A. Clever cluing indeed! But it isn’t the five a day that whet my appetite so much as that spaghetti growing on the Ticinese trees.

What was left to do? We had to fill two empty cells, R?P ‘Recalled a series of exercises (3)’ and ME? ‘Mediocre half-done skin painting with henna (3)’ then find the spaghetti and, obviously, the tree or trees it was growing on. We were in luck; spotting the four strings of SPAG HETTI and SPAGH ETTI filled those two cells for us and taught me a new word ‘MEH’ for ‘mediocre’. I had to look up REP and Google explained it to me (don’t we learn a lot when solving these things, though I imagine all those other fit solvers are doing their ten reps daily); of course the ‘recalled A’ was PER<.  Then sure enough, there was the spaggers tree with its bough and branch (just like the ones we see whenever we drive through the Aosta valley or the Tessin).

This was a delight to solve from start to finish. Many thanks to Handyman.

The unforgettable Swiss spaghetti harvest of 1957

Tree-climbing golden hare scoffing spaghetti.

Ah, the golden hare. I didn’t realize they could climb trees but, of course, there he was up on the bough scoffing the spaghetti.

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