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Shady Characters by Malva

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 Jul 2017

This is the second time we have met Malva. Last year he educated us about Bewick’s swans. Shady characters? We wonder what kind of criminal underworld we are going to explore this week – or are we going to ‘shade’ some characters? The preamble gives us one word we never like – extra letters in the wordplay are going to form discrete ‘jumbles’. It gets worse, we are to arrange the first and last letters of a number of extra words into a thematic item (two words of equal length), and enter it thematically below the grid (15 letters). That sounds like another rather lengthy jumble that can somehow change from being an even number of letters to an odd number. Mystifying!

Nothing to be done but solve! Well that isn’t quite true. I scan the clues to check whether Malya retains his admission to the Setters’ Oenophile outfit and find quite a few birds and animals, gulls, kestrels, a pigeon, fish, sheep, a small dog and a pig, but not much alcoholic evidence just that ‘Something that matures light beer (4)’ Well, that must be LAGER with the L giving us the first of our extra letters and the AGER being something that matures. Of course, we found the RED later on and used it in the endgame, so “Cheers, Malva!”

We worked steadily through the clues and the grid filled with nothing leaping (or flying) out at us except the fact that the extra letters were grouping themselves into colours. LLYEOW, ENGRE, BULE and EDR appeared, discretely in that they were separated from each other by those extra words PROPAGANDA, COMPATIBLE, ATTACK, OMNIVORE, NO-ONE, PONDER and LASHED. I kick myself that I couldn’t spot the extra word in ‘Woman losing her head and becoming a devotee of renaissance critic (5)’ Clearly CELIA or DELIA was going to be decapitated (and = ‘N’) becoming ELIAN. The other Numpty said ‘Well, Lamb wasn’t renaissance was he?’ But we were just a little confused about our last colour where we had the letters RGBU – GRUB? We had opted for BURG as our NW town, when clearly it had to be BURY. That, together with TAN BUTTER and SAND produced our last colour, RUBY.

We had been solving for well over an hour and had a dinner interval with the grid staring at me. When will I learn to read the preamble? (I’ve been saying that for years!) In a flash (or swoop, or flutter) all was clear. ‘How one thematic answer must be entered …’ it was as simple as that. ‘Yellowhammer’ I crowed, ‘Redstart, Bluetit, Sandpiper – so it has to be Greenshank, Tanager and that leaves us BUTTER and RUBY – of course, Rubythroat and Butterbump’ – well, Mrs Bradford helped with those of course – but she didn’t help me to sort out those letters PA CE HD AK OE NE PR LD RE. I think that was a fairly tough endgame but there was a logical way to approach it.

If 18 letters had to be reduced to 15, three were clearly going to be the colour and that was most likely to be RED. Feeding the rest into an anagram solver suggested PHALAROPE and CDEEKN (NECKED, obviously), and Auntie Google helped out, as usual, with pictures of the creature.  So there we were – finished! Well, not quite; we had to use each of those colours  to enter one of the thematic items and it did say ‘Shady Characters’ in the title so I felt that we had to write those characters in colour, but what if we simply highlighted their lights? And what about the slight ambiguity of the BLUE-EYE mating up in that top corner with the TANAGER – were we to opt for him and split the shared cell? No, I opted for the BLUETIT and coloured the letters and their cells too. Well, I think it is a pretty solution. (I had, at one point, wondered whether our fifteen letters were going to lead us to a RAINBOW LORIKEET with the 18 jumbled ones being its Latin Name – just imagine the rage of those solvers who don’t have a set of coloured pencils!)

Hare amongst the birds

An enjoyable solve. Thank you, Malva.

I didn’t really expect the HARES to be mingling with that massive flight of birds but, of course, they were there in force, all over the grid, but my favourite was curled up with the yellowhammer and sandpiper.


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