Listen With Others

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Listener No 4466: X XX XXX by Somniloquist

Posted by Dave Hennings on 22 September 2017

OK, so this setter talks in his/her sleep! Most things said while you’re asleep tend to be somewhat gibberish, but this is the Listener, so I was sure that didn’t apply here. [Hold that thought1. Ed.] And I wondered at first what expletives had been deleted in the title!

There were three wordplay-only clues, so they should be easy to spot. [Another thought2 to hold. Ed.] Across answers, initially relating to two thematic characters, had their answers entered to reflect their fate. Down clues needed amendment before solving to reveal a line from a poem.

Although they were to be solved without amendment, I didn’t get that many acrosses on my first pass. I should have got 1 Greeted old girl, then married, having ditched idiot (6) [SUE + UNITED – NIT], although it was a bit more understandable that 5 Vehicle cost round about 11 cents (7) [TAB around A XI C] eluded me. 39 Fine for Abe’s second in fight (3) also remained unsolved. [Told you2. Ed.]

I tackled the down clues with trepidation. Actually, in hindsight, I should have been wary of entering the across entries that I had since they had to be entered to reflect a fate. The first down clue I got, helped by the first E of INTERRED was 4 Captain out of crucial game (4), with just wordplay for DE(CID)ER.

However, 7 Mental images aid circle literate in arts (5) IDOLS was the first to indicate that a letter had to be dropped, aid becoming id. Returning to 1dn Stand-off Barton leaves fellow club member (9), I guessed that Barton became baron to give STA(B)LEMATE. I was helped with this having recently had an American sitcom explain the difference between stalemate, impasse and Mexican stand-off.

Not for the first time this year, I had the feeling that a new setter was in fact an old hand in disguise. The clues were generally tough, even when I realised that the title of the puzzle indicated that 1, 2 or 3 letters needed to be expunged from the down clues before they could be solved. For example 6dn Cut [f]rom promo in clever backing tracks (9) led to RO(M) AD in SMART<.

Fast forward to a finished grid, although fast was certainly not an adjective to describe my solve. The wordplay-only entries were FOX, DEER and BOAR, and I initially thought that we were dealing with one of Aesop’s fables. Nothing sprang to mind, or to Google for that matter.

I had finally sussed that some of the across answers had to be entered with their first letter misplaced. Those letters spelt out The Green Knight, whereas the unmisplaced first letters spelt out Sir Gawain. Meanwhile the single clash between 9ac RHO and 9dn AT TABLE was TH or þ, as hinted at by 29dn THORN.

This finally explained why the quotation did indeed look like gibberish. [Told you1. Ed.] The letters redacted from the down clues gave The fayre hede fro the halce hit to the erthe and it looked very Chaucerian. In fact, it was from an anonymous 14th century scribe in a poem called, not surprisingly, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight . The devices used in this puzzle relate to Sir Gawain’s beheading of the Green Knight (who promptly stands up and puts his head under his arm), and the three animals hunted by Bertilak de Hautdesert and given to Sir Gawain in exchange for 1, 2 and 3 kisses which Sir Gawain has received from Lady Bertilak. Bertilak is in fact the Green Knight in disguise. The kisses are another interpretation of the title.

Of course, I had to track down the full text of the poem. I cannot now recall how I finally found it, but the University of Toronto web site has a copy, line 427 being our quotation to be entered in olde English form: “þe fayre hede fro þe halce hit to þe erþe”. (Another lucky escape for me this week: as I was about to fill in the quotation from my working copy, I realised that I had it starting “þhe fayre hede…” with an extra “h”.)

What an innovative puzzle from Somniloquist, thanks. It was a marvellous piece of grid construction with some tough clues to go with it.
 

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