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What Can the Matter Be? by Flying Tortoise

Posted by shirleycurran on 27 October 2017

‘Oh dear, what can the matter be? Johnny’s so long at the fair.’ Surely that doesn’t provide a theme for a Listener crossword (but who knows – we might end up with a bunch of blue ribbons wrapping the grid). No, it’s more likely to be some other kind of matter to insert into this carte blanche grid divided into quadrants with a six-letter word that is going to fill those helpful circles. A mere 28 clues too. Now that is worrying as a grid this size would normally have at least 36, probably nearer 40, but we are told that there are ‘no down clues’ in one quadrant – we are still about twelve short. I wonder whether we are going to have two quadrants that use that word square gimmick (I don’t know what it’s called but it is very clever – a particularly remarkable example is the SATOR square in Luberon) of using the six words in both directions. Nothing to do but solve and see.

Well, there is one thing to do – check the alcohol. I remember Flying Tortoise from his Leaning Tower of Pisa puzzle where we had to cut out two squares to demonstrate that a large and small object would fall simultaneously. He certainly confirmed his membership of the Listener Tippling Outfit with a few alcohol references in that one, so does he retain it? I read through the clues finding pâté and some more ‘matter’ but only ‘Measures of use to ge[M]ologists assessing the subsoil primarily after steep slope is stripped (6)’ There’s a lovely surface reading there (as there is in all of these carefully crafted clues) which eventually gave us (s)CAR(p) + ATS (initial letters of Assessing The Subsoil). Those had to be CARATS (no very useful alcoholic measures!) I’m more hopeful when I find ‘The sack about to be hidden in trees (6)’ – Sack, is, of course, an older form of sherry – but no, this time it’s RE in FIRS and that gives FIRERS – ‘TheY sack’. Fortunately I then find ‘Generally more accessible first episode (6)’. It takes a moment to work out what the ‘Generally’ is doing there but then I realize that must be just a normal clue, that somehow has to have the letter G at the start, as it gives ‘OPENER’. I think if Flying Tortoise is opening things, he can have the benefit of the doubt. Cheers!

We have a lucky breakthrough when the letters that are appearing in my coloured strip at the side of the clues produce CHOLER and a putative MELANCHOLY, PHLEGM and BLOODY. That really speeds the solve up as we can now work out which quadrant goes where. We are dealing with the HUMOURS and by putting HUMOUR in our six circles, we immediately establish that RADISH (one of the ‘misprint clues’ – mine have been colour-coded from the start) is the only one that fits into the MELANCHOLY square, the one linked to EARTH. What’s more, we have EARTHY for the top row, and soon spot that FIRERS, WATERS and AIRWAY will supply the other elements (FIRE, EARTH, WATER and AIR). That fulfils the preambular requirement that ‘a thematic element appears in the same place in each quadrant’. We now know, too, what the matter is (thinking back to Shakespeare studies where so much was explained by poor Hamlet’s melancholy),

“[…] The spirit that I have seen
May be the devil, and the devil hath power
T’ assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps,
Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
As he is very potent with such spirits,
Abuses me to damn me.
(2.2.627-632)

Sure enough, we now find that we have one of those word squares, which explains the paucity of clues. With delight, I find that another six clues create the WATERS quadrant if we enter the down words upwards. It is going well.

We have nine clues for the AIRWAY quadrant and happily enter AIRWAY, IRON-ON, RAMSON, WOMERA, AVOCET, YENTAS,  COMMON, INSECT and ANNATS but are rather puzzled by two non-words that are appearing – until I read that ‘bars would be appropriate in only one quadrant (and need not be shown). So this is the quadrant!

We are left with the quadrant that has no down clues but we are expecting down words to appear when we insert FIRERS, FARERS, CARERS, CARETS, CARATS and CURATS (for which the place is fixed by that U). Of course, what appears is a string of Rs and Ss and, for a while, we are flummoxed until we see that we are changing a single letter with each new word. There’s a sequence here. I am surprised that there seems to be no justification of this in the preamble, but I imagine the setter and editors thought that would be giving too much away. Quite a challenge from the Flying Tortoise, thank you.

Circling Poat hares

Poat’s hares are becoming more and more devious and still reluctant to appear in a straight line. This time I find a couple of them in a neatly symmetrical jumbled circle in the EARTH quadrant (well, where else, obviously!)

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