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Listener No 4488: I-spy Choices by Xanthippe

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 February 2018

Xanthippe’s last Listener was 18 months ago with its theme of the Adam Smith quotation “connections that unite the various appearances of nature”. That had a strangely constructed grid with basically four quadrants all linked together by the quotation.

A more straightforward carte blanche this week with clues almost in alphabetical order of their answers and some clashing cells. For the endgame, we would need to identify a phrase from a quotation. This would be the first chance for my newly-acquired ODQ, courtesy of some Christmas gift cards, to be put to good use.

The clues weren’t numbered, but given a letter. The first bunch were labelled LISTENER I-SPY XANTHIPPE followed by letters in order. The preamble started with “All clues are thematically similar…”. What all of them?! [Yes. Ed.]

Actually, it didn’t take long to discover that the wordplay in each clue omitted the first letter of the entry. The first S 11-letter entry was an easy one, leading to SNOWBOARDER. Unfortunately, the A one wasn’t, partly because it was a bit of a tricky blighter: Meg is accepting liability, no latitude in English loopholes? (11) where Meg was short for megabyte and led to A + MB IS containing GUILT (liability) – L (latitude) + I (in) + E (English).

In my first pass through the clues, well over half were solved, and I managed to slot a few into the grid. Unfortunately, the central 14-letter entry wasn’t one of them, and that was scarcely odd because… it was devious. Beginning with P, we had Involving contact assigned to drunkard taken in by Prince Edward say? (14). Wordplay: ON (assigned to) TOPER (drunkard) in ER SON — son of HMQ! This is the Listener, isn’t it?!

Clue of the day was H Number put in Solway Firth principally are active when all ebbs (8), a perfect &lit. with TEN in S(olway) F(irth) + A (are) + A (active) all in reverse (ebbing).

And so to the endgame. The clashes could be seen to spell out either JAMES BOND or JASON BOURNE, both heroes of spy novels, and either IL FLEMING or R LUDLUM, their authors. But which? We were told that the source of the quotation containing the three-word phrase appeared in the completed grid, although it lacked a conjunction. Well, ROMEO and JULIET were in the south-east quadrant, so that was what I scanned in my new ODQ.

Five minutes later, and I was none the wiser. The only quotation that looked relevant was “How oft when men are at the point of death Have they been merry! which their keepers call A lightning before death.” I couldn’t find the last three words anywhere in the grid, so assumed that wasn’t the quotation. I looked up a few words in the ODQ index, including ambiguityambiguities wasn’t mentioned.

Some of you are probably thinking that I should stay off the ‘sauce’ before tackling a Listener. Shame on you!

After a couple of 30-minute sessions trying to work out what was required, I resigned myself to reading the whole of the play. How many three-word phrases were there likely to be? Before that — and don’t ask why, because I can’t remember — I decided to compare my old ODQ with the new. The old one had 41 quotations, the new 33. Well that was a big difference, so I scanned my old copy. I was on the verge of giving up when the very last one gave “Seal up the mouth of outrage for a while, Till we can clear these ambiguities.” Kerching! In the old but not the new.

This confirmed that yank Jason Bourne, rather than good old James Bond, as the required spy, since R(obert) LUDLUM confirmed the U in AMBIGUITIES.

Thanks for the challenge, Xanthippe. You nearly tripped me up, but it’s always nice to get there — in the end. I have refrained from sending a strongly-worded email to OUP!

One Response to “Listener No 4488: I-spy Choices by Xanthippe”

  1. shirleycurran said

    Lucky you! I never thought of looking in my older ODQs and did actually read the entire play, and, of course, it is in the last act!

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