Listen With Others

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Death Row by Ifor

Posted by shirleycurran on 28 February 2020

Rather a threatening title from Ifor – ‘Death Row’ indeed. We study the preamble and don’t instantly spot the theme, though two delighted solvers told me that they did (one an American, who might be more likely to recognise the theme of a rhyme possible more familiar over there). We know Ifor’s style well – the challenging clues that use a number of subtle removals of letters from wordplay (or even definition) to prompt the solver how to handle the clue.

‘Wary Bruce ill, beginning to mistake feature of some spiders (9)’ we see, and we know that ‘wary’ must lose an A to become WRY – an anagram indicator – and BRUCE ILL + M gives is CRIBELLUM. ‘Late start caused by poor decision (3)’. This time we take out the U and find CASED, a containment indicator, and ORD is hidden there. What a wonderful surface reading Ifor has managed to engineer. That is his special crosswording talent isn’t it – to create flawless word pictures incorporting subtle shifts that mean that the entered word goes off in a completely different direction. Take ‘Skint following incomplete contacts (6)’. I’m looking for someone whose bank manager has let him down but the wordplay gives me F(ollowing) + LENSE(s) and I find that I am skinning a whale (FLENSE).

Not easy – Ifor’s puzzles never are (‘Stripey horse (5)’ isn’t his style) but we know that his clues are perfectly fair and when a number lead to definitions containing AX where the wordplay lacks the AX, we smile with delight and understand why our extra letters have spelled out MASS MURDERER. Another solver has commented to me that he was astonished how many AX words Ifor used, that worked perfectly without the AX (POLEAX, MAXILLIPEDE, MONAXIAL, TAXINGS, MALAXATE, TAXABLE, CLIMAXES, RELAXATIONS and LAXEST). “Who was it who ‘Took an ax’?” I ask the other Numpty, and, with his astonishing mental store of useless trivia, he immediately responds ‘Lizzie Borden – not a very charming daughter!’

Lizzie Borden took an ax/ And gave her mother forty whacks,” runs a nursery rhyme nearly universally known among Americans. “When she saw what she had done/ She gave her father forty-one.” (Wikipedia) It was the Massachusets murders, wasn’t it? So that explains the MASS at the start of the description – a fine play on words. Indeed, if there were 81 ax strokes, this was a MASS murder in a couple of senses.

The extra letters in the down clues have told us to ‘SHUFFLE LETTERS FROM ONE ROW as a way to find the name of the hacker, which solvers must write below the grid’. We work backwards from LIZZIE BORDEN to DOZIER BENZIL (No, Ifor wasn’t attempting to make his grid pan-alphabetical as we had initially suspected, a setter exercise I consider to be self-indulgent and futile, unless it is given some thematic purpose). That neatly balances the MOTHER/FATHER that we are now able to put into our final row. We had wondered how we were going to distinguish between CALM and CALF. What a lovely final touch with no frustrated grid-staring. Clues 40 and 41 – the icing on the cake.

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