Listen With Others

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In Round Numbers by Colleague

Posted by shirleycurran on 8 May 2020

Sometimes we have a guess at the theme when we read the pre-ramble but not this time. We Numpties gazed at each other in mystification. “What does it mean?” Nothing to be done, we had to start solving and hope that all would become clear. BEN NEVIS appeared at once and I burbled happily that perhaps it was about mountains (I proudly climbed it on my sixth birthday in a school raincoat and wellingtons – that was in May and the snow came over the top of the wellies just short of the summit!) But it was not to be. For a while, we were under the illusion that these ten answers were going to be replaced by another word from the grid, and BEN NEVIS seemed to fit at 24d where ultimately we put DAY-LEWIS, the Poet Laureate who came three before Andrew MOTION (‘Top cat’s [enemy] brought up a proposal (6)’ giving NO 1 TOM’) but it took ZETA, clued where the grid was clearly prompting ALPHA, to give us our penny-drop moment. That was when I looked up BEN NEVIS on Wiki and found a racehorse, and another Grand National winner called WEST TIP.

We were away … but were we? A clever friend tells me he solved this in about an hour: it took us about five hours. We soon had an almost full grid and a good idea which answers had to give way to other ‘members’ of the same set, as eight of them had different word-lengths, but we are particularly poor at solving when we have no letters in the grid to hint at a solution and no idea of the word-length.

SOLDIER, for instance, had to be the answer but it took us a lot of fumbling to spell out PANTALOON, and, of course, wily Colleague generally gave definitions for different senses of his clued words. POND was our very last solution and we needed something or someone of the same set who would fill BL?SS. I wonder how someone who doesn’t have the Internet could learn that POND and BLISS were Astronomers Royal – or that there is a US winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature called SINGER who could replace BELLOW (clued, of course as an outcry).

We are on total lockdown and collecting our groceries from a ‘Drive’ with no human contact. Sadly, bread, eggs, flour, salad and tomatoes are ‘not available’ each week but I seem to have accumulated vast quanities of whisky and gin so we poured  ourselves consolation and I checked that Colleague had the right to join us. Well, his clue to OENO, ‘There’s space for body of Orvieto wine in combination (4)’ put EN in the place of ‘rviet’ in OO, so he clearly earned his place among the Oenophiles. There was an ‘IMPROVER’ at 17 across, and, ‘In case of emergency second character gets recipe for strong drink (7, two words)’. We put ICE then BEE and R, giving ICE BEER. Ticket earned. Cheers, Colleague!

We hadn’t finished yet. First there was that alternative title to find and Colleague was tricking us again. Since the extra words had five letters each, how was I going to find a ten-letter title? I jotted them down and stared and fiddled, then smiled when I saw that the alternative title was MORE OR LESS. Of course that explained those preambular words ‘the word’s position in the clue indicates the extent of the change’.

Even a Numpty can see that ‘fails’ coming second in a clue to TANGO must be telling me that I have to select ROMEO or VICTOR (I’v already opted for ROMEO anyway).

That was, naturally, a hint about what to look for in the grid in the ‘endgame’ and when PLUS FOUR appeared with PROVERBS crossing it, I had to return to Wiki to see which book of the Bible came four further on than PROVERBS. JEREMIAH, of course.

Thank you, Colleague, for the challenge.

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