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Listener No 4638: Head-start Clues by Elgin

Posted by Dave Hennings on 8 Jan 2021

It really doesn’t seem nearly three years since Elgin’s last Listener. That was the fabulous puzzle about the Ealing Comedy film The Ladykillers with the railway signal dropping down on Alec Guiness’s head. Whatever this week’s theme, I knew we’d be in for a treat. Not only that, it would probably be tough. My spy tells me that all of Elgin’s puzzles over at Magpie have been grade D… apart from one which was an E!

No great clueing mischief this week, just six cells with clashes, a couple of ‘head-start clues’ which helped some hunters, and a handful of unclued entries.

Tackling the acrosses proved less than fruitful with only a [insert quite a low number here] solved on first pass through. Luckily the downs were more forthcoming and fleshed out the top of the grid more than I was expecting. Unfortunately, I hadn’t come across any clashes. That was hardly surprising, given that I only had six non-clashes.

Gradually, the top of the grid was nearly done and 1 6 looked like it would be FISHER KING. I knew that he had Arthurian connections but I decided that it was too early to start consulting any reference material like Wiki or Brewer’s or the two books I have.

As suspected, the clues were tough, with one or two being really quite devious. My favourites included 15ac Settles comfortably and starts to eat naughty cakes containing a drop of cream (9) for ENSCONCES [E(ats) N(aughty) + SCONES around C(ream)]. This struck a nerve since these lockdowns seem to have got me eating and drinking too much! 5ac She flies in part where earth and fire erupt (3) was an unusual double-hidden — (whe)RE E(arth) and (fi)RE E(rupt).

Before the grid was finished, I had identified GAWAIN, LANCELOT and PERCEVAL as three of the knights. Luckily BORS was revealed by all the crossing entries as I’d not heard of him. Unluckily, I made a right pig’s ear of 14dn by entering him as PERC-I-VAL which made 30ac impossible as I..I.! I also had a brain freeze with 16dn Second out of three sets upset some players (8) which seemed to be (THREE SETS – S)* but was in fact (SET + SET + SET – S)*.

Eventually though, the grid was complete and on to the endgame. What a treat that was.

Starting from the p in row 1, there for all to see was SIR GALAHAD jumping in knight’s moves (ie thematically) with the fifth and eighth letters filling out the isolated squares. Perceval was featured in the writing of Chrétien de Troyes with his name being spelt out by the letters a to p in the grid. The head-start clues led to BLOOD and GRAIL being cryptic references to de Troyes book on Perceval where “a loathly lady enters the court and admonishes Perceval for failing to ask his host whom the grail served and why the lance bled, as the appropriate question would have healed the wounded king.” At least I think it was just a cryptic reference. These were especially sneaky since they were 5-letter answers for 6-letter entries.

So these entries were BR…E and .L..ES and had to be filled with the unused letters from the clashes to give two items negotiated by a more modern hunter. Well those letters were ENOAIS and no amount of squeezing would fit those letters in the grid. One solver has coined GWIT for Guess What I’m Thinking. For me, this was WTF (pardon my language)!

The only more modern hunter I could think of was Indiana Jones, one of whose films was The Last Crusade. A bit of research on that film revealed three obstacles he overcame, including a BRIDGE and BLADES. Well they fitted, but where did the IRGLAS come from?

Don’t ask me when I came across the solution. I think it was after rereading the preamble for the umpteenth time and seeing if there was another “lettered top-row cell”. Indeed, starting from letter f in the top row, we had INDIANA JONES, again going in knight’s moves but this time right to left, through the isolated squares up to the p square in the top.

A bit of GRAIL highlighting finished this phenomenal puzzle. Very many thanks, Elgin.


2 Responses to “Listener No 4638: Head-start Clues by Elgin”

  1. Tyro said

    Thank you for a very lucid explanation – I always appreciate these blogs. I discovered (by accident) that ‘Head-start clues’ was an anagram of the last crusade which helped me.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Tyro. Although I thought the title sounded a bit stilted, it never crossed my mind to see if it was an anagram. That despite the fact that the last Elgin was entitled “Doing a Sort”, an anagram of Goods Train!

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