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Listener No 4653: Descent by Gnomish

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 Apr 2021

This seemed to be the first Listener from Gnomish, but a check in the Database shows that he has a couple of Magpies to his name, albeit nearly twenty years ago. One of them was graded C, the other D! I wondered where this would fit on the Magpie scale.

There was certainly a lot going on in the preamble, including some jumbling of entries. Luckily we were told that they were limited to those entries passing through asterisked cells.

CHERUBS, CREE and RAKI got me going with unjumbled across entries, so a quick switch to the downs and EDAM, INKBAG, HAJ, ERASER and URIEL got me under way. Now I like my food, but Baking a mashed bit of squid (6) really didn’t get my juices flowing! 12dn was a bit tricky with More than one period [wedding] photograph frames poet’s upper half (9): SEPIA (or PIC) looked a possibility, and TENN(yson) was a bit elusive but finally gave SEPTENNIA. The long entry opposite also took a bit of time with Following [reception], despot has retired outside (9) giving RESULTANT [RET around SUTAN]. All these extra words were proving very distracting!

There were a lot of people in the clues today: the Queen (twice), Schubert, Charlie, Olga and Henry Jack, and not forgetting Oliver’s Japanese girlfriend. We were also treated to some foreign travel with the Hawkeye state (Iowa), Mozambique, Nebraska and Mecca.

There were a couple of really tricky clues, at least for me, 6dn being the toughest to unravel: Becoming greater again has ended for women recovering from military setback (10) with REGROWING having W replaced by UP for REGROUPING. 29ac also had me wondering: Trial arrangement with Institute for Energy backing core group (11) had ARRANGEMENT with I replacing the second E and then the middle three letters being reversed. My favourite clue was probably Carrier bags put to some purpose gave shelter (6) leading to HOUSED [HOD around USE] with a possible sad reference to a homeless person.

Eventually, the normal entries were done and the initial letters of clues without extra words could be unravelled: A + Q(17) + I(9) + J(10) + T(20) + N(14), etc soon gave A Rake’s Progress and Wiki obliged to give details of William Hogarth’s series of eight scenes of a man’s Descent from wealth to insanity. His eight steps enabled the grid to be rejigged: HEIR, ORGY, ARREST, LEVEE, PRISON, MARRIAGE, GAMING HOUSE and MADHOUSE with WILLIAM (column 4) and HOGARTH finishing it off.

Thanks for an enjoyable puzzle, Gnomish. Probably a C/D on the Magpie scale.


One Response to “Listener No 4653: Descent by Gnomish”

  1. Alan B said

    I thought this was an astoundingly good puzzle – the best of those I have attempted since Twin’s masterpiece from last year that won the top prize in the 2020 awards.
    When I was sure I had identified which clues contributed to the coded message, I needed just ARAK… to give me A Rake’s Progress. It was then an interesting, non-trivial and highly satisfying task to find where the scenes would go and work out how to jumble the letters around them – uniquely.
    The way that the thematic elements and their jumbled surroundings fitted together in a symmetrical grid was just brilliant. My last few items (ORGY, ARREST and PRISON) resolved the last few ambiguities.
    I finished this puzzle without having solved (or needing to solve) 23a FALLING THROUGH. Long anagrams are not my strong point, but I did manage to get this one eventually and then retrofit it to the clue.
    Many thanks to Gnomish and to the bloggers.

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