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Listener No 4690: Hatched? Matched? Despatched? by Ifor

Posted by Dave Hennings on 7 Jan 2022

This week, we were all expecting this Ifor puzzle to be the last Listener of the year, the following Saturday being Christmas Day with no issue of The Times. Deep joy then to see the following at the end of Ifor’s clues: “Listener Crossword 4691… will be published in The Times on Monday December 27”. I’m guessing (probably wrongly) that this was the first time a Listener has appeared on a Monday.

Ifor puzzles are normally at the trickier end of the spectrum, and given a fairly long preamble, I wondered what clueing technique he had up his sleeve this week. Well, four down clues had an extra word that, together with their clue number (hmmm!) would give the theme. All acrosses also had an extra word and they would provide the wordplay for four names. I remember that being used in a previous puzzle (probably by Ifor), and it sounded interesting.

Finally, the top and bottom rows would need completing with thematic material that would be made obvious (I hope) once the clues had been solved and the grid completed.

Normally, I would knuckle down to a Listener in an ‘office’ environment, ie surrounded by Chambers and Mrs B. This week I started on the Monday, and perhaps because I was getting ready for the Christmas festivities the following weekend, I settled into my armchair and started to solve. I was surprised at how easy Ifor had made the clues, and I found myself rattling them off fairly quickly with only the occasional need for the dictionary. Even the extra words in across clues didn’t get in the way too much.

In fact, as soon as 1dn Operative train — it’s as ordered (7), dropping it’s (to give ARTISAN) and 4dn Jaguar with right starting handle for moving wonderful carriage (6) dropping wonderful for ROUNCE, I had a sneaky suspicion of the theme. And there in 6dn was the life, with a sneaky extra a in 9dn — Pulling in, getting a closer to lower the top (7) with NEARING needing the first letter moved down to give EARNING.

The clue numbers for those four gave the year that It’s a Wonderful Life was released, 1946. The wordplay in the across clues required us to solve:

  • Earth’s within narrow valley: E in GORGE
  • Marks year behind annual return: M + Y after AR
  • Journey fast with active superseding united: HURRY with A for U
  • Cleaner caught silly: (CLEANER + C)*

These gave the first names George, Mark, Harry and Clarence, with Clarence ODBODY going into the bottom row. Now not for the first time, the first thing I saw led me on a major wild goose chase trying to find the answers to the questions posed by the title. (I know, I know, they were obvious!) Of course the thematic location to be entered in the top row could be either BEDFORD FALLS or POTTERSVILLE, each enabling real words to drop down.

Here, the first thing I saw dropping down to the B of ODBODY was CRIB, which sounded like it could be the answer to Hatched? OK, not really, but it was enough to put me off. After that, I found jumbles of DIED/DEAD, MARRY/MARRIAGE and BIRTH, all anagrammed near the bottom and they had me totally perplexed. Putting the puzzle down for the day always helps in cases like this, and the light of Tuesday (I rarely solve on Friday evening) still puzzled me until… all was revealed when the three bars could be slotted in above the N, N and A of STANDING ARMY to give NO, NO, AY. And so George wasn’t hatched, Mary wasn’t matched (she remained a spinster), and Harry was dispatched (through the hole in the ice) in the timeline in which George was not born. In that timeline, the town was called Pottersville after the evil town baddy, so that went in at the top.

Coincidentally (I guess), the film was shown over the Christmas period and I took the opportunity of watching it, probably for only the second time. I must say it was hugely schmaltzy. One thing that stood out for me, especially given that it was made in 1946, was that the first thing the policeman does to try and stop George as he runs away, was to pull his gun and start shooting. Things haven’t changed much!

Thanks for weaving the story together in a fine grid, Ifor. To manage to get everything fitting together so neatly was a great achievement and very enjoyable.

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