Listen With Others

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Listener No 4703: No How by JFD

Posted by vaganslistener on 9 Apr 2022

JFD: not a setter I have come across before. I wonder who it is? Ah: listenercrossword.com tells me that it is Ross Midgley and this is his third Listener, and I also seee that he made the leaderboard in the 2012 Times Champs. Should be good. Let’s see how it works out. 

My usual spot-the-theme draws a blank this time, after a brief flirtation with the Judgement of Solomon, so I just dived in. For some reason it was the bottom right corner that popped out first. (Tim Moorey in How to Crack Cryptic Crosswords says some recommend starting there as the setter is tired by that point, but he is sceptical and so am I.) I then made steady progress and completed the right-hand side, with some of the wordplay not fully cracked, but the actual fill looking pretty secure.

Time to sit back and see what was emerging. Not a lot! A 13-letter highlight was to be found and this is a 13×13 grid, so I checked out the rows, columns and long diagonals and didn’t spot anything that looked like a defence strategy (blind as I was). The message from the extra words was also very partial, but looking at what was there I did decide that it wasn’t English, and the “ONS” suggested French, but I couldn’t relate a first-person plural to an “instruction to parties” or remember a famous French judgement, so once again – on we go.

By now my eye was in, and the left half filled more quickly than the right. I also began to really appreciate the quality of the clueing. Some examples:

19a “You’ll find it in wee bit of land …” luring me into taking “wee” with “bit”
22a “East-West communication system” defining ACOL
35a “I’m with the wrong person, using French letters” – nothing to do with night-time activity of course but JE with ES not SUIS and meaning a number of the letter G.

Another impressive feature was the number of bespoke operator words used, such as “bar”, “scuffling”, “nervous”, “dropped”, carefully chosen to blend into their background.

There were some really tricky ones too:

1d MISTICO is “somewhat” of “optiMISTIC ONE”, but who would have known that a “patron” of such of a craft wasn’t an extra word but hidden deep in Chambers as the captain of a Mediterranean vessel? 
4d REAL ALE comes easily from “Drink improving in cask”, but (leaving out “oaky”) “is taken from liquid, dumping barrel later” took a while to make sense as REAL(is)A(b)le. Phew!

With a full grid it was time to write out the message as best as I could, and try and resolve the uncertainties. ONS became REVENONS and Googling “revenons judge” led me straight to REVENONS À NOS MOUTONS and La Farce de Mâitre Pathelin (which in turn allowed me to complete the message). Now I’ve taught 15th century Eng Lit at both Oxford and Cambridge, but I hereby confess that this was a new text to me, though the phrase seemed familiar. So without the Wikipedia page I would have stalled at this point, so commiserations to any without that sort of facility. But with it – on we go again.

With the full plot of the farce in front of me I soon saw BAAING ANSWERS as the strategy (in full sight all along). My heart then sank at the thought of word-searching for lots of hidden sheep alongside the MERINO and GIMMER that stood out, so at that point I decided to sleep on it. And in the morning light, with great thankfulness, I remembered to check for the names of the characters in the farce, and there, oh joy, were JOCEAULME and L’AIGNELET directly returning to their moutons. Very clever! And strange words like those, running north, would never be spotted without the research. (I presume at this point that the old idea that a puzzle could be solved without more than the books on your shelf, or at least the local library’s shelf, is dead and buried, at least as far as The Listener is concerned, as this is seriously recherché information.)

One last check though. What about TRAPS. (I usually fall into them.) I was suspicious of 13a “Bleaters making news over acting judges (6)”and remembered one guru saying it was always worth watching out for the unchecked letters as places where traps of ambiguity could be set by the wicked setter. With AMM?NS in the grid, “bleaters” makes me think of AMMONS, but sad violins for anyone who, as I nearly did, just biffed that in without really sussing out the wordplay, because AMMANS are judges, and (leaving out “news”) we are told to make the Over of AMMONS into Acting. I then trawled for other traps and found 30d SMITS which could so easily be entered as SMUTS, and 35d JEES that is an unusual spelling for GEES but the one we need here, as explained above. There are probably more, and I will have fallen into most of them.

But what a wonderful puzzle. Thank you JFD! And if I’m lucky the penny will drop about the title before this blog goes live… [PS It didn’t – but Gill’s blog explains all…]

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