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Listener No. 4709: For a Song by Elfman

Posted by vaganslistener on 21 May 2022

“Elfman” is the pseudonym of long-established stateside setter and solver Leon Marzillier, whom I enjoyed meeting in the Zoom fringe at the Listener dinner this year. The LA Times (via Google) tells me that in 2005 he organised the National Puzzlers’ League Convention and was quoted as saying that “People will hang around, sometimes until 2, 3, 4 in the morning playing games. Some of them look like zombies come Sunday.”  Let’s hope 4709 doesn’t keep me up that late. (Spoiler: it did prove pretty tough, but good fun all the same and I’d finished by Saturday coffee time.)

I couldn’t guess an appropriate song title (which is clearly the key to the puzzle) so started to work from top down, and the grid started to fill nicely, but every so often the answer seemed to bear little relation to the clue. Those will be the thematic ones then – so I ploughed on waiting until one of them betrayed a bit more.

10d gave a solution FONDA but an entry FONTEYN and I started to suspect a stage theme (directors and actors appear elsewhere), and/or some tops-and-tails swapping. Both were red herrings. Ah well.

The breakthrough didn’t come until 30d with entry SPLIT from answer BANANA SPLIT. Now what songs did I know with bananas in them. Despite feeling my age, I wasn’t around when Silver and Cohn’s comedy song “Yes! We have no Bananas” burst onto the scene in 1923, but I do remember it being sung was a child, and this was starting to look like a theme. 30d also had “ballerina” in it which must be the definition for FONTEYN so “Type 2” clues are based on just the second part of the song title – no bananas.

Here began the Great Missing Banana Hunt which eventually produced 16a (BANANA)LAND [Queensland], 40a SECOND (BANANA) [subordinate] and 8d ELECTRIC (BANANA) [a Pretty Things album]. The SPLIT was of course an ice cream treat.

But what about the Type 1 clues? Logic demanded that they relate to the first part of the title, so – putting in the song title in place of “For” in the puzzle title, “For a Yes we have No”. And sure enough the DA in FONDA is replaced by NYET (though anagrammed – “bananas” of course), and in the end I also found PLAYED/PLANED, CYESES/ CONES and JAR/INNER.

It was a fun theme and actually fun to solve too despite the awkwardnesses, and bonus points for giving us a yellow banana to draw (though the Velvet Underground would have been a good theme too: note to those less familiar with them – they have a yellow banana on an album cover…).

For the record I think the solving chains of the thematic clues went like this:

5a CYESES > CONES > 40a SOLIDS and SECOND BANANA > 2d SUBORDINAITE

11a PLAYED > PLANED > 8d SMOOTHED and ELECTRIC BANANA > 17a PRETTY THINGS

4d JAR > INNER >16a ESOTERIC and BANANALAND > 32d QUEENSLAND

10d FONDA > FONTEYN > 30d BALLERINA and BANANA SPLIT > 42a ICE CREAM TREAT

Several clues had wordplay that took me a long time to work out, but that’s par for the course. My favourite though was: 31a “Little woman with energy escaping opposite of cocky fellow” where JO is the “little woman” (double sense) with HENNY (omitting E(nergy)) instead of COCKY, the whole thing meaning JOHNNY or “fellow”.

Many thanks to Elfman for an entertaining puzzle, that didn’t send me too bananas after all.

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