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Listener 4735: Spirit Time (but not Those spirits) by Skylark

Posted by vaganslistener on 19 Nov 2022

‘Twas Halloween – or nearly – when a welcome new offering from Skylark, whose tally in Dave Hennings’ database since her debut in 2019 has now reached an impressive 20 puzzles. Her last Listener had a jazz theme; what now?

Well dear reader: I fell for the trap of the title and expected something full of ghouls and ghosts (having one like that myself in the Inquisitor that same weekend…). It wasn’t.

Since the title and preamble didn’t really offer any shortcuts, though, it was going to be down to the solving to make progress, with a straightforward gimmick, though not one that’s easy to either set or solve. Some misprints are gimmes, like 1a “Check blips/bliss in the formation of a molecule (9)” for CHELATION but some are likely to only make sense once the clue has been solved, like 10a “Joke/jake reflected satellite’s meteorological measures (5) for OKTAS. The second of those was particularly tricky since OKTAS can also be spelled OCTAS with the C?K in an unchecked cell, so accurate parsing was needed – and it was quite a while before I looked up the possible variants for “joke”, and found “jake” meaning OK in US/Aust English. We live and learn.

Overall the clues were impressive, with some very well hidden misprints with excellent surface reading (I think it was Don Manley who observed that the misprinted surface is often better than the real one in such clues), even if a few were a bit more contorted (hard to avoid).

Eventually I has enough correct letters emerging to try and reconstruct the message. SHADE as the first word was always a possibility (if it wasn’t going to be HIGHLIGHT) and FOUR popped out quickly; and with that toehold I was eventually able to complete the message with TITLES SEEN CRYPTICALLY PLUS AUTHORS NAME.

Reverse-engineering the correct letters back into the as-yet-unsolved clues helped me complete the set quite quickly then, and the hunt for the author’s name was also a quick one (thankyou, Skylark: I hate wordsearches) as it was on a main diagonal: KATE ATKINSON.

Now as I’ve said before, despite a degree in Eng Lit I am very poorly read in contemporary literature so it was Wikipedia to the rescue, and comparing the list of KA’s works with the grid soon produced the clever cryptic indications:




DOOGENO = (ONE GOOD)< = ONE GOOD TURNVery neat! I have an awful sinking feeling, though, that another of her title’s FESTIVE SPIRIT(S) ought to be in there somewhere, even though the shaded letters of the four plus the name add up the required 39. But perhaps the real date link is that Atkinson was born in York which is of course where the Sloggers and Betters event was also being held that weekend.

I found my unposted entry at the back of the desk a couple of days ago, so it’s as well I’ve already blown my “all correct” chances, or unclerical language might have passed my lips – especially as TREPAN at 28d should have been TRAPAN. A trap indeed.

Thanks Skylark: keep them coming.


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