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Listener No 4749: Commonplace by Brock

Posted by Dave Hennings on 24 Feb 2023

Brock’s fifth Listener hit us this week and it had been about 2½ years since his last. Mind you, he’s had three EVs and a Magpie since then. This week, a somewhat daunting preamble with the grid representing a map (following on from Pointer’s Mavis Grind in December). Wordplay plus an extra letter in most clues plus six with thematic items moving from one to the next in a cycle. Plus, and I’ve not seen this before, the remaining clues being definition(s) and wordplay, but with some being enumerated by the likes of (4;4;4).

I think it fair to say that those thematic items moving between clues stumped me the most, especially with the likes of light bulb, not a light bulb, being one of those. Even sussing that PIERIAN was the required entry, unravelling 10ac What describes liberal arts support changing a ink with no end to task? (7) once ink had been stolen from elsewhere, wasn’t immediately obvious [PIER + (A INK – (tas)K)*].

And where did the light bulb disappear to? 1ac became Big splash feature of Sun, chief’s covering letter first reprinted in light bulb (7) [SPOT + CH around L — L(ight Bu)L(b)] with the newspaper dislodging TV in 13ac Append article finally on The Times (5) [AN + (th)E + X]. Lawks!

Clues came thin and slow in this puzzle but the thematic breakthrough for me came with 4dn Marshal roadside trail animals by motor exit rebuilt over top of route (4;4;4). Don’t ask me why TITO was the first marshal that came to mind, but he was. Plus BERM (which a recent puzzle elsewhere had alerted me to) and ORYX with [(BY MOTOR EXIT)* around R(oute)] all of which had to fit into a 3-letter entry, and TOBERMORY was the obvious candidate to drop. Now I’m not an expert on that book/TV series, but I was aware that he was one of the Wombles. From there everything started to fall into place with just a little more speed.

The Wombles to be included here were, top to bottom, TOBERMORY (on the Ile of Mull), TOMSK (Russia), WELLINGTON (Somerset), CHOLET (France), BULGARIA (Germany), BUNGO (Japan) and ORINOCO (South America). What a phenomenal bit of grid construction to place all the characters in approximate geographical positions, but also to leave real words behind in the grid.

I marked two other clues as worthy of comment. 12ac British having setbacks not holding up Bourbon for example (5) giving BICCY [B + (H)ICCUPY – UP; H being the extra letter]; I don’t think I’ve used that word since I was about 10! 2dn Reduce Dr Finlay’s 1 cc? (6, two words) gave COPY IN [C(H)OP + YIN; cc being the abbreviation for carbon copy — how that brings back memories!]. And that’s just two from a remarkable set of clues.

Meanwhile, the extra letters in clues spelt out Things that the EVERYDAY (to go under the grid) folks leave behind, a line from the Wombling Song. Finally, the initial letters of the thematic clue moves spelt out Light Bulb, Ink, The Times, TV, Elastic and Racket, which defined REFUSE at 20dn with the F needing to be erased to leave RE USE which is what the characters did with the litter. And very finally, ENTOMB got changed to ENWOMB to reveal the WOMBLES in column 3.

Great stuff from beginning to end, including the title. Thanks, Brock.


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