Welcome back to George vs the Listener Crossword.  Or at least I hope it’s welcome back, as at the time the new Listener goes live, I should be on a plane somewhere in the vicinity of the West coast of the USA. So this posting is going up on the extremely iffy scheduler on WordPress.  We’re down to the last two Listeners of 2014, and for the puzzle that appeared around Christmas it’s Poat!  What an intriguing coincidence – Poat and I have talked in email a few times, and when this appeared I had just arrived in Sydney and was a few days away from heading to the city I grew up in and where Poat now lives, Melbourne.  An opportunity loomed!

 

One should really solve the puzzle before going to meet it’s maker, right?  So let’s see what we’ve got – a strange shaped grid with something thematic on the sides formed by taking letters out of answers and something else thematic on the bottom.  OK…

 

I thought about starting on the downs, but 1 across really stuck out as a slo-pitch anagram… well it would be if I could remember whether the word was CARAP, PARAC or PARCA.  I didn’t have Chambers nearby so I hazarded a first guess at CARAP and wrote it in thankfully pretty lightly – pass on the 1 across wordplay spotting test, big fail on the 1 across getting the right answer test. Next to it was definitely BOL,SHY so that became the starting point.

 

It was a nice gift that the enumeration gave the number of letters in the answer, I think if I was looking for the extra letters without knowing how many were going to be left out since there were some pretty tricky pieces of wordplay, particularly in the top right.

 

Early on I made a few wonderfully wrong wild speculations – with the bottom right pretty well sorted I thought the bottom row was going to be something NIGHT and searching 11-letter entries in Chambers ending NIGHT brought up WHITE KNIGHT and YESTERNIGHT.  YESTERNIGHT sounded convincingly Christmassy enough I wrote the letters under the grid and was almost immediately dashed by solving TALLET (SOLAR for an upper room was a nice find).

 

The T from TALLET helped a lot because I had seen ARM?STICE in the middle row and was thinking maybe it was an entry starting with I… but of course it’s likely to be part of the changes that need to be made in the rest of the grid…. aaaah – one could make CAROLS in the first line and SOCCER in the third.  It’s got to be the soccer game that broke out sometime in the Great War… a bit of woogling confirms that it was 100 years ago.  I suspect for many solvers this theme would have leapt out before solving a single clue but the theme eluded me for a while.

 

Next task – figure out those sides… eventually I managed to piece together NO MAN’S LAND for one set of the letters, which means we had TOMMY on one side and JERRY on the other side… could FOSSE go around TOMMY?  Check of Chambers, and FOSSE is a ditch.  Aaaaaah… is there a word for ditch ending in ??YAU?  BOYAU!  So JERRY is in the BOYAU.  Which confirms OLOROSO as 13 across (tricky definition!) and makes 11 across… ummm… ?EMB with a missing N somewhere…  it took a lot of poking around to find NEEMB as a tree that yields oil, and confirm TEEM can mean “empty”.  So does that make TEEM one of those words that had definitions that are practically opposites of each other, like how defeat can mean BEST and WORST?  You learn something every month.

 

So there we have it – CAROLS, SOCCER, a SHORT ARMISTICE at the WESTERN FRONT where even someone a thick as me should have guessed at SILENT NIGHT.  Woohoo!

 

So I had a few beers and caught up on some crossword gossip with Poat at a rather fun beer hall type place in Fitzroy.   We talked about puzzles we did and didn’t like, and there was one fascinating point – Listener solvers and bloggers tend to be more focused on the grid and the solution than on the clues themselves, and he aims to be precise and fair in clues (feel free to correct me if I’ve misquoted here).  So when I got back from our chat I took another look at the puzzle as a whole, and he is completely right – I do gloss over the clues when I write these things, except for being critical of having unsolveable 1 acrosses.  So I’m going to change that and include my favorite clues in these write-ups.  For as long as I can remember to.

 

Clues of note:

 

17 down – Girlie mag’s opening issue, 40 per cent off one for Scottish lawyers

M(ag),ISS(ue),ISH – despite my hopes that “Girlie Mag” was going to be the definition, ISH being ISSUE in Scots Law was a fun wordplay element

 

13 across – Something of a trifle?  About its fifth part, approximately

OLOROSO with the middle O’s unindicated.  Fifth part of trifLe in OR SO.  Even after seeing this as an answer from wordplay it took me forever to connect sherry as being in a trifle

 

28 down – Group of trainers repeatedly throwing stick

ATL+ATL – perfect surface.

 

And as a final ignominy to Poat – here he is reluctantly clutching my solution.  Ball is in your court, Listen With Others – what can you get a setter to do?

 

Poat with puzzle, George (not pictured) with beer.

Poat with puzzle, George (not pictured) with beer.

2014 tally:  39-3-9.  One last chance to hit 40…

Feel free to call me a worthless groupie and see you next week when Sabre happens along.

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