Enigmatic Variations 1456 (Hints)
Villains by Stick Insect
Hints and tips by The Numpties
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Stick insect will be a familiar setter for Toughie solvers. He has been setting EV crosswords for some years and also appears annually in the Listener series and has recently set for the Magpie too. With such an experienced setter you can be confident that his clues will be well set and fair. We found this crossword to be of about the same difficulty as the ‘average’ Listener (a Magpie C rating, say) and it will challenge newer EV solvers but it will be well worth sticking with it as you will probably love the endgame (one Numpty did – the other ‘hadn’t a clue’).
Preamble: All answers are modified before entry into the grid to agree with a statement by some VILLAINS, which can be found in Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Eighth edition). Each clue has a misprint in the definition; the correct letters in clue order provide synonyms of a word of the quotation. The central cell must be filled in defiance of the statement and the VILLAINS highlighted (seven cells in a straight line). Numbers in brackets give entry lengths. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended; one plural form is in Collins.
This is a step-up in difficulty from those September crosswords since there are two devices in play. Finding misprints in the definition part of the clue (which we know always comes at the start or end of the clue) is the easier of the devices and as the correct letters appear, you will see a pattern emerge that will probably suggest to you the synonym that is in the quotation. The other device – the modification of all answers before entry into the grid – is a bit of a brute, particularly as it will mean that there are non-words in the grid. However, my prompt would be to solve the obvious anagrams first. We spotted the device when we had solved just three of those (6a, 5d and 7d – look at the letter-count of those and consider how a nine-letter anagram will fit into seven cells).
The misprint device is a tough one for setters to use. It can be hard for a setter to blend the misprint in when he needs a specific letter in a narrow definition. However, it can really help the solver since the rather clunky surface readings that result can prompt you to look for a word that sticks out as uncomfortable. Look at 19a below – you can guess at the misprint before you even tackle the wordplay.
1a Around beginning of March, block mostly produces fine lines (6)
You need to remember the Latin abbreviation for ‘around’. The answer to this clue will not be a word you use regularly.
12a Parts of church promoting institute’s juices in pods (5)
We’ve met this word three times in crosswords this week (and rarely meet it anywhere else!) The ‘s here is a ‘link’. Setters are allowed ‘of’, ‘for’, ‘in’ and occasionally expressions like ‘lead to’, ‘produces’, ‘gives’ as link words, but ideally write deceptive clues with no link at all between definition and wordplay. Ignore that link and ‘promote’ or move ‘up’ or forward the abbreviation for ‘institute’ in a word for parts of a church.
13a Gypsy has a desire to return plant skin to poppy (6)
One of the first things a setter learns is to cut out ‘articles’ like ‘the’ and ‘a’ since space in newspapers is limited. If you see ‘a’ in a clue, it is probably part of the answer you are looking for. Both the ‘gypsy’ and ‘desire’ words are familiar in crosswords but we had to fit these letters together and look in our Bradford for this plant.
15a Flyer found on shares: neat offer involves opening of restaurant (5)
We were not familiar with this ‘flyer’ but the word ‘neat’ helped. Yet again there is a ‘different’ meaning of ‘neat’ that setters use.
19a Carnivore like a cad informed without limits (4)
We ‘removed the limits’ from a slang word that means ‘informed’ but needed our Bradford and Chambers to confirm that the word that appeared fulfilled the definition (with its misprint, of course).
20a More than one bit of lap exercise included in reminiscent jerking (12)
We commented last week that when a clue reads rather oddly, you are receiving a prompt about what is going on. Despite Stick Insect’s generally brilliantly crafted surface readings, we have to say that the surface reading here is not one you could convincingly introduce into a dinner-time chat! The word ‘jerking’ is the prompt, and, maybe, the slightly odd fact that it is ‘reminiscent’. Of course, the letters for ‘exercise’ are crossword old chestnuts.
24a Cath in Sweden took Ron orange bottles (4)
See the comment on the clue above. A couple of oddities in this clue. There aren’t many Caths and Rons in Sweden and milk, in Norway, when I worked there half a century ago, came in orangey-brown bottles but I’m pretty sure that is long-gone. this delightful word ‘bottles’ (like ‘locks up’, ’embraces’, ‘hides’, ‘found in’) is telling us where to find our solution.
26a Casts out Arkansas grit processed without iodine (12, two words)
A tough, tough clue. We are told exactly how to produce the answer (the letters in the table of elements are invaluable to crossword setters) but the answer we produced was absolutely new to us.
28a Kind of planter found in smart exhibition (4)
See the comment on 24a. We grumbled about this word for a commercial product but Stick Insect has obeyed the rules and given a transparent clue for a word that is in Chambers.
30a More like a snuggle perhaps? That is right after misdirected stroke (6)
Think ‘golf’ for the ‘misdirected stroke’. The ‘perhaps ?’ in the clue suggests that Stick Insect has struggled to produce a rather dubious definition here and has to show us that.
31a Eastern god with certain rite of deletion (5)
We needed to confirm in Chambers that this is also a meaning of the word that is so clearly spelled out for us.
35a Old style and narrow minded, he panned plays (6)
Another convention in the thematics is that accents can be ignored. In Chambers, that word for ‘narrow minded’ is given its accent, but of course in the solution to the clue it doesn’t need it.
36a Fool following local girl for tingle (5)
Another crossword favourite but Mrs Bradford provides the dialect word for a girl (does anyone still use the word? I doubt it – but crossword compilers love it!)
38a FA president once retiring kicked relative inside, though not in charge (5, two words)
There was an amusing trick here (and a similar one in 9d). No, we were not absurdly being expected to know the names of past FA presidents!
By now you will probably have noticed that Stick Insect is using all the letters of the alphabet in his grid. Some setters pride themselves on doing this, though I suspect solvers don’t give a toss – however, it can help you, for example, here when you are wondering what letter to include in 14a, 15a, 28a, 33a, and 29d. He has to squeeze his J, Q, X and Z in somewhere (as some Toughie setters do – I grumble, there, about the rather stilted grids that result – but it’s ‘horses for courses’ isn’t it?)
5d Scores go to scorn awful performances where groups take individual’s roll (13, two words)
If, like us, you are troubled by the very strange two words that this wordplay produces, look at the last words of the preamble. There are times when even Chambers draws the line and this is one of them. Collins is a superb dictionary that doesn’t have all the Spenserian and obsolete words that setters love to find in Chambers but it does, occasionally, have rather dicey variants, like this one.
6d Around Maine fish grazes (5)
The solution is a slightly unusual use of the word that is produced by the clue but Chambers confirms it.
8d Gummed up, brisk editor accepts openings (7)
A little word for ‘brisk’ will be added to a familiar crossword abbreviation for ‘editor’ and into that combination, you need to put a word for ‘openings’ (it is ‘accepted’ by the other two elements of the solution). The answer might take you to Chambers again for confirmation.
10d Increase harm from wake energy‘s surge adopting air defence with noisiest engineering (13)
This, for us, was the toughest clue. Look at the comment for 12a. The ‘s tells you where the definition and wordplay split. Don’t forget to look at the words that the corrected misprints are spelling (a series of synonyms). That will probably prompt you about the corrected letter here. There’s another of those dodgy surface readings prompting you how to build up the solution you need.
23d Welch for Will evading ten debts of obnoxious Arab criminal (7)
Two words here, ‘evading’ and ‘criminal’, tell us that we have a subtractive anagram. We are somehow going to subtract (evading) ten debts from anagrammed (criminal) obnoxious Arab – and, of course, the Will is Shakespeare.
27d Posterior wart is badly troublesome when ill-made belt slips (6)
See 23d! The rule for compilers is that there has to be an anagram indicator for both the long jumbled word and the shorter anagrammed one that is being extracted from it. We hadn’t met this word before but we could construct it from the letters we were left with.
Yes, it was a difficult crossword, but you certainly now know which letter has to go into that central cell. If you look (in Chambers, of course) at the words it can represent and add that to the synonym hinted at by all those corrected misprints, you will have the quotation and there, in the grid, to be highlighted, are the VILLAINS who said it. Do please send in your entry.
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