Enigmatic Variations 1479
Transmutations by Wan
Hints and tips by The Numpties
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Wan’s crosswords appear in the Listener, Magpie, IQ and EV series. Thematic cryptic solvers are sure to have solved one of his before. With all that compiling experience, you can be sure that you are in safe hands, with fair clues.
Preamble: Seven across clues contain an extra word; six of those give definitions for words in Chambers that must replace six entries, the other is a definition for the unclued thematic entry; also to be found in Chambers. Seven down clues contain an extra letter, which must be removed before solving; the letters give a source whose quote in the ODQ explains the TRANSMUTATIONS. All changes leave real words in the grid. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended.
We learn from the preamble that we will be looking for seven extra words, six of which will replace real words in the grid, maintaining real words. We can see where the seventh thematic word must go. The theme, we are told, is TRANSMUTATIONS, which suggests to us that there will be some relationship between the original entry and the word that replaces it. Remember the advice given by commentators last week, and start solving without worrying too much about the cryptic preamble – with luck you will spot a thematic group. Remember that good compilers like to apply symmetry in their grids, so you will know where to look when you have identified some of a thematic group.
7a Bird, eagle maybe circling Lima (5)
The convention on Big Dave’s site of underlining the definition words gives you a prompt towards this unusual word. Remember the NATO alphabet and do not be misled by that ‘eagle’, the clue will lead to a different bird.
11a. Once blessed newly married man (8)
According to Chambers, one of these two definitions has links with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. One of my favourite scenes is the Kenneth Branagh one, where Benedick is persuaded to fall in love with Beatrice as he overhears the plotting of the ladies. Remember that you are looking for a thematic group.
13a Money towards publicity for spirits (6)
There was an unusual word here but, again, the underlining will help you to put together three wordplay elements
16a Spenser’s weapon frightened a bird in front of him (6)
Like ‘the’ the article ‘a’ is not usually found in a clue unless it is essential for the solution. There’s another bird here (just a short word) and you need another very short word for Spenser (him).
34a Cut grass feeds the earth well! (7, two words)
You have to cut the grass short and feed it into a word for the Earth to get an astonished expression for “Well!”.
36a German with codeword arrives on horse (6)
Mrs Bradford, of course, has a list of horses and we can see the first letter of this one and know it has six letters.
39a This homely sort has beaten silent stroke (8)
We back-solved from the word suggested by the letters in the grid, then decided that this must be a kind of subtractive anagram where we had to use a short word from the clue, together with the solution word, to give a ‘beaten’ (anagrammed) final two words of the clue.
At this stage, we had recognised that a group of solutions that had gone into the grid had a common feature and we had identified seven extra words in clues. We guessed that words defined by those extra words would have something in common with the specific thematic group. The extra word in clue 36 was very helpful (our penny-drop-moment) as were the lengths of the symmetrical words that we realized we had to replace (2 8s, 2 6s, and 2 5s)
4d Mare’s organ first to be removed from racehorse (5)
Mrs Bradford gave us the word for the racehorse that was to lose its ‘first’ to produce the mare’s organ.
7d About six dead bats in small containers (7)
The word ‘about’ has multiple uses for setters. One of them is to indicate an anagram, but here we have the word ‘bats’ that can also do that, so we think of another use of ‘about’. We also remember that there are extra letters in seven down clues.
12d Plant cut at the ends losing water and sap (8)
This was another clue that required back-solving for us from the word we could see in the grid. We struggled especially with the final ‘sap’, the third element of the word play.
13d American soldier absorbed by game shot bird somewhere (6)
We have to admire the surface reading of the clue before decomposing it and using the crossword ‘old chestnut’ abbreviation for a US soldier and remembering that ‘shot’ can be an anagram indicator. The ‘somewhere’ suggests that the solution is a dialect word. If you are still hunting for the theme, ask yourself why Wan has chosen to use this word.
20d Concealed star snubbed by society in gents (8)
We constructed this ‘foreign’ term from three wordplay elements.
23d Police station collects 25% of road tax for wagon (7)
Again we worked backwards from a ‘wagon’ that Mrs Bradford lists. Remember that we are still looking for extra letters to suggest a quotation that will explain the TRANSMUTATIONS.
24d Market delivering queen German beer and Scottish cheese(7)
We had to remove the queen from a most unusual word for a market and add a name for German beer. Yet again, Mrs Bradford provides the cheese word.
27d Blimey, females in the sticks close to huge spider (6)
What would we do without Mrs Bradford? I don’t think we have ever used this word for a spider.
32d Cutter for example used outside ruins diamond bits(5)
Chambers confirmed the word that we found for the diamond bits. Rememberthat you are looking for extra letters.
The endgame here was tough, we felt. If you have trouble finding that quotation, it might help that it also appears on the Wiki page of the thematic entry (should you not possess an ODQ). The quotation told us what we had to do but we had to find words that were defined by the ‘extra’ across words and replace the thematic group, maintaining real words. Some of the real words that appeared surprised us especially in the left half of the grid. Good luck!
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