lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, April 27, 2007

Missus Em plays mah-jongg

Actually, I never played mah-jongg. I first came across the game in Agatha Christie's novel, The murder of Roger Ackroyd, I got curious enough to read up about it, and came to the conclusion it wasn't my cup of tea at all; too complicated by half.

When I am feeling morose, thinking cryptic clues and anagrams is anodyne. So I was considering writing about anagrams again. Did you know that Braille is liberal, that royalist is solitary? That Minnesota nominates? Isocrates can ostracise? Marginally, alarmingly- same difference when it comes to anagrams. 'Drunk, idling morals' and 'dark nudism rolling' are anagrams of 'Larking in doldrums'. That's how blue I was, to construct anagrams of my state.

I could do a trivia post, I considered. Now, I know trivia about a lot of things, all because of cryptic crosswords: the names of the nine Muses, racing tracks in England, heraldic terms and more. I could write a poem or fiction. But there's no guarantee any of these options would lighten my mood.

Then came the Guardian cryptic crossword compiled by Araucaria. Mah-jongg as a game features once in a while in clues, but this was the first time I came across a crossword whose theme was mah-jongg and its tiles.

There are too many suits and mah-jongg terms to accommodate in a standard 15 by 15 grid, of course, so Araucaria only used the honour tiles for eight lovely clues. There were two others to facilitate arrival at the theme obliquely, in an 'aha!' moment, but I didn't need them to figure the theme out.

The first two across and the last two across were themed, tying up with 10 across. These were:

5 Gold inside pole for one of set in 10 with…(6)
6…Westbury, 24 and 25 (6)
24 Well bound (6)
25 Calculator of number in old part of Iraq (6)

And 10 was: Contest to remove right from officer swallowing heroin (named "horse", they say) (3-5)

Here, contest is the definition. Major is the officer- remove 'r', add 'h' inside, 'n' for name and GG, baby talk for horse- voila! Mah-jongg.

So, 5 is 'au' for gold, 'tum' for inside, 'n' for pole and the solution is autumn. 6 is simplicity itself. 'W' and 'inter' for bury and we have winter. 24 is typical Araucaria, either word can be the definition, and the answer is spring. 25 misdirects with the definition 'calculator'; 'm' inside Sumer is summer. And there we are, with four seasons, the honour tiles in mah-jongg.

(Cryptic crosswords use these convoluted homographs-- shower can mean rain, to bathe or he who shows; flower or banker can mean a river. Summer was used as a homograph here.)

There were four down clues linked to the theme, too.

5 down: Classical member of set in 10 and setter turn into flower (6)
14 Opener at 10 'e's associated with abroad, we hear (4,4)
16 Make a hole in the capacity of classical member of set in 10 (6)
17 Garment for one of set in 10 with 14, 5 down and 16 (6)

5 down is a bit of an in joke. An 'u' for turn, inside aster, and Auster is another compiler for Guardian. Auster is the name of the South Wind in classical mythology. There is another, less well-known name for the South Wind, Notus, and Araucaria would have had fun with it. But the grid needed six letter clues.

14 is East Wind, who opens play in mah-jongg. The dropped aitch and twinning make it a nice clue, but classically the East Wind is Eurus, unusable with the grid.

16 is cute. 'Bore' for make a hole and 'as' for in the capacity of, ergo Boreas, the North Wind, also known as Aquilo. I wish Araucaria could have used this, but he couldn't have, not without wrecking the across clues in the lower half of the grid.

17 requires a bit of explanation. That zephyr is a lightweight fabric or garment is not well known outside cruciverbal circles. There is another name for the West Wind other than Zephyr, Favonius.

There were other gems, too.

Song was wrong (4) Lied
Lovely to see and hear the tower? (6) Eyeful
Look for return of transvestite queen (6) Regard
Among religious group one gets to drink endless DDT (11) Insecticide

How amusing. But the fiendishly misleading one, which had me wondering how I arrived at the solution and why it was right, was this: Have a pound to pay on bottle top and cloth (3,5) Tea towel

Cloth is the definition, I fretted, but how to justify, what's the logic? Have a pound to pay is 'owe L' and the misdirection stumped me until I thought of feeding bottles, tops of which have teats. Diabolical clue, that was.

But the reason why this puzzle touched a chord in me was this clue: Absence of wind instruments after party left (8) Doldrums

It suited the theme, fit my mood and lifted my spirits.



Blogger Raj said...

Have you heard this one? "I'm silent; therefore I listen".

10:50 am  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

That zephyr is a lightweight fabric or garment is not well known outside cruciverbal circles...Actually, that zephyr is West Wind is not known to people who aren't obsessed with crosswords.

So why are you morose?

12:46 pm  
Anonymous dipali said...

'Ze little grey cells seem to be working overtime, Madame Mukherjea' said Hercule Poirot, bowing courteously.
Madame Dipali needs to be wide awake to understand this lot!
Will get back to your post soon...

9:27 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

Zephyr as garment is new to me. Now why are you blue? That was a striking and powerful poem you posted. Was it recently written or an older one? Did you make any changes?

9:58 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Raj- Have you heard of this? "I am a singer; therefore I resign? Reason enough for senora, too.

Rajesh- Went and crocked my hand bad, didn't I? Hence the gloom.

Dipali- Well, it was one of those purple patch days. :)

Ash- See reply to R, and thanks. You could have commented there, y'know? But yes, it was that poem. No changes whatsoever.

1:48 pm  
Blogger Sivaram said...

I read this book called Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose(8) on Sunday, and wanted to tell you that it is quite a nice combination of crosswords and musings.

You can see the beginning in,3605,880719,00.html

6:18 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Sivaram- I read Balfour's column, and I'd been hoping to acquire the book. Now you've made me jealous. I read that Guardian piece when it came out, too. Thanks.

6:34 pm  

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