There is a quiz programme on BBC TV called Pointless, where the idea is that, on any given question, you come up with an answer that no-one in a selected 100 test group knew. So if the category is “Dickens novels”, a pointless answer might well be “Mugby Junction”. For “Characters from Antony and Cleopatra”, 13ac might supply nul points, For “Characters from Hard Times”, 7d might serve. You see where I’m going with this? The leaderboard shows only 3 scores under an hour, and the rest of us mostly in multiple hours. My time of 7 plus hours reflects that I had to go away and come back, and my total was more like 1hr 50’, but with one error due to exhaustion. This was by a distance the toughest TLS since forever, not least because of a succession of bit parts and authors’ also rans. I have taken the liberty of providing even more extensive explanations than (even) I normally give partly to illustrate the joy of successful Googling and partly from a Reithian desire to inform, educate and entertain.
“But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones”. Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002
Here’s the education and information: Clues, Definitions SOLUTIONS
1 Ancient lord administering justice in a family feud (7)
ESCALUS One bit of the clue is easy: the family feud has to be R&J. The rest is a concatenation of Shakespeare trivia. Escalus is described as an Ancient Lord in Measure For Measure and chips in with such lines as “I guess” and “what else”. Escalus is also the name of the Prince in R&J. I know that now.
5 Child of God’s mostly ill, a week after Christmas (7)
HARIJAN Is the term meaning child of Vishnu that Ghandi used in an attempt to elevate the status of the Untouchable caste. A week after Christmas is 1st JAN, and mostly ill (n) gives you the HAR(m)
9 Svejk’s introduction to his superiors (6,6,3)
HUMBLY REPORT SIR The good soldier Švejk is a novel by the Czech Jaroslav Hašek, and this was his catchphrase, usually followed by some unlikely explanation as to why things were not as they should be. Effectively a quotation clue without the dash.
10 OK about left – a sign of change in Polish letters? (6)
OGONEK The wordplay’s easy – insert GONE/left into OK, and the thing itself is a sort of comma placed under a vowel in Polish (and many other orthographies) to modify the sound: ą, ę. It means “little tail” in Polish
11 Oil container held by my Latin or Greek healer and “author” (8)
MELAMPUS A soothsayer and healer of Greek mythology, his name was used by later writers on divination to boost credibility and sales, hence the “author”. Place LAMP, oil container into MEUS, Latin for my.
13 A middle-eastern ambassador sounding pleasant takes in a king and loses nothing (10)
EUPHRONIUS Another Shakespearean bit part, Antony’s ambassador to Octavius in A&C, so I suppose “middle eastern” covers it. EUPHONIOUS means pleasant sounding, add an R (king) and subtract an 0 where it looks likely
14 I’m absorbed by an artist in Italian verse (4)
RIMA insert I’M into R(oyal) A(cademician) for an easy exercise in discovering a likely word for Italian verse
16 A poet said to be dull (4)
GRAY Thomas, he of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard. The “sounds like” wordplay is there to confuse our American friends
17 A poet, working in Leopold’s province (10)
BLOOMFIELD Robert, 1766 – 1923, chiefly known for The Farmer’s Boy. I think the wordplay indicates Leopold BLOOM, of Ulysses, and his FIELD of work.
20 A statement about the gospels that one can make (4,4)
ONE’S MARK One can make one’s mark in the world, and of the four Gospels… Rather a lot of ones
21 Confession of a drug dealer: I wanted to poison my lover (6)
ISOLDE A drug dealer’s confession might be “I sold E”. The Isolde who wanted to poison Tristan is the one in the Wagner opera.
23 A teller of fantastic stories, Gogol made dancer giddy (6,9)
GEORGE MACDONALD An anagram (giddy) of GOGOL MADE DANCER. Author of (inter alia) Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, and mentor to Charles Dodgson.
24 Marauding invaders – ones following those like 16? (7)
VIKINGS 16 (down, that is) Is George V. The conceit here is that several of those would be V Kings, and the following set would be VI KINGS. Laugh, groan or cry. Your choice.
25 Have a dip? Yes, a long way down in sea water (7)
BATHYAL Have a dip: BATH, yes: Y as in those forms where they can’t be bothered to write the whole word, A –um- A, long L.
1 Who the ’eck will Ron Glum marry? An old African? (7)
ETHIOPE An antique version of Ethiopian. You also have to be fairly antique to properly remember the Glum family, way before Les Mis was rechristened. From the steam radio programme, Take It From Here, Ron Glum and Eth were a long-engaged couple constantly frustrated in their attempts to get wed by Pa Glum and Ron’s indolence. Nevertheless we can surmise that, if asked who he would marry, Ron would reply “Eth, I ‘ope”. Wonderfully nostalgic clue if you stretch back that far, probably bewildering if you don’t
2 Here we note general’s position on reserve (11,4)
COMMONPLACE BOOK Don’t know if anyone still has one. It was (is?) a notebook in which you jotted down anything which seemed significant at the time. Simple substitutions: general/common (caviar to the…) position/place, reserve/book.
3 A learner with a car — a happy man apparently (8)
L’ALLEGRO This is where my tribulations really took hold. It was the A learner, A car A happy man that threw me, providing a surplus of A’s. Always thrown by the traditional lack of apostrophes in enumeration. Plus I knew allegro didn’t mean happy, but quick. Did not know Milton’s pair of poems Il Penseroso and L’Allegro, where L’Allegro means “the happy man” in Italian. Did not have checking letter from 1ac. Result: solving carnage. Picking through that lot should give you the info you need. Though you may also need to know that the Allegro was a product of British Leyland in the 70’s, a hatchback without a hatch but with a “quartic” (for which read square-ish) steering wheel, which quickly earned itself the nickname of “the flying pig”. I have driven one. Oink.
4 The Unjust Man or Women in Dawood’s translation (4)
SURA In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. I believe this is the one that caused most head scratching on the day. Here’s the Daylight*. N J Dawood, an Iraqi Jewish scholar, translated the Quran into accessible English initially for Penguin books, The (“untranslateable”) Quran is made up of a series of Chapters or SURAs arranged traditionally by length and initially by Dawood “chronologically”. Can’t you just feel the fatwahs piling up? He gave each Sura his own version of a heading, sometimes different from the traditional headings. In my humble opinion, this is where Broteas took a rather naughty step too far. There are three of Dawood’s headings in the clue, not two: The Unjust (Sura 83), Man (Sura 16) and Women (Sura 4). One comma short for comfort (yes, yes, I know, ignore punctuation), which is why you may not have come up with confirmation just by Googling, and why I thought it might have been my one mistake.
5 Meet up North, perhaps beside (6,4)
HAPPEN UPON. Ignore punctuation. “Up North” (from a certain perspective), HAPPEN can mean “perhaps”. Beside has to be pushed a bit to mean UPON, (Kingston-upon-Thames?) but part of me thinks that’s OK. The phrase means meet.
6 Unusually rare editor – in short, something to do with good books (6)
REREAD Ah, an easy one. An anagram (“unusually”) of RARE ED(itor)
7 Curiously half-hearted Jennie’s horseplay seen by one in Hard Times (9,6)
JOSEPHINE SLEARY Another anagram, but much harder to solve: half-hearted, so JEN(n)IES HORSEPLAY gives the material. Josephine is very much a bit part player (again!), with six mentions in total in Dickens’s Hard Times, the daughter of Mr Sleary, circus owner and horse expert (hence the horseplay?).
8 Her first words are good sentences, but she suspects they may be ignored (7)
NERISSA Portia’s maid in the Merchant of Venice. Here’s her first exchange in the play
NERISSA You would be, sweet madam, if your miseries…but competency lives longer.
PORTIA Good sentences and well pronounced.
NERISSA They would be better, if well followed.
And there you have the full premise of the clue.
12 A story-teller from Harris (5,5)
UNCLE REMUS was the creation of Joel Chandler Harris and narrator of the Aesop–like fables starring Br’er Rabbit. Partially fell out of favour in the mid 20th Century for its patronising portrayal of Black people, but that didn’t stop Disney making Song of the South in 1946
15 “Barbox Brothers had been some — or irregular branch of the Public Notary and bill-broking tree” (Charles Dickens, Mugby Junction) (8)
OFFSHOOT If you have the crossing letters, it’s an easy guess. But if you’re relying for these missing word clues on your knowledge of the texts, I’ll wager real money this one isn’t in your personal databank. Mugby Junction? Is a pointless answer!
16 One of HG Wells’s aliens apparently, one in charge during devastating war (6,1)
GEORGE V King during WWI, constructed from one of H G Wells – understand names, and pick one from Herbert and George. V I think is the TV series and remakes concerning visiting aliens of the not friendly kind
18 The top toy in Jewish culture? (7)
DREIDEL A four sided spinning top used by Jewish children of any age for a simple gambling game, especially at Hannukah. The clue depends on you spotting that “top” is a noun, not an adjective. That’s it.
19 I’m identified by a mole before a murder victim is discovered (6)
IMOGEN One of the benefits of blogging the TLS is that I am gradually assimilating the plot of Cymbaline. Posthumus (see TLS 1121) is convinced that his missus Imogen has been seduced by Iachimo because Iachimo describes a mole under Imogen’s breast. This leads to Postumus determining to murder Imogen, though this is thwarted. There are other killings in the play, but I can’t really see how the mole and the murder victim are connected, unless it’s that Postumus’ intention to murder is discovered. Over to you. This is also my error: I had essayed ONEGIN, knowing (TLS 1118) that there was a murder, if not necessarily a mole involved. Changed the N to an M when entering ONE’S MARK but failed to notice the impact of the change.
22 Small vehicle which a rogue apparently made himself in Coriolanus (4)
SCAB Also linked to TLS 1121. The wordplay is S(mall) CAB/car, the reference is Marcius’ “friendly” greeting to rebellious citizens:
“What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?”
Once again, congratulations if you knew that.
Are you not entertained?