Never knowingly undersolved.

Independent 6457/Morph – Stepping down

Posted by neildubya on June 27th, 2007


Fantastic puzzle from “one of us” with a very clever and very topical theme. You probably know the game where you have to change one word into another in a certain number of steps by changing one letter at a time – this puzzle re-enacts that game by showing how to transform BLAIR in BROWN in 4 easy steps. Ingenious. As if that wasn’t enough there’s also some excellent clueing and very imaginative wordplay going on, and I’m not just saying that because I know the setter! That said, there are two clues I don’t understand – 7D and 19D – and I thought 19D was a bit unfair (but see my comments on that).

1 (LAB)*,IR – this is a bit naughty as we’re asked to anagram LAB rather than Labour but the definition (“boss leaving”) confirms the answer beyond doubt so I don’t think it’s unfair.
4 DON’T KNOWS – “don’t nose”.
10 B,LAIN – our first letter change from BLAIR to BLAIN.
11 (g)IN,JUST,ICE – fantastic clue. I liked “without tonic or lemon” for JUST ICE.
14 BR(it)AIN – second letter change from BLAIN to BRAIN.
16 FLUSH – double definition. In poker, a FLUSH (five cards of the same suit) beats a straight (five cards in sequence) but not a full house (three cards of one rank, two of another).
18 (FACT)*,A,MP – I was delighted to find that FAT CAMP  is in the dictionary (the Collins online version at any rate) as it’s a great phrase. Very nice clue too, with a good misleading surface reading.
21 AIR,OTT,ART< – “Turner” rather than “turn(s)” indicates reversal here and I suspect was chosen to fit in with “paintings” and give the clue a better surface.
22 B,RAW,N – third letter change from BRAIN to BRAWN.
23 SECURITY COUNCIL – quite a difficult clue to parse and you have to know your IVR (International Vehicle Registration) codes to do it. K is Cambodia (from when it was Kampuchea) and CI is the Ivory Coast (or Cote d’Ivoire). So, replace the K with CI in (LUCKY COUNTRIES)* and you get SECURITY COUNCIL.
24 WEAR in SWORD – the surface reading doesn’t make much sense but given the Blair/Brown theme we’re probably supposed to interpret this as a reference to Ed Balls, currently the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and right-hand man to Gordon 25A. Whether or not he goes around “tooled up” is not for me to say.
25 B,R,OWN – our final letter change, from BRAWN to BROWN.
2 TA in A GITE – “weekend warriors” for TA (Territorial Army) is very funny. Superb clue too.
4 (D IN TEST)*
5 NOSE JOB – which Spooner would pronounce…well, you work it out.
7 OWENIAN – is this right? David OWEN did defect from Labour to form the SDP but I can’t work out the rest of the clue.
13 R in(RUDE TALE)*
15 PEN in OP,LA,N
17 H,ORATIO(n) – Hamlet’s friend and a survivor at the end of the play.
18 hidden reversed in “nomaDIC CALFskin” – excellent hidden clue.
19 AJACCIO – which is a port in Corsica, which the French call “Corse” (sounds like “coarse”). I’m not really sure how well known the port is but I thought this was pretty tough because there’s no wordplay to help you out. If you know the port (luckily I did but I don’t know where from – I’ve never been there or anything) then it’s fine, if not you’re a bit stuck. I’m sure the word was forced on the setter given the constraints in the grid and theme (two of the theme words cross with this one) but I also can’t see any other obvious way of clueing the word to make it a bit easier.

6 Responses to “Independent 6457/Morph – Stepping down”

  1. eimi says:

    You might say that BLAIR morphs into BROWN.

  2. nmsindy says:

    I thought this was a really excellent puzzle, with some very inventive and novel treatments. It was only when away from it having finished that I appreciated in full the BLAIR to BROWN step-by-step transfer. I really liked BABY BOOM, INJUSTICE and OPEN-PLAN among others. Re AJACCIO, it did not hold up solving in any way once I had crossing letters, but I’d say Corse in French would have a somewhat shorter vowel than coarse. And I suppose this was one day (reference the Times’ exclusion of living persons in the grid) that there was little danger in deciding to go for the theme.

  3. petebiddlecombe says:

    7D: I don’t quite get the wordplay, but I think the Owen in Owenian is Robert – Welsh industrialist & social reformer, who formed the model community at New Lanark, Scotland and pioneered cooperative societies. This is cribbed from Collins, which confirms my vague “Owen/co-op” memory.

  4. nmsindy says:

    That’s right, Peter, I think, and there’s no real alternative. The IAN part, two of which are checked by crossing words, I do not fully understand. It did seem a very appropriate entry for this puzzle (based on the “People’s Party” transfer of leader) as evidenced by the clues in general.

  5. fgbp says:

    Great puzzle – I spotted the “morphing” in mid-solve, which added to the fun (and detracted from the solving time, which threatened to be epic at one point, but I think it was the lateness of the hour). A puzzle with Balls if I may say so. The non-appearance of DAC on his normal day should have alerted me earlier to a topical theme.
    I appreciated the clue to OWENIAN, knowing both New Lanark and the man’s native Newtown well, but I also don’t understand the wordplay entirely.

  6. Mick Hodgkin says:

    Thanks for all your kind comments. This idea came to me during a bout of insomnia in May, and Mike was good enough to free up the topical slot. Interestingly, I’ve just seen that the current Private Eye also does the same morphing from Blair to Brown (not in the crossword, just a little cartoon panel), and carries on to ‘crown’. No collusion, I promise!
    Re Ajaccio, I take the point that it might have had some extra wordplay to point the way. I took a little licence with the pronunciation too, of course, as Neil says – apart from the vowel sound, there’s the small question of the R.
    As for Owenian, it’s just two meanings, the modern one adjectival, the historical one nounal, but they’re probably too close for comfort, so it wasn’t the strongest clue.

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