The Isolated Word by Ten-Four

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Listener crossword 4072: The Isolated Word by Ten-Four (2010-02-06)

The rubric was short and sweet today. “The wordplay in eight clues indicates the answer with an extra letter that is not entered in the grid. These eight letters can be rearranged to form a word that will provide a hint as to how to identify the isolated word (as well as 29 Across, which defines it loosely) that must be entered to complete the puzzle.” After about an hour I had a full grid, apart from the two thematic entries. I had found seven clues with extra letters in wordplay:

There were also three clues whose wordplay I didn’t understand:

The seven extra letters I found were ACCORST, which could lead to ACCOURTS, ACROSTIC, CAR-COATS, ECTOSARC, or SOCRATIC. Of these, ACROSTIC was the only one that I could imagine being a “hint as to how to identify the isolated word”. That required an extra I somewhere, and indeed the wordplay in 9 down could be explained as “desperate” ↦ DIRE, “and” ↦ N, all “shown up”. (20 across is explained as an anagram of 12 across, LEARN. For 8 down we need another sense of TELLER, “one of the strokes made by a church bell ringing a funeral knell”; this is the result of the action of the RINGER from 5 down.)

At this point I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to work out the hint. I noticed that none of the extra letters was in an answer that goes below the isolated word: they are all in clues that start in the top half of the puzzle. So I started looking for hidden words that extended downwards from the isolated word. A point in favour of this idea was that that the word extending down from the tenth letter of the isolated word would have intersected with 29 across and resolved the five-way ambiguity there. The trouble with this idea was that there were far too many possibilities for the words, for example the word descending from the first letter of the isolated word could be CUE, DUE, GUE, HUE, RUE, or SUE.

Then I looked up ACROSTIC in Chambers. It’s “A poem or puzzle in which the first (or last) letters of each line spell a word or sentence”. Of each line. An across-tic. And indeed the initial letters of the clues spelled out EXTRA LETTER FROM CLUE N OCCURS N TIMES IN FINAL GRID. I should have paid more attention to the advice given to Shirley Curran by Chris Lancaster: “he invariably quickly scans the opening and closing letters of clues—just in case”. Lesson learned, I hope.

Anyway, after counting up letters, I found that I was left with the twelve letters AACIOORRSSTT to finish the grid. These spelled ARISTOCRATS, leaving an O for NOBS.