Thursday, 2 January 2014


For our solver in Skelmersdale (you know who you are!) eagerly awaiting the next Eclogue puzzle, you're in cluck... errr luck!

This puzzle started as an exercise in putting several 15 or 30 letter phrases into a standard blocked grid - the length as well as the requisite word breaks being the main constraints in construction.  However, the exercise quickly turned into something with a hint of the macabre, once the two 30 letter phrases "I give unto..." and "the chickens have..." became viable options.   So this became Eclogue's first trip into rather dark humour, both of the marital state and of morbidity generally (neither of which Eclogue are pleased to report, they have any complaints about!).

It was not by immediate design either that M_DI_S presented itself along the middle row during construction, but this also looked like too good an opportunity to miss, as Will Shakespeare bemoans his lot and gives of his all, we can but surmise as to his state of mind when he made the extraordinary bequest.  The result is of course that MR (Shakespeare) DIES - alas poor Yorick etc. etc.

Now, Eclogue are sure that Anne Hathaway was probably the kindest and most gentle of folk and make no insuation to the contrary, but there was clearly a terrestrial day of judgement before the sonneteer put down his pen for the last time.  And so, the chickens metaphorically represent this.

The use of long lights brought a trait that we have seen frequently in the dailies, particularly the Guardian where Araucaria, Enigmatist and the late Bunthorne are particularly noted.  Eclipse followed in these hallowed footsteps and clued these phrases with several lengthy anagrams to exercise our poor solver.
So as to ensure fowl play, the extra letters generated by wordplay spelt out four farmyard males of the chicken variety.

The puzzle fitted nicely in the Magpie schedule, being decidedly 'A-grade' in nature and so from the hatching to the despatching proved a relatively short time indeed.  We hope solvers admired our pluck and weren't spitting feathers by the end of it.

Judging by solver comments, there was a fairly staunch defence of the Shakespeares , suggesting that our tongue-in-cheek connection was probably without foundation.  However, although the quote was correctly attributed, the essence was not intended to be that specific - it merely served an amusing purpose and was a 'light bite' compared to Eclogue's more usual heavy-weight offerings.  The Magpie solvers commented as follows:-

  • I thought it was pretty obvious what Will's bequest was, but I couldn't remember the exact wording. I thought it was surprising that the two 30-letter answers could fit together as they do in the grid, but I suppose if they hadn't the puzzle could have been set differently. 
  • I suppose the theme could be largely ignored by the solver, but I did need to recognise the chickens to guess the last few extra letters.
  • Don't understand about central line, but I enjoyed the long entries. 
  • Good to have a blocked puzzle from time to time. Just about A grade.
  • I'd have been upset not to recognise this, living near Stratford!
  • Grid finished, I hope, but have to admit I don't undrstand the theme or what "MR DIES" has to do with anything.
  • Simple and straightforward. OK for a gentle opener.
  • Not sure what to say about this one! Although blocked and fairly easy, one or two of the clues required guesswork. One extra letter in a two-letter word is almost impossible to arrive at and can only be worked back to from the answer - I wouldn't find this entirely satisfactory in a harder puzzle.
  • No difficulty at all, but enlivened by nice anagrams for many of those challenging long lights. VALVASSOR, ODONATIST, RAWNS and BARCAROLE were new to me. As for the theme, from my reading of the mystery I'm not sure we can infer that "the second best bed" bequest was _necessarily_ a slight to Mrs S. What is clear is that the S's had an unconventional relationship (for their time).
  • A pleasantly simple opener to the issue. The two phrases fit the grid neatly, although I'm not taken by the idea that Shakespeare was revenging himself on his wife in his will, so thematic coherence was a bit lost.
  • I thought that this was quite tricky for an A grader with the 2 long anagrams being particularly hard to fathom. I'm still not sure what the connection between the chickens and Shakespeare's bed is but it was an interesting solve nonetheless.
  • The smallness of the theme was easily compensated for by the impressively large number of 15 letter entries.
  • I must confess to missing the point of puzzle... If this is an A, there's not more to it than the two main phrase/quotes, is there?
  • The long entries made this an easy puzzle to solve if not to set.

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