ACROSTIC — I think this is a very difficult solve! There are challenges in the clues, including two terms that are totally new to me, and an interesting sentence construction that threw me off — I mentally inserted some punctuation incorrectly and got led a bit astray. The passage is from an 1826 work called “Reminiscences” by Michael Kelly, a renowned opera tenor in England and Italy who wrote music and songs and befriended many artists of the classical era.
The excerpt concerns a wildly famous composer’s physical traits and extra-musical skills, namely, a popular parlor game. Because I did so poorly at the clues, I spent a lot of time deducing the passage and made some errors, starting with “— hair, hair —” instead of “fair hair,” progressing to “precision” instead of “profusion” and “trim” for “thin.”
Some of these errors were made possible, even probable, by tough entries like AFFLATUS and INDABA, which look wrong even when they are finally verified to be right. This is far from a gripe, however: Learning the meaning of INDABA was worth the price of admission today. It’s a Zulu and Xhosa term from Southern Africa that describes a negotiating tactic that’s used when many divergent, varied groups need to agree on critical matters, and it was put to use at the Paris climate talks in 2015 to bring 195 nations to unanimous accord. I can’t similarly defend AFFLATUS except to say that yes, it’s a word.
My only easy wins to start this acrostic were KIWI FRUIT, ENGLISH and CLIFFORD, and that last one came after a long beat where my poor brain pictured the Big Red Dog but just kept helpfully offering “Marmaduke. Marmaduke. Marmaduke.” I feel like my brain’s field needs some rototilling, lately.
Elsewhere, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon brought us some doozies. I fixated on some kind of “knot,” which was right, but “knot” didn’t appear in HALF HITCH. I needed every letter to arrive at ENZYMES, which is quite clever, and just couldn’t come up with CHAMPION, CABANA or STOWAWAY, all of which have similarly offbeat clues.
Fortunately the passage fell into place, although my many cross-outs and revisions reminded me of this scene from the delightful 1984 movie “Amadeus.” (It also helps that the last clue referred to it, but I didn’t remember Peter SHAFFER among the credits.)