For the benefit of solvers new to the rigours of the Advanced Cryptic, Dr Watson provides a monthly review of the Observer’s Azed competition puzzle. Dr Watson is a regular Azed competitor. Please post any comments on this review to the Crossword Centre’s message board.
Dr Watson can’t have been the only competitor who retired on Sunday evening with the feeling that this puzzle was going to extend April Fools’ Day well past its normal deadline. Forty-four lights against the usual 36, and a hidden theme? Whatever was Azed playing at?
None of the normal clues turned out to be especially difficult or devious, though the solver filled in the lights with trepidation that a trick was lurking that would undo all that had been entered before. A few were interesting:
21a: Marks, maybe, francs and rubles in complicated deal. ALFRED (F, R in anag.). Alfred Marks is the name of a big UK recruitment agency that was better known a few years ago than it is now.
26a: Dish making one j-jump around. PAELLA (a l-leap, all rev.). The stutterer returns, rather literally in this clue. Regular solvers will know that Azed might use ‘j-jump’ to indicate J-LEAP as well as L-LEAP, though that’s unlikely in this case.
33a: Rattle ma’s abandoned as worthless. RACA ((ma)raca). The trap here is the temptation to look for something starting or ending in M (ma’s abandoned as).
36a: Writer was indisposed in retirement, not dead. ELIA (aile(d), rev.) In the case of Charles Lamb and the cryptic crossword, “dead but won’t lie down” might be more appropriate. This is his second resurrection in three competition puzzles.
1d: Fix indirect manoeuvre of spacecraft near planet. SWING-BY (swing by). Simple enough once solved, but two rather obscure charade parts leading to an unfamiliar definition convince Watson that solving cryptics sometimes really can be rocket science.
9d: Faith (as of old) I require, embracing God. INDEED (D in I need). The ‘faith’ referred to here is what Chambers calls the ‘interj (archaic)’. All the elements work together beautifully in this clue, Dr Watson’s favourite of the puzzle.
17d: Bird costing nothing to send abroad, soaring duck. FRANCOLIN (franco + nil, rev.). Solution is entirely dependent on spotting ‘franco’ in Chambers. Philatelists and those who watched ‘Il Postino’ might have had a head start.
19d: Adult insect wings left in a tree. ABELE (A + l in bee). The least obvious cryptic reading (‘wings’ = ‘is on either side of’) here proves to be the right one.
21d: Is a hinge’s centre properly fixed? Gates must comply with this. ANSI (anag. inc. N). Bill Gates is the reference in this witty clue to a word you’d normally cross the street to avoid.
24d: Silly point’s head covering? MADRAS (mad + ras)
26d: Catch in hand, last of tail going under. PAWL (paw + l). Solvers non-plussed by the literal readings of these two otherwise straightforward clues, would to well to acquaint themselves with the vocabulary of cricket, a game which Azed refers to an awful lot. Watson would love to explain, of course, but space is limited...
32d: Wild perhaps, this extract from Uncle Arly, his creator invented. EARL (hidden anag., & lit?). Right, let’s unpick this. Earl Wild is (was?) a classical pianist. Uncle Arly is a comic poem by Edward Lear. Lear is hidden in Uncle Arly. Wild indicates an anagram. It’s all there, yet it fails to satisfy. Surely the anagram is indirect? Lear’s nonsense verse may still raise a smile these days, but would anyone find it ‘wild’?
The other normal solutions are:
5a: DEMOTIC (mot in anag.); 12a: INLY (in l y); 13a: DAWD (w in dad); 14a: NEEDLY (2 defs); 15a: TOFFEE (t of fee); 18a: GOAN (hidden); 26a PAELLA (a l-leap, rev.); 27a: ACRE (hidden rev.); 31a: CEROUS (anag.); 2d: RONEO (one in ro.); 4d: PELL ((pa)pe(ry) + l, l); 5d: DRAY (a in dry); 6d: EMIT (m in tie rev.); 8d: TIW (wit rev.); 11d: GLID (last letters); 16d: OLEIN (E in anag); 20d: BONA (a nob rev.); 23d: PRESAGE (g in anag.); 28d: RUING (ruin + g); 30d: DUES (anag.); 31d: CEAS (ceas(e)); 34d: ACE (first letters, & lit); 35d: ALE ((h)ale)
Which leads us to the nub of the puzzle. Ten unclued lights with some connection that’s linked to April 1st. Given all the other letters, we know that 7d is MAD, 38a ought to be USELESS, 22a has BONE in it, and 25a is either TENSIONER or PENSIONER. This looks like something to do with fools (mad, useless) and wind-ups (tensioner). But wait, there’s no T in the unchecked letters given , so 25a must be PENSIONER. Over to Brewer’s. What links MAD, USELESS, PENSIONER, and, now we think of it, BAREBONES, is that they are all names given to historic English parliaments. Under PARLIAMENT in Brewer’s we also find directly, or indirectly, ADDLED, LONG, RUMP, UNLEARNED, WONDER-MAKING, and in some editions, though not Watson’s own 15th, LACK-LEARNING. Solvers without a copy of Brewer’s can check it online at www.bartleby.com.
So it’s parliaments. What did Azed say in the preamble? “The title..., part deviously, part roughly synonymously (two words), indicates what solvers might feel they have been.” PARLI gives an anagram of APRIL and AMENTS, according to Chambers, are persons “who fail to develop mentally.” And how do you feel after all that? Gently teased and intellectually stretched? Like you’ve just walked through a doorway with a bucket of water poised over it? Or ready to avenge yourself in the clue writing competition?