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.

Azed No 1676: Plain (4 Jul 2004)

Dr Watson’s correcting pen was needed again this month, thanks to some bad guesswork and one very ambiguous clue.

Notes to the clues:

1a:     Cleaner needed when one’s down?  VAC (2 meanings).  With the V confirmed, Watson guessed VIM (a predecessor of Jif or Cif or whatever it is these days), but the correct answer reveals a cleverer idea – ‘down’ being ‘away from University’.

26a:   Precinct sure coming round, protected by élite corps?  SEKOS (oke, rev. in SS).  At first sight this looks like it’s going to be OK reversed in something (SAS?), but the obvious solution forces you to look for another explanation.

32a:   It shunts assorted gunge in wood casing.  PUG-ENGINE (anag. in pine).  Assuming that ‘tine’ must somehow have woody associations, Dr Watson stubbornly persisted with TUG-ENGINE, which led to a host of problems in the SW corner.

2d:    A container, tinkling, revealing strontium sulphate.  ACANTHIN (a can thin). One can only wonder when and on what evidence Chambers first chose to put ‘tinkling’ as a meaning of ‘thin’ (presumably as a description of a sound). Do other dictionaries concur?

9d:    Kentish castle, not the first recorded in history?  EVER  ((H)ever).  Not the best known Kentish castle. With other letters in place it might have been tempting to guess at (D)over or even (L)eeds.

18d:  Go round a bit in a fog?  PEA SOUP  (a sou in pep).  With the T from the erroneous TUG-ENGINE inked into the last square, Dr Watson quickly solved this clue as MISS OUT (sou in mist). Needless to say, PHENETIC and ANALYTICS were a long time in the solving after that. It’s rare for a clue to lead quite so neatly to two alternative solutions.

24d:  E.g. —— are sad lot? (Legionaries acted brutally).  ICENI (comp. anag., & lit.).  This is not very different in form from the clue to ARMAMENTARIA (‘ER team in a US drama used —— liberally’) that Azed criticised in a recent Slip for having no indication that the second part is an anagram of the first. The sentence break and question mark probably make a significant difference here.

Other solutions:

4a: TAP-CINDER (a PC in tinder);  11a: ÉCRASEUR (anag.);  12a: SAIVA (a in a vis, rev.);  13a: STODGES (anag. in sets, rev.);  14a: ANNEX (Anne X);  15a: LAERS (R in seal, rev.);  16a: RASKOLNIK (skol in rani + K);  18a: PHENETIC (anag.);  21a: GUNPORTS (anag. in guts);  22a: ANALYTICS (S City lana, all rev.);  28a: TATIN (Tati n, ref. Jacques T., film-maker);  29a: ORIGANE (anag.);  30a: CLINT (Clint(on));  31a: MANDIOCA (man di(et) oca);  33a: NEP (hidden);  1d: VESAK (hidden);  3d: CRINGE-MAKING;  4d: TAVERNA (anag. in ta);  5d: PESOS (PE SOS);  6d: CUTIKIN (ki(nd) in anag.);  7d: NODAL (no dal);  8d: DEGENERATION (anag., & lit.);  10d: RUSSKIS (r US + anag.);  17d: INTRINCE (NT rin in ice);  19d: TUTANEG (comp. anag.);  20d: ROSALIE (Ali(son) in rose);  23d: LOGIE (log + i.e.);  25d: ON TAP (anag.);  27d: ERHU (hidden, & lit.).