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 1707 'Rum Exits' (6 Feb 2005)


An unexpected treat this month for fans of Azed’s specials. When the setter created an entire grid of one-word anagrams for the Christmas 2003 puzzle, few of his solvers can have imagined that he’d repeat it, let alone with the same arrangement of three 11-letter words intersecting a 13-letter one. But here’s the proof that it was possible. The grid is quite a work of art (or perhaps feat of engineering), and Azed allows the solver to get to grips with it by providing clues whose component parts are fairly straightforward definitions and wordplays.

The structure of the clues is unchanged from the ‘Christmas & Its Charms’ puzzle, and Dr Watson is still a little uneasy with it. In across clues the definition gives the word to be entered and the wordplay leads to anagram. In the downs it’s the other way around. This puts some constraints on the setter (e.g. the wordplay can’t be an anagram), and also means the solver doesn’t have to solve the whole clue (Watson didn’t find the anagrams of PARAMENT or ORIGAN until after the puzzle was solved and dispatched). The winning clue in the competition is: ‘What was inspection of lawn? Good, given a nitrogen-enriched tract of grass’. Consider this from the point of view of a solver unfamiliar with the word ‘alnage’ or the definition of ‘lawn’ as a type of cloth. With a few letters in place, the solution GALENA emerges from the wordplay (g + a + N in lea) and can be entered. But what about the definition? There are 720 possible permutations of the six letters, and the most obvious anagram ‘Angela’ doesn’t fit the bill. If the solver comes across ‘alnage’ the definition ‘(obs) inspection of cloth’ could lead them to investigate further, but by now it’s for curiosity’s sake rather than solving the puzzle.

Assuming Azed can repeat this amazing feat of grid construction, it would be ideal next time if he could find an equally satisfying and complete way to clue it.

Notes to the clues:

16a:   Temperature certainly rising sharply in Cairngorms?  STEY (TYES; t yes).  Solvers might be caught out by the alternative anagram STYE, meaning ‘to rise’

18a:   Set out again to dine after disturbed rest.  RESTATE (ESTREAT; anag. + eat).  RESTATE is pretty much ‘dined after undisturbed rest’, so the wordplay comes very close to stating the actual solution.

19a:   One’s given assurances I’m among the Rest.  PROMISEE (REIMPOSE; I’m in repose).  A bit of a tease, since PROMISER fits the definition nicely and offers the promising anagram PRIMROSE.

34d:  Recommended daily draught? Dad has it around noon.  PINTA (PAINT; pa + n in it).  Some solvers might be too young or too distant to remember the Milk Marketing Board’s exhortation (from the 1960s?) to ‘Drinka Pinta Milka Day’.

10d:  Cox, perhaps, worried about centre of crew.  ARĘTE ((c)re(w) in ate; EATER).  An eater (and a Cox) being an eating apple.

20d:  Shed claw after end of June.  ETALON (e + talon; LEAN-TO).  The sort of great punning opportunity that Azed never fails to grasp – and one that would not have been available in a straight clue to ETALON, whose definition in Chambers is distinctly technical.

23d:  Catholics occupying most of pew?  INSTAL (in stal(l); LATINS).  A fine example of how you can make this kind of clue both elegant and solvable.

Other solutions:

1a: PASTERN (PERSANT; per sant);  7a: ATMAN (MANTA; man ta);  12a: ARGOT (GROAT; a in grot);  14a: DESIRE (RESIDE; is, rev., in rede);  15a: LEARY (LAYER; (p)layer);  17a: MALIST (SMALTI; it lams, rev.);  21a: TENOVAGINITIS (INVESTIGATION; v(iolenc)e in instigation);  24a: PARAMENT (NAME-PART; N + me in apart);  28a: SERICON (CRINOSE; no in crise);  30a: STELAR (SLATER; S + later);  31a: PRAT (RAPT; r apt);  32a: ENOKI (KOINE; O in kine);  33a: CALAMI (CALIMA; I in calm + a);  35a: TREND (DRENT; r in dent);  36a; ELASTIN (SALIENT; alien in st.);  1d: PALMATISECT (pal + mat + is + anag.; METAPLASTIC);  2d: AREAD (area + d; ARDEA);  3d: TORIC (to Ric(hard); TROIC);  4d: ROSTRA (hidden; SARTOR);  5d: NITROGENASE (I in NT + gen in anag.; GENERATIONS);  6d: ADEEM (a dee m; EDEMA);  8d: TSOTSI (sot in anag.; STOITS);  9d: MIRA (a rim, rev.; MAIR);  11d: NECESSARIAN (anag. + nairas, rev.; RENAISSANCE);  13d: GALENA;  20d: ETALON (e + talon; LEAN-);  22d: ORIGAN (I in organ;);  24d: PETAR (p + rate, rev.; APERT);  25d: MORIA (MO + air, rev.; MOIRA);  26d: LENIS (I in lens; LINES);  27d: SAKTI (Kt in sai; TAKIS);  29d: ROLE ((pa)role; LORE).