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.
Another Azed milestone, which Dr Watson and many other satisfied solvers will be celebrating in Oxford on the 17th December. Once again Azed chose the year corresponding to the puzzle number as the basis of the theme. In this case it is a poem completed (as the Oxford Companion to English Literature confirms) in 1750 but not published until the following year, and about which the puzzle’s title appears to give nothing away. The thematic elements of the puzzle are the ten substantive words from the first two lines of the first verse, each entered in the grid with a misprint of one letter – each misprint creating a different real word that is itself clued with a misprint in the definition. Dr Watson initially took preamble to mean that the misprinted clues led to the actual words from the poem, that were to be entered in the grid with a misprint. It was only when NERD (clearly not a 1750 word) turned up at 35a that the instructions became clear, and the theme fairly quickly revealed itself.
NERD brought to mind HERD, and with it the thought of herds winding slowly o’er the lea. This proved a good hunch, soon confirmed by KNEEL/KNELL, and ODQ filled in the gaps in Watson’s memory of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.
The remaining misprints weren’t especially difficult to locate in the generously-checked grid, but several of the misprinted and normal clues still put up a good struggle, making the solving a very satisfying effort.
The ten thematic words, then, are ones in capitals below:
The CURFEW TOLLS the KNELL of PARTING DAY,
The LOWING HERD WIND SLOWLY o’er the LEA
In the grid they appear as CURLEW, TELLS, KNEEL, CARTING, DRY, ROWING, NERD, WING, SCOWLY and LET.
The misprints in the clues can be arranged into GRAY’S ELEGY.
The word to be clued (normally, with no misprints) is PLOUGHMAN, the first noun in the third line of the poem, and rather appropriate given that celebration in Oxford is a lunch.
Finally the title. This is two misprints away from STOKE POGES, whose churchyard is generally thought to be the inspiration of the Elegy (though Stoke Poges church is not alone: some others, including the parish church of Upton, Slough, claim a share of the honour).
Notes to the clues:
7a: Lines found in turning fixed slabs. TELLS (blabs; ll in set, rev.). The R, S and L of GRAY’S ELEGY are the hardest letters to pin down. ‘Lines’ looks a better candidate for a misprint than ‘slabs’.
11a: Wager we got back after what roulette produces? CURLEW (wader; curl + we, rev.). CURFEW/CURLEW was to most obvious misprint to search for (Watson wonders if it was Azed’s inspiration for setting the puzzle as he did). It’s very well disguised here by the misleading ‘roulette’ (a type of hair curler).
17a: Small number entering scratch round. WING (wound; n in wig). Not at all easy, with the misprinted letter in the solution unchecked, and the misprinted definition ‘round’ looking very much like part of the wordplay. Solvers relying on the internet for the wording of the poem will have had the additional difficulty that many of the online versions turned up by Google show ‘the lowing herd winds’ rather than ‘wind’.
39a: Express hum in unusual rendering of Dies. DISPONGE (pong in anag.). A little thought is needed to avoid DISPUNGE, the main entry in Chambers, since the fifth letter is unchecked.
1d: Cunning, about to subdue with threatening blows. SCOWLY (brows; cow in sly). The word that is not found in Chambers, but not too hard to work out.
8d: Oil-forming gas, what (literally) you’ll find in middle of beer. ETHENE (E then E). In Watson’s experience what you’ll find in beer is a gas-forming liquid, but this literal deconstruction makes an entertaining clue.
21d: Like Indian moving in bendy rig? Can’t – bust. CARTING (bandy; anag.). A bandy is an ox-cart. Another misprint that’s quite tough to solve completely.
29d: Quibble over a bit of knowledge being a worthless thing. PUNK (pun + k). One wouldn’t quibble in relation to solving a puzzle like this. The synonym for ‘pun’ is an interesting find..
1a: SCORDATI (anag.); 12a: DRY (arid; d + Ry.); 13a: TEAK (tea + k(not)); 14a: ORATE (o’ rate); 15a: ARISH ((b)arish); 18a: STERNO (hidden); 19a: LOGGED (log ged); 20a: SPINACH (s + a in pinch); 26a: BATOONS (too in bans); 27a: ASWIRL (as W IRL); 29a: PRIORS (Pr + or in is); 32a: ALTO ((William) (W)alto(n)); 33a: RATIO (RA + I in to); 34a: OLEIN (lei in on); 35a: NERD (fellow; hidden); 36a: LET (allow; alternate letters); 37d: ROWING (scolding; r + owing); 38a: KNEEL (pray; ne in anag.); 2d: CURIOSA (so, rev., in curia); 3d: ORANGE-TIP (ran get I in OP); 4d: DEEVE (deev + E); 5d: AWARDS (a war DS(O)); 6d: IRIS (hidden); 7d: TYSTIE (anag.); 9d: LAWN (law + n(o)); 10d: SKIO (ski + O); 12d: DRESS SUIT (anag.); 16d: BRAZILEIN (Eliza, rev., in bin); 22d: BOORDE (or in bode); 23d: MORALL (morall(y)); 24d: MAJORS (2 meanings); 25d: PLONGE (long in PE); 28d: SWOOP (o in PoWs, rev.); 30d REEN (ne’er, rev.); 31d: STED (last letters).