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 1752 ‘Mixed Foursomes’ (18 Dec 2005)

A meaty challenge for the holiday period in which three different types of special clue (two of which Dr Watson hasn’t seen in this form before) mingle with the normal clues, each group of four clues containing one clue of each type. The instructions are as usual quite explicit and several pieces of help are given.

In the Anagram clues (A in the notes below) Azed departs from the cluing method of previous specials like ‘Rum Exits’ (where the definition led to one word and the wordplay to an anagram of it), and instead provides a normal clue to an anagram of the word to be entered. The clue contains a ‘rough’ one-word synonym of the solution to be entered, in a similar way to a ‘Wrong Number’ clue. This is a big improvement, in Dr Watson’s view, as it constrains the wordplay less and requires the solver to fully solve the clue. Not one to duck a challenge, Azed manages to include several very substantial one-word anagrams in the grid. In the notes to these clues, the synonym is given first, followed by the anagram actually clued, then the explanation.

Letters Latent (L) is a more familiar type of special. Instead of indicating the length of the unmutilated solution in brackets after the clue (which would give it away), Azed indicates the numbers of latent letters in the preamble. As usual, the latent letters spell out a thematic word.

Definition and Letter Mixture (D) clues have the added twist that the letter mixtures contain a redundant letter, matching the latent letter of the same foursome. This makes them harder to solve at the start, but easier once some of the latent letters become known.

The extraneous letters in order spell MIDWINTER, which fell three days after publication, and by about which time solvers may have finally got it.

Notes to the clues:

10a:   Shifting fan re-oil moving wings, then proceed! ICONOLATER (A; fan; relocation; cat in anag. + on!).  A very tricky clue’s required to work in the synonym, though Chambers does define ‘cat’ as ‘a jazz fan’. The existence of the anagram pair certainly helps confirm the solution.

17a:   He is Time, wielding antique mowing instrument.  SIETH (D; he [i]s time).  ‘Solving’ this one early on, Watson confidently entered SITHE in the grid, a rash move that led to some last minute shopping for a correcting pen.

27a:   Sporting peer ‘shielding’ a heraldic plant to become one.  CELOSIA (A; plant; coalise; a lis in Coe).  The reference to Lord Coe shouldn’t have been too obscure with his role in the London Olympic bid. The definition of ‘coalise’ isn’t obvious, though with hindsight it does look rather tacked on to the clue.

1d:    Fool? Class admit expelling one such.  CLOWN (cl(ass). own).  Is ‘expelling one such’ an instruction to drop an I or A, or is it just padding for the surface reading, since ‘class’ abbreviates to Cl.? Watson re-read this a number of times before spotting the ass.

2d:    Wood housing nuthatches, see? Such birds can cause clinical disease.  ANTISEPTIC (A; clinical; psittacine; sitta C in pine).  For the pleasure of finding such a terrific anagram one would accept a clue of almost any standard, but this is quite up to scratch. Recalling that parrots can transmit psittacosis is a help to finding the clued anagram.

5d:    I count lip misjudged observance of etiquette.  UNPOLITIC (A; misjudged; punctilio; anag.).  Azed takes the risk of cluing this anagram with another one. The longish definition of ‘punctilio’ and the double duty done by ‘misjudged’ allow the clue to be solved unequivocally. The same applies to 21d.

7d:    Restaurants make public entering take flight, uplifted.  [T]RA[TT]ORIAS (L; air in soar, all rev.).  The neat wordplay makes good use of ‘make public’.

15d:  It’s nice swallowing drug that dispels sorrow without the high standard of niceness.  NINEPENCE (nepen(the) in nice).  The length of the clue makes it look as though the setter is trying to work something into it, but it’s a false alert. Azed is just making the component definitions precise. ‘High standard of niceness’ (as in ‘nice as ninepence’) comes straight from Chambers, and ‘drug that dispels sorrow’ is close to the dictionary wording.

18d:  Gases we anticipated once subside.  ASSWAGE (D; gas[e]s we anticipated).  With the fourth letter unchecked, you’ll need to spot the clue type, and that ‘once’ is part of the definition, to avoid ASSUAGE.

Other solutions:

1a: CADMIUM (cad + I in mum);  6a: ARAME (D; marem[m]a);  11a: [M]OT[M]OT (L; 0 + tot);  12a: CLOACA (l in anag.);  14a: WIDGEON (A; duck; wendigo; wen + dig + 0);  16a: [I]NSERT (L; anag.);  19a: FAINÉANCE (anag. in face);  20a: SPLINTERS (A; fragments; printless; anag. in press);  22a: STEN[D]E[D] (L; hidden);  24a: SOILS (D; so [d]isloyal);  28a: ACARID (I in a card);  29a: GE[W]GA[W] (L; g + age, rev.);  30a: GUINEA CORN (D; grain [w]e countrymen);  31a: ECADS (D; ostrac[i]sed);  32a: HEPAT[I]TE (L; he patte);  3d: DIODES (D; do I se[n]d);  4d: I[NN]OCE[N]T (L; I + 0 + anag.);  6d: ALLIS (a + sill, rev.);  8d: ATAP (D; ap[t] talent);  9d: ERATHEM (A; rocks; thermae; anag. + a in the);  13d: CATCH LIGHT (catch + light);  19d: FING[E]R-[E]ND (L; fin gr(A)nd);  21d: WISENT (A; bison; twines; n in anag.);  23d: EXIES (D; sexie[r]);  24d: SLOOP (A; vessel; polos; po. + l + OS);  25d: SA[R]APE (L; ’s a ape);  26d: NAIA (ai in NA).