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 1758 ‘Carte Blanche’ (5 Feb 2006)

The fourth competition puzzle in a row with a special feature. ‘Carte Blanche’ shouldn’t give as much trouble as some other specials as the clues are normal, and given in the correct order – though they are no easier than you’d expect in a ‘Plain’ (if anything, a bit harder this time). As well as looking for common letters to check in across and down solutions, solvers can use the symmetrical properties of the grid with the across clues (e.g. if the second clue across leads to a 7-letter solution, then so does the second from last clue), and the likelihood that later down clues will lead to shorter solutions. Azed sets a small trap by including three 4-letter down solutions at the top and bottom of the grid, more than is usual. Solvers are asked to fill in the bars in the grid, and this needs to be done carefully, as it’s easy to leave out the odd bar, or worse, to enter one in the wrong place, which can be difficult to correct. In the notes below clues are numbered 1 to 18 in order of their appearance in the acrosses and downs respectively.

Notes to the clues:


2:      Animal grimace shown by people after meat (second cut).  FLEHMEN (fle(s)h + men).  Solvers may have spent some time looking for a solution beginning with F(L)ESH.

3:      Like ill-advised flyer wobbling in air around California.  ICARIAN (Ca in anag.).  A lovely definition. The Chambers entry gives the full story but doesn’t explain how the word might be used metaphorically.

8:      Translator shortened short OT book a bit?  TREZ (tr. + Ez.).  The question mark is warranted as the use of this spelling for a thruppenny bit is very questionable.

13:    Given this liqueur, I, AA alas, must splutter ‘Salaam aleikum’.  KÜMMEL (comp. anag.).  Dr Watson couldn’t quite follow the surface meaning (a reforming alcoholic pretending to be Moslem is order to refuse a drink?). And ‘AA’ isn’t really an adjective in the same way ‘TT’ is. A bit weak, in Watson’s view.

17:    Old question: what’s reine translated? ‘Queen’ written in.  INQUERE (Qu. in anag.).  ‘Enquire’ as a noun is also an obsolete word for ‘question’, so the solution needs the checked letters to confirm it – not ideal for this type of puzzle.

18:    Riddle: what makes second as long as time?  SIFT (s if t).  The similar structure of this and the previous clue may be coincidental. This one is beautifully worded.


1.      Pretty but very dim girl.  BIMBETTE  Another little teaser as BIMBO needs to be discounted via the checking letters. The word’s comic possibilities should delight many competitors, but it’s one Dr Watson feels might be more safely defined by a counter-example than by an alleged example of the type!

4:      One like Isaac S. holding Nell G. ‘flighty’, unjust accusation once  MISCHALLENGE (anag. in Mischa E).  Isaac Newton was a contemporary of Nell Gwynne, but that doesn’t help at all here. The Isaac S. of the clue is Isaac Stern and the letters holding the anagram are ‘Mischa E.’, for Mischa Elman, another American violinist of Russian origin (who having died about 40 years ago is unlikely to feature in many CD collections). The reference passed way over Dr Watson’s head, and your reviewer is indebted to the Crossword Centre member who provided the explanation.

7:      System which if installed is ringing?  HI-FI (hidden).  The best hidden clues, like this one, hide their intentions as well as their solutions.

Other solutions:

Across: 1: BURB (burb(led));  4: MEZE (hidden);  5: SLUGFEST (g, f in anag., & lit.);  6: FLISKS (fl. + anag.);  7: EURYHALINE (anag.);  9: ASTERT (aster + t);  10: TANGLE (tang + (c)le(an));  11: SPIE (s pie);  12: ILL BESTEAD (I’ll be + anag. + a + d; see bestead in C.);  14: UMBONATE ((j)umbo nate(s));  15: GRANGES (range in G,S);  16: ROTA (first letters).  Down: 2: RAZURE (R azure);  3: BRED (Derb(y), rev.);  5: FALCADE (l in facade);  6: ENGLISH SWEAT (anag. + a in wet);  8: EUSKARIAN (E + aria in anag.);  9: NUTS (stun, rev.);  10: BESEE (alternate letters);  11: DURALUMIN (’um in anag.);  12: STEDFAST (d.f. in anag.);  13: AVENTRE (a v. + tr. in ene);  14: NIMBY (nim by);  15: PEROGI (go, rev., in peri); 16: KURI (u in irk, rev.);  17: MOTU (M + anag.);  18: URNS (RN in US).