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 1804 'A Ghost Ruse' (24 Dec 2006)

Azed plays seasonal variations again by combining two old favourites, Spoonerisms and Playfair, in an attractive medley around the theme of Christmas dinner. As in previous Christmas specials, the Playfair code can be found indirectly from the grid and doesn’t have to be deduced from the encoded lights. In keeping with the clues, the code phrase is Spoonerised across the two unclued lights 12a and 24a, though the Spoonerism is ‘inexact’ and the solutions need to be ‘suitably joined’. The lights lead to CHARQUI and (as it turns out) TIPS, giving, with suitable licence, the 14-letter phrase TURKEY AND CHIPS. The resulting Playfair square can be used to encode the undefined solutions at 3a and 33a, and the checked lights of these solutions to confirm the code phrase. With so many cross-checking elements, including the culinary hints in the preamble, the puzzle is very manageable even allowing for the seasonal distractions – for Dr Watson anyway – with which it has to contend. The clue-writing competition is another matter, but as ever it gives competitors an insight into the effort that Azed must put into his own Spoonerisms clues.

The title is also a culinary Spoonerism, of course, and a nice double allusion to A Christmas Carol.

Notes to the clues:


3.      A cube’s crumbled round belly of beef?  BREAD SAUCE (read in anag.), encoded as PEUCSMIABC.  It’s that cow’s stomach again.

10.    To knight a few fruit will need first to be discarded.  RE-ENGAGE (fight anew; (g)reengage).  A delightful lexical coincidence fully exploited in the cryptic part of the clue.

20.    Robber’s catty, years banged up.  ARSEY (cobber’s ratty; anag.).  One of the harder definitions to decipher, until you realise that it refers to the word’s Australian usage.

27.    Rooty moat? One has to row round very African garden plot.  OVERFAR (too remote; v. erf in oar).  It’s quite legitimate to fiddle with spacing and punctuation in a Spoonerised definition, so long as the sound is reasonably well preserved.

28.    Art of e.g. old Poe’d suit the heartless.  FITTE (part of e.g. old ode; fit t(h)e).  Here the transposition is of only one phoneme, and over quite a distance. Probably the most stretched Spoonerism of the puzzle.

30.    Less than boot, it’s very good in difficulty.  NEPIT (less than two bits; pi in net).  The Spoonerism does work – try saying it aloud a few times – but Dr Watson doubts many solvers would have got the definition before guessing the solution.

32.    College, re salad that’s rotten, cried ‘Waiters!’  CALDERAS (wide craters; C + anag.).  For Dr Watson, the best of the Spoonerisms on offer here.

33.    Joint ingested by company, one with salt sprinkled round.  CHIPOLATAS (hip in Co. + a + anag.) encoded as YBPSFMYUDI.


2.      Half-lie male repeated. HE-HE (laugh high; he he).  A very neat clue, though Watson hasn’t confirmed that he-he is a verb as the definition seems to indicate.

6.      Actor flakes matter on board?  IRONS (makes flatter; 2 meanings).  The Spoonerism makes up such a large proportion of the clue that it’s difficult to spot the cryptic device, a reference to actor Jeremy Irons.

7.      Coot after healing end of toe breaks record   ANNEAL (cool after heating; e in annal).  Another Spoonerism variation, transposing the second consonants of the words.

19.    Small child wearing hat met in Saatchi’s.  LIMITED (set in marches; mite in lid).  Dr Watson assumes the Spoonerism leads to ‘set in marches’ in the sense of  boundaries.

22.    A tar drunkenly grips end of taffrail – it’s used when coming through hatch.  TRA-LA (humming through catch; l in anag.).  This looks like it caused Azed a bit of difficulty, not very surprisingly, but the final product is well constructed.

25.    Whence comes dairy’s mope? It’s centre for churns in confusion.  PITURI (Mary’s dope; it + (ch)ur(ns) in pi).  Another tough one to Spoonerise. Mary is a slang term for an Australian aborigine.

Other solutions:

Across: 12. CHARQUI;  13. CONTO (money for some; hidden);  14. HERON (fish, wading; her + No., rev.);  15. TRANECT (Will’s ferry; anag. + t);  16. DOCUMENTS (puts in file; cum in anag.);  17. PETS (minor fits; hidden rev.);  18. ALLEE (garden path; l in alee);  24. TIPS;  26. PAROEMIAS (bywords; anag.);  31. LECTURN (reader’s leant; anag. + urn).  Down: 1. ARCHDEACONRY (Church seat; con in anag.);  3. PEARCE (old gore; R in peace);  4. EN ROUTE (let’s go!; 0 in anag.);  5. CAUTEL (cunning in past; t in anag.);  8. BATCHES (bap sets; c in bathes);  9. CLOTHES SENSE;  11. GIRNS (makes face; R in anag.);  17. PROVERB (wise saying; rover in Pb);  21. STEP UP (rake in height; anag. + pup);  23. SORELY (in way that pains; øre in sly);  26. PRIES (nosy pest; ‘prize’);  29. TRAP (mine fault; part, rev.).