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. 1831 Plain (1 Jul 2007)

In the last few months Azed seems to have upped the difficulty of his puzzles a little, particularly by including less familiar references in the clues. This may be fortuitous, but it could also be an attempt to give the right level of challenge to solvers armed with the internet and other modern solving aids. Either way, for this reviewer it’s a welcome development that keeps the Azed puzzle in a distinct niche, stringently testing general and lexical knowledge more than the logical skills demanded by the Listener and EV puzzles.

Notes to the clues:


1.      Recognised miller describing woodworker’s shed?  SAWDUSTY (saw Dusty).  The clue seems to imply a reference to a miller called Dusty rather than a miller, such as Burns’s one, who simply is dusty.

12.    Plants from S. Africa produced by Dublin’s Anna, century before.  CLIVIA (C + Livia).  This was the first time Dr Watson had come across Anna Livia, the personal name given to Dublin’s River Liffey (Abhainn na Life), a bit like Father Thames or Ol’ Man River.

15.    Keen to pursue love? One that’s keener may come out with this.  OHONE (0 + hone)  ‘Keen’ is used in two less familiar ways, firstly as a verb, and secondly as keen2 (lamentation), a crossword setter’s staple.

16.    Malicious note in margin. SNIDE (n in side).  A very neat clue, possibly influenced by R. J. Palmer’s ‘Malicious note in spin doctored output’ from competition no 1515. It’s a bit odd to find this clue immediately before the competition word MARGINALIA.

26.    Classical farce, French.  FROGS (2 meanings).  The title of Aristophanes’ comedy is hopefully well enough known (though probably as ‘The Frogs’), not to have caused much consternation. Why that way round? Possibly because accurate definition would require ‘French Classical farce’, which makes sense on the surface.

29.    For top leader with time, early equivalent of what was urged on scouts.  PROCINCT  (pro + C-in-C + t).  No current or ex-Scout should have forgotten the motto ‘Be Prepared’, the solution being an old word for preparedness.

31.    It has one or more strings, throaty, second being gut?  GUSLAR (s in gular).  The question-mark is well deserved, not only for the unusual insertion indicator ‘being gut’, but also for the idea that a guslar is an ‘it’, since Chambers defines the solution as ‘a gusla player’.

33     Canadian province short so far in veg.  PEAS (PE(I) + as).  With 1,830 puzzles behind him Azed has his work cut out to think of new ways to clue words like this, and so it probably wasn’t his first choice to employ a truncation of an abbreviation (Prince Edward Island) not given in Chambers.


7.      Reliquary’s part of leg includes radius, not quite whole.  SHRINAL (r in shin + al(l)).  A saint that has a radius in his leg is either strangely formed or quadrupedal.

11.    Space between words, maybe, binding as legal precedent?  LEADING CASE (leading + case).  At first sight this looks as if it’s indicating ‘as’ inside something, but it turns out to be simpler than that, and ‘as’ is just the link-word.

17.    Convertible? Pope’s not for converting.  OPEN-TOP (anag.).  A simple anagram well handled can produce a brilliant clue.

28.    Arrows fired heavenward can be activated with bow.  STRAD (darts, rev.).  Note the significance of ‘can be’ to the definition. For Azed there’s a distinction between this ellipsis, in which ‘it’ is understood, and the simpler ‘activated by bow’, which he would contend can only define an adjective.

Other solutions:

Across: 7. SHIR (h in Sir);  10. PEATHOLE (ea(r)th in pole);  13. MORNED (anag.);  14. KALAMDAN (a LAMDA in kn);  18. MARGINALIA;  20 PARCEL-GILT (g in anag.);  24. EK DUM (anag. + m); 30. TAG END (gen in tad);  34. UNPOSTED (anag.).  Down: 1. SOCKO (anag.);  2. ALLAHU AKBAR (anag.);  3. WHILOM (lo in whim);  4. DIVAN (diva + n);  5. SEA DOG (anag.);  6. TAMARI (hidden);  8. HONGI (comp. anag. & lit.);  9. REDHEAD (2 meanings);  19. ACULEUS (anag. + us);  21. LARDON (r in nodal, rev.);  22. GROG-UP (g in group);  23. TONLET (ton2 + let);  25. DAGGA (d + anag.);  27 RISUS (u in riss).