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.

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Azed No 1875 ‘Up and Down’ (4 May 2008)

Many Azed fans relish the prospect of a double-clue special (‘Right and Left’ or ‘Up and Down’ depending on the grid), but dread the thought of producing their own clue pair. Azed sets the standard with clues that while not particularly difficult to solve in themselves, are for the most part invisibly joined, making them hard to separate. The trick in the clue writing is to develop a single theme on the surface while keeping the wordplays distinct. Neither clue in the pair needs to make semantic sense on its own as long as it works cryptically and contributes to the overall surface reading of the pair. In solving, it’s often a question of locating a wordplay element such as an anagram indicator, linking it to a definition, and then marking the likely point where the clues join to see if the remainder looks like a possible clue.

Notes to the clues:


6, 36.     Ominous creature rams end of cart in a way that’s precise yet lax oddly, having injected cocaine.  BARGEST (barges + t), EXACTLY (C in anag.).  As Azed later realised, the unchecked G and ‘rams’ in the clue led some solvers astray, looking for a solution to the first clue that contain ‘Aries’.

14, 34.   Unshorn locks etc gathered in makeshift tuck or good hitch.  KESH (hidden), GRUB (g rub).  A good example of how concise and coherent double clues can be made. In fact it could have been shorter without ‘gathered’, but the uneven clue lengths add to the cryptic challenge.

16, 32.   Gold Sun on tree is grabbing universal favour of the people to dovetail in total rescue with replanting. AURA POPULARIS (Au Ra + U in poplar + is), INTEROSCULATE (anag.).  Of course it’s not going to be easy to make every clue as coherent as 14, 34, and two sets of 13 letters are about as tough as it gets. There are some fine (and occasionally lengthy) examples of how Azed competitors fared on a similar challenge in competition no 744.

18, 25.   Serving girl’s painful separation losing child, priest in a jiffy giving brief description of requirements.  WREN (wren(ch)), SPEC (P in sec).  The first clue stands very well in its own right, and the second is also quite distinct. The only example Dr Watson spotted of punctuation between the two clues.

19.         It goes up and down: ups are connected with e.g. surge somehow.  PRESSURE-GAUGE (anag.).  A nice ‘semi-& lit.’ to join the two halves of the puzzle. The omission of this word from Chambers is hard to explain.


3, 22.     Drop; raise.  GOUTTE, UPREAR.  Azed finds a very thematic pair of definitions for the competition. Of course his interdiction on redundant words between the pair of clues means that clues containing, say ‘… raise and drop…’ are out of the running.

4, 21.     Belt up, then spar wildly in serious sword-fighting activity holding story up, Neapolitan speciality?  SHARPS (sh! + anag.), GELATO (tale, rev., in go).  An unexpected definition of ‘sharps’(what’s play sword-fighting called? Blunts?) and a reference to Italian ice-cream join seamlessly.

5, 20.     Growth in US pile diverted rising British-American holding party, a logical challenge.  EPULIS (anag.), SUDOKU (do in UK-US, rev.).  Sudoku (or as Chambers 2006 would have it, Su Doku) finally makes it into an Azed puzzle. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the new logic games like hitori appear in the next edition.

7, 29.     A work-basket in US got up in fibre of course, one in variable weight.  ABACA (a caba, all rev.), ROTAL (a in rotl).  The obscure component parts in these two clues, and the well-hidden definition of ‘rotal’ (‘of course’) made them about the hardest pair to solve. ‘Rotl’ welled up from the bottom of Dr Watson’s subconscious, luckily, and saved a trawl through the dictionary.

10, 26.   Move in fencing special area involving unknown extraction process, uranium kept under wraps by the president.  SIXTE (x in site), PUREX (U in prex).  The ‘uranium’ in the second clue plays no part in the definition (a process for extracting uranium), which is a little confusing. The definition of ‘sixte’ is nicely misleading.

13, 30.   Soft bit of Plasticine shaped to fasten box.  NESH (hidden), SPAR (2 meanings).  Undoubtedly the neatest double clue of the puzzle, coming in at just eight well-chosen words. The shortest competitive double clue – though somewhat harder to solve – is probably T. J. Moorey’s pair of anagrams for A PER SE / ESCROC in competition no 939: “Soccer fans leg it, a spree afoot”.

Other solutions:

Across: 1, 37. MEGASS (e.g. in mass), SOVRAN (so + R in van);  12, 35. SECULARITY (anag.), THUNBERGIA (anag.);  15, 33. DEARN (dear n), METAL (t in meal);  17, 31. EXPEL (p in lex E, all rev), LET-UP (hidden).  Down: 1, 24. MAGILP (gil(t) in map), ELSHIN (H in anag.);  2, 23. EARNER ((l)earner), GEISHA (anag.);  7, 29. ABACA (a caba, all rev.), ROTAL (a in rotl);  8, 28. RE-RUN (hidden), SPELT (2 meanings);  9, 27. EGGAR (ragge(d), rev.), ERUCA (a cure, rev.);  11, 25. TAKEN (TA + nek, rev.), SALSE (anag.).

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