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 1888 ‘Printer’s Devilry’ (3 Aug 2008)

Printer’s Devilry is an invention of Ximenes and has been about the most popular of the ‘specials’ ever since it was introduced. For setters and solvers it’s rather like carnival day, when the normal rules of cluemanship can be put aside to indulge in something more playful. A PD clue is a passage from which ‘the printer’ has removed a string of consecutive characters and closed the gap. There’s no definition, and part of the devilry consists of adjusting the punctuation, spacing and capitalisation elsewhere in the passage. The solver’s job is to find the missing letters, which always form a real word, and where they fit into the passage. In the best PD clues (and that’s all of Azed’s) the letter string that’s removed starts and ends in the middle of words in the original ‘undevilled’ passage, and when the gap is closed the place it’s taken from is also within a word in the new ‘devilled’ passage.

Getting started on a PD puzzle can be a huge task for solvers new to the format, but the rewards of perseverance soon become apparent. In a well-written clue meanings of the undevilled and devilled versions can be very different, and the differences are achieved simply by exploiting alternative meanings of words and subtle shifts in spacing and punctuation, without changing the order of the remaining letters. The result is many penny-dropping moments throughout the puzzle and the occasional outright chuckle.

The setter’s task is to provide ingenious transformations between the undevilled and devilled readings, and to give the solver just enough information to confirm the solution. The setter can drop hints in two main ways. One is to give the devilled version slightly odd grammar so that the solver can identify the likely region of from which the solution has been extracted (e.g. 7 across). The other is to include words that suggest the likely context of the undevilled version (e.g. 11 across). The notes to the clues show several examples of both.

Notes to the clues:


1.      It’s ‘All Systems Go’ as c/iting for Countdown.  REWAREWA (…crew are waiting…). The first light in an Azed PD grid often contains a word with great devilry potential, giving a hint as to the construction process. This word probably wouldn’t produce a very exciting standard cryptic clue, but makes a classic PD whose devilled reading refers to something completely different from the undevilled.

7.      She lay in the sunny meadow, chew in gab, utter/ly.  CUPID (…chewing a buttercup idly.).  A good example of the undevilled version making more sense than the devilled. The strange ‘chew in gab’ gives the solver a strong pointer as to where the devilry has taken place.

11.    In my search for the best, ho/sted lots for the tourist guide.  TELEVERITÉ (…best hotel ever, I tested…).  ‘Tourist guide’ at the end of the clue provides the hint that confirms the solution’s ‘hotel’.

12.    Given come-hither looks, it’s surely not forward to make ap/t.  ASSISI (…a pass is it…). Here’s the one familiar place name from the footnote. Again, Azed includes quite a lot of extra wording, not to make the insertion point harder to find, but to ensure the undevilled reading is clear and sensible.

14.    Lifelong teetotallers won’t succumb to a li/king – habits!  ENDRIN (…alien drinking habits).

15.    In Polynesia ta/n with many meals. ROSEATE (…taro’s eaten…). Taro is some kind of Polynesian vegetable. You can guess Azed’s thought process was something like: “EATE gives me ‘eat’ or ‘eaten’, so I need a food ending with ‘ro’ or ‘ros’. Now where’s my Backwords?”  (or more likely “…Oh, yes, taro”).

17.    My new air-con system replaces the f/old.  ANIS (…fan I sold.).

18.    That mon/o comes to mind when a classic fiddler is mentioned.  STERNER (…monster Nero…).  Nero is quite a popular figure in PD clues, having a common sequence of letters. He turned up in a clue to LLANEROS in the last full PD puzzle.

19.    Hauling on the pa/l helped make her fast.  INTERTARSAL (…painter tars all…). The longer words need to be selected with care for this kind of puzzle. Azed finds exactly the right ‘–inter’ to go with ‘tars’ (a painter is a mooring rope), just about the only way of dealing with this word.

23.    Uneaten meals on many a paper, pl/otting.  ATELIER (…plate lie rotting).

26.    I like the look of the soup – do you Fan/ny?  CYAN (…fancy any(?)).  Oh dear! This is certainly a blunder. Dr Watson checked through the dictionary for alternative solutions, and thought very hard about the significance of soup, but can only conclude that the extra N went unnoticed. Azed proof-reads his puzzles himself, so the risk is always there, but this is the first PD slip-up that Dr Watson can remember.

29.    A ga/lling remark – an effective riposte is difficult.  INSTATE (Against a telling…). Both undevilled and devilled readings are very natural. A high quality PD.

31.    Stewing steak in ar/t’s best simmered with spice and veg.  AGOUTI (…a ragout is…).  The insertion region stands out a mile. ‘Art’ is another very popular component of PD clues.

32.    Drug-dealer’s to/tes for the wretched addict.  UTOPIA  (Drug-dealers tout opiates…). 

33.    Producers give specialized role rever/ies of female parts.  SALAMANASER (…role-reversal man a series…).  Here Azed copes brilliantly with an impossible-looking word, though Dr Watson suspects the genius was more than 90% perspiration.

34.    Putting her s/trobes on increased her allure, she knew.  EXIES (…sexiest robes…).

35.    The trawlers fished off the co/d, with nets.  ASTRINGE (…coast ringed…).


1.      His skill with the ball is pu/t in motion.  REAR (…pure art…). There’s ‘art’ again. This was one of the last clues Dr Watson solved, partly because ‘roar’ was a possibility and partly because the rest of the clue doesn’t provide much context to confirm the solution.

2.      Going to potl/ach, degenerates into bedlam.  ESSONITE (…pot, lesson I teach…).  A very satisfying piece of devilry.

3.      One with money-making pro/spers on, ally enriched.  WESSI (…prowess is personally…).  Before solving REWAREWA, Dr Watson some time trying to confirm CESSI in Chambers. A Wessi is a West German (as opposed to an Ossi).

4.      Outraged reader, fi/tter, off to the press!  RESALE (…fires a letter…).

5.      As often, in a second, re/nds with out hero in trouble.  ELITE (…reel, it ends…).  The clue harks back to the Saturday matinee ‘three-reeler’ films the reels would be shown on consecutive weeks, and each would end on a cliff-hanger.

6.      Young rebels often h/id parents they want to escape.  AVESTA  (…have staid…).

7.      Does a super, so ni/mble, produce inaudible results?  CENSE (…supersonic ensemble…).  At last, one of those logically sound but surreal propositions that make PDs such a joy to solve.

8.      Careless cleaners – po/st all over the place.  URDU (…pour dust…)

9.      I had to sell the sho/t, a loss.  PIRANA (…shop I ran at…).

10.    If you want to, glad/es suggest days of idleness.  DENDRON (…gladden drones…).

13.    Underhand tactic evident in con/es affected drivers.  TESTRIL (…contest riles…).  Here the devilled version is somewhat enhanced at the expense of the undevilled. Something like ‘rally drivers’ would have provided better context.

16.    Venus was given orders, by Jove, and many mo/ods likewise.  RELATING (…more Latin gods…).

17.    Deb met her dream – M/ason, stop event.  ANATASE (…man at a season’s top…).

20.    I have never been offered fi/ves at a cocktail party.  NEROLI (…finer olives…).

21.    There’s nothing like opening good cla/morous twosomes.  RETINA (…claret in amorous…).  A well-hidden insertion point.

22.    Set of scanning lines.  RASTER. The definition for the competition word.

24.    At the start of ar/t, one was thrown. IOTAS (…a riot a stone…). Here’s that ‘art’ again.

25.    Having persuaded our friends to their cause they hope to w/oo.  INUST (…win us too). 

27.    There’s many a young girl wants daddy to bu/y for her.  YAPON (…buy a pony…).  Clues that have the same word before and after devilry are less satisfactory, but Azed may not have had much choice.

28.    For big fellows forming sc/ars will often get mangled.  RUME (…scrum, ears…). 

30.    Those going to s/ave loved ones at home.  EALE (…sea leave…). Azed makes the most of a PD-friendly word to finish. 


As a footnote, Dr Watson recommends a look at the ESTOVER PD competition in the Azed Slip Archive, which contains probably the best collection of this type of clue, including Tim Moorey’s winner, where every word takes on a new meaning between the devilled and undevilled reading, and Mrs Firmin’s image of a Baltic tree-climber that isn’t all what it seems (when you find out what a ‘verst’ is).

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