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 1893 Plain (7 Sep 2008)

Even the plainest ‘Plain’ Azed is a bit special. There are good examples here of how a creative choice of definition or context can add a great deal to the pleasure of solving. 1 across is the outstanding example.

Notes to the clues:


1.      Weed? That restricts beginnings of autumn blooms!  PISS-A-BED (a,b in pissed).  A memorably earthy opener for this puzzle. ‘Piss-a bed’ is a rustic name for the dandelion, describing its diuretic effect, and Azed needs no second invitation to exploit the pun on ‘weed’, with a cross-referring ‘that’ in the wordplay.

7.      Cut square beard.  SAWN (s awn).  ‘Beard’ is used in the sense of ‘decorate with a fringe’ in the wordplay.

10.    Setter making rare change in cluing.  CARRAGHEEN (anag.).  ‘Clue’ meaning ‘tie in a knot’ is a popular option for clues that are crossword in-jokes. Azed spots the definition ‘setter’ (carragheen is a gelling agent) and the rest is a formality.

11.    Fifth emporium maybe planned in old-fashioned style.  SHOPE (shop E).  It didn’t help that Dr Watson read the first two words as ‘Filth emporium’ initially (the new specs are on order). The logic of the clue is that ‘Shop E’ would be the fifth of a set starting at ‘Shop A’. ‘Shope’ is an archaic form of ‘shaped’.

15.    Fishing club is nosy with opening of tackle.  PRIEST (pries + t).  Dr Watson guesses the fishing club is so called because it administers the fish’s last rights.

18.    Principal ‘sacking’ former past master – it meant whoopee!  HEY-GO-MAD (ygo M in head).  ‘Sacking’ here as in ‘enclosing in a sack’ rather than its more familiar use to indicate a subtraction. ‘Ygo’ is an old form of ‘gone’, one of the useful collection of odd Y-words in Chambers.

20.    Republish outraged nuclear bomb letter?  RELAUNCH (anag. + H).  Competitors in the Crossword Centre’s August cluewriting competition might have though Azed was trying for a late entry. The clue’s surface could be a reference to the Einstein-Szilárd letter.

25.    When drink’s passed round … this may follow…  TOAST (as in tot, & lit.).  A tidy & lit. treatment that Dr Watson hasn’t seen before.

27.    … And this be raised, some estro emerging.  ROEMER (hidden).  A roemer is a drinking goblet; the ellipsis references the subject of the previous clue.

32.    ME chap, losing head, pockets grass for at least 200 Swazi cents.  EMALANGENI (alang in (Y)emeni).  A bit of a faute de mieux clue. There’s only so much you can do to define a plural currency unit. Dr Watson took some time to see that ‘ME chap’ meant a Middle-Easterner rather than a doctor linked to chronic fatigue syndrome.

33.    Ultra-selfish mantra? Idea disseminated via the Net.  MEME (Me! Me!).  Richard Dawkins’ coinage for a virus-like idea has acquired a wider significance in the internet age. The definition used here makes its first appearance in Chambers 2006.


2.      One unit of conductance (if I may make so bold).  IMHO (I mho).  Users of message boards will be familiar with the abbreviation (‘in my humble opinion’ – surely an oxymoron) if not the unit, which is literally the reverse of an ohm – did its inventor do crosswords?

3.      Excavation of Ionic coast may reveal coin and this moulding.  SCOTIA (comp. anag.).  A scotia is associated with the Ionic style, but the clue isn’t fully & lit. because ‘excavation’ is an anagram indicator, and so ‘moulding’ must be a definition.

4.      One’s on drip after clot in ——?  SAPHENA (sap + hen + a, & lit.).  Azed recycles N. Connaughton’s none-too-easy winning clue from competition no. 1650 in 2004..

5.      Bell? Bishop’s beginning to ring one when it’s about time.  BRONTË (B + r + t in one).  The Brontë sisters were first published under the names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell .

22.    Active at the seaside possibly, developing double tan.  NATANT (anag. of tan tan).  An ever-so-slightly indirect anagram, but it passes Azed’s test for such things because the anagram material is indicated utterly unambiguously.

24.    I married a villain – see me switching sides.  EMILIA (me, rev. + ilia).  The toughest clue of the puzzle. Emilia is the wife of Iago in Othello, who does indeed switch her allegiance during the play, with bloody consequences. Ilia are haunch bones and only by extension haunches, so the definition ‘sides’ stretches the meaning, adding extra difficulty.

29.    Bottom tooth.  TUSH (2 meanings).  Two quite separate meanings merge in a finishing flourish.


Other solutions:

Across: 12. REACTS (RE Acts);  14. TO THE NTH (tot hent H);  17. SHULN (sh! + uln(a));  28. STIBNITE (bits, rev. + nite);  30. MOTUCA (MO + a cut, rev.);  31. PILUS (U(-turn) in Pils);  34. STENGAHS (anag. + anag.).  Down: 1. POSTPARTUM (part in anag.);  6. EARTHY;  7. SHASH (has in sh!); 8. AECIUM ((j)uice in ma, all rev.);  9. WET PLATE (w + anag.);  13. SYNDERESIS (‘sin’ + deres + is);  16. RHEOTOME (anag. + tome);  19. OPENING (O + anag. in peg);  21. LACTAM (act in mal, rev.);  23. CRINGE (c + ringe(d));  26. SPULE (up, rev. in (i)sle(s)).

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