ZED gets the New Year off to a solid start with this fairly challenging Plain puzzle. As well as some clever definitions, such as the wonderfully recondite one at 10 down, there’s a satisfying variety of approaches to wordplay (subsidiary indications if you prefer) in the clues. A couple of clues Dr Watson felt could have been done better, but as a whole it was a great way to get a brain befuddled by Christmas excesses back in gear.
Seeing the unusual fourth row of TARATANTARAS and bottom row of NORTENOTENON, Dr Watson wondered if there might be some special message in the grid, but there doesn’t appear to be one.
1. Plush with this old mould turns to pulpy stuff. PLASM (i.e. plush with pl as m = mush). The definition ‘this old mould’ sits in the middle of the clue, and there are two possibilities: either the solution appended to ‘plush’ makes something pulpy, or the solution is being used as wordplay. In this case it’s the latter. Any word with ‘as’ or ‘is’ or similar in it can be clued this way.
5. I can’t believe jam mostly contains fungus! SCEPTIC (cep in stic(k)). The vivid surface reading effectively distracts the solver from the definition ‘I can’t believe’.
11. Maldivian dust a fairy sprinkled round centre for youth. RUFIYAA ((yo)u(th) in anag). Another puzzle, another currency unit. The key is realising that ‘dust’ is a slang word for money.
14. What elm root becomes when affected by this? TREMOLO (anag. & lit.?). The solution, meaning ‘trembling’, is an anagram indicator, so ELMROOT affected by tremolo could become TREMOLO. Azed has become rather keen on such recursive clues in recent times, and (possibly assuming that solvers are now familiar with them) has even taken to dropping the customary italics and exclamation mark from ‘this’. Not Dr Watson’s favourite style of clue – and is anything less likely to tremble than an elm root?
17. Scottish cookers, egad! OONS (2 meanings). ‘Oons’ remarkably has two distinct meanings, as a Scots word for ‘ovens’ and an oath (‘God’s wounds’).
20. Colonial types, county, lacking aspiration. ANTS ((H)ants). Another ruse solvers need to remember is that ‘aspiration’ is an H sound in phonetics.
21. Maybe basted goose lacking sticky stuff when gutted. SEWN ((goo)se w(he)n). All the letters are there in the clue – the solver just needs to remove the padding. The definition is baste2, meaning ‘tack’ in the sewing sense.
27. Bone’s rejected by fish-catcher – having caught it? PREY ((os)prey). A semi-& lit. clue whose definition depends on the rest of the wordplay for its context. ‘Os’ meaning ‘bone’ is quite a common feature of clues in the more difficult cryptics.
32. Picky cook rejecting chicken’s heart twice in Kiev pieces? KOPIYOK (anag. less c,c). And another currency unit (the Ukrainian plural of kopiyka).
34. For Domingo, N. American appearing as part of two tenors. NORTEÑO (hidden in tenor tenor). The extra step of joining two tenors to create the hidden material is straightforward and unequivocal enough for the wordplay not to be considered indirect.
3. —— nubble may be chomped by Belgian Blues. SILAGE (comp. anag. & lit.). Belgian Blues are cows, and a nubble (see knub) is a small lump, making an all-round satisfactory comp. anag. & lit.
6. Bodily fluid duct, right inside. CARNAL (r in canal). A simple structure that finds just the right wording to disguise the definition ‘bodily’.
7. Scaly old creature to examine under end of microscope EVET (e + vet). Dr Watson had assumed that an evet or eft was a newt, but it can also mean a lizard, so ‘scaly’ is correct.
9. Dispensing with one element, writer’s describing isotope given off by another one. THORON ((Au)thor on). Dr Watson solved the clue assuming that the writer must be somehow be Thoreau, and the more plausible explanation only occurred later. ‘On’ for ‘describing’ (as in ‘Watson on Azed’) is a little tenuous.
10. Cancel dancing notices? A probability in barns. CROSS-SECTION (cross + anag.). Dr Watson had to read the definition of cross-section in Chambers a number of times. Here it is: “The probability, measured in barns, that that a particular interaction will take place between atomic particles, which depends on their energy and nature, and which is zero when no reaction can take place (phys).” And a barn is…? “a unit of effective cross-sectional area of a nucleus for the capture of neutrons, 10-28m2. [Appar. From ‘as big as a barn’]”. A wonderful discovery and a nicely done clue.
25. Fireball boiled? Just so. BOLIDE (anag.). Not quite another TREMOLO, but close. Here the anagram indicator is applied to itself rather than producing itself, if that makes sense.
26. Pence kept in beer mug – one’ll dispense with buttons etc! STEP-IN (p in stein). ’Allo, ’allo, didn’t we have a quarter pint in an ale mug lacking zip just a month ago in puzzle 1906?
30. Fluffy stuff? At 12 it’s oddly in place. LINT (anag. hidden in PLANT LICE). This isn’t a great clue, but it takes advantage of the anagram lying inside PLACE in 12 down, a novel way of indicating it.
Across: 15. TARATANTARA (a tan in tar tar + a); 16. TRAGOPAN (rag in to pan); 18. PEME (hidden); 24. DUBS (2 meanings); 28. NEUROTIC (e in anag.); 29. SELF-NEGLECT (elf + anag. all in sect); 33. WINDIGO (dig in wino); 35. TENON (ten on). Down: 1. PRETTY-SPOKEN (anag.); 2. AFFRAP (a ff rap); 4. MYOTOME (toy, rev., in mome); 8. PUMA (up, rev. + ma); 12. PLANT LICE (p + anag.); 13. BARPERSON; 19. TURGENT (t + urgent); 22. WEEPER (wee per.); 23. RENOWN (enow in RN); 31. FYLE (Y in elf, rev.).