Azed No 1914 ‘Letters Latent’ (1 Feb 2009)

reviewed by Dr Watson for & lit. – The Azed Slip Archive

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ETTERS Latent is one of the oldest ‘specials’ in the cryptic canon. The simple premise is that a particular letter is removed from each solution wherever it occurs before entry into the grid. The subsidiary indications in the clue lead to the ‘mutilated’ form (i.e. after removal of the ‘latent’ letters). Taken in clue order the latent letters spell out a message or quotation. Azed normally constructs the grid so that a good proportion of solutions contains more than one instance of the latent letter, and indicates the length of the full solution after the clue, to give the solver an extra piece of checking information – useful in clues such as 1 across where the latent letter occurs several times.

One feature of this clue type is that the short words with simple indicators tend to be harder to solve than the longer ones, because there are so many possible solutions. 26 across and 29 down are good examples in this puzzle. Taking a guess at the message spelt out by the latent letters can certainly help fill the gaps in the latter stages of solving.

Here the resulting quotation is “Thy solemn feast to hold in vestal February” from Saint Valentine’s Day by the Victorian poet Coventry Patmore. Patmore was influenced by Tennyson and had links with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, but is a minor figure whose popularity has clearly waned given his absence from the ODQ since 1953. In Roman times a ritual purification at the temple of Vesta took place in February. Solvers are asked to submit a clue to VE(S)TAL.

In the notes below the latent letters are shown in brackets, so for example TE(SS)ERACT means that the definition leads to ‘tesseract’, while the subsidiary indications give the grid entry TEERACT, and the latent letter is S.

Notes to the clues:


1.       One true old-fashioned mixed gin? It’s just idle talk.  (T)I(TT)LE-(T)A(TT)LING (I leal + anag.).  A humdinger of an LL to get things started. Azed has clued ‘tittle-tattle’ in this way before, but it’s worth another outing. ‘Leal’ is an old form of ‘loyal’.

12.     Indonesian, not old, fit.  NESI(O)T (ne sit).  It’s somewhat confusing that the mutilated solution fits the wordplay ‘Indonesian, not old’, leaving the solver to wonder if there’s some synonym of ‘fit’ that could give NESIT.

14.     Magnet died when put in oven unit.  (L)OADSTONE (d in oast + one).  A variant spelling of ‘lodestone’ that made it difficult to confirm the solutions at 1, 2 and 3 down.

21.     Marks of damage having inhaled spliff overlapping “fixes”?  SCAR(F)-JOINTS (joint in scars).  The grid entry is fairly easy to work out with a few letters in place, but the actual solution requires a search of Chambers unless the solver is familiar with scarf-joints or has guessed the latent F.

23.     Jack protecting names hides his business.  TANN(E)R (n,n in tar).  A nicely disguised definition, referring to animal hides.

26.     Legally secure holy texts.  (A)VEST(A) (2 meanings).  Clues that simply use a definition of the grid entry as the wordplay often make the most intractable LL clues. This one is especially awkward because the unchecked first letter leaves a huge number of possible solutions, and TEST (meaning ‘witness’ and an abbreviation for ‘Testament’) looks like a strong contender. Dr Watson suspects this might have tripped some solvers up. The Avesta are the Zoroastrian scriptures.

33.     Cause dismay.  S(H)AKE (2 meanings).  Another concise double definition, though fortunately S–KE leaves relatively few possibilities.

34.     E.g. Diana, no good with learned theologian in canteen?  M(OO)N G(O)DDESS (ng DD in mess).  A slightly odd clue insofar as it could lead to the full solution with some minor changes (anag. of no good + D in mess). Something like ‘difficult situation’ might have read better than ‘canteen’, and looking at the printed puzzle, Dr Watson wonders if Azed was constrained fit the clue into a single line.


3.       I voic’d disapproval of enmity.  I(LL) B(L)OOD (I boo’d).  Dr Watson’s favourite clue of the puzzle. Note that ‘of’ is part of the definition of ‘boo’d’ and not a joining word (which Azed strongly disapproves of in LL and similar clue types that lead to mutilated grid entries).

4.       Displays contents of bag at Turnberry?  AIR(N)S (2 meanings).  ‘Contents of bag’ sounds like a hunting reference, but Turnberry is a golf course and a Scotsman might call the five iron in his golf bag a ‘five airn’.

6.       Riding free in Nevada, right – what kids dreamt of being?  (E)NGIN(E)-DRIV(E)R (anag. in NV + r).  Thomas the Tank Engine probably still keeps the dream alive, though in Dr Watson’s experience ‘computer game designer’ is a more popular aspiration now.

8.       Played roles, support for the principal?  (T)ORSEL (anag.).  A principal is a beam or joist in building construction and a torsel is something it rests on.

18.     Stable girl, both hands beginning to shake in toss, ungainly.  OSTL(E)R(E)SS (R,L,s in anag.).  ‘Both hands (sides, wings, etc.)’ as an indicator of R and L is a fairly common cryptic device, but Azed uses it sparingly.

22.     Release old reptile locked up by judge.  SET F(R)EE (eft, rev., in see).  As Dr Watson discovered last month, an eft can be a lizard as well as a newt.

27.     English dividing dissenting body over fixed times for prayers.  TE(R)CES (E in sect, rev.).  One of the meanings of ‘sect’ given in Chambers is a sub-group of dissenters within a religious body. Terce is the third canonical hour of the day.

29.     Varied deli produce.  (Y)IELD (anag.).  Another example of how much harder ‘simple’ clues become in an LL puzzle. Almost any of the 23 possible jumbles of DELI could produce a dictionary word by adding an extra letter somewhere.

Other solutions:

Across: 7. T(H)OLE (lot, rev., + E);  10. EAGLE-RA(Y)S (anag. in anag.);  11. (S)ORORI(S)E (R in oorie);  16. D(E)V(E)ST (S in DVT (deep-vein thrombosis));  17. CAL(M)ER (hidden);  19. TABER(N)ACLED (care, rev., in tabled);  28. ADROITNE(SS) (anag.);  30. RE(T)AIL (e in rail);  31. PREFEC(T) (ref in pec);  32. SECT(O)RISE (is in anag.).  Down: 2. LOR(D) A(D)VOCATE (anag. less I);  3. EXOD(I)ST (x OD in est);  5. LE(V)ITY (hidden);  7. TE(SS)ERACT (e’er in tact);  9. E(A)STW(A)RDS (tw(o) in anag.);   13. (L)IFE(L)ESSNESS (fees in anag. of sessi(o)n);  15. (F)OREORDAIN (RE in anag.);  20. (B)ARNA(B)ITE (an, rev., in a rite);  24. (U)NTACK (cat, rev., in (bla)nk(ets));  25. (A)DORED (do red).

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