RONG Number puzzles no longer fill Dr Watson with quite the dread that they used to, but they’re still one of the most challenging of Azed’s specials. Because every clue is at the wrong location for its solution, there’s more blind solving involved than usual. But Azed’s recommended method in the preamble is sound: solve a clue, and then look for another clue of the same length that might contain a definition of the solution. Dr Watson adds to this the more obvious ‘work in pencil’, and don’t even think about trying to solve it interactively online. Finally read the clue-writing instructions carefully, and read them again after finishing the puzzle, as they can be confusing.
The constraints of the Wrong Number format tend to bring out the best in Azed, who finds some remarkable and entertaining ways of building in the locating definitions (remember these must be integral to the clue as a whole), such as the ‘poly ringtone’ at 28 down and Shelley poem at 23 across. Some clues may look rather forced, but always playfully rather than painfully so.
In the explanations below the clues are numbered as they appear in the puzzle. The notes in brackets indicate where their solutions go in the grid, and the one-word definition that appears in the clue at that location.
3. Fancy small number in fresh party hats. PHANTASTRY (n in anag.; 35a; grotesque). This is Chambers at its most annoying. The solution is in a group or words at phantasy, from where the reader is directed to fantasy. Here, at the end of the entry is ‘fantastry n.’ with no definition at all. One can only assume it’s something fanciful or fantastical.
11. Part of microscope revealing a bug set’s lacking purity? SUBSTAGE (anag.; 5d; apparatus). The anagram indicator ‘lacking purity’ is the most strained of the puzzle, but quite original as a way of including the definition of ‘pucelage’.
12. Whence one may flush out treasure in chapter, long after? CACHE (c ache; 8d; hoard). ‘Flush’, understood as a noun to locate ‘plesh’, is worked tidily into the definition of ‘cache’, and ‘long after’ for ‘ache’ is cleverly misleading.
13. Force introduced to e.g. arrow with new material inside. RELINED (lin in reed; 31a; repaired). A lin or linn is a waterfall or force, and an arrow could be made from a reed.
18. Pinch. SCANT (26d; restrict). This is simply the locating definition for ‘sneap’. ‘Scant’ itself is only found through the locating definition ‘restrict’ at 26d. So the solver must submit a clue to SCANT containing a definition of SNEAP.
21. No longer being intact, clue’s shifting in part of paper? PUCELAGE (anag. in page; 11a; purity). The solution is an old word for virginity or ‘intactness’.
23. Subject of Shelley poem, energy in early summertime? Phooey! MALARKEY (lark e in May; 2d; trouble). Shelley’s ode is to a Skylark specifically. All Azed’s energy here has gone into the locating definition for ‘aeglogue’, and the clue’s own definition is very much tacked on.
27. French mathematician at shed in poet’s steading. FERM (Ferm(at); 6d; lodging). ‘Shed’ works very hard in this clue, as the locator for ‘cast’, the subtraction indicator, and in the surface context of a farm building. Mathematicians will have enjoyed spotting the wordplay.
30. What to call a wee gem, in the manner of names given to one with little height. ALANNAH (à la n n a h; 7d; pet). The solution is in Chambers’ Some first names section, and is an Irish term of endearment. Pleasing but quite forced, the clue deserves a question mark somewhere, in Dr Watson’s view.
33. A load on wheel edge – does it leave pitted appearance? ALASTRIM (a last rim; 19d; disease). Alastrim is a variety of smallpox that could leave the sufferer pockmarked. The surface of the clue is much smoother.
2. E.g. Penelope having trouble with bit of stuff for old units. CRUZADOS (Cruz ado s; 17d; coins). The Spanish-born film star, who fortunately never became Penelope Cruz Cruise, probably wouldn’t be familiar with the former Brazilian currency.
4. Head of louse that’s found in sunfish, one learned in theology! MOLLA (l in mola; 25d; teacher). Azed normally avoids utterly bizarre surfaces, but possibly had no choice here with the need to locate ‘aphid’ (a plant louse), and the result is at least memorable. Perhaps it’s a Sunni sunfish. It would be a rash solver who failed to check ‘mola’, assuming the solution must be MULLA.
7. Knave cropped wretched thin pet pigeon? JACINTH (Jac(k) + anag.; 30a; gem). A jacinth can be both a gemstone and a fancy pigeon.
9. Act as e.g. don losing heart? Not all students can be equal here. TECH (te(a)ch; 28a; poly). The subsidiary indication looks like it’s holding a locating definition in ‘don’, but it turns out to be the extended definition of ‘tech’ that has it.
14. Ephraim and ma wild about start of cheering for e.g. smarty-boots? AMPHIMACER (c in anag.; 1d; foot). It seems astonishing that something as recondite as an amphimacer can be defined as ‘e.g. smarty-boots’ and ‘foot’, but it can. It’s a poetic foot of long-short-long syllables, of which ‘smarty-boots’ is an example.
17. Emanation from coins (olé!) miscast. ECLOSION (anag; 33a; appearance). Olé indeed! Why not ‘coins Leo squandered’?
19. Pastoral disease (feverish) – the confused ogle inside. AEGLOGUE (anag. in ague; 23a; poem). A most unpromising looking word, but Azed spots ‘disease’ to locate ‘alastrim’ and makes the most of it. ‘Pastoral’ works as a noun in the definition.
20. Cheap place to stop for a bite, one with drunk around. BEANERY (an in beery; 22d; diner). ‘Stop’, as in organ stop, is the locating definition for ‘clarion’, which Chambers only confirms under the previous entry clarino.
28. Some mariachis supplying unlikely poly ringtone! ARIA (hidden; 34a; air). Along with MOLLA, the most entertaining clue of the puzzle, necessity begetting some great invention. But surely you can get Nessun Dorma for your mobile? Dr Watson confirms you can, but won’t be publishing the links.
Across: 10. ONST (anag.; 29d; once); 15. CLARION (rio(t) in clan; 20d; stop); 16. EGAL (hidden rev.; 9d; equal); 24. SNEAP (E in snap; 18a; pinch); 31. BREWING (anag.; 3d; boiling). 32. PLESH (s in help, rev.; 12a; flush); 34. IRIS (hidden; 16a; flag); 35. NEPENTHEAN (E pent in anag.; 14d; cheering). Down: 1. BRASS-FACED (f in Br ass ace d; 3a; fresh); 3. HAWKISH (h + anag.; 15a; warlike); 5. VARIABLE (anag.; 21a; shifting); 6. CAST (as in ct.; 27a; shed); 8. APHID (a P hid; 4d; louse); 22. BARACAN (bar a can; 13a; material); 25. ARERE (hidden rev.; 32a; behind); 26. CYMAR (hidden; 24a; coat); 29. MARD (r in mad; 10a; damaged).