HIS is a puzzle more readily solved than understood, and despite having set out below explanations for every clue, Doctor Watson remains uncertain of his view of the puzzle as a whole. It has a number of oddities, some hardly worth mentioning, but others, such as the inclusion of a clue, 29 Across, rejected by Azed in an earlier competition as unfair, seem certain to provoke a response from some solvers. For his own part, Doctor Watson has been more engaged by the choice of certain types of clues for particular words. As he has set out below, the clue for PLIANCY (21 Across) appears to demand a flexible approach from the solver, and that for ASSUME (34 Across) involves a type of clue that presents the solver with an ‘A or B’ conundrum in its solution. These two show Azed at his very best.
5. Bore, probably, like bishop cracking joke. GASBAG (as B in gag) The meaning ‘a talkative person (inf)’ is now listed in Chambers as the first definition of ‘gasbag’, before ‘a bag for holding gas’, having been promoted in importance over that implied by earlier editions. This trend compounds the likelihood that a ‘gasbag’ may indeed be a bore. Probably. Older solvers may remember the Bishop of St Oggs in All Gas and Gaiters and therefore appreciate this brilliant clue all the more. Cracking!
14. Peter, or Paul? SIMON (Simon Peter/Paul Simon) This clue suggests, in its surface, an allusion to the famous nursery rhyme ‘Two little dickie-birds’. In its solution one is prompted to a comparison of two very different men of immense fame and influence.
15. Non-flyers hiding head? It enables high-flyers to spread their wings. ERASMUS (ras in emus) The solution is an acronym for ‘European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students’, hence the definition given. Non-fliers may read about the real Erasmus here.
21. Being flexible I can swim in strand. PLIANCY (anag. in ply1) This is a clue needing some research so as to assure the solver that it is properly constructed. Firstly, how can one swim in a strand? This is normally understood (strand1) to be a stratum of rock, particularly one under water. The sense of the surface is saved by strand3, a Scots term for a rivulet or gutter. Secondly, in the cryptic part, does ‘swim’ properly indicate that the phrase: ‘I can’ is to be jumbled in an anagr am? In that context one would expect ‘swims’ or ‘swimming’. Either would ruin the surface. However, considered as a noun, ‘swim’ just about works. Now that’s being flexible.
24. Hope to make something having set out cap, dress and corset? BUSK (3 defs. busk1,2, & 3) The first definition given here for BUSK1 is deliciously disguised by listing other garments immediately after the requisite ‘cap’. A very sweet and witty clue.
26. Hootenanny, party that’s died with distribution of rye. DOOBREY (do + ob. + anag.) A clue to prompt solvers to refresh their understandings of a few UK/US subtleties in the meanings of, amongst others, words such as ‘gadget’, ‘thingamy’ and ‘rye’, in which context the use of dictionaries other than Chambers is recommended. Solvers on both sides of the pond will have seen things afresh after their diversions here.
29. Primer, ‘perfectly completed’ might be rendered so? DONET (i.e. done to a ‘t’) DONET was the competition word in Azed 1194. In his comments Azed had this to say about entries constructed in this way:-
“Quite a number of you were seduced by the phrase ‘done to a T’ to define DONET with wording like ‘perfectly executed/cooked/performed’. This won’t do. The solver is being asked to solve a clue to a clue (‘perfectly cooked’ = ‘done to a T’ = done + T = DONET), a two-stage process which isn’t fair.”
That was in 1995 and in the context of individual clues submitted for critical judgment. Doctor Watson takes the view that, in the context of a puzzle famed for the variety and inventiveness of its clues, and one in which the cross-checking is most generous, the odd clue of this type is to be welcomed and cherished, much though others might rail with indignation.
34. Adopt a t-tot with minimum of effort. ASSUME (a + s-sum + e(ffort)) The use of the hesitant ‘t’ prompts, as ever, the perennial question whether the indication should lead to ‘t’ + a synonym, or, as here, a synonym with its first letter doubled. Azed’s answer? Well, that’s the joke, and it’s on us. Just assume.
1. I love nectar etc, the best spirit. FLOWERPECKER (flower+pecker) At first reading, an obvious ‘charade’ type of clue, but the synonyms were not easy for the doctor to find. A fine example, concise and pleasing.
4. Lured mariners will be seen to have erred in tangling with such sirens. LARUMS (comp. anag.) The anagram of ‘larums’ is found here by removing the letters of ‘erred in’ from those of ‘lured mariners’.
5. One of mixed SA race, as subjugated by imperial monarch. GRIQUA (qua under GRI) This is a very fine clue in which the subsidiary (cryptic) part is a factual qualification of the definition. The Griquas are descendents of early Dutch settlers who took African wives. ‘Qua’ is the Latin term for ‘as’. ‘GRI’ is a convenient abbreviation of ‘Georgius Rex Imperator’, yet more Latin, this time meaning ‘George, King and Emperor’.
7. Custard apples etc not planted among nuts (though ban’s lifted) ANNONAS (non- in (ban)anas; s.v ANONA) A few solvers may have struggled with the cryptic explanation here until they realised the connection between ‘nuts’ and ‘bananas’.
8. Huge pothole fractured gasket inlet and trouble’s beginning. GIANT’S-KETTLE (anag. inc. t) The doctor has heard of inlets having gaskets and has fitted one or two over the years. However, ‘gasket inlet’ does not seem to describe any mechanical part known to him. The solution is not a proper noun as one might expect, but a word for any large underground cavern created by the erosive effect of boulders spinning in a vortex of running water.
11. I’m breaking racket, open about energy fading? DIMINUENDO (I’m in din, e in undo) A clue with a seasonal surface reading, perhaps an appeal to Wimbledon crowds to pipe down a bit. Amen to that. The cryptic part - involving a sequence of two similar parts, each being one element within another - is a most pleasing feature.
16. Maybe lassie’s rinsing some clothes in Dreft. SIND (hidden; s.v. SYND) The Scottish origin of our solution is hinted at by the definition ‘Maybe lassie’s rinsing’. A possible charge of sexual stereotyping in the laundry department is adroitly side-stepped by the use of ‘maybe’.
22. Monkeys I caught by gripping long-bladed knife from below. COLOBI (bolo2 in I + c (all rev.); s.v. COLOBUS) Doctor Watson hopes that the improbable surface reading of this clue is actually a reference to a famous description in literature as yet unknown to him, or else forgotten.
Across: 1. FRAZIL (z in frail) 9. LAQUEARIA ((p)laque + aria) 12. TRICHINA (TR + i + china1)13. WHEAL (h in weal; wheal2) 18. RACA ((ma)raca) 20. SALINAS (NA in anag.) 28. CORAM (o in cram)31. KNOCKOUT (2 defs.) 32. HOBBINOLL (anag. in hobbl(e)) 33. ROMAJI (J in anag.). Down: 2. RAPHE (rap + HE) 3. ZUPA (i.e. a puz(zle) (rev.)) 6. SAHIB (anag. less op) 10. QUERCITRON (quer(y) + citron; s.v. QUERCUS) 17. SLOB (L in s.o.b.) 19. AL CONTO (The competition term) 23. YORUBA (anag. inc. O) 25. PACHA (a chap, ‘p’ in first place) 27. YEALM (yea + l + m) 30. OONS (hidden).