Y his own account Azed devised the Eightsome Reels grid format for his puzzle number 36, his ninth competition puzzle. In the Slip he gave some interesting observations on filling the grid (as setter), on his concern not to have too many adjacent solutions similarly formed, and on the relatively high proportion of checked squares. The present puzzle is, by Dr Watson’s reckoning, only the fourth such puzzle in the competition series, following number 530, which he decided to make much tougher than the first, and number 1030, seemingly not quite so difficult. Regular Azed solvers of any vintage will be familiar with the format from their more frequent appearance in non-competition puzzles. Familiar, too, will be the inclusion of an anagram of a given word or phrase to fix the twelve squares at the corners of the grid. It is interesting to note that there is no mention of this device in the three early slips, and that in the first of them, Azed’s reference to unchecked squares included those at the corners. In the second, number 530, his first comment is of solvers’ errors in one of the corner solutions.
Most of the clues in the present puzzle have a simple structure involving variously elements in series, elements included or excluded, reversals and anagrams. One (4) has two meanings, and another (11) a simple substitution. None should be expected to defeat a novice solver. Regulars will have found them quite easy.
Notes to the clues include indications of direction for each solution as in this completed grid.
1. Fish company once netting fish − little left. GRAYLING (ray, l, all in ging; A/W) There’s little indication here that a reference is intended to the Justice Secretary ...
2. Good newspaper includes favourable slant on news item, being avaricious. GRASPING (spin in g, rag; C/W) ... however, the entertainment value here is in taking the phrase ‘being avaricious’ as describing the news item. Highly topical.
4. Occupant like young cuckoo, fluttering? SQUATTER (2 meanings; A/W) ‘A fluttering’ is one definition of squatter1, q.v.
6. Pass certificate? Master put out when page is missing. TESTAMUR (anag. less p; A/W) The anagram is of ‘Master (p)ut’. The surface may have its most apt meaning in a nautical setting.
7. A metal mined in mountain for slating. BERATING (a, tin, all in berg; C/W) Azed’s definition of tin is ‘metal mined’. A simple but very subtle clue.
8. Form of giant web or aerial flap. WINGBEAT (anag; A/W) This solution saved Azed from having a square foursome of words with an ‘ing’ ending in the Northwest corner of the grid. Dr Watson fancies that he might once have regarded three as too many.
9. Type of pear coated in salt? It may come with the menu. WINE LIST (nelis in wit; C/W) Watson’s first clue solved. He expects to be in good company.
10. Creepers cut short round part of fence? TRAILERS (rail in ters(e); C/W) A very sweet clue. Solvers needed to prune the right word.
12. First to admit poverty’s extremely dismal. BLACKEST (lack in best; C/W) It’s not so bad with with such fine crossword fare.
13. Follower of reforming churchman, one featured in window. LUTHERAN (a in luthern; A/W) The reference is to Martin Luther ...
18. Cord intertwined or substituted. REPLACED (rep, laced; A/W) This solution shares a ‘.ced’ word ending with ENGRACED at no. 17...
21. Char, one engaged by one’s brother perhaps. SAIBLING (a in sibling; C/W) ... but an ‘.ngs’ ending shared with LISTINGS at 15 is deftly avoided here.
24. Shrank from treatment for E. coli, embarrassed about it? RECOILED (anag. in red; C/W) Face up to it here.
27. Stretch best lines out. TENSIBLE (anag; A/W) Watson had our solution written into the grid long before accepting ‘stretch’ as an adjective (as in ‘stretch-fabric’).
29. Greek lines aloft in sculpted niche. HELLENIC (ell (= el1) in anag; A/C) This solution turns on recognizing ‘lines aloft’ as referring to an elevated railway.
33. Horn sometimes seen halved in unruly cattle. TENTACLE ((se)en in anag; C/W) The entry for horn includes the definition: ‘a snail’s tentacle’.
35. Close friend of Virginia, well off. TOVARICH (to, Va, rich; C/W) ‘Of’ is listed among the many meanings of ‘to’. TOVARICH was the Competition word in Azed 1134.
36. Obsequious claptrap about day roaming Italy. TOADYISH (anag, I, all in tosh; A/W) Azed cannot be referring to BBC 2‘s The Trip to Italy, surely?
3. SPINETTE (pine in anag; A/W) 5. QUARTERS (qua, r, anag; C/W) 11. TRACKERS (t for c in crackers; A/W) 14. THEATINE (heat in tine; C/W) 16. SANGRAIL (The Competition word; A/W) 17. ENGRACED (CE in anag; C/W) 19. SPATULAR (at, U, l, all in spar; A/W) 20. TAPELINE (tap, Nile (rev.), E; A/W) 22. SANTERIA (anag; C/W) 23. DENTELLE (den, tell, e; A/W) 25. RATE-CAPS (anag. less on; A/W) 26. CAPELETS (e(fficacy) in caplets; C/W) 28. SIRENIAN (i in anag; C/W) 30. HELIOSIS (oil (rev.) in anag; C/W) 31. CORVETTE (cor(d), vette(d); C/W) 32. CORSLETS (let in anag; A/W) 34. TATARIAN (ta, ta, i in ran; A/W)