Azed No 2324 ‘MSUSMXOFTYKB’ (18 Dec 2016)

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

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ZED hasn’t tired of the challenges of a difficult grid, as this cracker of  a Christmas puzzle amply demonstrates. It’s in Letters latent style, and manages to include one or more solutions for each letter of the alphabet, while omitting the same letter from every solution in the same row or column of the grid. The clues are concise and fair, and often witty. 10 down is probably the only clue that could spring a trap on a hasty solver.

The missing letters of the across clues, in order, create a seasonal Playfair phrase ‘Ah, joyful times!’, that must be used in the final step to decode the puzzle’s title to CELEBRATIONS. So there’s no reverse engineering of a Playfair square from encoded solutions, and no hidden theme to miss, making this less onerous than many a previous Playfair. This style of Playfair has been used by Azed before for Christmas puzzles in 1989 (No. 920) and 1993 (No. 1128). In those Slips Azed reveals the inspiration for the theme.

Notes to the clues:


10.     100 books catalogue expert in mystical texts  C(A)BB(A)LIST (C bb list)  With several alternative spellings for ‘cabbala’ the solution isn’t easily seen.

12.     WWII battlesite – I’ve mate here  IMP(H)AL (I’m pal)  This appears to be the proper name that ‘may be unfamiliar’ from the footnote, referring to the 1944 Battle of Imphal in northern India. The wordplay alludes to the required letters, but doesn’t indicate them directly enough to give the solver certainty in a difficult solution.

21.     Board of Education holds nothing back where author’s name  appears  B(Y)-LINE (nil, rev., in BE)  An old-fashioned abbreviation needs to be discovered. The writer’s name appears in the by-line of a newspaper article.

22.     Regular feature of R. Stein restaurant, one seen in sink he  redesigned  (F)ISH KNI(F)E (I in anag.)  Rick Stein is known for his TV appearances and franchise of Cornwall fish restaurants. Dr Watson recommends his battered haddock and chips in Padstow.

24.     End of exercise – fat all round – wide at the bottom  (F)LARED (e in lard)  Very nicely constructed. One of Dr Watson’s favourite clues from the puzzle.

30.     Sticky pebble  GOO(L)EY (2 meanings)  Letters latent gives the occasional opportunity for this sort of double definition covering two different words.

40.     Unmasked, one leaves country, cutting wound  BL(I)NDLESS (l(a)nd in bless3)  A couple of tricky definitions here. ‘Bless’ meaning  to wound is unrelated to the religious sense of the word. ‘Blindless’ is one of Chambers’s annoyingly undefined words, leaving the setter free to remove a blind in any sense, though lacking a window blind seems the most likely usage.

45.     He composed final act for widow  SATI(E) (2 meanings)  The full solution refers to composer Erik Satie, and the modified one to the former Hindu practice of a widow’s suicide on her husband’s funeral pyre.


2.       Applauds porridge, packed with energy?  O(V)ATES  (E in oats)  ‘Ovate’ in the sense defined here has nothing to do with eggs, but is a facetious back-formation from ‘ovation’.

7.       Livid Scots are furious  BLA(Z)E (2 meanings)  Another good example of LL double definition.

10.     Part of capstan – I expect it was covered in seaweed  TAN(G)IE (hidden)  Knowing that G is latent, and with the fourth letter unchecked, it’s tempting to assume that ‘seaweed’ must point to tangle2, and not worry too much about the wordplay. But ‘tangie’ is also in Chambers as a water spirit in the form of a man covered in the stuff.

23.     Wolf that woman’s seen devouring ducks  HOO(V)ER (0, 0 in her)  Clever use of ‘that woman’s’ to indicate ‘her’, and a metaphorical sense of both ‘wolf’ and ‘hoover’.

26.     Racing cyclist once raving mad having to follow barrow?  BOARDMA(N) (boar + anag.)  Azed gets an excellent surface reading in this clue to another of the proper names, that of Chris Boardman, now a familiar figure on TV thanks to the success British cycling. Barrow3 is a dialect word for a boar.

29.     Tuck: odd slice of beef to have for lunch?  (D)RUMBEAT (rum + b + eat)  The surface reference is to the gluttonous Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood tales, but the definition is tuck2, meaning a tap or beat.

34.     Damn employer promoting his last  (C)URSE (r moved up in user)  The ‘promoting’ of a letter in this way is allowed only in down clues.

35.     Sparkler in use when it’s lit  SE(Q)UIN (anag.)  An suitable occasion to pull out ‘lit’ in the sense of drunk.

39.     Final yard of race disposed of, put your feet up  RELA(X) (rela(y))  A more appropriate clue to close the puzzle would be difficult to find. A professional touch from the setter.


Other solutions:

Across:  1. (A)UTOS(A)VE (V in anag.);  11. (H)IG(H-H)AT (hidden);  14. (H)URRA(H) (RR in (q)ua(d); Roller = Rolls Royce car);  15. (J)ESTER (anag.);  17. (J)AMPAN (p(ole) in a man);  18. STEM F(O)RMS (MF in S terms);  20. GA(Y)AL (a in gal);  27. O(U)TGROSSED (anag.);  31. SC(L)EROUS (anag.);  35. S(T)A(T)ERS (anag. in SS);  36. ME-(T)OO (e in moo);  41. (M)UD PIE (anag. + i.e.);  42. HA(M)LET ((C)halet);  43. IMP(E)L (l to end in limp);  44. LAM(E)NT (mal, rev., + n’t);  46. NAU(S)EATE (ea in anag. less I);  47. (S)TEEPEN (tee + pen).

Down:  1. (Q)UIESCING (anag.);  3. STEM(B)OK (stem OK);  4. EMBRAI(D) (’em + B + anag);  6. B(R)ANSLES (bans + les (Fr.));  8. (P)LUMULAE (lum + a in ule);  9. S(C)RANNEL (ran in Lens, rev.; lentil genus);  10. POMA(K) (mop, rev., + a);  16. STU(N)S (st US);  19. (W)EIRDO (Ir. in ode, rev.);  25. DIS(G)USTIN(G) (is in dustin’);  28. TERRI(B)LE (err in tile);  32. CO(R)N (R)ENT (on in cent);  33. (P)ROLA(P)SE (anag.);  37. (K)ELIM (mile, rev.);  38. DE(W)LAP (paled, rev.).


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