Azed No 2356 ‘Playfair’ (6 Aug 2017)

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

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T’S gratifying to see that Azed hasn’t yet exhausted his store of potential Playfair code words and phrases. PUBLIC SERVANT, which needs to be discovered this time, is a familiar phrase and a full thirteen letters, very satisfying for both setter and solvers. To aid solvers, the four encoded words in the grid are synonyms of either ‘public’ or ‘servant’, two of each. This helped Dr Watson construct the Playfair square without solving DOMESTIC at 19 across. The combination of HIRELING at 22 across and the encoding of its RE to VR was enough to hint that ‘servant’ or ‘serving’ was worth further investigation, and the answer appeared after a bit of trial and error.

It won’t have helped solvers using the online PDF that clues the encoded solutions were not italicised, and one was misnumbered. But the message spread quickly around various boards and social media, and the PDF was later updated.

In the notes below clues to encoded solutions are in italics. More about the mechanics of Playfair can be found in the puzzle’s preamble and elsewhere on the web.

Notes to the clues:


4.       Former queen constraining Gaul, unruly, unrefined  SIPMDC (VULGAR; anag. in VR)  A fairly straightforward clue that should have got many solvers started on the Playfair element of the puzzle – as long as they realised that it was an encoded solution. It’s one of the two synonyms of ‘public’.

12.     Wife in tow starts to rear offspring, thickening  ROUX (r, o + ux)  Dr Watson’s not sure how to read the surface of this one, but the wordplay is also tricky. ‘Wife’ more commonly leads to W in wordplay than to the Latinisation ‘ux’, and it’s not clear how many first letters ‘starts to’ is indicating.

14.     Stall serving liquor for the troops: result, drunken yen  SUTLERY (anag. + Y)  ‘Result’ looks at first glance like a joining word to indicate that the solution comes from the wordplay, but it proves to be quite otherwise. The long definition helps the deceit.

19.     Head maybe curtailed cane in the house?  FMKRENPV (DOMESTIC; dome + stic(k))  The first of the ‘servant’ synonyms and the hardest of the encoded words to solve cold. Dr Watson finally had to reverse engineer the solution after discovering the code phrase from the other Playfair words.

22.     Piece of meat, a long way away from R. Blanc?  LOIN (2 mngs.)  Only one of the required meanings is to be found in Chambers. The other is simply the French for ‘distant’, usually seen in the expression ‘loin de’, or ‘distant from’. R. Blanc is the French celebrity chef Raymond.

23.     One that’s taken on a range of Lancashire lingerie  OUVRIPAH (HIRELING; hidden)  Despite the ambiguous definition, an easy-ish to spot hidden solution giving the second synonym of ‘servant’. Lancashire was known for its mills, of course, but is probably no longer the source of much lingerie. The clue was misnumbered as a second 22 in the original online puzzle.

29.     A beer bottled with oxygen in – what’ll need that?  AEROBE (O in anag.)  This doesn’t quite meet the requirements of a full & lit. clue. ‘That’ in the definition part refers back to ‘oxygen’ in the wordplay but presumably not to the bottled beer.

31.     Foreign bed in foreign house, making one fume  HALITUS (lit in haus)  Some French and German knowledge is required here, but both words are more familiar than the earlier ‘loin’.

33.     Old-fashioned musket, a feature of Plassey assuredly  EYAS (hidden)  The solution isn’t difficult to find, but the definition is a matter of contention. Chambers gives the old compound ‘eyas-musket’ meaning a young hawk or a child, but neither is actually a musket.

35.     Coaches in running shoes  TRAINERS (2 mngs.)  A generous giveaway from Azed that will have helped solvers get started on the grid.

37.     Drunk near TV in hostelry  DNCRSD (TAVERN; anag.)  A simple anagram provides the second encoded synonym of ‘public’ as a noun.



1.       Hush before undressed female drops bloomers  STRAWFLOWERS (st + raw + f + lowers)  There’s something of the old-fashioned saucy seaside postcard in this clue that befits the holiday season.

2.       Regular masonry one place of ill repute has in progress  ISODOMON (I Sodom on)  The presence of Sodom in a solution is as irresistible as ‘bloomers’. Azed’s choice of ‘place of ill repute’ to define it is both accurate and nicely misleading.

9.       Second drink leading to a bit of nooky  SNOG (s nog)  And the theme of naughtiness continues. ‘Leading to a bit of nooky’ is clearly misdirecting solvers to look for an N at the end.

10.     Not thinking straight: —— to get dead, eh?  MUDDLE-HEADED (i.e. muddle ‘headed’ to get ‘dead eh’)  This kind of reverse cryptic is beloved of many solvers and certainly adds some variety to the clueing. Dr Watson found this particular one a bit forced (what does the second part mean?), and it’s possible there’s another solution like, say, ‘jumble-headed’ that could fit the wordplay.

30.     Washing solution needing time inside to settle  LYTE (t in lye)  Solvers who rely on the Chambers app rather than the book will not have found the relevant definition of ‘lyte’ as an alternative spelling of ‘light2’, meaning to alight. It doesn’t help that a tye is a type of washing solution if you’re in the ore business, and ‘tyte’ is also in Chambers, though with a quite different meaning from the definition.


Other solutions:

Across:  6. TELESM (s in tele m);  11. BAHAMIAN (m in Baha’i + an);  13. BROD (r in bod);   15. WOMERA (mow3, rev. + era);  17. RETRAL (retr(I)al);  21. PORE (2 mngs.);  26. ON TIME (emit no., rev.);  34. SCAD (C in sad; scad2);  36. SEANAD (sea + Dan, rev.).

Down:  3. PLUS (L in pus);  4. DARTRE (art in anag.);  5. CHALAN (hidden);  6. TAVER (taver(n));  7. EMURE ((d)emure);  8. EARDROP (Dr in anag.); 16. ERN (r in en); 18. ARABIANS (Ian in anag.);  20. KITHARA (kit3 + a rah, rev.);  21. PIR (I in Pr.);  24. VAILED (anag.);  25. RETURN (2 mngs.);  27. MANIA (I in mana);  28. ELAND (E + land); 32. SCAR (initial letters; scar2).


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