S WE AWAIT Azed’s imminent milestone puzzle no 2500, this month’s competition provides at least a temporary distraction from crises and lockdowns. A little knowledge of Milton and Dickens proves useful, but otherwise Chambers provides everything solvers need. Azed delivers the usual standard of cluemanship including two very fine clues to the long lights at 5 and 6 down. The competition word BUNG has echoes of PLUG in 2014, but this time it may have competitors finding innovative ways to insert an N into the coronavirus bug.
11. Dock unloaded citrus fruit and fish SHAD (shad(dock)) Oh dear, it’s another fish (actually the same one that disheartened Dr Watson in no 2490’s clue to SHADY). ‘Dock’ might look like an instruction to remove something, but it’s the surplus material in ‘shaddock’, another name for the pomelo.
19. Ache being denied wine, making the old smirk GREN (Gren(ache)) Very similar wordplay to 11 across. With the third letter unchecked it’s important not to go straight for ‘grin’.
20. A gun cast in e.g. bronze, mature? See set of linguistic symbols METALANGUAGE (anag. in metal age) It’s surprising to see Azed to use ‘linguistic’ in the definition of a word containing ‘language’, but probably explained by the very specific meaning of the solution.
24. Clever? It shows dash when you do CUTE (i.e. cut E) What do we call this, a self-referential reverse cryptic? The gist is, if you cut E from CUTE, you’re left with ‘cut’, one of whose meanings is to run away.
28. You may see some lad excited by me DAMOSEL (anag. & lit.) Dr Watson was reminded of Azed’s famous “My letters could make lad sad” for LASS, but this is an altogether simpler wordplay.
31. Milton wrote this of marsh plants REEDEN (i.e. re Eden) Milton wrote regarding Eden in Paradise Lost.
2. Fruit cocktail and sandwich (requiring short time to open it)? SHRUB (hr in sub) Having placed the S, Dr Watson assumed the short time was a ‘second’, opening the solution, and it took a while to rethink the wordplay. The shrub here is shrub2, a fruity drink.
5. Otic area pest, possibly a flea? ECTOPARASITE (anag.) A nice succinct straight anagram, alluding to ‘a flea in the ear’.
6. Sydney harbour feature, note, in papier-mâché? CARTON-PIERRE (Carton pier re2) The ‘Sydney harbour’ combination is a great spot, making the whole clue ‘a far, far better thing’ than it might have been in less capable hands.
12. Dejected when damn rings puncture DEFLATE (flat in dee2) A slightly tricky wordplay made harder by what may seem to be a faulty definition. Chambers lists ‘deflate’ only as a verb, while in the clue ‘dejected’ points to an adjective or past tense. Wiser heads than Dr Watson’s have pointed out that the roles of ‘dejected’ and ‘puncture’ are the other way round, with the former indicating ‘flat’ and the latter the definition.
16. What Baden Powell encouraged affected clubs, a large number CAMPCRAFT (camp2 C raft2) A couple of less obvious synonyms in this charade referring to the founder of the Scouts.
23. Nutritious fern, number fringing neglected road NARDOO (anag. in no.) Dr Watson can’t recall seeing ‘neglected’ as an anagram indicator before, but Chambers gives the definition ‘treat[ed] in a careless way’.
29. Sprat (male) goes for this, a line that’s loaded I cast LEAN (anag. less I) Regular competitors might have thought back to the ‘sprat-weather’ of November’s competition, but here the reference is to the rhyme ‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat’.
Across: 1. ESCABECHE (cab in anag.; i.e. cab rank); 13. ORIYA (comp. anag.); 14. ARPENT (p in a rent); 15. ROISTS (is in anag.); 17. GÖTHITE (got hit + e); 18. ABELE (a bel E; see bael); 21. POSTER PAINTS (anag. in points); 26. SCAWS (‘scores’); 30. ARILLI (ill in anag.); 32. FORME (i.e. for me); 33. TOEY (0 in yet, rev.); 34. GREEN-BONE (reen in GB + one; see rhine).
Down: 3. CAPLET (cap let2); 4. BUNG; 7. HOO-HA ((s)hoo(t) (t)ha(t)); 8. SISTRA (comp. anag. & lit.); 9. GYTE (g + anag.); 10. GASTNESSE (gas + anag.); 19. GUICHET ((r)iche(s) in gut); 22. STAIRS (I in stars); 25. POLER (‘polar’); 27. WHEEN (he in wen); 28. DROW (hidden rev.).