HE NEW YEAR is here, and as is usual, Azed provides a puzzle that’s not too challenging for solvers. Only a couple of clues stray from Chambers’s ambit, and there’s a generous helping of hiddens and anagrams to get the grid-fill under way. January brings the highest monthly average of competition entries, and with the clue-friendly BOTTLE-WASHER, Azed should be looking forward a weighty postbag at PO Box 518. Unfortunately, as The Observer carelessly omitted the competition instructions from the both the paper and the online puzzle, this may not be the case. The entry deadline has been extended by a week to give Azed Cup hopefuls their best chance.
7. Corner of sheet getting trapped in cycleway CLEW (hidden) Oxford is one of the towns and cities adjusting to Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods, so perhaps Azed writes from experience, though one’s more likely to trap the corner of a street than a sheet. A clew is amongst other things the corner of a sail.
10. How Brontës appear in rewrite lacking English – result is slush SNOW-BROTH (anag. less E) A nicely punned literary reference.
15. Dogsbody BOTTLE-WASHER After quite a long run of difficult competition words, Azed provides one that’s a clue-writer’s delight, with many ways of approaching both the wordplay and definition. Dr Watson anticipates a high-quality entry.
26. Such as Fagin, with going for Oliver, say, produces wooden darts JEREEDS (Jews with Reed for w) The clue opens up an interesting set of connections: the reference is to Oliver Twist of course, but Dr Watson was reminded that Oliver Reed played Bill Sykes in the film version of Oliver!, directed by Carol Reed.
30. Military badges, black square surrounding face BREVETS (revet in B S) ‘Revet’ is a verb meaning to apply a facing to (a building). Given the military context, Azed might have been tempted to use a different definition for the surrounding ‘BS’.
1. Stretch Across the Border penned by Mary Kenny RYKE (hidden) Journalist and writer Mary Kenny is merely a useful container for the solution here, but given her interest in Irish affairs, the made-up title is a plausible one.
2. One extract of hemlock found in vase of Roman garrison in Shropshire URICONIAN (I conia in urn) A specific definition leading to the Roman name for the hill known as the Wrekin.
5. Portraitist National featured in capital, unknown ROMNEY (N in Rome + y) The clue’s subject is George Romney, the 18c painter; his best-known subject in turn was Emma Hamilton.
23. Upturned punt? Liquid’s heated in it ETNA (ante, rev.) An etna is a paraffin camping stove, possibly considered too hazardous to use these days. The punt pun reminded Dr Watson of another by R. J. Hooper in his 1997 cup-winner for NITERIE ‘Dive made from upturned punts’ (Eire tin, rev.).
25. Gloom – end up dismissed for insolence SASS (sa(dne)ss) The ‘end up dismissed’ wordplay may cause a bit of puzzlement before the penny drops.
Across: 1. RUPTURE (uptur(n) in RE); 11. KIVA (hidden); 12. MUSETTE (set in mute, vb.); 13. ECOTONE (to in EC one); 18. ACHAGE (a cha(n)ge); 20. DIRECT (C in anag.); 22. JAMAICA EBONY (anag.); 26. NOTIONS (anag.); 27. OBIA (I in oba); 28. CONTUMACY (Mac in anag.); 29. TWAY (w in Tay).
Down: 3. PIVOTER (pi2 voter); 4. UNSOLICITOUS (anag.); 6. OBSTACLE RACE (anag. in O brace); 7. CREESHY (cree + shy2); 8. LOTA (i.e. A to L, rev.); 9. WHERRET (Herr in wet); 14. LEGENDIST (e.g. end in list); 16. ADJUNCT (DJ ’un in act); 17. REALITY (anag.); 19. AMOEBAE (o(n)e in anag.); 21. CAESAR (‘seizer’).