For the benefit of solvers new to the rigours of the Advanced Cryptic, Dr Watson provides a monthly review of the Observer's Azed competition puzzle. Dr Watson is a regular Azed competitor. Please post any comments on this review to the Crossword Centre’s message board.

Azed No 1596: 'Christmas & Its Charms' (22 Dec 2002)   

For the Christmas special this year, a very special grid. Azed last used this idea in his ‘Easter Teaser’ in 1999. Not all the solutions were one-word anagrams in that puzzle, and he expressed a desire to perfect the grid. This time he has succeeded, including in the grid three 11-letter words intersecting a 13-letter one – a remarkable feat, which leaves Dr Watson and doubtless others wondering how he did it. Watson couldn’t find any reference (e.g. Chambers Anagrams) containing anagram pairs such as the obscure STEEPER/ESTREPE and the extraordinary TACHYMETRIC/MCCARTHYITE, and can only guess that Azed must have built up his list over time.

As explained the preamble there are two types of clue in the puzzle – the acrosses reveal the solution in their wordplay and define an anagram, while the downs do the opposite.  In both cases the clue leads to two solutions that are mutual anagrams, and there’s nothing in the clue itself to indicate which type it is, so the solver needs to pay careful attention to avoid entering the wrong solution into the grid. On the whole the downs are harder as the checked letters in the grid offer little help in building the solution from the wordplay. The setter didn’t always choose the most familiar alternative anagram where he had a choice, and so the overall level of difficulty was high for a Christmas Azed, but the solving very satisfying.

As those who entered the competition will have found, the biggest problem with clues of this type is making them sound, interesting and solvable. The most obvious cryptic device for the word – a one-word anagram – isn’t available, as either it’s required for the definition, or would lead to an ambiguous solution. Anagrams anywhere in the clue need careful handling. Also, as the definition has no relation to the wordplay except as an anagram, it can’t be made too misleading or the clue would be unsolvable. Finally, any non-Chambers words (and a couple are inevitably forced on the setter) need to be flagged in the preamble. Azed steers a skilful path through these dangers, and although Watson couldn’t say they’re his most sparkling, the clues combine with the grid to produce a fine puzzle.

In the notes below, the solution to be entered is given first and its anagram before or after the explanation as appropriate.

Notes to the clues:

13a: Give new meaning to old racket receding following rage.  NEEDFIRE (deen, rev. + f + ire; REDEFINE)  The use of ‘following’ here is especially misleading, but the checking letters in the grid make it readily solvable.

16a: Not pro the frightfully loud electronic pop music.  CONTEH (con + anag. of the; TECHNO).  British boxer John Conteh is well signaled in the preamble. ‘Loud’ in the definition might have led solvers to look for an F in the solution.

19a: Circuit GP maybe with humour admitting e.g. McKellen after a turn.  DOCTRINAIRISM (doc + Sir Ian, rev. in trim; DISCRIMINATOR).  Having discovered this blockbuster anagram, the solver might not be too worried about how the clue works, but the reference to the knighted actor is very clever.

27a. Ray, Greater Manchester town tenant.  RESALE (re Sale; LEASER).  ‘Re’ is more commonly indicated by ‘about’, etc., so the alternative spellings of the sol-fa note will have caught out some solvers. The town of Sale will be familiar to Rugby League fans.

1d. Thoughtful creed’s replaced one, paltry, with nothing in. CONSIDERATE (DESECRATION; anag. of creed’s + a + O in tin).  Possibly one of the better-known anagram pairs in the grid. This has the longest anagram used within any of the clues, so Azed must have checked there was no other possible solution ending ‘-ation’.

5d: Climbing monkey, one from India, say?  ASIAN (NAIAS; sai an, all rev.).  Even after entering the solution, one’s tempted to try and find a clue to ‘Anais’ in the wordplay. One of the hardest clues to solve completely.

8d: Sole occupant of mendicant hermitage.  THENAR  (ANTHER; hidden).  A finely worded, and (phew!) straightforward hidden.

9d: With greater cunning, press, knowing no bounds, pens bile likewise.  SLIER (RILES; (b)il(e) in (p)res(s)).  A lot of clue for just five letters, though enjoyable to solve.

20d: Home of cricket skill – they and I excited, measuring rate.  TACHYMETRIC (MCCARTHYITE; MCC + art + anag. of they, I).  Hopefully the familiar cricketing reference won’t have stumped many solvers.

20d: One buying and selling tons in old-fashioned venture.  TRADER  (DARTRE; t in darre).  The solution is fully checked, so solvers could be forgiven for assuming the wordplay somehow led to the more familiar DARTER or RETARD.

22d: A current account summary.  RECAP (PERCA; per CA).  Watson spent a lot of time puzzling over combinations using ‘AC’ and ‘a/c’ before the penny dropped that ‘per’ is ‘a’.

26d: Modern matrices I found in wrong half of computer.  UTERI (see matrix in Chambers; URITE; I in anag. of (comp)uter).  Although the definition is good, the use of the anagram in the clue, which is un-anagrammed in the entered solution, makes this clue a little unsatisfactory – it’s the only clue Watson found that fell into one of the potential traps mentioned earlier.

Other solutions

1a: COPULA (op in Cu + (f)la(t); CUPOLA);  6a: PRETEST (anag. of nets in PT; PETTERS);  11a: BRAISED (a is in bred; SEABIRD);  12a: SHOLA (hol in SA; SHOAL);  14a: ERIC (hidden; ICER);  15a: SADE (sad + (lif)e; ADES);  18a: GENISTA;  23a: RIDABLE (rid + b in ale; RAIL-BED);  28a: NETT (ne TT; TENT);  29a: ACID (a +CID; CADI);  30a: DIAMETER (I am in deter; REMEDIAT);  31a: TALEA (tale A; ALATE);  32a: STEEPER (EP in steer; ESTREPE);  33a: EPARCHY (a RC in anag. of hype; PREACHY);  34a: STERIC (t in seric; TRICES);  2d: OBEAH (BOHEA; he in boa);  3d: PREDICTS (SCRIPTED; scrip Ted);  4d: LIFTER (TRIFLE; t’ rifle);  6d: PERTINACITY (ANTIPYRETIC; tip in a n yr + I in etc);  7d: ESCOT (COSTE; coste(r));  17d: TRIMETER (REMITTER; re t-timer, all rev.);  21d: ILL MET (ref. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (act 2, sc 1, ln 60); MILLET; i + ll in met.);  24d: ILEAC (ALICE; a + lice);  25d: BLAES (SABLE; S abl(az)e).


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