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 1628: Plain (3 Aug 2003)

A higher than usual quota of ‘plain’ clues – hidden words, double definitions and plain anagrams – make this a fairly easy puzzle to get started, but as ever the setter has some tricks and treats in store.

Notes to the clues:

1a:     Start off e.g. booster in jet burst – she’s off at a gallop!  JOCKETTE ((r)ocket in anag.).  The wording manages to misdirect the solver away from the cryptic role of ‘start off’.

7a:     Something like a skewer, certainly not Roman.  PROD (2 meanings).  Solvers not brought up through 30 years of ‘the Troubles’ in N Ireland may be unfamiliar with the second meaning. Azed didn’t exploit the cross-reference with ROMAN at 24a, but he rarely does this.

11a:   Charged with heraldic fur, very jaunty.  VAIRY  (v airy).  Watson was intrigued to know what ‘charged with fur’ (the words are from Chambers) actually means, and started a treasure hunt through the strange language of heraldry. Pimbley’s Dictionary of Heraldry on the internet describes it thus (with apologies for the length): “Vair - One of the furs of heraldry, composed of a number of pieces cut to resemble little shields, and arranged alternately argent and azure. When of different tinctures they must be specified; as, ‘vairy argent and vert’. Other varieties of vair are: vair-en-point, where the point of one shield, or skin, is placed opposite to the base of the one below; counter-vair, where those of the same color are placed base to base and point to point. (Vair was originally drawn bell-shaped.)” “Charge - To place upon an escutcheon.” So now we know.

21a:   With head (with new head), liberal, whence all elements were formed?  PROTHYL (frothy with ‘new head’ + L).  It’s unusual for Azed to indicate a letter change without specifying the replacement. The clue shows the signs of a setter struggling with a beast of a word. He fares better with the similarly horrible SCHIZONT at 28a.

30a:   Facing reductions after setback, company downsized.  STUCCO (cuts, rev. + Co.).  A lesson in how to disguise the definition.

5d:    Your old bags split? If you’re this you’ll patch ’em.  THRIFTY (rift in thy).  It’s hard to know where to start with this, as the first four words could work cryptically in a number of ways. The definition also offers several possibilities, and so the solution comes as a happy and welcome surprise.

26d:  Top singer briefly alternates with company in telling story.  SCOOP  (Sop. alternates with Co.).  A device that’s rarely used, and employed here for the sake of the surface, as the solution could have been indicated simply by ‘Co.’ in ‘Sop.’

Other solutions:

10a: HITHERSIDE (hithe + anag.);  12a: TRANSE (tra(i)ns + E);  14a: ENCOMION;  17a: OMERS (hidden);  18a: MEASE ((tediu)m + ease);  19a: TALIPOT (a lip in tot);  22a: STAGE (2 meanings);  24a: ROMAN (anag.);  28a: SCHIZONT (chiz in anag.);  31a:  GENOA (hidden);  32a: SALICORNIA (anag.);  33a: ELEA (E LEA; see Eleatic in Chambers);  34a: SPAEWIFE (anag. + Fe);  1d: JUVE (anag. of first letters, & lit.);  2d: ORANGE-ROOT (O + ranger + too, rev.);  3d: CHICHA (chic + h + a);  4d: ETYMA (hidden);  6d: TETON ((drough)t + note, rev.);  7d: PSAMMITE (anag.);  8d: RINSE (anag. with r for w);  9d: DEEMSTER (ems in deter);  13d: STROGANOFF (anag. less me + ff);  15d: IMPRESSE (impresse(d));  16d: ESTANCIA (tan in anag.);  20d: ALCHERA (anag.);  23d: ADONAI (a doña + i);  25d: MVULE (vul(pine) in me);  27d: LIGNE (anag.);  29d: TAPE (2 meanings).