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 1641: Plain (2 Nov 2003)

At the time of writing it’s not clear how the postal strike, which hit London and Oxford amongst other places, will have affected this competition. Dr Watson hopes no one will miss their commendation or points as a result. For regular solvers, the strike would likely be the only reason for a late or missing entry. The puzzle itself held no major problems, and was even two clues short of the usual quota.

Notes to the clues:

11a:   Bol à soupe? English query language we hear (briefly).  ÉCUELLE (E + ‘QL’). An original handling of a homophone clue with a witty touch. Solvers not steeped in the world of computer databases needed to take the extra step of finding the abbreviation before ‘translating’ its sound.

17a:   Make disclosure in different ways one has no companion.  SINGLETON (sing, let on).  Azed finds the exact wording to cover both parts of the charade in one go.  Difficult to solve without obtaining some checked letters first.

28a:   Joint to have for lunch. It was completely black.  JEAT  (j + eat).  Not, we hope, the result of Sunday morning immersion in the Azed puzzle.

32a:   Turn over layer of humus.  MULL (2 meanings). With eight distinct definitions in Chambers, plus the island, there are at least 36 possible varieties of double definition clue for MULL.

15d:   Vintage bubbly – French art – can be seen in these cases.  AGENTIVES  (anag. + es).  Nothing to do with wine, but everything to do with language, ‘tu es’ being equivalent to ‘thou art’, and the ‘cases’ grammatical ones. A delightfully misleading clue.

22d:   Sheaths in the main enveloping end of tulwar (for name see East).  OCREAE  (r in ocean with E for n).  A clue to have you puzzling for a while after you’ve solved it.  Watson can only wonder what kind of construction process Azed went through to produce this (‘Hm, it has to be sheathable, oriental, somewhat obscure, and end in an R. Now let’s see…’)

23d:   What hog becomes, having eaten outside lair?  BIDENT  (den in bit).  The key to solving here is the discovery that ‘hog’ can mean a one-year-old sheep.

25d:   Fanny includes as an illustration a titled lady.  BEGUM  (e.g. in bum).  We’re talking about a US fanny and a British bum, of course, and not the other way round (now, that would be a Special Relationship).

Other solutions:

1a: SCISSOR-LEG (anag.);  10a: MOLA (mola(r));  12a: PROLAMIN (pro lamin’);  13a: PEAG (a in peg);  14a: HUMF (hum + f);  16a: ACME (anag. less anag.);  18a: GADGETEER;  21a: CORNBORER (rob, rev. in corner);  24a: SILICOTIC (anag.);  27a: TRAM (hidden);  29a: REPP ((to)pper, rev.);  30a: ENVEIGLE (anag. for a in eagle);  33a: TELEOSTOME (let, rev. + anag);  1d: AMPHIGASTRIA (anag. less e);  2d: SORUS (hidden);  3d: CLOMP (l in comp);  4d: SHAVIE (anag. inc E(nglis)h);  5d: SEMANTRON (names, rev. + tron);  6d: RUNKLE (run + elk, rev.);  7d: ELECTOR (anag. of L(abou)r, C(onservativ)e, (v)ote);  8d: GLAMOR (g + romal, rev.);  9d: DEGENERATELY (renege, rev. in date + ly(ing));  19d: DELAPSE (laps in Dee);  20d: VIRENT (ir(is) in vent);  26d: SALLE (L in Sale).