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 1646: Plain (7 Dec 2003)

A fairly gentle run-up to the Christmas special that’s due in two weeks’ time. You’ll need to know your luvvies for 27a, and 13a takes some lateral thought. While 33a perhaps anticipates events in Sydney, Azed might with hindsight have worded it more triumphantly (and possibly have made something more out of MEGA at 8d). It’ll be interesting to see what competitors make of the competition word, BLACK, which offers a great range of meanings, which somebody will surely somehow manage to link to rugby.

Notes to the clues:

1a:     You’ll want only a small piece, making cheese sandwich that’s disgusting!.  FUGHETTA (ugh! in fetta). Azed uses the opportunity offered by the interjection to heavily disguise the cryptic reading.

11a:   Old board-game: most of doubt is where square should be in measured lines.  VERQUERE (quer(y) for s in verse).  Rather a lot of manipulation required to resolve the elements of this clue (an abbreviation replaced by a truncated synonym within another synonym). The solution, though, could come handy one day for Scrabble.

13a:   What I am (in extreme form) gets me reverse of irate inside!  VEGAN  (veg(etari)an, & lit.).  The exclamation mark alerts the solver that something unusual is going on here. This is one of those recursive clues that can only be solved after they’re solved, so to speak It’s reminiscent of the notorious UNINFLATED clue of 18 months ago, although it shouldn’t fox quite so many solvers as that one did.

27a:   Great actor, popularly, bishop held by his faith no longer.  LARRY (RR in lay). The clue refers to the late Lord Olivier (much parodied by Spitting Image with John Gielgud in their ‘Larry and Johnny’ sketches). A first reading might suggest that ‘held by his faith no longer’ indicates lay6 (‘non-clerical’), but to work cryptically it must be lay5, an obsolete word for ‘faith’.

33a:   Copper with mate holding hand? Some match!  CUP FINAL  (Cu + fin in pal).  English rugby fans will no doubt savour the definition. Azed expresses surprise in his footnote that the phrase isn’t in Chambers, forgetting perhaps that the dictionary is published in Scotland!

2d:     Arm (not head) attachment?  UNITION  ((m)unition).  This hard-to-find word (listed under unite) and its minimalist clue may have caused some bother.

10d:   This cloth is silk from Africa, part of black entertainer’s rig.  KENTE  (hidden).  ‘Rig’ appears to be superfluous to the hiding sequence. It could just be there in the sense of ‘appearance’ for the cryptic reading.

22d:   Foot; what joins front of toe to heel.  TROTTER  (t + rotter).  Dr Watson has a sense of déjà vu about this nicely worded clue. It’s certainly possible the setter could have used the same idea before sometime in the last thirty years.

Other solutions:

12a: SIDLE (s + idle);  14a: STOLLEN (l in stolen);  15a: REACT (a/c in ret);  17a: ABSINTHE (a + anag. + he);  19a: LOACH (A in loch);  20a: INDULT (n dul(l) in it);  23a: ANDEAN (a + anag.);  24a: BORER (R in Boer);  25a: BLOCK-TIN (‘blocked in’);  29a: HORNIST (anag.);  31a: ARIAN (a rian(t));  32a: DONUT (comp. anag.);  34a: RELAPSER (pale, rev. in anag.);  1d: FOSSULA (anag. less t);  3d: GADO-GADO (g a dog ado);  4d: HILL (h + ill);  5d: TEREBINTHINE (ere bint in thin + e);  6d: TRANSITIONAL (O in anag.);  7d: QUEENDOM (qu(it)e + anag.);  8d: MEGA (halves of ‘game’ swapped);  9d: BRACH (bra + CH);  16d: ICE CRAFT (anag., & lit.);  18d: TURBINES (anag.);  20d: LEASURE (anag. + sure);  25d: BLACK;  26d: LARUM (comp. anag.);  28d: RIPE (rip E);  30d: NOUP (on, rev. + up).