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 1648: ‘GRNAR EIGCUIM’ (21 Dec 2003)

Azed likes his solvers to be entertained as much as challenged at Christmas, and delivers a puzzle with just a little more difficulty than usual, but lots to enjoy. This year’s includes a Playfair grid, but the task of deducing the code-phrase is mitigated by hiding it in the 13 latent letters of the across clues. What makes the grid really special, though, is that our setter then manages to place the remaining 13 letters of the alphabet as latent letters in the down clues; a feat to rival the angrammatical solutions of last year’s Christmas grid. Even more remarkably, Azed, incorporates a high proportion of multiple latent letters – four in one of the solutions. The result is a complete delight and completely solvable by anyone who can cope with a standard ‘plain’ puzzle.

In the notes below, the full (‘unmutilated’) solution is given, with its latent letter indicated in the bracketed explanation.

 Notes to the clues:

13a:   Non-payment of debt? Scottish one’s active a long time.  ARREARAGE (R; ae a age). A prime example of latent lettering. Inevitably the grid contains a lot of consecutive vowels with consonants removed from 21 of the rows and columns. Dr Watson makes no comment on any implied national stereotype there may or may not be here.

18a:   Some passed out, some returned plastered.  STUCCO’D (C; hidden rev.).  A terrific clue in the spirit of the season, though you’d have to be some way off plastered to crack it.

20a:   Galleon? Small number put out from Breton coastal town  CARACK  (K; Car(n)ac).  Solvers unfamiliar with Brittany might need a magnifying-glass to find Carnac in their atlas, but an internet search would probably turn it up without difficulty, as the town is famous for its avenue of prehistoric menhirs.

26a:   Yip madly when held by leg clasp.  BOBBY-PIN (B; anag. in on). If you didn’t realise that a cricketer’s on side is his leg side, then you clearly haven’t  solved enough Azeds.

36d:   One ’aring? This chap’ll sell you pelts.  FURRIER  (F; (h)urrier).  On seeing this clue Dr Watson muddled up two different trades and confidently entered (F)ARRIER – a harrier being a haring dog – which caused a few problems later.

38d:   Old trollop, queen of Scots eyes English.  QUEENE  (U; Q een E).  This is (presumably) the OED’s alternative spelling of the Chambers entry quean.

1d:     Muslim leader’s peculiarities.  JIMJAMS  (J; imam’s).  A concise and very deceptive way to dispose of two J’s. Realising what the latent letter is, one might expect the Muslim leader to contain the J’s.

7d:     Arturo, say, dipping into lire I had, readily convertible.  LIQUID  (Q; Ui in L I’d).  Brecht’s satire Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui is reasonably well known in translation (The Resistable Rise of…), and just about falls within the boundaries of general knowledge, although it might be harder to Google than Carnac.

17d:   Plough crosspiece skivvy maybe put on Jock’s cattle pen.  SWINGLETREE  (W; singlet ree).  As difficult a charade as you’re likely to encounter this Christmas. Useful entries to visit in Chambers would be skivvy2, ree2, and whippletree.

32d:   See in natural material a hint of yellow – gold?  OCHREY (H; C in ore + y).  The misprint of an @ for a dash was corrected in the following week’s Observer, before the deadline, but hopefully it won’t have been more than a small distraction.

Other solutions:

1a: AIDE-DE-CAMP (A; ceded, rev. in imp);  7a: ALGERIA (A; E in anag.);  11a: MOTTLED (T; MO led);  12a: STRINGENT (T; ring in sen);  14a: COUNTERS (R; countes(s));  15a: MAY-LILIES (I; sell yam, all rev.);  19a: CILIA (C; ilia);  21a: ANKLET (K; an let);  24a: TARRYING (Y; tar ring);  28a: BALMED (B; alme + d);  29a: INION (O; in in);  30a: SCIOLTO (O; C in silt);  34a: NON-TOXIC (X; anag. inc. c(amember)t);  35a: FIASCOES (F; as Co. e in is);  37a: UNMUSICAL (U; anag.);  39a: GALLETS (L; anag.);  40a: TONELESSLY (L; one in Tess + Y);  2d: DOG-EAR (G; anag. less t);  3d: DELAYED DROP (D; E layer op);  4d: DEVALUATING (V; deal + anag.);  5d: CHENETS (N; he in anag., i.e. fire-dogs);  6d: PROBOSCIS (S; rob in I cop, rev.);  8d: PEG-TOP (P; t in ego);  9d: REMEDIES (M; anag,. in Res.);  10d: INSHEATHED (H; in seated);  16d: SUZERAIN (Z; sue rain);  20d: COJOINING (J; 0 in coining);  22d: PLUME-POPPIES (P; anag. inc. i);  23d: SYNTAGMA (G; anag. + ma);  25d: RECREANT (N; hidden);  27d: BLOUSON (S; lou(d) in bon);  30d: ESTOCS (E; Scots, rev.);  31d: AMIENS (M; anag.);  33d: DOSSED (D; Esso, rev.).

Playfair code-phrase: A TRICKY BOXFUL

Decoded title:             MAGIC LANTERN