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 1650: Plain (4 Jan 2004)

From the cryptic heights of the Christmas competition it’s back down the plains, quite literally, with the January puzzle. A good introduction for newcomers to the Azed (if there are any these days), with many relatively easy clues.

 Notes to the clues:

15a:   Gazelle disturbed ark with mate around.  CHINKARA (anag. in china). This will only have delayed solvers unfamiliar with rhyming slang (china plate = mate).

18a:   Vent a bit of anger on student body.  ANUS (a + NUS).  The misleading definition is worked in beautifully to create a cheeky gem of a clue.

30a:   A seaman’s rope? Some area’s fixed with that.  SPAN  (comp. anag., & lit).  Those italics at the end may cause a little frisson of apprehension that the clue is going to be another of those cunning self-referential ones like December’s VEGAN; but it turns out to be just a heavily diluted anagram.

34a:   Tailored item costs dear to be altered. COAT-DRESS (anag.).  Spotting the anagram quickly at the start of solving, you might be tempted to enter DRESSCOAT.

2d:     A large vein.  SAPHENA.  An unexpected choice of competition word? Watson suspects many solvers, while enjoying the challenge, might have preferred to have a go at, say, STREET-SMART or TORPEDO. A small aside: Dr Watson wondered about using Belgian airline SABENA in the wordplay (for a DVT connection, although this isn’t actually a deep vein), only to find it’s been dropped as an abbreviation from the 2003 edition of Chambers – it’s a little ironic that this is the first puzzle for which that edition is recommended.

3d:     Characteristic appearance shown by foreign dwelling, a little restricted.  HABITUS  (bit in Haus).  Or is it ‘a bit’ in ‘hus’?

6d:     Portion played is leading to op: ——, possibly.  INTRO  (comp. anag., & lit.).  The compounded anagram is very short and the wordplay is padded out (‘is leading to… possibly’), so that you might not realise immediately how it works.

11d:   Some hot millet grain served up producer introduced.  SUCH-AND-SUCH  (hand in h cuscus, rev.).  Azed jumps at the chance of an almost invisible definition (‘some’).

Other solutions:

1a: ASHRAMITE (ash rami t(hos)e);  12a: OPEN-HEART (he in anag.);  13a: UPBYE (U Pb ye);  14a: WIRER (w + anag.);  16a: AKEE (a kee(n));  17a: TROILITE (oil in trite);  20a: UTMOST (M in anag.);  23a: NASION (no. I san, all rev.);  24a: ACAS (a cas(e));  25a: DINARCHY (ch in anag.);  31a: PLETHORA (Thor in plea);  32a: UPSEE (hidden rev.);  33a: GOBAR (gob Ar.);  35a: WOODHORSE (anag. in worse);  4d: ROYNE (r + y in one);  5d: MEGARON (age in norm, all rev.);  7d: THWAITE (wait in the);  8d: PARKI (‘parky’);  9d: GREET (re in get);  10d: STREET-SMART (anag.);  19d: TORPEDO (anag.);  20d: USHERED (U she red);  21d: OCTOBER (c to be in or);  22d: SATRAPS (a in straps);  26d: IPPON (n opp. I, all rev.);  27d: NASAL (hidden);  28d: CLARO (c + oral, rev.);  29d: WHOSO (anag. less n).