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 1667: Plain (2 May 2004)

Azed’s clue writing is consistently of the highest standard, and often the wording is so fluent and natural that as you solve it you can forget how much effort the setter must have put into getting it that way. Then you finish the puzzle and come to write your own clue… Last month’s competition was disrupted by industrial action in the Oxford sorting office, and no doubt some excellent ARMAMENTARIA never made it to the judge’s table, while those that did earned kudos but no annual competition points. Let’s hope it has been resolved in time for this round.

Notes to the clues:

12a:   Spicy dish mixture with jus.  PILAW (pi law). Watson hasn’t seen this double meaning exploited before. A great piece of inspiration by the setter.

13a:   Bit of toot hidden in belt?  STASH (t in sash, & lit.).  A very neat ‘& lit.’.

17a:   Blow for Cornishman? He escapes injury.  SCAT (scat(he)).  A good example of the fluent wording mentioned above, though ‘scathe’ is not so familiar as a noun.

19a:   Allies formerly, involved in extremes of bitterness.  BONCES  (once in b(itternes)s).  Not an obsolete word, but a very clever dummy. Allies can be found, along with bonces, spangcockles and boondoggles, in the marbles player’s rich vocabulary.

28a:   George, say, name in blue.  SAND (n in sad). Another short clue with a literary reference that’s about par for an Azed.

31a:   Johnson? Facing Sam is wild fan’s ——.  MAGIC  (comp. anag.).  Not the ‘& lit.’ it looks like it might be. In fact it doesn’t seem to make that much sense when the blank is filled (as an allusion to the Dr. Johnson, presumably). ‘Magic’ Johnson has fallen out of the limelight in recently, though he was exploited for the winning clue when MAGIC appeared as the competition word eleven  years ago, in T. J. Moorey’s ‘Skilful deception practised by Nixon – and Johnson?’ (2 defs., ref. US Presidents, David N., TV magician, M. Johnson, basketball star).

34a:   Worried re threat about power? Gaul was, famously.  THREE-PART  (anag. inc. p).  Caesar’s ‘Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres’ features in ODQ, but non-Classicists might struggle to find the reference.

9d:    Milkmaids, e.g., overcharge a little.  OCTAD  (o/c tad).  Puzzled? You’ll need to think back a few months to your Days of Christmas.


Other solutions:

1a: ANCHOVETA (ancho(r) vet a);  13a: INHERCE (ER in anag.);  15a: STARETS (e in starts);  18a: UNILLUMINED (anag. less 0);  20a: ECTOPY (t in E copy);  23a: SLIEST (anag.);  25a: STATIM (stat I’m);  26a: FEATHER-PATE (f + eat her paté);  30a: TWATTLE (TT in anag.);  32a: ENTICER (I in anag.);  33a: SPIEL (spie l);  1d: NITINOL (tin O in nil);  3d: CLARINI;  4d: HASK (anag. less r);  5d: VISCUS (C in vis US);  6d: ENTAME (anag. less I);  7d: THALICTRUMS (rum in anag. less e);  8d: GRECE (Gre(e)ce);  10d: VESTRYMEN (anag.);  12d: WHOLE STITCH (holes ’t in witch);  16d: SUBSYSTEM (anag. in s-stem);  21d: OTALGIA (comp. anag., & lit.);  22d: PITHIER (anag. in pier);  24d: THALER (L in anag.);  25d: SEVERE (ever in se(a));  26d: FAWNS (f + w in Ans.);  27d: ENATE (hidden);  29d: YAPP (p-pay, rev.).