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 message board.

Azed No 1533: Plain (7 Oct 2001)

An unusual grid this month in that four of the lights (3, 4, 22 and 27 down) are fully checked, so that there is in principle no need to solve the clues, and several other lights (e.g. 14 and 31 across) are generously checked.  In compensation Azed has, in Watson’s view, made the clues a little harder than usual.

In comments on clues you’ll often see reference to the ‘literal’ and ‘cryptic’ readings.  The literal or surface reading of the clue is what you would read if you didn’t know it was a crossword clue.  In the best clues the literal reading is a sentence or phrase of quite natural language, perhaps in a particular style: headline-snappy, topical or even poetic (like FR Palmer’s famous winning clue to ENTRAIN: “What troubles are not lessened by love in life?”).  The cryptic reading is the set of instructions –  definition and subsidiary indicators – that lead to the solution to be entered.  Oddly enough the cryptic reading is actually a very literal reading of the clue, since the solver must ignore the sense of the words, and see them only as groups of letters or as the inert building blocks of the solution.  In a good clue the cryptic reading will suddenly emerge, rather as a carefully drawn picture of a cube can suddenly invert itself in front of the eyes, to the surprise and delight of the solver.  There are a few examples of the good and not so good in both types of reading below.

Notes to the clues

1a: Like Pavarotti at La Scala, say, limits soli, centre of truss working loose. ILLUSTRISSIMO (anag. of limits soli + (tr)u(ss)).  A clue remarkable mainly for the extraordinary mental image in conjures up. The grammar of the literal reading is slightly strange, though.

13a: Swell drooping, back to front. PLIM (p to front in limp). What appears to be a reversal indicator is in fact an even more literal instruction to relocate a letter.

19a: Merchant dragging on Gitane and imbibing drop of Cognac? NEGOCIANT (anag. of on Gitane inc. C). The Gallic flavour of the solution is cleverly captured in the clue, creating a ‘semi & lit’.  Watson doesn’t recall seeing dragging used as an anagram indicator before, but it seems ok in the sense of ‘pulling roughly’.

27a: What Plautus wrote for – mostly e.g. Bacchus in centre of Rome. ODEUM (deu(s) in (R)om(e)). The Doctor’s classical knowledge is rather scanty, but the encyclopaedia reveals Plautus to be an early Roman playwright. You may gauge the nature of his work from CJ Morse’s winning clue to DENARIUS: Plautine piece, ten times as rude as in burlesque. (anag. see denarius and as in Chambers)

34a: Sea captain. MASTER-MARINER. This is the competition word.  For regular competitors it doesn’t seem that long since the maritime themed competition in Azed 1500, or the not dissimilar MASTERSTROKE, set a couple of years ago.

2d: Long bit of raga a failure, we heah? Anything but in Carnegie Hall. LALAPALOOZA (l + alapa + ‘loser’).  We heah isn’t a typo. It’s a device possibly unique to Azed, imitating an affected upper-class (or Cockney?) accent.  In this case it’s combined with Asian and American English to create something of a multicultural mixture. Note how the definition is partly borrowed from the subsidiary indicators.

8d: Barred old stud after injection of heroin. SHET (H in set). The correspondence between set and stud appears to be in the definition of stud (‘to set with studs’). None amongst the plethora of definitions for set seems to support it.

10d: Register male urtica ravaged, deceased. MATRICULATE (m + anag. of urtica + late).  It’s confusing that the solution is also t in an anagram of male urtica.

12d: ‘Wrong’ end of hammer producing slash round head of nail. PENE (n in pee).  Watson’s unsure if this colloquial meaning of slash is familiar outside the UK.

20d: Gradus (originally) wherein one may get to Parnassus? GREECE (2 meanings).  Not to spoil the fun, Watson suggests you check the definitions of gradus and gree in Chambers, which Azed exploits brilliantly in this clue. The Doctor’s favourite of this puzzle.

21d: Foreign bread: an ——, soggy? It gets Jane Grigson ay upset. INJERA (an injera soggy = anag. of Jane Grigson ay). Azed seems to have stuck at an idea here until it made a workable clue, but has ended up with something rather, well, soggy. Grigson is a UK cookery writer.

23d: Aged Uncle Arly, odd bits missing – he was a funny fellow, … EMERY (eme + even letters of Arly)

24d: … Missing bits resulting in high voice! ALTO (odd letters of Arly + to)

This is a jolly clever combination, but just a little hard to solve. Edward Lear’s Uncle Arly is exploited for his parts for the second time this year. The first solution refers to Dick Emery, the late British TV comic from the 70’s (his catchphrase, delivered in drag, was: “You are awful… but I like you!”). Tastes vary, but Watson thinks the definition funny fellow is stretching it a bit!  In the second (which could almost be a Dick Emery joke), resulting in provides part of the solution rather than its usual role as a filler between subsidiary part and definition.

26d: Dumas is translated here. ADSUM (anag of Dumas). Go on, admit it, you were looking for an & lit, weren’t you. Well, gotcha!

 Other solutions

11a: SAURURAE (anag.); 14a: NOVELETTE (anag. in nette(d)); 15a: RATAN ((Bunte)r a tan); 16a: RETURN (re turn); 17a: APERY (a + E in pry); 18a: PLURISIE (R is in pluie); 24a: ALDERMAN (rm. in aldea + n); 28a: LOOSEN (lo’ o’ sen); 30a: TULLE (l in tule); 31a: TOILET-SET (le in anag.); 32a: ALAR (hidden); 33a: FURACITY (fur a city); 3d: LUITEN (until (alehous)e anag.); 4d: SUNNY (‘Sunni’); 5d: TROPPO (op port rev.); 6d: RAVEL ((g)ravel); 7d: SOLERA (E in sol + Ra); 9d: ICTUS (C in anag.); 11d: SPRAT (tarps rev.); 22d: TELLIN (tellin(g)); 25d: DOITS (it in sod rev.); 27d: OTTAR ((c)ottar); 29d: SLUT (first letters).

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