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.
Dr Watson had a torrid time of it last month, failing (as did quite a few others) to complete the ‘Theme and Variations’ puzzle correctly, so it was a relief to face a nice, standard Plain again.
The slightly unusual grid includes four twelve-letter across lights, balanced by eight four-letter acrosses. Azed takes full advantage of the opportunity to provide very devious takes on some familiar words, perhaps leading his solvers to utter a few choice four-letter words of their own!
Notes to the clues:
14a: Old item, one presented by capital band? ALSO (a + LSO). Solvers familiar with the classical terminology favoured in the legal profession won’t have been troubled by this synonym of ‘also’. Those who merely foot lawyers’ bills should check the etymology of ‘item’ for clarification. The London Symphony Orchestra is probably better known by its acronym LSO than its full name.
26a: Archiepiscopal address dropping OT book for Letter to the Hebrews. BETH ((Lam)beth). Lambeth Palace is the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Watson is entirely unfamiliar with the Book of Lamentations, but unlike the Letter to the Hebrews, it can at least be found in the Bible.
31a: Bits of stale potato ruin your chipper. SPRY (initial letters). With so many short words an initial letters clue was perhaps inevitable, and Azed serves it up with style. Watson recalls a cooking oil called Spry Crisp and Dry. A missed cluing opportunity there, maybe?
32a: Defence capability provided by English and US troops. EGIS (E + GIs). Is the definition (assuming it’s ‘defence capability’) stretching it a bit, or is a capacity the same as a capability in this sense? The allusion to the American spelling is very tidily done.
33a: Crusty end of meal cut short? BRIE (brie(f)). Congratulations to anyone who got this one straight away. The cryptic part, ‘cut short’, is brilliantly concealed. Dr Watson’s favourite clue in this puzzle.
35a: Shallow divine. THEOLOGASTER. Long serving Azed solvers (longer than Dr W) will have spotted that this wonderfully clueable word has featured in a previous competition, about 15 years ago in a misprints puzzle. We’ve yet to see if Azed did it deliberately. He’s accidentally repeated CASSANDRA and AVANT-PROPOS in the past, and in the latter case had to annul the month’s competition.
8d: Navy (in the doldrums too?) may wrongly suggest this tone. SEA-BLUE (sea blue). The idea is that ‘navy’ itself or ‘navy in the doldrums’ could suggest ‘sea blue’, a colour which is in fact different from navy (blue). Somewhat of a roundabout approach to a double definition.
17d: Like veau until being butchered interrupts its life? VITULINE (anag, in vie). The cross-referencing of French expressions between definition of cryptic part gives a clever twist to a ‘semi & lit’ clue.
22d: Like Dawkins, R., absorbed by strange fault? ARTFUL (R in anag.). An artful double reference to Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist, and Richard Dawkins, science writer and scourge of Creationists. Watson isn’t sure what ‘strange fault’ might have absorbed the latter Dawkins.
23d: Satirical stroke? Line remains tasteless. LASH (l ash). It’s unclear why ‘ash’ is a tasteless expression (what’s the opposite of a euphemism?) for ‘remains’, but we see how the setter’s mind was working.
27d: Group of dogs immediately turned up stray in the country. MISGO (reversed hidden). ‘In the country’ and ‘local(ly)’ are to regional and dialect words what ‘Jock’ and his ilk are to Scottish ones.
1a: OBCOMPRESSED (anag. + pressed); 11a: MUIL (mu(ft)i l); 13a: RAJA (ajar rev.); 14a: CABOT (hidden); 16a: SHERIAT (er in Shia + ’t); 18a: SPUN (s.p. ’un, ref. spin-doctors); 20a: INNUIT (in + i(ce) in nut); 21a: PONTAL (anag. in pal); 28a: AMATEUR (a + U in mater); 30a: INWIT (hidden); 34a: SANGUINOLENT (sang + anag.); 2d: BOUGH-POT (Po in bought); 3d: CRIME (rim in CE); 4d; MAELID (el in maid); 5d: PIT-SAW (it’s in paw); 6d: EARCON (Co. in earn); 7d: SCRAT (r in anag.); 9d: DEATH-THROE (O in anag. of hatred the); 11d: MASS-PRIEST (pr. in massiest); 12d: ROTI (rot i(n)); 19d: UNTWINE (tw(o) in anag.); 24d: IMPING (imping(e)); 25d: VARROA (v a R roa(d)); 29d: EGRET ((r)egret).