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’s Golden Jubilee themed puzzle has hidden delights, but offers only a small additional challenge over a plain cryptic. The solver must rearrange the first letters of the across solutions to produce four words of a topical phrase, and provide a clue to the missing fifth (five-letter) word. Many solvers will have guessed straight away that QUEEN is a good bet for the missing word, and spotted that GOD SAVE OUR GRACIOUS has the required eighteen letters, so providing themselves with some extra help, especially for 1d and 18d.
The eagle-eyed will also have noticed that the initial letters of the clues taken in order spell out ELIZABETH THE SECOND and ROYAL GOLDEN JUBILEE. It’s a tribute to Azed that the acrostic in no way compromises the quality of the clues. There are also (coincidentally?) seven ER’s in the grid. Watson failed to decipher the puzzle’s title, though. Thanks to Robert Teuton, who has pointed out that it’s an anagram of SINGLE ACROSTIC.
11a: Zilch given away by secretive star making appearance. GARB (Garb(o)). The clue neatly provides the necessary Z in a reference to the reclusive Greta Garbo. The unusual definition makes this one of the harder clues to solve.
19a. Have another go at matter pet spread about. REATTEMPT (anag.). Good clues don’t need to be fancy, and this one is Watson’s favourite of the puzzle.
31a: Can it answer hard king? SHAH (sh! A H). It’s not long since Azed last used this synonym for ‘sh!’ (though with a different meaning of ‘can’), but it will doubtless still have caught out many solvers.
32a: One in the money, led by drugs giant, accepting new beginning. INCIPIENCE (n in ICI + I in pence). Watson hates to quibble, but since ICI spun off AstraZeneca in the 1990s, it’s surely been more of a petrochemicals than a drugs giant.
7d: Odd pieces? SPECIE (anag., & lit.). This is definitely not the first appearance of this particular clue, but in the context of the acrostic it works well.
9d: Dispatched inside Indian territory takes ill. RESENTS (sent in Res.). A good example of how to work a clue around a misleading definition. ‘Res.’ here is an abbreviation for Reservation.
20d: United perhaps engaged in an even contest? MATCHED (2 (or 3?) meanings). Azed phrases the clue to look like a container-and-contents rather than a double definition. Watson wonders if ‘engaged’ was intended as a third meaning.
27d: English in Roth novel that’s ‘something else again’. OTHER (E in anag.). Coming up with a new clue for such a word after 1,567 puzzles can’t be easy, but Azed tackles it gamely, and solvers, unlike Portnoy, are unlikely to have any complaint.
1a: VANESSA (an in anag.); 6a: USHER ((p)usher); 10a: OUTCOMPETE (pet in outcome); 12a: ALBERTS (B in alerts); 14a: UNTOMB (unto MB); 16a: STEAM (A in stem); 17a: ORIGIN (O rig in); 21a: ARABINOSE (a bin in arose); 24a: GILLED (ill in ged); 26a: OUTDO (O ut do.); 29a: ELICIT (hidden); 30a: READOUT (ado in anag.); 33a: DUKES (k in dues); 34a: CROWDER (anag. in cr.); 1d: VAGUS (anag.); 2d: AVANTURINE (a vant urine); 3d: NORTEÑA (anag. inc. O); 4d: STEMME (emmets rev.); 5d: SCABLANDS (b in anag.); 6d: UMBER ((H)umber); 8d: HERL (hidden); 13d: TRIPUDIATE (anag. in tripe); 15d: POTOMETER (’ome in potter); 18d: PAGURID (p + anag.); 22d: BLUDIE (d I in blue); 23d: SOLANO (solan O); 25d: ELOPS (l in anag.); 28d: WACK (2 mngs).