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 1766 ‘Printer’s Devilry’ (2 Apr 2006)

Sometimes ‘special’ clues in puzzles can seem to be more for the setter’s convenience than the solver’s pleasure (Dr Watson is thinking particularly of ‘extra word’ clues that spell out a thematic message but have no impact on the contents of the grid), but in Watson’s view there are three clue types that are especially enjoyable to solve. These are misprints, Spoonersims and Printer’s Devilry clues. The reason they make good clues is that they provide a misleading context to the clue’s surface, so that when the solution emerges it’s often to the solver’s sudden surprise and delight.

In this puzzle Azed delivers the goods with some brilliant P.D. ideas. One shouldn’t underestimate the amount of effort that must go into producing a grid and 36 clues of this standard. Dr Watson, for one, is grateful that Azed continues to do it so regularly.

The usual warning for solvers new to this type of clue: P.D. clues don’t contain a definition; and unlike standard clues, punctuation, spacing and capitalisation may mislead, and frequently do. The idea is to find a word whose letters can be inserted somewhere in the clue to make a new, and usually more sensible sentence. In the explanations below, a stroke marks the solution’s insertion point.

Notes to the clues:


1:      Reluctant confederates may shout, ‘Hur r/ace is over!’  HALLIAN (…Hurrah, alliance…).Dr Watson half-expected to find Lee or similar in the undevilled version, but the lower case C in ‘confederates’ served as a double bluff.

6:      From one’s lin/eally ancient forebears may be traced.  EAGER (…lineage really…).

10:    Did you hear th/ud noises in the night?  ESTRANGELO (…the strange loud…).  A word destined for devilry if ever there was one.

11:    We p/ick relative up to give her family a break.  UTAS (…put a sick…). The devilled version reads so well it’s very hard to see where the break might be.

12:    It became brighter in the we/t – rode along.  STASIS (…west as I strode…).

14:    I love the sound of the wind, the st/em a bit thin. RINGSIDE (…strings I deem…). The ‘I’ at the start provides the hint as to the undevilled form.

16     Being stuck in al/layed the president’s progress.  I-MODE (…limo delayed…).

18::    I’m meeting this super GI, r/ight, for an evening out.  LATE (…girl at eight…).  You know it’s going to be ‘girl’, but which ‘–ight’ word?

20:    The match referee must, condu/it of each contestant  ELASTOMER (…con duel as to merit…). The setter finds a far from obvious container for the solution.

21:    In the King’s Head, they’d surely give a drink to the mon/k.  ARCHONTIC (…monarch on tick).  Bizarrely plausible images and propositions are a staple of P.D. clues and Azed is something of a master at coming up with them.

23:    ‘I know nothing about racing’ bu/cked the winner even so.  TIPI (…but I picked…).

25:    Scientists examined the se/x, ample, of fish to avoid   PHENE (…sephen, example…). Sephen is not to be found in the enormous fish inventories of either Bradford’s (3rd ed.) or Chambers Lists, though to be fair Bradford’s does have it under ray.

28:    In such avi/ator reclined, watching the city’s conflagration.  LLANEROS (…a villa Nero Sator…).

30:    All along the stre/et, hard in the Arctic winter.  AMICES (…stream ice set…). 

31:    You might say ‘boister/ously’, applied to those who sweat heavily.  MODI (…BO is term odiously…).  An outrageous piece of devilry and Dr Watson’s favourite of the puzzle..

32:    Tracey’s fans will love viewing some crack/ling exhibits  INGEMINATE (…cracking Emin atelier…).  Well, Tracey’s fans might… Watson would have been inclined to come up with something a bit less kind, and in fact spent some time looking for something starting with POT to fit in the same place.

33:    After such a great drive, da/d to find himself in trap?  LYSSA (…Daly’s sad…). A golf reference only thinly disguised, and a golfer even Dr Watson has heard of (but fortunately has never actually heard – his website announces: “However, there is a lot more to John Daly than golf. A song writer and performer, John has recorded a largely autobiographical album entitled "My Life," featuring guest performances by…” (cont. p94)).

34:    The expert angler finds his be/ast rigid.  STRODLE (…best rod least…).


1:      Should a strong windlas/s land, we’ll be cut off from the mainland.  HOURI (…wind lash our island…).

2:      ‘Have I overcooked supper?’ pleases c/ell, burning  ANTIMERISM (…please scan timer, I smell…).  The awkward devilled reading is more than made up for by the undevilled revelation.

3:      A grubby outfit’s unacceptable for these (menac/es essential).  LEAN ON (…men: a clean one’s…). 

4:      The Catholic church believes it’s important to adm/in.  ITAS (…admit a sin).  The footnote about this being a whole word is presumably to avoid solvers entering TASI (the root of ‘tasimeter’, etc).

5:      It’s mostly made of pure copper, but note that one p/loy.  ARTISANAL (…part is an alloy).  Sadly, it occurred to Dr Watson (and who knows, possibly to Azed too) that a rather good P.D. clue for this word would be ‘Fly-blown’.

6:      Our Viol/a has witnessed many horrific events.  ENTER (…violent era…).

7:      A joker covered in yellow paint? That’s turned aw/ry!  AGALLOCH (…wag all ochry)

8:      A romance.  GEST  A nice range of possibilities in the competition word, but will di/ed, con/ed, etc., prove too popular?

9:      I she/d basketry, selling well in the WI arts and crafts sale.  ROSIERE (Is her osiered…).

13:    In a boring gathering of playwrights does p/ot.  INTERNODAL (…Pinter nod a lot).

15:    A Hertfordshire florist sold me this – aspi/ring market.  DISTRAINT (…aspidistra in Tring…).  An atlas might have been required for solvers unfamiliar with this end of the Chilterns.

17:    Classical boxer’s enemy might have wanted to hi/t us.  DEHISCES (…hide his cetus). ‘Dehisced’ turned up in the last Azed P.D. puzzle with reference to a woodman, his bride and his cedars.

19:    The young prefer scruffy clothes, so why pay to get b/ored expensively?.  RAT-TAIL (…brat tailored …)

22:    The unfeeling Aussie doctor called my swelling a ‘bon/e’, ma  ZEROED (…bonzer oedema).  This one made Watson laugh the loudest.

24:    Many fo/ils may be found amongst the junk.  ULEMA (…foul emails…).  Does he mean ‘spam’ rather than ‘junk’ (or as Watson’s mail server now euphemistically calls it, ‘bulk’)?

26:    Du/nce was observed as the body was laid to rest.  ESILE (Due silence…).

27:    Before Sunday lunch I like a small Scotch, the others s/herry.  WIGS (…swig sherry). The least devilled of the clues in this puzzle.

29:    He’s a student of the creative urge, in fi/ts.  NEAR (…fine arts)