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.
Here’s a turn-up for solvers who thought the definition and letter mixture (DLM) puzzle had had its day. Ximenes is credited with the original idea, which is well suited to his and Azed’s penchant for witty wordsmithing. Dr Watson remembers solving a few puzzles of this type of (always in a non-competition week) in the 1970s. The only previous DLM competition, and possibly the last DLM puzzle Azed produced, was called ‘Billets Doux’, published on Valentines Day in 1993, wherein competitors produced an amorous rhyming couplet with a definition and letter-mixture in each line cluing PIERCEABLE and SALESGIRL. In this month’s puzzle the theme of each triple clue is New Year resolutions – timely for solvers whose own resolutions need to be boosted or binned around now.
Dr Watson’s memory of earlier DLMs is that they were relatively easy to solve: once a few words are in place, it’s just a question of spotting the letter mixtures from the checked cells in the grid. This puzzle proved more difficult, and that was mostly down to the checking. With no lights longer than nine letters, there is little overlap between adjacent quarters of the grid. Dr Watson completed the puzzle pretty much one quarter at a time, and had the whole of the west half completed before a single entry was made in the east half. It seems also that there were few giveaways in the checked letters: none of the letters B, F, J, K, Q, V, W X, Y or Z appears in a checked cell.
So quite a tough challenge for solvers new to the clue type, but compensated for by the clues themselves. Watson particularly enjoyed the resolutions with respect to Azed’s car and his cat. It’s difficult to say what standard Azed applies to the number of redundant words (contributing to neither a definition nor a letter mixture) in the clues, but on a quick investigation, the typical triple clue runs to between twenty and thirty words, of which about 40-60% are redundant.
In the explanations below, the definitions are shown in bold type and the letter mixtures in italics.
Notes to the clues:
1,6,10. I must smarten up my dodgy condenser, and such other of the car’s parts not quite fit to junk so that my wife won’t bemoan tearfully what causes those appalling ‘runs’. SUMMIST, SCRAP, ENTAMOEBA.
11,12,13. Make down payment on swimming lessons as relative beginner needing encouragement: a late bather, I gasp exactly like a distressed dugong! ARLES, ABETTAL, SEA-PIG.
16,17,19. HARE, POSEUR, SERINETTE. With the S and N unchecked and the definition ‘bird-trainer’ pointing towards falconry, it took Dr Watson quite a while to find SERINETTE.
21,24,26. Join ‘Grow It’, aid circle with e.g. accent on developing titration as means to wear down barrenness of soil since as of old. DIACRITIC, ATTRIT, SENS.
29,30,31. Cut down on fodder (replacing cake with a tea egg salad, say) and take note of what the ascetic imparts to pupils – could Scotch give way to TocH drink?. EATAGE, TEACHES, DOCHT. This looks like it caused the setter some trouble. The three DLMs are quite loosely connected, and the ‘docht’ mixture is more than a bit forced.
32,33,34. Join a choir, enlisting in an activity ‘of the people’, old-fashioned but not yet dead, one pa has heard of (useful tip). ENCHORIAL, DATED, ASH-HEAP.
1,2,3. Switch to digital: interference on old system has shown steady increase in the past year, until carrying on with it has become a delusion, an affliction in the air, a lamentation! SHASH, UNREALITY, MALARIA. Watson notes the letter mixture of MALARIA is actually a reversal.
4,5,6. Improve my reading – not to be imprisoned by pulp is end I seek – i.e. start giving e.g. Aristotle another go, or any author who shows me how not to duck life’s major issues. INSIDE, STAGIRITE, SMEW.
7,8,9. Rejoin the ordinary local dramatic society, i.e. return to make another bow (or two) in becoming minor player for current production of My Lady’s Mount. COTISE, RETIE, PALFREY. Dr Watson’s favourite clue in terms of construction and choice of definitions.
14,15,18. Achieve linguistic expansion (learn new language), steepish in view of my hang-up to understand form of Chinese or modified version of some dead patois. EPITHESIS, PUTONGHUA, ADAPTED.
20,22,23. Set clear limit on sugar (saccharine better) in the nursery, and cheer children by pressing into service that old telly I had abandoned. TREACLE, CRECHE, IBADAH. Chambers 2003 contains only the plural form ‘Ibadat’, though ‘Ibadah’ is in the 2006 update. The 1998 edition has neither. This could be a source of confusion for solvers who haven’t definitely pinned down ASH-HEAP, and perhaps should have been indicated in a footnote.
25,27,28. Get the cat treated: he terrorizes all the mogs in the area with his stupendous ‘physique’ and keeps getting booted out of neighbours’ posh dos. TRACT, SET-UP, SHOD.