Notes for Azed 2,529
There are usually one or two points of interest in an Azed puzzle, and here we pick them out for comment. Please feel free to add your own questions or observations on any aspect of the puzzle (including clues not listed below) either by using the comment form at the bottom of the page or, if would prefer that your question/comment is not publicly visible , by email.
Azed 2,529 Plain
Difficulty rating: (2 / 5)
I give each puzzle a difficulty rating based on a combination of my own solving experience and the number of clues which I identified as being likely to turn up on one of the help forums. A rating of 0 would be given to the very easiest puzzle (if I were able to write in all the answers in clue order, which isn’t going to happen), and the most difficult plain Azed that I could imagine would be given a 5, so in practice my ratings are likely to range between 0.5 and 4.5, with 2.5 being average. Difficulty ratings above 5 are reserved for special puzzles. It’s a highly subjective thing, though, and I would be interested to hear how other solvers rate individual puzzles in terms of relative difficulty.
This puzzle seemed to me about as close as Azed gets to a potboiler, lacking the joie de vivre of his finest offerings and including several wordplays which struck me as, frankly, a tad clumsy. Not that it was a bad puzzle, just not (in my opinion) one of Azed’s best. I struggled to choose a ‘clue of the week’, but settled on 24a for its entertaining surface reading. Unusually, there were four four-letter grid entries with no unchecked letters (‘unches’) – some would say that this is non-Ximenean and one unch is required in such entries, but Azed’s view is that the rules exist solely for the benefit of the solver (ie no more than one unch in an entry of four or five letters, no more than two unches in an entry of six or seven letters). It’s hard to see how a fully-checked entry can be anything other than fair to the solver, if not to the setter.
16a Counterpart in part of old Scotland (4)
A double definition, where the familiar word means ‘one very like another’. I wonder if Azed misread the Chambers entry for the second headword as being ‘obs Scot‘ rather than ‘obs and Scot‘ – anyway the term is only obsolete outside Scotland, so either the ‘old’ or the ‘Scotland’ shouldn’t be here; ‘Counterpart in part of Scotland’ would have been fine.
17a Older nippers? Nits with search are removed frantically (9)
An anagram (‘frantically’) of NITS and SEARCH without the letter A (‘are removed’). Handcuffs are informally referred to as ‘nippers’, and the solution to this clue is an obsolete slang term for the very same items of restraint.
19a Wherein hands are put up, left and right, with ending of homily (5)
A degree of self-reference within this clue – although the ‘hands’ are of the farm variety in the definition, the word is carried through to the first part of the wordplay, ‘left and right [hands]’ being ‘both [hands]’; the last letter (‘ending’) of ‘homily’ brings up the rear.
20a Zoom for instance to finish around end of pandemic (6)
A topical clue, but hardly a classic. A two-letter word meaning ‘for instance’ is followed by a three-letter word for ‘to finish’ around the last letter of ‘pandemic’. But the letter selection indicator is the very same word that is given by ‘to finish’ – I don’t know why Azed didn’t opt for an alternative such as ‘conclusion of pandemic’.
24a Desperate character getting charge after parking in a lake (9, 2 words)
In my own puzzles I’ve used ‘desperate character’ for ‘Dan’, but here it’s the definition of a term that literally translates as ‘lost soul’. The wordplay has a word for ‘charge’ (the sort that one might pay to a union) right at the end, following the usual abbreviation for ‘parking’ in A plus a four-letter word for a lake, an obsolete spelling (though not indicated by Azed as such) of a word that might follow Winder or Butter.
28a Minks etc making sound suggestive of moorland shrub (4)
The first of two homophone clues in this puzzle, here the ‘soundalike’ is fine (a five-letter word for gorse), but the surface reading struck me as weak.
29a Valley skirting tiny bit of Caledonia in Roman province (7)
Unless you are familiar with the province, you need to know that HAET is a Scots word for a whit (‘tiny bit of Caledonia’) and a RIA is a drowned valley much beloved of barred crossword setters.
6d Lady’s man, all out, Sandy’s indication he’s ready for bed? (4)
A seven-letter word for a ladies’ man (or a debonair young fellow) with the letters ALL removed (‘all out’) from positions 2 to 4. The “Sandy’s” is there to indicate that the solution is a Scottish word.
7d US haberdashery giving one ideas (7)
A double definition – the second didn’t give me any problems, but the first I had to confirm in Chambers. It seems that the term (often prefixed with ‘Yankee’) is used in the US to describe cheap, useful articles of some ingenious design, now specifically applied to items of haberdashery (itself a lovely word).
11d Source of egregious mane tailored (for hero)(5)
This clue is what Ximenes termed an ‘offshoot &lit’, where the whole clue serves to indicate the answer, but only part of it (here the first five words) constitute the wordplay. It also appeared to be the only clue that required any general knowledge, an anagram (‘tailored’) of the first letter (‘source’) of ‘egregious’ and MANE producing the name of the valley which the large and ferocious lion of Greek myth called home before it had the misfortune to meet up with Heracles. King Eurystheus had tasked Heracles with dispatching the said feline, which had become a scourge of the area; it was a labour which didn’t sound unduly challenging until it turned out that the enormous beast had an impenetrable golden hide, and that firing arrows at it only served to make it more angry. And it was pretty angry to start with. Heracles blocked up one of the entrances to the lion’s cave before lobbing an early form of smoke bomb through the other one; emerging from the resulting cloud of smoke, Heracles bopped the surprised lion on the head and then strangled it. This feat of bare-handed lion-strangling put the wind up Eurystheus sufficiently that he communicated all future labours to Heracles through an intermediary, declining to meet him in person. The RSPCA’s response to the events is unknown.
18d Last person expected to close door ultimately (7)
A three-letter abbreviation for ‘person’, followed by a three-letter word for ‘expected’ around (‘to close’ – I complained about ‘close’ as a containment indicator last week, and the passage of time hasn’t changed my view) the last letter (‘ultimately’) of ‘door’. But the word for ‘expected’ is the self-same word that we had for ‘charge’ in 24a, a distinctly undesirable repetition.
22d Money made by sound judgement, according to auditors? (5)
The second homophone (indicated here by ‘according to auditors’), and in contrast to 28a the surface reading here is smooth but the homophone decidedly bumpy, as poor as any that I can remember from the great man.
25d No. 1 statuette, figless (5)
The letters FIG are to be removed (‘figless’) from a word for ‘statuette’, the definition referring to what contestants on Blockbusters used to delight in taking from Bob Holness.
27d Scotch mat clot turned upside down (4)
To produce a Scots word meaning ‘to mat’ or ‘to tangle’ you need to reverse (put ‘upside down’) a word that Browning used in his 1841 poem Pippa Passes under the mistaken impression that it was part of a nun’s attire (exactly what part we may never know). What an utter clot.