Notes for Azed 2,537

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 2,537 Plain

Difficulty rating: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

A relatively straightforward Azed today which I would place a little below the middle of the difficulty spectrum. Several of the clues seemed slightly ungainly, with six of them including multiple commas. In fairness to Azed, I must say that when I was writing these notes I was also struck by the number of intractable words that featured in the grid. These present a major problem to the clue writer and almost invariably result in clues which fall somewhere short of elegant.

ScotsWatch: after the dizzy heights of last week, there were just the 2 this time, the solutions to 15 and 22 across.

3a Ransack channel for handy menial in sea-food joint (10)
One that seemed more complicated at first sight than it turned out to be – the wordplay consists of just the first two words, with the last five forming the definition (the ‘for’ is a link between the two). I don’t think of the four-letter word that starts the combination as meaning ‘ransack’, but it’s one of several transferred senses of the word (which include ‘delve’); the second part is a six-letter channel (for carrying away water), and the solution is hyphenated (4-6).

22a Favouring home that’s about new? Jock’s bang opposite (8)
A three-letter word for ‘Favouring’ (or ‘in favour of’), followed by a four-letter word for a home (often made of twigs) containing the usual abbreviation for ‘new’.

24a Book 4 summarily includes English group of notes sung on same note (4)
Thankfully my scant knowledge of the Old Testament does include the names of the first five books, so here I was able to abbreviate the title of the fourth (‘Book 4 summarily’) and put it around the standard abbreviation for English.

25a Needing to diet? Number going outside to be seen(5)
Effectively a ‘hidden’, but Azed has chosen to indicate that a three-letter cardinal number should be removed from the extremities (‘number going outside’) of the phrase ‘to be seen’

31a Rope from rear decapitated SA carnivore (5)
A six-letter word for a rope or lasso being reversed (‘from rear’) and having the first letter prior to reversal removed (‘decapitated’), the solution being a large South American weasel. I’m never entirely comfortable with a construction like this – although you could argue that whichever way a word is pointing the ‘head’ remains the same, I think it’s debatable. Incidentally, some publications will not allow terms like ‘decapitated’ to be used in clues for fear of offending solvers.

33a One bolting sword round sheath? No p-poet (7)
A four-letter, sharp-pointed, narrow-bladed sword containing (’round’) an eight-letter word for a sheath, from which the letters BBARD have been removed (‘No p-poet’).

35a Cent losing out to major currency, third going in fall, sad (10)
I initially thought that the CENT in DESCENT (‘fall’) was going to be replaced, but in fact it is just the one-letter abbreviation for ‘cent’ which is giving way (‘losing out’) in DESCENT to a five-letter currency from which the third letter has been removed (‘third going’). A rather messy clue, I’d have to say.

2d Liqueur, almost the last of it, worthless, imbibed in company (7)
Is U ‘almost the last of’ LIQUEUR? Azed thinks so, and if pushed I’d probably agree. It has to be added to RACA, a biblical word for ‘worthless’, with the resulting string being placed inside the standard abbreviation for ‘company’.

7d What you can get thinner from? Concoction of three girlfriend swallowed (8)
¬†While I don’t have a problem with the ‘usu derog’ four-letter word for girlfriend, the wordplay just doesn’t say what it means – for me, it needs at the very least a comma between ‘three’ and ‘girlfriend’ to indicate that it is the girlfriend that has been swallowed by the anagram of THREE.

The oblique definition here (what you can get paint thinner from) is a nice idea, but in terms of the overall surface reading, which is intended to suggest a context of dieting, can you actually ‘get thinner’ (in the sense of ‘less fat’) from something that you would swallow? I can’t imagine anyone saying they had got ‘thinner from diet pills’ any more than they had got ‘better from antibiotics’. The point is a fine one, probably of more relevance to setters than solvers, but a balancing act is often necessary when ensuring that a disguised definition doesn’t get overstretched in the effort to make the misdirecting meaning as convincing as possible, something which has clearly exercised Azed’s mind here. In the diet pill context, ‘What can make you thinner?’ would work very nicely, but is it a fair definition of ‘terebinth’? The answer that I think Azed and I would agree on is ‘no’ – the tree could ‘make’ you the oleoresin from which turpentine is distilled, but not turpentine itself. The compromise that Azed has come up with involves a sound definition of ‘terebinth’¬† achieved at some cost to the intended surface reading; the most appealing examples involve an ‘obvious’ surface that reads absolutely naturally and a ‘concealed’ interpretation that is sound – how the latter reads in the cryptic sense is irrelevant. For an example of a perfectly-disguised definition that meets those criteria one need look no further than Richard Heald’s cup-winning entry for Azed comp 2,014:

Take the lead in Cinderella, playing girl who works in rags (8)
HACKETTE [anag of (TAKE THE + C)]

8d Colourful bird to be sold in marketplace (6)
Barred puzzle regulars will be well acquainted with TRON, a ‘chiefly Scots’ term for a marketplace. Here it contains a two-letter verb meaning ‘to be sold’.

9d What’s poet read? This crafted with art maybe (6)
A composite anagram &lit that is very well signposted. The words POET READ can be produced if the letters of the solution (‘this’) are rearranged (‘crafted’) along with the letters ART; the whole clue acts as a definition of the solution.

21d Regular variation spoilt duet, except for the first, not so good (7)
An anagram (‘spoilt’) of DUE(t) (‘duet, except for the first’) followed by a four-letter word meaning ‘no so good’ (or even ‘pretty bad’). You don’t need a degree in chemistry to know that ‘Regular variation’ is a woefully inadequate definition. I was going to say that I do have such a degree, but – since I never got round to collecting it – I don’t. The term was unfamiliar to me, and a Google search revealed (i) several instances of the exact same definition (“regular variation of the crystalline form of a series of compounds with the atomic number of the element”) to be found in Chambers, along with (ii) many references that appear to be for ‘eutropy’ but are in fact misprints for ‘entropy’. However, the adjective ‘eutropic’ appears in a number of research papers, and appears to relate to a property displayed by a set of elements from the same group in the periodic table – for instance potassium, rubidium and caesium are ‘eutropic’ in that the molecular volumes of their (isomorphous) crystalline salts increase in the same ratio as their atomic numbers (in this example 19:37:55). I think this term comes under the heading of ‘virtually impossible to define accurately in a clue’, and by reproducing the first two words of the Chambers entry Azed has done his best! I wrote a while ago that when setting puzzles I try to avoid technical terms and adverbs, and this word does nothing to change my view. I’ll add that my final exam results weren’t what one might call spectacular, so further enlightenment would be welcomed.

30d Flat stage removed from outskirts of Herts location (6)
The nine-letter name of a Hertfordshire town has the letters of STAGE deleted from the outside (‘removed from outskirts’) to produce a word meaning ‘flat’.

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2 Responses

  1. John R A says:

    Re 7d. I took the thinner reference to mean paint thinner(s) (Turpentine) not dieting.

    I read your and enjoy your posts each week . This the first time I was moved to comment. Thanks.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi John, good to hear from you – glad you enjoy the posts.

      I don’t think I made myself as clear as I intended regarding 7d. Yes, while the surface reading is intended to make the solver think about dieting and dieting pills, the definition in the cryptic reading does, as you say, relate to turpentine as a paint thinner. It was the surface reading that I felt was unconvincing – it seems to me that the things ‘you can get thinner from’ include trees, B&Q and dieting but not diet pills.

      Coincidentally, when you posted your comment I was adding a paragraph regarding the difficulty in producing cryptic definitions that work well in both their intended senses. Thanks for pointing out the potential confusion – I have added a few words to the first para in an attempt to clarify my point, which is perhaps nit-picking, but highlights the difficulty of producing cryptic definitions which work in both contexts.