Notes for Azed 2,555
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 2,555 Plain
Difficulty rating: (2.5 / 5)
This wasn’t an especially hard puzzle, but it wasn’t an especially easy one either, so I have given it a rating right in the middle of the difficulty spectrum. My breakfast-time solving was interrupted by the discovery of an insect floating on the surface of my mug of tea, as a result of which I decided to brew up a replacement. Although Azed notes that ‘the plural form at 33 may be considered questionable’, I think it’s absolutely fine, as the singular describes one of a family of compounds, not a specific compound (similarly ‘alcohols’ would be ok, while ‘ethanols’ would not). My thanks to Steve (see comments) for pointing out the misplaced apostrophe in the clue for 15a.
Setters’ Corner: This week, rather than using one of Azed’s clues I’m going to look at a clue from the recent Spoonerisms competition, Richard Heald’s second-placed entry for SPAVIN: “What might Hubble track? Scattered outer parts from supernova, it having exploded”. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Richard’s clues – their originality, crispness, and complete soundness (this last attribute being absent surprisingly often in successful clues from other competitors) set him above all the other Azed comp entrants – including even myself in my rare sorties!! Here he delivers an object lesson in writing a successful Spoonerisms clue, where the key is catching Azed’s eye with the spoonerism itself. I’m sure that many competitors considered the words ‘trouble’ and ‘hack’, but I doubt whether too many put them together and those that did might have got no further than “It hubbles track”. Often some manipulation is required in order to make the inflections work, and here the addition of an auxiliary verb does the trick – “What might trouble hack?” / “What might Hubble track?”. The wordplay answers the question, and the clever use of ‘parts from’ in the sense of ‘leaves’ is the icing on the cake. I would strongly advise anyone looking to improve their clue-writing skills to have a look through Richard’s portfolio in the excellent Azed Slip Archive. There are some cracking clues in there, but if pushed to choose a favourite it would probably be (click on the ‘+’ to reveal the solution) :
Moving on to the clues in puzzle 2,555:
14a Former king gets patriotic composer in for stock of poems (6)
Where would setters be without the composer of “Rule, Britannia!”, or at least his surname? Here it is surrounded by the two letters representing King George, producing a poetic word for a stock or store of anything (ie ‘stock of poems’).
18a These pictures may show recess he adorned with such cherubs (5)
A composite anagram, where THESE PICTURES could be represented as (‘may show’) RECESS HE mixed up with (‘adorned with’) the solution (‘such cherubs’).
25a Bruce’s hiding place beside loch, providing his chance (5)
There is little evidence that Robert Bruce actually hid in a CAVE following his defeat at the battle of Methven (1306), let alone that he received inspiration there from a pertinacious spider; the legend seems to date from the early 19th century, when Walter Scott included it in his series of books on Scottish history, Tales of a Grandfather.
27a Make fun of Old Tom having little energy (4)
Anyone guessing the unchecked letter based solely on the definition is likely to get this one wrong. GIB is an old word for a cat, especially a male one, in later usage one that has been castrated.
31a Animate foot-warmer by the sound of it (6)
The solution (meaning ‘[to] animate’) is a homophone for a piece ‘of some material placed inside a shoe for warmth, dryness or comfort.’
34a Ice sliver for Scotch? Mixed us jigger (half each) (4)
The answer, a Scots word a ‘pellicle of ice’ (a thin film, it appears), is an anagram (‘mixed’) of the first half of ‘us’ and the second half of ‘jigger’. I have learnt something here (two things if you include ‘pellicle’), as my mother had a copy of A Grue of Ice by Geoffrey Jenkins on a bookcase in our living room for many years without me ever knowing what one was.
35a What’s evident in guest’s last letter, see, penned by a correspondent? (8)
The wordplay here has the single letter C (‘see’) contained (‘penned’) by A plus a word for the sort of correspondent that Elvis Presley’s letters kept coming back to. The solution is a feature of certain lower-case letters (such as the ‘t’ in ‘guest’) which extend above the mean line of the font. It is these bits, together with their chums that go below the baseline, which help us to quickly recognise words; studies carried out at the start of the construction of the British motorway network concluded that words with mixed-case letters were much easier to read than ‘all-caps’, resulting in a font being specially designed for motorway signs.
3d Good Friday: dad, as RC, prepared the day before (9)
Here we have the usual two-letter word for ‘dad’, followed by an anagram (‘prepared’) of AS RC, and finished off with a three-letter word for ‘the day before’. I don’t recall ever having come across the solution before.
4d Menu extra: mushroom rolled in crust partly (7)
A three-letter mushroom particularly enjoyed by crossword setters is reversed (‘rolled’) inside a four-letter word for the lighter upper part of the earth’s continental crust, the term reflecting the fact that the rocks therein are rich in silicon and aluminium oxides.
9d Regarding desire for intake, commander’s retaining muscles (7)
The abbreviation for Officer Commanding is seen containing (‘retaining’) the plural of ‘rectus’, the name of ‘various muscles, esp. of the abdomen, thigh, neck, and eye, so called from the straightness of their fibres.’
10d Pig (by name) imbibing steins, drunk for duration (11)
The pig who is ‘imbibing’ an anagram (‘drunk’) of STEINS is one who has made a lot of money for M&S, and shares his name with the pigeon who moved into our back garden a couple of years ago. At one point he was extremely protective of his new territory, doing sterling work by chasing other pigeons away, but since we added a pond to the garden he has started inviting friends round to enjoy the facilities on offer, a wholly inappropriate way of showing his gratitude.
16d Aid to measuring distance? A journal mostly filling tiny amounts up (9, 2 words)
The wordplay here has A plus a five-letter word for a journal deprived of its last letter (‘mostly’) inside (‘filling’) a four-letter word meaning ‘tiny amounts’ or ‘specks’ reversed (‘up’); the solution is divided (6,3).
21d Damaging charge received, a long time coming up? One may be on list (7)
A three-letter word for a long time is reversed (‘coming up’), with a ‘damaging charge’ (in an explosive, depth charge sort of way) inside (‘received’).
23d Aim to miss goose, catching wing (6)
Here we have a four-letter word for a goose or fool containing (‘catching’) a two-letter American term for a wing on a building (reflecting the resultant shape of the building as a whole).
24d Purposes for Scotch, topping stingers? (6)
I misread ‘stingers’ as ‘stringers’, which didn’t make solving the clue any easier. The solution, a Scots word for ‘purposes’, is obtained by ‘topping’ (removing the first letter from) a seven-letter word for ‘stingers’.