Notes for Azed 2,579

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 2,579 Plain

Difficulty rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

After the challenge of last week’s ‘Letters Latent’, something considerably more straightforward. A pleasant solve, though perhaps not one of Azed’s very best. I usually reckon to comment on around sixteen clues, and sometimes mark more than that number when solving the puzzle, but here I found that I was well short of that number. Nothing too controversial, although elements of the wordplays in 16a and 3d are questionable (at best), and the qualification applied to the definition in 4d is wrong.

Setters’ Corner: This week I’m going to take a look at clue 17a, “Meshed tissues one placed in the box (5)”. The point of interest here is the use of the definite article in the phrase ‘the box’. A general principle relating to clues which adhere to what are usually termed ‘Ximenean’ standards is that every element of the clue should contribute to its cryptic reading, and in particular that there should be no superfluous words which are misleading to the solver. Does this mean that every clue must be pared down to its shortest possible form? No, it is accepted that words which are not strictly necessary to the cryptic interpretation can be included, such as ‘followed by’ in 11a here, the prefixing of a verb in the infinitive with ‘to’ (‘to live’ = BE), or the addition of the indefinite article to a countable noun (‘a boy’ = LAD), as long as the clue still ‘says what it means’. However, a word like ‘the’ cannot simply be tossed into a clue, and we therefore know that when Azed says ‘the box’, he doesn’t mean ‘box’ or ‘a box’, he is talking specifically about the box, ie the television.

16a Crystalline rock: record it in supplement (8)
A three-letter word (and a crossword setters’ favourite) meaning ‘record’ plus the letters IT are put inside a three-letter word meaning ‘supplement’. Well, it certainly means ‘supplement’ when followed by ‘out’, but although on its own it used to mean ‘to extend’ or ‘to lengthen’ I’m not sure that these days it means anything; I’ve always studiously avoided the word in my own puzzles because I don’t know how to define it.

19a Dirty farm vehicle loaded with half a ton? (5)
A four-letter farm vehicle is ‘loaded’ with a Roman numeral which represents ‘half a ton’ in a cricketing or speedometer reading sense. The question mark is entirely appropriate!

20a Bit of foreign cash making metallic sound where Athenians once gathered (8)
A bit of pre-processing is required here: just as ‘having retired’ must on occasion be interpreted as ‘in bed’ (ie inside a word meaning ‘bed’), here ‘where Athenians once gathered’ must be turned into ‘in xxxx’, where xxxx refers to the public ambulatory (the Painted Porch) in Athens where Zeno gave his lectures. It is a four-letter word for a ‘clear high-pitched short bell-like sound’ which must be placed inside, thus producing a Bulgarian unit of currency.

25a Where to find dinghies at? It’s this lough I’d plied (4)
A composite anagram, where the letters of DINGHIES AT form an anagram (‘plied’) of ITS + the solution (‘this lough’) ID. The answer is the name of a lough, and a big one at that.

27a Collection for the vicar? Mostly change with a tatty bit of material thrown in (8)
A five-letter word meaning ‘[to] change’ has its last letter removed (‘mostly’) and is placed around A plus a three-letter word for a tatty bit of material.

33a Took a gander at something fishy by the sound of it (4)
A homophone for that fish which is seen considerably more often in crosswords than in Sainsbury’s, this time in its three-letter rather than two-letter guise.

1d Partner captured in stone, brittle (5)
A three-letter word for a partner (perhaps more commonly these days a chum) is ‘captured’ in the usual abbreviation for ‘stone’.

3d Tenant farmer always upset in deluge (6)
A two-letter word for ‘always’ is reversed (‘upset’) inside a four-letter word which is a less common spelling of a three-letter word frequently seen in crosswords, usually indicated by ‘soak’. I don’t think that ‘deluge’ can be justified – it clearly indicates inundation, while the term in the wordplay definitely does not.

4d Forbear going stress-free as soon as old (4)
A ten-letter word for a (female) forbear has the letters STRESS removed (‘going stress-free’) to produce a northern form of a much more familiar word; the ‘old’ is I think an error, as neither Chambers nor OED suggest that the term is archaic or obsolete. It should read something like ‘as soon as in the North’.

8d To fix hedging, melodious piece of horticultural decoration (9)
A four-letter word for a ‘melodious piece’ with the letters TO and a three-letter word meaning ‘[to] fix’ surrounding (‘hedging’) it. The word ‘of’ is part of the definition – this type of adjective (for which there may be a technical term, but I don’t know what it is) can be very tricky to define without making the clue horribly ‘clunky’, but Azed usually finds an elegant way around the problem.

9d Intrusive rock: catch fish hiding in a little bit (7)
A three-letter word meaning ‘[to] fish’ is found hiding inside a four-letter word for a little bit (or a little arachnid). The ‘catch’ here must be linked to the ‘hiding’ (ie ‘catch NET hiding’) rather than the ‘fish’, because ‘catch fish’ cannot indicate NET, which is a transitive verb and would have to be indicated by ‘catch’ alone or ‘catch (fish)’.

14d Pen pals for Jeanne, maybe, senior Guide filling her summers (10)
‘Jeanne’ is here to indicate both Frenchness and femininity, with her pen pals thus assumed to be foreign and female. The wordplay involves a six-letter word for a senior Guide being contained by (‘filling’) a four-letter word for ‘summers’ where Jeanne comes from.

28d All-conquering emotion uplifted travellers (4)
A four-letter word for travelling people is reversed (‘uplifted’) to produce something that in the words of Virgil ‘vincit omnia’, this phrase also being the title of a work by Caravaggio which shows his studio assistant, Cecco Boneri, posing naked as Cupid on a heap of stuff symbolizing ‘all’ (music, literature etc, though significantly no sign of a crossword). The painting, commissioned by Vincenzo Giustiniani, led to controversy when Caravaggio’s rival Giovanni Baglione, commissioned by Vincenzo’s brother Benedetto, produced a response (usually known as Sacred Love and Profane Love), in one version of which the devil is shown having Caravaggio’s face. The feud rumbled on – Caravaggio was briefly imprisoned after being found guilty of libelling Baglione by way of some rude poems, while Baglione arguably had the last laugh – he produced the first biography of Caravaggio, following the latter’s early death, which I understand praises the early works but is scathing about the man himself and his later paintings.

29d Curse, equivalent of ‘damn’ to start with (minced) (4)
An anagram (‘minced’) of the first letters (‘to start with’) of ‘Curse equivalent of damn’, the answer being a restrained (‘minced’) oath.

(definitions are underlined)

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6 Responses

  1. Jim says:

    I’m glad you were unhappy with 3D. I spent too long down the blind alley of the deluge ending with ‘n’, despite having seen the tenancy farmer previously under its headline spelling. It also took me a while to realise that the port in 6D was a proper noun.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      I felt that 3d was, as Poirot might have said, “ze clue most poor”. I confidently looked up RAIYAN in Chambers and was very surprised to find that it wasn’t there. The Chambers Thesaurus gives ‘deluge’ = ‘rain’, as does the Oxford Thesaurus (in which I generally place more faith). I am always prepared to grant the setter a bit of leeway, but ‘deluge’ = ‘rait’ is asking too much.

      I think something like “Damp trousers always upset tenant farmer” would have been ok.

  2. Steve says:

    I am interested in the criteria that you use to decide the difficulty of the puzzle. Is it to do with the number of easy/difficult clues and, if so, how do you decide the difficulty of a clue? For example, I would class solutions hidden as consecutive letters in the clue as easy only if I spot it – a cleverly written clue may deliberately distract me from seeing it, making the clue seem difficult.

    For me, I would use how long it takes me to complete the puzzle to decide its difficulty and, on that basis, I agree that this week was relatively easy and last week’s was much harder, though I don’t think I could quantify it accurately enough to be within 0.5 out of 5.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi Steve

      Your question is fair, as are the points that you make. My assessment of the ‘difficulty’ of a puzzle is inevitably a subjective one. Let me first say that I don’t consider a puzzle ‘solved’ until all the clues have been parsed to the solver’s satisfaction, so my rating does not relate simply to the ease of filling the grid. Also, I wouldn’t consider a puzzle with all easy clues apart from one ‘stinker’ to be a hard puzzle, but an easy puzzle with a single anomaly.

      I’ve never timed myself doing a puzzle, but I can confidently say that the ‘specials’ almost always take me longer than the ‘plains’, hence the maximum difficulty rating of 10 rather than 5. I try not to be influenced excessively by how much of a struggle I have with a particular puzzle because, frankly, some days I’m smarter than others 🙂

      My main yardstick is this: when I solve a clue, I ask myself “Would I be surprised to see this clue appear on one of the help forums”. If the answer is “No I wouldn’t”, then the clue generally gets a mark against it. If in fact I would be surprised not to see it on a forum, then it gets a bonus. Over the years, I’ve come to have a pretty good idea of the sort of clues that give solvers problems (composite anagrams being an obvious example).

      Beyond that, I make a mental adjustment upwards for multiple clues for obscure words which also have obscure words in the wordplay and downwards for a large number of ‘hiddens’ and simple anagrams. Then I have a wild stab at assigning a number between 1.0 and 4.0 for a plain puzzle and between 1.0 and 9.0 for a ‘special’ (2,5 being ‘average’ for a plain, while the concept of ‘average’ doesn’t really apply to a special). The rating is not absolute, of course, but relative to the other Azed puzzles that have appeared in recent memory.

      I know that each solver will have their own view of the difficulty of a puzzle, and I’m always interested to hear when that varies significantly from my own.

  3. Bobf says:

    Hi Dr Clue, 4D Chambers has ance/once as firstly (obsolete) may work better for “as soon as old”?
    Many thanks for blog as ever.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi Bob, and thank you

      It’s a good thought, but there are two reasons why I doubt that it was Azed’s intention: ‘firstly’ is an adverb while ‘as soon as’ is a conjunctive phrase, and Chambers explicitly gives ‘as soon as’ under the entry for ‘once’. Azed is of course practised in the sneaky use of obsolete meanings of familiar words in the cryptic reading of clues, but I think that ‘as soon as old’ for ANCE is simply a minor lapse. Even Homer nods sometimes…