Notes for Azed 2,605

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 2,605 Plain

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

I thought this puzzle was a shade harder than last week’s, but still a little below average difficulty. It had all the hallmarks that one associates with an Azed production, although it perhaps lacked some of the brio of his very best offerings.

Setters’ Corner: This week I’m going to take a look at clue 23d, “Gang violence? Name applied to wars covers volumes (6)”. Here we have an example of the accuracy that pervades Azed’s clues. There is a temptation to indicate BOER by ‘war’, but this would be an error; the attributive noun ‘Boer’ is indeed used to identify either of two wars fought between Britain and South Africa, but it cannot be used on its own to represent a particular war any more than ‘First World’ can – no-one would ever be described as having ‘fought in the Boer’. What about ‘battle’ for Trafalgar? Well, you might say that Nelson fought ‘at Trafalgar’, but the ‘at’ here is key – Trafalgar is the site of a battle, not the battle itself. In general, unless the dictionary gives the proper noun as representing the conflict itself, or a particular type of conflict (see the entry for ‘Vietnam’ in Chambers), indications such as ‘war’ or ‘battle’ alone will not do.

The clue prompts another thought: ‘vv’ is given by Chambers as an abbreviation for ‘volumes’, but what if only ‘v’ were given for ‘volume’ – would, say, ‘spans volumes’ then be acceptable for ‘contains VV’? The answer to this is ‘technically, no’, any more than ‘ff’ is (or are) ‘fines’. But crosswords would be boring indeed if setters weren’t allowed a little licence when the result isn’t unfair to the solver, and I wouldn’t have a problem with ‘fines’, ‘goods’ etc. There are certain editors that I believe would be less tolerant; to be on the safe side when setting, say, a Listener puzzle, I would try to find an alternative, for instance ‘one fine after another’.

13a Sport activity? It gives catching practice (5)
I can’t remember coming across this word before – I’m not sure that the definition in Chambers is entirely accurate, but sine I learned everything I know about baseball from Peanuts cartoons there may be an element of ultracrepidation creeping in here. The wordplay is a charade of a three-letter word meaning ”sport’ and a two-letter word for ‘activity’.

14a This writer takes shelter in scrum (5)
I didn’t like this clue very much – the combination of ‘takes’ being used as a throwaway juxtaposition indicator and ‘in’ being there simply to link the wordplay to the definition results in a deception which I think borders on the unfair; the solver could reasonably expect ‘takes…in’ to indicated that the two-letter word for ‘this writer’ was to be put around (rather than before) the three-letter word for ‘shelter’ which is a frequent visitor to crosswords.

17a Annoyed, not having leader in final? (4)
A seven-letter word meaning ‘annoyed’ has a three-letter word meaning ‘having [a] leader’ removed (‘not having leader’) in order to produce the solution. As in 14a there is a deceptive aspect to the wordplay, but here it is absolutely fair.

21a Number of candles within fancy red cake decoration? (6)
A word for something that would be equal (fire regulations permitting) to the number of candles on your birthday cake is contained by (‘within’) an anagram (‘fancy’) of RED. The solution is the name of one of those little silver balls that are used for decorating cakes – though not in California, where their sale is banned.

29a They establish level by means of line and bit of string (5)
A nice clue, the wordplay being a charade of a three-letter word meaning ‘by means of’, the usual abbreviation for ‘line’, and the first letter (‘bit’) of ‘string’.

31a Was wobbly English vicar, retiring, housed in part of college? (8)
The standard abbreviation for English and a three-letter abbreviation of a title prefixed to the name of a member of the clergy are reversed within a four-letter word describing a feature of many Oxbridge colleges around which the main college buildings are arranged.

32a New Englander always clutching behind (9)
Here we have a three-letter contraction (common in poetic and cruciverbal contexts) of a word meaning ‘always’ containing (‘clutching’) a six-letter adverb meaning ‘behind’, the result being a term for an inhabitant of one of the New England states (implied by Chambers but given explicitly by the OED).

34a Hut collapsing in strain, rarely to be relied upon (6)
An anagram (‘collapsing’) of HUT is put inside a three-letter word for ‘strain’ in the ‘put demands on’ sense to produce a word meaning ‘reliable’ which is given by Chambers as ‘rare’, hence the ‘rarely’.

1d Rude name for oldie, bloke coming round about experience (12)
A six-letter word for a fellow outside (‘coming round’) a two-letter word for ‘about’ and a four-letter word meaning ‘[to] experience’ delivers a hyphenated (6-6) term for an elderly person shown by Chambers as ‘offensive slang’.

2d Play girl, very bad person (4)
A double definition clue, a term for a very bad (or very impressive) person or thing is also the name of the heroine (in the central rather than idealized sense, note) of Frank Wedekind’s Earth Spirit (1895) and Pandora’s Box (1904), now usually performed together in a shortened form under the title of the girl herself (this also being the stage name taken by Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie in 1962, after her manager described her as ‘a real ???? of a kid’.

3d Fungus I found inside a huge fish (7)
The letter A (from the clue) is followed by a five-letter word for a large, flat-bodied fish (while a two-word name may be more familiar, the single word is given by Chambers) within which is found the letter I (again from the clue).

4d Trumpet played tenderly (no more) grips other ranks (6)
Azed has been quite kind here both by putting the ‘no more’ in brackets, thus making it clear that the letters MORE should be removed from a two-word phrase meaning ‘played with tenderness’, and by explicitly using the words ‘other ranks’ rather than ‘men’ to indicate the two-letter abbreviation which must be inserted into the result.

9d Joint, OK, in a lido swinging (8)
A three-letter verb meaning ‘[to] OK’ is to be put inside an anagram (‘swinging’) of A LIDO.

18d Address etc adjusted after being taken in by spinner? (7)
An anagram (‘adjusted’) of ETC is ‘taken in’ by a four-letter term for something used by an angler – a spinner is an example of such an item, hence the question mark.

20d Inveigh against pirate taking wife on board (7, 2 words)
A six-letter word for a pirate ‘takes on board’ (ie contains) the usual single-character abbreviation for ‘wife’, the outcome being a (5,2) phrasal verb.

30d Improper desire for winter sports venue (4)
To round things off we have another clue comprising two definitions, the first being found in Chambers and the second in Austria.

(definitions are underlined)

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7 Responses

  1. Crossguesser says:

    This doesn’t concern the current Azed but rather the recent Wrong Number puzzle 2,603 and the announcement in that puzzle’s Azed Slip that the monthly prize cup has been lost in the post.
    I’ve always thought it was inevitable that the cup would disappear at some time (and have deliberately ensured that my clues are never good enough to take the prize so I don’t have to worry about the reponsibility of posting it ;-)), but I seem to recall you saying that whenever you won the cup it was accompanied by a book that contained individually handwritten winning clues by all the previous winners. If that’s the case then that loss is obviously far worse, if it dated back 50 years. But perhaps I’ve misremembered or misunderstood.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      As you say, surprising that the cup managed to complete several hundred journeys before finally disappearing. I’d like to imagine that your thoughtfulness regarding your own entries contributed in some small way to its longevity 🙂 I’m sure I remember reading about the cup taking a somewhat fraught trip to Northern Ireland in the 1970s, but I may be making that up.

      You remember right – there was indeed a little notebook that accompanied the cup on its travels, but it only had space for perhaps 80 or so winning clues. I seem to remember that my most recent win coincided with the issue of a new (or nearly so) notebook; I have it in my mind that Don Manley periodically started a new book and preserved its predecessor, but again I can’t find any evidence to support that! In any event, I think that at the very worst only the entries going back to 2015 would have been lost.

      I guess there’s still a chance that someone’s dog will turn up the cup and notebook under a hedge somewhere…

      • Crossguesser says:

        It would make sense if Don Manley does indeed oversee the start of a new book and the retirement of the previous one seeing as he’s a frequent winner and probably lives close to Azed. (I see he needs only 4 more wins to overtake Colin Dexter as the competitor with the all-time most firsts.) Thanks for the info.

      • Doctor Clue says:

        …I’m pleased to say that I didn’t imagine the bit about Northern Ireland. The following is extracted from the report of the Listener Crossword Dinner in 1980 published at

        “[Azed] ran through the various types of solver whose characters revealed themselves through comments appended to their monthly clue-writing competition entries. Azed probably gets more feedback from his solvers than any other setter, and among the variety of attitudes, from the avuncular or patronising to the enthusiasm of the neophyte and the plain finicky, most of those listening must have recognised themselves, or at least echoes of themselves, in his list. Perhaps the most unusual type was the suspicious – as the gentleman who, on receiving the plain brown parcel containing the Azed cup, on this occasion posted on from Belfast, took it out to his back garden and attempted to get it defused.”

        • Crossguesser says:

          Heh heh, just a slight overreaction, but you can’t be too careful!
          That full Listener dinner report is really heavy on the playful irony. Looks like it was Mike Laws (also an Azed clue competitor, as you’ll know) who wrote it, a setter who passed away just as I was getting more seriously into cryptics. He seems to have been quite an interesting character, quite individualistic. The photo of him in the pub setting or solving a puzzle with the aid of Chambers even has a hint of Edward Hopper about it.

          • Doctor Clue says:

            As far as I am concerned, when it came to newspaper puzzles which combined originality, wit and soundness Mike Laws was as good as it got; the one Sunday in every three when his name was against the Mephisto puzzle you knew that there was entertainment aplenty in store. His puzzles weren’t generally the hardest, but in quality terms they bore comparison even with those of Azed. Undoubtedly a crossword ‘great’.