Notes for Azed 2,616

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 2,616 Plain

Difficulty rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

We find Azed in a very mischievous mood today – he has taken a few liberties here and there, but the puzzle delivers plenty of entertainment. The grid fill is not simple, and fully parsing all the clues takes an extra effort that certainly places the puzzle in the ‘above average’ difficulty range. I originally assessed it as a ‘3’, but a reappraisal based on feedback received has led me to revise the rating upwards.. Since I can’t recall a harder plain puzzle in recent months, I think the amended grading is appropriate.

Setters’ Corner: This week I’m going to take a look at clue 22d, “Top of helmet I found in Crimea, battered, rear piece missing (6)”. The definition here is ‘top of helmet’, and the wordplay has the letter ‘I’ (from the clue) found inside an anagram (‘battered’) of CRIMEA without its last letter (‘rear piece missing’). Surely there’s not much more to say? Well, the point is that CRIMEA undergoes two cryptic manipulations, with the order of the indicators making it clear that the ‘battering’ should precede the ‘tailing’. This means, in effect, that we need to resolve the anagram as CIMERA and then remove the closing A; but nothing tells us to put the A at the end of the rearrangement. The problem could be very easily be fixed simply by changing the order of the words in the clue, ie “Top of helmet I found in Crimea, rear piece missing, battered”, or by explicitly identifying the letter to be removed, eg replacing ‘ rear piece missing’ with ‘before pulling out’. You could argue that the sequence of operations doesn’t really matter in this instance, but if the first manipulation had been a reversal then it certainly would, since the ‘rear’ would now be the front, and vice versa.

7a What may be piping hot, making one curse? (4)
A three-letter ‘literary and poetic‘ term for a shepherd’s pipe (which would indeed be ‘piping’ if the shepherd were blowing into it) is followed by the usual abbreviation for ‘hot’. The use of ‘making one’ to link the wordplay and the definition (‘one’ is not part of the definition) is an Azed favourite, although it’s not universally popular among crossword editors.

10a Comic interlude, very old, filled with pulp mostly (10)
A seven-letter word meaning ‘very old’ (technically speaking, at least 100 years) containing (‘filled with’) a term for ‘pulp’ from which the last letter has been lost (‘mostly’). There are two similar options for the latter term – one has an A as its second letter while the other has a U; it’s the one with an A that is required.

12a ‘Hush’? That’s ‘mum’, put another way (5)
A two-letter interjection meaning ‘Hush!’ is followed by an anagram (‘put another way’) of MUM, with the whole clue standing as the definition of the answer, this therefore being an ‘&lit’ or ‘all-in-one’ clue. The relevant meaning of ‘hush’ in the definition is shown by Chambers as ‘archaic‘.

18a Head of Rugby no lad’s messed with? (6)
A very nice &lit, an anagram (‘messed with’) of the first letter (‘Head’) of ‘Rugby’ and NO LAD producing the surname of the educator and historian who was Head Master of Rugby School between 1828 and 1841. Perhaps the most famous schoolmaster of all (Principal Skinner notwithstanding) he single-handedly changed the face of English public school life in the space of a few years. He features heavily in Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (aka Tom Brown at Rugby), which describes Rugby School in the 1830s when the Head Master was getting rid of the ‘Flashman’ culture and radically changing the curriculum. The playing of the game supposedly invented by William Webb Ellis at the same school in 1823 was also encouraged, albeit with rather less constraint on the numbers involved – when Queen Adelaide visited in 1839, she was able to watch the 75 members of School House taking on the 225 making up ‘The Rest’. His character in  Tom Brown’s Schooldays (probably more than the man himself) was a huge influence on the young Pierre de Coubertin, who, following a visit to Rugby School in 1883, made it his mission to introduce sport into the French educational system. This led on to the foundation of the International Olympic Committee and the establishment of the modern Olympic Games; the role in this played by the Head Master is commemorated by a plaque on Rugby School’s Doctor’s Wall, unveiled in 2009 by Lord Sebastian Coe.

24a Road sign needs to be this round start of excavation (9)
A third &lit in the space of eight clues. This time the answer is the indicator which would need to be applied to ROAD SIGN such that when it is put round the first letter (‘start’) of excavation it produces…the solution. I’m slightly surprised that Azed didn’t choose to italicize ‘this’ in order to give it the appropriate emphasis.

27a In which you’ll see more than one slope arms and get drilled (7)
A smooth surface reading cleverly disguises the cesura between wordplay and definition. The soundness of the wordplay depends on your view as to whether a sequence of two or more words separated only by spaces (here ‘arms and’) can govern a plural verb (here ‘get drilled’); Ximenes said it was alright, and Azed’s view was shaped by that of Ximenes. I don’t often strongly disagree with Azed, but I can see no justification for the practice.

29a Old philosopher, one mostly kept in readiness (5)
The Roman numeral for ‘one’ is followed by a (2,3) phrase meaning ‘kept in readiness’ from which the last letter has been omitted (‘mostly’).

32a What’s associated with Milton (centrally)? Blindness may have affected such (4)
One needs to be thinking geography rather than poetry in order to identify the six-letter word ‘associated with Milton’ from which the outer letters must be removed (‘centrally’). The solution is shown by Chambers as archaic, as befits Milton J.

33a Search Scots in quick movement? They may do that (8)
A four-letter Scots word for ‘search’ (along the lines of ‘scour’) is put inside another four-letter word, this one being the quick movement of a Hungarian csárdás. You’re probably wondering what the slow movement of that particular dance is called – it’s a lassu.

1d Deer e.g. avoiding marshy ground (4)
The letters EG are lost from (‘e.g. avoiding’) a six-letter Canadian term for a swamp, bog or marsh.

3d Dance making you miss work (5)
I rather like this one, a charade of a three-letter ‘miss’ and the usual two-letter abbreviation of a word meaning ‘work’. The ‘making you’ here is leading from the definition to the wordplay, rather than the other way round, but I think it’s just about ok as there is no manipulation of the wordplay elements.

4d Troubled pal taken in by jocular Australian subtitle? (9)
An anagram (‘troubled’) of PAL is ‘taken in’ by the name jocularly given to Australian English.

6d Talisman, a cross with letter associated with one (6)
The letter A (from the clue) is followed by the four-letter term applied to a hybrid animal (specific or generic) and the letter associated with a particular sort of (non-animal) cross.

9d Male sitter, recognized locally? One deserved hanging (8)
This is a (2,2,4) charade of a male, a sitter (in the sense of someone who holds a seat in parliament), and a dialect past tense of a word meaning ‘recognize’ or ‘observe’. The solution is an interesting one – both Chambers and OED ascribe to it the meaning ‘gallows-bird’ (ie someone who deserves to be hanged), but this interpretation seems to be based on a single appearance in Henry IV Part 2 where Mistress Quickly says:

Good people, bring a rescue or two. Thou wo’t, wo’t thou? Thou wo’t, wo’t ta? do, do, thou rogue! do, thou ****-****!

It would seem more likely that the word is a malapropism for ‘homicide’ (she also speaks malapropos of a ‘honeysuckle villain’).

16d Follower of Huss curtailed forbidden liturgy (8)
A  five-letter word meaning ‘forbidden’ with its last letter removed (‘curtailed’) is followed by a term for a liturgy or ceremony, the outcome being a member of the extreme section of the Hussites.

23d Sailor joining middle of sail, not all at once (6, 2 words)
I do think Azed has been a little naughty here in using ‘joining’ to indicate that one wordplay element (the four-letter word for a sailor) is to be put inside the central part (‘middle’) of ‘sail’. I think ‘joining pieces in middle of sail’, or something along those lines, would have been preferable.

25d Perch causing head of splinter to pierce bottom (5)
The perch that’s required turns out to be the fishy sort. However, as 🍊 points out below, ROOST would be an equally good alternative with the same basic structure, ie the first letter (‘head’) of ‘splinter’ being inserted into (‘piercing’) a four-letter word for ‘bottom’. Does that make the clue a 🍋?

26d Eponymous hero appearing in early page (not English)? (4)
If anyone got this without having any checkers, kudos! The wordplay involves the usual abbreviation for ‘page’ being followed by a number (a relatively low one, hence an ‘early page’) from which the standard abbreviation for ‘English’ has been removed. The answer is the last name of  the lead  character in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel which, published in the US the year before Lolita, first established the author’s reputation there. Timofey **** is a Russian émigré lecturer who suffers from chronic disorganization and struggles with the challenges of everyday life:

If he failed the first time he took his driver’s licence test, it was mainly because he started an argument with the examiner in an ill-timed effort to prove that nothing could be more humiliating to a rational creature than being required to encourage the development of a base conditional reflex by stopping at a red light when there was not an earthly soul around, heeled or wheeled. He was more circumspect the next time, and passed.

(definitions are underlined)

You may also like...

16 Responses

  1. Jim says:

    I’m with those who thought this was tougher than a 3, although I managed all but bottom-left without help. 31A, though – The anagram was simple enough, but I have never heard of the plotters and know nothing about bowling greens (apart from the colour and what they are used for). I ended up having to trawl through every T-IN-… word in my Chambers.

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi Jim

      I know when I’m beat! The weight of public opinion (plus the ambiguous 25d) has now persuaded me to upgrade my difficulty rating.

      Re 31a, that’s the sort of trawl that’s a lot easier with the electronic versions of Chambers – enter T?IN??????, and voilà – all 32 possibilities, most of which can be instantly rejected.

      • Jim says:

        I suspect I might have to swallow my Luddism (?) and embrace the technology, but it will never match the immense joy of carefully opening a book to find I have chosen exactly the right page (or discovering a new and interesting word immediately above, below or alongside the one I want).

        • Doctor Clue says:

          I know just what you mean, although I also know the pain of getting to the end of the physical trawl and realizing that I must have passed the required word by, perhaps hidden amongst a welter of compounds listed under a single headword, and probably right at the start of the search area (but not necessarily, as the second trawl reveals!)

          ‘Luddism’ (or ‘luddism’, if you draw the line at wrecking machinery) is good…as a word, anyway.

  2. Much Puzzled says:

    A very tough puzzle which I was surprised I could finish, though 26d was the real killer which I only cracked with your hints.
    I have never heard of the solution at 13d, which normally has a “C” at the end of the first word – is the solution a trade name?
    Special mention for 20a which brought a smile to my face – a lovely clue!

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi MP

      Yes, I think I may have been on my best form when I solved the puzzle and (particularly since my recalibration of the Difficultometer) may have understated the toughness of this one.

      The version of the 13d solution which includes the ‘C’ – (5,6) with two capitals – is a trade name; I suspect that the answer here (given by Chambers as 4-6 without a capital) is the generic, a bit like Blu-Tack® versus ‘white tack’.

      I thought there were some very nice clues in the puzzle, which if cut in half would have been seen to have ‘Azed’ written right through it.

  3. David Whisstock says:

    The only item I would disagree with you about this Azed is the difficulty rating – at least 4 if not 5. 26d was probably unknown to 90% of solvers, me included; apart from that, your analysis is spot on.
    I have a generic question for you concerning the weekly puzzles: where can one find the names of the prize winners? They used to be printed in the Guardian crossword section, but no longer. I’ve emailed the same question to The Observer but received no reply.
    Best regards

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi David, and welcome to the blog.

      I’d certainly agree that 26d was a ‘5’ in terms of difficulty – I would rate it as almost impossible to blind solve. That apart, though, the number of clues I marked for comment as I solved the puzzle was only slightly above average, as was the number that I expected to see on the crossword help forums (26d, 32a, possibly 1, or max 2, others) – those are the factors which have the greatest influence on my difficulty rating. Based on the difficulty of the toughest clue, however, this one would have had the needle ‘bouncing in the red’.

      Regarding the weekly winners, I’m afraid that I don’t know – I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer might be ‘nowhere’, but perhaps one of our readers can offer a better response…

  4. 🍊 says:

    Double kudos for getting 26d! You know that, sometimes, you need to step back … I looked up eponymous to check that it really means what I think it does. Glad that I did, as I laughed aloud at one of the meanings of eponym:
    A hero invented to account for the name of a place or people

    Anyway, I’ll agree with 3/5 as I got stuffed in the SE corner by mis-entering ROOST for 25d, which, I insist, fits the clue!

    • Doctor Clue says:

      I tend to be a little sceptical about ‘alternative answers’, but had I not already got an S as the middle letter for 25d I would have entered ROOST with confidence – Chambers gives ‘perch’ as the first meaning of ‘roost’, and the Chambers Thesaurus lists ‘bottom’ under the synonyms for ‘root’. A perfectly good answer, and an unwarranted stuffing.

      Your mention of that definition of ‘eponym’ reminded me of an article published some time ago on the Crossword Centre site concerning humorous definitions in Chambers. I suspect that the one you quote ought to qualify (certainly the OED gives nothing similar), but in addition to the famous éclair definition the following contain humour (or, in at least one instance, social comment) to varying degrees:

      abloom, bachelor’s wife, bafflegab, bikini (etymology), double-locked, fan dance, flag day, old girl (under girl), grammaticaster, throw the handkerchief (under handkerchief), he-man, isabel (etymology), Jacquard loom, Japanese cedar, jaywalker, knick-knack, lead out, middle-aged, misrepresent, not to mention (under mention), nineteen to the dozen, perpetrate, petting party, restoration, road hog, second sight, rock salmon, Santa Claus, sea serpent, taghairm, tityre-tu (etymology), waistline, Welwitschia.

      I think the one for ‘abloom’ is wonderfully deadpan.

      (the article is still available and well worth a read – it can be found at

      • 🍊 says:

        Have you ever googled ‘askew’?

        • Doctor Clue says:

          Oh that’s good! Just as long as one isn’t a little ‘askew’ oneself when doing the googling…

          • 🍊 says:

            Have you ever googled ‘recursion’?

            • Doctor Clue says:

              I would never have spotted that one unaided* – very good indeed! 🙂

              Though perhaps less ‘recursion’, more ‘infinite loop’…

              *Partly because when an application asks ‘Did you mean…?’ my immediate response is “Of course not! If I’d meant that I’d have typed it”. The vehemence of my reply is proportional to the scale of my error.