Notes for Azed 2,630

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 2,630 ‘Playfair’

Difficulty rating: 5 out of 10 stars (5 / 10)

I know that some people really enjoy Playfair puzzles, but they leave me cold,  so when no clues are provided to the code word I have no qualms about using a code cracker such as Quinapalus to identify it. I found it hard to assign a difficulty rating to this puzzle – the clues were generally pretty straightforward, but the Playfair element adds a complexity which is likely to divide the opinions of solvers. For those who feel inclined to try cracking the code, I will repeat below some general hints that I have provided in the past, and underneath the notes on the clues I have included a further hint specific to this puzzle. Incidentally, the code word is usually also the word to be clued for the competition – when you find today’s word you will understand why Azed decided to select a different word for the comp!

The only real option with a Playfair puzzle is to solve the non-Playfair clues to get all of the checked letters in the Playfair solutions (or at the very least the pairs of letters which are both checked in the grid, but don’t forget that you can draw conclusions even from an incomplete quartet), work out the non-encoded answers to the Playfair clues, and then create quartets by relating the checked letter pairs from the encoded answers to the corresponding pairs in the non-coded solutions (eg solution = SOLVED, part completed light in grid = J?TPAG, LV encodes to TP and ED encodes to AG, while SO encodes to J?).

There are probably lots of ways to move forward from there, but I tend to look at the pairs of letters that (assuming the quartet represents a rectangle) are going to be in the same row (in my example L and T, V and P, E and A, D and G, S and J) and those that will be in the same column (in my example, L and P, V and T, E and G, D and A, O and J) and then link with other pairs (so if I find that L and P are in the same column and P and S are in the same column, I know that L, P and S are all in one column). And if I find that a group of letters (L, P and S, say) appear to be in both the same row and the same column? Then we are looking at a line and not a rectangle, so wherever any two of those letters appear as a pair on either side of an encoding, all four letters in that encoding are in the same row or column – so if L, P and S appear to be in the same row and the same column, and LP->IK, then L, P, I, K and S are all in the same row/column and I is (cyclically) to the right of or below L, K to the right of or below P. Oh yes, and Z is probably in the bottom right hand corner!

To which I will add a couple of points:

1. If a letter appears on both sides of an encoding, ie DR encodes to RI, that means that the letters (here D, R and I) appear consecutively in a specific sequence (cyclically) in the same line (could be either a row or a column) – for AB->BC the sequence is ABC (so in the example, DRI), for AB->CA the sequence is BAC.

2. If you can find all the letters in cyclic sequence within a column, eg SBLYU, remember that the letters which don’t appear in the code word are listed alphabetically at the end of the square, so it is likely that at least two, and potentially three, of the letters in the column will be part of this ‘remainder’; therefore they will occur in alphabetical sequence at the end of the column. And not only is Z likely to be in the bottom right-hand corner, but some of its near neighbours at the end of the alphabet will also be on the bottom row.

1a Explosive artillery holds in reversing rupture (6)
A two-letter abbreviation for a powerful kind of explosive is followed by the usual two-letter representation of ‘artillery’ which contains a reversal of IN (‘holds in reversing’).

11a Bit of timber in dry measure thereof (5)
The first letter (‘bit of’) ‘timber’ is inserted into a poetic word meaning ‘dry’ to produce a measure of timber (ie ‘measure thereof’).

19a Primitive creatures? See one twinkling on a bee flying (7)
A single-letter word for ‘one’ and a two-letter word for [a] twinkling are followed by an anagram (‘flying’) of A BEE.

20a Lost lingo included in central tenet of Confucianism (5)
A two-letter word meaning ‘included’ is to be placed inside the term describing the way to be followed in Confucianism , certain principles of which are considered by some (in particular Benjamin Hoff in his 1982 book) to be personified by Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends.

23a Take heed about prime element of baby’s rearing (5)
A four-letter word meaning ‘take heed’ or ‘be concerned’ is set about the first letter (‘prime element’) of ‘baby’, the result being a heraldic term.

27a Dad worked with regular features of comical mental state (8)
A three-part charade comprising elements of 2, 3 and 3 letters respectively.

30a Chap leading a lesson about one type of rock deformation (10)
A three-letter word for the sort of chap who might be cool is followed by A (from the clue) and a word for a lesson containing (‘about’) the Roman numeral for ‘one’.

32a Church in scattered arrangement (6)
A two-letter abbreviation for ‘church’ (of unspecified denomination) is put inside a heraldic term (like 23a taken directly from the French language) meaning ‘strewn or scattered over with small bearings,’

1d Wee fish that is tailing pike, see (6)
The usual two-letter abbreviation for ‘that is’ follows a three-letter word for the bony pike or sea-pike (a shortened form of a seven-letter word wish -fish on the end) and the single-letter abbreviation used in texts for ‘see’.

2d Tumours mum’s taken in to treat misshapen one (10)
A two-letter word for ‘mum’ in the parent sense is ‘taken in[to]’ an anagram (‘misshapen’) of TO TREAT, the whole lot being followed by a single-letter word for ‘one’.

4d Monster that’s tucked into Asiatic bird, a kind of poultry (7)
The monster here is a three-letter sea-monster, and it’s ‘tucked into’ a bird which is renowned for its ability to imitate human speech (the spelling with an ‘i’ rather than a ‘y’).

7d Rib involved outlay for Adam, without restraint (5)
A four-letter word for ‘outlay’ is followed by ADAM from which a word meaning ‘restraint’ has been removed.

18d Second hearing to do with network surrounding queen (7)
A six-letter word meaning ‘relating to a network’ (in an anatomical sense) contains a single-letter abbreviation for ‘queen’.

19d Rules for jousting, boring, Earl penned with love (6)
A four-letter word for ‘boring’ has the standard abbreviation for ‘Earl’ inserted, this combination being followed by the usual single-character representation of ‘love’.

26d Composer cutting last slow movement (5)
My knowledge of classical music is, well, patchy, and I wasn’t familiar with Orlande de ******, apparently “a composer of the late Renaissance, and the chief representative of the mature polyphonic style in the Franco-Flemish school.” His last name has its final letter removed.

(definitions are underlined)

Click for a hint on the decoding
You will find that the pairs SL and CU appear in the same row, in a cyclic sequence. The only likely combination is USL?C, with USL? being the last four letters of the codeword and C being the first letter that doesn’t appear in that word. Although Ximenes once selected CAB as the code word, Azed invariably chooses long words, so this is almost certain to be the third row.

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21 Responses

  1. 🍊 says:

    Thanks for the link to the solver!

  2. Ursula Wright says:

    I love Azed’s Playfairs and faffing around with my Scrabble tiles to make the word square. I wouldn’t be able to finish this one without your clinic though and Braingle which I always feel is cheating. Is it?
    So thanks for this site. Just hopeless at clue creating, though…

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Welcome to the blog, Ursula, and thanks.

      It’s certainly not cheating as far as I’m concerned. The purpose of doing crosswords is surely to derive entertainment from them, and sometimes that is going to involve getting assistance to help you to bridge a particular gap, whether the source of that assistance be Chambers, ODQ, Wikipedia, Braingle etc. Taking a clue from a published crossword and submitting it for the competition as one’s own would (in my opinion) be cheating.

      Regarding clue creation for the comps, I have a few observations:

      1. Soundness of clues is absolutely crucial – Azed will not knowingly award a prize or a VHC to an unsound clue. Read through your clue as the wordplay is intended to work (rather than the surface reading) and make sure that it is grammatically correct when interpreted in that way.

      2. It’s not quite like writing a clue for a crossword, because Azed is going to get 100+ clues for the same word, and if there is (for instance) an obvious anagram then Azed is quickly going to get fed up with seeing it used time and again (as it undoubtedly will be). Try to come up with an original idea, because that will get his attention.

      3. Avoid the obvious definitions where possible. A look through the &lit archive will show that many of the successful entries employ definitions which are cryptic or, at least, unusual (along the lines of Azed’s use of ‘snob’ to indicate a shoemaker).

      4. A bit of deception is good (eg a noun masquerading as a different part of speech in the surface reading), and a well-disguised break between definition and wordplay is another plus.

      5. [amended] Plenty of successful clues, particularly &lit ones, use single letter indicators (eg ‘start of…’), but if you are going to employ this device then (i) make sure that it is sound – “Bull’s Head” is fine for B but “Beachy Head” isn’t, and (ii) make sure that you get full value from it, as in, say, ‘too close for comfort’ for OVERT.

      6. Don’t use letters from the NATO phonetic alphabet (eg ‘Mike’ for M) – for some reason Azed doesn’t like them.

      7. Avoid noun anagram indicators on their own, so “Eton mess” is not acceptable for NOTE, although “Truss in a mess” would be ok for RUSTS.

      8. [with thanks to Crossguesser] If the competition clue word is an across word, it must be clued as such (so ‘rising’ as a reversal indicator would be no good), similarly if it is a down word then ‘from the east’ wouldn’t work for reversal. If the competition word doesn’t appear in the grid (so if it had been the code word in the current puzzle), Azed is happy for it to be clued as either an across or a down entry.

      9. Try not to make clues too easy – here’s a typical Azed comment: “Perhaps the biggest problem of all was to come up with a clue which didn’t scream the answer out loud – even some of those quoted [as VHCs] came close to this. I have no objection to easy clues, but do beware of those which present the solver with no challenge at all.”

      10. Azed quite often gives reasons in the slip as to why he’s rejected or marked down particular clues – this can give a good idea of other things to avoid.

      • Crossguesser says:

        The two clues of mine that I’ve narrowed down unfortunately both fall foul of point 5 – one has “first of…”, the other “head of…” (both as deletions rather than components of the solution, if that makes a difference). I can see that this technique is often a last resort in clue-writing, but has Azed ever specified a dislike? He certainly uses it himself, and I’ve seen VHCs that use it.

        Another point that I would add: your clue must chime with whether it’s an Across or Down in Azed’s competition grid – i.e. if you wanted to use ‘heading west’ as a reversal indicator, it wouldn’t work because the clue word is at 9d. I found that out quite late in the day, and maybe it could be added to the competition instructions.

        • Doctor Clue says:

          Thanks, CG

          Excellent point regarding direction in the grid – I’ve incorporated it in the list. I thought twice before including the bit about letter selection indicators, and I’ve significantly changed that point. I have won a prize with a clue containing two letter selection indicators, so no-one should be afraid to use them in a competition clue (particularly in &lits), and a nice, original clue that includes one will do better than an obvious anagram every time. That said, I think that even setters like myself who employ the device frequently accept that it is a very slightly ‘shady’ way of introducing a word into a clue.

      • Tim Coates says:

        Thanks for the advice about clue creation Doc! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while. I’ve only been doing Azed for a couple of years so I’m still trying to work out what makes the difference between a good clue and a great clue. I managed an HC early on in 2021 with a Spoonerism clue but nothing since. I’ve not given up yet!!!
        Is it worth putting these guidelines in a more permanent place (Clinical Data?) so that it can be found more easily in future (not just by me)?

        • Doctor Clue says:

          Thanks, Tim

          I will do as you suggest – I hope that it will provide an opportunity to refine the advice, include examples, and allow anyone who wants to ask questions – or disagree with me! – to do so.

          Do persevere with the competition entries (and read each Azed slip) – the results will come. And don’t despair if you feel that your clue was better than some of the published ones – we’ve all been there!

          Doc C

  3. Daron Fincham says:

    Thanks ! I would never have cracked the code word without your hint.

  4. Steve says:

    I haven’t checked but I have the impression that previous Playfair puzzles had 6 playfair clues, but each had two pairs of letters from other clues. That gave 12 pairs of letters rather than the 8 pairs in this one. Is that correct? I wonder if that’s the reason that I found it much harder to get the code word this time?

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Eight complete pairs is pretty standard in Azed Playfairs, but usually in just four words, normally running in the same direction in the grid (typically 2×6 letters and 2×8) – eight intersecting encoded answers is a novelty. It seemed to me that the pairs were not the most helpful (TU->EL and LE->UT, for instance), and the lack of any alternative route to the code word meant that the difficulty of the code cracking was way out of whack with the difficulty of solving the clues.

  5. Hermano says:

    I groaned when I saw this week’s offering.

    Does/did anybody actually enjoy Playfair puzzles (apart from possibly the late E. Morse)?

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Yes, it seems that they do, although I have a strong suspicion that the groaners (including you and me) outnumber the grinners.

      You might find this thread from last year on the Crossword Centre’s discussion group interesting.

      • Hermano says:

        Thanks, but it’s bad enough trying to complete them without reading debates re. their worthiness.

        • Doctor Clue says:

          Ha! Fair point, but it does show that there are still Playfair aficionados out there.

          I actually thought Azed had struck a reasonable balance in his recent Playfair puzzles by incorporating an additional route to the code word/phrase, eg for DOUBLE-PARKING all the answers to be encoded included ‘PP’, but unless I’ve missed something there was no such assistance provided to solvers here.

          • Crossguesser says:

            I’m glad you’ve implied there’s no hidden pointer to the code word in this one, because I thought I was missing something. I suppose the length of the word makes it easier to deduce, but I’m never 100% confident I have the right word with these. And then there’s the nagging feeling that I have the unchecked pairs in 1a, 32a, 8d & 19d transposed because I wasn’t concentrating on the word square, and there’s no way of fully parsing them.
            It would have made an appropriate code word for a combined Playfair/Right & Left puzzle – if that’s even possible. 🤔

            • Doctor Clue says:

              Oh yes, like Eric Morecambe I get the right letters, but not necessarily in the right order. For anyone planning to submit the puzzle, there are encoders available online like this one (remember to select ‘Replace J with I’). As a quick check, the first letters of the four unchecked pairs spell out TOFF.

              • Crossguesser says:

                Thank you – TOFF matches for me, and I’ve bookmarked from your link.
                All I need to do now is write a mediocre clue and think of a better one after I’ve posted it. 😀

                • Doctor Clue says:

                  …or to think of a reasonably serviceable clue and then submit a grossly inferior one – why would anyone do that 😉