Notes for Azed 2,649

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 2,649 Plain

Difficulty rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

There were very few ‘gimmes’ in this puzzle, and several wordplays which took a bit of teasing out, resulting in the needle on the Difficultometer® getting comfortably past the halfway mark. I might even have rated the difficulty half a notch higher, but on reviewing the clues there didn’t seem to be anything in there that was really tough.

Setters’ Corner: This week I’m going to look at clue 27a, “One just beginning to tuck into tart, one often pressed (8)”. The wordplay here is straightforward, a four-letter word for a beginner or novice being ‘tucked into’ a word for a flat, open tart. What I want to look at here is the definition, ‘one often pressed’. When writing clues, especially for nouns, one should always be on the lookout for definitions which are a little out of the ordinary. In times gone by, the ‘cryptic definition’ clue which did not feature a wordplay was a relatively common feature of crosswords, but such clues do not meet the Ximenean requirement of there being (at least) two ways to arrive at the answer and are now only found in the blocked back-pagers. What I generally refer to as an ‘oblique’ definition is a different matter – this is simply an interesting definition within a normal ‘definition plus wordplay’ clue. Here Azed has taken the dictionary definition, ‘an old-fashioned iron for pressing clothes’,  and made the ‘pressed’ look like an adjective when in fact it is a past tense, reflecting the ‘old-fashioned’ aspect, while the definition actually needs to be read as ‘one often pressed [things]’. Not only can definitions like this legitimately misdirect the solver, they can add a great deal to the entertainment value of a crossword.


1a Funny but arch pop star outselling other discs? (12)
An anagram (‘Funny’) of BUT ARCH is followed by the pseudonym of Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, bus conductor, tax officer and teacher turned pop star. The solution is hyphenated 5-7.

15a Earl left half of spread? Not half! (6, 2 words)
The usual single-letter abbreviation for ‘Earl’ is followed by a five-letter term for the left-hand page of an open book.

17a Maori’s prohibition beginning to unravel after peg (4
The first letter (‘beginning’) of ‘unravel’ follows a word for the sort of peg that might be used to vent a cask of 20d. There is another word which would fit with the crossers but it doesn’t satisfy the wordplay and isn’t consistent with the Maori bit.

23a Task doubled in a long time is building up (8)
A reversal (‘doubled’) of a four-letter northern dialect word for a day’s work or a task is contained by an informal word which Chambers defines as ‘a long time, however short’.

29a Exquisite sound of horn we observed in Scotland (6)
A short blast on a horn is followed by a two-letter Scots form of ‘we’; the ‘observed’ can be ignored.

31a Name sister in love? The opposite (4)
The opposite of a sister in love is love in a sister, so the usual single-letter representation of ‘love’ as Andy Murray knows it is put inside the sort of sister who might live with a childless mother and lots of other sisters.

32a Old musket one of the Gordons fired? (7)
Here we have an anagram (‘fired’) of A GORDON, ie ‘one of the Gordons’.

34a Mosses I see exchanging position in harmony (5)
The single letters represented by ‘I’ and ‘see’ swap positions in a word which Chambers confirms can mean ‘melody or harmony’.


1d Fine fellow nursing limp? He should probably stretch (11)
A charade of a five-letter word meaning ‘fine’, which might be used to describe a marksman, and a mildly whimsical term for a fellow nursing a limp (or for a rope used to hold and lead an animal). Here we have one of those ‘oblique’ definitions, which can also on occasion be used to good effect when tackling a word which is otherwise tricky to define succinctly and/or deceptively – Chambers gives ‘stretch’ as ‘to hang by the neck’ only in a transitive sense, but OED confirms the intransitive form.

2d Sport club, not amateur (7)
The name of a club which opened in 1869, is known for its croquet and tennis lawns, botanical gardens and stately Georgian Clubhouse, and is regarded as the birthplace of polo (the game, not the mint), has a three-letter word meaning ‘amateur’ (as in Tony Hancock’s brief flirtation with amateur radio) removed to produce the name of a sport with Irish roots (completely unconnected with wellie wanging, even if they might appear superficially similar).

4d Bituminous stuff limb in tractor hoisted (6)
A three-letter term for a specific limb is contained by a reversal (‘hoisted’) of the shortened name of a particular type of tractor (or other vehicle) that moves on a continuous track. Although tracked vehicles have evolved considerably during the intervening years, it seems possible that the first vehicle using a continuous track to be publicly demonstrated was the steam plough patented in 1832 by John Heathcoat, a farmer’s son who became MP for Tiverton. Heathcoat was an inventor who had earlier come up with (among other things) a machine which could produce a precise imitation of pillow lace, a fabric which he called ‘bobbin net’, later known as ‘bobbinet’. The equipment in the textile factory which he co-owned in Loughborough was wrecked in 1816 by former Luddites, supposedly in the pay of the Nottingham lace-makers – it seems that he had foreseen trouble, because he already had plans in place to move his business lock, stock and barrel to Tiverton, nearly 200 miles away. Many of his employees relocated with him, at least 100 families being known to have made the journey, and there is apparently still a row of cottages in Tiverton called ‘Loughborough’.

In 1837, representatives of the Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland assembled at Red Moss Bog in Bolton-le-Moors to watch the demonstration of Heathcoat’s steam plough. It was a huge machine, with 7ft sections of wood bolted to continuous iron bands driven by two 10ft diameter drums, 26ft apart. Although it weighed 30 tons, its ground pressure was less than a man’s weight. The society awarded Heathcoat £100 out of a possible £500 of its prize for creating a steam ploughing engine, and the party who witnessed the demonstration ‘expressed to Mr. Heathcoat the extreme pleasure they had received, and their earnest hope that he would extend the sphere of his exertions by applying the invention to the culture of stiff clay.’ There are suggestions that shortly afterwards the machine sank and almost disappeared in a swamp, but such reports are not contemporaneous – the rather more prosaic truth seems to be that issues with the technology and lack of funds simply resulted in the concept being abandoned by its inventor.

5d Dead duck upended among reeds, say, out of sight? (7)
The usual abbreviation for ‘dead’ and a three-letter word for the score of a batsman dismissed for a ‘duck’ are reversed (‘upended’) within a a word which could describe a place where reeds grow – or garden flowers.

7d One of two months wherein to find amphibian with temperature mounting (5)
The wordplay here can get you to the answer in a couple of ways, the intended route probably being to put the four-letter amphibian (an alternative spelling of a three-letter word not infrequently seen in barred puzzles) after the usual abbreviation for ‘time’, the whole lot then being reversed (‘mounting’).

9d You may find estaminet’s upset at this bill item (4)
A composite anagram, where the letters of ESTAMINETS can be rearranged (‘upset’) to form AT plus the answer (‘this bill’) plus ITEM. Note that because this isn’t an &lit, the sort of ‘bill’ that is being referred to in the definition doesn’t need to relate in any way to that implied by the surface reading.

18d Nurse limits returning fuss, result of brain damage? (7)
The three-letter word (probably more commonly seen as a four-letter variant) for a nursemaid in colonial times contains (‘limits’) a reversal (‘returning’) of the sort of fuss that often also involves dance.

24d Magistrate, not standard, neglected character blemish? (6)
The word MAGISTRATE must have a four-letter word meaning ‘standard’ removed (‘not standard’) before the remaining letters are rearranged (‘neglected’).

28d Ne’er-do-well traditionally lost with Latin (5)
The past tense of an obsolete verb meaning ‘to lose’ (ie ‘traditionally lost’) is followed by the usual abbreviation for ‘Latin’; the solution is itself derived from the same verb, and is more familiar to me with an S in the middle rather than an R.

30d Greek coin, old, to toss up (4)
The standard abbreviation for ‘old’ is followed by a reversal (‘up’) of a word meaning ‘to toss’. Many years ago I used to do the Autolycus puzzle in the Birmingham Post, which proved a splendid introduction to the darker reaches of Chambers, and this word appeared on a regular basis, usually being indicated by “Charon’s fee” – it is a very long time since I have seen it defined in that way.

(definitions are underlined)

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2 Responses

  1. Tim Coates says:

    Why is it necessary to reverse a palindrome at 7d? Is “mounting” being used as a positional (in a down clue) rather than a reversal indicator?

    • Doctor Clue says:

      Hi Tim

      It isn’t, which is why I mentioned the possibility of alternative parsings, in particular ‘EVET with T mounting [it]’ (‘mounting’, as you suggest, then being a positional indicator). For that interpretation, it would ideally be ‘mounted’ or ‘surmounting’, but it could be what Azed intended.

      There is of course nothing intrinsically unsound about redundant words in a clue (such as ‘wherein to find’ in this one), but an unnecessary reversal does jar somewhat.