In the sample clues below, the links take you to explainers from our beginners series. The setter’s name often links to an interview with him or her, in case you feel like getting to know these people better.
Not the news in clues
Writing today, not knowing what we will wake up to on Monday morning when you might read this, I feel that these pages – which often begin with topical allusions – are probably best used as an alternative to current affairs. It was a similar feeling two years ago. So, some recommendations: first, a puzzle celebrating an anniversary.
If a puzzle starts to allude to something, it’s worth checking to see whether there’s more hiding in the grid. That goes double if the edges of the grid look like Sticklebricks, as in Philistine’s sweary message of 2019. It goes triple if the setter is Gaff, who, as we learned in our Q&A, is fond of themes and anniversaries. So after this clue …
22a Fixed fees to end a novel (4,2,4)
[ definition: title of a novel ][ wordplay: anagram of (“fixed”) FEESTOENDA ]
… for EAST OF EDEN, we spot more from the same author, born 120 years ago:
Likewise, it’s easy enough to spot some of the thematic names in Brummie’s puzzle with this clue …
10a One wearing jumper to show lover (5)
[ definition: lover ][ wordplay: synonym for “one” inside (“wearing”) an animal that jumps (“jumper”) ][ ME inside ROO ]
… for ROMEO, but there is much more:
I’m sure I’ve missed some. As with all the Guardian’s prize puzzles, there is an annotated solution that dissects every clue.
2,595 and counting
You can trace the origins of the cryptic crossword back to the Observer of the 1920s. Space was made in the paper, filled for 13 years by Torquemada, another three decades by Ximenes … and the remaining 50 years – week in, week out – by the remarkable Azed:
The Observer’s three compilers form a sort of Socrates-Plato-Aristotle of cryptic crosswords … Torquemada essentially invents the form, Ximenes codifies it and Azed perfects it.
It’s the perfect time to try those weekend crosswords with no black squares. Here’s our intro; here’s our Meet the Setter with Azed; here’s a solvers’ community and here’s the Observer piece in which the quote above – from setter/solver John Finnemore – appears.
Nutmeg is typically evocative in her clue …
3d Obsessive leading lady departs in state (5)
[ definition: obsessive ][ wordplay: abbrev for the Queen (“leading lady”) & abbrev. for “departs” (eg on a timetable), both inside (“in”) abbrev for an American state ][ ER & D, inside NY ]
… for NERDY, a word which unlike “geeky” has not been widely reclaimed, perhaps because of its uglier sound. Some have suggested that NERD came about when someone said “drunk” backwards to disguise their meaning. Guesses that a word might be backslang tend to be wishful thinking; certainly NERD reached many more eyes and ears in 1950 when it appeared in If I Ran the Zoo by the man who pronounced his name differently to everyone else, Dr Seuss:
And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo
And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!
The rest of Seuss’s coinages above have, sadly, not entered the lexicon; although others have. In 1953, he recalled receiving a dollar from a reader whose toddler had spilled Merthiolate (an antiseptic) on the living-room rug, insisting that – just like in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back – the problem could be remedied using Voom.
If Seuss was out of Voom, the correspondent went on, she would take a dollar’s worth of Oobleck, the substance in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, which lives on in classrooms as a name for the mixture of cornflour and water used by teachers to explain non-Newtonian fluids to primary school children with stains on their jumpers. Seuss’s other great gift to the language is the subject of our next challenge: reader, how would you clue GRINCH?
Many thanks for your clues for GRIMP, an unbeautiful word you wouldn’t be surprised to see in the title of a Seuss story.
I tend to agree with PeterMooreFuller’s remark “with a word like this I really think you have to give the letters somehow in the wordplay”, the solver needing crossing letters too.
Thank you for persevering, especially to our runners-up, Etymon’s kind “Black Prince’s mount, long put out to grass” and Dunnart’s clever “Climb undertaken by procession of pilgrims?”; the winner is Albery’s even kinder “Starts to generate rhythm in musical’s pentatonic scale”.
Kludos to Albery. Please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.
A question: our collaborative playlist Healing Music Recorded in 2020-22 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to has featured, for a long time, the comforting sight of music being made and shared under various levels of pandemic restrictions. It was renamed twice as two Januarys came and went: is there any enthusiasm for its continuing?
I have not been in for a while but I’m always glad to see that the crossword Zoom sessions from Paul are ongoing.
Clue of the fortnight
It took me a while to see that “score” is the definition …
5d Add up 1 + 100 to get score (5)
[ definition: score ][ synonym for ‘add’ spelled backwards (“up”), then Roman numerals for “1” & “100” ][ SUM backwards, then I & C ]
… in Qaos’s clue for MUSIC – and, as with the examples we opened with, there’s more going on in the puzzle.
Find a collection of explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs at alanconnor.com
The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop