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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Crossword roundup: puzzles, dementia and ‘brain fog’ | Crosswords

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.

The news in clues

The story that keeps on giving on the doorsteps of crosswordland appears in a collection of three linked clues from Tees …

1/5a Bad girl at ease dancing round piano in 27 20 events? (7,7)
[ wordplay: synonym for “bad” + anagram of (“dancing”) GIRLATEASE containing (“round”) musical abbrev. for “piano” ][ ILL + EGALARTIES containing P ][ definition: events in the location referenced in clues 27 and 20 ]

27/20a Quickly necking booze, setter vandalised 3 hub (7,6)
[ wordplay: synonym for “quickly necking booze” + anagram of (“vandalised”) SETTER ][ DOWNING + STREET ][ definition: 3d is GOVERNMENT, so government hub ]

12a Penalty for attending 1A 5A in 27 20? Well! (4)
[ double definition ]

… for ILLEGAL PARTIES, DOWNING STREET and FINE. Only time will tell if Keir Starmer’s beer fires the public imagination enough to produce such a flurry of clues.

A marvellous puzzle and its pagemates

“Welcome to another great puzzling Sunday” proclaims the masthead of the Sunday Telegraph’s puzzle section, and it’s fair to say the paper leads the field in enticement: eight pages of beautifully laid out puzzles …

… including the peerless Enigmatic Variations crossword, which has provided me with much comfort and amusement over the past couple of years (beginners are directed to this piece).

I can’t think why the paper would consider losing this series, which passed the 1,500 mark last year. I’m reminded of the moment in 1998 when the Telegraph decided that its cryptics were to be assembled by computer. The response was not favourable and the human setters returned to their normal work. Speaking on behalf of the paper, Boris Johnson said that: “In spite of the advantages the computer possesses, the machine has been condemned for a fatal lack of soul” and setter Roger Squires celebrated with a clue …

Submit to pressure and return to base (9)
[ double definition ]

…for CLIMBDOWN. Fingers crossed.

Puzzling elsewhere

You might recently have been sent articles about how those of us whose 2022 brains feel foggy must do more crosswords. We’ve talked here before about the odd phenomenon whereby some psychological research not involving crosswords is published, and then press coverage or a press release tells us specifically that crosswords prevent dementia or similar.

It’s happening again! Here’s the feelgood piece with the usual “A recent review study provided five ways to improve baseline brain health … crossword puzzles, math problems …” etc. And here’s the study itself, which goes out of its way to say, about a link between “cognitively stimulating activities and brain health”, that …

Unfortunately, this hypothesis still has yet to be demonstrated.

… and which mentions crosswords precisely zero times.

Funnily enough, there is a link to a recently published puzzle which is probably the oddest crossword you’ll ever solve. Here it is, from the journal BMC Medical Education. It has a theme, namely the role of anticoagulants in cardiovascular therapy; the even more interesting bit is that the puzzle was created for research into whether medical students found the subject “more enjoyable” when crosswords were involved, rather than looking at the puzzles’ effect on their brains.

Naturally, they did: a reminder that you don’t need a pretext to puzzle. The enjoyment (along with the occcasional frustration) is the reward.

In the meantime, let’s join in by making our next challenge a word that might be an answer in that niche puzzle: reader, how would you clue ANTICOAGULANT?

Cluing competition

Many thanks for your clues for DODDLE. The audacity award goes to Catarella for the impressively protracted “Three daughters, the first two claiming love, their father a king abdicating? That’s easy” and I enjoyed the collegiate chat around JasCanis’s apt “Minister cuts welfare as easy option”.

The runners-up are Sheamlas’s not-unaudacious “One turning round in stiff breeze” and Lizard’s sly “Picnic party crowd ultimately led astray?”. The winner is Thepoisonedgift’s pleasingly revised “It’s easy to get led astray imbibing rum”.

Kludos to Gift. Please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.

Clue of the Fortnight

As often happens, we end with a clue in which most of the words appear to be doing something very different to their real intent. Nutmeg shows us her trademark sleight of hand in this clue …

24a Fluid feeder we left on patio ultimately getting drier (3,5)
[ wordplay: synonym for “fluid feeder”, then WE (“we”) + abbrev. for “left” next to (“on”) last letter of “(“ultimately”) PATIO ][ TEAT, then WE + L next to O ][ definition: drier ]

… for TEA TOWEL.

Vale Shed

Finally, a goodbye to the inimitable Shed. The Guardian archive has over 200 of his puzzles going back to 1999 (he first set for the paper in 1984) and I fondly recall this exchange in 2012:

How do people respond when you tell them you’re a crossword setter?
“A what?”

And if you weren’t a crossword setter, what would you be?
Even grumpier than I am.

Do read the whole thing and this obituary by Guardian crossword editor Hugh Stephenson.

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

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