Cryptic Crossword 19,284

So, welcome to a new category on this blog, called "A Molecular Mixture of Angry Lexemes", in which I'll be attempting to teach whoever cares to stumble by how to solve cryptic crosswords.

Why? Because I can. It's my blog.

I'll be using the Sydney Morning Herald crossword mostly, but may occasionally solve some others along with readers. I do the SMH cryptic daily, but on weekends I try to at least dip into the SMH, Sun Herald and Weekend Australian (Times) crosswords. Usually I won't dissect the entire crossword, because the solution alone usually takes me around 20 or so minutes, and blogging will triple or quadruple that time, but if it's an interesting puzzle, I might run through most of the clues. I'll be solving and blogging throughout the day, mostly on tea breaks and lunch, which means the post may be published as late as close of business. Or, if I've been a smart cookie, lunchtime.

If you missed the paper in question, you can sometimes find them archived on the newspaper site or, in an old paper. I do usually keep scans. Aussie copyright law allows me to use scans for educational and research purposes, so if you email me I should be able to send you a copy without breaking any rules. If you're stuck with something, feel free to ask. I'm not an authority, but I've been doing cryptics for about 15 years now on and off. I might be able to help.

Today's crossword is 19,284, set by "EP" and published today, 7 Feb 2011.

So, this being the first post, let's look at fundamentals, then I'll do a complete walkthrough of the crossword as I (try to) solve it. Later editions might only have partcularly juicy clues or interesting digressions.

Grab your copy of the SMH and play along.

Cryptic crosswords baffle many people, but in fact have an underlying logic which a keen (and practiced) mind can tease out from the opaque and seemingly nonsensical nature of the clues. If you're a beginner, or a bit rusty, or simply tasting a crossword from an unfamiliar setter, the biggest hurdle can often be in cracking your first clue.

My usual method is to start at the beginning and read each clue, scanning for obvious "tells"; that is to say, keywords that hint at what type of solution we're looking for. Once I find something which looks solvable, I give it a go, but not for long at the early stages. You're looking for easy wins at this point, not a perfect score.

I also usually take my pen and overscore the boxes with multiple-word answers, to visually divide them. So a 7,3 clue will get a darkened line between letters 7 and 8. This won't necessarly help immediately, but will certainly help your visual memory once some letters start to get filled in.

A final note, if you're a beginner you might want to start in pencil, because you will make mistakes. I used to pencil clues I was unsure of, then ink them once I had cross-clues solved. These days I just use a pen.

So, off we go, scan scan scan. And first out of the gates... today's crossword has an easy solution to 1a, which is a synonym clue.

1. Show that the genius is Australian (6,2,2)

In this case, show is a hint word. We're looking for an overall solution that fits the description of "a show", and in expanding the remaining part of the clue, "the genius is Australian", we can make a safe bet that one of the two-letter words is "Oz". This should lead in short order to the solution "Wizard of Oz", wizard being a synonym for genius. And the overal solution fits the hint word "Show", in the sense of a stage production.

So this is the basic synonym clue, taking meanings and finding classic thesaurus matches for them to build our answer.

So far , so good. But how did I figure that out? Well, sometimes in more complex clues, you'll need to examine each word in the clue to try and figure out if it's the hint word or not. Often a hint word will lead the clue, but for some clue types, it'll end the clue, and for other more devious clues which mix types together, it could be anywhere.

So, we've filled in 1a. This gives us a neat opportunity with 6d, because 6d starts with a "z". There aren't that many "z" words in the lexicon, so we've got a good start here.

6d A dozen somehow were divided into different tracts (5)

So by spotting that this begins with "z", as does dozen, I can guess that this is an anagram. Five letters, so I only need include dozen with no extra words from around it. Zoned fits the bill, and also matches the definition phrase "were divided into different tracts". "somehow" is the hint that we're looking at an anagram.  A straightforward clue and on to the next.

From here I go back to scanning for low-hanging fruit since there's nothing with more than one letter pre-filled. 2d is an obvious spot to head to, and it starts with an "I".

2d Some manage to take a big look at the eskimo hut (5)

This one is pretty straightforward and a good example of another common clue strategy, the hidden word. The trick is to hide one word inside one or more other words. Part of the clue will hint at what that word means, the other will be devised solely as camoflauge for the target word. In this case, we're looking for an eskimo hut.

If you look at the clue again, you'll see it hiding away in there

2d Some manage to take a big look at the eskimo hut (5)

Great. Three clues down in the all-important upper section of the puzzle. Back to scanning. Often at this stage, there'll be relatively easy clues in other areas of the puzzle, without any letters pre-filled. It can be productive to attack these early on and get as many cross-letters in as possible. One that catches my eye is

15a A form of opera in the outdoors (4-3)

We're looking for a hyphenated phrase. Form suggests to me that the solution may be an anagram, since I would use the letters of one word or phrase to form another. So the answer is either opera-related, or related to the outdoors, most likely the latter, from the phrasing. A quick glance shows that opera in can be re-jigged to form open air, a synonym for outdoors. Another one down, and it opens a path to the bottom half of the puzzle. Back to scanning, there's still low-hanging fruit!

20d Not many can create a word which is opposite in meaning (7)

Another anagram, judging by the can create a word phrasing. In fact, a word which is opposite in meaning is an antonym, which is an anagram of not many. This is a textbook example of the way you can sometimes solve the same type of clue from two different directions. You may find the anagram word first, spot an outcome and then match it to the descriptive part of the clue, or you may use the descriptive part, find its answer and match it to the anagram.

It's also a useful note -for this kind of clue, one half of the clue will always confirm the other half. There may be an anagram and a definition, which when solved will reconcile. If they don't, that's an indication you've got something wrong.

So with antonym, I've reached the bottom edge of the puzzle, so I've now got plenty of clues with one or more letters filled. I also still have some relatively easy low-hanging fruit left. For instance

23d The medal could be a drawback (5)

Not immediately obvious, this one, but a good example of a type best decribed as "reversed hidden word". I started by asking myself what other words might describe a medal. Well, one might be award, and I can see ward hidden backwards in drawback, and back is a giveaway word. There's an a nearby, too. So the clue, in essence, expands out to a + ward.

This gives us access to 23a

23a Pete's piano can be used by people assigned to particular positions (10)

One dead giveaway in anagram clues is strange words or word clusters with a letter count matching that of your target word. Pete's piano, for instance, is an odd phrase, and it has ten letters, so I'm led to believe that this is an anagram. Our previous clues show that the answer starts with a and has a t in position 7. People assigned to particular positions might be appointees. Checking off letters against Pete's piano, we can see a good fit. Appointees it is.

Which gives us an e as the first letter of:

24d City in western Germany sometimes sends other material (5)

We've already had one of this type of clue today. It's Essen, a German city hidding in sometimes sends.

So the crossword is starting to look healthy with nine clues done, but there are still plenty of low-hanging peaches to pluck, and here's a nice one to explain.

22a The original has a health-centre with a first-class, but short amount of a type of powder (4)

Now, this one I'll explain backwards, for clarity's sake. The answer is talc. Why?

Well, there are a few key giveaways in the text. Let's break it up a bit.

The original |  health-centre |  first-class | short amount of a type of powder

  • The original, in this case, implies the first letter of the. T
  • Health-centre implies the middle letters of health, so, AL
  • First-class implies the first letter of class, so C

Strung together, these are talc, so an abbreviation, or short amount, of a type of powder, talcum.

Long clues with short answers are often this kind of build-it-letter-by-letter solution, but not always.

18d The French court says you're to give a talk (7)

Solving talc gave us c as a third letter here on 18d, and it gave me an ideal time to explain a common type of clue.

When a clue says the french, it'll often mean there's the phoneme or letter-cluster within the clue LE, "le" being the in French. It may also apply to la, or it may apply to other commonly-known languages, often spanish (el) but also german (der or das).

So we think the first two letters are le or la. Court is often shortened to ct, which first with the c we found earlier. Says you're suggests to me a homophone (or sound-alike) of you're. So we get le-ct-ure.

The bottom half of the grid has really opened up now, so let's speed through a couple more.

27a Pass initially before the French Father (4)

Pass initially means first letter of pass, and ere is an archaic word for before. So we're looking at p+ere, pere, the french for father.

25a The account for the clergyman is completely correct (8)

Account can be shortened to a/c. A curate is a type of clergyman, giving us accurate. Abbreviation + synonym, a common clue form.

Now 14d has been opened wide, with three letters crossing it: A, C and E in positions 5,7 and 9.

14d Can each naval manoeuvre produce a sudden onrush of a mass of snow etc? (9)

Each naval manoeuvre is clearly our anagram cluster here (manoeuvre meaning movement and so implying an anagram), and we're looking for a word for a sudden onrush of snow. You should already have this in your head: It's avalanche.

Now the bottom left corner is looking quite well filled, but let's complete it a little more

17a Recovers from the demonstrations etc (7)

This is a straight homonym, or a word with two different meanings. Both meanings will be expressed in the clue, as in this case. To rally can mean to recover, or can mean a demonstration or protest, so it's rallies.

There's another clue now with three letters pre-filled.

28a Leave the people to initially create a branch of a government organisation (10)

We have D, M and N at positions 1, 7 and 9. Quick explanation:

Leave | the people | to initially | branch of a government organisation


By now, there's a lot of the bottom half filled.

21d Maintenence and financial support (6)

Another homonym, but a much simpler one this time, given we have P,E and P filled. Upkeep is both the act of maintenance, and a payment made for same.

Things are getting a bit trickier, so I'll head back to the top half and see if we can find something good there

8d A child will hesitate to become cold like and old English prime minister (9)

I have to admit, I like this one. It works as a phonetic pun as well as a crossword clue. Become cold cracked it for me. Chill. Add a hesitation or stutter and you get ch-chill, or Churchill. It also works abbreviating child to ch and adding ur as a phoneme for hesitation. Errrrr.

This adds a U to the N we already have in 10a:

10a A second-place competitor may pull out a type of bean (6-2)

The second word starts with U, so I think it's up. A runner bean is a type of bean, and a runner-up is second-place. Solved.

In this rough area we also get:

12a Hit with some footwear (4)

Anyone who read comic-books as a kid can't fail to spot this homonym. It's sock.

 Now, to 7a and 7d.

7a Get rid of the bag (4)
7d Let it stand, boy; It's a man's hat (7)

7a is fairly simple, another homonym - sack for a bag and the act of firing, or getting rid of, staff.

7d, though, is slightly trickier, unless you know a little about publishing. A stet is a printer's mark used to signify "let it stand". Add to this son, for boy, and we get a man's hat. A stetson.

It's going pretty well.

3d With regard to a mainstay - it's large (7)

I actually solved this a few clues ago, but forgot to fill it in. Silly me. Let's dissect the clue.

With regard to | a mainstay | it's large

Working backwards,

  • when a crossword clue says "it's large", often it will signify an abbreviation for large. XL is not used in many words, but OS, oversize or outsize, is.
  • A mainstay could be a prop
  • Apropos means "with regard to"

11a now has three letters available.

11a Kangaroo's reaction to anger? (7,3)

How would a kangaroo react when angry? He'd be hopping mad of course. Ho ho! These crossword compilers really are shining wits.

Only seven clues to go.

5d Assemblies are used for a university to use a manuscript (6)

Some abbreviations here. University often means there's a U in the word. Manuscript often means MS, both well known abbreviations. Are used for, well, obviously enough, that's for. Forums. Another word for assemblies.

Towards the end of a crossword you might feel you're on a roll. Perhaps you are. More likely, especially if you're a beginner, you've used up all the low-hanging fruit and are left with the hardest clues. By now you'll probably have read each clue several times. Fear not. A little effort will get you there.

13a Set out in an orderly fashion for a military officer (7)

Easy if you know that "marshal" is a verb as well as a noun. It is both a military rank and the act of setting in order.

4d Free from a pledge and unfasten (9)

Again, a synonym -based clue. The answer is disengage - when you unfasten, you disengage, and an engagement is a pledge. So to free from a pledge might be to disengage. No-one said it had to be pefectly grammatical.

26a He sounds as though he's not joking (6)

Bit of a red herring here, I think. Sounds as though often means you're looking for a homophone, a sound-alike. But in this case you're not. You're after an anagram, of he's not. The answer is honest. Tricksy. I'm not 100% on this one, but let's see how we go.

9a Fears can occur from almost all weapons (6)

I found this one a little tricky. I was pretty sure that the almost all fragment meant that "al" would be there somewhere. But it took me a while, oddly, to connect weapons to arms and make alarms. Which, once you've seen it, is simple.

And then there were two. And two tasty clues they were indeed.

19a Can't be a celebrity (7)

16d Sometimes I prefer to overcharge (9)

.... and I'm almost tempted to leave these as an exercise to the reader. But I shall soldier on.

16d I believe to be plenisher, from the same root as replenish, to refill. to fill or refill is to charge. as in "please charge your glasses". It's a litle tenuous but it's all I'm having trouble finding a better match.

This then leaves me somewhat high and dry for 19a. Tenable, perhaps?

Well, that's what I have. 16d could be publisher, but I'm not sure how overcharge fits in. Likewise planisher, someone who finishes wood, especially for furniture, might fit. But they don't have any link to overcharge that I can see.

Tenable is, in a sense, believable or defensible. Celebrities are, generally, considered an unattainable or glamourous set, so perhaps get the unbelievable bit? Again, a shaky link, but I'm having trouble getting anything that's a better fit.

This often happens in cryptic crosswords. Your last one or two answers will be a problem fit. Sometimes a crossword will just finish elegantly and quickly. Othertimes you may struggle to finish or not finish at all. The only recourse is to come back tomorrow when the solution is published and see where you went wrong.

So that's it. A complete(ish) walkthrough of how I attacked the SMH cryptic crossword. I'll try to do the same tomorrow, but perhaps this time I'll only post the most interesting of the clues and perhaps find some readers to solve as we go.

Cheers! Or, Revolutionary hesitates while toasting (6)

Update: three clues were wrong in the above solution. I suspected I'd gone wrong with the last few. 26a was where uncertainty crept in (as you'll note in the text), and I should have gone back over it, as that was where it fell apart. The actual answer was ernest. 16d was an anagram, profiteer. 19a was a compound, notable.

Which I guess is an opportunity for a note. You will get answers wrong, and you will struggle to make them work sometimes. But that's part of the fun.

posted @ Monday, February 7, 2011 6:21 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Cryptic Crossword 19,284

Left by Andy at 2/9/2011 12:13 PM
So where's the article - or is this intro a cryptic clue? Or am I not paying attention and missing the obvious?

# re: Cryptic Crossword 19,284

Left by Andy at 2/9/2011 12:18 PM
Derp! Found it. Don't know where it came from though. Need sleep. Sorry.

# re: Cryptic Crossword 19,284

Left by Jonathan at 2/19/2011 12:29 PM
Thank you for this! It's amazing how just reading through your process has helped me get my brain right into the rhythm of the cryptic crossword.
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