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Diabolically Arcane

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Crosswords emerged 100 years ago. Cluetopia is one mad time-trip from jails to jungles, in search of the best crossword stories.


30 September, 2014

Flounder sur le plat

8-ounce wagyu beef patty burger and hand-cut fires

Tender chick breast in a rich marsala sauce with button mushrooms

Rustic apple galette with fresh cream 

Sorry if I'm making you drool, but this wordbook has made me think about devising a clue that reads like a menu excerpt. Can we do it? Oui we can: 

APPRENTICE = Pie with pecan nuts and tastier crust  

LETTUCE = Cooked cutlet with eggplant topping  

SUGAR = Big chunk of asparagus folded back

What MasterChef among us can concoct the perfect clue - one to make us congratulate and salivate in one sitting? Choose any word or name you like as starting point, so long as the clue speaks menuese. Start plating, people.

Salon 46 - Menu-Speak

29 September, 2014

Beware the restaurant whose menu mentions paddock, grass-fed, moghrabieh or exotic. (While the cheaper eateries will cite adjectives like delicious, real and crunchy.)

Currently reading The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky, and it's scrumptious. Did you know a drinking toast and toasted bread are related? So too macaroni and macaroon? Or the less choice you have at the table, the more you can expect to pay. I'm only up to Chapter 2, Entree, but can commend the feast - lucid, erudite and fascinating. (Watch out for a foodie Storm tomorrow.)

Before then, a conundrum: Can you mix a common 5-letter word, and tag the new combo after M to make an antonym of your first word? (As a clue, most letters involved occur in the alphabet's second half.) Will offer more clues if it's too tough.

Any more takers on the Radio Storm idea from last week? I'll be announcing the prize for best brainwave on Tuesday. 

And of course, if you happen upon a fine crossword, from the Times, the G, or elsewhere, then do share the love right here. Get a wordy week under your belt.

WoW: Drawcansir

29 September, 2014

DRAWCANSIR - blustering bully; blowhard relying on swagger and Dutch courage [From such a character, Sir Draw-can-sir, in George Villiers' 1671 play, The Rehearsal] Late on weekends, Kings Cross suffers a plethora of Drawcansirs.

Marcel Stupor & Co [BB479]

28 September, 2014

We’ve wangled a dozen surnames to create new identities. Dazed French novelist, say, is Marcel Stupor (Proust), while Nutty UK actor is Gary Almond (Oldman). Yes, you may recognise the recipe from a folly forum, but can you nail these renovated names? 

1. Boring UK traveller

2. Agile Spanish painter

3. Flatulent Oz volleyer

4. Sharper UK spyman

5. Balanced UK PM

6. Amorous UK PM

7. Abrasive US vampirist

8. Restless US actor

9. Kempt Oz singer

10. Rising Irish poet

11. Milky French designer

12. Incisive Oz novelist


BB478 SOLUTION: Key verbs are put, break, stand, settle, shake, back, dress and let.

Radio Storm

26 September, 2014

Wanna win a prize? This week's folly is more a think tank. As summertime radio looms, I've been asked to conjure some puzzly ideas for the airwaves. In general, I reckon, too many quizzes or puzzles neglect the audio element. So what are some ideas blending sound and mind-games?

The challenges can have set answers, or creative answers. The level can be easy, or gnarly. Of course, there can be plenty of chat, spoken clues etc, but what are some recipes that maximise sound-grabs, archives, sample clips, voices, sound FX....?

Nothing is too outrageous, as this is suggestion time. I know this may feel like bringing my work to the picnic, but I'd love your input, your genius, your deviance. And to express that love, a damp squid to the best idea. That's a book prize by the way, Damp Squid, a wonderful read all about mangled English by Jeremy Butterfield.

Speak up. I'm listening - and thanks as always.

Brownlow List With A Twist

23 September, 2014

Roll out the carpet. Pick out the tux. Pop the Berocca. It's time to tweak those Brownlow Boys - crafting clues for some of the top vote-getters in the 2014 season. No call for definition, of course, just some sleek wordplay to catch the umpire's attention.

Here's the list below. Do your worst. (And may the best team do the Goodes on Saturday too. Or at the very least, let's hope for a nail-chewer.) Go crazy:

Matt Priddis

Nat Fyfe

Budddy Franklin 

Travis Boak 

Patrick Dangerfield

Josh Kennedy 

Joel Selwood

Trent Cotchin

Brent Harvey

Dayne Beams

WoW: Latitudinarian

22 September, 2014

LATITUDINARIAN - Permitting or marked by freedom of attitude or behaviour, esp in religious matters [From Latin, latitudo, breadth. Coined in 1600s in contrast to the strict Trinitarian mindset] Citizens with a pray-let-pray attitude to all religions should be given a latitudinarian option on census forms.

Ups & Downs [BB478]

21 September, 2014

If arrive/duel = SHOW UP/SHOWDOWN, can you solve these other up/down pairs? Be warned, the sequence may be down/up or up/down. (And can you add any more 'rollercoaster double', using the up/down ending...or opening?)

Note - the best pairs use two fresh senses, rather than uptown/downtown say, or talk up/down. Time to get down to solving:

1. snub/erect

2. divorce/collapse

3. resign/jilt

4. pay/marry maybe

5. agitate/scam

6. withdraw/support

7. glamorise/berate

8. ease/bummer


BB447 SOLUTION: Fran/c (ex-France), penn/y (ex-Ireland), kin/a (New Guinea), doll/ar, guild/er (ex-Netherlands), cope/ck (Russia), ran/d (RSA), bah/t (Thai), Colo/n (Panama), din/ar (Iraq etc), satan/g (Thai), hell/er (Czech Republic)

Huh 45

19 September, 2014

No folly this week. (I think MonKeys is filling that niche.) But a bunch of Huh clues that have been bugging me lately. If anyone can throw light on how these bad boy operate, I'd be in your debt. (And doubly impressed if you can conjure a clue for any of these same answers.)  

1. Homer, for one, used very little Greek, finally shunning it = SIMPSON [Times 10020]  

2. Cheers up when visited by one's relative = AUNT [Same puzzle.  I get the TA reversed, but don't we need an exotic marker for UN?]  

3. A posh lady, darling = ANGEL [Sunday Times 909]  

4. Having confined space, tear-gas a nuisance = MENACE [Times 10041]  

5. Dupe about to get tungsten instead of uranium is made to look small = DWARFED [Times 10025]  

6. Subject to search out mostly in a place dons gather = SCOUR/SPOOR? [Times 10034. As you can see, I'm only guessing off the plan, with 3 cross-letters.]  

7. Out of ministry, one inspiring run for presiding officer = MODERATOR [Imogen]  

8. Budge had fine one back in thirty-four = FOREHAND [ST 907. Is this just a reference to tennis player Don Budge, or am I losing my grip?]


16 September, 2014

Right now I'm hip-deep in riddle research. And one common riddle style is what I call the MON-KEY type. You know them too well:  

What key eats bananas? A monkey  

What uncle is underfoot? A carbuncle

A variation on the formula is a little looser in the spelling. The gag is the same, but the payoff has a homophone element: 

What pony is sweet? Mascarpone  

What teller is schmoking hot? A panatella  

So now let's make our own - the strict or the sonic. Be careful of the Liberace Trap, where a muscial race is not a Liberace, as the sound fails. But a valuable dart (objet d'art), or belligerent debtor (vendetta) is fine. Name and number your originals. We can keep them succinct - like below. And let's avoid the far-too-fertile ANTs and NATIONs, to name but two! Have fun.

DA1 - Lethal lock?  

DA2 - Linguistic thong?

DA3 - Radioactive noble? 

DA4 - High earner?  

DA5 - Eerie strain?  

DA6 - Fertile fate?  

Share your answers, and new mon-key ideas below.

Salon 32 - Teething Pains

15 September, 2014

Sorry for the fits & starts of the last week online. A simple tweak always seems to need a week when it comes to website renovation. Normal spam-free services will resume shortly, with added extras and free air. I hope. Please keep the faith, and the verbal pulse.

Word Question: what do you call an ambiguous cluster such as mungolives (which could be Mungo lives, or mung olives)? You see the curse played out in penisland and kidsexchange. So what's the term?

Conundrum: Mix a four-letter mammal, and place beside another four-letter jumbled mammal to spell a word. (And is this answer unique?)  

Here's the place to share the cream of the Brit clues too. Like the bell-ringer from Qaos last week: I heard dancing about the finale of Fred and Ginger (3-6)  

Have a loquacious week. 

WoW: Serein

15 September, 2014

SEREIN [suh-RAN] - a fine rain that falls after sunset, often with no clouds visible [Middle French - serain, nightfall] One Scot's evening mizzle is another Parisian's serein.

Short Change [BB477]

14 September, 2014

Answers are largely familiar world currencies (some suspended), with one or two letters short. Mr Draper, say, is DON/G (Vietnam). Can you scoff the ‘shortbread’ and ID each nation of origin? And idiom-wise, are there any other word lists out there that warrant a clip or shortening?

  1. RN’s Kelly (4)
  2. Sean of Milk (4)
  3. Rellies (3)
  4. Figurine (4)
  5. Artisan set (5)
  6. Get by (4)
  7. Bled (3)
  8. Cynical snap (3)
  9. NSW river (4)
  10. Racket (3)
  11. Archfiend… (5)
  12. …and his home (4)

BB476 SOLUTION: Gool logo, plied lepid, frees sfere, loft folt, mule’s musel, German merang, reseev severe, denies desine, spaceman campanes



11 September, 2014

A cute idea from a recent Sunday Puzzle on NPR - perfect fun for a pre-emptive Friday Folly. The gimmick salutes echoes, clueing such phrases as Roma aroma, or Peter repeater. Note the spelling doesn't need to be precise, just the sound. Feel free to switch the sequence, though let's adhere to a three-syllable word echoing its two-syllable ending.  

How will you fare with these, a mix of originals and the NPR quiz?  

DA1 - More reasonable sailor (6,8)  

DA2 - Ecuadorean pest (5,8)

DA3 - Rancid librarian (7,5)

DA4 - Gas-powered tool (9,7)

DA5 - Three-wheeled tool (8,6)  

DA6 - Old pope gag? (9,6)

Blab below, with impunity in unity. 

Conundrums R Us

9 September, 2014

Morning dabblers, and welcome to a brand-new DA website. Well, a tighter and tidier forum anyhow, thanks to the new chat host in DisQus. (And thanks for your patience if the upload blocked your access for a while.)

Now, onto puzzly matters. I've discovered a Chicago guy called Sandy Weisz, alias The Puzzler. A lofty moniker, but Sandy fulfils the brief with a great archive of diverse brain-scratchers here. Take a dip and enjoy.  

Two of his wordier teasers that still await solutions are below. Any inklings?  

1.  What geogrpahical trait do all these words have in common? 

  • COOK
  • THIN
  • BINS
  • MOCK
  • SCAD
  • LOAN
  • MAID
  • CULTS  

2.  Take a common English word. Write it in capital letters. Move the first letter to the end and rotate it 90 degrees. You’ll get a new word that is pronounced exactly the same as the first word. What words are these? [There may be two solutions.]  

Any other conundrums - original or imported - you wish to share? You know we love a good mind-melt in the morning. (Share your ideas, breakthroughs and forum feedback below.)

Salon 31 - Letters of Note

8 September, 2014

I'm launching a cool new alphabet book tonight. Two in fact, both enlisting letters as graphic tools to illustrate what the letters spell. Confused, then peek here at Melbourne Style - and you may be more confused! In short, see how bed also outlines itself. So now draw the Eiffel Tower, using the scaffold of EIFFEL TOWER....

Speaking of letters, to answer last week's conundrum, let me introduce you to Eric Gill, sculptor, typeface designer, printmaker and CALLIGRAPHER. As for his notoriety, that will happen if you sleep with your sister, and your pet dog... He was a weird one, but a gifted lettersmith.

As a new conundrum, what word sounds like its opposite? (This won't take the seasoned puzzler too long, as the pair does gets its share of limelight. But is the pair unique? Can you argue other pairs - like pare and pair - that could be viewed as antonyms in certain contexts?)

Thanks to Anthony for the Times tipoff. Mark you diaries - October 6 is a zinger, with a brilliant Nina message too. Meanwhile, your own messages will be newly handled by a website reno today - don't panic. The change will thwart spam, at least, as well as give us new options as forum contributors. So message away, offer feedback, and rejoice or resile from the week's crosswords here. Have a wordy week.

WoW: Moghrabieh

8 September, 2014

MOGHRABIEH - rolled balls of semolina, resembling large couscous [Arabic - 'dish of Maghreb', the region of NW Africa, inc Morocco, Algeria & Tunisia, where Maghreb translates as 'the West'] Last night, for father's day, I had Tassie salmon with beetroot, pumpkin & moghrabieh.

Gnome Moaners II [BB476]

7 September, 2014

If YACHT mimics YOT, then ‘child’s sailboat’ might by TOY YOT. Keeping with phonetic spelling, can you mix the made-over (more logical) version to create the other word?

(From memory, this puzzle was derived from a Friday Folly a year back – but how good is your memory?! Some of these are very tuff.)

  1. Vampire symbol (4,4)
  2. Fed wildcat (5,5)
  3. Releases ball (5,5)
  4. Upstairs defect (4,4)
  5. Smuggler’s ab (5,5)
  6. Black Forest cake (6,6)
  7. Get harsh? (6,6)
  8. Ignores plan (6,6)
  9. Astronaut crusades (8,8)

BB475 SOLUTION: Toy yot, tan nat, fine nife, bom mob, skool looks, depo dope, glee leeg, solem moles


Life of E's

2 September, 2014

When it comes to cluing words with only E as their vowel, you are defenceless. Beseech all you like, but so many standard recipes are out of reach. Anagrams sputter. While charades can struggle too. You often need to turn to puns, or something just as extreme

Let’s see who shows the keenest strength by crafting clues for these seven – or any lengthy word list in this E-list. As you’ll come to realise, inventing wordplay for all-E entries can be helter-skelter.


Pleez freshly render these, or any other lengthy E-term here.

Salon 30 - Spring Clean

1 September, 2014

Come Wednesday this week, the website will have a fresher look, thanks to the team at Liquorice (not to be confused with LiquorLand.) The main difference shall lie in the forums.

Nothing too drastic. More a better means of blocking spam, and allowing all of us more options in terms of responding, or creating threads, or playing watchdog if a problem flares. The new regime is called DisQus and I’ll be glad to hear your responses in the first weeks about how the system is treating you.

For those who like brain-busting conundrums, here are two:

1 – If DETECT = 1x6, JACKET = 2x3, and EQUITY = 3x2, name any word that’s 6x1. (This puzzle stems from US constructor Jeffrey Harris.)

2 – I have in mind a notorious English genius whose surname lies backwards within one of his many professions. Name him.

In the meantime, with The Oz cranking up to $2.50, I’m relieved to have completed the Times Ton. So what say we turn our attention to the G’s gems? Or any other verbal treasures you find. Share’m here.

This month's winner

Well done to Sam for his Emmy makeover in our latest Storm, turning Best Actresses into the best wordplay, and winning a copy of Superstar Crosswords.



Cluetopia roams the planet – and century – to find fresh crossword stories in 30+ languages. From shipwrecks to hoaxes, Cluetopia is a holiday for the head. Buy here.

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Puzzles and Words 2

pocketbook packed with 250 word stories – from Aga to Zemblanity – plus 175 new puzzles for all comers, this is a word nerd’s summer necessity.

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Puzzled combines memoir, wordplay history and a how-to guide for solvers. With bizarre crossword stories, example clues plus mini-puzzles to test your skill – and nerve. Buy here.

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News Wrap

Tune into ABC 774 this Friday [19/9] after 5 for Raf Epstein and I, plus another news junkie, hanging out the week's headlines and singling out the stories.

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