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Diabolically Arcane

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Riddledom is a global, time-hopping romp through the realm of riddles, their secrets & stories. Due to hit the shelves in August. Pre-order here.


Dr J Files

28 July, 2015

Doctor Samuel Johnson was a word hoarder of the first order. His landmark dictionary of 1755, adding up to 2300 pages, has left a lasting impact on English. Though not every word has lasted as long.

For this week's Brainstorm, let's revive some lost Johnson gems, providing both definition and wordplay to any or all of this esoteric set.

ABACIST - one involved in numerical calculations

ARGOL - dried cow dung

CARRIWITCHET - a pun

DEIPNOSOPHIST - expert in the art of dining

FAITOUR - fortune-telling charlatan

GLIFF - passing glance

INSULSE - tasteless

LEPADOID - barnacle-like

MINAUDERIE - flirting

PAPER-STAINER - inferior author

SAGINATE - to fatten an animal

ULTRONEOUS - voluntary

VENTIFACT - object shaped by the wind

ZELOTYPIA - jealousy 

WoW: Gawf

27 July, 2015

GAWF - old grocery slang for a polished, yet inferior, apple [Etymology uncertain, possibly a contraction of 'go for more'] In the grocery aisle, or the singles scene, beware the radiant gawf.

Dinkum Dictionary Notes

24 July, 2015

Just finished reading The Dinkum Dictionary by Susan Butler (2003), filling the crossword silo with new Aussie fodder. In the course of word-gleaning, and column-musing, I came across several curios worth celebrating as conundrums. 

So treat your Friday folly as more a Friday tease. See if you can solve any of these ten Down-Under dilemmas, sharing hints or issuing pleas in the Comments:

1. What well-known tree derives from the Dharug word for fishing line?

2. What iconic native tree stems from Greek for thorn?

3. What native bird owes its name to a Sydney suburb?

4. What other bird gets its name from a meat request, soundwise?

5. What salutation arises from the Dharawal phrase 'may you travel well'?

6. What familiar piece of war slang extends 'sou' - the French coin of least value?

7. What Yolngu word failed to catch on during the 1980s, despite active campaigns to promote the concept?

8. What hair-loss product also means to compete in an Oz-born sport?

9. What lewd term for part of the anatomy derives from an Australian company?

10. What links the Sahara Desert, East Timor, the Avon river and a dillybag?

Share your hints, answers or beseechings below.

Banned Words

22 July, 2015

John Rentoul, chief political hack for The Independent, has been compiling a shame-file of banned words for the last few years, buzz-phrases that have lost their buzz. Shame-file might well be listed in a future edition.

Nonetheless, in his current book, The Banned List (A Manifesto Against Jargon & Cliche), the culprits are familiar, from age-old question to your call is important to us. And other bugbears below.

For this week's Storm, a chance to freshen some stale modernisms. Who can compose the zingiest clues, ensuring a definition element or allsion is included. God speed.

BOOTS ON THE GROUND

COMFORT ZONE

DEATH KNELL

EPIC FAIL

FALSE DAWN

GAME-CHANGER

KICKSTART

LEARNING CURVE

NO-BRAINER

PARADIGM SHIFT

REINVENT THE WHEEL

SILVER BULLET

WOW FACTOR

Enjoy the jaded!

WoW: Onychophagia

20 July, 2015

ONYCHOPHAGIA [on-ee-koh-FEY-uh] - nail-biting, especially when done out of anxiety [Greek onycho - claw + phagia] Reformed smokers are liable to bouts of onychophagia.

Stopovers [BB516]

19 July, 2015

A common word of any length can squeeze between each pair of places to spell a third city or nation. For example, when BAR interposes Jericho-Turkey, you create HOBART across the divide.

Likewise the journey of Hiroshima-India can go via LAW to make MALAWI. Now that you're orientated, can you make the right connections? (And can you add to itinerary?)

1. Cardiff-Celebes

2. Brussels-England

3. Quebec-Odessa

4. Laos-Haifa

5. Tobruk-Ecuador

6. Paris-Niagara

7. Perth-Ontario

8. Durban-Sheffield             

SOLUTION NEXT WEEK

BB515 SOLUTION: Greece, Chile; Laos, Egypt; Ghana, Andorra; Ukraine, Uganda; Kuwait, Israel

Rum Conundrum

17 July, 2015

Last weekend I helped to host a charity version of Letters & Numbers. (Anand Bharadwaj, an inspiring Year 9 student, was the prime mover, and eventual winner of the day as well.) Together we managed to raise over $2200 for UNICEF'S School In A Box project.

With many former champs in action, the highlights were many, from insane maths to desperate anagrams. A good crowd saw the show like 3-D TV, though the day had a few differences from the real thing.

No Richard of course. Or Lily. Both were busy. And no blank tile in the conundrum either. At least that was one twist we were keen to trial, the mixes composed by Scrabble whiz Barry Harridge.

So today, as your Friday folly, I present to you a conundrum batch where you need to add a letter to each block in order to make a nine. VEER MOOD, say, needs L to make VELODROME. See how you fare giving these a spin. (And feel free to concoct oblique hints or cryptic clues instead of blurting the answers.)

1. KEPT FOUL

2. ROOF WEPT

3. WORE LOOM

4. ICED SLAB

5. WADE COIR

6. WEST IDOL

7. NICE RACY

8. DAMN BOIL

9. PINT LOGO

10. RAVE UPON

11. BEAM COIL

12. DREW UPON

Share your hints or cryptic wordplay in the Comments below.

Inviolate

14 July, 2015

Blame Mauve for this Storm idea. The occasional contributor, and inventive cluesmith, recently sent me a batch of clues involving names. One I shared in this week's WoW forum:

Bill Gates driving most erratically (11)

The answer (I eventually twigged) is ADVERTISING, an anagram of GATES + DRIVIN. The straight clue, of course, is Bill. Since that's the challenge at the heart of this week's Storm, to present a name that seems inviolate - a single ironclad unit - which actually needs dividing in the clue's parsing.

Complicated? Mauve was kind enough to send other examples:

Stop Red Symons swimming around New York = SYNONYMY

The class of Elizabeth Taylor, Yardley's original model = ROYALTY

Pat O'Shane ordered wicked cocktail with no ice = SHAKEDOWN

You get the drift. Pick a name where one part can serve a definition role, while the other is implicated in the wordplay. See who can engineer the sweetest split. My start:

Heather Graham originally beyond perverse love = LING

Rusty Crowe ran ragged? = CAREWORN

John Travolta defaced Yankee structure = LAVATORY

WoW: Wheeple

13 July, 2015

WHEEPLE - to whistle weakly [Scottish dialect, imitative of birdsong, sometimes shortened to wheep] Wheepling will nary retrieve ye collie.

Aural Atlas [BB515]

12 July, 2015

Swap each hashtag with a country to make a punny sentence. For example: I need a CUBA sugar to SWEDEN my tea.

As you can hear, the puns are closer to Dad jokes, being approximate sounds more than precise homophones. (Oman, some of these are iffy.) Time to talk Turkey:

1. Tamales ooze # and #

2. That dirty #, # me $20!

3. Students # data to help with an essay # thesis.

4. Being a short voyeur, # and # at the catwalk models.

5. Riled commuters know the longest # for tickets #

Care to extend the atlas? Single-nation sentences are fine.

SOLUTION NEXT WEEK

BB514 SOLUTION: Fitness, bloody, rush, breathing, casting, baggage, rising, sit-down, funk, cellar

Some Like It How?!

10 July, 2015

Hollywood producers are notorious for making last-minute changes, tampering with Act 3 after the test audience scoresheets.

Hence this week's Friday folly is all about final alteration. Pick a pic from any era, a US title or something closer to home, and tweak its last letter to create something new. Then, to seal the deal, deliver the poster's tagline. Some opening bids:

The Fault in Our Stare - Who will blink first?

Wolf Creed - Hunt or be hunted

Moulin Rough - Burlesque sans rulebook

True Grid - Crosswords for the purist

It's A Wonderful Lift - Going up in style

Macquarie Medley

7 July, 2015

For the last 3 weeks I've been a subscriber to the Macquarie's Word of the Day. The service is free - scroll bottom left - and it's always curious to see what random morsel drops on your plate each morning. (Though I'd also lobby for the derivation to be included, if the lexicographers are listening.)

Below is a sampling of the first wave, a departure from the usual obscurity of this blog's Word of the Week. Instead of rhopalic and witzelsucht, Lady Mac has endowed us with ghoul and sojourn, and other grabs below, complete with definitions. 

Question being, can you clue any of these with pizzazz?

MURINE - mouse-like

PORTERGAFF - mixed drink of porter or stout with ginger beer or lemonade

EXORBITANT - exceeding the bounds of custom or reason

PUTTO - representation of a young naked boy, especially as a cherub

BRIC-A-BRAC - assorted objects or ornaments

FUTTOCK - curved timber within a frame or rib of a tall ship

VINIFEROUS - producing wine

SOJOURN - temporary stay

GHOUL - evil demon of Islamic legend

Don't be murine, and produce something fine.

WoW: Rhopalic

6 July, 2015

RHOPALIC [roh-PAR-lick] - a sentence or verse wherein each word is a letter or syllably progressively longer than the last [From Greek rhopalos, a cudgel, being thicker towards the end] An egoistic rhopalic goes this way: I am the best bloke around!

Dad Clues

3 July, 2015

Word nerds, if you haven't met Paul Anthony Jones, then you should. (And that's not Paul waving, by the way.)

Mr Jones is fellow logophile, collector of the quirky and a derivation detetective. You can check out his excellent blog here and take a vocab quiz - along with lots of other distractions.

The same logophile is also a listomaniac, including a recent batch of words all stemming from father. Some seem obvious, while others may come as a surprise. And for this week's Friday Folly, your challenge is to compose a clue for any of these paternalisms. Can you pop up with the grandaddy of them all?

ABBEY

CLEOPATRA

PATRIOTIC

PATRONISE

PERPETRATE

EDUCATOR

COMPERE

JOVIAL

Best of luck, Dads, Mums, Uncles, Aunts and possible parents-to-be...

Quiet Please

30 June, 2015

Rather than clue-crafting this week, let's have fun with a bit of silence. Or at least the call for silence, the universal SH. 

With so much chatter across social media, or the 39 bus to Clovelly, it's only right we insert a call for quiet into any word or name, so creating something new. 

The challenge is more about neologising, rather than turning BLUER into BLUSHER, or any other word into another actual word. For example, RADIO can become RADISHO: Any vegetable eaten with frequency. Just as JOERN SHUTZON designed the self-lcoking door. 

Some lightweight fun, with extra muffling. But who can faSHion the SHiniest?

LASH LAW - Whip-smart lawyers lobby for corporal punishment

FISHRING - A finger variant

DAVID POSHCOCK - Upper-class gigolo

CRUSHELTY - Suffering inflicted as a result of unrequited love

STEAM TRASHIN - Kettle sabotage

WoW: Witzelsucht

29 June, 2015

WITZELSUCHT [VITZ-el-sookt] - insatiable urge to make bad puns, and to laugh at them uncontrollably [German witzeln, to joke, + sucht, addiction] Irrepressible Dads (and crass funeral guests) can fall prone to Witzelsucht.

Clues of Repute 52

27 June, 2015

Big thanks to DC - a regular surfer on the DA website - for salvaging last week's lost post, which reappears below. The problem owed to a quirk in the blog's uploading system, but at least the first batch of brilliant clues has been saved, as well as the original comments attached. All the easier to savour how their wordplay worked, leading to the answers published in Clues of Repute 51, below. Thanks again, DC.

1. Modern poem turned into the opposite (12) [Mudd]

2. So-called lower class (6) [RK in The Big Issue]

3. Victim X's location? (4) [American mage, Henry Hook]

4. Creator of Fantasy Island comic, according to Spooner (6,5) [Puck]

5. I'm off to celebrate narrow football victory? (7) [Picaroon]

6. A couple of presents unlikely to be found? (7) [Times 10131]

7. Freely mix with a Puerto Rican star (7,8) [Boaz]

8. Loveless marriage unlikely to take off (9) [Times 10147]

9. Do successors occupy country, having ousted last PM? (7) [Arachne]

10. Do a runner (7,7) [Sunday Times ??]

Clues of Repute 53

26 June, 2015

A follow-up on last week's Clues of Repute, whose answers are below. Just as before, you face ten tricky and superlative clues drawn from an all-UK party of compilers, their work appearing in the first half of this year.

And once more, I've placed the more difficult towards the back of the list, though this a thronier bunch overall. In short: look before you leap, to quote an old Greek mate of mine. 

1. In brief affairs love reigns, then is ruined (3-8) [Sunday Times 930]

2. La Dolce Vita's awful singer (4,8) [Sunday Times 939]

3. Hit mural? (6) [Hieroglyph]

4. A choice of extremes in perversion? (4) [Paul]

5. Therefore a colour for a rose is rose? (6) [Picaroon]

6. Key copies for jailbreaks, say [Puck]

7. All expectant by the fire [Times 10234]

8. Security guards on duty (9) [Anax]

9. Sally I notice runs to the front (7) [Times 10242]

10. Close to forehand in set against friend (8) [Screw]

LAST WEEK'S ANSWERS: Contemporary, lesson, prey, Walter Mitty, cheerio, nowhere, proxima centauri, uninstall, premier, pageboy haircut 

Aesoperation

24 June, 2015

Just struck me, for all the Brainstorms we've played, all the clues we've crafted, we have seldom strayed into the realm of phrases. 

Maybe there's good reason for that, as this week will discover. The sayings at your disposal all hail from Aesop's Fables - the trite and the true. The list was inspired by a Mental Floss listicle, parading a massive 19 examples. Though I've handpicked a neat dozen, adding a few omissions, each awaiting your treatment.

But please don't rush, as slow and steady wins the race...

CRY WOLF

SOUR GRAPES

LION'S SHARE

NIP IN THE BUD

DOG IN A MANGER

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP

BIRDS OF A FEATHER

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY

FAIR-WEATHER FRIEND

BLOW HOT AND COLD

WOLF IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING

NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

WoW: Risley

22 June, 2015

Risley [RIZZ-lee] - performance in which a supine acrobat juggles another with his or her feet; also known as a Risley act.’ [From Richard Risley, 1814–74, US gymnast and acrobat who developed the act.] If a gyrating acrobat should fall from another's feet, that would make for one grisly Risley.

This month's winner

Well done to Jon for his classy double clue in last month's Brainstorm, winning a copy of Susan Butler's lingo-log, The H/Aitch Factor.

Medal

Riddledom

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Cluetopia

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Puzzled

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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Recent Comments

Quinzhee Crusade

If you missed my tub-thumping over new Scrabble words on the 730 Report with Leigh 'legalises' Sales...http://ow.ly/NZTu9

Text-speak is creeping into Scrabble. Where do you sit?
OBVS I'm fine with it
Entrenched stuff - like LOL and OMG - but no more.
Words With Friends, maybe. Scrabble, no
Let the 'real' dictionaries decide first
Just the handy stuff, like FAQ and EUW
I mean, WTF?! No way
See Results