Puzzles, posts, news and general word-chat.

Diabolically Arcane

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Gamy Madams

29 April, 2016

Here's a preview of a Wordwit puzzle set to run in four weeks, appearing in both the SMH on Saturday, May 28. The original idea arose from an old US themer by Alan Arbesfeld, where AMY ADAMS for example, can gain new initials to become smelly brothel owners - or GAMY MADAMS

That's the gimmick. I set abuot finding more, creating the nine below. (Only iGen dabblers will nail #8, while Oz lit scores two jerseys here.) Can you crack seven nobbled names at least? And can you provide any more examples? If so, please supply your byline, clue number and letter count. Have fun.

DA1 - Spiffier joy (7,4)

DA2 - Nudge drool (4,6)

DA3 - Cut gems (5,6)

DA4 - Ejected toiler (4,7)

DA5 - Reality flash (5,5)

DA6 - Sly hurtin’ (6,7)

DA7 - Shred beef cuts? (4,6)

DA8 - Bank writing? (6,5)

DA9 - Condom promiser? (6,7)

Share your eurekas, and your new examples, below.

Extra Elementary

26 April, 2016

Spoiler alert, Fairfax solvers. If you haven't given last week's DA puzzle a shake, then you may need to skip this Brainstorm. Or the next paragraph at least.

Because the periodic table was my theme, using the atomic numbers as pointers to a dozen different elements. Clue 10, say, led to NEON. While 27-Down was COBALT. But the table remains largely under-plundered, ready to be rumbled by this week's clue-fest.

And just like Friday's themer, tweaking elements into clues, the relevant number is the only definition you require. Below is a sampling of some you can craft, as well as an example clue, but feel free to visit the actual table to pick and choose your own substances to make your mark.

Goggles on. Lab coats buttoned. Let's see who will excel elementally!

3 - Lithium

5 - Boron

7 - Nitrogen

9 - Fluorine

14 - Silicon

19 - Potassium

30 - Zinc

36 - Krypton

42 - Molybdenum

51 - Antimony

99 - Einsteinium

112 - Copernicum

115 - Ununpentium

POTASSIUM - Stagger up to a miss, 19

ANTIMONY - I'm totally into Shakespearean lover, 51

TUNGSTEN - 74 licks heard on Pearl Jam album

Have fun in the letters lab.

WoW: Muliebrity

24 April, 2016

MULIEBRITY [MEW-lee-EB-ruh-tee] - womanly qualities; womanhood [From Late Latin, muliebritas, woman.] A caring mother in her prime is the epitome of muliebrity.

Mystery List

21 April, 2016

Here's a game to play while I'm away in Tallagatta, revisiting the scene of an old novel. My old novel - The Book of Miles. Today and tomorrow I'm leading workshops at Tallangatta High, in the town that backdrops my narrative of 1995. Which makes me like a revenant in my own plot, I guess. A cameo from the future. I don't know. It's weird. I hope I don't fluff my lines.

But to keep you in mind games, and clue-mongering, see what you make of the list below. First, can you figure out the connection? And second, can you add to the list? And third - who can style the sleekest clues for any of the entries? Can we out-CB CB this week with creative executions of our own? Have fun.









Post your theories, your additional words & your complete clues in the Comments.

Meet CB

19 April, 2016

Before you click on CB's guest grid, I think it's only polite we meet the man (and mind) behind the creation. Breaker, breaker - I give you CB:

1. When & how did the cryptic bug bite?

I started dabbling in the cryptic when I was about 21. I met Siobhan (SL) through work and got both guidance and the camaraderie of knowing another solver. Pretty soon we were doing a cryptic race every Monday, much more fun than actually working. I made my way through the Fairfax week to DA on Friday, then The Times, The Guardian, and eventually decided to give setting a go.

2. When not crafting clues, who is this puzzle fiend called CB?

I'm a former postmodernist literature student, now getting to grips with the (slightly) less esoteric world of editing and publishing. If I'm not grappling with grids I might be trying to make some music or at a Cats AFL game (desperately hoping Hawthorn don't make it four in a row...)

3. Tell us 3 curious facts about yourself – one of which is a fib.

1. I helped translate for a Spice Girl backstage at a concert in France.

2. I was arrested for accidentally trespassing on a South Korean sandcastle exhibition.

3. I saw a state-sanctioned Putin impersonator do a dance routine in Red Square.  [DA: My money's on this one. Where's yours?]

4. If you ended up on Einstein Factor, what’d be you special topic?  

Either the Beatles or Kanye West.

5. Favourite 3 clues of the past – including of your own.

CERBERUS: D-d-dog? (Anax I think) I'm a big fan of a cheeky rebus when it's done well.

LITTLE CREATURES: Drunk old brit capsized lost treasure in brewery (DA) I came across this clue as I was just starting to solve DA's grids, and the theme it indicated (turning animals into their baby versions to put into the grid) was heaps of fun and gave me a sense of the scope for semantic skullduggery in the cryptic form.

SALAD DAYS: Aladdin airs in prime time? (And one of mine that I was pretty happy with) [DA: so you should be. It's ingenious.]

6. Tell us a little about The Cruciverbalist magazine.

SL and I have met lots of people who are interested in doing the cryptic but consider it an unattainable skill so we've tried to make our magazine and website accessible to beginners as well as veterans. In conjunction with the seminars we've run, teaching the basics to would-be solvers, The Cruciverbalist is meant to broaden the cryptic audience by celebrating pop culture, general vulgarity, and non-traditional clues. From a compiler's perspective, given Australia's relatively small cryptic world, we're hoping to provide a new platform for amateur setters to get their work out there to a bigger audience.

7. What can we expect of your selected puzzle? Without blabbing spoilers, how did you find the making and clueing of it?

This puzzle is a themed one which will hopefully strike a good balance of enjoyment and difficulty. Overall the clues have a bit of libertarian streak, and hopefully a few interesting sleights.  Clueing this grid, and writing clues on this site, has proved a continual learning process. It's great to find out what works from the solver's perspective. I've also found that some of the best clues can come out of nowhere from an answer that didn't seem to promise much, or a sudden new idea; 11-across in this puzzle was one of those.

Thanks CB - and congrats on the mag. Solvers - click the link above and let the neural yoga begin. Share your thoughts (and bio theories) in the forum below. 

Latest Lowdown

18 April, 2016

The blog has been a little low-pulse lately - a symptom of my own personal mayhem off-screen, with multiple radio gigs and several speaking engagements around the traps. That won't change in the long run with plenty more festival spots looming. Sydney Writers' Fest is soon, while Melbourne & Brisbane bods will get their chance to wordify with yours truly. Can't wait.

Meanwhile, this week marks your chance to enjoy some word-magic from the talented habitue known as CB, alias Chris Black of Melbourne. CB will be our next setter in the guest grid series, his Q&A and puzzle slated for uploading tomorrow. Prepare your neurons, good people, as CB's clues belong on the daring boho edge of libertarian.

To limber the limbic system, here's a sneaky conundrum courtesy of NPR Radio (a classic RASS - Redundant Acronym Syndrome Syndrome): 

The initials of bail, nail and mail sit adjacent on the keyboard’s bottom row. So what five words (again four letters in length, and again with their last three letters identical) own initials that form a consecutive block on the keyboard’s middle row?

(And while you're snooping QWERTY, can anyone else discover a set of words that can exchange an equivalent string of adjacent letters?)

WoW: Futilitarian

18 April, 2016

FUTILITARIAN [fyoo-til-i-TAR-ee-uhn] - person devoted to vain or frivolous pursuits; one who believes that human striving is ultimately useless. [Hybrid of futile & utilitarian, first used in 1827.] Uncharitable logicians may insist that any crossword lover is a card-carrying futilitarian. 

Half the Battle [BB530]

17 April, 2016

As Anzac Day draws near, it's time we consider a war chest of battles - or half the battle in each case. That's what you confornt below. We give the first half of 15 battles through the ages, including both World Wars - though some are far more ancient.

TOB, say, is TOBRUK. Some answers have two words - though every answer offers the FIRST half of the battle only. Only buffs will score more than half.






5. KHAR  



8. MID

9. VER

10. MAFE

11. CORA

12. THEB

13. NAS

14. ACT

15. ZA


BB529 SOLUTION: March of the Penguins, ides of March, her novel March, salt march, the band Augie March, March birthstone, March To Keep Fear Alive, The March King, his novel Augie March, death march, aka marchpane, Actor Frederic March

WoW: Mumpsimus

11 April, 2016

MUMPSIMUS - A traditional custom or idea that's still keenly observed desite being shown to be unreasonable. [Erroneously for Latin: sumpsimusin quod in ore sumpsimus 'which we have taken into the mouth' (Eucharist). The corruption links to a story of an illiterate priest who, when corrected, replied “I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus.”] Yelling Gesundheit when a cohort sneezes is a classic mumpsimus.

Disappearing Dictionary

7 April, 2016

If you follow my Twitter feed, you'll know I've been smitten by David Crystal's recent book, The Disappearing Dictionary. The volume captures fugitive terms from UK dialect, from radgy (peevish) to wordify (to articulate).

Leafing through, you'll find bastard French - like the Scottish surree for a social gathering - or comical hybrids: shupernacular (super + spectacular). How can you not love this brittle trove?

Ideal fodder for a fresh-minded Storm as well. Even better, as I'm tied up all next week doing afternoons on 774 ABC, filling in for Clare Bowditch. Around that time I'm also hoping to post a guest puzzle to enliven our solving week as well. Keep the peepers peeled. 

Before then, however, can you cryptically wordify these shupernacular specimens?

ARSLE - to move backwards

BOWDYKITE - fat person; one who greedily stares at another's meal

CEFFLE - to cough sharply, similar to a fox bark

GLAT - gap in a hedge

LINNARD - the last to finish a meal

NOOF - sheltered from the weather

PONOMMERINS - fleecy clouds

PRICKMEDAINTY - fastidious; conceited

QUEZZEN - to burn without flame

RYNTLE - to roll about in a chair lazily

SAIDMENT - malicious hearsay

SPLUTE - someone who exaggerates

YONDERLY - vague

Who can craft the least yonderly, prickmedainty clues? Have fun.

WoW: Samogon

4 April, 2016

SAMOGON [SAM-oh-guhn] - potent Russian homebrew; DIY vodka; moonshine [From Russian, samo - self - plus gnat - to distill] Boris Yeltsin reliably found his Dad-dancing function after a few ursine swigs of samogon.

I'll Be Back (Slang)

31 March, 2016

Did you catch Woodsy? You must hear Woodsy, the ex-butcher who rang our language segment on ABC Overnights last week. The bloke revived the languishing art of butcher-talk, or backward slang, talking about namows with big mosobs. In a grammar-geeky way, Kate Burridge and I were in raptures.

(And if you keep listening the 3rd or 4th caller is fluent in OB-talk, another alien dialect that's guaranteed to stagger.)

But while I'm afoot this next week - or toofa I should say - let's try our hands at a back-slang Brainstorm. Either clue a word from the actual butcher glossary below, or reverse any word you like, and provide both defintion and wordplay.

However your clue recipe can't rely on reversal. That's too easy. Any other formula - or alumrof - is eenif (fine). See how spelling varies to aid pronunciation? That's the first art. The second art is devising a succulent clue. 

For example, EEFOK (or coffee) could be clued: EEFOK - Returned charge for fine vice in the morning? [How will you eeraf with the rest?]

Lahteeaich - Alright

Eefok - Coffee

Eefink - Knife

Teefos - Soft

Evakh - Have

Dlos - Sold

Kool - Look

Eno - One

Owt - Two

Enob - Bone

Woc - Cow

Retchtub - Butcher

Keenurd - Drunk

Whykess - Sexy

Dlo - Old

Dratsab - Bastard

Clue these (minus reversal recipes). Or reverse any word in butcher style, and craft a clue. Doog Keecull.

Mad Week

29 March, 2016

If Easter is a time of rest and reflection, then I can't wait for the furlough to start. Oh wait, that was Easter? Forgive me for forgetting - this week is one big whirlwind. 

From 2am > 6pm across this week I'm hosting the Overnights slot on ABC local radio. While I can't urge you to stave off sleep to catch the chat, I can recommend this bizarro encounter with Monash linguist, Kate Burridge. Just for the callers alone you have to sample this piece of audio, where Kate and I explore secret languages. 

(And while talking audio, try to find a spare 20 minutes to hear LR - alias Liam Runnalls - talk about his cruciverbal grandfather and the great spoonerism stigma in Rhett Bartlett's cool podcast.)

As for that whirlwind, please excuse a break in normal services at DA Central. When not sitting in the graveyard seat, I'll be hosting a Wordburger Powwow at Melbourne's Wheeler, and later  on Saturday: rabbiting about happiness in Sydney. Sorry, that's rabbiting in Sydney about happiness. Let's be clear.

The subsequent videos should be worth a peek, as one puzzle-maker's happiness may be another's pine shape. Have fun while I lie low from e-admin, and gyrate. Keep happy.

WoW: Elozable

28 March, 2016

ELOZABLE [e-LO-zah-bul] - amenable to flattery. (From Old French eslosable, via esloser, to praise.) Red-carpet creatures are egregiously elozable.

Conundrum 5

26 March, 2016

Haven't posted any real head-scratchers for a while, those wordy questions that require spadework or epiphany to nail the solution. In fact, can you make headway with any of these tortuous, and torturous, teasers?

1. What very Australian word can change its doubled vowels for a different set of doubled vowels in order to spell a second very Oz word?

2. What seven-letter verb beginning with S can be scrambled to spell its synonym in a different case?

3. What indoor game, popular during the postwar period, owes its name to the scientific name for a bird of prey?

4. And for those into music: what contemporary US indie rock band draws its name from a Russian short story?

Alias Awards

24 March, 2016

Before the chocolate bilby hits town, here are the results of last week's stage-name spectacle. All up the Storm drew some 50 entries, with players crafting clues based on both birth name and alias of notable showfolk etc. 

To give you an example, I'd filed under Mal X the pairing of WOLVERINE/LOGAN:

Feral on leave, growlin'

But that was peanuts compared to the heavy hitters. Don't believe me, you be the judge of my judgments below:

First, to jpr's point of no codenames. I take your point in general Storming, jpr, but when a prize is up for grabs, I'm happier as umpire to remove any player bias.

Second, adding the clue's mechanics is a major help, especially when the wordplay is convoluted as executed by several podium players.

A special mention to Mr F for using the alternate letters of a berry-chocolate (AERCOCAE). Quite the feat in engineering. But the top three clues. Here they are in order of increasing wattage:

GEORGE COSTANZA/ART VANDELAY - El Greco voyage and tour included some poetry, and painting perhaps [Snazzy combo by Pea Tear Griffin using a hybrid of anagram and container.]

GEORGE ELIOT/MARY ANN EVANS - Writer affected many voters in Geelong area  [Seamless scramble by Mr F.]

ERN MALLEY/McAULEY AND STEWART Lament way men acted surreally! [Dazzling double-duty signpost by John Smith that forges one abfab & lit clue to the Angry Penguin prank of yore. Loved it.]

To celebrate Mr Smith's coup, I'll send Tough & Tougher Crosswords by Karen Tracy & Byron Walden, just as soon as I eat enough bilbies, and learn of the winner's snail mail. Thanks to all players who strutted the stage, incognito.

Taking Five

22 March, 2016

Four years back, I made a variety puzzle based on the phrase TAKE FIVE. Once you cracked that answer, the gimmick became clear, as every other clue required you to subtract its V.

WHATEVER, therefore, could be clued as:

Wild weather? Who cares? 

Or GODIVA might read:

Prime setter, perhaps, flipped to see nudist 

See the trick? Nominate a V-word, then ignore the V in your wordplay. Or perhaps choose a double V-word, like VERVE:

Poetic prior to dash

That's our challenge this week.  A vexatious week for yours truly, as I craft my customary puzzles & columns, as well as holding down the graveyard shift on ABC radio. Insomniacs and vampires are welcome to listen. The show is national, and the hours unholy, from 2am till 6. With those circadian rhythms in mind, please excuse the delayed stage-name results, and the sporadic blog visits, as I take five from regular diurnal duties. 

Vibrant verbal connivers - move!

WoW: Snarge

21 March, 2016

SNARGE (snarj) - the remains of a bird that's struck an aircraft or wind turbine (Possible portmanteau of snot and garbage, US military slang of 1940s) Both a safety risk, and a cleaning chore, snarge is also known as BASH, or Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard.

Joan's Banjo

18 March, 2016

Fresh from this week's contest, where our minds have been meddling with celebs into the wee hours, I thought we could extend the trick with a Friday anagram folly.

The trick is mixing a person's first name with their surname's initial, so creating a word - or other name. Folk queen JOAN BAEZ, for example, can produce BANJO, which could inspire the clue:

Folk singer's instrument

Just as Oz actor's iodide could be MICHAEL CATON CHEMICAL.

Have the hang. Let's see how we fare without supplying answer lengths, but keeping our clues relatively uncryptic. Comic, sure. Oblique - no worries. Just not pretzel-like in the creative logic department. Here's my opening sample:

DA1 - Magnate millet?

DA2 - Did she cover Tapestry?

DA3 - Dates a Kangaroo legend

DA4 - TV host fraud

DA5 - Twangy UK tycoon

DA6 - Frailer US screenwriter 

Pretty tricky I'm guessing. Let's see how we swirl, creating your own, with byline and clue numbers to make the getting easier to track.


15 March, 2016

Contest time on the DA blog - your chance to win a mind-mangling collection of US puzzles called Tough & Tougher Crosswords by Karen Tracey & Byron Walder.

And since so many of these crafty American clues deal with contemporary culture, then so too does this week's Storm, swivelling the spotlight onto stage names, aliases, pseudonyms and general alter egos. 

The trick demands you clue both the stage name (T Rex) and the real name (Marc Bolan) - or vice versa - as if the one entity. Here's what I mean:

ERIC BLAIR GEORGE ORWELL - Anger about radio show-off - ogre twice whipped skilfully

[IRE< + CB + LAIR + OGRE*x2 + WELL]

Okay, that's one clumsy clue, but you get the gist. You need to fabricate one whole unit that focuses on the two names combined.

Please note, unless it's obvious, you'll also need to parse your own clue, as sometimes a clever trick can be neglected.

Last thing - choose your own alias to keep the judging fair. (Something related to this incognito topic. And submit your TWO best efforts as a separate post before this Thursday 8pm.

BATMAN BRUCE WAYNE -  Box bantam beer-lover, say

[BANTAM* + 'brew swain']

Mask on. Shades on. Cape on. Lights on. Stage names lit. Go.

Wordburger Awaits!

Welcome all puzzle-lovers, including any chompers of the Wordburger book or app. (Check them out if you enjoy words & trickery.) And if you still crave more alphabet mischief, click on the burger icon above for a fresh serve.



Packed with games, pickles, codes and cheesy puns, Wordburger is your chance to be a champion puzzler in 20 quick bites. Ideal for wordy kids keen to open a new language door, or grown-ups who want to cut their cryptic teeth. Click here. 

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Riddles in song, in code, in pictures. From Ireland & Wonderland, Einstein & Pompeii. Riddledom reveals 101 wry questions from 50+ languages & shares their secrets. A book to unlock culture via conundrum. Order here.

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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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Recent Comments

Riddledom Rave

If you missed my riddle chat with Richard Fidler, then feel free to slurp the podcast at http://ab.co/1I9t1x5

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
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