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Diabolically Arcane

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26 May, 2016

Thanks for the clueing & general sardoodledom on-site while your host has been hobnobbing in Sydney & The Gong, cracking puzzles, sharing nerdery & seeing some remarkable sessions. More about that later, plus other gigs to come, but let's return to the joy of kneading names.

This week I present a dozen VIPs, each of whom can boast a one-word memoir. Which makes this week's Storm something of a Birdbrain too: can you identify each life-story in question, and can you convert these luminaries into wordplay loops (no definition required)? 

To help you conquer Task A - together the one-word titles can have their initials jumbled into Q BLOG TREMORS. While Task B is all yours to dazzle in.

Andre Agassi

Martin Amis

Bob Brown

Tim Cahill

JM Coetzee

Christopher Hitchens

Ariana Huffington

Chrissie Hynde

Henning Mankell

Oliver Sacks

Jennifer Saunders

Magda Szubanski

Your clues (and memoir stabs) below please...

WoW: Sardoodledom

23 May, 2016

SARDOODLEDOM - any overwrought or contrived melodrama. [This nonce word was coined by playwright George Bernard Shaw in 1895, a barb based on French dramatist Victorien Sardou, a populist rival.] Dallas, Dynasty and Falcon Crest all succumbed to flashes of sardoodledom.

Vile Wile

20 May, 2016

Came across an intriguing recipe in a recent Times clue. The trick relied on splitting a certain letter, reducing W to its familiar half-brother in V. Here's the clue:

Great enthusiasm - not so many half-hearted, by the look of it (5)

The answer is FEVER, a 'half-hearted' adaptation of FEWER (not so many). A neat novelty, and the trigger for today's folly. But instead of crafting cryptic clues, let's get feverish in one of two ways:

[1] Split one word's Ws into a single V, and clue the pair as an entity. Hideous trick, say, would be VILE WILE, while inferior darling is a LOWER LOVER.

Or [2] - split one word's W into a single V, so creating a new word altogether, complete with definition. SPARROV could be a Soviet boxer, say. Just as VINSOME means tipsy on shiraz

Don't forget to tag your first approach with byline and number, as below. And have a vonderful time, as I'm vayfaring in Sydney at this year's Fest.

DA1 - Actor Danny's scowls

DA2 - Bigger litterbug

DA3 - More exposed party animal

DA4 - Cut drain

DA5 - Gallery melee?


17 May, 2016

This morning I perched on the News Breakfast couch to undo the buzzwords heard on this year's hustings. Hustings, say, springs from Old Norse, a breakdown of house + assembly, a loose label for the king's staff versus the common folk. This sense carried across to England, where pleas were heard by a body of civic officials, hence that sense of peddling your cause.

Seek out the show's excerpt for more word-stories on the campaign trail. Or plunder these specimens below, turning any offerings into clues. (You can opt to retain a definition, or plump for pure wordplay.) Make merry on the electoral march.













May the after-party preferred nominee conquer all.

WoW: Overton window

16 May, 2016

OVERTON WINDOW - Range of ideas the public will accept at any given time - also known as the window of disclosure. [Named after Joseph Overton, ex-veep of Mackinac Centre for Public Policy. More here.] The Overton window exists amid what's deemed sensible and what's unthinkable. 

Huh 53 - plus Elusive Loroso

13 May, 2016

Hope you have your brains intact, as today's post pummels the grey cells. First up we have half-a-dozen Huh clues that need explaining, all culled form recent Brit puzzles. (and feel free to create your own clues too for these same six answers.)

And second - a devilish puzzle from Loroso of the Financial Times. (You and I know the setter better as Anax, an occasional visitor to this site.) OMG it's hard, but in that wondrous, thwartful way.

Here's hoping you can unravel both challenges:

1. The present writer's aim to start with something like chicotry = ENDIVE [How does I becone I'VE in this clue?]

2. Endlessly laborious phases in complex housing strategy finally = SISYPHEAN [Is this an oblique defintion, or am I missing the wordplay?]

3. One entering Yale, maybe, established ties with US Town = KEY WEST [Love the Yale curveball for KEY, but the rest for WEST?]

4. Italian syndicate finally restricts repeats = ITERATIONS [Italian = IT, then I lost it...]

5. A set of stories about old soldier and saint - one stidies the atmosphere = AEROLOGIST [C for Clunky and not 100% clear either]

6. Cutting through wound not covered in some placesSTARK NAKED? [SNAKED for wound is a tidy misdirection, but how TARK come to mean cutting? Unless it's TART, but is that even a thing?]

Now that your brain is limber, let it loose in this Loroso labyrinth. I'm still only halfway through solving the grid after 3 days of intermittent grazing. (Which is a compliment!) Would love your thoughts on the fairness ratio in this bad boy too. Have fun.

Logie Logophilia

10 May, 2016

The 2016 Logies have truly delivered....dynamite names for clueing. In all my couch-potato days, I can't recall such a bountiful season of wordplay fodder, from anagram wonders to the full roll-call of X, J and Z.

Naturally, all we need to do is seize our TV moment, dear dabblers, and convert these winners into wordplay zingers. The set is yours. (No need for definitions, unless they benefit your clue, of course.) Action!











A virtual statuette to the best on-set.

WoW: Smoot

9 May, 2016

SMOOT [rhymes with coot] - to do casual work (originally as a printer); comical unit of length equating to 170cm [Origin of the first unkown. Origin of second is Oliver Smoot, an MIT student whose 170cm frame was used to measure the length of Harvard Bridge in 1958.] I'm still not sure where Oliver Smoot smooted as a barman to help finance his tuition fees.

Nerd v Geek

6 May, 2016

I'm more nerd than geek. Or that will be my position on Thursday, May 19, taking part in an illustrious shame-fest called Night of the Nerds, with geek Adam Spencer, Nobelist Peter Doherty and Youtube hero Natalie Tran. Part of the Sydney Wrtiers' Fest, the evening is bound to be comical, and cerebral.

By way of preparation, I've been swotting the differences between the two tribes. (Do you have a theory? What are the key distinctions, do you think?) Such research led me to an intriguing graph, compiled by US language-sifter Burr Settles, a chart depicting what words are favoured by which tribe.

Today's folly is an overdue cluefest, playing around with geek-speak, and nerd-words. Which nerd/geek/boffin/whiz can construct the smartest clues, using just wordplay only. (And which is your camp - nerd or geek? And why?)








epic win



big data


The Hobbit



study mode



Give me your clues - and your geek/nerd views - below. Cheers!

TranSLating SL

3 May, 2016

Time to meet SL - our third compiler in the Guest Grid series. As per usual, I grilled the newbie with my standard questions, as well as seeking her own insights into The Cruciverbalist venture. The answers won't disappoint, and nor will the SLap-up puzzle attached, primed for your solving and feedback. Enjoy the Q&A, and the SL XW

How did you get into cryptics?

I started watching my dad solve the Age cryptic when I was about ten and I remember being determined to make sense of all that nonsense. After learning a few tricks from him over the years, I got my first answer when I was thirteen (HAMBURGER – I'll never forget!) and quickly succumbed to a severe cryptic addiction.       

Tell us a little about the person behind the initials.

I'm a twenty-five-year-old freelance illustrator with a degree in English and (of course) a job in hospitality. I've just moved back to Melbourne's inner north after living in relative seclusion on the coast for the last few years.

Time for three strange facts about yourself - making sure one is a fib.

[1] I've squatted in an abandoned mental asylum. No electricity.  A basement. It was terrifying.  

[2] I once got free tickets to an event that involved having dinner with M.C. Hammer and Kamahl.

[3] I abseiled down a 50m waterfall. And nearly had a panic attack afterwards.

Special topic on Einstein Factor?

It'd be a toss-up between ABBA and the Harry Potter books. I'm about as ashamed as I should be...

Give us three fave clues, including one of your own.

[1] RELATIVE PRONOUN - What could that be? (Times)


[3] BLUDGEON – Stick, paste, bond, glue (SL)

Tell us a little about The Cruciverbalist zine.

Chris 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, where we teach 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.     

And what can we expect about your crossword?

I've mostly done the Times cryptic so I rely on a fair few British conventions. I've also got a British taste for lewdness, as demonstrated in this puzzle. I'm a big fan of the libertarian style (DA's cryptics have always provided a welcome break from the stodginess of the Times) so you'll find some unorthodox clueing in my crosswords as well.      

WoW: Inkhornism

2 May, 2016

INKHORNISM - excessive pedantry over langauge or grammar [Linked to the inkhorn, a mediaeval pot of ink associated with scholars] Deploring those who split infinitives is quintessential inkhornism.

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.

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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