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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.

Losing It Big-Time

27 March, 2015

Losing it. Kicking it. Forget about it....

Seems a lot of idiom that wants IT out of the picture. Or the word in our case. That's the game today - one we've played before in fact, many moons ago - where we skip IT in one word to create another.

Chomping on Cosby, say, would be BITING BING. While a Brown giant would lead to TAN TITAN. (Notice how IT can be flicked from the first or second word.)

No need for word lengths if you wish to make your own. But please remember to add your byline and clue number so we can keep track of things. Here we go:

DA1 - Feels for Collingwood

DA2 - Urbane European

DA3 - Sauce to keep you grounded?

DA4 - Cyclist's castle

DA5 - Suitably soar 

DA6 - "Adjective - clear-cut, certain."

You have my permission to lose it!

Haiku Clue

24 March, 2015

Fresh from our Arabic verse in GHAZAL, let's consider the delicate art of composing a haiku clue.

If you don't know the discipline, the Japanese verse entails 5 syllables in the first line, then 7 in the second, and five in the last. Your typical haiku reads:

Bamboo clattering.

Blossoms shudder free. Winter

Arrives with fanfare.

Or something like that. No call for rhyme - just a faithful syllable tally, and a central theme. Or cryptic clue in our case. That's the challenge - to pick a word or name from Japan or nearby Asia, and render both defintion and wordplay as a haiku.

Here's my flimsy dabble:


Feral cat might grab

Duck 'egg' with faddish whiz-bang

Animal inside.

Chinese and other Asian allusions are fine, just to give our poetry some licence. Please provide your answer as the haiku's title - selecting words, names, cities, movies or anything Asiatic in flavour. And let's see who can deliver the haiku de grace

WoW: Ghazal

23 March, 2015

GHAZAL [YAH-zarl] - Arabic love poem with a recurring rhyme and a limited number of stanzas [From Arabic] The classic ghazal includes the poet's takhallus - pen name - in the closing stanza.

Flipping The Bird [BB501]

22 March, 2015

Sorry to be rude, but GNAWS and GENRE both ‘flip the bird’. That’s to say, the two possess a backward bird nesting in their letters, with SWAN and ERN/E sleeping inside the pair. All twelve answers can claim the same.

1. Jazz singer Diane (5)

2. Southern Aboriginal (5)

3. Duty of care (14)

4. Sauce type (14)

5. Believe (6)

6. Polar hazard (7)

7. Skittles (8)

8. Intimate (8)

9. He’s a loyal worker (7,3)    

10. Scrubber (5,4)

11. Azalea cousin (12)

12. Plates, platters etc (10)               


BB500 SOLUTION: Delighted, disinterested, deported, devoted, departed, depressed, degraded, distorted. (Other devious dismissals are possible.)

Demonym Derby

20 March, 2015

A word challenge before we begin a placename game. This comes from Kerry via email:  What do you call a tweeter (or blog poster) who gatecrashes the chat, gets all sweary & upset because you don't share their views, then humphs off in a state of hurt or outrage?

Phew. Plenty to fit into one word. So far the shortlist - beyond troll - is Trollum (after Gollum) and the adjective of pestulant. Any other nominees?


Now for the name game - two in fact:

1. Can you create a comical Oz demonym? To whet the wits, consider Lismoron, Yassman, Thredbogan, Bondiver, Cobarman (and Cobarmaid) & Perthling.

2. And keeping geographic, what might be an Oz town's funny offshore twin? If the Shire of Bland is hoping to connect with Dull, Ohio (seriously), then what other alliances may be on the agenda? What about:

Orange & Valencia

Mascot & Manchester (think beds...)

Dandenong & Antwerp

Hay & Grasmere

You get the geo-gist. Have fun with all three brain-ticklers.

A Huh or Two [48]

17 March, 2015

Over coffee I struggled to crack a puzzle by a devious rogue called Radler, downloaded from Big Dave's [excellent] Crossword Blog. Managed to solve all but one, though I'm still head-scratching over a few subterfuges. Namely:

1. Rhetoric with nothing much put out by Spain after article there = ELOQUENCE [I get the EL, and the nothing, but the remainder...?]

2. Under pressure to remove drug for pain relief = _E_S?? [Dunno. Do you? That's the one I missed.]

And from recent Times:

3. A couple of Scotsmen: pygmies = TWA [Ha?]

4. On both sides of line, squad's not yet fired = UNLIT [Both sides of line?]

5. Recurring problems with eye reported by hospital - this problem? = STRABISMUS [I'm trying to wangle Barts - a London hospital - into this answer, and missing the procedure...]

6. Unemployed South African chap has to integrate = OUT OF USE  [Tell me TOFU has no nori roll here...]

7. Pompous golfer’s second round = OROTUND  [O + ROUND but how's the T implicated?

Any insights or other eurekas eagerly awaited. And if the Muse moves, then try to compose an alternative clue for any answer here. Thanks.

Lemony Snippets

16 March, 2015

I'm a huge fan of the Baudelaire series created by Lemony Snicket. As unfortunate events go, they are inspired stories of grim tangents and playful language. Even the titles are worthy of toasting, which you're welcome to do this week.

Pick a book, any book, and see if you can render the title into a clever shred of wordplay. No need to define anything - just enjoy the manipulation of Snicket's alliteration. In order, the wondrous 13 read like so:

Bad Beginning

Reptile Room

Wide Window

Miserable Mill

Austere Academy

Ersatz Elevator

Vile Village

Hostile Hospital

Carnivorous Carnival

Slippery Slope

Grim Grotto

Penultimate Peril

The End

To make a better than bad beginning:

REPTILE ROOM - More 'politer'? Wrong

GRIM GROTTO - Cosgrove gains edge over leading rowing eight in Rome?

WoW: Malthusian

16 March, 2015

MALTHUSIAN -  Of the view that swelling populations outstrip the means of survival [From economist and priest Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) who first proposed the concern.] One-child policies in China and elsewhere underpin the Malthusian mindset.

Turning Tail

13 March, 2015

For some Friday follies, let's devise some clues for words where a tail-switch comes into play. Floor cat, for one may be LINO LION, while Timbuktu post could be MALI MAIL.

No need to supply word lengths. (I'm guessing many will be fours - or maybe even threes.) Though the EAGER may find EAGRE, or carpenter Sound quality of wood = TIMBER TIMBRE.

Turn only tails, and please number your clues with byline attached. Like so: 

DA1 - Punter's mag

DA2 - Raise trunks

DA3 - Jerk jerks

DA4 - Pet POV?

DA5 - More bashful borough

DA6 - It's sadly beyond Andrew & Myuran

Boot Trunk

10 March, 2015

A dual clue challenge, where we ransack a list of US/UK words, dreaming up clues for both members of each transatlantic pair. Use this list as a kickstart. Or feel free to meander outher sources as well, including the vast Wiki entry.

Please identify each pair you're tackling, the better for browsers to appreciate your skulduggery. And make a point of defining each word - the same way or afresh. To get your cogs cranking:

DIAPER - Bum wrap compensated in hindsight

NAPPY - Article covers insurance premium in cool base cover


VACATION - Break Spanish cow into droving

HOLIDAY - One setter disrupts divine respite

Have a lark/scream.

WoW: Filk

9 March, 2015

FILK - popular song converted into parody [Likely derived from a typo of folk song, an error committed to the Spectator Amateur Press Society in the 1950s.] Originally the filk was a piece of sci-fi slang, as the bungled title was The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American Filk Music.


3 March, 2015

Humans seems rusted onto the QWERTY keyboard, despite the Dvorak alternative. If you don't know the story, August Dvorak was an American psychologist who wangled his own typewriter keys in the the 1940s. Only to strike the brickwall of old habits.

Still, there's life in his rejigged alphabet yet. Well, its middle row at least, which assemble the very handy ten of AOEUIDHTNS, the building blocks of our Brainstorm words this week.

No repeats, but feel free to manipulate AOEUIDHTNS any which way - then clue the result. TEDIOUS? DUTIES? HESTON? THE US? Here's an opener or two:

HIDE - Leather veil

EDISON - He made light about team being wired? 

HIDEOUTS - Shirt worn by vile lairs

Marching Orders [BB500]

2 March, 2015

A little late, this 500th Birdbrain. (They should sack the puzzler in charge of this website.) And let's keep with that dismissive mindset to reveal the varied sackings that take place below. 

If a sacked model is de-posed, or a dismissed cashier dis-tilled, can you deduce what other de- and dis-puns apply to these ousted professionals? (Alternative oustings are possible. Can you create more doomed careerists?)

1. Electrician 

2. Banker

3. Vintner

4. Politician

5. Barber

6. Journo

7. Teacher

8. Lawyer


BB499 SOLUTION: Cantaloupe, sarcophagi, garlic clove, soundtrack, misbegotten, smokestack, submit, combat, martini, body lice

WoW: Piblokto

2 March, 2015

PIBLOKTO - severe disassociative episode caused by isolation or depression [From Inuktun language, literally 'has hysteria'] Extended darkness and bitter cold are common piblokto triggers among the Inuit people

Shifty Maids of May

27 February, 2015

For a change of pace, let's rewire the titles of books and films into rhyme. Die Hard, for example, could evolve into My Card: How I Came To Lose a MYKI and Wear a $85 Fine. Or being more ambitious, we also have:

The Infernal Pun-Line of a Plotless Kind - fatal Dad jokes from an improv comedian

Dig Zero Tricks - how kids savaged the hired magician at a bar mitzvah

The Younger Flames - adolescent lovers jailed for too much tonsil hockey

Creepy Follow - an unwanted admirer on Twitter

Don't worry about ID-ing your film. (That's part of the fun, as a reader-cum-solver.) Feel free to rhyme the shorter stuff (turning Red Dog into Dead Frog) or dare to dream on the extended titles, where all key words are converted.


24 February, 2015

After so many elongated words - like satyagraha and pangram clues - let's downsize to ding and dong and other onomatopoeia. We have open slather, from bang to zap, from clip-clop to hiphop, from boom to vroom. 

Here's a list that may warm your engines, but feel free to snaffle your sizzle. So long as the word is a sound effect, it's sound. (And if you want to be extra-creative, you can also grab extended words or phrases that include a sound-word: SWAT team, crackpot and Bo Peep, say.)

Both wordplay and definition are required, making the challenge a little stiffer, since grrr, meow and ribbit can be ticklish to define, let alone camouflage. The best of the week's cacophony will warrant the roar of the crowd. To kick off:

MURMUR - Rumour redoubled spirit in return

BLAST - Carpeting becomes second-grade, expose to weather

SIR TOBY BELCH - Bard's boozer dissolved into hysteric blob

Have a hoot with this.

WoW: Satyagraha

23 February, 2015

SATYAGRAHA [SORT-yor-GRAR-ha] - passive resistance, especially as a protest action [Hindi via Sanskrit, literally: insistence on truth, from satya truth + agraha fervour] Mahatma Gandhi made an art form of satyagraha

Playing Dress-Ups [BB499]

22 February, 2015

Clothe the clusters below, and you’ll make nine common words or phrases. Of course, by clothe, I mean clad each cluster in the right garment to render a familiar verbal ensemble.

For example, (AGU) can squeeze inside VEST to make V(AGU)EST, while (RE/OF) needs a SCARF to make SCARE OFF.



3. (ARLIC/C)


5. (SBEGO)

6. (KESTA)

7. (BM)

8. (MB)

9. (ART)

10. (Y/L)


BB498 SOLUTION: Battery, bedroom, blister, channel, comfort, diamond, fortune, forward, whistle. (Other words could suit.)


17 February, 2015

Can we do it? Can we weave the entire alphabet into a single clue (and its answer), with the entity still somehow making sense, and somehow seeming to maintain that slinky, precise nature of the cryptic clue?

I have my doubts, but I'm prepared to take the plunge. Perhaps if we choose an answer like JOAQUIN PHOENIX, we're halfway there. Or take a shine to the Mexican hairless, aka the XOLOITZCUINTLI.

Then again, the braver soul may find an alphabetical way to clue a less loaded solution. Either approach can earn the inaugural PanGrammy.

Of course, feel free to share your near misses, as these can be as noble as the holy grail itself. To kick off the bidding:

Showy bird left weaving round jacket for Mexico's Feathered Serpent = QUETZALCOATL [26]

Jack the Ripper's foggy zone quivered with each ring area's bum removed = WHITECHAPEL [25 - no X]

WoW: Kakorrhaphiophobia

16 February, 2015

Kakorrhaphiophobia - fear of failure or defeat [From Greek, kako - evil, plus rhaphio - plan, and phobia] When clue-drafting, avoid any kakorrhaphiophobia as a redraft can always rescue your first tack.

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.



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