Puzzles, posts, news and general word-chat.

Diabolically Arcane

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WoW: Oniomania

22 May, 2017

ONIOMANIA [on-EE-oh-MAY-nee-uh] - compulsive urge to buy things; acquisitive obsession [From Greek onios - for sale - via onos (price), plus mania] Shopaholics suffer oniomania.

WoW: Shpadoinkle

15 May, 2017

SHPADOINKLE [shpar-DOINK-uhl] - splendid, fabulous [Coined by South Park's Trey Parker in Cannibal! The Musical (2001),  later used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Joss Whedon, so popularising the superlative.] Every week we seek to wow the WoW forum with the most shpadoinkle clue.

Grid, Set, Sam

8 May, 2017

If you heard the forum murmurs in the last few weeks, you'll know there's a treat in store. As part of a sporadic series of guest puzzles, our own Sam has set a maverick challenge for you to savour.

The pattern alone will trigger alarm bells: this is a crossword with a universal gimmick, as hinted in the lone two clues untainted by the theme. Beware a few obscurer answers (such as 12-across), but that's not detracting from the engineering feat of interlocking. 

Not to mention a very neat trick, or what I called DIWITOT (Damn I Wish I'd Thought Of That). Download and have a crack. And share your feedback and hints in the Comments. I'm sure Sam will enjoy your responses as much as you'll relish the puzzle.

Sam's Puzzle: https://goo.gl/qxzAGH 

WoW: Baisemain

8 May, 2017

BAISEMAIN [BAIZ-main] - the formal kissing of hands, as afforded a revered figure [From French 'to kiss' plus main, or hand] Parisian smoothies execute an instinctive baisemain on meeting a young woman.

Sunday Times 1044

2 May, 2017

If I had to point the finger, I'd single out Anax - the alias of crossword maven Dean Mayer - to be the mind behind Sunday Times 1044, published 10 days ago in the Weekend Oz.

Originally this week I'd aimed to run Sam's debut puzzle (a tech issue still needs to be sorted), so please see how you fare in unravelling these seven zingers, each steeped in subtlety, and all drawn from the one beautiful torment.

To ease the squeeze, I've provided each answer's initial:

1. Promoting material that pig feeds on (6) - A

2. One way of singing 'Beat It' (4) - S

3. To call, but not ring (4) - S

4. Frightening clue I had to cut (12) - I

5. Being cosy? (8,7) - C

6. Piece of land needs flowers (7) - L

7. Dirt road in our village (far end of it) (6) - O

Share or plead hints in the Comments below. 

WoW: Claddagh

1 May, 2017

CLADDAGH [KLAH-dah] - amulet or ring in the form of two hands clasping a crowned heart [Named after the Irish fishing village - literally 'stony shore' in Gaelic - that first forged the trinket.] The claddagh is a traditional Irish token of friendship. 

Pirate Brands

26 April, 2017

You have to admire the ingenuity of Asian pirates, tweaking well-known Western brands into pseudo-known imitations. Here's a list of my favourites, from Johnny Walker Red Labial to IVIKE (do not adjust your screens).

Fakery of course also invites a burst of cryptic makery. With no call for the definition element, who can rip off the best piece of wordplay for these bazaar rip-offs?

Michaelsoft Bindows

(Johnny Walker) Red Labial

Sunbucks (Coffee)



Pizza Huh

Specialman (as in Clark Kentish)





Who will best foster the impostors?

WoW: Ikat

24 April, 2017

IKAT [EE-kat] - Indonesian dyeing technique relying on sealed bundles of thread in dye-resistant wrapping [From Indonesian - to bind] Many hall runners display the vibrant outcomes of the ikat technique. 

The Old Ways

18 April, 2017

Remember that title. The author is Robert MacFarlane, and I've not read a finer book about landscape, and our own place in it. 

Phrases like: '...where the sea shampooed the rocks...'

Or: '...the moor has the appearance of chamois leather.'

Or: '...yachts white as toothpaste.'

It's divine, and diverse, with MacFarlane trekking and sailing the faint paths of earlier pilgrims and traders, describing his progress from the Orkneys to Tibet. Truth be told I'm growing steadily reluctant to reach the journey's end.

Though by way of compensation, the book's endpages include a splendid glossary of terrain terms, which I've sampled below. See who can clue these geo-gems the best, serving up both definition and wordplay. Set the pace:

bealach - pass between two hills

carr - fen with low bushes

currach - wickerwork boat

eoliths - stones bearing evidence of ancient workings

ghillie - fishing guide

guga - young gannet

immram - wonder-voyage

machair - coastal grassland

mycelia - fungal network of delicate filaments

qasr - stone tower

sarsen - isolated boulder on a chalk down

stravaig - to meander

zawn - sea-cliff's fissure

Enjoy your clues - and the views (if you get round to MacFarlane's stravaigs).

WoW: Skiagraphy

17 April, 2017

SKIAGRAPHY [SKEE-a-gruhf-ee] - (a) use of shadowing to create depth in artwork; (b) historical use of X-rays as diagnostic tool; (c) craft of sundial-making (From Greek skiagraphia, skia ‘shadow’, plus graphe - writing or drawing.) Fans of the S-Town podcast will know that John B McElmore is adept in skiagraphy of the (c) kind.

WoW: Sclaff

10 April, 2017

SCLAFF [rhymes with naff] - to strike the ground immediately behind a golf ball; the poor stroke itself [From Scottish 'sclaff' - to strike with a flat surface'] If you need to replace a divot before the ball, then you're guilty of a sclaff.

Noah's Arkiv

5 April, 2017

Noah Webster (1758-1843) was a curious sausage. Or make that curius sorsage, the US lexicographer intent on altering the spelling of dozens of aberrant English words, trying to bring some kind of fonetik order into the Anglo-Saxon bedlam.

With some words he succeeded, such as jail, color, plow and center. While others, like the 12 below, never quite found their place in the dictionary.

But that doesn't meen we can't make merry with Noah's offcuts, presuming all 12 made the big leeg. In fact the new orthography opens the way to fresh cryptography, beleev me. So let's wangle these Websterisms, with both wordplay and definition as part of each clue. Should be kwite a hoot.













Hoo will make the best Noah aha?

WoW: Vegangelical

3 April, 2017

VEGANGELICAL - Zealous vegan determined to make other people believe in and convert to veganism. [Splice of vegan and evangelical, via Greek - euangelion, good news] Q: How can you tell if someone's a vegan? A: Don't worry, they'll tell you, being vegangelical.

WoW: Zamburak

27 March, 2017

ZAMBURAK [zam-BOO-rark] - mobile cannon mounted on a camel, as used by Afghans against the Persian invaders [From Arabic, zunbur, hornet] Camels must be patient beasts, tolerating a zamburak blasting form their vertebrae.

Original Hipsters

21 March, 2017

As a sneak peek of this week's Wordplay column in the SMH, here's a smatter of old-time slang from the original hipster movement of the 1940s. Adrift between jazz cats and beatniks, the hipster was a lover of bebop, booze, noir and after hours - as this vocab grab will suggest.

The book you need to hunt for more is Straight From The Fridge, Dad, a lexicon compiled by Max Decharne. (You can also look for a few Wordwit puzzles in April on the cool vernacular.) Meanwhile, who can craft the best clues for any of these jumpin' gems, with both definition and wordplay included please? Get wailin'.

abbreviations - underwear

blab sheet - newspaper

body scissors - sex

bone orchard - cemetery

butcher shop - hospital

groanbox - accordion

hoofery - dance hall

indoor aviator - lift operator

lacquer cracker - record

marble city - cemetery

pucker paint - lippie

timebox - prison

waffle iron - electric chair

The alehouse is open for your cryptic carousing, brothers and sisters!

WoW: Eleemosynary

20 March, 2017

ELEEMOSYNARY [ell-ah-MAHS-en-eh-ree] - relating to charity; philanthropic [From late Latin eleemosyna ‘alms’, from Greek eleÄ“mosunÄ“ ‘compassion’] Why not buy a Big Issue, not just for eleemosynary reasons, but also to sample the quality cryptics?

Huh 54

15 March, 2017

Most of you will know how Huh posts work. The deal is to unravel the clues on show, explaining how the wordplay operates. Because I can't - or nor fully. Some elements are graspable, but the overall effect is...well...huh?

See if you can undo my bewilderment, from Barbados to fescue, revealing any clue's mechanics. And then as your Huh bonus, a virtual bag of jelly snakes to the person who can craft the classier clue for any of these same seven solutions. Thanks in advance.

1. Accept just good rating perhaps for holiday destination = BARBADOS  [Times 10,790]

2. Hectic last quarter for Balearic Isle heads = MANIC  [Sunday Times 1018]

3. Where one used to see 7 [EMCEE] or 11 [WEED] in flight? = ON THE WING  [Sunday Times 1039 - those inserted words are the solutions to the potential cross-refs.]

4. Component of world trade? = MERCURY SWITCH  [Times 10,818]

5. Cut maize perhaps and wrap = SWATHE  [Times 10,811]

6. Couple ending up with one letter = PHI [Sunday Times 1038]

7. Iron rod and spade to cut grass = FESCUE [Sunday Times 1038]

WoW: Brunoise

13 March, 2017

BRUNOISE [broon-WAHZ] - diced vegetables cooked in butter, often used to flavour soups or sauces [From French brun, brown.] The posher Cup-A-Soup sachets contain freeze-dried brunoise.

Alternative Endings (c)

8 March, 2017

That (c) in brackets is recognition of LR's wonderful crossword in last week's Fairfax papers. If you haven't hunted the puzzle down, then look to the archives for Monday Feb 27, on the cusp of the Oscars.

The gimmick - if I can murmur spoilers - asked you to give some actors an alternative last letter, where RENNER, if he was enlisted, became RENNET. Or SWANK morphed into SWANS. A delightful puzzle - and a very cute idea for a low-watt Storm.

Rather than concocting cryptic clues this week, let's see who can apply the best alternative ending to a movie. All you need do is manipulate a flick from any era or genre, and provide a revised synopsis. For ex:

PLANET OF THE APEX - alien civilisation that functions on philanthropy

MANCHESTER BY THE SET - cheaper linen in bulk

ANT-MAX - tiny road warrior out to wrest the earth's last sugar hit

FINDING DORM - frat-boy quest involving too much liquor and not enough orientation

The box-office is all yours. See who can win the Oscar for Best Corruption.

WoW: Marplot

6 March, 2017

MARPLOT - a meddler who derails your intended course of action [Coined by British writer Susanna Centlivre whose play The Busie Body [1709] included a character by that name.] The telemarketer to ring amid your flow of creativity is a modern marplot.

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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