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Diabolically Arcane

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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.

Death Warmed Up

28 February, 2017

A Storm with a ghoulish twist this week. Not just the flavour, but the fact we get to massage phrases rather than the usual words or names.

Listed below are a range of euphemisms and blowhard idioms hailing from the talk I gave at Hamer Hall on the weekend. The occasion was the opening gala of the Wheeler Centre, each of the dozen performers asked to respond to death.  Naturally I went the wordy tack, dividing an eerie story as the speech's bookends.

Check out the address here, with the option of hearing the genuine if you push the Play function - a bittersweet recital complete with ringtones, laughs and deadly silence too.

So live it up, my quick friends. Let's see who can animate these macabre offerings with most vivacity. (No need to supply the definition, unless talk of dying benefits the wordplay. Have fun, and enjoy my Wheeler jabber too.)












On a related theme, a big thanks to all for keeping the blog pulse so vital since the silly season. I've relished the lively WoWs and other forums - quite rejuvenating in fact . And don't forget to hop across to the Cruciverbalist site too, where the latest zine has a DAshing-cum-DAggy theme, a prize offer, not to mention curly work by CB, SL and SK.

WoW: Ramentum

27 February, 2017

RAMENTUM (plural, RAMENTA) - a brittle brown scale found on fern stems; any particle shaved from the whole. [From Latin radere, to scrape] A curlicue of wood escaping the working lathe may be described as a swarf - or ramentum. 

Hangman Hell

21 February, 2017

You may have noticed a tweet from Monday's feed, a laundry list of killer words for Hangman players. No word is foolproof, of course. Even FOOLPROOF could outpoint the dozen migraines below, but I guarantee this same set will see you dangle more bodies per tournamant than the customary toll. 

The same list seemed to good to ignore for clue-crafting too, a casual Storm to keep our skills in shape. Please provide BOTH definition and wordplay for your clues, and let's see who can outpoint others in the Hangman handicap. Good l_ck!













May the handiest Hangman prevail. (And what other Hangman words do you recommend?)

WoW: Paraskevidekatriaphobia

20 February, 2017

PARASKEVIDEKATRIAPHOBIA - (pair-uh-skee-vee-dek-uh-tree-uh-FOH-bee-uh) - fear of Friday 13th [From Greek paraskevi, Friday + dekatria, 13 + -phobia. Coined in jest by popular media around 2003.] If throw salt, sidestep ladders and avoid black cats, you more than plikely prone to paraskevidekatriaphobia.

WoW: Quaxing

13 February, 2017

QUAXING - shopping without involving a car, but rather relying on walking, cycling or public transport [Named after NZ Olympic runner Dick Quax, whose 2015 Tweet insisting Western shopping implies a car sparked the ironic verb in response.] One way to erase writer's block is to practice quaxing for your daily groceries.

January Jewels II

7 February, 2017

Ten more splendid clues for you to chew, all encountered in British puzzles over the last five weeks, plus one local setter you may recognise. A mixed bag too - with a few gimmes, and some major brain-burners, such as the final quartet, which may well call for teamwork to undo. See how many you can nail.

1. Too many gluttons ask for seconds (4) [Gila]

2. Reversing, say, a spacecraft's docking procedure (7) [Brummie]

3. Royals are corrupt? Time for a revolution (5,4) [Toro]

4. Futile swimming in central European river, one that's deep (10) [Nestor]

5. The Cure perform without guitarist? (7) [SK]

6. As swine in decay, they can't fly (11) [Paul]


7. Brooding opening piece, involving piano (13) [Picaroon]

8. Media editor not oddly involved in his work? (3,8) [Screw]

9. Handle not normally used to open or close? (6,4) [Vlad]

10. Animal amongst camel's ancestors, for example? (7) [Puck]

If you seek wisdom, ask. If you are wise, share.

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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