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Diabolically Arcane

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Alarming Marginals

28 June, 2016

Storm time, and this week we apply the oxywelder to those incumbent candidates in the marginal seats - both Coalition and Labor reps. Get used to these names, as come Tally-Room Telly, you will hear plenty more about their fate.

So here's the dozen, the first six above the line are Libs, while the next six are Labor, all 12 currently holding their seat by their fingernails. With no need of definition, can you compose a classy clue for any candidate?

(And please excuse my cameo role this week online, as for the next 2 weeks I'm hosting Arvos on ABC 774 Melbourne, filling in for Clare Bowditch. Tune in between 1-3 to hear me learning on the job.)














Exercise your democratic panache, and clue away.

WoW: Pygmalionist

27 June, 2016

PYGAMALIONIST - someone who adores their own creation [After the sculptor Pygmalion from Ovid's Metamorphoses who fell in love with his own sculpture.] Professor Henry Higgins is the best known pygmalionist, becoming besotted by his protege in Eliza Doolittle.

Tapped Out

24 June, 2016

This Friday's folly relies on an upcoming Wordwit puzzle, due to appear in a month or more. The gist is to remove both taps (C and H) from one word to create the other. That word may be the first or second, which makes way for such clues as:

Despising incubation = HATING HATCHING

Tar trap = PITCH PIT

Note how both examples use CH as a cluster, in that order. But to crank up the heat, feel free to spread the taps - turning CRUSHES into RUSES, or CLOTH into LOT. (So long as we adhere to the C/H sequence. Yes I know most bathrooms offer the reverse, but CH allows for more fun!)

DA1 - Cartography?

DA2 - Bierkeller?

DA3 - Commit ID fraud?

DA4 - Spoilsport smile

DA5 - Tacky sets

DA6 - Old coin kerfuffle 

DA7 - Shiny city

DA8 - Fitter episode?

DA9 - Green fuel expert

Can you chisel through these answers and/or hatch you own examples? Please use you byline and number to help us keep tap the forum.


21 June, 2016

Double-definitions are a good way of cracking open any crossword. The clues are often short - sometimes only two words - while the recipe is luminous. Besides that, most crosswords carry at least one example. 

Yet far fewer puzzles can boast a triple-definition, let alone a quadruple. Yet I stumbled across both specimens in my recent solving adventures, and thought their excellence could inspire this week's Storm.

Here are the two clues, the first from Screw, the other via Bonxie:

Cares for more than one behind loomsREARS

Hit victim behind target = BUTT

Talk about bum steers! Derrieres aside, these are two fine clues, dabbling in that rare space of manifold definitions. 'Butt' - can we match the marvels? Who can conjure the best triple-header (or beyond)? Kick ass.

WoW: Gorodki

20 June, 2016

GORODKI [gaw-ROD-kee] - Russian game akin to horseshoes, where a player hurls a bat towards wooden pins at a distance. [From Russian, literally 'small city' in reference to the clustered target.] Check this link to see how the gorodki skittles can be arrayed into cannons, forks, lobsters or crankshafts.

Meh 23

17 June, 2016

Time for a whine - my sporadic post under the Meh banner. This is where I single out clues for their outstanding underwhelmingness, and see whether you see things otherwise. My cause for carping is (in brackets) beside each clue, with a standing invitation for you to differ, or at least compose a better clue for the same solution.

And a warning of sorts - the first five mehs hail from a single puzzle, set by Logodaedalus. Clearly not a crossword for the poolroom:

1. This may indicate someone elderly or dull = GREYNESS (As a silvered bloke myself, I find this colourist and banal.)

2. Boring solid material needed for this type of wall = DRY STONE (Stone = stone in both wordplay and definition: a petrified hookworm.)

3. Dance and vibrate in sleazy bar = RHUMBA (Not only the rarer spelling, but a dud anagram signpost. Sleazy?)

4. Busily working? It's tough to keep a bird = HARD AT IT (Hard is another hookworm.)

5. Prisoner is at home with a friend = INMATE (Mate, as above. What a weary clue.)

6. Classy footballer’s wife = POSH (Tramp, how else did Victoria Beckham get her name? Then there's the sexism vibe, where she is only defined via he....When all the while there was Old Spice to consider!)

7. Isn’t Web a wonderful place to leave rubbish = WASTE BIN (Love this Times clue except for the wonky anagrind. Why not chaotic? Fractious? Strange?)

8. Censor’s one to author one who supplies standup material = GAG WRITER [Brummie is often excellent, but this is misfire, with a overlapping use of writer.]

Are you with me? Do you feel me? Or am I being peevish? And please light up our Friday with finer clues of your own to arrive at the same answers.

Yoo-Hoo Clue Coup

14 June, 2016

This week's Storm is built on a whim - and relies on your vim What are the odds of making a clue where one word in either the definition or wordplay elements happens to rhyme with the answer? Sure, a camel is a mammel, while quiver means shiver, but I'm sure there are more subtle means of implanting a rhyme in your work.

Testing the water, here's my initial splash:

BEARD - Face up to weird bread

COLLAPSE - Dog that's escaped niche, perhaps, in cave

                   [COLL/ie + APSE]

STEINBECK - Novelist suffering neck bites

Better still if I could manage a complete rhyme for Steinbeck (wine tech, mine wreck...) but that's your challenge: how well can you weave wordplay around a solution rhyme? Now's the time. Have fun, everyone.

WoW: Esquisse

13 June, 2016

ESQUISSE [ESS-kiss] - preliminary freehand drawing of an intended picture, model or sculpture [From French, via Italian, shizzo, literally 'sketch'] Matisse resorted to an esquisse before embarking on his canvas.

WoW: Kakiemon

13 June, 2016

KAKIEMON [ky-KEE-mon] - Japanese porcelain featuring intricate enamel decoration [From designer Sakaida Kakiemon (1596-1666) who developed the art form.] The artist Kakiemon was probably not born Kakiemon, as his court name emerged in honour of his exquisite persimmons [kaki] painted in the earthenware. 

Juvenile Delinquents

7 June, 2016

Some two years back, a setter called Cincinnus stripped a juvenile. At least the compiler for the Financial Times opted for this clue:

Expose juvenile delinquent, avoiding extremes (6)

The answer is UNVEIL, the core letters of juvenile on being delinquent. We've seen this trick before but I thought the device might be a worthy Storm focus. Can you create a stylish clue with a matcing recipe?

The art lies in the story you tell on the surface, and what words you select. Here are some opening bids:

ANGORA - Skinned kangaroo used as wool source

TIE-INS - Poor Einstein flayed selling gimmicks?

BEMOANS - Regrets exposure of James Bond corruption

As you can see, using names (or two words) is OK. So long as the trick dwells on the shucking of skin, and the manipulation of the remainder. While I may be off-grid for most of this week, taking a hike literally, I invite you to unpeel and get surreal. Who shall be exposed as the finest stripper among us?

WoW: Feldenkrais

6 June, 2016

Feldenkrais [FELL-den-KRISE] - system of aided movements aimed to increase your bodily awareness and ease tension. [Trademark after Israeli-Ukrainian physicist Moshé Feldenkrais, who pioneered the techniques in the late 1940s.] A simple Feldenkrais workout claims to ease back pain and alleviate muscle stiffness. 

Number's Up

3 June, 2016

Firstly a conundrum, sustaining the hybrid theme of this week's Storm. The puzzle was sent my way by occasional contributor AC who found a fusion of sudoku and crossword in a mag for actuaries. Here's the link to see if you have the alphanumeric chops. (Thanks Anthony for the nudge.)

Secondly, turning to numbers: a twofold folly for this first Friday of winter. Below is a miscellany of bingo-slang, mainly from the UK callers. If you're up for some mischief can you (a) create some inventive nicknames for other numbers?

Or (b), clue these existing labels, using the actual number in your clue as the definition? Here's your smattering. Good luck all players.

1 - Kelly's eye

10 - David's den (Downing St)

11 - legs

17 - dancing queen

22 - ballerina (tutu)

33 - Sherwood forest (all trees)

39 - Jack Benny (his frequently fibbed age)

44 - Star Wars (may the 4s be with you)

45 - halfway house (midway to 90, the bingo max)

57 - all the beans

58 - Thomas tank engine

76 - trombones (...in the big parade)

80 - Gandhi (ate nothing)

88 - two fat ladies

Love to your some DIY suggestions, even if the number's already labelled. And let's see who can make the best bingo clue to wrap the week in words. 


31 May, 2016

Dogs seem to hog the limelight when it comes to fancy hybrid names, from pugaliers to collipoos, from labradoodles to dobernauzers.

Enough ruff stuff. Let's devote this Storm to our own cross-breeding, splicing any two creatures (scaled, feathered, furred or spineless) by using their common cluster of letters. 

That will offer you an urchinchilla to clue, or a labradormouse, a gorillama or zebrat. As you can see, you can rely on anything from two letters upward, so long as the linking cluster appears at one end, and opens the other. 

Invent your animal and then create the clue. Let's see who can imagine the finest mongrel, as well as craft the sleekest clue. Here's an appetiser or two:

MARMOTH - Hurt speaker losing heart [MAR + MOuTH]

CAMELAND - Manacled deviant

ASPANIEL - Like Alpine ranges

Over to you, and your zoo. Show working if the clue is intricate, and enjoy your animal cocktails.

WoW: Salopettes

30 May, 2016

SALOPETTES [SAL-oh-PETS] - one-piece garment with front flap and shoulder straps, commonly worn by skiers or sailors. [From French, salopette: overalls. The added -s in English obeys the patterns of trousers, jeans etc.] Yachties and alpinist are likely to have a pair of salopettes mothballed during the off-season. 

WoW: Makarrata

30 May, 2016

MAKARRATA [mack-ah-RAH-tah] - agreement [This Yolngu word was foisted upon Australian English by the Aboriginal Treaty Committee of 1980, a bid to implant an indigenous post-Wik word of cultural awareness and land-rights recognition.] Like many words enforced upon a populace, makarrata struggled to find traction, despite the gathering momentum in the national push for reconciliation.


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. 

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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