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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.

Clever Cleaver

July 24, 2014 11 comments

rake An early folly to make up for my absence these next few days, setting off for a few gigs and some riddle-reading in between. This latest game hinges on long es, and short es, seeing if we can compose some sneaky pairs.

Shrewd Rake, say, would be CLEVER CLEAVER, while Tidy catch is a NEAT NET. As you can see, the longer sound can first or second. Let’s see if we can do without supplying word lengths, keeping in mind sound fidelity. (CHEESE CHESS, say, is less precise than BETTY BEATTIE.)

Can you solve my bunch? (Blab freely in the forum.) And can sweat some sweet examples of your own, using your byline and clue number?

DA1 – Superior kitchen gadget
DA2 – Belgian beer thief
DA3 – Funny doctor’s cups
DA4 – Female bomber
DA5 – Doc Daneeka?
DA6 – Auditorium

Share theories, answer and DIY clues in Comments.


July 22, 2014 28 comments

scare2 English has heaps of them. Word nerds in the trade call them tosspots – compound words entailing a noun and the matching verb, or vice versa. Look no further than homework, or pickpocket – the work is done at home, just as the pocket is picked.

Now that you’re aware of them, you’ll see them everywhere, from toothpick to spoilsport. Plenty on offer, and none of them very easy to clue, purely because they involved the two key elements that you need to avoid in your definition.

The game is like Taboo, having to suggest scarecrow without mentioning crows or scaring. Keeping the need for a deft definition in mind, can you clue any of these tosspots?


Give any a go. Or suggest other tosspots – from whetstone to killjoy – and see how you fare in this delicate corner of language.

Salon 24 - Huhs and Handwriting

July 21, 2014 23 comments

psk Entering the edgy 80s on my Times Tally, aiming to bundle up 100 crosswords without resorting to the dictionary, the atlas or the Great God Google. Having said that, I nearly slipped on PSKOV, a Russian city near the Estonian border this weekend. Honestly, the mental lint we need to retain to make a century nowadays…

The same puzzle – Times 9994 – was a stinker in fact. The clues contained 2 huhs (first up), then 2 mehs. Can you explain, justify or improve any of these?

  1. Shortly summon agent back over, displaying sarcastic air = CALYPSO [Why sarcastic?]

  2. Swaps blows = TRADES [Is this meant to be a double-definition? When do trades = blows?]

  3. This man now at liberty to quote Milton? = FREEDMAN [Huh & meh all in one. What’s the allusion, and why repeat ‘man’?]

  4. Smack is back in river, as appointed = DESIGNATE [Another huh/meh blend. Can designate mean appointed, vs appoint? Meanwhile the surface story is muddy, to say the least.]

Any improvements, or enlightenments, appreciated.

Before I go, one quick question: where do you continue to use handwriting? This is for a column, and a festival session coming up. Shopping list? Diary? Crossword? Would love to hear your replies.

Congratz as well to Hamburg (aka JB) for his H-Storm win last week. And here’s to another word-wild week, dear dabblers.

WoW: Graticule

July 21, 2014 9 comments

GRATICULE [GRAT-uh-kewl] – the grid of intersecting lines on a map [From Latin cratis, or wickerwork] Orienteers can expertly use a map’s graticule to pinpoint both latitude and longitude.

Word Square [BB469]

July 20, 2014 11 comments

cube A Birdbrain with a difference this week. The puzzle was submitted by David Fryer, via email, with the answer(s) in your hands, rather than next week’s arrival. I must admit, at first blush, I only have imperfect options, still to find a perfect score. Here’s the challenge, as DF explains:

Find a nine-letter word (123456789) that when written in a square like so…


…forms a three-letter word in each row (123, 456 and 789) and a three-letter word in each column (147, 258 and 369). The nine letters do not all have to be different. The words must all be non-capitalised.

David found two solutions. Let’s see if we can find more, as this week the square is our new football. (Many thanks to David F for the idea.)

BB468 SOLUTION: Ill-treat, income tax, Ian Turpie, idle threat, in transit, injury time, imagine that, ivory tower, instrument test, Ivan Turgenev, insider trading, interval training


July 19, 2014 7 comments

h3 Over a dozen Hopefuls plunged into last week’s H-challenge, making the job of judging a helluva headache. As a general rule, when it comes to clue contests, I’m in search of three things:

  1. zero wastage (where no surplus words clutter your clue);
  2. sleek surface stories;
  3. zest of originality – a fresh take.

In that regard, the Storm was well served by Hip-Hop with his/her Wiggle double:

WRITHE: Wiggle withholds right to end performance
WRITE: Wiggle initially sounded right for record

Neat work, though perhaps the stating of ‘right’ spoilt the sorcery, but I admired how the story was sustained. Another I liked hailed from Hippo:

BUMPH: Initially browser undercut rate of spam
BUMP: AFL controversy in club umpiring

Topical, tidy, with two strong tales. Just as The Hoff introduced a novel contrivance in his second clue here:

SHANK: Slice both ways?
SANK: Declined saner king offering?

And then there was elegance, and intricate packaging, of Orson Buggy’s couplet:

HAIRY: Handy overdraft, with no security?
AIRY: Open with the best lines

I could also mention Harbinger’s deft PUSH, A Is For Orse’s funny TROUGH, or Hornblower’s ARC, but in terms of concision, originality and deception, I had my heart heave for Hamburg:

LEASHED: Even illegal junk was tied down
LEASED: Sealed outlet?

No flabby words. Watertight narratives. Vibrant approaches. The combo won me. So thanks one & all for your handsome hobbyhorses, and congratz to Hamburg on winning Sue Butler’s H Factor. Let me know your snail mail, via email, and I’ll hastily hurl the hardback your way. Till next week.

U & I

July 18, 2014 20 comments

truck For our Friday Folly this week (after such a clement DA crossword), let’s swap places, U and I. That is, let’s turn FOUL into FOIL, or BLINDER into BLUNDER.

As U can see, the switch can take either sequence. For example, Catholic filth is MICK MUCK, while a Semi U-ie, perhaps, is a TRUCK TRICK. Can you U crack these others I baked? (And/or concoct your own, using byline and number.)

DA1Calypso jocks (6,6)
DA2Tarzan tune? (6,6)
DA3Claw armour (4,4)
DA4Quiet kid (4,4)
DA5Detective’s clients? (7,7)
DA6What a detective does? (5,5)

Share your answers – or new stumpers – below.

Dropped Aitch

July 15, 2014 37 comments

h2 Time for a prize. A spot of incognito clue-work to win a copy of Susan Butler’s verbal picnic: The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English.

Susan of course is the editor of the Macquarie, and tackles such semantic pickles as tall poppies, wooden spoons, deciduous hyphens and why petroleum jelly is wiser to say than Vaseline. (I’ll be featuring the book in a coming Wordplay column.)

So pick a word with an H, then clue it. Next you ditch that H to make a new word to inspire a new clue. The best pair before Thursday 6pm wins the Butler book. (To make things impartial, as I’ll be sole judge, please use an H-alias.) Here’s a foretaste:

MARSHSoft spot for Iron Gloves?

STANCHESDeviant snatches stems
STANCESGrant from media given to dole office positions

Who’s hampering you? Hoe in.

Salon 23 - Fests & Feed

July 14, 2014 10 comments

earth This week sees the launch of the Melbourne Writers' Fest schedule, with astronauts and fatwa appellants among the major drawcards. (Of course I speak of Canadian Chris Hadfield and Mr Rushdie, both heading for Oz mid-August.)

Down the list somewhere – unless it’s alphabetical – I’ll also be named. You can come by on August 23 for a crossword powwow, or hear either intriguing guest I’m hosting on other dates: Molly Oldfield (a QI elf) and Philip Hensher (the historian of handwriting).

PS – if you can’t wait that long, then come along nest Wednesday (23/7) to Readers' Feast, for free, to hear Toni Jordan, Robert Dessaix, Nobelist Peter Doherty and I rhapsodise our rare books.

Also this week, Lawrence Leung (of SBS2’s The Feed) is keen to add crossword-maker to his belt of scalps. He’s already accumulated zombies, mediaevalists and magicians, so the progression seems obvious. Mind you, my fave Feed profile is Tommy J.

Last up a challenge relating to anagrams. Past puzzles will insists that INSIST holds two opposites: IS & ISN’T. Just as WIPERS holds SEW & RIP. Below are 7 more keepers of opposites – but can you add any more members?

  1. brownest
  2. sou’wester
  3. alfresco
  4. theologist
  5. tearingly
  6. dynamited
  7. Stolichnaya

Share pairs – or new cocktails – below. And/or the best of the Brit puzzles too, as I reach Times Crossword #75 with no help or slip. (Wish me luck.)

WoW: Panchayat

July 14, 2014 9 comments

PANCHAYAT [pun-CHARR-yet] – village council in India [From Sanskrit, panch, or five, as this is the customary number in the assembly.] Curiously, the word punch, like panchayat, also derives from panch, as there was originally five ingredients.

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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Recent Comments

Annette on Cold Case Crack'd

on July 26, 2014

Mr X on Salon 24 - Huhs and Handwriting

on July 25, 2014

AC on Clever Cleaver

on July 25, 2014

SK on Clever Cleaver

on July 25, 2014

DA2 on Clever Cleaver

on July 25, 2014

Sam on Clever Cleaver

on July 25, 2014

Donette on Slam-Bhang Bingo [BB341]

on July 25, 2014

Spoiler Alert


Today’s DA crossword [6/6] has a video link showing you a time-lapse of the puzzle’s hatching. Or peek at the story in Tower, the UTS magazine.

Frankston Here I Come


If Rosebud makes you think of a Victorian beach, rather than a bloom-to-be, or a child’s sled, then you probably live not so far from Frankston, where I’ll be talking and puzzling on Tuesday, May 20. Come join me.

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