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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.


August 01, 2014 4 comments

candy Pity the newcomer to English – our lingo can be a brute. You only need look at the promiscuity of C, a letter that alternates between a hard K-like sound, or a sibilant S-cousin. So what if we switch roles in familiar words to sound out new words?

CLIP-CLOP, for instance, would sound like SLIP-SLOP, just as DUCK would bob up as DUSK. The same sort of wangle would make Grainy lollies SANDY CANDY, or a meat dish would be a BACON BASIN.

As you can see, the soft- or hard-C can lead or follow. For this folly, let’s ignore the CH/SH combo, and try to adhere to a matching sound, thus eliminating COUTH SOUTH, say, but okaying SOPPY COPY. A bit of fun. See what you can make of these openers:

DA1Scale gunk (5,5)
DA2Shoe craft (7,7)
DA3Punishing drool (10,10)
DA4Tender troops (4,5)
DA5‘Soft’ finale? (4,4)
DA6Food as pay? (7,6)

Your answers, and your own attempts, are ‘sordially’ invited.

Huh 44

July 31, 2014 10 comments

freud This could be some kind of record, where one crossword has offered five resounding Huhs. (These are the clues that still bewilder, even after they’ve been solved.)

I’m attempting the Times Tally, entering the early 90s this week – though a recent puzzle nearly threatened the ton, namely the notable Times 10,000. A fine milestone, but a bugger of a puzzle, entailing these four head-scratchers below.

Can you explain how they work? And can you compose a sleeker clue for any of the same solutions?

  1. Film type spelt out in tableaux vivants in different form = FIFTEEN [I know there’s a film called If… Then what?]

  2. Pop back and reserve early delivery? = PINTA [Pop is PA. A Columbus ship is Pinta…?]

  3. One introducing ID for restricting entry usually does, first of all = FREUD [Yes, I get the ‘id’ upcasing, then I struggle – ]

  4. National department taking tax once a quarter Jan to Mar = IRAQI [But isn’t Jan to Mar Q3, as financial years go?]

  5. Dickensian architect needing kisses – but no bouquet! = PECKSNIFF [Trying to figure how bouquet yields NIFF]

Any insights, and renewed delights, most welcome.

Charade Parade

July 30, 2014 17 comments

law Hey Dabblers – thanks for keep the pot on simmer while I’ve been off-campus. Had some fun with the good people of Newcastle Uni, and then a spot of riddle-digging in Sydney (my new project).

While abroad, I thought about AB road, and other charades. Words like WHOLEGRAIN than can break down into WHO LEG RAIN, yet who can compose the neatest sentence that embraces both source word and charade string? A few of my early bids:

With no table, the notable surgeon was not able to operate.
During the Crimean War, randy TE Lawrence dreamt of leafy Warrandyte.
After curfew, the cops threw the cur few bones.
We visited a health spa in…

Etc. Simple game, yet who shall flourish as our Charade Champ I On?

Salon 25

July 28, 2014 13 comments

cow Last week, in case you missed the Twitter storm, there was a fabulous list under the hashtag: #RemoveALetterRuinABand. Outfits included The Grateful Dad, Daft Pun, Counting Cows and Pubic Enemy. Check them out.

The gag has inspired me to wonder about people, with one letter missing – or one letter added. What say we wangle a few and give the ‘altered egos’ a new bio. For example:

PRO ARTPainting advocate
PRO CHARTPainter pushing ‘artography’
HAROLD POINTERDidactic playwright
GLORIA SWANSONGthe Melba of Hollywood
JOE HOKEYbogus budgeteer

By my reckoning I’m attempting to crack Times #88 today, assuming I survive the weekend’s fare. That’s a little giddy. I can feel the rare air, the vertigo. If you wish to play Tenzing to my Edmund, tag along with the Times this week. Or share the joys of the G and elsewhere. Have a wordy week.

WoW: Figurant

July 28, 2014 7 comments

FIGURANT [FIG-yur-ent] – ballet dancer who does ensemble work, but no solo roles; non-speaking role in a play [From French, figurer, to represent] Spear-carriers and rhubarb intoners are both figurants.

Even Stevens [BB470]

July 27, 2014 3 comments

spiel Today we are totally Even Steven (or Stephen) with the combinations on display. Can you name these ten Stevens (or Stephens) given only their even letters? PEBR, say, is Spielberg. What other notable surnames have been evened in the name of Steven – or Stephen?

  1. EGL
  2. ODEM
  3. RDUY
  4. IG
  5. AKN
  6. R
  7. OBR
  8. OEBRH
  9. UREMI
  10. YE
  11. ERR
  12. UR

BB469 SOLUTION: So, did we find at least two words for the square challenge?!

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.

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.



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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A pocketbook packed with 250 word stories – from Aga to Zemblanity – plus 175 new puzzles for all comers, this is a word nerd’s summer necessity.

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Puzzled combines memoir, wordplay history and a how-to guide for solvers. With bizarre crossword stories, example clues plus mini-puzzles to test your skill – and nerve. Buy here.

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Recent Comments

Sam on C-Switch

on August 01, 2014

DA on C-Switch

on August 01, 2014

Mr X on C-Switch

on August 01, 2014

Sam on C-Switch

on August 01, 2014

Sam on Charade Parade

on July 31, 2014

DA on Huh 44

on July 31, 2014

jpr on Huh 44

on July 31, 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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