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Diabolically Arcane

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Happy 50th, Man

17 January, 2017

Tad quiet on the blog over the silly season, as only makes sense. And this year will err on the quieter side, as new books and projects demand more of my attention.

Hence Brainstorms will now become monthly - often the first Tuesday of the month: our chance to generate the cream of clues as a pack - to see who rises to the top. And of course these clue frenzies will float among the usual fare of WoWs, the odd Friday Folly - plus some UK clues to unpick. So same Astlesque antics, just a steadier pulse is all. 

To kick off the Stormy year, here's a grab-bag of words coined, born or realigned in 1967, back when peace was an amulet, and acid a tab. With no call for a definition, unless it benefits your clue, which flower child will wangle the best 'pieces' of wordplay from this Kombi-load?


DOOBIE - joint, reefer









CURSOR - in the computing sense





WoW: Mithridatise

16 January, 2017

MITHRIDATISE [MYTH-ree-DATE-ise] - to protect yourself against poison by taking small and regular doses of toxin [After Mithridates V, the King of Pontus, whose fears over poison compelled him to ingest venoms to develop immunity.] Can you blame the young kind from trying to mithridatise, after his mother poisoned his old man?

WoW: Padiddle

9 January, 2017

PADIDDLE - a car with only one headlight; also known as a Popeye [Origin unknown, believed to be first cited in an Archie comic in 1948]. A popular game among Canadian and US kids while travelling at night was to yell 'padiddle' on seeing the first failed headlight. 

WoW: Bonnyclabber

2 January, 2017

BONNYCLABBER - thick, sour milk [Irish Gaelic where bainne clabair literally means 'milk of the clabber (i.e. the churn)] If you leave your Pura carton too long in the sun, you'll end up with two litres of bonnyclabber.

WoW: Electuary

26 December, 2016

ELECTUARY [uh-LEK-choo-uh-ree] - medicine composed usually of a powder mixed into a pasty mass with syrup or honey [Ultimately from Greek ekleichein lick up (in passive, be taken as an electuary] Kids reluctant to swallow tablets could well be convinced to nibble an electuary.

Clues of Repute 58

22 December, 2016

Here's a bunch of delicous clues drawn from a Guardian collection, a volume I solved while touring India over the last month. Can you crack the lot? (Some will need a bit of brainstorming in the forum to unravel, believe me!) And feel free to compose your own clues for the same solutions. 

More importantly - merry X and have a great 2017. My thanks for all your genius and levity over 2016 as well, as the DA blog enters its slowdown mode across the summer holidays. Ready for some finery? Here we go:

1. Making light of swimming centre with two shops (14) [The late, great Taupi]

2. It's not this that's exceptional (9,4) [Orlando]

3. What makes whiskies all the same? (5) [Araucaria]

4. Garment of polyester, not cotton (7) [Araucaria - a clue I praised in Puzzled]

5. Daffy Duck waddles at a funeral pace (4,4) [Brummie]

6. They'll shift cases, so one may arrive at Skye (5,4) [Puck]

7. Sleuths retreating in wind will part (7) [Araucaria]

8. Schedule back-breaking crash at movie's finale (10) [Taupi]

Savour the set, and have a peaceful, puzzleful festive season.

WoW: Hikikomori

19 December, 2016

HIKIKOMORI [hi-KEE-kuh-MAW-ree] - person who's severely reclusive, especially a youth who sleeps through the day and spends the night watching TV and playing computer games [From Japanese - no surprise - meaning 'pulling inward, being confined] Anyone with a reclusive nocturnal teen under their roof will know first-hand the ways of the hikikomori.


13 December, 2016

Over the years I've been collecting words that sound like sneezes. (Hey, we all need a hobby.) The idea kicked off with cashew and has proven pretty much contagious ever since. 

Anyway, here's my roll-call below. What other words can be added? And can you create a crytpic clule for any of the entries. (A bonus point if you can relate the wordplay to the act of sternutation.)











Who will rule the drool?

WoW: Dhrupad

12 December, 2016

DHRUPAD [dhroo-pahd] -  form of north Indian classical vocal music, typically in a slow tempo, which develops various parts of the raga. [From Hindi dhruv (poem) + pad (verse)] Traditionally the dhrupad is performed by a solo singer in unison to the beat of the pakhavaj (or mridang), rather than the tabla.

Clues of Repute 57

6 December, 2016

Here are some splendid bits of business drawn from recent Brit xwords, from The Guardian to The Independent (my new cryptic fix of choice, esp Punk, Donk, Anax & Nestor). Anyhow, you know the drill: can you solve them, and who can compose a fine alternative clue for any of the same solutions?

1. Bottom of flask in pocket [Sunday Times 1017]

2. River's current between banks (4) [as above - among the COTY]

3. Rasher gnarl? (8,3,4) [Nimrod - starts with T, ends with D....]

4. Condemned equal rights dispute (7) [Vlad]

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

6. One going down for a long time, a reviled criminal in prison, is on for release (5,5) [Paul]

7. Potty-trains baby, ignoring books on hygiene (8) [Bogus]

8. Hateful how satellite cable may be connected (7) [Times 10710]

WoW: Pop Shuvit

5 December, 2016

POP SHUVIT [POP SHOVE-it] -  a skateboarding manoeuvre where the rider jumps into the air while the board spins beneath their feet [Pop as in burst, plus shove] The pop shuvit requires the skater to kick her board's tail down on leaping, so making the board airborne, and spin.

Troppo Post Strategy

29 November, 2016

This week we skip the cryptic cookbook and look to make music with one big restraint. Can you build a plausible phrase, or complete sentence, where a two-letter overlap applies from word-to-word? 

This post's heading is a tame example, as is:

Often English shaped editorial allusions. 


Llama made delightful ululations.

Remember: length ain't everything, not when you can craft a seamless semantic unit, a little classier than my opening salvos. Simple on the page, but one God-forsaken enigma, mate.

Who will be our overlap overlord?

WoW: Gegenschein

28 November, 2016

GEGENSCHEIN [GEGG-en-shine] - faint illumination of the sky at night which is sometimes seen opposite the sun; caused by sunlight being reflected by meteoric dust in space. [From German, literally counter-glow] Hubble blamed a greasy lens when first spying gegenschein through his telescope.

Hindi Heirlooms

23 November, 2016

The DA blog will take a low profile for the next while, as I'm heading off to India for a Wordburger barnstormer, from Delhi to Jaipur. (Look for a column - and a Brainstorm - about the rare joys of Hinglish come late December.)

Before then, I've preloaded a few distractions, from the customary WoWs, to a few Clues of Repute, plus a Friday folly if you're up for the fun. So by all means drop by. Have a crack. Drop a line. Just don't think I've dropped off the perch. Blame Bangalore instead.

Meanwhile, to keep the mind in the mould, here's a dozen words we owe to Hindi. Can you devise a fresh clue for any example? Feel free to add the definition element only if it suits your clue's surface reading. Alavida, for now!







JUGGERNAUT (corruption of the god Jaganath)




SORBET (and not French as I'd suspected)


Enjoy the chicanery, and your early summer. Who will outdo the Hindo to-do?

WoW: Dasyurid

21 November, 2016

DASYURID -  [dass-ee-YOUH-ruhd] - member of the marsupial family Dasyuridae, which includes quolls, dunnarts, planigales, ningauis [From Greek dasy(s) shaggy + ūr(ys) (via oura tail)] The principal dasyurid in northern Tassie is the Eastern quoll. 


18 November, 2016

You may have caught the dictionary goss, or spotted your blog host rapping with Leigh Sales on The 730 Report last night, but the Words of the Year are in bloom again.

For some lexicons at least. (The Macquarie has the good grace to wait until the year is done.) Here below's a sample of the picks from the Oxford Dictionaries and Collins. All we need is your fresh clue, using both elements: wordplay and definition in the one neat bundle.

POST-TRUTH - disconnected from objective facts in favour of emotional appeal

SHARENTING - oversharing parents who post/Instagram/Tweet every minor milestone

SNOWFLAKE GENERATION - young adults of the 2010s viewed as less resilient & more prone to taking offence

ADULTING - playing the role of grown-up, especially the fulfililng of mundane but necessary tasks

THROW SHADE - make a public show of contempt for someone or something, often in a subtle or non-verbal manner

TRUMPISM - Trump policies rejecting the current political establishment

ALT-RIGHT - extreme conservatism

HYYGE - feeling of cosiness, safety and harmony (Danish)

GLASS CLIFF - precarious ascent to leadership for women or minority groups

MIC DROP - gesture where one feigns to drop a hand-held microphone as a finale

DUDE FOOD - Junk food such as hot dogs, burgers, etc 

COULROPHOBIA - fear of clowns

BOGANAIRE - under-educated, low-cultured moneybags

That last one is my tip for Macquarie's WOTY, but let's see how the jury swings. The new words are all yours.


15 November, 2016

Rather than running with cryptic clues this Storm, let's mark America's new boss, a man as white, as wealthy and as waspish as they come. 

In honour of The Donald's ancestral wasp nest, your challenge is to conjure up pair of words where W in one appear as P in the other. SWILL SPILL is one example, which could be clued as 'Pigsty mishap (6,6)'.

The W-P exchange can occur in either direction. And don't forget to supply your byline and clue number, so we can keep track of clues yet to be solved. Here's my opening wodge:

DA1 - Harvest pest (4,4)

DA2 - Making out laundry? (7,7)

DA3 - Where to find Don's cufflinks? (6,6)

DA4 - B-U-M-P (8,8)

DA5 - Dry Rapunzel? (5,5)

DA6 - Licensed private dancer? (6,6)

WoW: Phillumeny

14 November, 2016

PHILLUMENY [fill-LOOM-en-ee] -  collecting of any match-related items, including matchboxes, matchbox labels and matchbooks [From Greek, phil- [loving] + Latin lumen- [light] Thanks to blog regular Sam for matchmaking pillumeny with the WoW roster - a striking addition. 

WoW: Carretela

12 November, 2016

CARRETELA [karr-ah-TELL-uh] - horse-drawn cart used in the Philippines. Its bodywork is low and two rows of passengers sit face to face. [Fro Spanish, small cart] The carretela is a popular rental for Manila's more grandiose weddings. 

Reshap'd Pradesh

8 November, 2016

In a few weeks I'll be touring India with Wordburger, a non-vegan book for non-Hindi readers who can't get enough of quirky wordplay. Hence the blog has been a tad quiet as I cram to finish my 2nd manuscript inside 3 months. Crazy, hazy days of hay-fever November...

Anyhow, just to keep your clue-pecs toned, here's a shortlist of 15 Indian states and territories. Some delectable names for you to mould in any shape or mode, with no call for a definition unless that benefits the clue's flow. 

Jump in. The subcontinent awaits.
















Get it India!

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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