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Diabolically Arcane

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Riddledom is a global, time-hopping romp through the realm of riddles, their secrets & stories. Due to hit the shelves in August. Pre-order here.

Wry Toasts

1 September, 2015

To celebrate the launch of Riddledom, let's do something different for this week's Storm. Relying on puns - the very stuff of Western riddles - let's invent a bunch of toasts for a young couple, or perhaps a youngster on the cusp of adulthood.

Feel free to toy with homophones, or double-meanings, or maybe a twist of idiom. The essence gets down to wordplay, with a neat or unexpected punchline. Here's a sampler, the first two cribbed from gag websites:

May all your pain be champagne.

May all your ups and downs be under the sheets.

May all your ails come cold and cheap.

May all your pitfalls turn into goldmines.

Here's to being positive, except at the pathology lab.

Raise your glass to X, the hero himself inside pheromones.

May glee be yours, and never a rerun.

You get the drift - a sneaky quip, a sleight-of-tongue, a verbal curveball. If it helps, specify the person whose being toasted, or the occasion. Otherwise, lift your glass and dazzle us with eloquence. See who can win over the room.

PS - if that room is near Brisbane, then come along to any of my four sessions at this weekend's Writers' Fest, and let's clink glasses. Cheers, and may all your banes be Brisbane!

WoW: Sharawadgi

31 August, 2015

SHARAWADGI [shar-ah-WADGE-ee] - artful use of disproportion in design, either in architecture or landscaping [Japanese possibly via Chinese:  sanlan waizhi "space tastefully enlivened by disorder"] Vigorous hedge maintenance can magnify the foreground plants in classic sharawadgi

Waterwords [BB521]

30 August, 2015

Key WATER into an online thesaurus and you hit many categories. Under Cowardice, say, you will find go to water, while Weaponry lists water pistol and water cannon. (Yes, there may well be more than one listing to seize.)

 So what water-phrases might lie under these 12 headings? And going with flow, does any exuberant soul care to choose another keyword, giving us some category options?

1. Difficulty

2. Prediction

3. Punishment

4. Allure

5. Discouragement

6. Nonconformity

7. Medicine

8. Truth

9. Superiority

10. Room

11. Unconditionality

12. Oppositeness


BB520 SOLUTION: Pant/rash, seed/ate, pasta/go, bought/wig, thing/aunt, swamp/addled; posses/have, discus/stalk, but/tend, though/treason, cares/spat, loo/trifle, vie/wangle

Huh 50 + News

28 August, 2015

For those coming to the Riddledom launch this Sunday - 4pm at ACMI - please make sure you get there early. Seating is limited and bookings aren't possible. (But hey, if the Festival bouncers block your path, then grab a drink and come by the pop-up bookshop at 5, and I'll tell you what you missed. I might even scribble your flyleaf.)


Meanwhile, to bide your time, see how you fare trying to unravel these tangled clues, salvaged from a sheaf of old Times puzzles. Some I kinda get, but need more insight. Others seem to lack a word, or a clear link. While one or two may as well be Urdu.

How do these babies work? And if you're feeling nimble-minded, can you concoct a clue for any of these same eight answers? OK, get set, go:

1. Are the perfect matches occuring in bouts? = FITFULLY 

2. Speaker’s to keep greeting in store for farmer, perhaps = HAYLOFT

3. Online engine providing tips to displayICON

4. Bouquet given in cross-channel charity event = FRAGRANCE

5. Status of some prisoners when required to swap wings in Dartmoor once = ON PAROLE

6. When time is right serviceman gets poison = CURARE

7. Tom following leaderless crew, misses rowing?CATFIGHT

8. Victim of John WB Adamson = ABEL 


25 August, 2015

This week's Storm is an update - and thanks. Last Sunday's Riddle Walk was a big hit, with a full list of guinea-pigs juggling letters, unpicking puns, spotting laneway palindromes, and finding fugitive allusions in Melbourne's bluestone maze.

Ninety minutes of puzzle mayhem, with coffee and prizes as finale. A big thanks to Lisa Dempster, runner of the Writers Fest, for backing the walk, plus you wonderful people for all your bridge-suggestions the other week.

The idea that suited best involved 15 cards, each card bearing a three-letter word. This was ideal to distribute as rewards as we walked. Later, as the meta-puzzle, the players had to rearrange their loot into five nine-letter words along the moat. 

In order the pieces made this list:






Other candidates were:




Hey, what a handy list to clue! Not just those eight longer words, but any of those three-letter pieces. And feel free to mix-and-match the inventory into other combos, like CAR/PET or LEG/ATE etc. Start bridging and thanks again.

WoW: Snoezelen

24 August, 2015

SNOEZELEN [snur-ZEL-en] - therapy aiding patients with autism, or brain impairment, involving a room of soothing sensory stimulation [From Dutch snuffelen (to explore) + doezelen (to doze)] Backlit aquaria can have a snoezelen effect. [Thanks to Stig for the wow of a WoW suggestion.]

Slip-N-Sliding [BB520]

22 August, 2015

Slide the end letter from your first answer onto the second answer’s head, and you’ll make two words of equivalent meaning. Idiot/Capone, say, is CHUMP/AL (chum/pal). Easy once you get the hang - so that's why I changed the direction in the list's second half!

(And what ideal duos did I neglect, going forwards or back? Share your own brain-benders in the Comments, tagging your clues with byline & number.)

1. Breathe heavily/reckless

2. Plant’s origin/scoffed

3. Fettuccine, eg/stab

4. Purchased/toupee

5. Object/relative

6. Bog/boggled

And now for a change of direction:

7. Lynch mobs/ply a razor

8. Olympic projectile/furtively follow

9. Yet/look after

10. Yet/sedition

11. Troubles/tiff

12. Dunny/dessert

13. Bid/manipulate


BB519 SOLUTION: Crib/cradle, preacher/priest, cricket/croquet, stilt/stork, frigate/freighter, spitz/spaniel, grease/grime, glen/glade, blouse/blazer, flea/fly (Other pairs are possible.)


21 August, 2015

There's a long & vitriolic tradition in theatre circles when it comes to critics borrowing on a production's name to deplore or condemn the show. You know what I mean. This kind of snidery:

Chekhov's Cherry Orchard is the pits.

The Wild Duck is more bull than rush.

The Merchant of Venice deserves to be remaindered.

Peter Panned

Yawn With The Wind.

The Poor Imitation Game

No Country For Old Men, or Old Women, or Middle-Aged People, or Kids Either

At least, that was the tradition. Seems reveiwers tread more carefully, but let's bring the nastiness back, just for a folly. (No snipes will be held accountable, or actionable.) Choose a book, a movie, a play, and use its title as vindictive ammo against the work. Have some fun at an auteur's expense - for today only!

Independent Clues

18 August, 2015

For yonks, unless you're a full-blooded subscriber, The Independent is that one UK source of crosswords that Australians could never reach. Until now. 

A portal has arrived which may well be firewalled as quickly as it appeared. (And if there's a discount firewall for puzzles-only, I may consider.) But what say we make hay while the opportunity shines?

I've selected a dozen answers from the work of Klingsor [Puzzle 8995], so take that as a spoiler alert. Plus a challenge to see whether you can match or eclipse an Independent setter, independently. 

None of the pro's clues is out of your reach. Far from it, going by the standard of recent Storms. Feel free to check the original clues before or after your own, though why not see how your own tack compares with an open mind? Have fun - and enjoy the long-lost Indy while the door's ajar.













Can you out-Klingsor Klingsor, independently?

WoW: Percontation

17 August, 2015

PERCONTATION [purr-con- TAY-shun] - a question requiring more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer [From Latin percontari : to inquire, interrogate] Shrewd interviewers specialise in percontations.

Clicking Clusters [BB519]

16 August, 2015

Can you convert each pair into related rhymes that share their opening two letters, both of which are consonants? Free/chuckle = knee/knuckle, say. While flab/hasp = grab/grasp. No proper nouns are involved.

[So grasp this bunch, and see if you can concoct a few examples of your own - using byline and number to keep track of clues.]

1. fib/ladle

2. creature/feast

3. ticket/tokay

4. jilt/fork

5. bigot/crater

6. blitz/manual

7. niece/time

8. when/paid

9. cows/taser

10. tree/sky


BB518 SOLUTION: Transformers, Bewitched, Superbad, Divergent, Chopper, Deliverance, Trainspotting, Happiness, Interstellar, Proof, Somewhere, Tomorrowland, Closer, Maverick, Amadeus (Other films may fit the bill.)

Bridge Puzzle

14 August, 2015

Maybe you can help me. I'm mapping out a Riddle Walk with the Melbourne Writers' Fest, charting an amble through the arcades and alleys. Yet there's one spot that is giving me trouble, as I'm struggling to concoct a neat puzzle (or logic challenge).

The spot seems ideal for a conundrum. Imagine a long rectangular pond, about 60 metres in length, with 5 footbridges spanning the water at regular intervals. One puzzle option may involve the classic farmer with a fox, a chook and a bag of corn (which requires six river crossings) - but I'm trying to be original.

Or resourceful, by asking you. What could I contrive? Maybe each bridge can represetn a vowel, and I hand out a BANANA, a BEEPER, a BIKINI, a BOOT and a BUCK...? Or the bridges can be the first five numbers in a Fibonacci sequence? I'm not sure, and I'd love any suggestions, neat or nutty. Doesn't matter.

Meanwhile, to give back, here are two conundrums from America's NPR to solve:

1. Can you supply the next three numbers in the sequence: 19, 28, 38, 81, 83, 85...?

2. What occupation (123456789) can lose the word spelt by letters 234 to make what this same worker would often witness? 

Thanks for any inklings!


11 August, 2015

To test your ego, who can attain crossword divinity by clueing any of these I-only words? Skip the insipid. Ditch the finicky - and whip this list into distinct shape.

(PS - wordplay only is fine, putting the skill on nifty I-skills in the cryptic cookbook.)













WoW: Lapsonym

10 August, 2015

LAPSONYM - a word or name you forget no matter how many times you try to remember it [From Latin lapsus (a slip or fall) + onoma (name) - as coined by NY journo Kathryn Schulz.] As much as I love her work, Ellen Page is my Hollywood lapsonym. (Her usual name is the actress-in-Juno...)

Movie Excerpts [BB518]

9 August, 2015

Each word below is an extract from a single-word film. AIRS for example is cut from Hairspray, while GLAD is taken from Gladiator. Get to battle.

(And for a sequel, can you offer any fresh snippets, this time using movies with multiple words in their titles? KEITH, say, sleeps in Some Like It Hot. Give us your own new extracts in the Comments below, with byline and number please.)

1. former

2. itched

3. superb

4. verge

5. hopper

6. liver

7. rains

8. pines

9. erst

10. roof

11. mew

12. owl

13. loser

14. aver

15. made

16. rag


BB517 SOLUTION: America, Argentina, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Guyana, Mauritania, Rwanda (Other places are possible.) Italy, Libya

Cilla Black & White

7 August, 2015

Trivia gem: the late singer Cilla Black was born Cilla White. She only changed her stage name owing to a newspaper slip-up. Which probably makes her history's only vocalist who owes her name to a typo, of sorts. Probably.

The bungle has inspired today's skylarking - this week's Friday Folly. What other names could have been altered by subeditor, becoming their opposite? And if such a blunder had occured, what new fate (or career twist) would await the luminary involved? For example:

Bill Extend - Shorten dumps politics to be a freelance builder on the black economy

Vin Gas - Fast & Furious 8 - The Quest For An LPG Outlet

Salman Walklive - trekking guide based in Darjeeling

Lady Sane - Gaga admits to being Aladdin's lovechild 

Doff Draper - stripper on Madison Avenue

Feel free to toy with first names, both names, or combinations. I'll aim to have a go from Bendigo too. Have fun. 

Q: What Has Leaves But No Bark?

5 August, 2015

The dog knew, barking at the postie. This was a parcel of destiny. Sure enough, peeling off the bubble wrap, I found my latest wordplay adventure, Riddledom, all 300 handsome pages, all 50 languages...

Riddledom is due to reach the bookstores later this month. Look for the mazy cover, and the 101 offbeat chapters, exploring slave songs, robot software, demented squirrels and a slew of other riddle-tangents. I hope you have fun getting lost.

Spreading the good words, I'll be nomadic in coming months. Here's a checklist of events and launches if you're nearby: 

Sat/Sun August 8/9 - Bendigo Writers' Festival: talking about deceptive words with Macquarie Dictionary's Sue Butler.

Sun August 23 - Melbourne Riddle Walk: ambling the bluestone alleys armed with enigmas, folklore & prizes. Tickets limited.

Sat/Sun August 29/30 - Melbourne Writers' Fest: four events in total, talking whodunits, creepy tales, morning papers and Riddledom.

Sat/Sun September 5/6 - Brisbane Writers' Fest: three events including a cryptic masterclass & a Cluetopia conversation

As more events bob up, I'll let you know. Especially for you Harbour Citizens. Plus any riddle gigs on the media carousel across spring. This post is just my squee: had to let you know the exciting news. Riddledom is ready to rumble!

Revised Sentences

4 August, 2015

That man Mauve again has triggered another Brainstorm, this time toying with punctuation. Always keen to test the envelope's pushability, Mauve sent along a clue last week that pivoted on a full-stop. Here it is:

Not in video. Show annoyance (7)

The answer - once the think music has wound down - is OUTRAGE, where the parsing requires you to shift the full-stop one word to the right:

Not in video show. Annoyance

It's a deft sleight of hand, and a red rag for fellow clue-ninjas on this site. Can you create a clue that makes subversive use of punctuation? Perhaps 'dash' is part of the answer, or a deviant disguise for a minus sign. Maybe you can out-Mauve Mauve. The challenge is set. I may as well start:

Surprise bullet - in second = FLASH [Surprise bulletin...]

Heartless, profound sleep = COMA [COmMA]

Owing to the rule-testing, you may be wise to provide a 'parsing note' beside your clue. Thanks for the flash idea, Mauve. Good, luck - in your: attempts. 

WoW: Anecdoche

3 August, 2015

ANECDOCHE [a-neck-DOCK-ee] - a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening [From Greek, an-without, plus ekdokhe, interpretation] If not for the Speaker of the House, every parliament sitting would be one grand anecdoche.

Female Latitude [BB517]

2 August, 2015

Nine nations end with a girl’s name. ADA, say, finalises Canada or Grenada, while President Obama’s daughter MALIA concludes Somalia. So now can you list the other seven?

(And for a bonus puzzle, I'm thinking of two nations some 1800kms apart. Reduced to their separate letter tallies, they differ only by a single vowel. Name them.)

And while we're adhering to the atlas - any other geo-stumpers to give the group?


BB516 SOLUTION: F(ran)ce, S(wed)en, C(air)o, S(hang)hai, Uk(rain)e, S(love)nia, H(oust)on, Ban(glades)h

This month's winner

Well done to Jon for his classy double clue in last month's Brainstorm, winning a copy of Susan Butler's lingo-log, The H/Aitch Factor.



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.

read more +


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

Quinzhee Crusade

If you missed my tub-thumping over new Scrabble words on the 730 Report with Leigh 'legalises' Sales...http://ow.ly/NZTu9

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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