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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.

Salon 49 - Show & Tell

20 October, 2014

Just back from the RRR studios in Melbourne, as a guest of the weekly Show & Tell segment. The brief was to bring something you prize. After musing word books and dictionaries, I went left-field with walking boots. 

Why? Walking is my way of clue-hatching and idea-brewing.  Charles Darwin had a Thinking Path to mull on a problem. The habit also unlocks a suburb, a landscape, via the art of psychogeography. If you don't know the fruit of being a flaneur, then I suggest you meander into Westographer, or Humans of NY, or Locative Literature. or Walk Sydney Streets. My kind of sites - antidotes to the lingo overload.

What about you? What would be a prized item to show + tell - and why? And while we're walking, can you solve these gems from the Times of 2006

Everything bright in bouquet? (5)

Insect wings of white and black (6)

His perversion as transvestite could be cleaner (7)

Shakespeare lover writing here and there? (8)

Bra specification, say, included in shade of yellow (9)

Old scientist agreed to cut a holiday short (10)  

Share more clues, views or shoes here in the Comments. Have a great week.

WoW: Oflag

20 October, 2014

OFLAG [AWF-larg] - German prison camp reserved for inmates of officer rank [From a fusion of Of(fizer), lag(er) - 'officer camp'] Colditz was not strictly as oflag, as privates and NCOs were also interned.

Monster Stereo [BB482]

19 October, 2014

If huge hi-fi is MONSTER STEREO (where four letters overlap) can you name these nine other over-lappers? And can you dream up any more clues to add to our list?

1. Icehouse murk (5,5)

2. Sexy shriek (6,6)

3. Powered three-wheeler (8,8)

4. Port spirit (7,7)

5. Gauche gaoler (7,6)

6. Bardot? (6,11)

7. Mangle pancake (7,8)

8. Woodwindville? (7,6)


BB481 SOLUTION: Ancestor, beetroot, creosote, discreet, enormous, whatever

Musical Fusion

17 October, 2014

Spring carnival means offshore raiders and funny hats. And comical bloodlines too, where the sire Bannister and mare, Skylight, create a champion called Stairway to Heaven. Or Prince Charming and Persian Queen produce Glamourpuss.  

That's how it works for horses. So let's have combine bands in the same style, picking acts or ensembles from any era and making a superband that reflects the dual origins. Just for laughs - as God knows we need them - here's a few possibles:  

Deep Purple + The Vines = The Cabsavs

Blur + Radiohead = Poor Reception  

Muse + Dead Kennedys = Ghoul  

Blue Mondays + King Crimson = Maroon 5

That's the trend. Now try to blend.

Salon 48 - Gone Girl

13 October, 2014

On a scale of 10, Gone Girl gets 9. The film is engrossing - a genuine thriller with sinister statements about wedlock. Not another word, except to say the movie inspired three new puzzle ideas, soon to appear as Wordwits in The Age and SMH.  

The first relates to the title. Look at those letters: GONEGIRL. Can you see the hidden oxymoron? First you have GO, and then a blend of GO's antonym: LINGER.

Puzzle #2 relates to the star's name: BEN AFFLECK. The film is a mystery and the minute you drop each name's final duo, you spell what mysteries do: BAFFLE.

Puzzle #3 is where you're invited to contribute. GONE GIRL makes think of words that can lose a girl to become another word. AMY, say, can skip BIGAMY, leaving BIG behind. This inspires the clue: Massive multi-marriage.

See if you can solve these gone-girl clues below? And who can add their own?  

DA1 - Total recap (3,7)

DA2 - Dormant viper (3,6) 

DA3 - So-so candelabra (3,7)

DA4 - UK wastebasket (7,3)

DA5 - Mountie vessel? (8,3)

DA6 - Cautious white (5,10)  

Blab your answers below. Or make your own. And have a verbadelic week

WoW: Rupestrine

13 October, 2014

RUPESTRINE [roo-PES-trin] -living or growing among rocks or cliffs [From Latin, rupes, steep cliff] Moss and lichen are rupestrine organisms.


12 October, 2014

Drop a letter from each word below, then pair the new combos into eight-letter words. DEVIL and ACTED, say, leads to DEVIATED. Pairs come from any column.

beret           credo        dance  

disco          lever         mousy

reset           robot         smote

stork           tenor         wheat


BB480 SOLUTION: Shy, stove, runner, entertain, convention, particular, outstanding (PROCESS)

Moons of Saturn

9 October, 2014

Between blood moons and Iraq missions, I'm trying to write a manuscript about riddles, a long and loopy manuscript. Hence the blog will enter a quieter phase for a while. The mainstays of Birdbrain, WoW and Salon will keep their orbit, while the likes of Storms and Follies are likely to be more sporadic. I'm sure you can understand.

So let's take a flight out of here, a million miles from Operation Okra and burqa bans and political memoirs to admire the moons of Saturn. What lovely names they own - just perfect for manipulating. The seven principal moons are:  








Such is your mission, should you choose to accept it. Let's see who can conjure the niftiest clue - no definition needed - for any or all of these heavenly bodies. God speed.

Salon 47 - Only Connect

6 October, 2014

Found a fantastic bunch of lateral thinking puzzles. It's a fan-site for Only Connect, a BBC gameshow that asks contestants to link unlikely words or names. BIRDS, PINK, SHUT and MAGIC, say, can all precede EYE. While ORPHAN, RIVER, WIDOW and GUTTER are all typesetting terms.

In the same spirit, what links these:  

DA1 - Arctic, hill, elope, hem

DA2 - pride, flock, swarm, blend  

DA3 - prawn, serpent, trout, warrior  

DA4 - cone, inane, tern, cast  

DA5 - pack, charge, steel, raid

Invent your own, if you like. See if you can stump us. And/or share the pick of crosswords from The G and The Times. Like this gem from a recent puzzle: Make an effort and breed (6). Enjoy your week.

WoW: Psittacism

6 October, 2014

PSITTACISM [SIT-uh-ciz-em] - empty repetition of words; mechanical speech [From Latin psittacus, parrot] Bureaucrats often commit psittacism of the party line when under pressure.

Plug x 2 [BB480]

5 October, 2014

If ‘bung ad’ is PLUG, can you solve these double meanings? Then mix your answers’ initials to solve the double meaning: ‘document course’. No names or capital letters.

1. Short throw (3) 

2. Broken range (5)

3. Shoot athlete (6)

4. Consider host (9)                

5. Summit custom (10)

6. Meticulous detail (10)

7. Late great (11)


BB479 SOLUTION: Michael Plain, Francisco Yoga, Pat Farter, John Clearer, Tony Libra, David Romance, Stephenie Emery, Matt Nomad, Delta Groomed, WB Yeast, Rene Lactose, Nick Laser]

Dynamic Duets

3 October, 2014

Our Friday Folly is devising two names that share a puzzly link, seeing if others can figure out the logic. The NRL player Michael Ennis, say, could be matched with Agent 99 (anagram of NINES, and 99). Or Harold Pinter could sidle Eddie Eagle. Why? Both dog breeds with a letter missing. 

Simple game, but there are dozens of formulas at our disposal, keeping things wordy, versus biogrpahical. Name and number your couples, so we can take a stab. (Please ignore my dontattempt handle - I'm really DA with a current tech hitch.) Can you crack my opening six? And what recipe will your items obey?

DA1 - Kanye West & Thomas Hardy

DA2 - Bill Granger & David Jones

DA3 - Eva Cox & Malcolm X  

DA4 - Andrew Denton & Jules Verne  

DA5 - Bruce Springsteen & Banjo Paterson 

DA6 - Tori Spelling & Penny Cook  

Some easy. Some tricky. Can you undo the duos?


30 September, 2014

Flounder sur le plat

8-ounce wagyu beef patty burger and hand-cut fires

Tender chick breast in a rich marsala sauce with button mushrooms

Rustic apple galette with fresh cream 

Sorry if I'm making you drool, but this wordbook has made me think about devising a clue that reads like a menu excerpt. Can we do it? Oui we can: 

APPRENTICE = Pie with pecan nuts and tastier crust  

LETTUCE = Cooked cutlet with eggplant topping  

SUGAR = Big chunk of asparagus folded back

What MasterChef among us can concoct the perfect clue - one to make us congratulate and salivate in one sitting? Choose any word or name you like as starting point, so long as the clue speaks menuese. Start plating, people.

Salon 46 - Menu-Speak

29 September, 2014

Beware the restaurant whose menu mentions paddock, grass-fed, moghrabieh or exotic. (While the cheaper eateries will cite adjectives like delicious, real and crunchy.)

Currently reading The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky, and it's scrumptious. Did you know a drinking toast and toasted bread are related? So too macaroni and macaroon? Or the less choice you have at the table, the more you can expect to pay. I'm only up to Chapter 2, Entree, but can commend the feast - lucid, erudite and fascinating. (Watch out for a foodie Storm tomorrow.)

Before then, a conundrum: Can you mix a common 5-letter word, and tag the new combo after M to make an antonym of your first word? (As a clue, most letters involved occur in the alphabet's second half.) Will offer more clues if it's too tough.

Any more takers on the Radio Storm idea from last week? I'll be announcing the prize for best brainwave on Tuesday. 

And of course, if you happen upon a fine crossword, from the Times, the G, or elsewhere, then do share the love right here. Get a wordy week under your belt.

WoW: Drawcansir

29 September, 2014

DRAWCANSIR - blustering bully; blowhard relying on swagger and Dutch courage [From such a character, Sir Draw-can-sir, in George Villiers' 1671 play, The Rehearsal] Late on weekends, Kings Cross suffers a plethora of Drawcansirs.

Marcel Stupor & Co [BB479]

28 September, 2014

We’ve wangled a dozen surnames to create new identities. Dazed French novelist, say, is Marcel Stupor (Proust), while Nutty UK actor is Gary Almond (Oldman). Yes, you may recognise the recipe from a folly forum, but can you nail these renovated names? 

1. Boring UK traveller

2. Agile Spanish painter

3. Flatulent Oz volleyer

4. Sharper UK spyman

5. Balanced UK PM

6. Amorous UK PM

7. Abrasive US vampirist

8. Restless US actor

9. Kempt Oz singer

10. Rising Irish poet

11. Milky French designer

12. Incisive Oz novelist


BB478 SOLUTION: Key verbs are put, break, stand, settle, shake, back, dress and let.

Radio Storm

26 September, 2014

Wanna win a prize? This week's folly is more a think tank. As summertime radio looms, I've been asked to conjure some puzzly ideas for the airwaves. In general, I reckon, too many quizzes or puzzles neglect the audio element. So what are some ideas blending sound and mind-games?

The challenges can have set answers, or creative answers. The level can be easy, or gnarly. Of course, there can be plenty of chat, spoken clues etc, but what are some recipes that maximise sound-grabs, archives, sample clips, voices, sound FX....?

Nothing is too outrageous, as this is suggestion time. I know this may feel like bringing my work to the picnic, but I'd love your input, your genius, your deviance. And to express that love, a damp squid to the best idea. That's a book prize by the way, Damp Squid, a wonderful read all about mangled English by Jeremy Butterfield.

Speak up. I'm listening - and thanks as always.

Brownlow List With A Twist

23 September, 2014

Roll out the carpet. Pick out the tux. Pop the Berocca. It's time to tweak those Brownlow Boys - crafting clues for some of the top vote-getters in the 2014 season. No call for definition, of course, just some sleek wordplay to catch the umpire's attention.

Here's the list below. Do your worst. (And may the best team do the Goodes on Saturday too. Or at the very least, let's hope for a nail-chewer.) Go crazy:

Matt Priddis

Nat Fyfe

Budddy Franklin 

Travis Boak 

Patrick Dangerfield

Josh Kennedy 

Joel Selwood

Trent Cotchin

Brent Harvey

Dayne Beams

WoW: Latitudinarian

22 September, 2014

LATITUDINARIAN - Permitting or marked by freedom of attitude or behaviour, esp in religious matters [From Latin, latitudo, breadth. Coined in 1600s in contrast to the strict Trinitarian mindset] Citizens with a pray-let-pray attitude to all religions should be given a latitudinarian option on census forms.

Ups & Downs [BB478]

21 September, 2014

If arrive/duel = SHOW UP/SHOWDOWN, can you solve these other up/down pairs? Be warned, the sequence may be down/up or up/down. (And can you add any more 'rollercoaster double', using the up/down ending...or opening?)

Note - the best pairs use two fresh senses, rather than uptown/downtown say, or talk up/down. Time to get down to solving:

1. snub/erect

2. divorce/collapse

3. resign/jilt

4. pay/marry maybe

5. agitate/scam

6. withdraw/support

7. glamorise/berate

8. ease/bummer


BB447 SOLUTION: Fran/c (ex-France), penn/y (ex-Ireland), kin/a (New Guinea), doll/ar, guild/er (ex-Netherlands), cope/ck (Russia), ran/d (RSA), bah/t (Thai), Colo/n (Panama), din/ar (Iraq etc), satan/g (Thai), hell/er (Czech Republic)

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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Puzzles and Words 2

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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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News Wrap

Tune into ABC 774 this Friday [19/9] after 5 for Raf Epstein and I, plus another news junkie, hanging out the week's headlines and singling out the stories.

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