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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.

WoW: Rhopalic

6 July, 2015

RHOPALIC [roh-PAR-lick] - a sentence or verse wherein each word is a letter or syllably progressively longer than the last [From Greek rhopalos, a cudgel, being thicker towards the end] An egoistic rhopalic goes this way: I am the best bloke around!

Dad Clues

3 July, 2015

Word nerds, if you haven't met Paul Anthony Jones, then you should. (And that's not Paul waving, by the way.)

Mr Jones is fellow logophile, collector of the quirky and a derivation detetective. You can check out his excellent blog here and take a vocab quiz - along with lots of other distractions.

The same logophile is also a listomaniac, including a recent batch of words all stemming from father. Some seem obvious, while others may come as a surprise. And for this week's Friday Folly, your challenge is to compose a clue for any of these paternalisms. Can you pop up with the grandaddy of them all?









Best of luck, Dads, Mums, Uncles, Aunts and possible parents-to-be...

Quiet Please

30 June, 2015

Rather than clue-crafting this week, let's have fun with a bit of silence. Or at least the call for silence, the universal SH. 

With so much chatter across social media, or the 39 bus to Clovelly, it's only right we insert a call for quiet into any word or name, so creating something new. 

The challenge is more about neologising, rather than turning BLUER into BLUSHER, or any other word into another actual word. For example, RADIO can become RADISHO: Any vegetable eaten with frequency. Just as JOERN SHUTZON designed the self-lcoking door. 

Some lightweight fun, with extra muffling. But who can faSHion the SHiniest?

LASH LAW - Whip-smart lawyers lobby for corporal punishment

FISHRING - A finger variant

DAVID POSHCOCK - Upper-class gigolo

CRUSHELTY - Suffering inflicted as a result of unrequited love

STEAM TRASHIN - Kettle sabotage

WoW: Witzelsucht

29 June, 2015

WITZELSUCHT [VITZ-el-sookt] - insatiable urge to make bad puns, and to laugh at them uncontrollably [German witzeln, to joke, + sucht, addiction] Irrepressible Dads (and crass funeral guests) can fall prone to Witzelsucht.

Clues of Repute 52

27 June, 2015

Big thanks to DC - a regular surfer on the DA website - for salvaging last week's lost post, which reappears below. The problem owed to a quirk in the blog's uploading system, but at least the first batch of brilliant clues has been saved, as well as the original comments attached. All the easier to savour how their wordplay worked, leading to the answers published in Clues of Repute 51, below. Thanks again, DC.

1. Modern poem turned into the opposite (12) [Mudd]

2. So-called lower class (6) [RK in The Big Issue]

3. Victim X's location? (4) [American mage, Henry Hook]

4. Creator of Fantasy Island comic, according to Spooner (6,5) [Puck]

5. I'm off to celebrate narrow football victory? (7) [Picaroon]

6. A couple of presents unlikely to be found? (7) [Times 10131]

7. Freely mix with a Puerto Rican star (7,8) [Boaz]

8. Loveless marriage unlikely to take off (9) [Times 10147]

9. Do successors occupy country, having ousted last PM? (7) [Arachne]

10. Do a runner (7,7) [Sunday Times ??]

Clues of Repute 53

26 June, 2015

A follow-up on last week's Clues of Repute, whose answers are below. Just as before, you face ten tricky and superlative clues drawn from an all-UK party of compilers, their work appearing in the first half of this year.

And once more, I've placed the more difficult towards the back of the list, though this a thronier bunch overall. In short: look before you leap, to quote an old Greek mate of mine. 

1. In brief affairs love reigns, then is ruined (3-8) [Sunday Times 930]

2. La Dolce Vita's awful singer (4,8) [Sunday Times 939]

3. Hit mural? (6) [Hieroglyph]

4. A choice of extremes in perversion? (4) [Paul]

5. Therefore a colour for a rose is rose? (6) [Picaroon]

6. Key copies for jailbreaks, say [Puck]

7. All expectant by the fire [Times 10234]

8. Security guards on duty (9) [Anax]

9. Sally I notice runs to the front (7) [Times 10242]

10. Close to forehand in set against friend (8) [Screw]

LAST WEEK'S ANSWERS: Contemporary, lesson, prey, Walter Mitty, cheerio, nowhere, proxima centauri, uninstall, premier, pageboy haircut 


24 June, 2015

Just struck me, for all the Brainstorms we've played, all the clues we've crafted, we have seldom strayed into the realm of phrases. 

Maybe there's good reason for that, as this week will discover. The sayings at your disposal all hail from Aesop's Fables - the trite and the true. The list was inspired by a Mental Floss listicle, parading a massive 19 examples. Though I've handpicked a neat dozen, adding a few omissions, each awaiting your treatment.

But please don't rush, as slow and steady wins the race...













WoW: Risley

22 June, 2015

Risley [RIZZ-lee] - performance in which a supine acrobat juggles another with his or her feet; also known as a Risley act.’ [From Richard Risley, 1814–74, US gymnast and acrobat who developed the act.] If a gyrating acrobat should fall from another's feet, that would make for one grisly Risley.

Holy Headword Batman! [BB514]

21 June, 2015

If WORRY is the headword for beads and wart in the dictionary, then soothe us by naming what words head these ten sets.

And can you offer any other evasive headwords to hunt down, by supplying the finite set of follow-on entries?

DA1 - (centre, freak, training)

DA2 - (Mary, minded)

DA3 - (cutter, hour)

DA4 - (apparatus, space)

DA5 - (couch, vote)

DA6 - (handler, train)

DA7 - (damp, sun)

DA8 - (money, strike)

DA9 - (art, hole)

DA10 - (door, dweller)


BB513 SOLUTION: Hot cross bug, wishbong, orchestra pig, World Bang, death blog, snow bling, Neutral Bag, open dag 


16 June, 2015

Reading back over the last two WoWs - phedinkus and eucatastrophe - you'll notice a pattern emerging. Both words arise from well-known novelists, as well as a fine lexicon called Authorisms by Paul Dickson, a collection of words wrought by writers. 

This week's Brainstorm sticks to the theme. Each pairing below is a word coupled with its literary creator, and our challenge is to clue both. War paint, say, was coined by US author James Fenimore Cooper. If you pick that pair, you'll need to conjure clues for both, supply a definition for the coinage only.

Dig the game? Ready for battle? Let's see who can craft the classiest duo, turning both word and writer into the wondrous.


BETTER HALF - Mary Livermore

BLABBERMOUTH - John Steinbeck

BLATANT - Edmund Spenser


GOALLESS - Emily Dickinson

HYSTERIA - Edgar Allan Poe

NERD - Dr Seuss

PEDESTRIAN - William Wordsworth

PLATONIC - Ben Jonson

SCAREDY-CAT - Dorothy Parker

UNPUTDOWNABLE - Raymond Chandler

VOMITY - JD Salinger

WoW: Phedinkus

15 June, 2015

PHEDINKUS [ferr-DINK-us] - nonsense, malarkey [Nonce word coined by US writer Damon Runyan, adding the pseudo-Greek prefix of ph onto dinkus, a gadget] Due to its vague roots and meaning, phedinkus can also substitute for whatsit or thingummyjig.

Skeleton Keg [BB513]

14 June, 2015

Each answer below has been given a grand finale. Halloween beer barrel, is SKELETON KEG, where the orthodox phrase ‘skeleton key’ has gained a grand (or G) finish. 

How many can you snag? And can you compose your own comical variations for us to 'thing' about?

DA1 - Sweaty, cranky insect (3,5,3)

DA2 - How a genie smokes dope? (8)

DA3 - Symphonic sow (9,3)

DA4 - Global thunderclap (5,4)

DA5 - Morbid online journal (5,4)

DA6 - Alpine jewellery (4,5)

DA7 - Bipartisan battleaxe? (7,3)

DA8 - Candid eccentric (4,3)


BB512 SOLUTION: Dover Heights, Marsfield (or Marsden Park), Picnic Point (and arguably Yowie Bay); Bickley Vale, Drummoyne, Kenthurst (Other suburbs are possible.)

Conundrum Cluster

12 June, 2015

Rather than a Friday folly this week, here are five tough questions to wrestle. You may need to rely upon the wisdom of crowds, as none of these will yield their answers easily. So feel free to theorise, or offer inklings, as one person's input may lead to another's outcome.

Conundrum 1 (from the Salon): What brand-word began as a French portmanteau, and is know a common noun?

Conundrum 2: ABIDE (or ABODE) owns four letters in their corresponding slots in the alphabet. So what familiar 12-letter word can boast five?

Condundrum 3: What common 10-letter word opens with a consonant pair, followed by a vowel pair, then 2 consonants, 2 vowels and lastly 2 consonants?

Condundrum 4: What links mondegreen, fashionista, bodyline, factoid, flying saucer & metrosexual?

Condundrum 5: What seven-letter word can see its initial C relocate to the tail in order to create a loose definition of the original word?

PS: If you live in or near Melbourne, there are some excellent tickets for the Williamstown Lit Fest to be snaffled. All you need to do is solve a few simple DA puzzles here.

Happy brainstorming.

Scrabble Threes

9 June, 2015

Often the hardest words to clue can be the shortest. So let's put that truism to the test, dreaming up clues for this unilkely brigade of midgets culled from the Scrabble dictionary. (There are so many rarities, I only needed to raid the first half of the alphabet.)

If you wish to see the loco lot in toto, try here.

Anyhow, we need both definition and wordplay here. Good luck, as some of these defintions seem as cryptic as the recipes you may apply. May be the FAB BEY (a Turkish sovereign) rule supreme.

ARD - primitive plough

BEZ - second tine of a deer's horn

CLY - to seize or steal

FAP - inebriated

FON - to compel

GAW - imperfect rainbow

JOW - to strike a bell

KED - wingless fly that infests sheep

KOW - bunch of twigs

KYU - judo novice

Cly the moment, I fon you.

Hooray for Riddledom

8 June, 2015

Q: What's black, white, red with a yellow chicken?

A: Riddledom - 101 Riddles and their Stories.

I'm mighty proud of the new book's scope, plus its many folkloric scoops, finding the most outrageous and intriguing riddles from around the globe, and across time, roaming Zanzibar and Myanmar.

Still a few months before copies hit the shelves, but bookshops have been ordering up. Go here to pre-grab, or take a further peek of the Riddledom blurb and details.

This is one major mystery tour for anyone into language as much as culture and the human brain. The official launch is slated to be part of the Melbourne Writers Fest in late August. So why not come along and crack some enigmas? Details to be available soon.

And while you're pondering that invitation, some other scattergun news:

+ a new poll [at last] has just been posted on site, regarding Scrabble's text invasion;

+ chatting this Wednesday on the Conversation Hour about Russian Jews in Australia, and The Secret River's adaption to TV. Should be worth a podslurp;

+ on Sunday, as part of the Williamstown Lit Fest, I'll be giving a world-first Cluetopia lecture, complete with slides of many of these rare and dangerous puzzles.

Now a Word Question: What brand-word began as French portmanteau, and is know a common noun?

And for those still doing UK puzzles, there have been some treasures in the G and Times lately. You know you can always share the ahas and grrs here. Cheers, and have a wordy week.

WoW: Eucatastrophe

8 June, 2015

EUCATASTROPHE [YEW-cah-TAS-truh-fee] - sudden and favourable turn of events [Coinage of JRR Tolkien, from Greek eu - beautiful + kata - down + strophe - turning] Heroes in fairy tales often evade doom by dint of eucatastrophe.

Suburban Mayhem [BB512]

7 June, 2015

A smaller-scale Birdbrain this week, which has all sort of potential for extra challenges, drawing on suburbs in either Sydney, or Melbourne - or possibly elsewhere.

DA1 - What three Sydney suburbs open with well-known chocolate bars?

DA 2 - While what suburbs open with three different brands familiar to smokers? (Hint: only one brand is a cigarette.)


BB511 SOLUTION: Great universe (Daewoo), High view (Alta Vista), Swift creature (Yahoo!), Leave luck to heaven (Nintendo), Moby Dick sailor (Starbucks), Pleiades constellation (Subaru), Sunrise (Hitachi), Three-rhombus (Mitsubishi), Three stars (Samsung), Danish king (Bluetooth)

Huh 49

5 June, 2015

A few head-scratchers from recent Brit puzzles. Enough to recruit a few more heads, so that we can scratch together. Or maybe you'll perceive the logic at first glance, and tell me what I'm missing. 

Then again, if you'd rather pass on the parsing, feel free to create clues for the same batch of answers. See who can't out-Brit the Brits in surface sheen.

1. Mostly put out about risen and not forbidden double-dealing = DUPLICITOUS

2. Maybe greeting King, recklessly firing secret rounds = GRIEF-STRICKEN

3. Spooner's plan to attract mods to Bordeaux store, perhaps = WINE CELLAR

4. Intimate chat of a lord with a good track record reportedlyCOZY

5. English paper’s redhead dropped? No latitude there = EQUATOR

6. Incomplete permission to enter for Felipe, the kingELVIS

7. Rescuers on the way to see rescue ship find one of first pair listed for saving?  = LANDMARK

Thanks for any insights, and delights.

Take A Jump, Benjamin

2 June, 2015

Currently enjoying the punctuation porn known as Between You & Me - Confessions of a Comma Queen - by Mary Norris. Recommended.

Not just for the grammar yarns, the 'tense' standoffs, but also the curious flashbacks to spelling reformers such as Noah Webster and Benjamin Franklin. In fact, Franklin lobbied hard for C, J, W and Y to be removed from the alphabet, making powwow and John Wayne all the more problematic.

This week's Storm would be tricky too, given that your answers must contain 3 of these letters at least. Hence such solutions as wacky and juicy are OK, Woy Woy and coccyx, yacht club and cowboy. My openers:

JOCKEY - Funny saddles cruel start for rider

[JOKEY around C]

CYCLONE - Candy replica a major blow

WHICH WAY - Outspoken spelling champ to assess Quo Vadis

Gentle Ben beginning. What else can we conjure?

WoW: Shadchan

1 June, 2015

SHADCHAN [SHART-uh-ken] - a matchmaker or marriage-broker. [From Yiddish, shadkhan, from Hebrew] Shadchanim - the plural form - are the altar egos of the synagogue. 

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 through conundrum. Due out August. Pre-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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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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