Puzzles, posts, news and general word-chat.

Diabolically Arcane

Bingo. You’ve reached David Astle dot com, a carnival of words, puzzles and more words. Welcome aboard, and have fun.

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Riddledom is a global, time-hopping romp into riddles - their secrets & stories. Just released. Visit your fave bookseller or order here.

Wordburger To Come

13 October, 2015

Your first glimpse of my imminent (and eminent) kids' book called Wordburger, due to appear in late November. Click here and you can read more about the project, and the book's stealthy plan to skill young minds in the cryptic arts.

Further down the publisher's page you can also find some puzzle sheets to download. Why not run off a few copies and road-test them on any kids in your life? The level of difficulty is aimed at late primary, though a cluey youngster below that band should make good headway. (I'd be interested to get your feedback.)

Sometimes it's tough to make an easy puzzle. Anyone care to 'extend' any other of the downloads' puzzles, or perhaps create a delectable kid-friendly challenge of their own? See how you fare, as we play it simple and stylish for a day, while I'm recovering from Canberra's barnstorm. (And look for a standard post tomorrow.)

Wow: Clafoutis

12 October, 2015

CLAFOUTIS [klah-foo-TEE] - a tart made of fruit, typically cherries, baked in a sweet batter. [From French dialect clafir 'to stuff'.] Any contestant would could whip up a clafoutis from a surprise box of cherries, deserves to win Masterchef.


9 October, 2015

The what? Well, if we're being granular, the direct opposite of CANDID would be CAN'TDIDN'T. Or to massage the message a little: UNABLERENEGED.

That's our folly this Friday: to pick any word and provide the antonym-string of its components. Another example might be ARMSTART, the technical opposite of LEGEND. (Of course, ARM and LEG aren't pure opposites. There will be some licence in action here. A better switch might be ONSTART, calling cricket into the equation.)

Anyhow, you have the hang. Can you supply the flipsides of these combos? And can you create your own antonym chains? Let's target words only - no names or titles etc. Lack misery (Have fun).





DA5 - HIGHUP (7)


PS - Last chance to grab a ticket to my Riddledom riff in Canberra this Monday. The National Library is the ideal setting, and already 100 curious minds have opted in. Bound to be a great session, with riddles to solve & prizes to win.

Wirgins & Other Wonders

6 October, 2015

Someone who's never cussed in their life is a wirgin. While a proactive language pedant is called a grammando.

Both inspired inventions hail from a delightful glossary by NY writer Lizzie Skurnick, That Should Be A Word. Many of the coinages are so good, they deserve dictionary status. Like a Twitter fight (HASHTILITY) or a marriage persisting out of duty (MARTYRMONY).

This week, as a variation from our typical clue-fest, see if you can match Skurnick's skill in devising words for the definitions below. Have a dash, and I will reveal the actual neologisms later in the week, just to see who cuts the better mustard.

1. Child who bosses everyone around

2. Sense of panic if every moment of your life isn't documented

3. Struggle trying to do too many things at once

4. A job with more status than salary

5. Love of hearing yourself talk

6. A friend you'd like to get rid of

7. Forever cancelling engagements

8. Excessively checking your devices

Can you rise to neologise? (And what other notions need a new word?)

HookBook Winner

5 October, 2015

We had Riff and Ahab, Peter Pan and Hoffman, Panache and Deep Fine Leg, Jay and Southpaw. That last one was me, but I had no clue whose clues are whose when picking the best clue from the Henry Hook playbook.

There was plenty to like in the shortlists, from Pater Pan's 'caught in the headlights' (to signal external Os) to Ahab's AMIN IS SIMIAN. 

As a general note, next time I run a comp, please ensure you supply parsing notes for your more ambitious clues. It helps to elicit your latent genius!

So in a break from the usual prize-list read-out, here are Henry Hook's actual clues, followed by our own creative book-hooker:

APOSTROPHE - Develop spare photo as a sign of ownership?

AGATE - Shooter with a gun, empty

ALOES - Lilies from ballooners, not oddly

CAKE - Dessert made with a variety of vitamins

EDISON - Team turned on inventor 

SIMIAN - Lost soldier taken in by sloth, perhaps, or monkey

OHIO - I caught you hiding piece of information in a state

IF NOT - In different circumstances, it includes f-number

REVUE - Show last part of manoeuvre the wrong way

KNOW-IT-ALLS - Confounded slow-talkin smart alecks

APOSTROPHE - Gone paper shootin' [Congratz Jay. You win the day.]

So let me know who you are, and where you're at (via email), and Mr Hook's puzzles will be wending their way. Thanks for the HookBook cookery all players. 

WoW: Nefandous

5 October, 2015

NEFANDOUS [nuh-FAN-dous] - unspeakable; of anything that ought not be mentioned; appalling [From Latin ne- (not), + fari (to speak)] Voldemort, Macbeth and my crossword blooper of 2003 are all nefandous.

Expand Pandas

2 October, 2015

A simple folly to suit a football holiday here in Melbourne. Can you couple two six-letter words that overlap by four letters? Blow up bears, say, would be EXPAND PANDAS. While perhaps the source of stuff-ups is a MISHAP SHAPER.

Avoid cognate couples, like REJOIN JOINER, or duos that look good, but really make little sense when it comes to clueing. CAVERN VERNAL springs to mind.

See if you can solve my bunch below, and try to create your own, sticking two sixes, and using your blyine and number. (Please note - no wildlife was injured during the making of this post.)

DA1 - True hug

DA2 - Liquor horrifies

DA3 - Cotton ER cloths

DA4 - Sword wound

DA5 - Secret summit?

DA6 - Good heart

PS - Hook results in coming days. A great Storm!

Win A HookBook!

29 September, 2015

You may have heard me mention Henry Hook before. He's an American setter who makes a zestful brand of cryptic clue, but far too seldom. But this week, if you want to win a pocketbook of Hook mini-cryptics, then try to eclipse the man himself by composing clues for any of these words below.

All ten words are the Across answers of Crossword #10 in your possible prize. Naturally Henry makes a tidy fist of his clues - aimed at a smart beginner - but I'm sure you can concoct your own zingers. 

In order to make the Storm fair, please choose an alias (if DisQus allows) - a code-name related to hooks. And sometime before Thursday 7pm, choose your top two clues for final appraisal. The best pair will win the HookBook. Are you ready? Hook in.











WoW: Amigurumi

28 September, 2015

AMIGURUMI [AM-ee-gah-ROO-mee] - small crocheted toy, often an animal or monster with an oversized head [From Japanese amu, to knit + nuigurumi, stuffed toy] To view an amigurumi gallery, seek out the passion of Pinterest knitwits. 

Ogre in a Toga

25 September, 2015

Received a Folly idea from the splendid setter in Anax, otherwise known as Dean Mayer. (And please feel free to send along any Storm or Folly inklings that come your way.)

The game is simple. Your answer must pivot on two rhymes, with 'IN A' in between. Lewis Hamilton, perhaps, could be a STAR in a CAR. An ascending reptile could an ALLIGATOR in an ELEVATOR, while new signs of Russian poverty, maybe, could be BREADLINE in a HEADLINE.

As you can see, 'in an' is OK. As well as 'in the' - so long as we stick to the preposition, and simplicity of the rhymes. To signal your clues - with initials and number - please provide each answer's initials. My opening half-doz:

DA1 - Cranky constable (C in a S)

DA2 - Ripple? (Q in a R)

DA3 - Techno? (D in a T)

DA4 - Dive-sharing? (S in an U)

DA5 - Temperamental (S in a J)

DA6 - Cuckoo (P in a N)

So guys - what else can we devise?

Cabinet Reshuffle 2.0

22 September, 2015

We've been through a few coups - you and I. Up there with Burkina Faso, apparently, so you should know the drill by heart. 

No, not the political implications, but the cryptic temptations. Here's a roll-call of new representatives to mangle and manipulate. Not the complete list, but plenty to get your appetite primed. Can you craft a stylish piece of wordplay for any minister of your choosing?

As per usual, no call for definition, unless that happens to balance your subterfuge. To quote our new PM, "Confront the challenge, and seize the opportunity." Get striving, voters.














And may the best plotter prevail!

Huh 51

21 September, 2015

A recent raft of Times clues has me raking the scalp overtime. While I'm confident of nailing the solution, I can't always claim to fathom the clue's inner workings.

Maybe you can. All these suspects below hail from recent Times puzzles, and none of them are 100% lucid from where I sit. Please shed some light, and let's see what mayhem we can inflict, devising our own clues for the same answers.

1. Fancies a piece of cake cut by girl coming back = IDEAS

2. Like a son fleeing building again? = RESEMBLING

3. Size of paper once used for maps = ATLAS

4. Something from tea girl preserved? = CANNED

5. Charge leader about rude remark - managed to fix it = BANDAGED

6. What's too much if wrapped in second piece of Xmas paper? = MOTTO

7. One pursues river horse - certainly not one of the big five = RHINO

8. Shrewd criminals - one turned out to be patriotic = FLY THE FLAG

Any light - or delight - welcome.

WoW - Feghoot

21 September, 2015

FEGHOOT - a long-winded pun, or shaggy-dog story [After 50s sci-fi character Ferdinand Feghoot, created by Reginald Bretnor, who wrote under the anagram-alias of Grendel Briarton] One notorious feghoot entails a terrified female hiding from The Viper, who has come to 'vipe the vindows...'

Viking King

18 September, 2015

Sven (or Sweyn) Forkbeard - what a name! And what a monstrous marauder was this Viking king in 1000AD. In fact that's the name of the book I'm enjoying - The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey & Danny Danziger. Such a pleasure, with sparkling prose and eye-popping lowdown on how life was lived a millennium back.

Including the summer visits of Mr Forkbeard. Though it's his epithet I want to focus on - VIKING KING. Of course the label made me wonder about other phrases to fit that pattern, like ROBUST BUST, or PLACID ACID.

That's our folly this Friday. Can you solve the clues below, where the first word loses its opening couple? And can you create your own examples, adding your byline and number to help us track the truncations?

Note: all answers are (6,4), and I've avoided the clunkers like DENUDE NUDE or UNKIND KIND etc. Start your marauding.

DA1 - Teen's board payments?

DA2 - Look up 'leer'

DA3 - Three-legged player 

DA4 - Split cult

DA5 - Pastry den

DA6 - Levant lager?

DA7 - Quiet diet?

DA8 - Decent hair?

Phake Pharma

16 September, 2015

SOMA is not the only fictional drug, the hallucinogen keeping all the citizens blissful in Brave New World. Not by a long intravenous shot. 

Below is a mind-blowing dozen drugs from various fictional sources, all of which warrant caring manipulation and apothecarial skillz.

No call for defintions this week - just some classy wordplay. Who can smuggle the made-up medicine best? Happy tripping.

ALPRAZINE (Law & Order)

BITTAMUCIN (Battlestar Galactica)



DYLAR (White Noise)

HIBERNOL (Saturday Night Live)

KALOCIN (Andromeda Strain)

NAPPIEN (Simpsons)

NOVRIL (Misery)


RYETALYN (Star Trek)

TURBOLAX (Dumb &  Dumber)

Can you inject some guile into any phial?

WoW: Eccedentesiast

14 September, 2015

ECCEDENTESIAST [ekk-uh-den-TESS-ee-ast] - person who fakes a smile [Coined by US novelist & columnist Florence King, from ecce - look, plus smiler] Pity the TV anchor who must be a punctual eccedentesiast, week in, week out.

Lost Dogs [BB523]

13 September, 2015

Nine dog breeds have fled, leaving only hashes and surplus letters behind. PUG, for one, sprang from SPRUNG, leaving S_ R _ N _ behind. In all cases, the dog lies left to right along the restored word. (Any breed we overlooked? Or is there another set of truants your might contrive...?)

1. PUN##B##L

2. ##BBYSO###

3. NEW#L#####

4. #H#I###RL

5. C###R##ADE#

6. ##DR##G##D

7. FLA#D#####

8. ##R###ER

9. #####D#


BB522 SOLUTION: Mum (mom), grey (gray), cheque (check), sceptic (skeptic), plough (plow), doughnut (donut), draught (draft), sulphur (sulfur), storey (story) or furore (furor). Other words may fit the bill. . Other words may match up.

One Step Forward

11 September, 2015

The very cool crossword-monger Brendan Emmett Quigley, all the way from Boston, has cooked up a cute Folly idea for you to try. 

BEQ called the gimmick, One Step Forward, applying the device to a themed puzzle he made back in July. The basic idea is bumping an initial forward one letter in the alphabet to make a very different thing. Brendan's own examples included:

KOAN OF ARC - Zen riddle about a curving trajectory?

Q-AND-A BEAR - Grizzly at a press conference?

UIE-DYING - Untimely accident from a 180-degree turn?

Good, but let's aim to out-dazzle, with the likes of GRILL-NECKED LIZARDS, TAX SOLO or the poetic insectivore, the BARDVARK.

Over to you. Nudge an initial forward to invent a new entity - a word or name or maybe a NILE-HIGH CLUB - and then supply a wry definition. Get hoing.


8 September, 2015

Came across a neat lister from Merriam-Webster about eight words that resisted a radical bid to alter their spelling. Well, dont for don't was hardly an upheaval, but the other seven makeovers-in-making we quite a shake-up.

See for yourself below, and check out the link to learn the hows and whos behind each historic lobby. Or succumb to the clue impulse and see if you can craft a neat subterfuge - both wordplay + definition - for any of these incognito nomineez.








Who will magick the best kloo? Will it be u?

WoW: Burdalane

7 September, 2015

BURDALANE [burr-da-LAIN] - a family's last remaining child [Scottish burd - bird, and alane - alone]. Aunt Shirl from Dorrigo, god bless her woollen socks, is the burdalane from my father's family.

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.

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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
See Results