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Diabolically Arcane

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Original Hipsters

21 March, 2017

As a sneak peek of this week's Wordplay column in the SMH, here's a smatter of old-time slang from the original hipster movement of the 1940s. Adrift between jazz cats and beatniks, the hipster was a lover of bebop, booze, noir and after hours - as this vocab grab will suggest.

The book you need to hunt for more is Straight From The Fridge, Dad, a lexicon compiled by Max Decharne. (You can also look for a few Wordwit puzzles in April on the cool vernacular.) Meanwhile, who can craft the best clues for any of these jumpin' gems, with both definition and wordplay included please? Get wailin'.

abbreviations - underwear

blab sheet - newspaper

body scissors - sex

bone orchard - cemetery

butcher shop - hospital

groanbox - accordion

hoofery - dance hall

indoor aviator - lift operator

lacquer cracker - record

marble city - cemetery

pucker paint - lippie

timebox - prison

waffle iron - electric chair

The alehouse is open for your cryptic carousing, brothers and sisters!

WoW: Eleemosynary

20 March, 2017

ELEEMOSYNARY [ell-ah-MAHS-en-eh-ree] - relating to charity; philanthropic [From late Latin eleemosyna ‘alms’, from Greek eleÄ“mosunÄ“ ‘compassion’] Why not buy a Big Issue, not just for eleemosynary reasons, but also to sample the quality cryptics?

Huh 54

15 March, 2017

Most of you will know how Huh posts work. The deal is to unravel the clues on show, explaining how the wordplay operates. Because I can't - or nor fully. Some elements are graspable, but the overall effect is...well...huh?

See if you can undo my bewilderment, from Barbados to fescue, revealing any clue's mechanics. And then as your Huh bonus, a virtual bag of jelly snakes to the person who can craft the classier clue for any of these same seven solutions. Thanks in advance.

1. Accept just good rating perhaps for holiday destination = BARBADOS  [Times 10,790]

2. Hectic last quarter for Balearic Isle heads = MANIC  [Sunday Times 1018]

3. Where one used to see 7 [EMCEE] or 11 [WEED] in flight? = ON THE WING  [Sunday Times 1039 - those inserted words are the solutions to the potential cross-refs.]

4. Component of world trade? = MERCURY SWITCH  [Times 10,818]

5. Cut maize perhaps and wrap = SWATHE  [Times 10,811]

6. Couple ending up with one letter = PHI [Sunday Times 1038]

7. Iron rod and spade to cut grass = FESCUE [Sunday Times 1038]

WoW: Brunoise

13 March, 2017

BRUNOISE [broon-WAHZ] - diced vegetables cooked in butter, often used to flavour soups or sauces [From French brun, brown.] The posher Cup-A-Soup sachets contain freeze-dried brunoise.

Alternative Endings (c)

8 March, 2017

That (c) in brackets is recognition of LR's wonderful crossword in last week's Fairfax papers. If you haven't hunted the puzzle down, then look to the archives for Monday Feb 27, on the cusp of the Oscars.

The gimmick - if I can murmur spoilers - asked you to give some actors an alternative last letter, where RENNER, if he was enlisted, became RENNET. Or SWANK morphed into SWANS. A delightful puzzle - and a very cute idea for a low-watt Storm.

Rather than concocting cryptic clues this week, let's see who can apply the best alternative ending to a movie. All you need do is manipulate a flick from any era or genre, and provide a revised synopsis. For ex:

PLANET OF THE APEX - alien civilisation that functions on philanthropy

MANCHESTER BY THE SET - cheaper linen in bulk

ANT-MAX - tiny road warrior out to wrest the earth's last sugar hit

FINDING DORM - frat-boy quest involving too much liquor and not enough orientation

The box-office is all yours. See who can win the Oscar for Best Corruption.

WoW: Marplot

6 March, 2017

MARPLOT - a meddler who derails your intended course of action [Coined by British writer Susanna Centlivre whose play The Busie Body [1709] included a character by that name.] The telemarketer to ring amid your flow of creativity is a modern marplot.

Death Warmed Up

28 February, 2017

A Storm with a ghoulish twist this week. Not just the flavour, but the fact we get to massage phrases rather than the usual words or names.

Listed below are a range of euphemisms and blowhard idioms hailing from the talk I gave at Hamer Hall on the weekend. The occasion was the opening gala of the Wheeler Centre, each of the dozen performers asked to respond to death.  Naturally I went the wordy tack, dividing an eerie story as the speech's bookends.

Check out the address here, with the option of hearing the genuine if you push the Play function - a bittersweet recital complete with ringtones, laughs and deadly silence too.

So live it up, my quick friends. Let's see who can animate these macabre offerings with most vivacity. (No need to supply the definition, unless talk of dying benefits the wordplay. Have fun, and enjoy my Wheeler jabber too.)












On a related theme, a big thanks to all for keeping the blog pulse so vital since the silly season. I've relished the lively WoWs and other forums - quite rejuvenating in fact . And don't forget to hop across to the Cruciverbalist site too, where the latest zine has a DAshing-cum-DAggy theme, a prize offer, not to mention curly work by CB, SL and SK.

WoW: Ramentum

27 February, 2017

RAMENTUM (plural, RAMENTA) - a brittle brown scale found on fern stems; any particle shaved from the whole. [From Latin radere, to scrape] A curlicue of wood escaping the working lathe may be described as a swarf - or ramentum. 

Hangman Hell

21 February, 2017

You may have noticed a tweet from Monday's feed, a laundry list of killer words for Hangman players. No word is foolproof, of course. Even FOOLPROOF could outpoint the dozen migraines below, but I guarantee this same set will see you dangle more bodies per tournamant than the customary toll. 

The same list seemed to good to ignore for clue-crafting too, a casual Storm to keep our skills in shape. Please provide BOTH definition and wordplay for your clues, and let's see who can outpoint others in the Hangman handicap. Good l_ck!













May the handiest Hangman prevail. (And what other Hangman words do you recommend?)

WoW: Paraskevidekatriaphobia

20 February, 2017

PARASKEVIDEKATRIAPHOBIA - (pair-uh-skee-vee-dek-uh-tree-uh-FOH-bee-uh) - fear of Friday 13th [From Greek paraskevi, Friday + dekatria, 13 + -phobia. Coined in jest by popular media around 2003.] If throw salt, sidestep ladders and avoid black cats, you more than plikely prone to paraskevidekatriaphobia.

WoW: Quaxing

13 February, 2017

QUAXING - shopping without involving a car, but rather relying on walking, cycling or public transport [Named after NZ Olympic runner Dick Quax, whose 2015 Tweet insisting Western shopping implies a car sparked the ironic verb in response.] One way to erase writer's block is to practice quaxing for your daily groceries.

January Jewels II

7 February, 2017

Ten more splendid clues for you to chew, all encountered in British puzzles over the last five weeks, plus one local setter you may recognise. A mixed bag too - with a few gimmes, and some major brain-burners, such as the final quartet, which may well call for teamwork to undo. See how many you can nail.

1. Too many gluttons ask for seconds (4) [Gila]

2. Reversing, say, a spacecraft's docking procedure (7) [Brummie]

3. Royals are corrupt? Time for a revolution (5,4) [Toro]

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

5. The Cure perform without guitarist? (7) [SK]

6. As swine in decay, they can't fly (11) [Paul]


7. Brooding opening piece, involving piano (13) [Picaroon]

8. Media editor not oddly involved in his work? (3,8) [Screw]

9. Handle not normally used to open or close? (6,4) [Vlad]

10. Animal amongst camel's ancestors, for example? (7) [Puck]

If you seek wisdom, ask. If you are wise, share.

WoW: Surnape

6 February, 2017

SURNAPE - a second tablecloth laid over the larger base cloth, often exclusive to the VIP's setting at a banquet [From Latin, sur - extra, above - plus nape, tablecloth - or source of napery, nap/pe and napkin] Presidential settings may demand an immaculate surnape.

January Jewels

2 February, 2017

2017 began with a bang, and I don't mean Trump's firecrackers, or Mike Baird stepping down. Instead let me introduce you to eight cracking clues drawn from British sources, all published in January, or just a little earlier.

See how many you can solve - with hints encouraged in the Comments. (Numbers 4 and 5 are extra gnarly.) And look for another eight to drop next week. Get cracking.

1. Dated briefly, making move (4) [Screw]

2. Regularly avoided trouble by withdrawing smear (4) [Times 10764]

3. Miss cue on air - sorry! (9) [Vlad]

4. Need to go to France, you said? Maybe everyone needs accommodation (4,2,6) [Vlad]

5. Advised not to go swimming in lake at deep end (8) [Can you tell I love Vlad?]

6. Novelist's career to come to an end (7) [Nutmeg]

7. Asian film stars in contest (10) [Paul]

8. Magic words - turned out hiding something up one's sleeve? (5,3) [Times 10758]

Begging, hinting & ultimately blabbing encouraged below.

SK Esquire

31 January, 2017

He's back - that forum stylist and frequent Storm champ, the one they call SK. (Cue Ennio Morricone score...) Back with an entertaining themeless puzzle to savour instead of a Storm this week. 

So hit this link, and feel free to share your thoughts, or beg for hints, in the Comment section below. My hunch however says you'll unravel this little gem in good time, as I sense SK is playing nice (3dn, 13dn, 22dn...) now and then.

Plenty to like, including a couple of silky segues between wordplay and definition, the sort of sleight that marks a polished compiler. Hope you enjoy the solve.

And I look forward to  hosting a few more guest puzzles this year. (Regular players, feel free to send in your best example, or perhaps another style of word puzzle, to see if you can join the sushi train.) And of course, if you're keen for more homegrown diversions, then head across the the cruciverbalist site, run by our own CB and SL.

And last up - if you didn't know - the same classy trio (CB, SL and SK) is also the crossword pool for The Big Issue: an extra reason to snag the magazine. Making a positive difference, and solving some excellent puzzles as well.

WoW: Zetitic

30 January, 2017

ZETETIC [zair-TET-ik] - a skeptic [From Greek, 'I seek'] This may sound pathetic, but student-funded universities makes me zetitic of a degree's intrinsic worth.


24 January, 2017

Good word-lists demand a Brainstorm, and this one augurs well for some quality corruption. Below is a sampling of words first uttered in a US President's Inauguration speech, from BLEED to WINDSWEPT. (For the full list, check this link.)

Just to up the ante, let's include a definition this time around, and see whose clue can trump the wannabes. Or losers, as His Eminence Number 45 would insist.














Please attach your citizen number and taxation records with each post. But seriously, which cluemonger will be stealing the DC limelight?

WoW: Alnaschar

23 January, 2017

ALNASCHAR (al-NAZZ-kar) - person given to unrealistic dreams or plans, especially regarding wealth or success [Named after the beggar in Arabian Nights who destroys his own life in pursuit of grandeur.] Fixated by the high-life, a young day-trader can soon become an Alnaschar.

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?

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.



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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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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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