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Crossword roundup: the prime minister and the jinx | Crosswords


In the sample clues below, the links take you to explainers from our beginners series. The setter’s name often links to an interview with him or her, in case you feel like getting to know these people better.

The news in clues

Every so often, there is a puzzle so topical that someone shares it with their colossal following, enticing non-solvers to try our hobby. So it was with Vlad last week …

… in a, well, spirited reaction to events that prompted such clues as this one …

2d In a diary recalled work meeting one afternoon – this justifies conduct? (8)
[definition: this justifies conduct?]
[wordplay: backwards (“recalled”) musical abbreviation for “work” inside (“in”) synonym for “a diary”, then Roman numeral for “one” + abbreviation for “afternoon”]
[OP, backwards, inside A LOG, then I + A]

… for APOLOGIA. There was also this one …

6d Have confidence over investig­ator (female) – never good to show disloyalty (8)
[definition: disloyalty]
[wordplay: synonym for “have confidence” + name of an investigator & slangy term for “female”, both without (“never”) abbreviation for “good”]
[BET + GRAY and GAL without both Gs]

for BETRAYAL.

Another puzzle that caught the eye of non-solvers was from Stephen McCarthy in the New York Times. The answers included various names from sci-fi. Four adjacent down clues were ambiguous:

71d “It’s a ____!” [WRAP or TRAP]
67d Body part that precedes “band” [WAIST or WRIST]
47d Ones involved in a transaction [PAYERS or PAYEES]
55d Let out, in a way [LEASED or LEAKED]

The answer crossing these – clued “The better of two major sci-fi film franchises?” – could equally validly be filled as STAR WARS or STAR TREK. Again, non-solvers have been sharing their wonderment and the good news is that this kind of ambiguity can be found in cryptics, such as Boatman’s referendum puzzle, the barred weekend challenges and beyond.

Latter patter

Back in the day, we are told, Echo’s daughter tried to seduce Zeus. Hera, understandably, turned her into a bird. The bird began to appear on trinkets in old erotic magic and its name came to mean a charm, a spell – and a curse. The unlucky daughter lives on in a pleasingly brief clue from Carpathian in the quiptic, the Guardian’s stepping-stone puzzle “for beginners and those in a hurry”:

12a Juliet in kiss curse (4)
[definition: curse]
[wordplay: letter represented by “Juliet” in Nato alphabet + IN (“in”) + letter denoting a kiss]
[J + IN + X]

Echo’s daughter was Iynx; when I see a JINX as an answer, I keep in mind that the setter might have decided to include every letter of the alphabet, handily considering Qs and Zs when I go on to the later clues. Carpathian was also looking for QUIZ and BANK, so it paid off.

An alternate spelling of the bird, jynx, features in one of the few 26-letter pangrams, “Veldt jynx grimps waqf zho buck”. Like almost all short pangrams, what it gains in brevity it loses in needing an explanation that it is in fact a meaningful sentence, unless you understand that it means “wryneck bird from the grasslands causes the mounting of hybrid cattle buck from land given to a religious institution for charitable purposes in Islamic countries”.

When the paraphrase is barely more intelligible than the pangram, I stick with the quick brown fox, but I do like the feel of one of the words, the admittedly obscure subject of our next challenge. Reader, how would you clue GRIMP?

Puzzling elsewhere

For the second year in a row, the January event known as the MIT Mystery Hunt has been an online affair, a side-effect being that those of us on this side of the Atlantic can get a taste. Below is an introductory video, but take a look at this one, too.

The MIT Mystery Hunt.

Cluing competition

Many thanks for your clues for DOUGLAS-HOME. The audacity award goes to Jdthndr for the “culpa” in “PM should go in disgrace with mea culpa”. Of course, I enjoyed all the clues comparing the old Old Etonian with the current old one.

The runners-up are Porcia’s “Party laughs off old setter becoming PM” and Newlaplandes’s “Party damaged laughsome PM”; the winner is PugliaForever’s devious “Head of government overtaken by Labour supporters’ gaining the house”.

Kludos to Puglia. Please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.

The latest in our collaborative playlist Healing Music Recorded in 2020-22 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to is from Melissa Etheridge:

A Melissa Etheridge home concert.

Clue of the fortnight

It takes an exceptional clue nowadays for me to forgive an allusion to anything more than a cough or a sniffle …

11d Hawking lecture’s audience will do so upon arrival (13)
[definition: hawking (ignoring the capital)]
[wordplay: two words describing what an audience at a lecture does]

… and this from the Times for EXPECTORATION is exceptional. Your good health!

Find a collection of explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs at alanconnor.com

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop



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