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
A happy and healthy new year. Instead of clues that make reference to topical events, let’s start with something positive. Do you have any favourite puzzles from the holiday period that others may have missed?
I am thinking especially of crosswords with themes, tricks and other extras. For example, Soup’s Genius puzzle made for a deeply satisfying New Year’s Day here. Don’t be put off by the instructions, which begin:
Tjyuffo tpmvujpot nvtu cf fodjqifsfe
The Listener puzzle titled Replacement by setter IOA is a gentle introduction if you’re considering making this advanced-level series part of your 2021. Picaroon’s Boxing Day puzzle also has special instructions …
Wordplay in all but one of the across clues is 17
… which rapidly starts to make sense. If you haven’t tried an American puzzle with a “meta” answer, I urge you in my shrillest and loudest tone to go to the Washington Post for Evan Birnholz’s jumbo titled 5×5. I recommend printing and persisting with this masterpiece.
What have you enjoyed?
As usual, the end-of-year, year-in-summary Independent puzzle from Morph is so accomplished that you suspect he has spent most of the year honing its clues. It starts with a pun …
… on FURLOUGHED, a word that one year ago was used in these pages almost fancifully, as in this review of a Finnish Byronic goth band; for me, it retains a military odour. A mutation of words with the prosaic sense “for leave”, it was once a piece of paper, as in this exchange in Ben Jonson’s 1625 satire on journalism, The Staple of News:
P. jun. Where is the Deed? Hast thou it with thee?
It is a thing of greater consequence,
Than to be born about in a Black Box,
Like a Low-Country Vorloffe or Welsh Brief.
Here, the cognate “Vorloffe” is Jonson showing off a word he had picked up in Europe, apparently at the 1591 siege of Knodsenburg. In a later edition of the play, the editor William Gifford appears unduly impressed …
It is greatly to the credit of the gentlemen of the army, that they have contrived to obviate the miserable poverty of the English tongue, by adopting the military vocabulary of almost all the nations of Europe. This gives a richness to their language, which is scarcely surpassed by its idiomatic pureness, and intelligibility.
… unless, of course, he is being sarcastic. The words that follow “Vorloffe”, meanwhile, read like an attempt at a joke on the purported Welsh aversion to terseness. If it works, it is because of the flexibility of the term that is the subject of our next challenge. Reader, how would you clue BRIEF?
We have not yet had any recommendations involving the streaming app Twitch; let’s fix that. Solvers might enjoy the output of the Only Connect writer Daniel Peake. Here is a sample.
Anything cryptic or puzzly for the winter evenings that you have enjoyed? Please mention below.
Many thanks for your clues for WREN and the long conversation over Christmas. The audacity award goes to Sophical for “LBJ set out to find an architect”, especially for confessing that this is “Probably not OK nor in the dictionaries” in a gloss. I enjoyed the topicality of Dunnart’s “In dinnerware on counter – bird finished off on Boxing Day?” and the comfort of Wellywearer2’s “Lawrence holds Christopher”.
The runners-up in a crowded field of birds are Harlobarlo’s sneaky “Singer arranging New Year’s finale” and Flatrod’s deft “Song performer’s written in the margins”; the winner is GappyTooth’s remarkable “White-headed, grey-bodied, brown-tailed bird”.
Kludos to GappyTooth: please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – and your picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.
Our latest offering of Healing Music Recorded in 2020-21 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to is about hygiene, but you can forget that if you don’t speak the same languages as the extraordinary Baaba Maal.
Clue of the Fortnight
If you are here because you are thinking of taking up cryptics, here is a reminder that clues don’t always involve the anagrams and reversals and so on you see above (and in the list of explainers below). Sometimes, it is as simple as an elegant and funny sentence, like this from Enigmatist:
24ac Have one tot after another? (3,3,5,4)
The answer is WET THE BABY’S HEAD. Cheers all. Onwards.
• The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop and is partly but not predominantly cryptic