Fifteensquared

Never knowingly undersolved.

Independent 6,845/Virgilius

Posted by Ali on September 23rd, 2008

Ali.

A very interesting puzzle indeed. The theme is Ambrose Bierce’s ‘Devil’s Dictionary’, from which 8 clues/answers are word-for-word definitions/entries. It’s perhaps a bit much to expect people to be able to get these without a copy of the dictionary or online help, but many of them are similar to the jokey, cryptic definitions you see in crosswords anyway, so they’re guessable if all checking letters are in place. That said, I was struggling, so I cheated as soon as I worked out the theme and this helped quite a lot with opening up the grid for the the non-thematic answers. Some people might argue that this kind of thing should be restricted to thematic puzzles (or Araucaria!), but I’ve no problem with it whatsoever. I’d never even heard of Ambrose Bierce, so was glad of the education.

I’ve indicated the thematic clues with an asterisk.

Across
1/11 DEVIL’S DICTIONARY – Our theme, texts of which seem to be readily available online
4/29 AMBROSE BIERCE – A,MB,ROSE,BIER,CE – And our author. A ‘bier’ is ‘a stand or frame of wood for carrying a dead person to the grave’
9 CATABOLIC – A,B for H in CATHOLIC
12* PLAN
16 STRADDLE – “Strad’ll”
18* POSITIVE
19* LAWYER
22 OBOE – Initial letters of ‘on back of envelopes’
23 DRAINPIPES – (IS DAPPER IN)*
26 AMIGO – AM,I,GO
27 NONENTITY – (NINETY NOT)*
28* CONVENT
 
Down
1 DECIDER – D,E,CIDER
2 VATIC – VAT,I,c[-ut]
2 ACCURATE – A,C,CURATE
5 BOUT – O in BUT
7 EXPANSE – PANS in EXE
8* ALONE
15* HISTORIAN
17 IVORY NUT – IVORY,NUT
18 PROSAIC – P + O in (CAR IS)*
20 RESTYLE – REST,ELY rev.
21* PIANO – “It is operated by pressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.”
25* BORE

10 Responses to “Independent 6,845/Virgilius”

  1. Colin Blackburn says:

    I found this puzzle dissatisfying for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as soon as I read 1ac I knew the answer and then the author. I guess this is one of those things you know or you don’t. I then just plodded through trying to separate the real cryptic clues from the straight Bierce definitions.
    Secondly, four of the Bierce definitions were so badly checked that I simply didn’t know the answer without guessing (and that was using an online version of the Devil’s Dictionary.) At least if the initial letters had been checked it would have helped—someone will now tell me there was a Nina which gave the initial letters!
    I liked the idea just not how it was executed. I felt that all I got today was half a puzzle.

  2. nmsindy says:

    Maybe it’s a 20 down of the puzzle, Colin, to go with the 20 down of the Indy today…

  3. Colin Blackburn says:

    You mean the paper’s only half of what it used to be? Demi-tabloid!

  4. rayfolwell says:

    Can anyone explain 24D ?
    “Source of poetry in 18th century or earlier” = PRIOR ?
    Earlier is the definition, source of poetry = P and “or”=or, but why is RI “in 18th century”?

  5. Testy says:

    I thought that this was some sort of wordplay too but I now think that it is DD with reference to a 17th and 18th century poet called PRIOR. It’s a shame it couldn’t have worked on a wordplay level too though.

  6. nmsindy says:

    Matthew Prior, I checked it afterwards.

  7. eimi says:

    Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary predates the official birth of the crossword by a couple of years, but, as Ali has pointed out, his definitions have a lot in common with the cryptic definition type of clue. This is why Virgilius considered them suitable as crossword clues, but I don’t think a crossword that relied solely on knowledge of the source material would be acceptable in a daily puzzle. Ironically, it was Brian Greer (Virgilius) himself who banned ‘quaotation’ clues when crossword editor of The Times.

    I hope those unfamiliar with the book will read more of it, as it contains such gems as “Love: A temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

    Incidentally, I met Brian Greer yesterday on one of his brief visits to the UK yesterday and he mentioned that someone had put him on YouTube. I’ve tracked down the clip, which can be found here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IE3Z9qRiOU

  8. Al Streatfield says:

    Nice clip, which I eventually got to after mistakenly going to one of the “related videos”- Bryan (not Brian) Greer playing 2. Check it out!

  9. Wil Ransome says:

    Piano: “It is operated by depressing the keys of the machine and the spirits of the audience.” (not just pressing, as stated in the blog).

    Great fun, although very difficult even with a copy of the D D to hand. I first became aware of this wonderful book as a result of Philip Franks on Countdown, who delighted in quoting from it, although he didn’t manage to convey its wit very well.

  10. Al Streatfield says:

    The definition of PIANO sounds like Oscar Wilde on a very bad day.

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