Never knowingly undersolved.


Posted by The Trafites on January 1st, 2012

The Trafites.

Nick:  Quite a lot going on in this Azed christmas special, of which I quite enjoyed completing, and also the challenge to be able to blog it.

This was a sort of compendium of clues that Azed has up his sleeve, with the exception of printer’s devilry (good :) ).

They were:

1. Normal (N)
2. Definition and letter mixture (DLM)
3. Misprints (M)
4. Playfair (PL)
5. Right and left (RL)
6. Wrong number (WN)

The clues below are prepended with the clue type, as was the published puzzle. There was one small mistake in the PDF version I used, although within a few minutes it was obvious WN 21,22 should have been a RL clue – I have corrected that here in the blog.

The way I tackle these types of crossword is to start with the easier types clues, leaving the Playfair clues to last. DLM are usually the easiest, and soon I was up and running with a lot of the misprints solved also. There is a convention, I believe, that due to the coded entries, Playfair clues are normally clued a bit easier than normal, and this proved to be the case.

Now to the Playfair cypher. Azed informed us the code phrase contained three words.

On completion of the all the other clues, I had solved 4 PL clues, which gave me a few matching letters to start messing about on a large sheet of paper. I thought it had to be a Christmas themed code phrase, so I tried a few ideas (Xmas…, Azed… etc.). My starter was noticing that MZ=PW fitted nicely in the bottom right hand corner area somehow if Z was last. Slowly, I began to see IN(G) appear (IF=NE), and X didn’t seem to be at the bottom…. so BOXING DAY sprang to mind (I confirmed with Chambers that this was two words), so one more word of the keyword to get if my hunch was right. What could it be?

An incorrect hunch (lucky guess?).

Ah, BOXING DAY REST, I thought (thinking there would be no Azed next week, but this inspiration WAS wrong, as Boxing Day is Monday!), and was quite surprised this nearly worked! But then I found the S and T seemed to be wrong, plus CA=GY was wrong. Progressing to get CA=GY,  BOXING DAY CUST…, it can’t be custard.  By this time my grid was virtually unreadable due to all the annotations :)

So near, yet so far.

So I then looked at the title, and tried AZED, XMAS… to fit the two four letters words… XM revealed itself in the central word from XM=IL, and from then on getting AS=SL revealed the S and T needed swopping, R fitted in after I saw TURK appear (had to be turkey), so eventually (and I mean eventually – several hours to get this far)  ‘BOXING DAY CUTS‘ was revealed which, as Azed stated, is a rough definition of the puzzle’s title:


Thus the competition word to clue is ‘COLD TURKEY‘ as from the puzzle instructions.

The completed Playfair word square:



Great fun!  I managed to get the whole puzzle cracked in about 6 hours.

Below, WN answers are entered in their clue positions with indications of the relocation, and the word entry at the location in parentheses with the relocation definition in the clue in BOLD;  RL clues are split // at the break.

PL 1. For parents and children, mostly boring in dress (6)
KIDULT -> grid entry MOGTKS DUL(l) in KIT
PL 6. Special corroding process for glue-maker’s leather (6)
M 10. Hoer worked with difficulty holding in poppy extract (9)
RHOEADINO -> misprint in grid entry from RHOEADINE (HOER*) + (IN in ADO)
DLM 11. Bare rigid strengthener in concrete (5)
RE-BAR bare r(igid)
WN 12. Nameless man of the cloth put on a pedestal (7)
REVERED -> entered at 19dn: (BARACAN)
N 13. Boggle, say, with females mostly appearing in drag, queer? The opposite (8)
Boggle is a wordgame that I haven’t seen for a few years
M 15. Saint – one such offering a lamb (5)
SPAUL -> misprint in definition LAMB/LIMB pun on S[t]PAUL
RL 17,18. ‘The deil’ scribbled on hire // vehicle in second lines showing signs of earlier body damage (6, 6)
17ac HORNIE, 18ac SCARRY
(ON HIRE*) // CAR in (S RY[lines, railway])
RL 20,22. Revolutionary in German party once disseminated // UK title, last secreted somehow in palm (6, 6)
22ac SPREDD, 20ac KITTUL RED in SPD // (UK TITL(e)*)
WN 26. One may have links with Mafia Inc. as wanting change (5)
SICAN -> entered at 8dn: (WAVER)
(INC. AS*)
M 27. Cordial toper, drunk, admitting wrongdoing (8)
PERSINOT -> misprint in grid entry from PERSICOT SIN in (TOPER*)
WN 28. Fabrication of old weaver, worthless in prohibition (7)
BARACAN -> entered at 12ac: (WHANGAM)
DLM 29. Part of countryman’s stubble? It’s growing (5)
STRIG It’s gr(owing)
N 30. Buddhist scripture: you’ll find it also known as ‘following a single journey’ (9)
PL 31. Curse wildly, clenching tense muscle (6)
RECTUS -> grid entry WTDFTE T in (CURSE)*
PL 32. Oriental coin at the right place – centre of Macau (6)
PATACA -> grid entry LCSDGY PAT+(m)ACA(u)
M 1. Gentleman rising in ministry making one eager for move (6)
MORISH -> misprint in definition MOVE/MORE (SIR<) in MOH
N 2. Outweigh odd characters in exec. with proviso subtly (9)
DLM 3. User of Scottish canal snarling at barb (7)
GABBART (snarlin)g at barb
N 4. Reverse of well-informed skill, not intricate Italian quilting (8)
N 5. Creeping stem is like this, mostly below ground (6)
SOBOLE SO+(BELO(w)*) &lit
M 6. Arab in charges is glittering (6)
FEARES -> misprint in grid entry from FLARES AR in FEES
my last one in the grid, as it took me a while to confirm ‘glittering’ was the definition.
I am still not convinced.
DLM 7. Hungry lad, overweight (5)
LARDY (hung)ry lad
WN 8. Embroidery nail? One holds head for islander (5)
BRAID -> entered at 24dn: (SICAN)
PL 9. Cut e.g. sepia from tail up, given to eat (6)
KNIFED -> grid entry PONETY (INK<)+FED
N 14. Eating hungrily at random rider tucked into bean (9)
DLM 16. Russian four-wheeler for a tsar (naturally) (8)
TARANTAS a tsar (nat(urally))
WN 19. Unreal creature, initially worshipped alongside nasty Hagman (7)
WHANGAM -> entered at 28ac: (REVERED)
Larry Hagman, from the TV programme ‘Dallas’
PL 20. American mother has endless love for love child (6)
MOMZER -> grid entry KIPWTW MOM+ZER(o)
note here the ‘American mother’ – this could also be MAMZER if parsed incorrectly – a gotcha!
RL 21,22. Like a croissant swallowed after meal, child ignored // mouth’s chomping almost (6, 6)
21dn LUNATE, 22dn STOMAL ATE after LUN(ch) // (ALMOST*)
DLM 23. E.g. dry garden, or muddy (6)
DREGGY e.g. dry g(ardne)
WN 24. After start of walk, old cattle move to and fro (5)
WAVER -> entered at 26ac: (BRAID)
M 25. How ageing fans express their appreciation of pop singer? (5)
DIGIT -> misprint in definition SINGER/FINGER Dig it!
Dig it – great clue!
 ………….  ……………………………………………………………………….


  1. Richard Heald says:

    Nice blog, Nick. FEARES (for FLARES) at 6Dn is correct, the definition being ‘is glittering’.

    Should be interesting to see how Azed handles the judging of this one as “seasoned competitors” will remember that COLD TURKEY was the clue-phrase he set exactly 17 Christmases ago! My guess is he’ll award prizes as usual but the competition won’t count towards the annual honours, as was the case the last time he repeated a clue-word (AVANT-PROPOS in Jan ’96).

  2. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    Thanks especially for a fascinating blog Trafites.
    I usually solve 99% of Azed offerings of all types except PL where I usually (always) fail miserably.
    Even after almost half a century of trying I still had no idea how to start tackling a PL.
    When I saw this one i knew exactly what would happen, and it did. I solved all the clues except 2 PLs and came to a shuddering halt.
    I am studying your technique closely so perhaps next time a PL arrives I shall have a renewed enthusiasm and achieve a little more success.

  3. nmsindy says:

    Scrabble tiles can be useful when trying to sort out a Playfair. For years, I found I rarely managed them, then it got a bit easier.

  4. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks nms,that sounds productive.

  5. bridgesong says:

    Nick, thanks for the comprehensive blog. I was alerted to the problem mentioned by Richard @1 by a thread on Derek Harrison’s site, but couldn’t understand what was going on until after I had completed the puzzle. In search of inspiration, I went to the &lit site, and there discovered that COLD TURKEY had been used before, and in fact it seems from the slip that the puzzle that year was in a very similar format. I can’t now remember my entry for that competition (and it wasn’t featured on the slip) but I was able to read all the prize-winning and VHC entries. I have been careful to avoid plagiarism but it’s going to be hard for Azed to know whether a competitor has had the benefit of this sort of research or has just come up with an idea which seems original to the competitor but has in fact been used before. Back in 1996 it would only have been subscribers to the Azed slip who would have had access to the previous entries; now anybody can see them on the &lit site.

    I sympathise with RCWhiting about Playfair clues. My way in was to guess that the puzzle title included the words XMAS and TURKEY; BOXING DAY therefore seemed a likely possibility and did prove to be correct. I followed Don Manley’s advice in his Crossword Manual and used Scrabble tiles. Without a guess it would in fact be almost impossible to deduce the codephrase as there is too little material available to use any sort of frequency analysis.

  6. The Trafites says:

    RCWhiting #2

    PD clues are my nemesis – I do not think I have ever completed a puzzle using that clue type.

    But Playfair I do be able to seem to do.

    The first thought about with a Playfair is (usually) the code phrase is going to be thematic. Secondly, once solving a few ‘cold’ PL clues, you can see if some could possibly be corners of a square/rectangle (i.e. above MZ=PW mean that top row could be:
    bottom row could be:

    etc. But a lot of trial and failure.

    I did once use Scrabble tiles, but then progressed to a large sheet of paper with a big grid (graph paper et al), pencil and rubber (and a few cans of beer and lots of time).


  7. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks for the various help.
    However, it does seem that the major method is to guess and keep on guessing.
    That might have been my failing because I have always assumed there was an elegant and logical process which would lead to the solution; one which I had not yet discovered!

  8. PeterM says:

    Having only solved three of the Playfair clues, I only had 3 letter-pairs, which didn’t seem enough to start guessing, so gave up – the only Azed I’ve failed to finish this year. (I wouldn’t have entered anyhow, as I can never think up a clue of acceptable standard.)

  9. Wil Ransome says:

    Nick’s preamble says ‘Playfair clues are normally clued a bit easier than normal, and this proved to be the case.’

    Well I certainly didn’t think so. I’d never heard the word kidult, and a pataca is not in the list of coins in Chambers Crossword Dictionary, and ‘pat’ is used here in a rather unusual sense.

    This took absolutely ages. Far more than ‘about 6 hours’. It seems that although Don Manley in his Chambers Crossword Companion gives the useful advice to use Scrabble tiles, and also gets you to think about straight line as opposed to rectangular coding, there are no very clear instructions about how to solve one of these devils, so I fiddled around for ages until it came. Added to which I took a very long time to light on a half-decent clue.

  10. PS says:

    Having lurked through 2011 this gives me an opportunity to thank all for the help and information and wish you a Happy 2012.

    Wil Ransomme at #9 I parsed PL 32 as Oriental Coin (clue definition ) “at” to the right of p (place) giving p-at plus aca (the centre of Macau ) means that pataca is the answer. Now Chambers gives pataca as “the basic unit of currency in Macau” which, to me, makes a superb and enjoyable clue but I am not sure if I am on the right lines at all.

    RCWhiting at #2 I also have struggled for over half a century to find a generalised approach to the PL. There are initial steps which, in my view, can be taken. Don Manley in the excellent Chambers Crossword Manual (page 178) says “The setter should give you some straight line coding……….”. I assume that this is a widely accepted understanding. Start by assuming that all the digraph doublets are at the corners of a rectangle as CR is encoded to SG in the example. Write down all such doublets (18 in this case) which will show which letters will be in the same row and which in the same column. Where letters are repeated you can build up a row or column. We expect some straight line coding so where letters are in the same row and column they must be in a straight line. Using the last digraph of 31A and the second of 6A show that UTSE must be in a line. From now some guesswork is needed as it could SEUT in a line which is a row or column. I went for UTSE in a row as it is the most likely to form a word and now I could continue…………………….. Many useful websites exist which gave me this approach; sorry but can’t aknowledge as I don’t remember and am not well organised.

    If anyone does pick this up at such a late stage (hence the pseudonym PS) it would be useful to know if this contribution makes any sense.

    Anyway, again thanks to all


  11. Wil Ransome says:

    No Allan, by saying that ‘pat’ is used in an unusual sense, I wasn’t meaning that it was ‘p + at’ but I was using the Chambers def ‘at the right time or place’. We usually mean ‘at the right time’, as in ‘off pat’.

    Azed wouldn’t have clued this in the way you suggest, because ‘place’ is pl not p (in Chambers anyway), and ‘at the right’ doesn’t mean ‘at the right of’. There are setters who would be loose enough to allow these, but not Azed.

  12. PS says:

    Wil Ransome #11
    Many thanks, that is a great help to me

  13. MuchPuzzled says:

    Oh groan! I got all of this apart from 9d but could not sort the Playfair due to apparently misunderstanding the instructions. It states “In a Playfair word square the code phrase ( of three words in this puzzle )…” – which led me to believe that the three words would be answers from the puzzle itself or at the very least three words taken from the clues or the preamble!!! Grrrr!

  14. RCWhiting says:

    You are not alone in misundersatnding the explanation. Although my misunderstanding was not specific to this puzzle. I have always assumed that the code word could be any one of the thousands contained in Chambers. After all the example uses ‘orange stick’ which appears with no explanation.
    From the advice above I now gather that the code word is vaguely clued by the title, season etc.

  15. PS says:

    I suppose that if two readers understand a sentence in a different way then it must be ambiguous. I had no trouble with that but I had trouble with WN 21,22 which, now, I can see is a “obvious” typo. There is no problem with that except that I wondered for some time if there some very clever aspect that I was missing.

    I have looked at PL crosswords before and there are some understandings but I got to know something of playfair codes which helped. This is, as I see it, me battling my mind against Azed. I did eventually win even if I did not understand all the word play. The battle strategy, I suggest, depends on how you play the game. I wanted to get into his mind. Having shown that UT and SE must be in a line I assumed that it UTSE as it is most likely to form a word, this would mean that the STORME of the title is an encoded form of a six letter word starting TU — TURKEY? — COLD TURKEY? Something stirred in my old brain as I tried to get into Azed’s mind; yes, from the &lit archive, comp no 1180 Xmas 1994. Code words Cold Turkey!! Now Azed wouldn’t do that would he? Yes, he has and I was well away. I didn’t submit a clue as I have for some over the past year only as the quality of mine have been low (but improving). He will be able to compare clues across 17years!
    I feel must thank again Azed and the Trafites for a wonderful Xmas puzzle and blog. For many hours it diverted my mind from a family difficulty. This puzzle has the answers published in two weeks; would that this were a characteristic of family problems.
    I hope that this rambling does not contravene the protocols of this website. This is the first Xmas since 1950 that I have not had a job; I really must get out more.



  16. Norman L in France says:

    Joining the fray rather late (Happy New Year to all and thanks to the bloggers) this was the first time I’ve had so much trouble with a Playfair. I’ve normally been able to do them with pencil and paper but this time Scrabble tiles were brought out, to good use.
    RCW et al
    It’s true that this was thematic – and announced as such – which helped to guess that TURKEY was there somewhere, but AZED sets them at other times of the year without a theme. I don’t think the PL clues were that much easier than the rest, but I’m very glad I got them all, otherwise the decryption would have been impossible.

  17. RCWhiting says:

    Norman, you must be a lot more telepathic than I am.
    “The PL code phrase must be deduced in order to complete the puzzle.It may be seen as a rough definition of the puzzle’s title, which is encoded like the other PL entries and in which, as in the code phrase, no letter recurs.”
    And you guessed that meant “turkey”. You are a genius.
    Part of the reason I have failed so miserably over many years is that he always gives ‘orangestick’as the example with no indication as to where it comes from.
    Ah,well there is always a next time(he says, optimistically).

  18. Norman L in France says:

    I should have been a bit more detailed to avoid giving the impression I have ESP skills. As is probably the case for many solvers, the TURKEY guess came when the UTSE combination in the clued lights didn’t fit the diagonally opposite format and so had to be a line of letters, and that meant that STORME in the title gave TU as the first 2 letters of the 6-letter word in the title, hence turkey. BTW, I don’t think orangestick comes from anywhere in particular. It may just be the first PL code word he ever thought of. I also think this is the first time he’s used a phrase rather than a single word.

  19. John says:

    In the past Azed has used Playfair in two different ways. In ordinary Playfair puzzles, the codeword (always a single word in Chambers) had to be deduced from the encoded entries. In several Christmas puzzles, a code phrase could be deduced from the clues (such as latent letters), and was then used to encode entries and sometimes decode the title. This is the first time as far as I know that he’s required solvers to deduce a non-Chambers phrase, so understandably it was a lot harder than than many of the past Playfairs and past Christmas puzzles.

  20. Thomas99 says:

    I suppose I might feel different about it if I hadn’t cracked the Playfair code, but I should add my thanks for this thoroughly engrossing puzzle. I’ve always been impressed by Bletchley Park etc. and Alan Turing especially, and this gave me a little taste of being a codebreaker. It was interesting seeing The Trafites’ account of solving it. I think I went along a broadly similar path, probably in a vaguer way; but after a lot of trying to be logical about it and sketching partial grids the phrase seemed to appear quite suddenly in my mind and I just wrote out the whole Playfair square and found it worked! I’d been toying with Turkey and Cold already (Turkey just because it was Christmas really, Cold because there had to be a 2-word phrase to clue) but what solved it finally was either my unconscious or dumb luck. Not quite Bletchley, I admit…

  21. Jim says:

    I find the best approach to Playfair puzzles is to assume that the letter to be encoded and its coded equivalent are in the same row of the Playfair square. This assumption holds true unless the two letters to be encoded are in the same column, which is a relatively rare occurrence.

    Having completed the other clues in Azed 2064, I could therefore posit that D, G, C, A and Y were in the same row. Same for F, E, S, T and U, and for I, O and N. I then wrote down the (six) letters that remained unaccounted for – which happened to include B and X. Plain sailing from there.

    PS – I live in Melbourne, Australia. My mother sends me the Azed and Inquisitor crosswords from the UK each week. This blog is a fantastic way of comparing notes with fellow solvers (Australians aren’t big on cryptic crosswords!) So thanks to all concerned.

  22. Wayne Corben says:

    Really struggled with this, only finished today!

    I found some assistance with the decoding here:

    which may be of help in the future.

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