Never knowingly undersolved.

Independent 7892/Anax

Posted by John on January 31st, 2012


Poor old Anax seems to be stuck with me at the moment and I probably don’t do justice to a beautifully-crafted crossword with some lovely clues.

But this was tough. On several occasions I clicked on ‘Reveal Letter’ and occasionally gave up and went the whole hog and pressed ‘Reveal’. It wasn’t made easier by the fact that several of the answers were words that were unknown to me, either as islands or not.

In all the Across clues Anax has begun the clue with ‘Is’. Some might feel that many of them should actually begin with ‘Is.’, which would of course ruin the surfaces, but this relaxation (at any rate a relaxation according to Chambers — I’m not sure what all the dictionaries say) is no doubt justified.

Although to do such a thing is a marvellous technical feat — none of the across clues seems weak — I always wonder in such cases why the setter gives himself such a hard time: it makes no difference to the solver, except that sometimes — as I say not here — the clues seem a bit artificial.

1 P(ATM)OS{t} — Automated Teller Machine — a Greek island
5 GU(E RN S{ecur}E)Y
9 MARS H ALL — Marshall Island in the Pacific, where the bomb tests were carried out
10 EXISTS — sexist (= M(ale) C(hauvinist) P(ig)) with its leader sent to the far right, definition this time simply ‘Is’, nothing to do with an island
11 TIERRA DEL FUEGO — (Is league tried)* — an island at the tip of South America
12 UNST — (nuts)* — island in the Shetlands
13 HOLIDAYS — ho lid (say)* — here the definition is ‘Is away’
16 PIT CAIRN — Pitcairn Island in the Pacific, where the Bounty mutineers ended up — a cairn is, apart from being a breed of dog, a heap of stones used as a landmark on a mountain-top or path
18 salvatION Army — very clever hidden that I couldn’t see — island off Scotland
21 CHA MO(ISLE A)THER — def ‘cloth?’
23 AND R O S — an island in the Bahamas of which I’d never heard
24 ANGLESEY — angle (yes)rev. — in Wales
25 TEN ER(IF)E — in the Canaries
26 EASTER{n} — Easter Island in the Pacific
2 A RABI{d} AN
3 MASORETIC — (It’s a more)* c — obvious how the clue worked, but not a word with which I was familiar. The Masorah is a collection of critical notes on the text of the Old Testament
5 GOLDEN HANDSHAKE — g olden handshake — ‘Ready to remove’ as the definition is excellent
7 NO(1)SE
14 DRIFT NETS — (Friends t{ha}t)*
15 SIKORSKI — (I KO) in (risks)* — for once ‘Polish’ really does mean what it seems to say
17 INCENSE — 2 defs
19 NDEBELE — b in the middle of (needle)* — not a word I knew and not in Chambers — this is what Wikipedia says
20 L{iteratur}E AGUE
22 AG(RE)E

26 Responses to “Independent 7892/Anax”

  1. anax says:

    Hi John
    Many thanks for an excellent blog.
    Just a note on your point about why we setters do things like this. It’s simply a question of staying sharp. A few of us are lucky enough to do this job full-time and, let’s be honest, many jobs can be quite humdrum. If we just set straightforward puzzles day in day out it would be hard to stay fresh, so it’s not just pleasurable to do something different – it’s a good idea to give ourselves a variety of challenges; some technical, some simply fun. There have been comments in the past about setters ‘showing off’ with unusual themes but, really, it just isn’t the case. Crossword setting is so much more than just clue-writing – grid design, grid fill, clue balance, distribution of letters all come into it, and placing emphasis on a particular aspect of setting is like going to the gym and concentrating on a specific type of exercise which we might otherwise neglect.

  2. Eileen says:

    Thanks for the blog John – a great job!!

    This is one of the most enjoyable crosswords I’ve done for a long time. I thought at the beginning that ‘Is’ might well not mean ‘Island[s]‘ all the way through but all the ones I solved turned out to be so, until I reached the last three, which weren’t, and by then I’d forgotten that possibility, so those took me ages. The groan whicm resulted from my seeing CHAMOIS LEATHER should have been heard throughout Crosswordland! [I ought to have seen EXISTS before, of course.]

    Some brilliant cluing, as always, especially given the constraints, as John says. I really liked UNST [so deceptively simple] and IONA [which, like John, I didn't see straightaway]. Other favourites were TENERIFE and DRIFT NETS [again, it took a while to see I had to gut 'that', not 'friends'] and AGREE – and, of course, CHAMOIS LEATHER!. I could go on …

    Excellent stuff – huge thanks, Anax!

  3. Thomas99 says:

    Thanks for the blog and the brilliant crossword.

    It was maddening at times but I really enjoyed it in the end. The non-island “is” clues really suckered me! I think he must have been hoping we’d do what I did – get a few that were islands and decide the rest probably would be too. “Holidays” took me ages. With Boatman at least you know they’ll probably all be different…

    There is an Andros (23a) in the Bahamas but there’s also a more familiar one in Greece, one of the largest of the Cyclades – see wikipedia.

  4. crypticsue says:

    Brilliant, maddening, sneaky – those Is’s that weren’t Is’s if you know what I mean. I too groaned really loudly just like Eileen. Big thanks to Anax for stretching the cryptic grey matter and to John for sorting it all out.

  5. Paul B says:

    Is very nice.

  6. Norman L in France says:

    Most enjoyable, and very sneaky to get us used to islands and then work other stuff in. Chammy leather finally went in and then took another 5 minutes to parse. Thanks to Anax for stopping by to give us the insight.

  7. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Way too hard for me today. I’ve said before that if I can get a start with an Anax, I can usually have a good crack at it. But I couldn’t get going this morning. Ho hum. But thank you to both anyway.

  8. Bertandjoyce says:

    We agree with all of the above comments – groans here when chamois leather went in too. We were expecting some of them to be non-islands but it didn’t stop one of us googling for an island called Holidays! DOH!

    Lots of brain cells stirred over lunch in the best possible way.

    Excellent puzzle, thanks Anax. Thanks John for the blog. We hope the presure of meeting a deadline for blogging did not take too much away from solving a really cleverly constructed puzzle.

  9. Bertandjoyce says:

    Sorry – should have been pressure!

  10. Pelham Barton says:

    Thanks Anax for the crossword and John for the blog. Unlike John, I found the theme here really made a difference to the way I tackled this puzzle and made it all the more enjoyable.

    My one serious grumble with the crossword relates to 3dn. I hold firmly to the view that obscure words should have cryptic indications that are completely unambiguous given the checked letters. Anagrams can do this job sometimes, but not for words where consonants and vowels alternate. Here the I was always likely to be the last of the unchecked letters, but the other three could go in any order to produce a plausible word.

  11. anax says:

    Hi Pelham
    Yes, I think you’re right. I have a vague recollection of being faced, at some time, with the words MENORAH and MASORAH and not knowing if they were related words with subtle differences (as in, eg, JETSAM /FLOTSAM). The process of finding out has evidently lodged both words firmly in my brain and given them a familiarity – or immediacy – probably not shared by many.
    Apologies if this one spoiled the fun.

  12. flashling says:

    Cor blimey guv, just when I thought I’d got the hang of an Anax oh dear oh dear. Trying to do this without aids even though I got the island link proved beyond me today so well done John and the ever devious DM.

    Curses, I’ll get you next time you swine :-) Actually I thought: Where’s Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers in the grid singing Islands in the stream…

  13. Quixote says:

    This was fun, but I don’t like nounal anagram indicators. I’d have liked ‘being corrupt’ instead of ‘corruption’ at 11A (which for me is totally unjustifiable grammatically and enhances difficulty unfairly). Nice puzzle overall though. I thought 22D was top class.

  14. nmsindy says:

    This I found pretty tough esp to break into. It was quite amusing when CHAMOIS LEATHER appeared and I saw there was extra trickery. Before finding that, I’d wondered how Anax would have managed to get an island for every across answer. As it turned out, I’d heard of most of the islands, just one completely new to me and two others dredged out of hazy memory as possibilities when I’d enough crossing letters. Clues rigorous and fair, all clear in the end.

    Re PB’s point at #10, not sure if it really matters too much if you have to look up an answer in dict to see which of the possible forms it is, while agreeing more obscure answers should always have easier wordplay. I’d to look that one up and my guess for the placement of the unchecked vowels was wrong but I may remember it for the next time, should it ever appear somewhere again…

    Thanks, Anax, and John for the excellent blog.

  15. JollySwagman says:

    @quixote (#13) re 11A – that’s the clue that let me break in and gave me 20D by reverse logic – as links often do.

    Can’t say I was even aware of what part of speech was involved – nor do I ever care – however, surely if you take the two words “for corruption” together as the anagrind there can be no complaint.

    Liked the departures from the theme. Was on the lookout for them of course but 21A still generated an audible doh/aha/hoho (or ROFL as we now say).

    Great puzzle and blog – thanks to both.

  16. Quixote says:

    ‘For corruption’ would be fine as anagram indicator, but in this clue ‘for’ is part of the anagram and would be doing double duty for the clue to work. So the anagram indicator in the clue as it stands is ‘corruption’. I can’t say I liked the nounal anagram ‘disaster’ at 15D either! For me it’s a shame to see very talented and inventive setters missing some obvious pitfalls.

  17. MikeC says:

    Finally finished this. Hooray!
    Agree with most of the comments – but I think Quixote is being excessively pernickety about nounal anagram indicators.
    Must confess I didn’t check HOLIDAYS. Some dark recess of the so-called brain insisted there were islands called the “Holidays”. Oh dear, not a perfect round after all.

  18. Quixote says:

    Pernickety. eh? I learnt my crossword grammar from a master, who (sadly) is spurned by too many of our daily setters. ‘Tis a pity that so few others of the X school now survive! Never mind!

  19. anax says:

    Ah – nounal anagrinds. I can understand why pure Ximeneans are unhappy with them, but it also appears that solvers generally have no objection. Ultimately, if the wordplay indicators get their message across clearly and understandably they cause no problem.
    For me, nounal anagrinds are bad (in fact pretty much unusable) in front of fodder, but if a surgeon informs you that you have a bone fracture it’s pretty clear you have a fractured bone.

  20. Quixote says:

    I bow to the new authority

  21. nmsindy says:

    Re nounal anagram indicators, Azed has a detailed note in his 2006 book (pp 15-16). He says that ‘few issues divide setters so fundamentally’ as this, then after a detailed explanatory note, which I must admit I found difficult to grasp fully without quite a few readings, indicates that he would never use them. Brian Greer, former Indy and Times crossword editor and distinguished setter, however, says in his 2001 book (How to do the Times Crossword) that he sees no reason to rule out appropriate use of nouns and gives as an example ‘A pectoral disaster for her’(9). With my setter’s hat on, being cautious, but admitting my difficulty in understanding entirely all the issues involved, I avoid them completely.

  22. John says:

    Re nounal anagram indicators: Azed says one thing; Brian Greer says another. Who is right? My feeling is that Azed’s pronouncements are taken as gospel by many people, but Brian Greer is also quite justifiably eminent, so perhaps we shouldn’t pooh-pooh him.

  23. eimi says:

    You say tomayto and I say tomahto. It really depends whose hymn sheet you’re singing from and following on from the great Virgilius in my current role I have no reason to disagree with him. I’ve never been impressed by the argument against nounal indicators per se – surely in a cryptic (the clue’s in the word cryptic) crossword, a dolly mixture can be a mixture of the letters in dolly as surely as a river can be a flower or a currency unit a settler. Defining one part of speech with another is another matter entirely. While I’m in heretical mood, I have to admit that I don’t understand Afrit’s injuction either and I’m not alone in this. Ultimately it’s the solvers who decide what’s fair. To boldly go, and all that …

  24. JollySwagman says:

    “Ultimately it’s the solvers who decide what’s fair.” – well said.

    Ximeneans can do what they want in their own parish but there is no earthly reason why all cryptic puzzles should defer to one set of rules, particularly not those ones. If anything it would be nice to have more diversity – as long as answers are gettable by the application of logic that’s fair to me. Nounal anagrinds – double duty – bring it on – I love it.

    I am already missing Croisaire’s puzzles in the Irish Times so I have just ordered a book of the late Frank Lewis’s puzzles from “The Nation” (US mag). Apparently these too use quite varied devices compared with what we have become used to.

    The Ximenes book was published at the height of the circulation war between the Observer and the Sunday Times and I often wonder whether that had anything to do with it.

  25. Quixote says:

    The editor (eimi) must have the last word about the Indy puzzles and I respect that, but this veteran is not so sure that the all-out libertarians won’t make crosswords too difficult for those who want to learn. Crossowrds can be hard AND fair! On these blogs I sometimes feel like Elijah (‘I alone am left..’). But it’s time for me to shut up! In the meantime I shall still maintain my view that double duty is absolutely wrong and that nounal indicators are very dicey (one of the few things where my esteemed coleague Brian Greer gets it wrong!).

  26. nmsindy says:

    It’s most useful to have these comments from the experts. I agree ‘double duty’ is never justified. IMHO, apart from their primary purpose (to entertain), crosswords have to be fair and logical. Again with my setting hat on, I’d see myself in the Xim school and, while I cannot speak for him obviously, I get the feeling Brian Greer (Virgilius) also is.

    Also re JS’s final comment at #24, it would be wonderful if cryptic puzzles were significant enough to be a weapon in a circulation war but I somehow doubt it.

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