Crossword roundup: muslin from Mosul, and thence to Mussolini …

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

“It’s irrelevant how many wins in a row, it’s just nice to win again”: cheering recent words from the sportsman with a cameo in a puzzle from Puck:

26ac Cyclist of note about to sell his pants (4,9)
[ wordplay: type of currency (‘note’) + abbrev for ‘circa’ (‘about’) + synonym for ‘to sell’ + anagram (‘pants’ as adjective) of HIS ]
[ MARK + CA + VEND + ISH ]
[ definition: cyclist ]

… namely, MARK CAVENDISH. Meanwhile, right on the money is Leonidas in the Financial Times with an evergreen surface meaning …

11ac Boris eviscerated by his lot after very sad excuses (3,7)
[ wordplay: first & last letters (‘eviscerated’) of BORIS & Boris Johnson’s party (‘his lot’), both preceded by (‘after’) synonym for ‘very’ ]
[ BS & TORIES after SO ]
[ definition: sad excuses ]


Latter patter

It took me a moment to see what was going on in Nutmeg’s clue …

20d Fabric whose reversal’s no problem? (6)
[ wordplay: in reverse, words indicating ‘no’ and (mathematical) ‘problem’ ]
[ NIL SUM, backwards ]
[ definition: fabric ]

… for MUSLIN. Italians who dealt in the fabric, we’re told, acquired the name Mussolini, and the fabric itself could once be of gold or silk, manufactured in Mosul, in northern Iraq. Nowadays, it’s a lovely plain name for a lovely plain item, although American English manages to render it plainer still in the form “burp cloth”.

Mosul itself seems to mean something like “The Joining-Up Place”, referring to its handy connections to Persia, Syria and Anatolia and our next challenge concerns the ancient city on the same spot. Reader, how would you clue NINEVEH?

US-HEALTH-VIRUS-EPIDEMICA view of Sunset beach where a few surfers are seen braving the beach closure to enjoy the first south swell of the season in Los Angeles, California on April 01, 2020. - Sunset Beach is a legendary surf spot in Malibu where surfers from around the world come ride the waves. All 40 million residents of California were Thursday ordered to stay at home indefinitely in a bid to battle the coronavirus pandemic in the nation’s most populous state. (Photo by JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX / AFP) (Photo by JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX/AFP via Getty Images)
Surfers at Sunset beach, Malibu, California. Photograph: Jean-Baptiste Lacroix/AFP via Getty Images

Cluing competition

Many thanks for your clues for MALIBU. You may have noticed that I’ve started occasionally removing the odd word before reproducing below, but do let me know if this gets out of hand.

The audacity award goes to Zedible for requiring us to imagine Spooner reporting a fictional character in “Beach where Spooner reported Wooster seeing a bloody cow?”

Of the surfaces, I especially enjoyed the oddness of Mightyboosh2’s “African country that’s landlocked except short surf spot” and the poignancy of 10FootClaudicant’s “In pub I lamely knock back liqueur”.

This word, MALIBU, prompted an enormous quantity of quality clues; the runners-up are Patjberry47’s inquiring “Where one might find Beach Boys album I lost?” and Kolf’s it’s-a-real-border “Liquor smuggled across Mali-Burkina Faso border”; the winner is GappyTooth’s rhythmic “Drink from African country drunk in France”.

Kludos to GappyTooth: please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – and your picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.

And here is the latest addition to our collaborative playlist Healing Music Recorded in 2020-21 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to:

Mdou Moctar, ‘outside of the house we were all staying at in Niamey, Niger’

Clue of the Fortnight

A note for beginners: sometimes, when you can’t see which part of clue might be definition, and which might be wordplay, sometimes the setter may have done what Pasquale has done here

5d Street vehicle in task removing what is grotty, ultimately? (8)
[ wordplay: abbrev. for ‘street’ & type of vehicle, both inside synonym for ‘task’ without last letter (‘ultimately’) of GROTTY ]
[ ST & CAR, both inside DUTY – Y ]

… where the whole clue isdefinition and wordplay for DUSTCART.

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

Here is a collection of all our explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs.


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