In the sample clues below, the links take you to little explainers from our For Beginners series.
The news in clues
The crossword is a happy place. Late in March, the general tenor of the daily puzzles largely and understandably became a lot less topical. What comfort is a crossword if it reminds you of the thing you’re seeking an hour’s respite from (henceforth referred to as “This”)?
And so it went for a while. More recently, the odd acknowledgment of This has been appearing, and not in an unpleasant way. Well, I say that. In the Independent, Skinny’s vision of the world to come is … ominous.
14ac Flesh-eating virus racoon develops (11)
[ wordplay: anagram (‘develops’) of VIRUSRACOON ]
[ definition: flesh-eating ]
Given that the answer, CARNIVOROUS, lends itself to another anagram, perhaps we should regard Skinny’s fatal procyonids as a whimsical fantasy? A more world-weary hat-tip to life in 2020 can be seen in Paul’s clue …
… for SPACED OUT. If you see more allusions to This in puzzles – or if you’d rather see none – let me know below.
The above, by the way, is no criticism of Skinny. Not only does the flesh-eating clue remind us that the answer to the careful writer’s question “Now, how many ‘c’s are there in ‘rac(c)oon’?” is “It depends how you’re transliterating the Algonquian ‘aroughcun’” (the Guardian implicitly defers to Collins’ double-C); elsewhere, Skinny also clues one of those words that’s worth having a think about.
Here’s the clue:
So it’s FULSOME. Almost the last thing I remember before This was reading, in a botanical garden the day before it was closed, an essay offering pithy advice on how to deal with the fact that some people use “fulsome” to mean “pleasingly plentiful” and others use it to mean “unpleasingly plentiful”.
The phone I used to read it can’t tell me where that essay is; if any of the various corporations which have logged my enjoyment of the piece would care to share its location, I’ll pass it on. My two penn’orth is that the word, having become ambiguous, is one I’ll try to remember to forget. I’m happy with using words such as “profuse” for one sense and “effusive” for another, so this is not a case of losing a unique and useful piece of language – it’s not like “curate’s egg”.
Which brings us to a question. Is there anyone here who (a) doesn’t tend to leap up and down insisting that language mustn’t change but also (b) has some word or phrase they really wish would not change form or meaning? I’ll start with the subject of our next challenge. It’s not that I think it shouldn’t be a verb; it’s more that I tend to stop listening when I hear it used as one. Reader, how would you clue IMPACT?
Thanks for your clues for QUIDDITY. And thank you for persevering with a word which combines wretched letters and an irritating pair of meanings. It took us to some unexpected places, as in GeoScanner’s “An old Bill Tidy comic character” and PeterMooreFuller’s “Sum of £1.01 – over 50% of equity”.
Dunnart gets the audacity award, not for the smut in his excellent “Heart pounds, having sex in empty doorway” but for his use of “®” in “Trademark tobacco – ‘Coarse Cut®’”. And one of our occasional inside-baseball moments happened delightfully with Porcia’s “Nit-picking the nitty-gritty”.
The runners-up, perhaps coincidentally, can both be read as references to This: Dimsworthy’s “Did wrongly go outside this month when missing Mother Nature” and Harlobarlo’s “Oddly, today I nearly quit drinking, initially out of curiosity”; the same could be said of the winner, Faiton77’s charming “Something to chew on. Time in home repairs the spirit”.
Kludos to Faiton. Please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition, and your picks from the broadsheet cryptics, below.
Clue of the Fortnight
Here’s a Telegraph Toughie clue from proXimal; it’s one of those ones where you need to stare at almost every word trying to work out what job it’s really doing.
21ac Rough stray caught scratching around (4)
[ wordplay: anagram of (‘stray’) CAUGHT without (‘scratching’) abbrev. for ‘circa’ (‘around’) ]
[ anagram of CAUGHT – CA ]
[ definition: rough (as a noun) ]
And when you see that the answer is THUG, you look back and see that every stage was fair. It’s important to be fair, during This, isn’t it?