Crossword roundup: why sisal is like tequila

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

As usual, if you come to crosswords to escape what’s in the rest of the paper, please scroll or swipe down to Latter Patter.

That goes double this time, as Vlad – who we interviewed in August, so that’s approximately 400 years ago – has produced a puzzle with clue after clue on a certain theme. Its pugnaciousness is hinted at by this one …

5/9ac Current protection scheme in tatters — need extremely qualified expert (4,3,5)
[ wordplay: anagram of (‘qualified’) TATTERS & first & last letters of (‘extremely’) NEED, then synonym for ‘expert’ ]
[ anagram of TATTERSND, then ACE ]
[ definition: current protection scheme ]

… for TEST AND TRACE, and by the time the relevant non-expert makes her appearance, the puzzle becomes one for the history books. Meanwhile, Knut takes a what seems to be a Swiftian approach to another theme. This starts at one across …

1ac Cameron, perhaps fated to spill daughter’s secret (11)
[ wordplay: what ‘Cameron’ is an example of + synonym for ‘fated’ without (‘to spill’) abbrev. for ‘daughter’ ]
[ definition: secret ]

… though the theme is much more topical than the surface reading of the clue for CLANDESTINE might suggest.

Puzzles elsewhere

For the shorter days, let’s have a fortnightly recommendation of something puzzle-related: Zoom / PDF / something else. Your thoughts are tremendously welcome. My first is a Thursday evening quiz from Frank Paul, author of The Cryptic Pub Quiz. It is ingenious, wide-ranging and very cryptic and will need all your attention and brainpower. Entry via Twitter DM in advance:

Latter patter

Here’s a clue by Hectence from the quiptic, the Guardian’s “cryptic puzzle for beginners and those in a hurry”.

1ac Fibre for rope mats is a leaf extract (5)
[ wordplay: some of the letters of (‘extract’) MATSISALEAF ]
[ definition: fibre for rope ]

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The solver in a hurry is still required to take the time to break up the natural phrase “rope mats”, taking the first word as the end of the definition and the second as the start of the wordplay, before getting some lovely SISAL. This is a word I first encountered on a Berkshire campsite in the mid 1980s.

In fact, it was 15 April 1984, as I Want to Break Free had just been announced on a little radio as a new entry on the Top 40, which I mention only to convey how vividly I recall being baffled by the word. Or at least its spelling: sizal? syzol? I settled on “sisle”; there was no time to ask, as the sisal in question needed to be put away.

Had I asked, the answer might have been: “Well, just the same as the Yucatán port from which it is often exported”, meaning that we can tie it to a Mexican town in a way that we completely failed to with JALOPY, which might or might not come from Xalapa, Veracruz – which does at least give us the jalapeño.

Staying with food named after Mexican places, we have tequila (a town near Guadalajara) and of course Tabasco (a state in the south-east); staying with states, we have the word that regular entrants will have been suspecting might be the subject of our next challenge. Reader, how would you clue CHIHUAHUA?

Cluing competition

Many thanks for your clues for NINCOMPOOP. I enjoyed the surprisingly contemporary surfaces, most of all Lizard’s pointed “No. 1 Con. performing with pomp?”

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The audacity award has to go to Rakali for the preposterous …

Divvy noun
1. income that is not declared
2. pinhead

… and the inside-baseball award goes to Albery’s “Absorbed in clue-writin’ in comp, oops – I’m a bampot?”

The runners-up are Flatrod’s smart “No recipe for popcorn? No, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” and Harlobarlo’s compound thingamabob “Spooner complained about absent, bungling leaders as incompetent”; the winner is Porcia’s timely “He’s not very smart at home without any company – no work clothes!”

Kludos to Porcia; please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – and your picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below, and our next offering of Healing Music Recorded in 2020 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to is from New Jersey’s Yo La Tengo, who announced: “We determined that the three of us could assemble in Hoboken without disobeying the rules laid out by Governor Murphy.” This new track is, I think, part of the result.

Bleeding by Yo La Tengo

Clue of the fortnight

Nominated by reader Ousgg as “typically outrageous” …

6d Entertainer turning up at party, initially with tower of presents (3,6)
[ wordplay: AT backwards (‘turning up’) + first letter of (‘initially’) PARTY + someone pulling Father Christmas’s sleigh (‘tower of presents’) ]
[ TA + P + DANCER ]
[ definition: entertainer ]

… we can even forgive Tramp for reminding us of that festival in December. Stay safe.

My first puzzle collection, The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book, is published on Thursday, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop, and is partially but not predominantly cryptic

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

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