Skip to main contentSkip to navigation
A Eurasian teal.
A Eurasian teal. Photograph: Christopher Cook/Alamy
A Eurasian teal. Photograph: Christopher Cook/Alamy

Crossword roundup: PG Wodehouse and lots of ducks

We consider crosswords of the past and the present in our pick of the best of the broadsheets’ cryptics

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.

Can you help?

In December, I said we’d return on 16 January, but we made a surprise reappearance last week with a set of profiles of Guardian setters – and a request for your help in naming those we can’t.

We have made some progress: the setter most know as Phi has identified himself as Pangakupu. We have a real name for Plodge: Moira Wade of Berwickshire. And I am told that Gromwell’s name was Brett Hancock and that he left us much too early.

I would like to digitise Gromwell’s puzzles and give a fuller picture of the setter. If you know anyone who might have worked with him or known his family, please get in touch.

In the meantime, the biggest mystery remains Xerxes – and it would be gratifying to match the remaining faces to some names.

The news in clues

A highlight of this time of year is Micawber’s puzzle reviewing the previous 12 months, even or especially when the months have been as wretched as those of 2022. This year, it’s in the Sunday Times, it comes with solution notes and it includes this clue …

1d O, Mr Kwarteng’s gone – foolishly wrong deserting basis of economy? (6)
[wordplay: anagram (‘gone’) of OMRKWARTENG without (‘deserting’) jumble (‘foolishly’) of WRONG]
[anagram of MRKATE]
[definition: basis of economy?]

… for MARKET and this one …

3d Spot of bother during Oscars – dodgy gag amid extremes of tension, and it goes downhill fast (8)
[wordplay: first letter of (‘spot of’) BOTHER between two Os (‘during Oscars’) & jumble of (‘dodgy’) GAG, all inside (‘amid’) first & last letters of (‘extremes of’) TENSION]
[OBO & GGA, inside TN]
[definition: it goes downhill fast]

… for TOBOGGAN. Will we be considering the crossword potential of yet another chancellor’s surname this year? Watch this space.

I also highly recommend this piece from the Financial Times.

Latter patter

We sometimes mention the kinds of clues you don’t see often nowadays. When the very idea of a crossword was met with suspicion, the Times was keen not to insult the presumed intelligence of its readers, directing its puzzles at those who had, in the words of the former crossword editor and current Guardian setter Vulcan, “graduated from governess to public school to Oxford and Cambridge”.

The use of Latin is long gone. The quotations with a missing word for the solver to fill are rarely seen and I had imagined were gone by the 1970s, but a contemporaneous London Review of Books response to the 1979 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations tells us:

The first two editions were dictionaries of familiar quotations. This new one is more of an anthology. The familiar stuff is still here, but they’ve put in a lot of good stuff that no crossword-puzzle setter would expect you to know, or find, unless or until this 1979 edition becomes an accepted and required source for elucidation of crossword clues.

So it seems that, as the 1980s began, the very concept of a quotation made some think immediately of crosswords. The review here is by Richard Usborne, chronicler of all things PG Wodehouse, which leads us to our next challenge.

When we set ourselves the task of deciphering some clues that a Wodehouse character tried and failed to solve (and for which no answers were given), there were repeated references to actors of the past: Edmund Kean and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, as in this passable Wodehouse clue …

Tree gets mixed up with comic hat in scene of his triumphs
[wordplay: anagram of TREE and HAT]
[definition: scene of Tree’s triumphs]

… which we think is for THEATRE. But let’s return to the actor’s name. Reader, how would you clue TREE?

Cluing competition

Many thanks for your clues for TEAL. The inside-crosswords award goes to Ruderiguanas for “Bird starts to test even Alan’s leniency?” and the audacity gong is Sheamlas’s for the letterbank-adjacent “Common estuarial and wetland migrant”.

The runners-up are Newlaplandes’ erudite-sounding “Duck, Daffy, et al” and Albery’s vivid “Toenails oddly blueish”; the winner is the Wonderland-referencing “Duck ate Alice’s sandwiches”.

Kludos to Montano. Please leave entries for the current competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – in the comments.

Clue of the fortnight

I especially enjoyed the plausibility of the miniature heroes-to-zeroes tale in this Telegraph clue …

11a In complete confusion, team losing after leading (6-4)
[wordplay: synonyms for ‘team’ and ‘losing’, after one for ‘leading’]
[SIDE & DOWN, after UP]
[definition: in complete confusion]

… for UPSIDE-DOWN. Happy new year!

Find a collection of explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs at The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop

Most viewed

Most viewed