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Crossword roundup: words for bird-brains

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

Premier League matches were postponed; the Test went ahead. Were we, solvers wondered, to see puzzles with tributes, or business as usual? Crosswords, to my surprise, are somewhere in the middle: too light-hearted a context for a memorial, not rowdy enough to be cancelled en masse. Let us know your first sightings in the wild of CR; the new monarch’s official initials will surely appear in crosswords before they appear on postboxes.

Earlier in the week that contained too many entries for the history books: on the new prime minister’s first full day in office, Hippogryph in the Independent had already written an oven-ready clue …

12a Liz Truss reflects after women’s organisation’s ‘ineffectual person’ label (4)
[ wordplay: abbrev. for Liz Truss’s job, spelled backwards (‘reflects’) after abbrev. for a women’s organisation ]
[ PM backwards after WI ]
[ definition: ‘ineffectual person’ label ]

… for WIMP. The day before, Atrica had a puzzle with a hidden message in the perimeter, recalling an extraordinary claim of Truss’s about her first day.

Atrica’s hidden message in the Independent’s cryptic: HIT THE GROUND FROM DAY ONE.
Atrica’s hidden message in the Independent’s cryptic: HIT THE GROUND FROM DAY ONE.

We may now wonder what imagery the new prime minister’s surname will conjure up in clues over the next few weeks, possibly months: if you prefer to think about the time before Downing Street needed a revolving door at No 10, Qaos gave us (on the day before Atrica’s) a puzzle filled with PMs of the past.

Latter patter

Here’s a lovely word, as clued by Fed:

20d Vacuous Carry On Henry’s opening is carefree (7)
[ wordplay: middle letters of (‘vacuous’) CARRY + ON, preceded by nickname for Henry (‘Henry’s opening’) ]
[ CY + ON after HAL ]
[ definition: carefree ]

HALCYON, then. If crosswords had been around in Roman times, Fed would have had to clue it as something like “amazing bird that’s somehow both orange and blue”. It was a kingfisher and solvers would have thought fondly about the bird’s habit, on the winter solstice, of making a floating nest on the sea and calming the waters.

We should use more words which refer to birds, however inaccurately. They tend to be pleasing, such as “cajole” (to chatter like a jay), “poltroon” (a chicken-like coward) and HALCYON’s cousin “auspicious” (a Roman auspex was tasked with watching the flight of birds and logging any handy omens). Then there’s the subject of our next challenge.

Once used in heraldry to mean a bit of a shield that features a parrot: reader, how would you clue POPINJAY?

Cluing competition

Many thanks for your clues for KEW, a word I hoped would be fertile.

The inside-baseball award goes to TonyCollman for “Where you might find an Araucaria clue left out (a homophone)?” and the audacity award to Catarella for “Botany here? That would be New College, if Spooner’s lecturing”, a clue that comes with a handy user manual.

I’ve deployed my sporadic imperious right to alter punctuation and capitalisation in JasCanis’s nifty “Close to Chiswick (we’ll go west!)”. The runners-up are Lizard’s “Quercus’s origin reported here?” and Peshwari’s “Some woke warriors in leafy suburbia”. The winner is the result of a model in how exchanges “below the line” should work, which in itself is a source of great joy: “What bloke wants Homes & Gardens?” Kludos to Smutchin (and collaborators).

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

Clue of the Fortnight

Is Jason giving us that rare thing, the triple-definition-plus-homophone?

7a Yes, solid prop, we hear, is unerring (4)
[ wordplay: soundalike of ‘shore’ (‘prop’) ]
[ definition: synonyms for ‘yes’, ‘solid’ & ‘unerring’ ]

He SURE is. Thank you, Jason.

… for the daunting prospect of the DESIGNER BABY. Take care and finally, two tweets.

Waiting for a train. Having picked up a Metro for the crossword I expect lots on the Queen, but not entirely devoted to her. And yes, no crossword

— Sups Like a Sumerian. (@jamesksowerby) September 9, 2022

79 pages of royal coverage, but the Mail still observes the golden rule of newspapers: Don’t mess with the crossword pic.twitter.com/Yb6NyPa6Rd

— Etan Smallman (@EtanSmallman) September 9, 2022

Find a collection of explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs at alanconnor.com

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

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