Crossword roundup: setters' favourite names – Eli, Cher and Erato

Photograph: David Karp/AP

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

In April, we noted that a then brand new pro-independence party might make it easier for a solver to twig that “Scotland” in a clue may indicate ALBA in an entry, shortly before I got lost in Arabic words beginning AL. We see that solvers might now fairly be expected to know the party, too, in an FT clue from the setter known locally as Pasquale

1ac New Scottish party – at heart it’s something fishy! (8)
[definition: tuna species (“it’s something fishy!”)]
[wordplay: name of new Scottish party + synonym for “heart”]

… for ALBACORE. Meanwhile, the annotated solution is now available for a prize puzzle from Paul with this grimly timely clue …

14d American change of direction requires nerve after a fight (5,4)
[definition: US-English phrase indicating change of direction]
[wordplay: synonym for “nerve” (as in effrontery), preceded by (“after”) A (“a”) & synonym for “fight”]
[FACE after A & BOUT]


Puzzling elsewhere

Here, we are savouring Mathematical Snacks (“A collection of interesting topics and ideas to fill spare moments”); I suspect you will find something to accompany the shorter evenings from the puzzling publisher Tarquin.

Latter patter

When I am stuck, especially when it is a proper noun that is elusive, I tend to recite Reginald Perrin’s complaint: “I’m stuck on the top left-hand corner. I just don’t know any Bolivian poets.”

So it is with this Times clue:

22d Relative bringing Ghanaian diplomat up (5)
[definition: relative]
[wordplay: name of Ghanaian diplomat, reversed (“bringing … up”)]

I just don’t know any Ghanaian diplomats. But, as in an American-style puzzle, the crossing letters then evoked a very familiar name I could match with that description: former UN nabob Kofi Annan, who can be flipped for NANNA.

I am surprised we don’t see ANNAN more often in puzzles, since his surname has that quality described by the American setter Merl Reagle with reference to ENEMA: “Talk about great letters!” Through the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and others, I have become more familiar than I had anticipated with the plough inventor John DEERE and the not-discussed-here novelist James AGEE. Over here, perhaps we ought to see ANNAN alongside our dear friends the priest ELI and the singer CHER.

For the subject of our next challenge, though, let’s go in the other direction. Let’s have a Muse; let’s not have ERATO: reader, how would you clue CALLIOPE?

Incidentally, whenever I think about the muse of sacred poetry, I say her name in my head with Beryl Reid’s voice. This is why.

Cluing competition

Thanks for your clues for SCOTCH BROTH and, as usual, for the conversations around the clu(((e)))ing. Catarella gets the audacity award for making the letter bank device work in “Jock’s dish contains only bits picked out of borscht”.

The runners-up are Zedible’s “Hot borscht gets cold when stirred into another soup” and Faiton77’s “Potboiler put an end to British Book Month at last”, which you can imagine having “Books Month” if you prefer; the winner, having narrowly missed the audacity for the inside-baseball “Hamish’s Soup”, is Montano, with “Whisky with starters of bread rolls on the house makes a substantial meal”. Kludos to Montano. Please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – and your picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below.

For the latest in our collaborative playlist, Healing Music Recorded in 2020-21 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen To, it is almost a year since we have had some Tom Jones. His taste in Bob Dylan songs is impeccable: he did What Good Am I? a decade ago and, much more recently, One More Cup of Coffee.


Let’s start sharing cryptics we have found outside the papers. Here is one from Conto, who says: “Alas, I failed to create a puzzle filled with one-word clues,” instead offering one featuring many of the same.

Clue of the Fortnight

Crossword setters are the kind of people who look at a word and say to themselves: “That begins and ends with the names of two former bandmates, once you have removed the first and last letters.” And that is how we end up with clues like this one, from Bluth

14d Honouring two Beatles, without coverage, outside British Library (9)
[definition: honouring]
[wordplay: names of Beatles with first and last letters removed (“without coverage”, either side of (“outside”) abbreviation for “British Library”]
[LENNON and RINGO with first & last letters removed, outside BL]

… for ENNOBLING. All that remains is to puzzle out whether “without coverage” means that the press were not tipped off, or that John had popped his trousers off again. Stay safe.

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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