Mephisto 2493 Paul McKenna

Posted on Categories Mephisto
This Mephisto is a little easier than some because the starter clues (see below) are generous in number and strategically placed. It is an artisan puzzle, robust and workmanlike but never scaling the heights. All the clues are fair and reward detailed analysis – as they should. I loved the strange meaning of “penthouse” and the typical Chambers comment on “their”, both of which admirably demonstrate the use of the dictionary to solve clues. All clues marked (C) are where I used the cruciverbalist’s bible to verify some part of the clue.

As previously promised, for new solvers the following notes are based on my early attempts in 1960 to solve bar crosswords.

Most sets of bar crossword clues contain a small number of starter clues – easier offerings designed to give you a start and typically 6 to 8 in number. In this blog I have marked the starter clues (S). When I was a new solver I disciplined myself to always read through the whole clue set to find and solve first as many starter clues as possible. I never got involved with the other clues until I had done that to the best of my ability.

As I read through the clue set I also marked any clue I thought was an anagram and returned to them immediately after doing the starter clues. There is a technique that one acquires to solving anagrams of obscure words using ones knowledge of English and the dictionary. This became easier as my experience and vocabulary both increased.

By these means when I came to the more difficult clues I already had letters in the square to help decipher the definitions and tricky word play. I started with the clues where I now had the most letters in place. For each clue I devised a hypothesis of the clue’s construction and then used that to try to relate to the letters in the grid. Take as a simple example 4D in this puzzle.

My hypothesis was that a word meaning “cut moulding” surrounds a word meaning “picture” to give “cut back hard” I was looking at C???IC?D. I guessed that PIC=picture and that the final ?=E, so I wrote C??PICED on a gash piece of paper and looked at it. Clearly COPPICED was worth a try and sure enough Chambers gave me “cope”=cut moulding. Job done. If one hypothesis didn’t produce results I would look for another until I found the answer. That approach once produced an excellent result for me, but that’s another story.

Bar crossword setters are fond of using obscure abbreviations (such as “is”, “has” or “us” all = “s”) so I also created a list of the abbreviations that appeared in clues and had it next to me when solving. I also did a lot of hunting through Chambers, a thesaurus and a rudimentary crossword dictionary (no internet in those days).

Take the down clue “Railroad going over local river in old colony (4)” (from Mephisto 2446). With no helping letters this is close to unsolveable for a beginner unless you have very specialist knowledge. However, I have E?E?. My hypothesis is that letters meaning “railroad” are over letters meaning “local river” to give an “old colony”. I know that “E” does not equal “railroad”. I also know that I’m almost certainly looking for two letters (there are only four in all). A quick look in the dictionary at EA then EB then EC and so on gives me EL=an elevated railroad. Along the way I learn that EA= dialect (=local) for a river (this little word is worth remembering, incidentally).

Thus I have ELEA, which to my disappointment is not in Chambers! But I spot that “Eleatic” is and it means belonging to ELEA, an ancient Greek colony – bingo! Learning to appreciate Chambers is all part of the enjoyment. For fun see if you can find “Queer Cuffin” (a JP) in the 10th edition of the good book.

I hope some of that is of some value to somebody. As ever, don’t hesitate to ask any questions and never give up!


3 ACETIC,ACID – A(S)CETIC,ACID; an ascetic was an abstainer from everything I enjoy; S=a little square; ACID=keen; proper name for vinegar (pickle was a giveaway here)(S)
10 ALLOYS – AL-LOYS; AL=aluminium; LOY=a spade with a footrest; see “allays” in Chambers (C)
11 NATANT – NAT-ANT; tan=oak bark; tumbling=turn over=reversal indicator; “swimming” is definition (C)
12 COOPER – two meanings; a mixture of beers (porter and stout) and the man who puts bracing rings around barrels (C)
13 EMUS – hidden word (th)E MUSt(ard) (S)
15 BERIBERI – BER(I)BER(I); a Berber is from N Africa (S)
16 THEIR – T(he)-HEIR; THEIR=belonging to him (which may not be acceptable usage according to Chambers) (C);
19 HOW,COME – H(O-WC)OME; HOME=goal; O=nothing;WC=without charge
26 LOADERS – (ordeal)*+S(hift); to charge is to load; LOADERS are machines that load. (C)
28 FATAL – FAT-A-(beautifu)L; term means the end; “critical” is definition
29 ABROGATE – (tea or bag)*; (S)
31 DISS – two meanings; corruption of disrespect used in street slang; Algerian real grass (C)
32 IN,LOVE – (on veil)*; unimaginative clue; (S)
33 CLOSET – CLOSE-T(elephone); a press=a cupboard or shelved closet; nice construction (C)
34 ODIOUS – (comm)ODIOUS; commodious=old word for convenient; comm=commentary
35 DENOTATION – blast=detonation then change “ton”=fashion into “not”; “what a word means” is definition
1 JACK,THE,LAD – JACK-(had let)*; JACK=detective; I don’t see the cockney connection (S)
2 CLOTHO – C-LOTHO; lotto=bingo then change “t” to “h”; one of the Greek Fates with Atropos (scissors) and Lachesis (spinner)
3 ALOE – (b)A(l)L(o)O(n)E(d); (S)
4 COPPICED – COP(PIC)ED; to COPE=to cut a piece of moulding (third definition in Chambers); to coppice is to cut back hard (C)
5 EYEBROW – two meanings; see “penthouse” in Chambers – nicely misleading (C)
6 IN,BRIEF – IN=on good terms with; BRIEF=barrister (S)
7 CABIN – CA-B(ubbly)-IN; CA=cases; IN=fashionable; to cabin is to hamper in action; nice construction (C)
8 CAME,IN – CA-MEIN(t); CA=Consular Agent; meint=ming=old word for “to couple” (C)
9 INURNS – I-NUR-N-S; I=one; NUR=knur=a hard ball of wood; N=and; S=(hu)S(sey); definition is “puts ashes away” (C)
14 SIGHTLIEST – S(IGHTL)IEST; an anagram of “is set” around an anagram of “light” (S)
18 SERAGLIO – SER-AG(L(ove))IO; SER=series; AGIO=money-changing; a harem (C)
20 MARANTA – MA(RANT)A; MAA=goat’s bleat (baa is a sheep); arrowroot, which is related to ginger (and banana!) (C)
21 EFFENDI – EFF-END-I; EFF=the letter “f” (euphamistic as in f-off – see Chambers); END=completion; a Turkish title of respect (C)
22 MOBILE – MO-BILE; MO=more (a little extra); MOBILE (look under “mob” in Chambers) is 17th century word for a mob (C)
23 PARSON – P-ARSON; P=priest; (S)
25 NAEVUS – N(AE-V)US; SUN=star; V=five; EA=a drainage channel in The Fens; all reversed; definition is “spot”; nice clue (C)
27 EGRET – EG-RET; RET=spoil by soaking (worth remembering)
30 BOON – BO-ON; OB=outside broadcast; NO=Japanese drama; all reversed (S)

7 comments on “Mephisto 2493 Paul McKenna”

  1. Re 16A, I’ve yet to see THEMSELF used in a crossword. I think it first appeared in the 1998 edition of Chambers, and in 2003 it still attached the condescending comment ‘unrecognised in standard English’. I look forward to seeing whether it’s still looked down on in the forthcoming new edition.

    Tom B.

  2. Found I was dragged in pleasantly – solving 4 or 5 at a go and kept me interested until I ran out of steam. Explanation very useful on tips – had not been looking overly hard in Chambers for alternate meanings of definitions – Penthouse being a fine example – know better now. Also lacked confidence in ones that I now know to be correct – Jack the Lad i thought was okay but I too didn’t understand the ‘Arry part and doubts crept in. The majority of my failures are in the NW corner (6 of the 9)

    Got in a terrible muddle with denotation – and just could not see it . Being obsessed in equal measure with ‘definition’ ‘conotation’ (spelt wrongly i know) and could not see past these two even with checking letters, for which i then had doubts.

    Enjoyable though – and thanks for the tips.

    1. Hi Dorosatt. Thanks for raising this because it made me go and look up EGRET. I had assumed (dangerous and I should know better) than an egret was a young aigrette (which I think of as the adult bird). However, neither Chambers nor Wiki support this so, in short, no I don’t know what purpose is seved by “young”. Jimbo.
  3. Excellent blog, I raced through most of this, and after a first sitting put it down with only a few on the left hand side unfilled (4d, 35a, 33a, 22d). A good puzzle for learning new words from wordplay, though I’m not sure if I’m going to drop naevus, maranta, coppiced or inurns into daily conversation.
  4. Jimbo, thanks for your really valuable preamble, especially the ‘s bit. Unfortunately, I’d confidently put “ALLAYS” at 10a – AL S(pades) having (including) LAY (a rest) – so had no chance of getting COPPICED. I also missed COOPER at 12a, MOBILE at 22d and CLOSET at 33a. As you suggested there were quite a few “starters” which made me think I was in with a chance. I can’t comment whether this was any better or worse than previous ones, but I’m certainly enjoying the research involved in wrestling out some of the answers.
    1. Hi Ken. I thought that “allays” and “alloys” was difficult because as you say AL(LAY)S fits the clue. However, once you realised that you couldn’t get 4D (no such word as “cappiced” and so on), your first port of call should have been “alternative spelling”. Can “allays” be “alleys” say? When you read “allays” in Chambers you see that it has a synonym “alloys” and then a little bell should ring. Could the answer be AL(LOY)S? Of course when you look up “loy” you find the stuff about the spade with the footrest and it falls into place. Jimbo.
  5. I’ve been trying to remember what I did when I first tackled barred-grid puzzles. One problem is that although I’m pretty sure I fought my way through an Azed puzzle in the 1981 Easter vacation when I should have been revising for university finals, I’m not sure how often I tackled Azed puzzles between then and about 1986 – I have a few Azeds from 1986/87 in an old folder of kept puzzles, so I reckon to have tackled at least two-thirds of Azeds since then.

    I don’t think I consciously looked for ‘starter’ clues or anagrams. I do remember learning tips like “many rock names end -ite”, and picking up various clichés like EA, EL and KA (“genius”). If the possible wordplay for a clue suggested some part of an answer, I think I used to write it down and try out various options as to where it might go. The Greek/Latin basis of many technical terms means you can spot similar things to the -ite ending. I think I used the ‘hypothesis’ method early on – I still do now.

    One lesson not to forget: no matter how improbable a word looks, if the wordplay fits, look it up – there really are words starting ct- or sb-, for instance. Words can be hard to find in C but they’re getting better at including x-refs like “queer cuffin – see cuffin” (not there yet, so remember to look up both ends of a two-word phrase). And scan “nearby” stuff like eleatic for Elea. The x-refs now cover one of the worst horrors – an African word (a currency, I think), whose plural was formed by adding something like E- to the beginning of a word beginning with a very different letter, M I think.

    My tools for early attempts were a copy of Chambers, plus Chambers Words, which helped to speed up the process of checking possibilities. Nowadays, the CD-Rom version of Chambers plays that role. There was a time when I think I used books like Chambers Backwords too.

    If you’re into crib sheets, it’s worth collecting the IVR abbreviations into a list by country name.

    Although these puzzles are good for long lazy Sunday afternoons, they’re also good candidates for solving in bursts. If you spend an initial hour or two and then you’re not making much progress, leave the puzzle alone for a while and come back to it.

    Another hint should be fairly obvious: the higher degree of checking means you’re more likely to get answers from checking letters when the grid starts to fill up.

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