Mephisto 2938 – Sixty Years Of Cunning Clues

Posted on Categories Mephisto
This mildly themed puzzle commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Mephisto puzzle. It was compiled by our three regular setters plus Chris Feetenby, a retired setter.The Observer had been running bar crosswords since the 1920’s first compiled by Edward Powys Mathers (Torquemada) and then from 1939 by Derrick Macnutt (as Ximenes – another name from the Spanish Inquisition). My first experience of bar crosswords was an introduction to Ximenes by a work colleague circa 1962 and from there it was but a short hop to the Mephisto puzzles, which I recall finding a bit easier than the Ximenes.

We had no ready access to a photocopier (only recently invented) and I remember I used to copy the grid onto graph paper and write my answers in pencil on that because I got so many wrong, continually erasing errors badly damaged the newspaper.

Chambers was a fascinating tome that required considerable concentration in its own right and part of the learned expertise in solving was getting to understand how the great book was put together.

It took me several days to solve the puzzles and then each week my attempt would be carefully stored away awaiting the publication of the solution. There then followed a deep analysis as the correct answers were compared with my answers and the clues and enlightenment was sought. I remember I compiled a list of all those abbreviations that keep cropping up to use as an additional reference. Once a month following a clue writing competition Ximenes would publish his analysis slip which was very helpful but what one would have given for a blogger helping one to see the light!

It took me about six months to reach the point where I could solve the puzzle every week on my own with no mistakes and I’ve been solving them every week ever since. Sadly the Times has never ventured into the variations, such as Printer’s Devilry, found in the Observer. However all the bar crosswords have brought me great fun and intellectual satisfaction – my thanks to all the setters, past and present, for that.

This particular puzzle is very easy. It starts “across clues contain a statement in 17 form”. A look at the first letters of the across clues reveals a hint: MESSAGE IN DIAGONALS. I immediately wrote “acrostic” into 17D. 1A was a write-in and as it started with an “s” I faintly wrote “sixty years of” into the diagonal and verified with 36A. 7A was a write-in so that the NE-SW diagonal either started S and ended C or, more likely, vice-versa. I faintly wrote in “cunning clues” and verified with 14A and 32A. The rest was a doddle.

1 STRUNG – ST-RUNG; rosary=string of beads;
7 TORCS – (store – e)* surrounds c=100; e from (employe)E; necklaces;
12 VIBRAHARP – VI(B-(RAH)-AR)P; Russian doll clue;
13 HEXENE – HEX-ENE(rgy); wizard=HEX; an alkene;
14 FLAUNE – FLA(U)N-(garbag)E; old word for custard;
15 MIST,NET – sounds like “missed net”;
16 ALLOW – ALL-OW(e);
19 VICIATE – VIC(a-r)IATE; r=rector; old spelling of vitiate, to render invalid;
22 CLERGY – CL(ERG)Y; old word for seize=CLY; unit of work=ERG;
25 ENLEVE – hiddin (driv)EN-LEVE(rage); abduct in Aix-Les-Bains;
26 OUTLIER – OUT-LIE-R; in error=OUT; resistance=R; isolated crop of rock for example;
28 STAND – ST(A-N)D; are=A; new=N; STD from S(i)T(e)D;
30 PETROUS – (up to e is)*; e from (res)E(rve); stony is definition;
32 TENURE – T-(EN)-URE; space=EN; the northern=T’; old word for practice=URE;
33 SIESTA – SI-EST-A; Italian yes=SI; French is=EST; accepted=A; forty winks;
34 ROTOVATOR – ROT-O-V(i)ATOR; absurdity=ROT; of=O; traveller=viator then remove “i”; trade name of soil tiller that, like Hoover or Carborundum, has come to mean the object in common language usage;
35 CRORE – CR-(t)ORE; creditor=CR; rent=tore then drop t=time; ten million rupees (circa £120,000);
36 LET,OFF – LE-TOFF; LE TOFF is Franglais for a good, kind person;

2 TIE-IN – T(IE)IN; a film that “ties-in” with a book;
3 URETERAL – (real true)*; the ureta connects the kidney to the bladder;
4 NANNYGAI – NANNY-G-AI; au pair=NANNY; sloth=AI; large fish at Fingal Head;
5 GHEE – G-HEE(l); grand=1,000=G; end of loaf=heel; butter is definition;
6 ZAFTIG – Z(AFT)IG; Joan Collins say;
8 OPAL – (n)OPAL; cactus=nopal;
10 CENOTE – CE-NOTE; a Mexican well;
11 SKEWERED – S(KEW)ERE-D(ecember); dry=SERE;
20 CONATIVE – CON-(EVITA reversed);
21 ILLTREAT – I-LL-TREAT; pounds=LL; pleasure excursion=TREAT;
24 NEPETA – hidden (o)NE-PET-A(ttractive);
27 OUT,OF – hidden (sh)OUT-OF(fensively);
29 NURR – (bowle)R-RUN all reversed; a hard ball;
31 ESOL – LOSE reversed; English for speakers of other languages;

11 comments on “Mephisto 2938 – Sixty Years Of Cunning Clues”

  1. Golly, your approach to Mephistos seems to have been a lot more organised than mine was, Jim! I started doing them in the second half of the ’60s, partly because as you say, they were somewhat easier than Ximenes and partly because I was not very keen on printer’s devilry and similar refinements (still not!).
    I solved six or seven clues in the first one I did and gradually built up from there, took me several months before I finished one. These days what with jumbos, TLS, club monthly etc. etc. I don’t have time to do them every week any more, but I still do them from time to time..
    Many thanks to the sixty years of setters!
  2. Hi Jerry. The analytical approach that is in my blood is both a strength and a weakness. It works for things like crosswords but not where genuine lateral thinking is required. As you say today we are spoiled for choice and I deliberately limit the number of puzzles that I do but I have a soft spot for the bar crosswords!
  3. I’m not a Mephisto solver but I enjoyed the wander down Memory Lane, Jim (as I enjoyed Peter B’s article on the history of the puzzle in the paper the other day).

    At a rather different level, I used to do the the thing of drawing up a copy of the grid on squared paper for the Sunday Express Skeleton puzzle — don’t know if that even exists any more.

    We certainly had to be a lot more patient in the days before the internet. It’s a wonder we ever learned to solve these things at all.

  4. I started trying the Mephisto in 1996, when it was available online, but didn’t manage to regularly complete them until getting a copy of Chambers and finding this blog in 2006. It was a gateway puzzle for me into the world of barred and then thematic cryptics.

    My solving experience was similar – ACROSTIC was a biff, and the messages were in place before all of the clues were solved. I was trying to spot which of the clues could have been by Chris Feetenby, who I remembered as being pretty difficult, though I made short work of a Listener he set a few years ago.

    Cheers to the setters of the Mephisto, and here’s to many more.

  5. Jimbo you say that The Times never ventured into the variations, but I remember — at least I’m pretty sure I do — one by Mike Laws when the Mephisto was in I think the magazine: at any rate it was on glossy paper. Memorable crossword: the numbers were for words that went at weird angles and there was a snooker connection; thus 5. would lead to something like MURDER (the blue ball in snooker is worth 5, and blue murder), etc.

    If it wasn’t a Mephisto I can’t think what it was.

    1. I don’t recall that puzzle Wil but that may be more to do with my failing memory than anything else!
    2. You’re both right. Unless there are some old examples that I didn’t find when browsing archived editions, Mephisto has never gone in for “whole puzzle” variations like Printers Devilry and Eightsome Reels. But in the past we have had some puzzles with themes. On the club site you can find Mephisto 1909 and 2020 which I put up as examples of Mike Laws’s puzzles after his death.

      These are less common now than they were 10-20 years ago, but such mini-themes are still occasionally used.

  6. Minor correction – Torquemada was Edward Powys Mathers, with Powys Mathers as the surname (double-barrelled but not hyphenated).
    1. Thanks – blog corrected

      I blogged Mike Laws puzzle 1909 after he died. It was dedicated to Louis Bleriot who crossed the English Channel on 25th July 1909.

      Edited at 2017-01-04 09:45 am (UTC)

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