Crossword blog: the words of 2020

Some new words in our pick of the best of the broadsheets’ cryptic clues

It’s the King of the Hedge!
It’s the King of the Hedge! Photograph: Mark Hamblin/Getty Images/Photolibrary RM
It’s the King of the Hedge! Photograph: Mark Hamblin/Getty Images/Photolibrary RM

Last modified on Mon 14 Dec 2020 06.34 EST

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

Last year, we started a new project: looking at those word-of-the-year lists that dictionaries like to assemble and deciding which of the words are ones that a considerate crossword setter might expect a solver to be aware of.

This followed a dispiriting period where the lists were stuffed with wacky social-media buzzwords that made for eye-catching press releases but were not really used very much. Many of us spent 2020 hoping certain aspects of the world would not return when distancing was over. Now, I can’t pretend that “cheapened word of the year lists” was among mine, but I’m happy to see that 2020 has put paid to the practice – this time. “Unmute”, say, and “UKation” would be 100% fine in a puzzle.

We’ll pass over some of the other 2020 words and phrases for obvious reasons and instead note a couple of fresh terms that have appeared in crosswords in the past fortnight. Even though, as he told us in our Q&A, Azed aims to be three months ahead of schedule, that doesn’t preclude lovely surfaces such as this forward-looking one ...

20ac Zoom for instance to finish around end of pandemic (6)
[ wordplay: synonyms for ‘for instance’ & ‘finish’, containing (‘around’) last letter (‘end’) of PANDEMIC ]
[ AS & END, containing C ]
[ definition: zoom ]

… for ASCEND. And over at the Independent, the setter known locally as Vlad used a phrase that can remain very much in 2020 …

10/29ac ... after we slyly condemned those challenging government (not right) (5,7)
[ wordplay: anagram (‘condemned’) of AFTERWESLYLY ]
[ definition: those who challenge government and are not of the right ]

… LEFTY LAWYERS. Last year, ComedyPseudonym reminded us that Lynne Murphy’s splendid blog Separated By a Common Language tracks words that have crossed the Atlantic in both directions in a given year. Nominations for this year’s words and phrases are, at time of writing, still open!

Latter patter

Meanwhile – and look away if you haven’t solved it yet – Picaroon gives us a puzzle where every across entry is a neologism except for 23, which is NEOLOGISMS. “New” doesn’t have to mean “this year” of course, and the deviousness levels are at their maximum in the first clue …

8ac Let go of everything, including WPC’s protection (8)
[ wordplay: synonyms for ‘let go of’ & ‘everything’, containing (‘including’) W ]
[ FIRE & ALL, containing W ]
[ definition: PC’s protection ]

… where the gap between the definition and wordplay for FIREWALL comes inside the word “WPC’s”. “WPC” itself now feels just about as dusty as the old slang for a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. It’s also the name of a bird which in the is called “the cave-dweller”, in German “the king of the hedge” and in Dutch “the little winter king”. Reader, how would you clue WREN?

Puzzling elsewhere

Time for another recommendation of how you can meet up without meeting up. Yes, it’s Zoom again, this time hosted by the Guardian setter who recently celebrated his quarter-century, Paul. “We have a relaxed natter about wordplay,” he says, “and play a wordplay game.” Details in Paul’s newsletter; details of that at Paul’s site. Your own recommendations are welcome.

Cluing competition

Thanks for your clues for LONG JOHNS. I suppose I implicitly invited such surfaces as Thepoisonedgift’s “Pant sitting on the toilets in America – or should that be pants?”, and I welcome that one. I did not expect a riddle! But the discussion under last week’s Q&A with Vulcan led to TonyCollman’s “What’s rarely seen in summer that has no wings, but has legs and flies?”

The audacity award? PeterMooreFuller. The audaciousness? “Lennonn, Arlottt and Hurtt?”

There was much discussion of one runner-up, and for what it’s worth, I’m taking it as offering a three-word definition: Montano’s “Yearn to head south for winter warmth?”; the other is Flatrod’s “Drawers made of pine can smell to start with”; the winner is Albery’s “Tallboy’s drawers”.

Kludos to Albery; please leave entries for this fortnight’s competition – and your picks from the broadsheet cryptics – below. And our latest offering of Healing Music Recorded in 2020 to Accompany a Solve or Even Listen to was written as well as performed in 2020 and looks forward to 2021.

Andrew Bird’s Christmas in April.

Clue of the fortnight

I recently enjoyed the cheaply won kudos of showing two year-four pupils – the first time for them – a piece of paper with THE OTHER SIDE IS TRUE on one side and THE OTHER SIDE IS FALSE on the other. And then I enjoyed being similarly baffled myself by Nutmeg:

11ac Ruler I haven’t clued cryptically? (4,3,8)

Now, I know that Nutmeg is pointing me at IVAN THE TERRIBLE, but I can’t work out whether she’s effected a twist on a twist on a twist … or whether it’s a straightforward clue.

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

Here is a collection of all our explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs

comments (0)

Sign in or create your Guardian account to join the discussion.

comments (0)

Sign in or create your Guardian account to join the discussion.