Azed 2000

I was up bright and early yesterday in order to get the train to Oxford where a lunch was held in honour of Jonathan Crowther, who, under the pseudonym Azed, has been setting cryptic crosswords in the Observer for the best part of 40 years. Today (Sunday 26th September 2010) sees the publication of the 2000th Azed puzzle, hence yesterday’s celebration. There’s also a special piece in the Observer today to mark the occasion. One of the authors of that piece, Colin Dexter of Inspector Morse fame (who has won the Azed competition more times than anyone), was at the lunch yesterday; he has a celebration of his own coming up, as he will be 80 years old next week.

I’ve blogged about my enjoyment of Azed‘s puzzles before and was particularly looking forward to the possibility of meeting the man himself and also being able to put faces to the names that often appear (mostly above mine) in the Azed Honours table.

I got quite an early train from Cardiff in order to give myself time to browse a few bookshops in Oxford before the lunch got under way with drinks at noon in Wadham College. There then followed a musical tribute to Azed in various parodies of Gilbert & Sullivan (I am the very model of a modern cruciverbalist, etc…) and others (Azed, Azed, give me your answer do….). Mingling with the other guests I got the chance to chat to some proper professional crossword setters. I’ve never actually tried to set an entire cryptic crossword puzzle but I think I’ll probably give it a go one day, just for fun. Based on what I heard, setting crosswords, even for the national broadsheets, is not something that one can easily make a living doing.  Aside from the professional setters – who seem to dominate the Azed prize list, not surprisingly – there were lots of ordinary folk who just enjoy doing the puzzles.

The lunch was quite splendid (scallops to start, followed by duck) and  lashings of nice wine. Afterwards there were various speeches and presentations, and the results of the last competition (No. 1997) were handed out. I got an “HC” for my clue to the word FADO:

It’s a transitory thing, love, for Portuguese folk (4)

(FAD+O); but once again the winning clues were much better than mine! Officially, HC stands for Highly Commended, but I always interpret it as Hard Cheese.

The guest speaker was Richard Stilgoe (remember him?) who gave a very droll and at the same time very interesting speech that included several things I hadn’t realised before. One is that TWELVE+ONE is an anagram of “ELEVEN+TWO”, perhaps the only example of an anagram that works with characters as well as numbers, i.e. 12+1=11+2. The other, more important, thing he mentioned that struck me was about Apple computers. As you all probably know I’m not a particular fan of Macs and the like, which together with my more general Luddite inclinations, probably explains why I didn’t know the origin of the Apple logo (an apple with a bite taken out from it) .

For those of you who don’t know, the reason why the Apple has a bite taken from it is a reference to Alan Turing, the British mathematician who did more than anyone else to pave the way towards the age of electronic computers through his work on cracking German wartime codes. Turing was gay, but  lived in a time when male homosexual behaviour was a criminal offence. When his sexuality led to a criminal conviction, the courts, instead of sending him to prison, decided to subject him to a barbaric medical “treatment” tantamount to chemical castration. The effect of unbalancing his hormones was to make him so depressed that he decided to take his own life. He knew that cyanide was a quick and effective way of doing this, but also knew that it tasted foul. He therefore made a solution of cyanide and injected it into an apple which he then ate. The bite out of the Apple logo is there as a mark of respect for Alan Turing.

That story is probably old hat to most of you, but I have to admit that hearing it for the first time has rather changed my view of Steve Jobs!

Anyway, after lunch we had the chance to mingle in the pleasant grounds of Wadham College, but I couldn’t stay too long as I had a train to catch. Although I was more than a little tipsy, I managed to get the train I had planned and made it back to Cardiff in time to cater for Columbo‘s insulin needs. On the way back I had a go at the tricky Araucaria puzzle in Saturday’s Guardian, which was of the alphabetical type I enjoy best. I’m glad to say I got it finished in order to clear the decks for today’s Azed 2000 puzzle. I haven’t started it yet, but at first glance it looks like a corker!


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35 Responses to “Azed 2000”

  1. I always liked the story of Alan Turing and the Apple logo. Unfortunately, it appears to be an urban myth.

    See for example, that fountain of all knowledge, wikipedia, and references therein…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_logo#Logos

    • What a shame. Somebody should tell Richard Stilgoe!

      Incidentally, Richard Stilgoe’s name anagrams to Giscard O’Hitler.

  2. Steve Warren Says:

    Did you know Richard Stilgoe was educated at Monkton Combe School, where you recently visited?

  3. I was at the lovely lunch too. It was good to talk crosswords with people who’s eyes did not start to glaze over after five minutes. My closest lunch companions proved to be much more adept than me (one with HC). However, I’m not completely convinced that AZED actually reads all comp entries. The winning clues are good, its true, but I suspect an Old Boys network (with a spot of nepotism) is the case. If JC is reading this then I will never get a look-in!

    • Liz,

      I think I was sitting almost opposite you actually, I remember the unusual spelling. I wear glasses now, so you probably didn’t recognize me in the picture. My name on here, TELESCOPER, is an anagram of my real name and I think it may have been me that got the HC you were talking of.

      Near us was the chap who keeps score for honours table; I got three VHCs last year but have never been among the winners.

      A number of people made similar remarks about the club of winners being something of a clique. I just put it down to most of them being professional setters. I don’t always agree that the winning clue is the best one on the slip, but they’re always better than mine!

      Peter

  4. It was a wonderful gathering. I was there with my wife, who was the only person to raise her hand when Don asked whether there was anyone under the age of 30 in the room! Regarding the fairness of the monthly competitions, I once had a conversation with the chap who blogs as NMS on the 15 squared site. He’s a fairly seasoned competitor, although certainly not a member of the OBs, if such a thing can be said to exist. He has kept a spreadsheet of his own entries and remarked that JC’s assessment of his clues was remarkably consistent and fair. It may be that the most successful competitors’ entries get a bit more attention than the rest, but I agree with your feeling – the people who win most are the ablest clue writers!

  5. Hi Peter
    I suspected it was you and yes it was me. My son said something about sour grapes and he’s probably right. I did enjoy the day very much though, but was under the impression we’d get a chance to start the puzzle en masse. I finished the Alphabetical late on Saturday night and am ploughing through AZED 2000 and I think there may be a mistake (how many times have I said THAT?). We shall see. I’m enjoying yr blog very much, what a genius you must be. Only found it by googling AZED.
    Elizabeth (REGALIZE?.. IZE REGAL?)

    • I haven’t had time to look at Azed 2000 yet, but will try to get down to it this evening when I get home.

    • Well, it took me the best part of 3 hours but I’ve done the puzzle…I didn’t find any mistakes, although the clue around the perimeter is a bit weak…

  6. Has anyone seen the film “Breaking the Code” (excellent appropriate double entendre in the title) about Alan Turing’s life?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Phillip: I had no idea that the interesting play Breaking The Code had been filmed, but Wikipedia informs me that it was adapted for TV.

      If you like ambiguity, try the paperback version of the first edition (you have to be that specific) of Alan Hodges’ biography “Alan Turing: The Enigma of Intelligence”. That’s a TRIPLE meaning!

      Anton

    • I remember seeing it on the telly when I was living at Jodrell Bank.

  7. Hi Peter
    just finished azed 2000 and no of course there were no mistakes – only my own. I have set an absolutely brilliant clue – not. Now doing Inquisitor from Sat Indy. Don Manley also contributes to this series, I believe under Quixote. I need to get out more.
    Good luck

  8. Like Liz, I had also been through a phase of deciding that if you don’t live in Oxford, you have no chance with the clue-writing competition. But I am sure Azed reads them all – the Azed slip for ‘Watermanship’ back in March gave my clue “What men’s pair represented at Henley?” special mention. Special mention, that is, of why he didn’t like it!
    Anyway, enthused by the excellent do at Wadham on Saturday, we (my wife and I) are making a special effort this time – one of these days we’ll do better than HC . . .
    btw Don Manley sets puzzles under a series of pseudonyms, all loosely associated with the Don/Donald theme. So he is Pasquale in the Grauniad and Duck in (I think) the FT.

  9. Handel and Cinnabar
    I met two very nice couples pre-lunch. One couple from Solihull who told me about a group of AZED addicts who met in South London. Name somthing like Gruntlers or Disgruntlers or similar. Google not giving me a match. Does anyone know who/where they are?
    Liz
    -l

  10. Liz
    The name you are after is ‘Gruntlings’, though Google won’t help you much there either – at least not that I could see. I have seen a couple of references to them in past issues of the Crossword Club newsletter, but the last one was some while ago. I suggest you drop a mail to the Azed lunch mailbox and ask Don Manley – although he’s one of the Oxford mafia, he’ll probably be able to put you in touch. Alternatively you could try Brian Head (bh@thecrosswordclub.co.uk) – especially if you are already a Crossword Club member or Azed Slip subscriber!

  11. I don’t live in Oxford, I’m not a crossword compiler and I’m not a long-term competitor, having only started doing the Azed crossword two years ago (hardened Mephisto solver) but I have been fortunate (and that’s not false modesty) enough to get a couple of top-three finishes. So whilst there could certainly be a bias towards me, I’m confident that there isn’t one towards the aforementioned groups. Also, I have to agree that the clues that have got me nowhere with Azed I have generally known in my heart to be either uninspiring or unsound (or downright awful, now I come to think about one or two of them). Anyone who doesn’t experience enough angst of their own over the clue writing competition can read all about mine at http://www.thefrogman.net

  12. …and you can tell that I work in IT by the fact that I can’t even enter a web site address correctly – the ellipsis at the end of my previous post should not have been part of the URL, which is in reality http://www.thefrogman.net

  13. Thanks all for yr advice. I will try Brian and Don. I too have drawn the book tokens in the ‘hat’ draw. In thirty years of completing the damn puzzle I thought I might put names of family and friends instead of my own. Two in my own name successful ( although my name was misspelled on one. ). More recently,azed 1978 got it right. Azed 1993 came up trumps for my grandson – and he’s only five!. Inquisitor 1118 got my son a bottle of champagne, which of course he shared with his Mum. Coincidentally this weeks Inquisitor is not a million miles away thematically from Azed 2000.

  14. LIZ GEEAR Says:

    Congratulations on another HC. What was your clue? I am so jealous!

  15. telescoper Says:

    I thought it would be a bit sycophantic to do a clue about the actual Azed 2000, but that seems to me what most of the winners have done!

    My clue was:

    So many Geordies in Newmarket prize anything Northern backed by free handouts.

  16. mike barrie Says:

    Belatedly – but time drifts when you are retired and exploring the canal system by narrowboat – I thought I would google the author of the definitive history of the arrival in England of fish and chips to ask whether you would remind me of the name of your favourite fado singer. Or, indeed, recommend a couple of good introductory records?
    Attendance at the enjoyable lunch has not improved my Azed clue-writing but this has been a remarkable weekend: Listener completed on Friday, Inquisitor on Saturday, Azed and Enigmatic Variations on Sunday. Surely they can’t all have been easy!
    Maybe I should have said that time is something you have too much of on a narrowboat.

    • telescoper Says:

      The greatest Fado singer of them all is undoubtedly the legendary Amalia Rodrigues (whose death in 1999 precipitated a week of national mourning in her native portugal). There’s lots of her on Youtube, e.g.

      When I first moved to Cardiff I went with some friends to a local restaurant which happened to be Portuguese. Music was playing – Fado, of course. One singer in particular caught my ear, a man with a ghostly agonised voice that was unlike anyone I’d ever heard. When I asked the staff in the restaurant who it was they told me it was Alfredo Marceneiro, who wrote the tune in the above clip. I’d never heard of him before but he’s known as one of the greatest Fado singers. Here’s an example of him.

    • telescoper Says:

      ps. I can’t speak for the others, but I did think Azed was quite easy this week.

  17. LIZ GEEAR Says:

    Hi Mike – I sat next to you in Oxford. Yes, if you can post on blogs at the crack of dawn then you have too much time! I am also finding AZED increasingly easy but maybe familiarity is paying off. I tried Cyclops for the first time and enjoyed the humour but I thought it was quite simple. Inquisitor is my favourite and I complete it most weeks but there have been a few recently which stumped me. Good luck all.

  18. So AZEDers, what do you think of 2006.? I have finished the grid- hopefully correctly- there were a few which ‘fitted’ but I havent quite worked out the ‘hows’. All done bar the shouting (aka the damned clue)

    • telescoper Says:

      Haven’t even looked at it yet – too busy!

    • telescoper Says:

      I completed Azed 2006 this evening. Didn’t think it was all that hard, but I’m not happy with some of the so-called Spoonerisms in there. In particular, 20 down seems to indicate that MAO TOAST (“Chairman to drink to”) is a Spoonerism of the solution OUTMOST, which I don’t think it is.

      Anyway, now to think of a clue.

  19. Yes I agree – i think! I am finding it difficult to Spoonerise a single-syllable word that conforms to the type B clue. May have to forgo the chance of an HC this time – or ever even.

    • telescoper Says:

      The second type of clue means you make a spoonerism of the definition, not the word itself – so think of a definition of the target word that is at least two syllables long and you’re away.

  20. A-ha…. Thanks for the tip………all is now crystal clear……. Yeah right.
    Happy solving and clueing and all other ings.

  21. […] a year ago at the Azed 2000 dinner I had the opportunity to chat with some professional crossword compilers. It seems one gets paid […]

  22. […] I noticed yesterday that my post about the Azed 2000 lunch a couple of years ago was getting a bit of traffic. I don’t really know why, but in the […]

  23. […] in 2010, at a lunch to celebrate the 2000th Azed puzzle in the Observer which I blogged about  here.  Colin Dexter used to be a regular entrant – and often a winner – in […]

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