I was thinking on the way home on Friday that I haven’t posted anything about crosswords recently, and I know some crossword solvers occasionally visit this blog, so resolved to do something this weekend. By sheer coincidence, something arrived in yesterday’s post that makes that any easy task:
It seems that, after a decade of trying, I’ve finally managed to win a prize in the monthly Azed competition. As I’ve mentioned before, this involves not only solving the Azed crossword but also supplying a cryptic clue for a word or phrase given only as a definition in the crossword. This competition is tough, partly because Azed is a stickler for syntactical soundness in submitted clues, and partly because many of the competitors are professional crossword setters. Quite a few of my clues have received a “VHC” (Very Highly Commended) but I’ve never been among the winners, until Azed No. 2036! I only got 3rd place, but since I’ve never been among the winners before I’m still thrilled to bits with my coveted Azed bookplate, and £25 in book tokens.
The fact that I got a prize in this one is quite funny, actually. The crossword appeared in the Observer on Sunday 5th June, the day after my birthday and the day before I flew to Copenhagen for a mini workshop. I managed to solve the crossword on the Sunday but didn’t have time to think of a clue. I therefore put the completed grid in an envelope and took it with me to Denmark. One evening in the hotel, I concocted my clue but, lacking access to a printer, I had to write it out by hand – normally I send in a typewritten version. To save time I used one of the sticky self-address labels I carry in my diary to put my address on the clue which was scribbled on hotel notepaper. That’s why my name appears as “Dr P. Coles” in the list; they are old labels! I also carry stamps around so put one of those on so it was all ready to go when I got home. When I arrived back in London on Friday 10th June, my flight had been a little delayed, so I just had time to race out of Paddington station, find a postbox, and pop the clue inin time for the last collection, before running back into the station to catch the train back to Cardiff. I’ve never been so close to the deadline before – entries must be postmarked no later than the Saturday following the publication of the crossword – and almost missed my train to get it posted. It turns out it was worth it!
The competition required a clue for AL CONTO, an Italian phrase meaning the same as the French À LA CARTE. My clue was
Training via this could be vocational, with courses priced separately.
The definition is supplied by the phrase “with courses priced separately”, and the cryptic allusion is of the type Azed describes as “Comp. Anag.”, i.e. a composite anagram, which is rarely seen in daily crossword puzzles but not uncommon among his own. “Training” is the anagram indicator and VIA+AL+CONTO is an anagram of VOCATIONAL. I was pleased with the way the clue lays a false trail towards something educational.
There are only a couple of puzzles left in this year’s competition, so it looks like I’ll finish in my highest ever position. Now I’ll set my sights on getting a 1st place!