The familiar quandary
The best method for making a crossword puzzle, indeed the only practical one, is to build the grid first and worry at the clues later.
Beginning with a list of words to be used is hopeless (unless it is a very long list) because the chances of having more than three or four words that will interlock in the required manner and allow other legitimate words in is virtually nil. You must build most of the grid by trial and error. Thus I had no idea of the clue when I plonked MEXICO (11 across) into the grid. Nevertheless it has turned out, as they sometimes do, rather niftily.
When I returned to set the clues, Mexico was quickly done. I immediately saw XI inside an anagram of COME.
I am quite sure that Mexico has appeared many times before in cryptic crosswords and equally confident that many competent setters would have seen the same components. The details of the structure then would have varied — “Cricket team has come somehow outside …”, “… come … Football team …” and so on. But I would defy any setter to devise as neat a clue without the COME anagram and XI inclusion.
If solvers then were to find the clue somewhat familiar, they might conclude it’s a cliche or, worse, evidence of plagiarism. I don’t think so. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?
The fact is that some words simply demand their clues and, as well as indulging my usual laziness, I think it would be churlish to deny them.
|Across||Answers and Clues||Explanations|
|Pan is prepacked: cook fresh young gannets here (4,10)||Anagram of PAN IS PREPACKED (anagram indicator = cook).|
|Lion eats GST return and relinquishes it (4,2)||Lion = LEO, eats = container indicator, GST return = TSG.|
|Like an old newspaper, shout “was in the red” (8)||shout = YELL, was in the red = OWED.|
|A country cricket team has come adrift on the outer (6)||Anagram of COME including cricket team = XI, (adrift = anagram indicator).|
|In anger I mistreated an African (8)||Anagram of IN ANGER (anagram indicator = mistreated).|
|Quite amazed at having a try before midnight (4)||a try = A GO, midnight = middle of night = G.|
|Claim to be precise (5)||Double definition.|
|A word in French about love is debatable (4)||word in French = MOT, love = O.|
|On diets I contrived issues (8)||Anagram indicator = contrived.|
|Make everybody die horribly in friendship (6)||everybody = ALL + anagram of DIE (horribly = anagram indicator).|
|It’s not as good in fire or in ruins (8)||Anagram of IN FIRE OR (in ruins = anagram indicator).|
|Scallywag to perform hit (6)||Charade. Scallywag = IMP, perform = ACT.|
|Signalling ahead: the harbour is soon to be finished (10)||harbour = PORT, soon to be finished = ENDING.|
|Days of wonder in Lenin’s return (4)||Backwards hidden word, ENIN. .|
|Down||Answers and Clues||Explanations|
|King, single perhaps, eats real scrambled egg with no trousers on (10)||Charade with anagram of REAL + EGG inside BED. King, single perhaps (ignore punctuation) = BED, eats = container indicator, real scrambled = AREL, + EGG en clair).|
|Insect attack being set astir (3,5)||Anagram of BEING SET (for a change = anagram indicator).|
|How to sit around and do nothing, ideally without ale (4)||Subtraction indicator = without.|
|Hasty lad giving trouble? Spring forward, fall back (8,6)||Anagram of HASTY LAD GIVING (trouble = anagram indicator).|
|Our rap composition creates a brouhaha (6)||Anagram of OUT RAP (composition = anagram indicator).|
|Disheartened brownie makes rotten milk (4)||BROWNIE minus OWN (disheartened = deletion indicator).|
|8||KNOW ONE’S ONIONS|
|Have a thorough grasp of the subject, announce free shallots (4,4,6)||Partial pun: “no-one’s” = free, homophone indicator = announce.|
|Moves towards suspending a listener between poles (5)||a listener = EAR, poles = N and S.|
|Teenager with oldest acne outbreak (10)||Anagram of OLDEST ACNE (anagram indicator = outbreak).|
|Arrange a sort of poll in place of thinking to achieve an image of calmness (8)||Anagram of POLL inside MIND (anagram indicator = arrange a sort of, in = container indicator, place of thinking = MIND).|
|An accord provides a bit of self-indulgence at the beginning of the year (6)||a bit of self-indulgence = TREAT, beginning of the year = Y.|
|The time of day when Old Norse is forbidden? (4)||Old Norse = ON (in dictionaries).|
|Control precipitation by soundwaves (4)||Homophone (precipitation = rain, by soundwaves = homophone indicator)..|