Crossword blog: seeking the first twerp

<span>Photograph: Haywood Magee/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Haywood Magee/Getty Images

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

We have found a use for Rishi Sunak. That is, a word containing his first name. From proXimal in the Telegraph, a clue …

10a Freezing cold PM after exercise class no good (9)
[ wordplay: PM’s first name after abbrev. for ‘exercise class’. then abbrev. for ‘no good’ ]
[ RISHI after PE + NG ]
[ definition: freezing cold ]

… for PERISHING. Meanwhile, here at the Guardian, a timely reminder from Anto

8d Bad team standard is hard to explain (7,4)
[ wordplay: synonyms for ‘bad’, ‘team’ & ‘standard’ ]
[ definition: ‘is hard to explain’ (or via the whole clue!?) ]

… of the OFFSIDE RULE.

News about crosswords

An exciting announcement for those of us who enjoy the different challenges offered by the American-style crossword

… and they are (currently) free! On which topic, my calendar now has a reminder to find a newsagent stocking the New York Times on 18 December in the hope of a copy containing an enormous puzzle supplement …

… because print remains superior. Doesn’t it?

Latter patter

Following on from the NINNY in our previous competition, here’s a clue from Hurley (AKA Raich and Gurney) in the Times quick cryptic:

22a Silly person, Oscar, leaving tower at first sign of panic (5)
[ wordplay: letter represented by Oscar removed from TOWER, then initial letter of (‘first sign of’) PANIC ]
[ definition: silly person ]

TWERP is also topical, albeit in a more niche way than the prime minister or the World Cup. For some time, it has seemed that the twerp was originally a single named individual. JRR Tolkien wrote a letter to his son recalling his days studying at Oxford …

… when we lived in Pusey Street (rooming with Walton the composer, and going about with T.W. Earp, the original twerp …)

Thomas Wade Earp, apparently, had an amusingly shrill voice, and irritated the sportier students with his poetic ways enough for him to earn the nickname Twerp.

It’s topical because three days before the puzzle was published, John Garth, author of three books on Tolkien, pondered whether the word “twerp” was created specifically for TW Earp:

As an OED lexicographer as well as a Tolkien fan, perhaps it was inevitable that at some point I would begin to wonder about TW Earp in two different ways.

The Oxford English Dictionary withholds judgment, noting only the dates of Earp’s time at Oxford. But that’s in an entry from 1986, when it was much, much harder to look for earlier twerps. Garth is understandably impatient for a revised entry and so, as we do sometimes around these parts, has begun the search himself.

The result: it looks very much like “twerp” was first used in America. And this is plausible: if the term had crossed the Atlantic by the time the heartier lads were looking for a nickname for Twerp, it’s easy to imagine one of them noticing, just as they would for a TW Azzock. So it may well just be one of those slangy, disrespectful terms that is based on nothing but its sound – like, I suspect, a synonym which is the subject of our next challenge. Reader, how would you clue GOOP?

Cluing competition

Many thanks for those clues for NINNY. The audacity award goes to Catarella for “Dingbat: Bing Apple”, a clue which comes with its own manual, though it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at Sheamlas’ “One’s artless, like the work of a French-American eroticist?”

The runners-up are Newlaplandes’s baroque “Annoying drunk has a go, unsteadily walking plank” and Porcia’s accurate “Silly seeing in New Year on the 3rd of January”; the winner is the witty “One foggy November in New York”.

Kludos to Ruderiguanas; please leave entries for the current competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – in the comments, below.

Clue of the fortnight

And back to football, or so it at first appears, though Carpathian is being deceptive …

7d Swine taking age to evacuate ground finally, having misdirected supporters (6-4)
[ wordplay: synonyms for ‘swine’ & ‘age’ + TO (‘to’) + last letters of (‘finally’) EVACUATE GROUND ]
[ PIG + EON + TO + ED ]
[ definition: having misdirected supporters ]

… in her clue for PIGEON-TOED. Olé olé!

Find a collection of explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs at

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop.