3D Crossword Solution – May 2023

May 2023 grid page

Clues by Nutmeg and Grid by Mang

Theme: Alchemy

The winner of the May puzzle is Robin Stephenson of London.

Review of the May 2023 3D crossword

If a few setters are perhaps justly feared, and if we (speaking both as solver and setter) stand in awe of more than a few, then let it be stated here that Nutmeg is unequivocally loved. Her puzzles, brim-full with good humour and mischief, are indeed latter-day pills to purge melancholy. Her flawless and economical surface readings so often bring a smile, while her wordplay depends upon, but does not trumpet its cleverness.

In this month’s puzzle, with its twenty-seven or rather thirty-four five-letter entries—and thus neither a bar nor a snake to be spotted—the difficulty may often depend on the obscurity of the lexical items rather than any distortion in the clue. There were tricks aplenty, however.

I loved the ‘Nice moggies and rabbits’ and the bee as a ‘six-footer’. How clever METAL is: the double meaning of ‘lead’ is something with which we may well be familiar, but the appropriateness to the grid, especially when juxtaposed with ‘and others’ is a superb find by the setter. Nutmeg disguised the bar in INGOT, so that there at any rate the theme was not immediately apparent, but there were plenty of hints elsewhere as she dexterously placed thematic elements in the clues to ORIEL, ESSAY, BASEL and GAPER.

(How pleasing that even in the UK with our well-known linguistic insularity we have come to accept this spelling of the city known to some as Basel and to others as Bâle, but never to anyone outside this country as the archaic ‘Basle’ – I put this down as a rare beneficial effect of the UEFA Champions’ League.)

Novelties—to this solver at any rate—such as COGON, NANDU, PANNE and SHOYU are inevitable when the grid designer imposes on himself such tight constraints as we find here. Mang’s achievement—in making the crossers and horizontally adjacent cells of one whole edge of the cube the site of a consistent thematic transformation—is a brilliant one; we must face without resentment the fact that it pushes us beyond our ken and even off the safe pages of Chambers into Wikipedia or the world atlas.

I even enjoyed the transformation of the E-BEAM into an H-BEAM (though I had always thought of that particular girder, in view of its customary orientation, as an ‘i-beam’ instead—but my construction days, at least of ceilings and walls, are long behind me). In general, it was most satisfying to see the way in which the pairs of mauve cells delivered their load of precious metals. 

Part of the delight of this year’s Calendar has been its attractive, colourful pages. Graham Fox’s photograph (for more information, see the excellent Hints and Tips) is a beautiful if slightly frightening thing – though it again sees me wondering where exactly he stood to get his shot!

Frank Paul’s discombobulated Bactrian must have made a disconcerting puzzle of its own for anyone who had no idea that we were dealing with one aspect of ALCHEMY. 

LOCKE, the five-letter representative of ‘philosopher’ joining METAL and ESSAY, was a lovely touch in this ingenious grid, while the use of INGOT for the expected ‘gold’ was in more than one sense a parallel part in the neatness of the design.

My only criticism of the puzzle is that the rubric makes identification of the theme so probable that I imagine hardly anyone starting their solve doing so from a place of ignorance. So I am left wondering if solvers would like to have been tested more by being allowed less help—perhaps they will let us know. That doubt apart, it is a seriously good and entertaining puzzle.


Grid solution

May 2023 3D grid solution

Visual clue

An H stamped on a somersaulting camel and a 1 Yen coin give us:


Visual clue for ALCHEMY
Drawing by Frank Paul

Clues and explanations

Thematic solutions are indicated with an asterisk.

DaySolutionDirection, Clue, CountExplanation
1ARSON5d Arsenic divided by Republican running serious crime (5)(R in As) + on
2BASEL13ac Non-precious 15 at last gets to Swiss city (5)base + (meta)l
3CHATS2aw Nice moggies and rabbits (5)French cats, rabbits=chats
4COGON2d Grass needing energy to stab criminal (5)go in con
5E-BEAM→H-BEAM*21up Stream of charged particles from middle of steel girder (5, hyphenated)(st)e(el) + beam
6ESSAY3aw Try Einsteinium, for instance (5)Es say
7GAPER18aw Silver returned to an onlooker, who seems stunned? (5)<Ag + per=to an, as in one per adult
8GENRO→GENUA*18ba Japanese elder statesmen, officer with iron core (5)Gen + (i)ro(n)
9GETAE18up Thracian tribes’ guests are regularly seen off (5)alternate letters of ‘guests are’
10GUSTO11aw Relish hosting us top shows (5)hidden
11IMBUE10aw Charge current head of maths to live outside university (5)i m(aths) + (U in be)
12INGOT*10ac Was paid behind unfinished tavern — or bar? (5)got after in(n), Or as in gold
13LOCKE*1ac 17th-century thinker’s seal men stripped off (5)lock + (b)es(t)
14MESSY7ac Disorderly striker reported (5)“Messi”
15METAL*7to Lead to mercury, and others (5)m(ercury) et al, &lit
16NANDU17aw Grounded flier reaches river in China (5)2 defs
17ORIEL→ARIEL*16up Gold that is left to create Oxford college (5)
18OBESE→ABASH*16aw Stout old six-footer crossing sierra (5)S in (O bee)
19PANNE→PANGA*20ba Rich fabric prince and princess required (5)p Anne
20PILLS20up Start to purge afflictions with these? (5)p(urge) + ills, &lit
21ROUTE→ROUGH*22ba Regular calls from England batter audible (5)“Root”
22RUSTY22up Place in chaos following game not recently practised (5)sty after RU
23SHOYU8d Travelling, you sat beside mum, dressing (5)sh + anagram of you
24STONE*15ba Weight of individual on street (5)one after st
25TABLE→TABLA*4d Product list put forward for discussion (5)2 defs, list of products=times table
26TALKS12aw First to last, obsessively follow lectures (5)stalk with s moved to back
27TEAMS4ac Players letting off steam? (5)anagram of steam
RequiredALCHEMYA word which describes the process of change (7)

Solvers’ comments

Nice puzzle. I hope the camel gets better! [TH]

I was very confused until I realised that “clue order” is not the order in which the clues are presented here. I also struggled for a while to make sense of the yellow cells, but I believe I have now transmuted my base thoughts into precious answers. [NI]

A very clever and enjoyable puzzle, and no corners or staircases. We got the theme fairly early on which helped a great deal. As did knowledge, albeit rusty, of the periodic table. Some new words, as happens every month, so that’s always good. MESSY and ROUTE made me chuckle, non-thematically. Favourite clue is probably day 2 for BASEL. Thank you Nutmeg and Mang. [CW]

An enjoyable puzzle a few new words, and a lovely theme. [GW]

Enjoyable puzzle with a clever twist. I even got the picture clue…eventually! Thanks to Nutmeg and Mang. [RS]

Interesting theme. Even I understood Frank Paul’s drawing this month so that was a bonus! Being all short words and short of 31 clues left me feeling a bit short-changed! Cogon, Genro, Getae all new to me so a bit of research needed. Wasn’t too sure whether the original or the ‘transmogrified’ words were needed for the submission but guessed it had to be the latter – here’s hoping! Thanks Nutmeg and Mang [JC]

Think day 17 and 18 should be the other way round alphabetically? [EW]

The “process” I guessed before starting. I’m not sure I’ve cracked the (6,3,5) though. Some nice obscure words, of which I couldn’t find COGON, GENUA and GETAE in Chambers. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to point out that days 17 and 18 are incorrectly sequenced. “In clue order” I initially took to mean by day number, but soon saw that didn’t work. [MJ]

A few never-heard-of words but all gettable from the good wordplay, everything parsed – magic! [SC]

Once I understood what was going on it was BRILLIANT x [RE]

Wonderful! [AJ]

Mostly straightforward this month, with a few new words. I enjoyed the transmutation at the end and the clue for chats brought a smile. [DR]

The alchemy theme was very well executed in this puzzle. I enjoyed solving the clues, and I especially liked making the thematic changes in the bottom layer and checking off the new words against the definitions in the given list. The seven definitions of the changed words were not ‘in clue order’ as stated but in a sequence based on the number of the cell in which the clue’s answer began and the direction indicator (like ‘ba’, ‘up’, …). [AB]

An intriguing puzzle from Nutmeg and Mang. I found the toughest part was working out the “changed” words from the list to make the grid work. By the way, I think Days 17 and 18 must have been transposed in error, as they didn’t follow the strict alphabetical order. No matter (!), I still really enjoyed this one, and loved the colourful photo that accompanied the grid. [P.S. This is my second attempt to submit after I got the “rejected” email. I am now trying re-submitting using the changed words for those seven clues.] [JA]

Really good puzzle. Good to mark the 40th anniversary of the recording of Dire Straits’ live album! I found it difficult but fair. I struggled a bit with the yellow and pink cells until I realised that they were also cryptic. A few words were unfamiliar to me (genro, getae, nandu, shoyu) but all could be deduced from the wordplay. Had not initially realised that the 6 solutions in mauve needed to be transmuted prior to entry. Many thanks. [JT]

A really fun solve – lots of aspects to this puzzle to stretch the basic challenge of the clues! I found it quite a steady process, despite a very superficial knowledge of the subject matter. Luckily Harry Potter’s first adventure helped me out. Thanks to all involved. [BS]

Wow! That had my head spinning. Thanks for the challenge…maybe confused by order of 16aw and 16up but will find out when I submit my first attempt. [HH]

Loved it. [LA]

Elementary! Magical! A nice device – the 5x5x5 grid filled up fairly quickly, but the alchemic process took a little while for the brass penny to be turned to a golden coin! [MB]

Rubric difficult to understand [RC]

Well, this is third time lucky. I first entered with the original answers to each clue (E-Beam, etc.), which seemed logical but did mean we were not proving we had solved the twist in the tail. Error message, so I submitted again, using the altered answers – another error message!! Waited for hints and tips which confirmed that the altered answers were required at which point I belatedly noticed that I had left ‘obese’ unchanged. So here goes. The instant obviousness of the theme and the picture clue has thus been compensated for by the tricksiness of some of the thematic elements. Second consecutive month with a somewhat inscrutable clue to ‘obese’! But plenty of nice touches in many clues. [EF]

Enjoyable again👌😄 BUT:- Thought yellows were a bit of a devious way of arriving at PHILOSOPHER’S STONE and 17/18 were not in alphabetical order!😉 [MN]

Enjoyed the subject matter. Thank goodness for the hints & tips telling us about the 2 answers out of order and clarifying that it was the amended words that needed to be entered. [DB&MJ]

A finely crafted puzzle – not a snake in sight and such a creative method of clueing PHILOSOPHER’s STONE within the constraints of five-letter words. Equally, substituting the three pairs of letters with the associated elements and retaining real words in the final diagram was clever. A first for me was unravelling Frank Paul’s drawing before I had solved a single clue. One small general suggestion for the production team: whilst I really appreciate being able to submit the solution on line, it might be helpful, on the rare occasions when answers have been amended (as was the case here), to make it clear to solvers that the required on-line entry is not strictly the solution to the clue as requested. [KM]

Excellent, loved the extra bits in mauve, which also helped solve. Clever, LOCKE’S SAY 🙂 [SB]

The final twist gave an already fine puzzle extra interest. [JM]

Maybe third time lucky? [SF]

Bit confusing about the letters switch. [RP]

Great puzzle. Really enjoyed the extra solving elements. [FH]

The puzzle itself was straightforward with the usual mix of known and new words. It took me ages to sort out the elements and work out what was wanted. However there was a real sense of achievement when I finished. What a great challenge and thoroughly enjoyable. [MP]

A good test with lots of new words. Were Oriel and Obese in the wrong order on the original? [DM]

V enjoyable. Instructions re mauve cells took me a while to understand, but hard to know how to improve. [BJ]

The desire of gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit. I am still looking. [MM]

The rubric of this puzzle completely defeated me until I got the Hints and Tips, so thanks to Nick Inglis for pedantically explaining “clue order”. [JB]

Nice fun endgame, very clever [AR]

Love a fun theme with quirky puzzles! Also learned a lot of words – I swear the setters in this calendar all know a lot of different grasses for a ster! [AH]

A truly magical puzzle! Deceptively simple grid and gentle clues, unlike some of the more complex ones, but having all the answers be 5 letters is a bit like doing a Wordle puzzle in a hall of mirrors! I actually got the basic theme and change principle quite quickly from Frank’s pictorial clue, but it took a long time to work out the amended words, and the ‘clue order’, even with the very helpful hints and tips. It was a lovely sensation to see the transmutations fall into place though. By a kind of redemptive and odd coincidence, the one word that tripped me up in last month’s puzzle, TABLA (I had entered TIBIA as a kind of flute, which also fit, but didn’t really parse) reappears in this month’s puzzle, with the same definition. This time I am pretty sure it must be right (famous last words…). Thank you Nutmeg and Mang, for such a delightful little puzzle. [MS]

Brilliant. Thanks. [JR]

Enjoyed it a lot, despite being too thick to understand the business with the mauve cells. [DB]

One of those puzzles where I needed Hints & Tips to come to my aid, primarily for the rubric. I was not quite sure I could fathom out what was going on, and this concept of ‘clue order’ had me scratching my head for some time, but of course look at the grid and the transmutations are hiding there in plain sight all the while. Then it was rather fun seeing the new words crystallise out of the old. Just a quibble on day 16: I needed H&T to tell me that this was a double definition. So now all I needed were lists of Chinese rivers and Tupi words for ostrich-like birds, and see where they intersect. Rather too far into the realms of general knowledge to be comfortable, I dare say, for many solvers. [PA]

Found this a bit tricky, but very enjoyable [MD]

Great. Wasn’t sure what to put in. Decided answers from the grid. Once again my master was sat up late, finishing this. A smile on the face of the tiger. Oh why didn’t I read instructions? [RG]

Took a bit to get my head around the extra steps with the coloured squares but enjoyed the theme! [HM]

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