Crossword roundup: why eyebrows are found on highbrows

Alan Connor
Brow beater ... the famous eyebrows of Denis Healey. Photograph: John Londei/REX Shutterstock

The news in clues

Chancy timing, as they say north of the border, for Crucible this week. On the same day that Nicola Sturgeon declared a “cast-iron mandate” for an independence referendum, his puzzle was published, with a wealth of Caledonian topical material, including ...

5d Scots trick one of their own, holding a light (10)
[ synonym for ‘trick’ + Scottish name (‘one of their own’), both surrounding (‘holding’) A (‘a’) + abbrev. for a kind of light ]
[ CON + IAN, both surrounding A + LED ]

... CALEDONIAN and, right across the middle ...

16ac Euphemistic drama, terribly hot physical test (3,8,4)
[ anagram of HOT PHYSICAL TEST ]

... THE SCOTTISH PLAY. Three down was not, I believe, part of the accidentally hyper-topical theme, but if you haven’t solved that clue, you’re missing a delicht.

Latter patter

Setters are indebted to Scottish vocabulary – for more ways of saying the same thing, and for plenty of vowel-heavy words. Here’s an example from Elkamere in a recent Telegraph Toughie:

12ac Bank of Scotland over in New York, which is handy (6)
[ Scottish word for ‘bank’, reversed (‘over’) and inside abbrev. for ‘New York’ ]
[ BRAE, reversed inside NY ]

Here we get to NEARBY only after twigging that Elkamere has characteristically used “Bank of Scotland” to refer not to RBS’s auld rivals in the 18th-century Bank Wars but to the Scottish word for “bank”, as in riverbank, most commonly heard when collocated with, well, “bank”:

BRAE is related, of course, to the peculiar word BROW. Before its current senses (something that sticks out in general; the forehead in particular), it denoted not the whole furrowed brow, but a specific facial feature, the eyelash. You read that right: your eyebrows were once on your eyelids (which were once also called BROWS).

From lash to lid to what we now call brows to the entire forehead, that is some serious linguistic mission creep – which brings us to the subject of our next challenge. Once a word that meant “pertaining to the eyebrows”, now a way of describing someone who might raise their eyebrows haughtily: how would you clue SUPERCILIOUS?

Cluing competition

Thanks for your clues for MACHETE. I was intrigued by the surface reading of Steveran’s “It cuts the frolicking in formal club” and tickled by the construction of Mojoseeker’s genteel-sounding “Monsieur buys a cutter”. Geoscanner gets the audacity award for what I presume is an entirely new device, in “Tool found in CH2 3ED”.

The runners-up are DameSweeneyEggblast’s coyote-evoking “The Acme Incredible Slicer” and Cmiall’s impatient “About time he came over for garden tool”; the winner is TonyCollman’s plausible “Weapon revolutionary smuggled into China”.

Kludos to Tony; please leave this fortnight’s entries and your pick of the broadsheet cryptics below.

Clue of the fortnight

Brummie found an ingenious way to clue a simple word in this ruthlessly efficient ...

10ac Focus of Detective Frost? (5)
[ middle letter (‘focus’) of DETECTIVE + synonym for ‘frost’ ]
[ C + RIME ]

... CRIME report.

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