Toughie 239 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 239

Toughie No 239 by Shamus

Hints and tips by Anax

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BD Rating – Difficulty **** Enjoyment ***

A four-star difficulty rating? Well, I struggled, so I can only give a personal assessment – seasoned Toughie solvers may have different tales to tell. Oddly, the solve itself didn’t take very long, but I was left with a clutch of clues whose wordplay I couldn’t fathom, and for that reason alone I’ve notched the enjoyment level down from what could easily have been 4 or 5. Apart from those difficulties this puzzle offered some tough, imaginative clueing and a handful of real corkers. Kudos to the setter, too, for not being put off by awkward Js and Qs. There’s just one quibble at 23Dn.


1a Plant coming from Japan, a singular rich source (7)
{JASMINE} The vehicle registration mark (IVR) for Japan, plus A, an abbreviation for “singular” and a word meaning a rich source (not yours, though) combine to give a type of plant.

It can flavour 22a as well
It can flavour 22a as well

5a Ornamental boat boarded by Oscar (7)
{BAROQUE} “Ornamental” is the def, applied to a style of music/art/architecture. The phonetic alphabet uses Oscar for the letter we need to place in a type of three-masted, square-sterned boat.

A French word for "barge"
A French word for "barge"

9a Drink in time cherished? It’s good for a blast (7)
{TRUMPET} Perhaps slightly carelessly the last word of this clue is an answer elsewhere – oh well. “In” is a give-away container indicator, telling us a drink (think Navy) appears inside an abbreviation for “time” and a word for “cherished” (especially by the teacher).

10a Give a hand to a lad with pup that’s unruly (7)
{APPLAUD} “Give a hand to” doesn’t mean “help”. The answer is a combined anagram of LAD and A PUP.

Getting a round in?
Getting a round in?

11a Loner unusually for audience planned record (9)
{ENROLMENT} You need to see “record” as “register”, and even then it’s an unexpected nounal answer. Jumble the letters of LONER and find a homophone for a word meaning planned, intended, deliberate.

12a Artist about to enter reception without counter (5)
{DÜRER} Thanks to Big Dave for help with the parsing of this. I’m not great on artists’ names but had heard of this one, famous for his Apocalypse woodcuts. “About” is identifiable as RE, to be placed in DUR somehow! The reception, or audience chamber, is DURBAR, from which BAR (counter) is removed. Clever, but a bit OTT I think.

That's him on the right
That's him on the right

13a Effect of Swiss air? (5)
{YODEL} A weakish CD, but perhaps a viable alternative to the old “Make off-peak call?” Think Tyrolean singing.

15a Grey part of castle in which some are heard? (3,6)
{OLD BAILEY} Nice easy charade – “Grey” as in “of advanced years”, plus the outer wall of a castle. The answer is a court in central London, “in which some are heard” being a cryptic reference to trials.

It's the old bill
It's the old bill

17a Creative site producing standard animal in Norway and America (9)
{PARNASSUS} This creative site, home to the Muses of Greek legend, is made up of a word for “standard” (not a birdie, not a bogey), plus a container where the “animal” (type of donkey) is surrounded by the IVR of Norway and the abbreviation of United States.

Highly inspirational location
Highly inspirational location

19a Creator of bars having brewed lager (5)
{ELGAR} Easy anagram this time, a composer (Enigma Variations) from the letters in LAGER.

22a It could be finished quietly in café? Not half (5)
{CUPPA} I think this is a brilliant semi-&Lit effort. You have to put “finished” (Your time is –) and the musical abbreviation for quietly/softly into half of the word CAFÉ. The setter has taken some time over this and to very good effect.

Great clue - here's your reward
Great clue - here's your reward

23a Singer curtailed performance in front of King, rebellious type? (5,4)
{YOUNG TURK} Our singer could be Neil or Paul, then we have a “curtailed” (remove last letter) “performance” – the word also means “rotate”. Finish with the chess abbreviation for King.

25a Mark a leave without notice (7)
{SCARPER} Very tricky and very good. The answer means to do a runner or “leave without notice”. The “mark” is one left on the skin after an injury, and the almost invisible “a” should be read as “for each”, as in “£1 a litre for fuel”. Not a great surface reading but a devious little tease.

26a A sailor docked with company touring island and island capital (7)
{AJACCIO} Another excellent clue – pretty hard as well. The island capital is on Corsica. “A sailor docked” gives us A + a word for a sailor (also a popular boy’s name) without its last letter. Then the standard abbreviation for “company” is placed around (touring) the abbreviation for “island”. The setter has done a great job in taking awful letters but creating a smooth, plausible surface.

The guy on the plinth is Napoleon
The guy on the plinth is Napoleon

27a Oppressive imperial figure in legislative body dismissing outsiders (7)
{ONEROUS} The definition is “oppressive”. The imperial figure required is the Roman fiddler, and this is inside HOUSE but without its “outsiders”.

28a One taking drink tucking into crumbly feta (3,4)
{TEA LEAF} Aha – a bit of “lift and separate”. It’s easy to see “One taking drink” as a whole unit but we need to read it as “One taking” (the definition – a thief) and “drink” (an alcoholic one – beer) surrounded by an anagram of FETA. Deceptive, because the first word of the answer may make you think it explains the “drink” part, which it doesn’t.


1d Nervous youth’s beginning to represent craze in dance (7)
{JITTERY} Saw the answer quickly but took ages to explain it properly. “Nervous” is the definition, and “youth’s beginning” can only be Y. This replaces the BUG (craze) of a dance popular in the 1940s/50s.

You put the "boom boom" into my heart...
You put the "boom boom" into my heart...

2d Feature of cricket day in a tie? (7)
{SQUARED} “In a tie?” suggests being in a position where scores are level. The answer consists of part of a cricket field and the single-letter abbreviation for “day”.

3d Urge shown by politician bound by dreadful lie (5)
{IMPEL} Our definition is the verb sense of “urge”. Reference to a politician means MP is always a good bet, and this is placed in an anagram of LIE.

4d Nice person’s expression of confidence? (5,4)
{ENTRE NOUS} Ho-ho, very good. Remember that Nice is a place in France; also the word “confidence” here refers to a private matter rather than self-assurance, so it’s “between ourselves”. Some CDs fall flat but this stands up pretty well as it contains two misleading elements.

In confidence
In confidence

5d Book linked to ultimate thrilling experience (5)
{BLAST} “Book” leads to a single-letter abbreviation, and “ultimate” means “final” – the answer is a thrilling experience, a laugh, or even an explosion.

6d Disown celebrity accepting help in need of lift (9)
{REPUDIATE} One of those clues where you’re likely to spot the answer first then try to work out the wordplay. “Celebrity” here means “the celebrity” (or name, reputation) rather than an individual, and this is placed around a word meaning help/assistance which has to be reversed (“in need of lift”). A rewarding clue if you persevere with it.

7d Barney Fletcher’s trademark? (7)
{QUARREL} Lovely double definition. There is no well-known Barney Fletcher, so perhaps “barney” means something else? An argument? A fletcher is someone who makes arrows, and the other meaning we’re looking for is a square-headed arrow for use with a crossbow.

Bow before me
Bow before me

8d Like an ancient tree close to school yard (7)
{ELDERLY} Top marks again for a beautiful clue. “Like an ancient” means very old – our definition. Wordplay uses a type of tree of the Sambucus genus, “close to school” referring to a last letter, and the abbreviation for “yard”.

14d Dog disrupting a shop alas (5,4)
{LHASA APSO} Perhaps this extremely obvious anagram clue (A SHOP ALAS) is made marginally tougher by having to remember how to spell the breed of dog.

Morrisons sells dog bibs?
Morrisons sells dog bibs?

16d One engaged in argument abstracted around bar largely (9)
{DISPUTANT} Pity; rather a clumsy reading here, and I have to say I’ve never been keen on implied 3-letter words which need a first/last letter removed – to me it’s a bit of a strain for the solver. “Abstracted” means aloof, unattached (or a long way off) and this is placed around a word for “bar” (as in the building for drinking) with the last letter chopped off. “Largely” as the indicator for this may raise eyebrows.

17d I almost forgot about gallery with very good artist (7)
{PICASSO} At the time of writing I don’t know how this works, except that our very famous abstract artist uses PI (“very good”) as the first two letters.
UPDATE: Many thanks to Gazza, who’s sorted this one out. My PI parsing was miles out, but instead there’s a bit of an obscure reference needed which some might object to. “I almost forgot” is in fact a reference to the two letters introducing some extra text at the end of a letter. These surround the abbreviated name of an art gallery (Institute of Contemporary Arts) and with finish off with a very short word meaning “very” (it also means thus, as a result). Very tough!

Yer man
Yer man

18d Substitute starts to exercise pretty loosely in contest (7)
{REPLACE} Trying a little too hard? I can see the setter trying to build a convincing surface but it ends up being not quite plausible. The definition is the verb form of “Substitute”, then we want the first letters (starts to) of “exercise pretty loosely” inside a word for “contest” – one in which speed is everything.

20d Taste not wholly associated with a revolutionary painting (7)
{GOUACHE} Thanks again to Big Dave. I’d seen that “a revolutionary” was going to be A CHE, but couldn’t justify the first three letters. We’re asked to remove the last letter (“not wholly”) of a word which Chambers gives as a second entry (a French word meaning taste, relish) after the more familiar interpretation, a medical condition which usually results in swelling of the big toe.

A type of paint(ing)
A type of paint(ing)

21d Illegal profit for fake rogue (4-3)
{RAKE-OFF} A simple anagram of FOR FAKE to make “illegal profit”.

23d Agreement given about advertising battle site (5)
{YPRES} The battle site of the answer is a famous (perhaps infamous) Great War one, made up of a word signifying agreement around an abbreviation I’m not quite happy with. PR is the way a company presents its image to the public; I think advertising is something separate.

24d Land held by Afghan army (5)
{GHANA} Great little hidden answer, with up-to-the-minute connotations, to finish. The name of the country we want is hidden inside “Afghan army”.

Know Your Africa
Know Your Africa


That PR element of 23d is enough to qualify as a quibble, but such a minor one among a set of largely exceptional clues. 22a, 26a and 8d in particular could happily sit in a book called “How to Write Great Cryptic Clues”, and their quality helped to make this a very entertaining solve. Very late in the day, Gazza’s parsing of 17d probably means this clue could be regarded as a bit excessive, although I tip my hat to the setter for working so hard on it to produce the surface reading.

10 comments on “Toughie 239

  1. I certainly didn’t find it as tough as some others, and few of the wordplays detained me very long.

    Harry Shipley

  2. Thanks Anax (and Gazza) for the explanation to 17d. That was the last one I put in, and could not for the life of me understand why. I was also thinking along the lines of PI (very good)… Also scratched my head over 12a..!

  3. Many thanks to Anax for the detailed blog and complimentary comments. Hope 12a was gettable – originally, the clue was an easier hidden reversal but, because a previous Tel puzzle had a similar treatment, the editor understandably requested a different clue. In light of comments generally on the blog on Toughies, am trying hard to keep mine firmly on the ‘tougher’ side of the cryptic!

  4. Got there in the end with a little help on the final two clues – for 27a I kept trying to get Ming into the answer and missed the point completely trying to justify “ominous” which also threw out 18d.

    Many thanks for the explanations Anax – there were some really convulted constructions in this one even where the answer was clear. In 25a, that a = per must be one of the sneakiest in a while. I would still be puzzling over how the answers to some of these had been constructed. I agree that 12a was OTT. Overall, I would say that this has been the most difficult Toughie this week.

    Thanks to Shamus for keeping us on our toes and introducing us to some new wordplays.

  5. I normally enjoy this setter but somehow today was very difficult for me, not that difficulty should mar ones’ enjoyment, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I can’t put my finger on why. I did love 4d however.

  6. did both crosswords with the exception of 26 across. i think i created a record . still have to resort to thesauri unlike Her Majesty er who is of the opinion that it is cheating.

  7. Thanks for the great review and explanations Anax et. al.
    I always laugh when I get the ‘Nice’ indicator for a French phrase but I ALWAYS miss the damned thing! and have to be reminded!

    I needed a bit of help on this one – would never have got 17d

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