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Toughie 255

Toughie No 255 by Osmosis

At full stretch

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

This was a bit of a monster, not helped by the E/E* grid and a preponderance of very common cross-checking letters; 8a was a case in point, a ten minute slog with only -A-E- available. The clues were a mix of some truly stunning bits of inventiveness and the occasional grumble, typified by the past participle “welcomed” in 9d.

*E/E means even/even – in which the answers appear in the even-numbered rows and columns.

Please add your comments and questions; and don’t forget the curly brackets contain the answers – left-click and drag the cursor over them if you get really desperate.

Clues in blue are the ones I enjoyed most of all.


7a A border flower planted in tin vessel (9)
{CATAMARAN} “Flower” in a clue often points to a river, and it works really well here. The river TAMAR (after A) is to be placed in another word for a tin.

8a Central point of female vanity – to get a reaction? (5)
{NAVEL} Very tough, even though the answer is a hidden reversal in “female vanity”. I know what the setter is trying to say with “to get a reaction?” but it doesn’t quite work for me as a reversal indicator.

10a That man’s after 20% off fast food (6)
{QUICHE} A word for “that man” is after QUICK reduced by 20%.

11a Plant water covers Jimmy knocking back pint (5,3)
{SWEET PEA} This raised a smile. The wordplay uses SEA (water) around a 3-letter word for something jokingly called a Jimmy Riddle and a reversal of PT (abbreviation for “pint”).

12a Slip from terminal in Beijing with 50 yen (6)
{GLITCH} “Terminal in Beijing” is quite a neat way of indicating the last letter; after that, the Roman numeral for 50 followed by the “yearning” interpretation of “yen”.

14a Part of body first to deteriorate’s inside joint (6)
{TENDON} A little bit odd, this, because the clumsy-looking “deteriorate’s” could easily do without the apostrophe and the S. Anyway, take the first letter of that and place it inside a type of joint (or a type of saw).

16a Foreign letter ending used in present tense (4)
{TAUT} Extremely deceptive construction that demands what we call “lift and separate” – “present tense” appears to be a stock phrase but the two words are actually separate components of the clue, the latter being the definition. The foreign letter is the Greek equivalent of T, followed by the last letter of “present”.

17a Make perfect heart in rhyme for beloved (5)
{HONEY} I spent some time trying to think of a specific rhyming word! Instead, we need a word meaning “to make perfect”, then the middle letter of “rhyme”. The whole is a term of endearment.

18a See you texting Rees regularly. Is it therapy?
{CURE} Can’t help but feel an opportunity was wasted here. The excellent opening “See you texting” for CU falls a bit flat with the alternate letters treatment of REES.

19a Pairs leading tackle high tides somewhere in the Pacific (6)
{TAHITI} Nice use of “high tides” here, even if the rest of the clue doesn’t quite run smoothly. For the answer (an island) take the first two letters in each of the three words Tackle, High and Tides.

21a Gutless affair with diva disgraced MP (6)
{ARCHER} Cleverly worked out combo using the first and last letters (gutless) of “affair” and the 4-letter pseudonym of a rock/pop songstress to give us the disgraced MP whose name has been adopted as a sum of money – £20,000.

24a In the UK/US etc, demo initially pruned political funds (3,5)
{WAR CHEST} “The UK/US etc” is generally regarded as the WEST. Inside that, a word for a demo/rally with the first letter removed (initially pruned).

26a Take exam in university, laid back, unmoved (2,4)
{IN SITU} Although I got this quickly I think it was a case of just seeing it before I thought about it, as the wordplay isn’t something that jumps out at you. The easy start comes from SIT for “take exam”, which is placed in a reversal of UNI (university).

27a European capital formerly attracted second-class stars (5)
{LIBRA} Another very tough clue for me as I found myself looking in all the wrong places for wordplay/definition parts. “European capital formerly” is not the definition – instead, it’s the name of what used to be Italy’s unit of currency (capital). Place B (second-class) inside this; have to say I’m not too happy about the past participle, and equally unsure of “attract” serving as an insertion indicator.

28a Cricketer starts to hook unduly during fast century (3,6)
{LEN HUTTON} “Sir” if you don’t mind! Brilliant clue, this. Place the first letters of (starts to) “hook” and “unduly” inside LENT (fast) and a word for 100 – typically with reference to darts or driving speed.


1d Faulty driver steers this golf shot deficiently (5)
{KAPUT} Nice to see a contemporary car model finding its way into a crossword – in this case a small one made by Ford. This is followed by a golf shot (once you’re on the green) with its last letter removed (deficiently).

2d Legendary figure left Chelsea manager overlooking tense international (8)
{LANCELOT} Know your soccer. Our legendary figure is made up of L (left) and the Chelsea manager minus the T (tense) and I (international) at the end of his name. This is the kind of clue which can quickly become obscure, especially given the in-out-within-a-week nature of football management appointments.

3d Tom pinches road warning sign (6)
{CAVEAT} I have a soft spot for short clues with amusing images. The wordplay threw me for a while as I knew “Tom” was going to be CAT, but the second letter, revealed as A by 7ac, is not the one used by CAT. “Road” points to the abbreviation for one type of road (usually tree-lined).

4d Domino originally stained underneath stout (4)
{FATS} This is quite an odd clue and I think the setter simply wanted to be able to define the answer as “Domino” and try to make the wordplay fit the theme. I guess it sort of works but the surface seems slightly forced – moreover, the bit before S (originally stained) is defined as the word which actually led to this chap’s stage name.

5d Checked wickerwork (top half should be twisted) (6)
{TARTAN} We start with RATTAN (wickerwork) but the top/first half of that needs to be “twisted” round.

6d Stinging creature around Orient, released thorn in one’s side (4,5)
{BETE NOIRE} The stinging creature is a BEE, placed around an anagram (released – hmm, OK) of ORIENT.

9d Some of church really welcomed holy man (6)
{VESTRY} Almost a super clue – VERY (really) around the abbreviation for “saint” – but again it has that past participle “welcomed”. Welcomes/welcoming would be far better grammatically.

13d Egg-producer central to ornate colouring (5)
{HENNA} Sorry, but I don’t like this at all. The (usually hair) colouring answer comprises an egg producer (is that hyphen right?) and the middle bit of “ornate”. For me “central to” just isn’t right in terms of tense.

15d Evergreen song by Abba, with computer technology replacing members (9)
{MACADAMIA} …but this is great, if pretty tough to unravel. Abba wrote many memorable songs, but perhaps the most famous, thanks to its recent stage/film success, is MAMMA MIA. There are two abbreviations for “member” inside that which have to replaced by a piece of computer technology typically used for designing things like engineering drawing sheets. As a whole, the surface gives a good picture of musical software taking over where musicians once ruled the world.

17d Milk deliverer heading for excitement provided lady’s around (6)
{HEIFER} Another belter, creating a lovely image of the negligee-clad housewife on the doorstep as the milkman arrives. Happens to me all the time, and I don’t even deliver milk. The milk deliverer in question is a type of cow, and the wordplay uses E (heading for excitement) and IF (provided) inside HER (lady’s). Top clue!

18d Fencing equipment safety mark covers point entering active torso (8)
{CREOSOTE} A rare outing for the container-inside-container device, and the only instance I can see in the puzzle of a real obscurity. The safety mark in question is CE, an abbreviation of “Communauté européenne” (it usually appears on electrical equipment, toys etc.). Place this around E (point/compass direction) and in turn place that inside an anagram of “torso”.

20d Nursed former South American soldier (2,4)
{IN CARE} This took a long time to see, perhaps not helped by the fact that I’d regard the definition “being nursed” as more accurate. “Former South American” refers to an ancient Peruvian, followed by the abbreviation for Royal Engineer.

22d Old chestnut, tallest in copse, contracted skin disease (6)
{CLICHE} Using “tallest in copse” to indicate the first letter is rather good, since this is a down clue. After that, remove the last letter of “lichen” (a skin disease as well as a fungus). Can’t think why the clue wasn’t written as “…contracted fungus”.

23d Scotch attracts Derry’s most popular character. Paddy? (5)
{STROP} Very nice clue, although a shame about that “attracts” inserticator again. However, the excellently deceptive “Scotch”, leading to STOP, around the letter which appears most often in “Derry”, all tied in with the equally deceptive definition “paddy” more than makes up for it.

25d Tramp starved, regularly lacking a vitamin (4)
{TREK} The definition “tramp” can work as a noun or verb. “Regularly lacking” means we have to remove alternate letters in “starved”, and finish with K (a type of vitamin).

Just one or two little niggles but overall a puzzle bursting with lovely wordplay devices and definitions.

32 comments on “Toughie 255

  1. Fabulous review, Anax.

    Here’s the great Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino at his best, in some archive footage:


  2. Thanks for the review.
    This was my first failure if the week; 8 clues after 45 minutes then the train stopped.
    Even where I understood the requirement of the wordplay pretty well I was struggling.
    Having said all of that there were some great clues – gotta go with 6d 16d and I laughed at Jimmy!

    1. If it’s any consolation I had about 10 answers after an hour.
      The typical experience for me is to get a flurry of maybe half a dozen more answers after that, thanks to the cross-checkers, before grinding to a halt again.
      Not mentioned in the blog was the SW corner – apart from 8ac, I found this the most difficult area to fill. 16ac, 24ac, 27ac, 15dn and 20dn all took a very long time to spot.

      1. I’m all for flurries and usually get them myself.
        Suffice to say that the flurry I had today would not qualify for a White Christmas if detected on the Met Office roof!

  3. Just when you think your getting the hang of toughies along comes a Lulu. I struggled with this all day and still needed your assistance with 3d, 6d and 24a. Thanks for the hints Anax, great review. I liked 9d and 28a.

  4. Got there in the end with a little help on 15d and 16a, which latter one blind sided me. Overall, it was a real Toughie. Sadly, I did not feel that the level of pleasure exceeded the pain on this one. It did not give me any great sense of satisfaction getting the clues out that I have received on some of the other high end Toughies. Still no pain, no gain!

  5. Thanks for the excellent review, Anax. I found this a real slog, though worth it in the end. I had to rely on your review to understand the wordplay of 23d.
    In 18a I thought that “fencing equipment” was a pretty poor definition – you would not refer to paint as “wall equipment”.

  6. Real trouble with this one.
    Just to remind Osmosis a heifer is a virgin cow and cannot give milk.

    1. Hmm – I’ve done a little bit of hunting around and can’t absolutely confirm either way. The only thing I’ve managed to pick up is that a heifer can be tested for pregnancy using a milk or serum progesterone test so, jumping to a conclusion, it suggests a heifer can have milk that can be tested.
      Bear in mind I got this info via Wiki so it could be a load of old bullocks.

  7. With apologies to Osmosis –
    fortunately or unfortunately I had better things to do with my life than this crossword. I binned it after approximately an hours work, about half done. Then I waited for this excellent blog to see where I was going wrong. Thanks for the write up Anax.

  8. When I finished this at about 1.30am I was one of only two people (+ the ubiquitous puzzle_tester). The current total stands at 20, but some of them probably got the answers from here !!!.

    Even table-topping Robr took 3hr 17m 42s. BTW if you read the blog Robr, we’d love to hear from you.

    1. Ooh-er. I can feel a bit chuffed then. Despite crawling to 10 answers after an hour I managed to beat the 1hr30min barrier. Can I have a banana?

      1. I didn’t say when I started !!!!

        Seriously, anyone on CluedUp can see my time of 1hr 23m 0s.

        Funnily enough I got 8a fairly quickly but struggled with 1d, which I was sure was spelt caput (OK I know now).

      2. Anax,
        You completed it – more than I did :-) I think if I had been blogging it – I might have stuck at it. But then again on second thoughts, knowing that Big Dave had already done it on CluedUp, I think I would have pulled a sickie :-)

    2. Hi Big Dave and bloggers.

      Yes I do read the blog from time to time especially to find bloggers views on extremely tough puzzles like this one.

      Wow!…a first mention of my name :) albeit with the unflattering time to solve T255.

      Of course I am familiar with the benefits of Save/Resume :) but do have to say it was excruciatingly tough. I did get it done in the end but the Abba clue held me up for a looong time as did the rest of the SW corner.

      I think I was about the 3rd to submit the finished puzzle.

      Great website and blog.

      1. Hi Robr – welcome to the blog.
        It’s great to get a comment from the Clued Up Supremo, and I hope that now that you’ve made contact you’ll continue to keep in touch.
        Friday now definitely seems to be the day for the real Toughie.

    3. Keeping in touch…

      I have a few comments about the subject of Top-Times and Time-to-Solve and why I don’t pay much if any attention to them …
      Puzzle Tester distorts the picture completely and should not show up in either points or times statistics. The fastest time I’ve seen is 2s, two seconds, :(
      Nobody can really solve a cryptic crossword in under 3 minutes but I see many such numbers. A fast typist could barely enter the solutions in such time let alone the solve the clues. There are obviously a lot of people out there who get the printed paper and solve the crossword before entering it in CluedUp as fast as they can type. There are even some no doubt that share their answers with friend or relative to get great fast times. Others may get their answers from blogs and then look brilliant. Some people work the crossword a bit, go away, return and do a bit more and generally take their time. Some people, like me, have years of solutions filed away to be entered if and when they choose. So Top-Times do absolutely nothing for me.

      Neither, I must say, does Top Solver of the day with its generic blob silhouette image…but that’s a subject for another day.

      1. Robr

        I couldn’t agree more.

        As someone who spent the whole of his working life in IT I’ll give you my take on Puzzle_Tester.

        In the early part of this year there were a number of careless / stupid errors in the setting up of the puzzles, culminating in one or two with blanks which could only be entered by taking a letter hint. Enter puzzle_tester, someone very close to the editor, or maybe even the editor himself. This person entered all the puzzles soon after midnight from an answer sheet. The incidence of errors dropped dramatically, but regulars like us spotted the name on the leaderboard. To counter this it was decided to make puzzle_tester anonymous, using an existing facility. But why not remove his times completely, you ask? Very simple. The website is outsourced and huge sums are probably demanded for even the smallest change to the software. In the time I have been using the site I can only recall two changes – the introduction of playable Suduko and the addition of more processing power after months of poor performance had made the site unusable for large parts of the day.

        1. The whole concept of recording competitive times via an online format seems a bit ridiculous to me. An offline solve, followed by frantically entering the online answers as quickly as possible, will be a sufficiently attractive idea (for “solvers” of that persuasion) to make the final standings meaningless. The simple fact is that if there’s a way to cheat people will cheat.

          I’d been about to suggest an alternative – an online puzzle specially composed (does not appear in print) and clues only becoming visible once you click the START button. But even then, those who wish to do so could take a screendump and pre-solve offline – I suppose a way around that would be to have the clues in boxes requiring 2 or 3 scroll-downs to see them all, so the screendump process would probably take longer than solving.

          However, the likelihood of paying a setter for these extra daily crosswords… any improvements on nil?

          1. The clock on CluedUp starts running as soon as you view or print the puzzle. There is a way to cheat this but you forfeit the points scored. You might ask why I bother – it’s the legacy of a lifetime in IT that makes finding the bugs in the system irresistible! I might try to demonstrate this by posting a fast time for one of the Toughies in the early hours of the morning.

        2. If this thread isn’t dead …

          I also spent the whole of my working life in IT :)

          Ah well! I enjoy the CluedUp offerings no doubt about it but…

          I do notice the behaviour of many of the puzzlers and notice a sudden increase
          in solutions when your blog gives hints and then solutions and am a bit irked
          at the shameless grab for points the easy way by more than a few.

  9. Quite a ferocious challenge which has taken me half a morning and a chinese buffet to finish.

    Osmosis is a top drawer setter who obviously spends time polishing his clues and making them as tough as can be. I only hope he’s not under his alter-ego in the Independent tomorrow or I shall be hunting for a strait-jacket by Sunday.

    1. If you select “Osmosis” from the Categories in the sidebar you will see that he is also known as Scorpion of the Independent and Aardvark of the FT.

  10. Absolutely brilliant! (the review, that is -not the crossword!!). Couldn’t have done it without you – hardest one for a long time!

      1. Of course we are!!! We’ve been glued to the paper for hours then do what you hate and I type like a lunatic!! Found this really difficult today, though!

      2. Incidentally, how come you can see our times on CluedUp -they won’t normally show our times? Do you have special privileges, Dave?!!

  11. Thanks Osmosis, for ruining over 6 hours of my day,’ I’m so S.O.S’, my curse box has been counted and monies have been donated to Children in Need!. Seriously an absolute stinker, but well done Anax in solving it, and your explanations of the clues, however what I would like to know is, how 14 people in Cluedup managed to finish it in under an hour.

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