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Toughie 262

Toughie No 262 by Excalibur

Smoke and Mirrors

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BD Rating – Difficulty ** Enjoyment *

Thanks to you all for your kind wishes while I was in hospital. I was certainly relieved to get home and am taking things easy over the next few days. Thanks to Big Dave for covering my blogs for me while I was away.

Reading yesterday’s Big Dave blog of the daily puzzle, there was a considerable amount of debate as to who the setter was, and indeed most of us rather got it wrong. Although we generally can identify the daily puzzle setters, the Toughies are somewhat harder to pin down, and we usually have to wait until one of us has consulted that day’s paper to find out, as the people at CluedUp seem unwilling to let us know. One or two setters have such distinct styles, as well as one or two tricks that enable us to recognise who they are, which does help us. Likewise, one or two have a certain way of writing their clues that gives us an indication.

Indeed, one thing was certain today, within a minute or two of reading the clues, I knew who had set it. The style offered by today’s setter is, as I have remarked before, reminiscent of the days from when I first started solving crosswords in the late 1960’s and early seventies. Indeed, I first encountered Excalibur as the setter of the old Weekend Magazine Stinker Crossword and there is little evidence to suggest the style has changed.

Perhaps you are all going to expect me to say how much I hated it and so on, but I am not going to. There seems little point, as probably the majority of you will disagree with me anyway. So I looked at the puzzle from a different angle. Excalibur tries to provide clues that are concise, and indeed unlike some setters, there is little of what might be called padding in her clues, although at times the definitions are a little broad for my liking. This is actually a skill that many of her contemporaries don’t have and strive for. The downside is that some of the surface reading can seem a bit odd.

Easily, where the puzzle falls for me is on the Cryptic Definitions. I realise that on a Monday we are spoilt by having one of the wizards of the CD clue, and it is almost the main weapon of some of the other setters and not always well-used (the Saturday setter comes to mind), so I almost feel it is done to death in the DT puzzles. It’s noticeable that many of what I regard as my favourite setters all use the CD only once or twice in a puzzle. The ones here today just don’t work for me and that holds the puzzle back and it’s ultimately a shame.

You can have your say after the blog and we encourage you to do so. By the way, next Monday at 8pm on BBC4, you can see the excellent documentary How to Solve A Cryptic Crossword which features our very own Giovanni, as well as Colin Dexter and one or two other setters of repute. We may need a TV reviewer for that one! Set those recorders, although I suspect it will be on the BBC i-Player for those within the UK, if you do miss it. It is also being shown a week today at some small hour of the morning.


5a    A foreign coin collection housed in the plant (6)
PESETA} A word for a collection of something (SET) inside a plant (PEA) gives us a coin used in parts of South America.

8a    The remainder of the departures (8)
LEAVINGS} This is a double definition clue, that doesn’t work for me. Surely it should be “remainders”? Do people use this word in the plural?

9a    Since wrongly carrying the article, get urges (7)
INCITES} An anagram (indicated by wrongly) of SINCE with IT (the article) inside. I did wonder about the use of “get”, but I assume that the setter is saying “Do this … get that”.

10a    See and set free what got caught in (5)
WATCH} SEE is the definition here, with an anagram (indicated by set free) of WHAT with C (for caught) inside.

11a    Is the water in which it swims fenced in? (9)
SWORDFISH} An example of the Cryptic Definition that missed the mark. I am assuming the clue depends on “fenced” meaning fought with a sword. If so, what is the point of the word “in” afterwards. It’s there for no other reason than to make the clue read well. Sorry, not for me.

13a    Sure as to which article it is (8)
DEFINITE} This is an example of a double definition clue where one of the definitions is cryptic. Sure is one definition. The remainder of the clue asks you to think of types of article.

14a    Tender lovers (6)
MISERS} I had to use the cheat facility on this one and it was the last I solved. The grid left me with M I* * R *. I assumed the last letter was S but I was left with the dreaded “double unch” (a double unchecked space – see my moans about them ad nauseam). I assumed that it was a cryptic definition, but wondered whether it was MINORS. MINERS, MILERS, or MISERS. I then made the leap and presume that it referred to “tender” as in money.

17a    An afterthought: ‘Back in spring’ (3)
SPA} Reverse A PS (an afterthought) and you get a word meaning a spring. Again the word “in” is used purely to make to clue read well.

19a    Beat, but not black and blue (3)
TAN} Cryptic definition which sort of suggests a word for a colour that also means “to beat”.

20a   Far be it from me to switch on again! (6)
REMOTE} The definition is “far be it” and you get it from an anagram, indicated by switch, of ME TO after RE (again) – certainly one of the better clues

23a    Evicted day before, is gloomy (8)
DEJECTED} This is a good example of what Excalibur does best, short concise clues with decent surface reading. EJECTED (Evicted) with D (for Day) before it.

26a    Marksman’s two attempts (5,4)
CRACK SHOT} And again, another good clue. Two words for “attempt” that when put together mean a marksman.

28a    It’s sharp and ripped a little hole in it (5)
THORN} Like 20 across, I can see a definition “It’s sharp”, but the remainder baffles me. (Thanks to Big Dave – Ripped = TORN with H (a little Hole) inside)

29a    In the carved base, opposed concealed lights (7)
BEACONS} An anagram (indicated by carved) of BASE with CON (against) inside gives a type of light.

30a    Doesn’t do to have recurrent themes (8)
REFRAINS} Double definition of “Doesn’t do” and “recurrent themes”, i.e. choruses.

31a    Take rifle out to lake for another shot (6)
REFILL} An anagram (indicated by out) of RIFLE, plus L (for lake) gives a word meaning another shot as in a refill of a drink.


1d    Ran low, went in, refuelled (6)
FLOWED} LOW (meaning low) inside FED (refuelled) gives a word meaning RAN. Another decent surface read.

2d    Broken limb mended, went to sea (4,3)
CAST OFF} If your broken limb was mended then you wouldn’t need the plaster and so it would be ______ , which means to untie your boat and set out in your boat.

3d    Rolling Stone following pretty girl is criminal! (9)
DISHONEST} Exclamation marks after a clue usually mean that the setter thinks this is particularly clever or witty. I beg to differ and consider this to be the nadir of the puzzle. It certainly validates my argument that the puzzle has a feel of being in the 60’s or 70’s. When was the last time you heard of an attractive girl called “a dish”. Probably in an episode of On The Buses or Steptoe and Son. So we have DISH followed by an anagram (indicated by Rolling) of STONE. An utterly dreadful clue and one I would be ashamed to write. I making a list of the regulars that will like it, and will compare notes later. I wonder if that clue would appear in any of the other quality daily puzzles.

4d    Finding the wrong tag round has horrified (6)
AGHAST} An anagram (indicated by wrong) of the word “TAG” around HAS. Apart from the fact the clue simply doesn’t read sensibly, we’ll gloss over the use of the word “finding”

5d    A sight in the hat with the gold lining! (8)
PANORAMA} This is a decent clue, but I don’t see the need for the exclamation mark. PANAMA is a hat with OR (gold) inside it.

6d    Written by the Fortes, it’s a hard back (5)
STIFF} This is utter drivel. I am astonished that this made it past the Crossword Editor. The definition is dropped inside the clue to make it read sensibly.

For those under 35, Lord Forte used to run a chain of hotels and restaurants until he was taken over by Granada in 1996. He died in 2007 and his obituary in the Guardian said “He created a worldwide empire of restaurants and hotels from virtually nothing. Yet within his lifetime it had crumbled and disappeared, making him one of those single-generation businessmen who fail to lay solid enough foundations, or a sound enough succession, to transcend the family heritage” His son Rocco now has a small chain of exclusive hotels.

For what it’s worth, the clue is a reversal of ITS + F F (forte forte , as in musical instruction).

7d    Exchange rate above certain value (8)
TREASURE} An anagram (indicated by exchange) of RATE + SURE (certain) gives a word meaning value. “Above” works here as it’s a down clue.

12d    ‘Fatuous’ is not fair (3)
WET} I assume that wet can mean fatuous. If it’s wet, it isn’t fair.

15d    In which the makers of innovations are listed? (9)
INVENTORY)This is a cryptic definition of the word INVENTORY. I shan’t say any more as I can feel my blood pressure rising and I have been warned against it.

16d    The tailless dog does recover (8)
RETRIEVE} the dog is a RETRIEVER. If it is tailless it is lacking its last letter and what do you get? Why the dog is so named.

18d    Through loans, contrived to get one’s own (8)
PERSONAL} PER = through, plus an anagram (indicated somewhat appropriately by contrived) of LOANS gives a word meaning “one’s own”.

21d    Bother to put notice by hole (3)
ADO} AD (notice) + O (hole) = a word meaning bother, as in why did I?

22d    So to squash racket, became a deputy (5,2)
STOOD IN} An anagram (indicated by squash) of SO TO + DIN (racket) = became a deputy

24d    And what have you against the female artist? (6)
ETCHER} Probably my favourite clue today. ” And what have you” = ETC and add to this HER (female) giving a word for a type of artist.

25d    And upset by his bad language (6)
DANISH} An anagram (indicated by upset) together with an anagram (indicated by bad) of HIS reveals the Scandinavian language.

27d    Animal I caught hiding within plants (5)
CACTI} C (caught) inside CAT I (animal I) gives the desert plants.

I started out today with every intention of being fair and tolerant but I am afraid that once I hit the Down clues, there were too many dreadful clues to let minor misdemeanours pass. 6d was just unforgiveable and while some of you will probably think 3d is the bees’ knees, I find it insulting. I’m off for a lie-down and a cup of something soothing. The other issue is that over a third of the clues rely on anagrams, which again is too many. See you soon.

26 comments on “Toughie 262

  1. Nice to see you back! – I agree with most of your comments on the clues Tilsit but I enjoyed it a tad more.
    I’m glad I am not the only one who struggled with 14a!. Even with some electronic help from my iPhone app I didn’t see Misers but on balance maybe I should have.

    Absolutely agree on favourite of 24d and I also liked 20a and 26a.

    Thanks for the review and the Heads Up for the repeat – I missed it the first time.

    1. I’ll be publishing a reminder on Monday, and the recorder is set already. I am hoping to transfer it to dvd for anyone unable to see it at the time.

  2. tilsit

    You mean to say that the crosswords in the in-print edition of the paper carry the byline but not in the online edition?

    As one who has no access to the hard copy, I ask this.

    I guess that the interactive version has no facility to include the byline, unless you include the latter in some text-enterable place where you have extra space….

    1. Tilsit is still on strong medication (nothing to do with the blog, I assure you) and is resting this afternoon, so he may not be able to reply until later.

      I still don’t fully know why CluedUp is unable to publish the name of the setter. For ST 2,500 special instructions were included as part of the clue for 1 across and I see no reason why this approach should not be used for Toughies:

      1a Time off for good behaviour? (6) (WARNING: Two answers in this special 2500th puzzle require numbers as well as letters. The figure zero must be entered as a capital O.) (6)

  3. tilsit

    I remember the Stinker crossword in the Weekend magazine.

    Wasn’t this mag that also had a multicolour crossword where the end of a light was determined by change in colour?

  4. Off topic: I really don’t mean to put my tongue out but but my crossie avatar doesn’t appear for some mysterious reason.

    1. It does when I change you email address to the hotmail one instead of gmail. That’s why we keep having to moderate your comments! You could try setting up a WordPress account for the gmail address as well, and attaching your avatar to that.

      As a general note for all, it is worth reiterating that the avatar is associated with your email address and the WordPress software searches its own database first and applies a default avatar if it can’t find a match.

  5. Did not enjoy this…. not very difficult, and too many poor clues. Did not like 8a, 11a, 14a, 15d…

  6. I printed this off this morning and did not know who the setter was, but Excalibur makes sense. Favourites were 14a (I hit on the answer to this one fairly quickly) and 24d.

  7. As it’s printed in the paper, I’d always assumed you could see the compiler’s name for the Toughie. But how do you know who’s compiled the daily puzzle and is there a list of compilers together with their alternative pseudonyms for other publications?

    Agree with your criticisms of this puzzle, though in 3d at least “Rolling Stone” and “dish” are both rooted in the sixties, which does provide context to that meaning of “dish”.

    Then there were the cryptic definitions. Unlike other cryptic clues which provide two indications, it isn’t always obvious that you’ve hit on the right answer with these. They therefore need to be used sparingly and have to be particularly well done.

    1. If you select the name of a setter or a day of the week from the Categories widget in the sidebar you will see information about that setter or day. This includes the names that they use in other publications. A lot of this is available in Jonathan “Azed” Crowther’s excellent book “A-Z of Crosswords”.

  8. 11a
    Sorry to go against the flow but I think this clue is really good. There is a point to “in” at the end – the clue is suggesting that the fish would be “fencing in” the water; so “in” is both vital to the clue and a cleverly misleading tag on the end.
    I haven’t solved the crossword, just read the clues. There are a couple of dodgy ones, yes, but I think Excalibur has also come up with some belters.

    14a – maybe just needs a question mark to make it perfect.
    20a – come on chaps; it’s a super clue.
    28a – original, and very nicely presented.
    1d – excellent!
    3d – “dish” may be a 60s relic but I’ve seen it used in plenty of other crosswords without complaint.
    7d – simple wordplay but beautifully presented.
    15d – not a CD; it’s suggesting that an inventory could contain a list of inventors.
    24d – great!

    So there.

    1. I have to go with Anax, I am late to this because of the normal Thursday blog, but I actually quite enjoyed it. All in all I think Its a pretty decent Toughie… and worthy of a Thursday slot.
      p.s I personally thought 14a was very clever.

  9. Toughie 262.
    I live abroad and do not receive the DT regularly, so I probably attempt one toughie a week. I have finished them before, but rarely, as my pleasure is trying to solve without dictionary or artificial aids. Usually I find the problem is vocabulary I do not know. If the answer to the clue is a rare flower from the Kalahari desert, I am unlikely to solve it.
    262 was a marvellous crossword, with excellent clues, and I was able to finish it.
    I was sure that it would be marked down on your site, and sure enough………..!
    Presumably this means that I do not have the profile of a typical Toughie solver.
    However, your comments themselves could be more rigorous. Without listing all the contentious points, I will just mention the very first – you refer to the peseta as a South American currency, whereas it was the Spanish currency before the introduction of the Euro.

  10. Hi Clive

    Welcome o the blog from me.

    With regard to the peseta clue, it would need the word “old” or “former” to make the clue work for Spanish currency. the peseta is no longer the currency of Spain. It had to be read as South American for the clue to work in it current form.

    There were things in the puzzle to admire, but there were some dreadful clues in there. Excalibur is very clever at concise tight cluing, but on some occasions there is evidence that accuracy is sacrificed for a good clue reading, and I personally dislike that strongly.

    6 down is simply a bad clue. Dropping the definition in the middle of the subsidiary indications to make the literary allusion work is simply slapdash work.

    I don’t wish to start a PC debate but describing a pretty girl as a dish nowadays almost seems derogatory and again I woud be surprised if other crossword editors allowed it.

    Excalibur’s puzzles do tend to divide the community here into two distinct camps. I suspect that will never change. After solving the acrosses I felt this to be a reasonable puzzle, but then the downs felt as though they had been rather rushed and lacked thought an inspiration. That, coupled with this feeling that I have stepped back into the late 60’s / early 70’s diminished my enjoyment.

    I have about half a dozen books of the old Weekend Crossword puzzles (I collect crossword books) and any one of the “Stinker” puzzles from those could be used and I doubt whether anyone would find the difference.

  11. I’m mostly with Anax on this puzzle – I’ve disliked plenty of stuff from this setter in the past but thought this was good on the whole though rather spoiled by 6D. 4D might have been improved by different word-choices, I think. I can’t see the fuss about “dish” – no dictionary that I can find marks it as old-fashioned, and blokes seem equally likely to be dishes or dishy these days, so we all get “insulted”. 8A’s “leavings” is correct, and Anax has already made my point about “fenced in”. 17’s “in” link word can be observed in puzzles by plenty of good setters where I’m certain it would pass without comment. In short, grumble when there’s something to grumble about!

  12. I have refrained from commenting on Excalibur’s puzzles for some months, but my disappointment at some of the criticisms of this review by fellow bloggers has persuaded me to speak again.

    Firstly I would like to say that I do crossword puzzles in order to derive pleasure from solving them. This particular setter invariably leaves me feeling that I have wasted 30 minutes of my life and that any enjoyment that I may have derived from a handful of moderately good clues is wiped out by the rest. Several years of solving awful Sunday Telegraph puzzles in the days before our current setter took over mean that I have adopted a technique in which I enter any answer that is remotely connected with the clue then try to work out a logical wordplay using some or all of the words in the clue (not necessarily in the same order).

    My views on some of the clues which have been discussed above:

    8a – a difficult, but acceptable, double definition, so I was happy with this one

    11a – as cryptic definitions go, I thought this was passable but no more

    14a – an example of how a double-unchecked letter made this much more difficult than it should have been – most other setters would have avoided using a cryptic definition here

    17a – I have discussed this use of “in” previously, and the fact that it is used by other setters does not change my dislike of inappropriate link words – to me it is similar to the fatuous argument that because ‘S can mean IS or HAS in HE’S that ‘S in any context can also be substituted by IS or HAS

    3d – if all outdated terms were barred, setting would be an awful lot harder so I would accept this one

    4d – this brings to mind Azed’s summary of Ximenean principles:

    A good cryptic clue contains three elements:
    1. a precise definition
    2. a fair subsidiary indication
    3. nothing else

    and the third point is frequently forgotten in an attempt to improve the surface reading

    6d – this is unadulterated drivel

    15d – sorry Anax, but suggesting that an inventory could contain a list of inventors makes this a cryptic definition and I too winced when I got it

  13. Dave,

    There’s nothing like a bit of disagreement to get some debate going…

    At 14A, there’s a strong case for the double unch making the clue EASIER than it might have been! If you have the checking letters, you have MI??R? (and a very likely S as the last letter). You could have had ?I?E?S with no chance to grumble about the double unches, and not much help from the final S. If I search for MI??R in my Chambers CD-Rom, I get 10 possibilities. If I search for ?I?E?, I get 127. Admittedly, many of these are words ending -ED or -ES which couldn’t possibly precede the final S, but I know which of the two choices I’d prefer to work with!

    If you criticise “in” as a link-word consistently, fair enough (we can’t agree on everything). But my guess is that because this usage is so common, if I went back in time and looked at puzzles that tilsit has praised in the past, I could find it used in the same way without adverse comment.

    Unlike Anax, I did solve the puzzle before reading the report or commenting on it. There have been puzzles from this setter in the past which I’ve abandoned because I just can’t make sense of a bunch of vague clues in one corner, but it didn’t happen with this puzzle and there were some good clues.

    1. Peter

      I agree with you that ?I?E?S would make 14a more difficult, but then M?S?R? would have made it easy. The point I was trying to make was that cryptic definitions and double unches can be exceedingly unfair – how much easier if all grids that include them were dropped. One setter has told me that if you drop all the poor Telegraph grids (double unches, isolated corners, multiple 3 and 4 letter words) you get left with about 10 out of 100, surely a sign that a revamp is well overdue. Being a cynic I suspect that the grids are hard-coded in the newspaper software and/or CluedUp.

      Tilsit did make the point that this was one of the better Excalibur puzzles, but where I agree with him is that by the time I had completed it I had lost interest. Contrast this with an Elgar or Notabilis puzzle – they understand what a Toughie should be like. I made the point recently that it only takes one or two bad clues to spoil the effect of a number of good ones. Were it not for the self-imposed blogging responsibility I would have given this one a wide berth. Like a number of died-in-the-wool Telegraph solvers I often dip into the Guardian and wish we could have some of their setters composing for us (but not all of them!).

      1. For me, double unches are fine so long as the number of cross-checking letters is at 50% or more. I’d much rather be faced with M-S–R than -A-E-.

        What matters more is how much “sympathy” the setter has for the solver. A double-unched answer with only SENORITA letters (i.e. the most commonly used in the alphabet) cross-checked must have an easier-to-solve clue. The setter can get a bit more adventurous if the checked letters are less common – give me a pattern of P–A–X and I’m probably going to get the answer without even looking at the clue, while -I-E-E-S is going to present a tougher challenge.

      2. Although I agree that there are plenty of poor DT grids, I think your setter exaggerates. I don’t know whether the current Sunday setter is allowed to choose his own grids, but in his puzzles so far, I can’t remember a grid I really objected to and I’ll place a small bet that he’s used more than 10 different ones by now. But I’m with Anax on whether double unches are OK, subject to the additional condition used in Times grids – no double unches as the first or last two letters of a word.

        I suspect the quality of the grids has more to do with the editor’s views about (a) how much grids matter and (b) who should design new ones, than any restrictions from technology.

        1. There may be some exaggeration in te figures, but I quoted them to make a point.

          As far as the reasons they have remained unchanged – you have worked in IT for nearly as long as I have and I wouldn’t bet against my theory !!

  14. The use of “in” as a link word seems to ruffle feathers simply because it’s so innocuous. Outside direct wordplay (as e.g. a container indicator) it can have a completely valid role. To give a version of it in longhand:

    The answer to this definition can be found IN this wordplay…

    …or the other way round. For example, if I have the answer RESTORATION the definition I choose might be “amends”, so it would be fine for me to clue it as:

    Criminal in tears or about to make amends (11)

    So we have the anagram indicator “criminal” instructing us to arrange IN TEARS OR, and this is placed around (about) TO – these components thus “make” the answer. This filler is perfectly valid but it’s also misleading because we might be fooled into thinking the def could be “to make amends”.

    With different wordplay/definition components the surface might have been improved with “in” instead of “make”, but in both cases the role of the filler would be identical.

    1. Er, the RESTORATION clue isn’t much of an example – it uses IN as anagram fodder, not as a link word. I’m sure we’ve been over this ground pretty recently though, so not sure it’s worth going into any more detail.

      1. Sorry Pete – in this example the link word is “make”; it just happens that IN also appears in the clue for another reason (perhaps I should have tried to write a different example, but this was a 5-minute off-the-cuff jobbie).

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