Toughie 277

New Year’s Eve Toughie No 277 by Elgar

2 + 9 = 15

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

Elgar gives us yet another treat and a completely unexpected theme linking all of the answers.

SPOILER ALERT – only reveal the next sentence if you are really stuck

{All answers contain at least one instance of the letters RE, which are ignored in the wordplay – except for 10a, which is odd (unless I’m missing something). The first number in brackets refers to the number of letters used in the wordplay.}

My favourite clues are shown in blue (although it feels like a slightly odd thing to do – normally I’d highlight such clues only if they adhere to standard cryptic format).

For the utterly bamboozled, answers are shown within curly brackets – click and highlight to reveal them. And please chip in and let us know what you thought of the puzzle.


7a    Big noise once created by baby daughter punctuating tedium (5) (7)
{BOREDOM} I remember blogging one of Elgar’s Christmas puzzles and noting that one of the clues contained two definitions to the answer or to a wordplay component – Elgar seems to be pretty much alone in using this trick and, as here, it can be very effective. A “big noise” and something “once created by baby” can both lead to BOOM. The abbreviation for “daughter” appears inside this (is “punctuating”) to give the answer.

8a    Drive on edge of yucca plant (5) (7)
{SPURREY} A word meaning “drive” (impetus) placed before Y (the “edge” of Yucca). Interesting, this, as it uses “on” to indicate a wordplay component placed before another, and there has been a fair bit of internet debate about its apparently accepted use to only indicate “after”.

10a    We are the new and the old means by which to check conditions (8) (7,3)
{WEATHER EYE} This time RE is included in the wordplay, perhaps because it would be unfair to remove it from anagram fodder. Take WE and an anagram (new) of ARE THE, followed by an old word meaning “the” (or “you“). On edit, the clue has now been explained as WE + A (“are” – a unit of land area) + THE (new) and YE (“the” – old version). OK, I see it now, but suspect most solvers are going to miss ARE=A.

11a    Controllers of our beautiful game paid price (2) (4)
{FARE} Straightforward wordplay but a nice image which harks back to some soccer shenanigans a few years ago. This is a double definition, the answer (ignoring RE) being an abbreviation for soccer’s governing body.

12a    Concentrate politicians in part of the Dodecanese (6) (8)
{COMPRESS} The holiday island of COS is in the Dodecanese – place this around MPS (politicians) for the answer.

14a    Dock sides thus in advance (4) (6)
{SORREL} Another soccer image suggesting clubs which have had a points penalty applied prior to the start of a season. The “sides” in question are R and L, but “in advance” of this we want a short word meaning “thus”.

15a    Today you’ll want to get them all, and tonight you’ll want to make them all! (9) (11)
{RESOLUTIONS} The things we traditionally make at New Year also mean the answers to this puzzle if we disregard RE.

19a    Golfer familiarly strict (4) (6)
{SEVERE} The familiar, shortened first name of a very famous golfer points towards this answer meaning “strict”.

20a    In sport, amuse Blanchett (4) (8)
{RECREATE} This is a little more difficult because the answer has RE in it twice, but things should click into place when you remind yourself that the first name of the actress is CATE, not KATE!

22a    Not a place to get divorced (2) (4)
{RENO} Even though I suspected the answer quite early, I couldn’t get my head around NOT = NO.

23a    Commando’s info leads to wager (6) (5,5)
{GREEN BERET} Another instance of RE appearing twice, this clue cleverly spots that both halves of the phrase are real words when you remove RE from them. The first is GEN (information), the second a word for “wager”.

25a    Generous duke’s family (5) (7)
{KINDRED} This is easier once you look in the cells for where RE will fit. A word for “kind” followed by D (duke).

26a    Old vessel runs into familiar enemy (5) (7)
{TRIREME} Lovely surface reading! That good old dependable cricketing abbreviation R (runs) is placed inside that which is often referred to as “the enemy”.


1d    Platform from up on high? (5) (7)
{FORETOP} This fantastic clue is quite tricky but only because you have to think a little obliquely to understand the definitions. “From up on high” strings together very naturally as a sentence but it splits into a definition, a reversal indicator, a charade link-word and another definition. Another word for “from” is OF, which is reversed and placed on top of a word for “high” (as in the phrase “high gear”). The answer is a sort of platform on a sailing ship which is, as it happens, high up on a mast.

2d    Torn books (2) (4)
{RENT} So simple when you’ve got the puzzle theme! For the books, think of an abbreviation for part of the bible – the answer to the clue thus means “torn”.

3d    You’ll need poisonous gas and helium to be consistent (4) (6)
{COHERE} What you’ll need to solve this is the symbols for (I think – I’m not much of a chemist) carbon monoxide and helium.

4d    Dad’s up here, getting kinky kiss on evening out! (6) (5-3)
{APRES-SKI} Although I had the inklings of the solution to this pretty quickly it took me a while to see that the answer could possibly be described as an evening out – especially one following a particular mountain activity. Wordplay consists of a reversal of PA (i.e. Dad’s up) and an anagram (kinky) of KISS.

5d    Apparently undecided priest’s choice (6) (10)
{PREFERENCE} Very nice indeed. The abbreviation for priest is P, and we need to find a way of indicating that this person is undecided. One way is sitting “on the fence”, so if P is on FENCE… Again, two instances of RE are ignored.

6d    Some revolution, say, across Sahara? Not half (5) (7)
{DEGREES} Even though – after a long struggle – I managed to narrow this down to only one sensible answer, I couldn’t really see how to justify it and called for help (thanks Tilsit!). In the definition “some revolution” what we’re talking about is the units which describe part of a circle, especially on a compass. “Say” leads to EG and this is placed inside the first half of what Sahara is an example of; and that’s what really threw me, because I could only (can only, still) see “across” as a container indicator rather than one for an insertion.

9d    Old resident in 550’s landowner, not quite all there (7) (3,8)
{RED SQUIRREL} When you see numbers in a clue it’s a good idea to check your familiarity with Roman numerals. By starting with DL for 550 you’re on your way to working out that these letters contain all but the last letter of SQUIRE (a landowner). This is another answer with RE in it twice…

13d    In advance, registers soft trousers (6) (10)
{PRERECORDS} …as is this one. Take them away, and what’s left is P (soft, in music) and a shortened form of some trousers made of a particular ribbed material, apparently popular with teachers.

16d    Rose above work unit in car with zip top (6) (8)
{OVERGREW} Strange to think that this is the clue that kick started my solve, since it’s far from easy. But I’d tentatively placed the answer at 15a to give me O as the first letter here, causing me to latch onto “zip” (nothing) at the front (on “top”). The work unit could only be ERG (another crossword favourite) and, knowing the answer was likely to start with OVER-, I decided the car must be a VW. That’s when I noticed the missing RE must be the key to the puzzle.

17d    The orderly in charge is one in the minority (5) (7)
{HERETIC} Knowing that Elgar uses “orderly” as an anagram indicator helped here. Rearrange THE and add IC (in charge).

18d    Guy entertaining mass on the run, naturally? (5) (7)
{STREAMY} The “guy” here is a STAY, a kind of rope. Put this outside (so it’s “entertaining”) the abbreviation for Mass.

21d    One may be spent in US resort (4) (6)
{CENTRE} Quite an easy one, the wordplay asking us to identify a coin that you’d spend if you were in the US. The answer is another word for a (holiday) resort.

24d    One in support of European republic (2) (4)
{EIRE} Great clue to finish. One (I) is in support of (i.e. it’s underneath) the abbreviation for European.

If we want to be picky we could say there’s nothing in the puzzle’s concept to actually tell us to disregard RE in the wordplay, but once I spotted what was going on this seemed unimportant; what really mattered was the solving fun and, as ever, it’s here in spades. And clubs, hearts and diamonds – he’ll even chuck in the odd joker or three. Thank you Elgar for yet another super puzzle.



  1. Prolixic
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Apologies to anyone in the Egham and Staines area for a very large rattling sound mid-morning. It was the sound of a shed load of pennies dropping from a large height when the wordplay finally dawned on me thanks to 23a! Initially I thought that Clued Up had omitted some preamble to explain the two sets of numbers in brackets after the clues but a quick check later in the paper revealed this not to be the case. Anyway, another tour de force from Elgar to end the year.

    Favourite clues were 23a for unlocking the theme and 26a.

    Many thanks to Elgar and thanks Anax for the hints – aren’t you a day early?

    • Posted December 31, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

      We are operating a holiday schedule! Tilsit did Tuesday’s Toughie.

  2. BigBoab
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    It is only when I try to solve an Elgar crossword that I truly realise just how thick I am. I could get nowhere with this until I checked your hints, for which I am once again extremely grateful. I did like 23a and 15a however.

  3. gazza
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Brilliant, but I think that it would have been fairer to explain that the additional bracketed numbers were there intentionally and not just a production cock-up!
    On 22a I think that NO equates to NOT A, as in “there’s not a dry eye in the house”.

  4. Iolanthe
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Gazza, there were no double brackets in the original. Would this have been fairer? The editor argued not, and then the problem arose as to how to deal with the situation. The decision to use the double brackets was based on the fact that even a short preamble would have been hard to deal with online. Using asterisks to denote RE was also considered, but would have run into many problems with eg 5dn.

    Many thanks for everyone’s comments over the year. They are very useful, always read and noted by all the setters. Happy New Year to all!


  5. jetdoc
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 4:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Declaring an interest, I test-solved this without the double word-counts Once I spotted the theme when I solved 15a — which I saw as leading to both RE-solutions and RESOLUTIONS — I made pretty good progress.

    I too was a bit baffled by the apparent cluing of RE in 10a, though. Elgar did explain, but I have forgotten; maybe he’d like to elucidate.

  6. gnomethang
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Nice one Elgar, I resorted to the excellent clues from anax to get over the line here .

    Didn’t have my Enigmatic Variations head on!

  7. Posted December 31, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Personally I found the double word-counts irritating rather than helpful and would have preferred a preamble.

    For ST 2500 the clue for 1a read as follows:

    “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)”

    and I found this approach perfectly acceptable.

  8. Gary
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    With a little help I crawled across the line but do not like 18d at all. Am I missing something? Run naturally = streamy?

  9. Phil McN
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Happy New Year on behalf of the Telegraph.
    It seems a shame to give away how this puzzle works in your preamble — perhaps you should put a spoiler warning on it!
    Best wishes

    • Prolixic
      Posted December 31, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Many thanks for the past year’s puzzles. Looking forward to all that you bring us in 2010.

    • Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Have now done.

      Happy New Year to you.

  10. Greenhorn
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Despite all the comments I remain totally baffled by what this was all about.
    Take for example 1a . We know the answer is boredom. Boredom =tedium.
    A big noise is boom and putting D from daughter into boom we get bodom. But bodom isn’t a word so what has the (5) got to do with it? I don’t understand the “once created by baby”
    Sorry to show such ignorance but I really would like to know what is going on.


    • Prolixic
      Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

      The key to this crossword is on 15a (re-solutions).

      All of the clues give the required answers excluding the letters RE, which have to be inserted into the wordplay (sometimes more than once). For example in 1a, you get bodom and insert the RE to get boREdom.

      In 1a there are two subsidiary definitions for boom – as in baby boom and a loud noise. This is unusual as Anax explained.

      • Prolixic
        Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Should also have said that the two numbers in brackets work as follows:

        The first tells you how many letters can be solved from the subsidiary definition, for example “bodom” is (5). The second number gives the total number of letters in the answer – boredom (7). From the two numbers we can work out how many times RE has to be inserted – (6) (10) implies that the final answer has two instances of RE in it with the other 6 letters being obtained from the clue.

  11. Greenhorn
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:58 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks Prolix -I shouldn’t have strayed from the ordinary crossword -out of my depth here.

    • Posted December 31, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Permalink | Reply


      Today’s was the first one of this kind I can recall seeing as a Toughie, so don’t give up – there’s always tomorrow.

      I met MynoT a few weeks ago and I’m sure he said he had a themed puzzle for New Year’s Day. He pretended not to know what a blog was, and his final words before he departed were that he would try to look at my glob.

      • Prolixic
        Posted December 31, 2009 at 11:04 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Perhaps he meant that he would get back to you!

  12. Barbara
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    re: 14ac. Sorrel
    I don’t think the setter had anything in mind about soccer.
    I think the explanation is much simpler:
    The def. is Dock. Sorrel is a plant of the dock family.
    Thus = so, in advance of (ahead of) sides (R,L) gives a simple so r (re) l

    • Posted January 1, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Welcome to the blog Barbara

      I think Anax was referring to the surface reading of the clue. Thanks for pointing this out as we should have mentioned the connection between dock and sorrel.

  13. Peter Biddlecombe
    Posted January 3, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Solved quite quickly after an initial double take seeing the pairs of enumerations, but experience with similar themes in barred grid puzzles meant it was plain sailng – once you know there must be a RE (or two) in the answer, it’s usually easy to see where it is – so a ?E?E?E answer like 19A is a nice tease.

    I guess an alternative approach with the numbers might have been to print the short version only, if the software would allow that.

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