Toughie 286 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 286

Toughie No 286 by Messinae

No complaints. Well… Just one.

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BD Rating – Difficulty **Enjoyment ***

I’ll put my hands up and admit it – I have occasionally joined in with comments about the Toughie not being the hardest crossword to emanate from Wapping. This was definitely on the easy side, but I was grateful. Having just watched my daughter in panto and returned to catch up on the snooker, accompanied by a bottle of Italian red, it was a late night and I doubt my brain would have been up to a much stiffer challenge.

This one has good, sound clueing throughout, albeit with no fireworks, marred very slightly by what appears to be an error at 5d.

As ever my favourites are shown in blue but, apart from 5d, everything warranted a generous nod to the setter – the clues are concise, accurate and, almost without exception, very smooth.

Leave a comment telling us what you thought. You can also add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a    Listener’s help in puzzling met rapture (3,7)
{EAR TRUMPET} We start with a easy anagram (puzzling) of MET RAPTURE to give us an old-fashioned device for the hard of hearing.

6a    Confusion in the City of London on a grand scale (4)
{EPIC} I had to rattle the braincells a little to remember the alternative spelling (and meaning) PI for “confusion”. Put this inside the postcode identifier for the City of London.

9a    Swiss city giving support to pound (5)
{BASEL} Place a word for “support” (a low, supporting structure) next to L (pound). At first I was thrown by this as I considered the incorrect spelling of the place name.

10a    Reject and criticise person who’s fooled around with one being taken in (9)
{REPUDIATE} The wordplay is more involved here. The definition is “reject”. To “criticise” is to RATE (OK, a slightly obscure meaning), and inside this we have a reversal of DUPE (a person who is fooled – note the clever apostrophe) and I (one).

12a    The force constituting heart-throbs for many teenage girls (3,4,2,4)
{THE BOYS IN BLUE} A nice contemporary reference to give us an implied double definition, the second referring to a boy band about whom I don’t know much, but I think one of their hits was “Breathe Easy”. I may be wrong!

14a    Well protected from cold rain pouring (8)
{IRONCLAD} Another anagram – quite a tasty one – of COLD RAIN, although the indicator “pouring” doesn’t quite hit the spot for me.

15a    Great hunter disturbed minor deity at first (6)
{NIMROD} For the great hunter in question, it will be helpful to also think of a piece by (and an alternative pseudonym for) Elgar. Wordplay involves an anagram of MINOR and the first letter of “deity”.

17a    One paid to take out one trademark in Chinese (6)
{HITMAN} When you see “Chinese” in a clue put “Han” at the top of your candidate list; it’s quite a popular one. Here, it is placed around I (one, again) and the abbreviation for “trademark”.

19a    Great terror about medical upset — widespread disease (8)
{PANDEMIC} A very good clue, although a slight wordplay liberty has been taken with “upset” as a reversal indicator – it would normally apply to a down answer. Place PANIC (great terror) around a reversal of MED (short form of “medical”).

21a    Perhaps trifles about love (5,8)
{SWEET NOTHINGS} This is far cleverer than it looks at first, as I’d thought it was just a pun based on “sweet”. It’s more intricate than that, wanting the plural of that be placed around what “love” means (in the tennis sense). The result is a very good &Lit.

24a    Fruit French hostelry keeps in (9)
{AUBERGINE} Time for another song reference, methinks, but from me not the setter. For the French hostelry, cast your mind back to 1990 and a song by Chris Rea; then place this around IN.

25a    Row about science gets award (5)
{OSCAR} A refreshingly unexpected take on a crossword stalwart. To row is to OAR – put this outside an abbreviation for “science”.

26a    Relations are finally over for them (4)
{EXES} I’ll bet many of you thought this was just a slightly weak cryptic definition, but there is wordplay at work. “Relations” is a drawing room equivalent of that 3-letter word for, er, you know, er, doing it. Add the last letter of ARE, reverse all of it (“over” is the indicator) and you’ll see how nicely this one works.

27a    Sporting event held in Irish town mostly (10)
{PENTATHLON} So, did any of you put in HEPTATHLON and wonder why you couldn’t make it work? The last bit is right, ATHLON being one letter short (“mostly”) of ATHLONE, but the bit before that is a word meaning “held in” as in, for example, emotions.


1d    Fit up an island (4)
{ELBA} This is very easy indeed when you think of the classic Napoleonic palindrome “Able was I…”

2d    Italian food is consumed by king and emperor (7)
{RISOTTO} As soon as I saw “emperor” there could only be one answer, especially since my knowledge base of 7-letter Italian dishes consists of less than a handful of possibilities. Place IS inside (consumed) R (king) and the first name of Mr Bismarck.

3d    Exciting ride as ship goes under big wave (6,7)
{ROLLER COASTER} The exciting ride can be a physical one or a euphemistic one. The very easy wordplay puts a type of ship under a large ocean wave.

4d    Spoil something sweet putting in alternative herb (8)
{MARJORAM} This is nicely constructed. To spoil is to MAR, then place OR (alternative) into something sweet that often goes on toast.

5d    Uncover base trade fairs (5)
{EXPOS} An unfortunate boob, methinks. To uncover is to EXPOSE and we need to remove the last letter for the answer, so I’d guess “base” should have been “baseless” or “debased”. Incidentally, behind the scenes we’ve been wondering if “base” is supposed to be translated to its similar “debased” meaning, but for me this can’t work as it’s what I call a “missing step” – we have to think of another word for “base”, then think of alternative way in which that word could be read – just as bad as an indirect anagram (in which the fodder isn’t actually given – instead you get a definition for it).

7d    Nobleman taken in by a collector of gems (7)
{PEARLER} I do like clues where a single – yet vital – component is so small you read straight through it. The nobleman we want here is EARL and this is inside a word meaning “a”, as in “Petrol is about £1 a litre”.

8d    Know-all always would get in to get on (6,4)
{CLEVER DICK} And another example of cryptic trickery that takes a liberty based on logic rather than grammar. A word for “always” is EVER – a phrase for “always would” could be “EVER WOULD” and, of course, the use of an apostrophe would justify shortening this to EVER’D. Put this inside a word meaning “to get on (with another person)”.

11d    Dog kept by Jordan died in Monte Carlo (6,7)
{DANDIE DINMONT} The clue itself isn’t a knockout blow, but a 13-letter hidden answer will always get my vote. Look to see what is “kept” by Jordan died in Monte Carlo”. We can argue that “Carlo” is irrelevant but I have mixed feelings – Monte Carlo is a unit, a single item that happens to be split into two words. Perhaps, to play safe, Montenegro could have been used, but I think it would have spoiled the image a bit.

13d    Doctor dashing with the poison (10)
{NIGHTSHADE} “Doctor” is a great anagram indicator! Use it to mix up DASHING and THE to find the deadly poison.

16d    The tanks deployed in Central Asian city (8)
{TASHKENT} Another anagram, but easier to spot, using “deployed”. The anagram fodder is THE TANKS.

18d    Master tucking into very large drink gets shake (7)
{TREMBLE} The abbreviation M (for “Master”) is inside TREBLE, as suggested by “very large drink”. Can one order a treble? It doesn’t really matter, as this part of the clue is making a suggestion rather than stating a fact, so it’s fine by me.

20d    Oliver perhaps makes outrageous claim about us (7)
{MUSICAL} To find what “Oliver” is an example of, rearrange the letters of CLAIM and place them around US. The only slight niggle I have here is that as far as I know the show in question has an exclamation mark, which means it would be inaccurately shown as the definition here.

22d    The Sailor Man’s dainty dish? (5)
{OLIVE} Nice little double definition here – think Popeye!

23d    Architect right in three ways (4)
{WREN} The name of this very famous architect comprises R (right) inside three of the points of the compass (all but S).

So, how did you do?

15 comments on “Toughie 286

  1. This was a smashing puzzle from Messinae. My favourite was 12a, I laughed out loud when the copper dropped. Hot on the heels of 12a was 11d. At long last, I finally spotted an “a” = “per” clue in 7d. Many thanks to Messinae for the puzzle and thanks to Anax for the hints.

  2. I enjoyed this even if it was easier than the cryptic. I’m probably wrong but in 5d I read it to mean “uncover the base, i.e. the s of exposes leaving a word for a trade fair.

    1. Sorry, I meant the e off base not the s off exposes. I too had a heavy night though it was on the wate of life and not red wine.

      1. It still wouldn’t work for me, BigBoab, as it would imply that “base” could somehow mean “expose”.
        I would like to add, though, that small mistakes like this do crop up, and while we can have a bit of a grumble when they do they only go to show that the tasks of setting/editing are done by humans and we’re none of us perfect. We’ve all agreed so far that this was a very enjoyable puzzle and I believe that’s the memory we should be left with.

  3. I’m probably wrong as usual, but 5d, uncover = expose, e = the musical key which has this note as its base ( Chambers ) trade = get rid of, making expos which are fairs. 26 has to be the best of todays clues,super but easier than the cryptic crossword.

    1. I’m sure the most likely explanation for 5d is a setting/editing mistake, perhaps a typo. Kram – “e” is the base of natural logs, but “trade” meaning “get rid of” is not something I’d come across.
      We’ve had two attempted justifications of the clue, so how about… BASE is obsolete spelling of BASS which is a (not very good) homophone indicator for EXPOSE & EXPOS
      Can anyone continue the trend a come up with an even worse explanation?

      1. Messinae is a puritan and therefore “base” to him = “sex pose”. Take the covers of this to get “Expos”.

        1. Thanks gnomethang. Some of the clues were on the hard side, but I hope that didn’t spoil your enjoyment too much.

    2. Anax and I were discussing this in the early hours of this morning – i suggested baseless instead of base and he liked debased but neither are very good.

    3. Another idea: Linguistically, “Base” = “Stem” and the stem of “Expose” is “Expos” (which can then form words like “Exposing”). Probably not what the compiler had in mind, but plausible.

  4. Despite the above, and as Anax pints out, this was still a V Enjoyable affair for me.
    I missed some of the more subtle wordplay (particularly the pump of rump one!) and the &Lit Trifles but had lots of fun doing it. 21 a was favourite for that reason.

    Thanks Anax and Messinae

  5. For once finished the Toughie – must have been easy! Got a giggle from 21a and enjoyed 24a – must be the French Canadian in me!

  6. Nice toughie – able to finish it so was very pleased with myself as I usually struggle with the toughies. My favourite clue was 11d and agree with elcid re 21a.

  7. Have to say a fair but tough enough (for me) challenge. Found it harder than the regular but managed to get it done eventually. I loved 11d a breed I had never heard of.

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