Toughie 306

Toughie No 306 by Micawber

Sprint to finishing line – finishing line disappears!

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

BD Rating – Difficulty ** Enjoyment ****

Probably my fastest TT solve ever until I reached the very last clue (thanks to BD for helping out). I’m not quite sure why the solve was so quick because, looking back through the clues again, I think there are some quite tricky bits; in fact there are some answers I placed without full understanding of the wordplay, so this review might just contain a few um-ah-er moments. We’ll see.

Easy as it was, it was still enjoyable. A couple of surface readings look less than convincing but I’m very biased in having that area of clueing as the main thing I aim for when writing. To many solvers it’s not that important.

As is my wont, favourite clues are in blue.

Please leave a comment telling us what you thought, and add your assessment of the puzzle by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a    Massive Attack’s zany biker glitz (10)
{BLITZKRIEG} Despite the quick solve I gave myself a small problem by misspelling this one; that made 5d rather tricky! We start with a straightforward anagram (zany) of BIKER GLITZ.

6a    Thing is what you can do on stage with such an impediment (4)
{LISP} With this speech impediment, what you might do on stage isn’t “sing” but…

9a    Half of street cut off by obstruction, turning serious (5)
{MAJOR} I’ve never been entirely sure if ROAD/STREET/AVENUE etc are interchangeable. Here we have half of ROAD plus a word for an obstruction (or a lot of stationary traffic) reversed.

10a    Caught by one exposing lies, heads of BBC intervene to close contest (4-5)
{NAIL-BITER} Informally, a NAILER is someone who exposes something as a lie (my Chambers only has “nail” as a verb in this context, but NAILER is a logical extension). This is placed around the first letters (heads) of “BBC intervene to”.

12a    Treatment in store perhaps for English right back, player that I fouled (6,7)
{RETAIL THERAPY} Almost perfect surface reading and a very amusing image. Take E (English) and R (right) and reverse them, then add an anagram (fouled) of PLAYER THAT I.

14a    Suffering from lack of crew out of season? (8)
{UNSALTED} This tricky implied double definition should be split at “…crew / out…”. A sailor is often called a SALT, so not having a crew would make a boat “un—-ed”. The second definition, although oblique, is the standard one.

15a    Port for Ukrainians overdoing it on high seas (6)
{ODESSA} Perhaps a small quibble here. The wordplay starts with OD (overdose) but I think there’s an accepted “OD-ing” which would satisfy the “overdoing it” in this clue. Join this to an anagram (high) of SEAS.

17a    Not very well employed? (6)
{INFIRM} Simple but effective, this answer (meaning “not very well”) can be split into two words – IN and a word for a business.

19a    Product of New Labour’s appearing in scene on a talkshow (8)
{NEONATAL} Hidden answer clues tend to be the easiest but this wasn’t an obvious one. The answer is hidden in “scene on a talkshow”

21a    Hide behind obvious raw material with a bit of gloss (6,7)
{PATENT LEATHER} This is a reverse charade, where the second component is described as being after the first one. “Hide” points to the same meaning of part B as it has in the answer (think animal skin), and this is placed after a word meaning “obvious”.

24a    America’s economy contracting, India coming round quickly (2,1,6)
{IN A SECOND} You need to know your abbreviations for this because the three wordplay bits are all abbreviations. They are A=America (don’t forget to add the ‘s) and ECON, with IND containing them.

25a    Don’t apply initially in combat zone (5)
{ARENA} Very nicely put together! Think of another way of saying “are not applicable” using an abbreviation.

26a    Raising agent requiring starter — there, currant bun’s rising! (4)
{EAST} I didn’t know “currant bun” was a rhyming slang for SUN but I seem to now. For where the sun rises, remove the first letter of a raising agent used in baking.

27a    Subject to mind control, destiny and almost all hope dashed (10)
{HYPNOTISED} We finish the acrosses with another (and I suspect welcome) anagram, using DESTINY and HOP(e). “Dashed” is the imaginatively used anagram indicator.


1d    Paper money in bottomless brown envelope (4)
{BUMF} Abbreviation time again. Place M (money) inside a word for brown without its final letter. “Envelope” is used nicely as an additional indicator of the container.

2d    Judge makes a habit of getting around damages (7)
{INJURES} Our old friend J=judge makes an appearance here, placed inside a word which means “makes a habit of”. Quite a tough one to crack but I like the image created by the clue.

3d    Hardline policy that might be needed to survive winter of discontent? (4,9)
{ZERO TOLERANCE} The answer (meaning “hardline policy”) is a horrible one to clue thanks to the awkward first letter. I’m not sure the “discontent” bit is really relevant here, but the mention of winter should make you think of a freezing temperature.

4d    Carelessly mistune Radio 1’s programming durations (3,5)
{RUN TIMES} An anagram (carelessly) of MISTUNE and the first letter of “Radio”. Using “1’s” to indicate the first letter is pushing things a bit but it’s forgivable in creating a coherent surface reading.

5d    English cricket team stumped — live (5)
{EXIST} For a little while I had the pattern I-I-T – eventually realising I’d been an idiot (appropriately) by getting the I and E the wrong way round at 1a. This charade uses E (English again), the Roman numeral representing a cricket team, plus the cricketing abbreviation for “stumped”.

7d    Visibly upset, makes sudden entrance after switching parts (2,5)
{IN TEARS} If you make a sudden entrance you might be “tearing in”. Change the tense of that to suit the way it’s worded in the clue, then switch the two components around for the answer.

8d    Labour barriers perhaps causes of dispute between neighbours? (5,5)
{PARTY WALLS} A far from strong clue but probably a welcome relief if this corner of the puzzle has presented any difficulties. “Labour” is a political —, and “barriers” are dividing structures.

11d    Liberal minor aristo briefly hosting important sounding diplomat (8,5)
{BLEEDING HEART} BART (minor aristo) is an abbreviation of “Baronet”. This is outside (hosting) a word which sounds like LEADING and the abbreviation for His Excellency (diplomat).

13d    One into a loud EP played over hi-fi? Not half! (10)
{AUDIOPHILE} A cleverly and intricately worked all-in-one clue. Take I (one) and place it inside and anagram (played) of A LOUD EP. In turn, place this around half of “HI-fi”.

16d    Religious education’s difficult external examination to set again (8)
{REHARDEN} No criticism of Micawber, but the answer to this one is one of those truly ugly words of a type you might expect to see in an American puzzle. Start with RE (religious education), add a word meaning “difficult”, then the letters at each end of “examination”.

18d    Oilmen, perhaps? (3,4)
{FAT CATS} A nicely observed clue which exploits the first word of the answer’s tie-in with “oil”. The answer could indeed be defined as “oilmen” but, more generally, think of merchant bankers (ahem) who rake off huge sums of money.

20d    Sailor picks up butts (7)
{TARGETS} You’d be tempted to think perhaps of water butts, but the “butts” of the answer refers to people who are the subjects of jokes or mickey-taking. This charade clue gives us TAR (sailor) and a word meaning “picks up” as in comprehends, understands etc.

22d    Nuts can go on apple (5)
{LOONY} This one I’m not sure works, although the image created by the clue is pretty good. In “can” we have a colloquial term meaning WC/bog/john etc – pick another word for this and place in on top of NY, which is called the Big Apple. Can that be reduced to the uncapitalised “apple”? Not sure. And using “go on” instead of “goes on” seems a bit dodgy.

23d    Girl finds her best friends out with the other half — it’s over (4)
{MAID} I spent ages thinking of girls’ names but the answer is just another word for a girl. And, according to the song, what are a girl’s best friends? We need to cut that word in half and reverse it. This came very close to being highlighted in blue because the surface reading is brilliant, but I think the wordplay would bamboozle the majority of solvers.

So, looking back on it all it seems slightly odd that my solve of this took so little time. What we’re your sticking points? Or did you also find it a breeze? Please give us your comments.


  1. Posted February 19, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I only ever have one complaint about Micawber’s puzzles – we don’t get enough of them!

    For me this was the most enjoyable Toughie of the year – up there with last Sunday’s Valentine’s Day puzzle from Brian Greer.

  2. gnomethang
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Very enjoyable as ever. I struggled on a couple and needed your help (thanks).

    A couple of points and a minor quibble:.

    19a: I think I am right in saying that the definition is “Product of New Labour” in which case we are looking for a noun – i.e. neonate. Neonatal is only an adjective in Chambers (relating to the newly born). Is this a slight hiccup?.

    Also, Butts were originally defined as a mound used for archery practice (the target) and the ‘Butt of the Jokes’ is dervived from there.

    Finally, re: spelling of 1a – always pronounce the second of the ei/ie – the vowel pronounced always comes last in German. This reminds me of a hilarious schoolboy effort by a friend of mine in German class.
    He wrote:

    “Ich gehe ins badezimmer um zu Schiessen” (apologies for the rusty german). When the very strict teacher suggested that he the pupil might have a dartboard on the back of the toilet door the pupil replied “No, Sir!” whereupon he received a detention.
    Made me laugh anyway.

    • Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      19a: Yes you’re right, but setters sometimes take the minor liberty of dropping words like “a” (it’s akin to turning a grammatically correct sentence into a newspaper headline), so the real def here would (should) be “A product of New Labour” used adjectivally.

      • gnomethang
        Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        Ta for that! – didn’t stop me getting the answer (eventually – I often miss containers) – It was just a slight grammatical frown so I thought I would ask.

  3. gazza
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely brilliant. My first shot at 26a was A (starter of Agent) plus SUN (currant bun) reversed (rising) – but I couldn’t make it work (just as well!)

  4. BigBoab
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Smashing crossword, really liked 13d and 21a. Great review!

  5. Nubian
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    What a quality crossword, I tried to drag it out as long as possible.
    11d was my favourite clue.
    23d is hard to get my head around for a four letter word.

  6. Prolixic
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Excellent stuff. I think Anax was being miserly with 2* for difficulty as this one took me the longest of all the week’s Toughie’s to solve. I had to stop and come back to it several times. All wonderful stuff though I agree 22d was a little left of field in terms of cluing – I got the answer but not the wordplay. Favoutie clue for the surface reading was 1a.

    • Posted February 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Big Dave said exactly the same about the difficulty rating. We don’t mention times here but I had all but 23d finished in boil-an-egg time and I don’t consider myself an expert solver. Perhaps as a setter I view clues in a different way but I can’t really quantify that as an advantage or not, so I couldn’t make the assumption that others would find it more difficult than I did.

      You’ve also got to bear in mind, of course, that if you just happen to be on the setter’s wavelength you’re likely to have far less of a struggle, and that “meeting of minds” is neither predictable nor consistent.

  7. shrike1313
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Thoroughly enjoyed working through this one. Many thanks for the guide.

    Could 20d be referring to an archery butt?

    Still laughing having read Anax’s last clue on DIY COW…

  8. the_chairman
    Posted February 19, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Only just got round to this today – very clever and enjoyable. The last one to go in was 18d and I confess that until finding this magnificent blog earlier this week, I would have resorted to hitting a letter hint on CluedUp for the C of cats. The Fat bit was obvious, but I just couldn’t see this clue at all. I was going to read the clue hint but the picture did it all. Didn’t know where it was leading.
    6a was a struggle, would have liked it phrased slightly differently. 23d, despite getting the right answer I hadn’t understood the clue until reading Anax’s analysis – maid sprang to mind quickly, then with ‘it’s over’ at the end of the clue I was working along the lines of maiden over with a bit chopped off. I filled it in and moved on – plus using CluedUp if something’s wrong it tells you before submitting.
    Anyway splendid crossword – but I’m not quite as enthused as BD above….

  9. Chris
    Posted February 20, 2010 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Wow that was tough….
    nowhere near some …eg 23d and 13d and 6ac was confused by the stage reference…,,what about “thing and dance with this impediment”…..?
    Thankyou for the help Anax.