Toughie 324

Toughie No 324 by Micawber


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

It’s my lucky day – I get a terrific puzzle from my favourite Telegraph setter to review. There are some brilliant clues and one (that’s probably brilliant!) which I can’t fully understand – so your assistance on this would be very welcome. Additionally, please feel free to leave a comment telling us what you liked or didn’t like about the puzzle.

Across Clues

1a  Health check for Dracula? (5,5)
{BLOOD COUNT} – a familiar one to start – a check to determine the number of corpuscles in a quantity of blood is also how you might describe the noble vampire.

6a  A fool, and how one should be parted from his money? (1,1,1,1)
{A S A P} – if you redefine it as (1,3) it’s a fool – and a fool and his money are soon parted.

9a  Fuel in base detonated — it’s like Mission Impossible (10)
{UNFEASIBLE} – an anagram (detonated) of FUEL IN BASE.

10a  What Vesuvius produced initially doubled — liquid’ll pour forth once its top’s blown (4)
{CAVA} – what volcanoes produce is lava. The first letter of this (L) is the Roman numeral for fifty, so we need to change that to the Roman numeral for one hundred (initially doubled) and we end up with sparkling wine, and if the cork is expelled from a bottle of this then the wine fizzes out.

12a  German course to go over and go over… (4)
{REDO} – reverse (to go over) the river Oder (German course) to get a verb meaning go over again.

13a  …and over in a Mitford-approved vein, on and on and on! (2,7)
{AD NAUSEAM} – an anagram (over) of AND is put between A and U (socially-acceptable, a usage popularised by its use in Nancy Mitford’s essay “The English Aristocracy”) and this is followed by a synonym of vein (of precious metal, say) to get a latin phrase meaning going on and on.

15a  Establish space by river and fish around (8 )
{ENTRENCH} – a verb meaning to establish strongly such that change is difficult is constructed from a word for the size of a space used in printing followed by a freshwater fish containing R(iver).

16a  Shoot convict, getting whacked after flight? (3,3)
{JET LAG} – a state of exhaustion (getting whacked) brought on by a long flight is made from a charade of a verb meaning to spurt out (shoot) and a slang word for a convict.

18a  Note frequencies after turning on ‘snooze’ (3,3)
{NOD OFF} – a phrasal verb meaning to snooze is made from one of the notes in tonic sol-fa followed by a couple of F(requencies), all put after reversing (turning) ON.

20a  Coarse stuff about one selling his soul (8 )
{FAUSTIAN} – an adjective meaning in the manner of a real-life German astronomer and necromancer who was reputed to have sold his soul to the devil (and who was the subject of Goethe’s greatest drama) is made by putting a coarse, twilled cotton fabric around A (one).

23a  Bonded tightly with outside kin amid societal breakdown after adult leaves (5-4)
{CLOSE-KNIT} – the definition is bonded tightly. Put the outer (outside) letters of K(i)N inside (amid) an anagram (breakdown) of SOCIET(a)L without the A (after adult leaves).

24a  Fatah would make heavy weather of things (4)
{PLOD} – a verb meaning to proceed slowly and laboriously (make heavy weather of things) is the organisation to which Fatah belongs plus the ‘D from a shortened form of would. Fatah is only one of the bodies which make up the PLO and equating the two is a bit like saying that the Monday Club is the same as the Tory Party.

26a  Spring fruit cored, halved and chopped about (4)
{LEAP} – right, here’s the recipe: 1) take an APPLE (fruit), 2) core it (i.e. take out the middle P, 3) halve it (to get AP and LE), 4) chop it about (i.e. rearrange the two bits) to get a verb meaning spring.

27a  ‘More pence!’ is poor men’s confused utterance (10)
{SPOONERISM} – the definition is confused utterance, named after the reverend gentleman who was noted for transposing the initial sounds of spoken words (for example, changing Poor Men’s to More Pence). [Thanks to Digby for reminding me that the answer is an anagram (confused) of IS POOR MEN’S – which means that “confused” is doing double duty, unless the definition is just “utterance”]

28a  Sovereign leaving kingdom lots of paperwork (4)
{REAM} – start with a word for kingdom and remove (not R or K for monarch, as the setter would like you to think) the L (pound, sovereign) to leave a large quantity of paper. Is this the same as paperwork?

29a  Striking endlessly once British disease (10)
{BRONCHITIS} – an anagram (striking?) of ONC(e) (endlessly) and BRITISH produces a disease.

Down Clues

1d  Over onion, say, cry (4)
{BLUB} – reverse (over) the subterranean plant of which onion is an example (say) to get a verb meaning to cry.

2d  Whack-whack-whacky (7)
{OFFBEAT} – a charade of OFF (US slang to kill, whack also being a slang word for to murder) and a verb meaning to strike (whack) produces an adjective meaning eccentric (whacky).

3d  Don’t be in a rush to put stilettos on, man? (4,4,4)
{DRAG ONE’S FEET} – we want a phrase meaning to do something slowly and reluctantly (don’t be in a rush). I can’t find a definition of drag as a transitive verb meaning to put the clothes of the opposite sex on a part of your body but that’s what is meant here, so a man who wears women’s shoes could be said (at a pinch (sic)), to be dragging his feet. Wonderful, and no arguments about the need for a question mark!

4d  Member of ruling elite refined oil, rich one left controlling Georgia (8 )
{OLIGARCH} – an anagram (refined) of OIL precedes R(i)CH with I (one) having left, with GA (Georgia) inside (controlling).

5d  Wartime currency only exchanged between allies across table (6)
{NYLONS} – allies across table is a neat way of saying bridge partners. Put an anagram (exchanged) of ONLY inside to get the items of clothing which were used (along with chocolates) for bartering (a form of currency) during the war.

7d  Initially successful food site will peak at 964m (3,4)
{SCA FELL} – the second-highest peak in England (the highest, which is quite close, has the same name with PIKE stuck on the end) is constructed from S(uccessful), a place where you buy a snack (food site) and a contraction of (wi)LL.

8d  They’re found on moors with map, staring wildly (10)
{PTARMIGANS} – an anagram (wildly) of MAP STARING.

11d  Acts foretold in this soliloquy from Lady Macbeth, say (6,6)
{QUEEN’S SPEECH} – double definition, with the split between “this” and “soliloquy”. What is read out at the State Opening of Parliament contains the Government’s legislative programme (acts foretold) and a soliloquy by Lady Macbeth (or Cleopatra, say) might be described as this.

14d  The special talent of Londoners might be expressed thus: new city in old one’s native style (10)
{VERNACULAR} – I don’t fully understand this one so any help will be welcome! The definition (I think) is native style (i.e. how natives of a place speak), and new city in old one could be LA inside UR. It’s possible that the special talent of Londoners might be “fair knack”, expressed as vernac (I believe that “the knack” is the ability to use Cockney rhyming slang). But it’s all a bit tenuous and I’m not sure that any of it is right. [Thanks to Anax for suggesting that ver is a loose sound-alike of the Estuary English for “the”]

17d  What shimmers? Bit of brass may (8 )
{HAWTHORN} – the definition is “may” and it’s a thorny shrub which blossoms in the Spring. We want an anagram (shimmers) of WHAT followed by a brass instrument (bit of brass).

19d  Play about nymph in three-dimensional scene (7)
{DIORAMA} – put a synonym for a play around (about) a nymph loved by the god Zeus to get a miniature three-dimensional scene.

21d  Press international holy man — he may not be saying what he means (7)
{IRONIST} – put together a verb meaning to smooth clothes (press), I(international) and the usual abbreviation for a holy man.

22d  It says to respect the old man as equal (2,1,3)
{ON A PAR} – a homophone (it says) of Honour Pa gives us a phrase meaning equal to. Any comments?

25d  Native Australians consider sending up English (4)
{EMUS} – start with a verb meaning to reflect or ponder in silence (consider) and promote (sending up, in a down clue) the final E(nglish) from last to first letter to get Australian flightless birds.

I loved nearly all the clues today, especially 26a, 2d, 5d, 11d and 25d, but my clue of the day is 3d. What about you? – leave us a comment with your views.


  1. Mike (Touchwood)
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Excellent crossword, excellent review.

    I agree entirely with your choices for favourite clues – but would have included (maybe controversially) 22d – the homophone(s) are maybe a little tenous but it wasn’t difficult to get and I enjoyed it.

    Can’t help with 14d – one of the last to go in for me and didn’t get as far as the review does with untangling it.

    Minor quibble with 28a – as far as I’m aware a sovereign (21 shillings in old money) and a pound aren’t the same – am I wrong?

    • gazza
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      It was a guinea that was worth 21 shillings. A sovereign was worth a pound.

      • Mike (Touchwood)
        Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        Doh! How could I have forgotten that? Thanks Gazza.

  2. Libellule
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Excellent crossword, and an enjoyable review. Thanks Gazza.
    Apologies, although I got 14d, I am no wiser re. the word play.
    Was it just me or did anyone else notice the simlarity betwwen 16d in the normal cryptic and 18a in the toughie?

  3. Jezza
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    A cracker today.. very enjoyable! Spent longer on the bottom half than I needed to, because I kept wanting to fit HEEL into the last part of 3d for some strange reason, as this would only make sense in the plural. 14d eluded me other than its definition of ‘native style’. Thanks Gazza

  4. BigBoab
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Great crossword, great review, I think your surmise is correct re 14d but it really is tenuous, great fun though!

  5. Anax
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Looks to me like it’s based on “the knack” translated into a lazily informal “ver” for “the” and a homophone of “knack”.

    • gazza
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Anax. I’ve never heard of “ver” being “the”. Is this as in Estuary English faver = father?

      • Anax
        Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I’d guess so. “Ver” is by no means a dictionary word but you can imagine it as a lazy, uber-Cockneyfied version of “the”.

    • gnomethang
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      Well, I am a regular subscriber to Viz magazine and the occasional cartoon called ‘Cockney W****r’ (They probably spell it W**kah) will elp!.
      Micawber’s step-dad’s ennunciation is simply divine!

  6. Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    You didn’t mention in your review, Gazza, that the answer is also an anagram of “is poor mens”. Was that implied? A great clue, I thought.

    • Posted March 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, 27a I should have said.

    • gazza
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Digby. I did know that when I solved it (in fact that’s how I solved it) but oddly, I’d forgotten it by the time I got to write that bit of the review. I’ll update it.

  7. Prolixic
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Top notch puzzle from Micawber – great fun and some brilliant clues. Many thank to him for the crossword and to Gazza for the notes. I too wondered about 14d. The closest “mangling” of “the”, I could think of was the usage were “brother” becomes “bruvver”. In addition to the clues you have highlighted as good ones, I would add 17d.

  8. soldier
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    if you google vernac it is shown as an abbreviation (from vernacular itself) for native. as such I assume it’s vernac plus ur round la (hence style). That’s how I did it but could easily be wrong.

    • gazza
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      I’m not keen on that. It’s making part of the wordplay an abbreviation of the full answer, and it doesn’t (unless I’m missing something) explain the Londoners.

  9. soldier
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink


    Totally agree with you. I certainly didn’t put that forward as the solution, merely the way I arrived at it.

  10. soldier
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I note that some of the setters appear to comment on this blog.

    Are we likely to hear the full explanation from Macawber?

    • gazza
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Micawber has visited in the past, but doesn’t do so on a regular basis, so we can hope.
      I think that we probably now have the wordplay for 14d (thanks to the comment from Anax), i.e. ver nac (“the knack”, knowledge of Cockney Rhyming slang) in what sounds like (might be expressed) Estuary English plus LA inside UR.

  11. micawber
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Oops, caught out lurking! I didn’t want to comment too soon, because I think sometimes when the setter pops up it seems to draw a line under the debate.
    Thanks very much for the blog, Gazza, and all the comments. ‘Ver nac’ was indeed just a dubious Cockney homonym for ‘the knack’. As my (step) old man used to say, “forty fahsand fevvers on a frush’s froat”. But the more tenuous the homonym, the more I try to distance it with words like ‘might be’.
    Gazza is quite correct to point out that PLO and Fatah are not quite synonymous, so that was a bit loose, but Fatah is the largest faction in the PLO, and the dominant one, so I don’t think the Monday Club analogy is quite right either.

    • gazza
      Posted March 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for dropping in and confirming the wordplay for 14d, and thanks for the puzzle which I thoroughly enjoyed.
      I agree that the Monday Club is not a good analogy, but it was the best I could think of at the time!

  12. Mike Kent
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    RE : Ad nauseaum = To disgust or satiety
    Ad Infinitum = To infinity

  13. gnomethang
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    2d – what a lovely clue!
    Ran through this with a cold drink and it’s an excellent thing.
    Being quite Estuary I got the ver nac business – gawd bless ya!
    Thanks to gazza and Micawber

  14. lab
    Posted March 24, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    What a fun crossword. I too had ad infinitum for a while and ‘ heel’ not feet. Thanks

  15. Derek
    Posted March 25, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Started this late last night and solved the top half before dropping off to sleep. Completed it this morning. Got 14d but did not quite follow it – thanks to the comments all is now reasonably clear. Am more used to the West of Scotland vernacular!
    Some very good clues. I liked 1a, 12a, 15a, 20a, 24a & 27a. 3d, 5d, 7d, 11d & 17d.
    My rather old map of Cumbria gives Sca Fell as 972m!
    Everything changes with time due to tectonic movement.

  16. Derek
    Posted March 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    RE Sca Fell – the map referred to above was dated 1988. I unearthed my 1999 edition of AA Large Scale Map of GB and there Sca Fell is indeed 964m! In many of the articles on Sca Fell e.g. Wikipedia there is a plethoea of Values!

    • gazza
      Posted March 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      It’s made more confusing by the similarities in the names of Sca Fell (964 metres, as you say) and the neighbouring Scafell Pike (978 metres).