Toughie 338 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
View closed comments 

Toughie 338

Toughie No 338 by Osmosis

Please check your indicators are working

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

If you like your Toughies tough this one’s definitely for you… or was it just me? After 15 minutes I had only a handful of answers and wasn’t sure where the next was coming from. The problem seemed to be a fairly large number of long-ish clues and quite abstract surface readings which looked hard to break down but, as it turned out, the main difficulties were unusually presented (and occasionally questionable) wordplay indicators.

Although my enjoyment rating of three stars reflects the fact that not many clues were really satisfying to solve, there were some super ones as well, 29a probably being the pick of the bunch – this, and the others I liked, are shown in blue.

We really appreciate your comments, so please give us your thoughts on this puzzle. You can also add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a    Pioneer in certain fields seeing decay in city on plane (6,4)
{JETHRO TULL} To my shame this was a very late entry in the grid which should have come far sooner. The answer places a word for “decay” (noun or verb) in HULL (city) which is on (following – one of those now very specific charade indicators; in an across clue “on” can only mean “after”) JET (plane).

6a    Novel part of Requiem Mass (4)
{EMMA} This deserves the blue highlighter; a simple hidden answer in “Requiem Mass” but I don’t think I’ve seen this crossword stalwart clued this way before.

9a    Mate shelters cold rodent (10)
{CHINCHILLA} A bit of a chestnut in terms of wordplay make-up, place CHINA (mate – from CRS “china plate”) around a word meaning “cold”.

10a    Source of pot, grass, dope (4)
{PRAT} Despite the slightly dodgy first letter indicator “source of” (for the P of POT – add this to a word meaning “grass” in the sense of “to grass someone up”) this clever marriage of three different words for marijuana deserves a dose of blueness; none of those three words actually means marijuana in the clue/answer.

12a    Speech broken by dentist’s latest brace (4)
{STAY} Here we have SAY (speech – slightly left-field definition) around the last letter of “dentist”. “Latest” as the final letter indicator seems a bit iffy – what do you think?

13a    Ohio dance Academy backs American with no form (9)
{AMORPHOUS} A four-piece charade and reversal, using OH (abbreviation for “Ohio”), a word for a dance/ball and the abbreviation for “Academy” all reversed and finished off with US (American).

15a    Church official, very wasted in taxi, knocked back wine (8)
{BERGERAC} One of the toughest clues to crack, this one starts with VERGER but in “very wasted” we have an oblique instruction to remove V from the beginning. This is placed inside a word for “taxi” which has been reversed.

16a    Moor snubbed Turkish capital verbally (6)
{ANCHOR} How far is this one stretching the rules? The Turkish capital is ANKARA but the clue offers “snubbed” as an instruction to chop off the final letter; then we have to treat the remainder as a homophone. What do you think – a step too far?

18a    Number of jurors stay here? (6)
{TWELVE} This one raised a big smile for its deviousness; how many of you put the answer in and completely missed what the wordplay was about? I did, for a while, before eventually spotting the answer at 12a.

20a    Thinker conducts reflective work by Lakes, a comparatively calm place (8)
{MILLPOND} This little stinker has the word “conducts” serving as a container indicator; my dictionaries offer a number of definitions which confirm the “carrying” idea but I’m not sure it translates directly into a cryptic clue indicator. Anyway, the “thinker” is MIND, and this is placed around OP (work = short for “opus”) and a repeated abbreviation for “lake”, these four letters being reversed.

23a    Those people, unconfined, like song and dance — such as this? (3,6)
{THE MIKADO} This consists of THEM (those people), then IK – which is the word “like” but with the outside letters removed, so it’s “unconfined”(?) – and finally a word meaning “song and dance” as in “fuss”.

24a    Ditch central member of the Scandinavian band (2-2)
{HA-HA} “Ditch” looks like a verb here, but it’s a noun, the answer being a type of ditch which usually contains a sunken fence. Take the middle letter of “tHe” and add these 80s popsters:

26a    X appends thank-you letter (4)
{IOTA} X represents the number TEN, so start by re-representing that as a 2-digit number using letters and add a short word meaning “thanks”. At first I wondered about “appends” as it suggested the two components were the wrong way round, but there are two ways of reading it, one of which is perfectly good.

27a    80s fashion icon displayed by the old school member? (4,6)
{GREY MULLET} Take the awful 80s haircut below and place it after a word which can generally mean “old” (think of the phrase “old and —“) to give a type of fish. “Displayed by” doesn’t specifically say the first bit should come after the second, which is one of the reasons this clue held me up.

28a    Pride perhaps comes before a grand fall (4)
{SINK} Very nice construction! Start with something “deadly” of which “sin” is an example and add a letter which is one of the abbreviations for 1,000 (grand).

29a    Bet cries ‘Time’ amidst environment of booze (10)
{SWEEPSTAKE} My favourite clue of the set for its Coronation Street imagery. “Bet” doesn’t refer to the busty barmaid – it is in fact the answer’s definition. The wordplay uses WEEPS (cried) and T (abbreviation for “time”) placed inside a type of Japanese wine.


1d    Seaman appearing before the Queen on deck? (4)
{JACK} This double meaning refers to a sailor and also a playing card, but I’m not sure about “on” where “in” should, strictly, be the right word.

2d    Write openly, encapsulating vacuous thought somewhere online (7)
{TWITTER} This cleverly contemporary comment takes an anagram of WRITE (“openly” is the indicator) and places it around the first and last letters of “thought”. “Vacuous” is an odd choice to indicate this but it works very well in the clue.

3d    Comic prank, nicking tons, gives Ray jitters (5,7)
{RICKY GERVAIS} A prank is a TRICK, but we have to “nick” (i.e. cut off) the first letter, then add an anagram of GIVES RAY.

4d    Fringe artist, performing a turn in brown boat (8)
{TRIMARAN} Here we have RIM (fringe) and a reversal of RA (abbreviation for “artist”) placed inside a sort of brown colour.

5d    One penny’s dropped in ice cream lounge (6)
{LOLLOP} Not really sure about this. Starting with LOLLIPOP we have to remove a letter representing “one” and another representing “penny” – but it’s the old, pre-decimal penny and perhaps this needs to be indicated more explicitly these days than it would have to be perhaps 10/20 years ago. I’m also not sure if LOLLIPOP can be defined as “ice cream”; usually if I’m after some frozen refreshment on a hot day it’ll be a choice between a lollipop or an ice cream.

7d    Tycoon promoted hotel with false spirit (7)
{MURDOCH} This three-part reversed charade (where “promoted” serves as the reversal indicator) takes H (hotel), COD (false) and a type of alcoholic drink (spirit).

8d    Anonymous touts hassled drama group for the fastest way to La Scala? (10)
{AUTOSTRADA} I had to delve deep into Chambers to eventually reach the abbreviation “a” for “anonymous”. Start with this, then add an anagram of TOUTS and then the famous academy which teaches the dramatic arts.

11d    TV sitcom symbolising broadcaster’s 24/7 access? (4,3,5)
{OPEN ALL HOURS} Quite a weak hybrid of double meaning and cryptic definition, but the answer is this:

14d    Medical section suddenly escorts one with TB (10)
{OBSTETRICS} For this hospital department, make an anagram (“suddenly” is the somewhat odd indicator) of ESCORTS, I (one) and TB.

17d    Bird covers loft floor to lay computer unit (8)
{KILOBYTE} Not a great surface reading but the wordplay is very concisely done here. The bird in question is a KITE and this is placed around (covers) a word meaning “to loft” or send skyward and the last letter of (“floor to” – OK because this is a down answer) LAY.

19d    Toffees becoming green through age (7)
{EVERTON} Another one where I’m not sure about indicator usage, “becoming” being the word that doesn’t quite seem to fit. For the answer (“Toffees” refers to a soccer team) place VERT (an archaic/heraldic word for “green”) inside a word which means a very long time.

21d    Top-class group of stars retired outside pub, someone lighting up Hamlet? (7)
{OPHELIA} Here’s a tough one, relying on a bit of literature knowledge and some skill in arranging wordplay components. “Top-class” points to AI and the group of stars refers to the constellation LEO. Reverse these and place them around the abbreviation for “public house”. “Someone lighting up Hamlet” is a sweet definition.

22d    Geordies here drink and argue (6)
{JARROW} This location, where you’d find many Geordies, consists of a colloquial word for a drink/pint and ROW (argue).

25d    Bad chesty cold, hard to shift = infection (4)
{STYE} A lovely clue to finish, all the better because it’s for a crossword stalwart which is rarely clued with imagination. The answer, an eye infection, is made up of an anagram of CHESTY from which we remove the abbreviations C (cold) and H (hard).

Not much to add really; no desperately low spots and a few very high ones in a puzzle which I think will offer a big challenge to most.

For those of you who tackle my Independent puzzle tomorrow, don’t be afraid of the “combination lock” clue – it’s not as hard to crack as it looks!

21 comments on “Toughie 338

  1. I must have clicked on the setter’s wavelength, because I found this mostly straightforward. I really enjoyed it, and thought there were some really cracking clues today. Thanks to Osmosis, and to Anax.

  2. Blimey!, Doesn’t John Nettles look young?!
    Absolutely concur with the difficulty, I also had about 5 clues in after 20 minutes on the train. Thankfully the tube provided more inspiration and I eventually had two left when the blog turned up (Thanks!).
    I missed the tycoon (somewhat strangely as it was by no means the hardest clue!) and although I was thinking about the Mullet I couldn’t get the Grey. Never worn one!
    I certainly scratched my head when I put 18a in.
    Favourites were 1a, 10a and 15a.
    I was going to pull the setter on the fact that in 2d the thing that is thought or published is actually a ‘Tweet’ (I know, Get a life you geek!) until I reread the wordplay and realised that the definition was for the program/servers etc which are all online somewhere.
    Thanks for the review and thanks to Osmosis for a fine workout.

  3. I found this another mixture of very simple and very difficult clues.I liked 11d and 29a, I am to old to appreciate 1a. Great review.

    1. I’m a bit surprised by your comment about 1a, BigBoab, since he died in 1741 :D (having invented several agricultural implements, notably the seed drill – hence the reference to certain fields).

    2. I expect you meant the group, as opposed to the inventor? Otherwise, you should be in the Guinness Book of Records!

      1. Thanks Digby (et al) I did mean the group, though somedays I do feel as old as the original.

  4. Agree that too many clues – 6 at least – depended upon somewhat flaky or imagination-stretching indicators. But also some very clever clues to balance this. Thought 22d just about deserved the blue highlighter.

  5. Brilliant workout from Osmosis today – many thanks to him. This has been one to chew over a savour and worth every minute of it. Thanks for the notes Anax and for the explanation of 18a.

    1. Hello sweetie! Dave has one of mine in the system for NTSPP but I think it may be a couple of weeks away yet (I only submited it earlier this week so can’t imagine there aren’t already a couple in the pipeline).

      However, because the Tele accidentally published a fairly recent puzzle today I got my finger out and cobbled together a spare for the benefit of those experiencing deja vu:

      I’m not sure of the difficulty level – it may be slightly harder than the usual Tele daily, but nothing excessive.

      1. PS: Yes, I did enjoy Italy thank you very much (never got round to replying to your original question). The last day (Friday) was spent on the beach – sunshine, 25C, lovely jubbly.

    2. Tomorrows NTSPP – 010 is Mixed Abilities by Radler. The idea is that the down clues are easier than the across clues!

      Anax will be back next week!

  6. I loved it – favourite clues were 29a and 22d.
    I was a bit confused by the hint on 5d. Surely 1p is what we use for penny now, as opposed to the 1d of pre-decimalisation days?
    In 14d “suddenly” seemed quite bizarre as an anagram indicator and it’s not as if helps the surface reading – I wondered if it was a misprint.

  7. Same experience as Anax – a mixture of good clues and dodgy bits – “snubbed” and “conducts” were both dud indicators for me.

    If anyone’s still reading, do try the Anax Saturday Indie puzzle – difficult but very good.

  8. I got the top half of this out without much trouble but then had to abandon it due to more Important problems!
    I thought that 1a was magnificent. I also liked 9a, 13a, 15a, 4d & 7d.

    Hope to finish the next puzzle completely.

Comments are closed.