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Toughie 342

Toughie No 342 by Elgar

Little ****

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

I chose to tackle this over breakfast at a nearby Little Chef. It can be said that ideal conditions for tackling an Elgar are a pleasant, airy environment with perhaps a plateful of good food and cafetière of refreshing coffee to provide those “set it aside for a moment” opportunities. That didn’t stop me from going to the Little Chef though.

And, frankly, it didn’t help as I found this puzzle a bit of a monster in places. Predictably, I’m starting this write-up with no understanding of some of the wordplay constructs, and (since the fingers are currently busy) legs are crossed that those little lights will dawn as I write.

Favourite clues are in blue, as usual.

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1a    Arm Deva women? (10)
{WINCHESTER} As suggested by the clue, the answer is a type of weapon – a rifle. What about the wordplay? Start by remembering that W is an abbreviation for “women” and that Deva is the Roman name for Chester. So the “Deva women” could be the “— in —“.

6a    Cut across square for fix (4)
{BANG} A triple definition. A “cut across” refers to a type of hairstyle. “Square” is in the sense of “exactly”, as in “slap — in the middle”. And there’s a more obscure meaning, namely an injection of a drug (or a “fix”).

9a    Dire straits get expert long-term planner (10)
{STRATEGIST} A “dire” (or anagrammed) version of STRAITS GET will get you the answer here.

10a    Go round hospital? I’m really enjoying it! (4)
{WHEE} Trust Elgar to slip in a naughty one, missus. To “go” is in the lavatorial sense, and this is placed around the abbreviation for “hospital” to give you an exclamation you might hear on a funfair ride.

12a    In Wells, one hard up? Very much so (4)
{HIGH} Funnily enough Elgar used HG (Wells) in his Nimrod guise in the Indie a couple of days ago, albeit in a different way (for GH he cleverly observed “Wells up”). Here we take the HG and place it around I, then add an abbreviation for “hard” (as in pencils, missus). “Up? Very much so” is the def.

13a    Pain returning, she protects her pride in play (9)
{PYGMALION} This is the name of a play, and we start with a reversal of a short word meaning (informally) a pain. For “she protects her pride” think of certain animals and that their mother could be MA.

15a    Dig pecans to nuts (4-4)
{OPEN-CAST} A type of “dig” (as in mining) which is an anagram (nuts) of PECANS TO.

16a    Outline of square two-master (6)
{SKETCH} An abbreviation for “square” and a type of two-masted boat gives you an outline, or a rough drawing. A nicely concise and smooth clue.

18a    Unwisely, in hindsight, Icarus was shot (3,3)
{LET FLY} This is a crafty implied double meaning. For those who don’t quite remember the old tale, Daedalus and Icarus were able to fly thanks to wings which were attached using wax. Icarus fell to earth because he flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Thus the answer here could be read as “allowed to take off”. The proper definition here is “shot”.

20a    A legendary flier clad in sheer, grainy dress material (8)
{MAROCAIN} And so the story appears to continue! The legendary flier this time is A ROC, and this is placed (clad) in a none-too-obvious meaning of “sheer” (Chambers gives, as an example, “— force”).

23a    Shirt left on donkey’s back — anything returned? A novel catch here?… (6-3)
{TWENTY-TWO} This tricky wordplay leads us to a number which is associated with a particularly famous novel whose title has entered the language to mean an irresolvable dilemma. The “shirt” we need is T, then a word meaning “left” (departed), then the last letter of “donkey”, and finally a reversal of a typically northern word meaning “anything”.

24a    …a little bit, backing the first nine (4)
{IOTA} For this tiny piece of something, bear in mind the first nine letters of the alphabet start at A and finish at I.

26a    Empty-handed angler’s explanation providing late news? (4)
{OBIT} If you see “late news” in a crossword, listen to the little alarm bells that warn “obituary” – they will often serve you well. What about the wordplay? OK, for a fish to be caught it has to bite the lure, but if the angler returns empty-handed it’s safe to assume that zero fish bit. You see?

27a    ‘Disreputable one has no heroin’, written across page? (5,5)
{BLACK SHEEP} A “disreputable one” is the definition. “Has no heroin” points to LACKS H and, written across (around) this, is a verb meaning to “page” as on, patently, a pager. Just think of the sound it makes.

28a    AI language, high-level — though is so influenced by having it! (4)
{LISP} OK you geekies, this is for you. The first of the two meanings here is an acronym for a high-level computer programming language (it comes from “list processor”). The more familiar meaning is a speech impediment that might (just) make “so” sound like “though”.

29a    Nothing remote or futuristic about this (two-in-one?) present (4,3,3)
{HERE AND NOW} I don’t really know how to describe this clue as it comes across as quite unconventional (although completely fair). For the first word of the answer, we should think of “in this place/location”, so “nothing remote” fits. The last word relates to the present so, again, we can use “nothing futuristic” to tie in with that. As a whole, the answer can be defined as (the) “present”. Sort of.


1d    Sweep down bay tree, following wife’s lead (4)
{WASH} Thankfully more direct, this verb meaning to “sweep down” is also a “bay”, and we also have wordplay made up of ASH (a tree) following the first letter of “wife”.

2d    One-nil, right? 5-1, then one-nil again: this will reduce excitement (7)
{NERVINE} This one really caught me out until I could see how “one-nil” could mean NE. They key is to see the “-” as a minus sign, so ONE minus O (nil) becomes NE. There are two instances of this, split up by the abbreviation for “right” and the Roman numerals representing 5 and 1. The answer is a type of drug.

3d    Drink strong liquor, zero downing soft drink — extremists of the group (3,9)
{HOT CHOCOLATE} Utter torture, this one. To begin with, the answer has two definitions which appear at the start (“Drink”) and end (“group”) of the clue. For the wordplay, there is a brand of alcoholic beverage called HOOTCH, but in “zero downing” Elgar asks us to take one of the Os and move it down to the bottom to create HOTCHO. To this add a soft drink and finally add the first and last letters (“extremists”) of THE. Simples.

4d    Clue: deal with outgoing correspondence (8)
{SIGNPOST} Another pretty straightforward implied double meaning here, “clue” being the proper one. For the second, think of what someone might do (to letters) before sending them out.

5d    Might-have-beens ignore housing officer (6)
{ENSIGN} Nice easy hidden answer in “Might-have-beens ignore”.

7d    Disbelieving, I am witnessing hold-up? (7)
{ATHEIST} The answer to this crafty definition “Disbelieving, I am” can be split into two words which could be defined as “witnessing hold-up”.

8d    Young lamb bit bird (10)
{GREENSHANK} A charade consisting of a word meaning “young” (immature) and SHANK (a cut of lamb).

11d    Quick chap to speak of order just after consuming krypton (4,8)
{JACK ROBINSON} For the answer think of “quick chap to speak of” in terms of a popular phrase – “Quicker than you can say…” For the wordplay there’s JACOBINS (an “order” of monks) and ON (just after), which are placed around the abbreviation for “krypton”.

14d    A rising poet on song is a supplier of convenience (6,4)
{TOILET ROLL} The “rising poet” in use here is (TS) ELIOT – add to this an obscure word for a song (I suspect it’s similar to a roundelay but can’t be sure) and you get something which should always be on hand in the lav. I wondered if Elgar had considered a clue such as “Something you’d buy at a convenience store?” but, on reflection, that’s pretty rubbish.

17d    Being ill at ease, it hurt in travel (8)
{FAROUCHE} A word I’ve heard of/seen often without knowing its proper meaning, this answer places OUCH (it hurt!) inside FARE (travel).

19d    There’s no worse place for retirement? (3,4)
{THE PITS} I think Elgar is using the second word of this answer as a colloquialism for “bed(s)” as I’ve heard others using the same word. But you could also read it as the place where racecar drivers would go if they retired from a race.

21d    Cuckold to be suitable for performance on time (7)
{ACTAEON} Another uncommon answer but the direct charade wordplay helps; ACT (performance) on an alternative spelling of EON.

22d    Dry and sheltered place found by one PM (6)
{ATTLEE} Thankfully the name of this former PM should be familiar to all, as the wordplay takes a slight risk. We start with TT (dry) and a word meaning a “sheltered place” (out of the wind) – these two bits are “by” (next to) A (one). In a down clue I’m not really sure this is valid.

25d    Run odds Toughie setters raised (4)
{SPEW} I’m glad SP (odds) has been approved for use here as I know some editors think it’s wrong. For the answer (meaning to “run”) follow SP by reversing a simple 2-letter word for how the Toughie setters might refer to themselves. Made me feel right proper left out, that did.

This was incredibly difficult in places although, typically with Elgar, placing the answers wasn’t nearly as hard as getting to grips with how some of the clues worked.

19 comments on “Toughie 342

  1. Certainly one of Elgar’s top puzzles (they are all good). I was pleased to see no cross-reference between clues today – it’s a nice trick but it gets a bit tedious after a while.

    Favourite clue – 2 down because of the clever construct of one-nil = NE; I spent ages trying to make something from IO R VI IO

  2. Thanks Anax for the superb explanations. I managed to complete it after plenty of ‘googling’, but still had a few that I could not fully unravel (28a, 2d, 3d, 21d).

  3. I can see that I must bite the bullet and purchase Chambers. Lesser reference materials just don’t cut it at this level. A fine de-brief – thanks Anax.

  4. What a proper toughie. Got nearly all with a lot of struggle but have just given in and used the hints for the last four I needed so that I can go home and enjoy the sun.

  5. Another first-class puzzle from Elgar. I concur on 2d as favourite clue. I was puzzled by 3d with two definitions and spent some time trying (unsuccessfully) to find a reference to hooch/hootch as a verb meaning to drink strong liquor.

  6. Excelent puzzle but I needed your assistance with 2d,17d and 20a, thanks Anax and thanks also to Elgar.

  7. I no doubt would have enjoyed this Toughie had not the grid for the cryptic DT 26,222 not come up when I clicked on Clued Up’s Toughies’s icon. This happens often – I has a repeat today when I tried the Quick Prize, only to receive the grid and clues for Quick 26,222. Do other bloggers experience this frustration? The website links the wrong grids to the wrong puzzles, has failed to account for my mid March scores, repeats participants on different pages of the leader board and does not properly sort the leading times for the day. All this seems to me to be fundamental and easy to get right in the first place or fix. Am I missing something? 4,000 subscribers at GBP30 a year provides GBP120,000 to run this site, not accounting for advertising. Seems a reasonable amount.

    1. Rupert

      I have sent you a copy of this puzzle on pdf. The address you used for this comment was invalid, so i used one off an earlier comment. If you don’t receive it, write to me via the contact page or any name at

      BTW it is an increasingly common occurrence.

  8. Thanks Anax. I found this really hard – only getting a few on my own. Your review is very helpful and maybe I will start to get better at Toughies one day …

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