Toughie 354

Toughie No 354 by Elgar

The girls at 45

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

Well, this was a struggle – but an immensely satisfying one. I don’t expect total agreement with my star ratings, but it seems likely that many of you will call it either 4/5 or 5/4. The difficulty came from clever clueing rather than obscurity – in fact there was only one bit (a wordplay component) I needed to look up.

It took a long time to get going, with only four answers placed on my first run through, but in the end, when I looked back on it, my very slow solve was down to absolutely fair deception from the setter. There aren’t really any LOL moments but plenty of “Oh, you clever bugger”. There was some extra help when I noticed the likelihood of four symmetrically placed girls’ names and I wondered if the grid contained any further thematic material, but I haven’t spotted anything so far. Another thing I noticed was a generous smattering of modern phrases and colloquialisms which certainly helped to give the puzzle an air of freshness and originality.

Favourite clues are in blue.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts on the puzzle. You can also add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


7a    Enjoy eating bananas with great speed (4,3)
{LIKE MAD} Despite being easier than it looks this was my last entry. It’s a straightforward charade (word sum) using a word for “enjoy eating” (or just “enjoy”) and a word for “bananas” as in bonkers, crazy, out to lunch.

8a    The man sporting top that is item from car boot sale? (7)
{CHEAPIE} “The main” points to HE, and HE appears in (is “sporting”) a type of hat – follow this with the Latin abbreviation which means “that is”.

10a    Dutch duke aboard rickety Iron Horse (3,7)
{HER INDOORS} A great image here and a deceptive clue. “Dutch” is the crafty definition – think of him below! For the wordplay take D (duke) and put it inside an anagram of IRON HORSE.

11a    A pint of beer not quite finished by Greek hero (4)
{AJAX} Got this answer very quickly but struggled to understand it. Our Greek hero is made up of A, then JA(r) – “pint of beer not quite finished” – and a letter that can mean “by” (as in “times”). I’m not overly keen on defined (as opposed to plainly given) 3-letter words being shortened as it often asks too much of the solver.

12a    Unlawful entry gained by inserting spring into lock (8)
{TRESPASS} Another excellently convincing surface in a not-too-difficult clue. For the “unlawful entry” answer put SPA (spring) inside a word for “lock” (of hair).

14a    Woman said rocky bed’s way to succeed (6)
{SYLVIA} Another one whose wordplay held me up even after I’d got the answer. It consists of SYL (which sounds like SILL – a rocky bed) and a word we usually use to mean “by way of” or “through”; Italians use it a lot for their road names.

Ms Plath

15a    What’s instinctive when out getting catering order (3,8)
{GUT REACTION} The anagram in this one is slightly contrived as you have to combine OUT and CATERING. Purists won’t be keen on the placement of the “order” anagram indicator, but it’s used often enough in the Telegraph so shouldn’t cause too many problems.

19a    Woman unfortunately has nothing in navy (6)
{SHARON} Cleverly done, this one. Start with an anagram of HAS, then place a letter meaning “nothing” inside the abbreviation for Royal Navy.

20a    Circle Line network on which young woman’s travelling westbound (8)
{DIAMETER} Our first venture into obscurity places RETE (a network of blood vessels or nerves) and a “young woman” the other way around or “travelling westbound”. The clever definition “Circle Line” helps to create a coherent surface. The bit of obscurity almost stopped me from giving this the blue treatment.

22a    Worthless individuals Leinster No. 8’s ejected from melee (4)
{SCUM} The use of “Leinster No. 8” to point to that word’s last letter ties in nicely with the rugby related word (for a melee) from which it’s removed.

23a    Write illegibly on unusually headed stationery — such may bug me (10)
{WIRETAPPER} Not sure what to make of this, despite its cleverness. “Write illegibly” indicates an anagram of WRITE, then we take PAPER but observe it’s “unusually headed”. What the setter means is that one of its letters appears at the front instead of its usual position. I’m not 100% sure that’s fair – how about you?

25a    Ghastly nag gets out of taxi (7)
{MACABRE} An easier one now. For the “ghastly” answer, place MARE outside another word for “taxi”.

26a    Having importance is why I get agitated (7)
{WEIGHTY} Simple but beautifully done, our answer is an anagram of WHY I GET and means “having importance”.


1d    Poetry, say, on the verge of being included in correspondence (4,3)
{FINE ART} Nice. Take a word meaning “on the verge of” (or “close to”) and place it inside FIT – I really like the mild deception of the “correspondence” definition.

2d    The French military cover fake pickle jars (4)
{KEPI} This is a type of French headgear (is the “military cover” part slightly abstruse?) and it’s hidden in “fake pickle”.

3d    Woman with rupees deposited in it (6)
{SANDRA} Just five clue words are used here to indicate three wordplay components. We need AND (with) plus the single letter abbreviation for “rupees” and to place these inside SA (“it” – “sex appeal”).

4d    Revolutionary’s southern location for filming All the King’s Men? (5,3)
{CHESS SET} If you see “revolutionary” in a clue it either means a reversal or, in this case, CHE. To that add S (southern) and a word for the scenery/props etc. used in filming.

5d    Sweet to catch big game in Zone One — ecstasy! (10)
{ZABAGLIONE} This answer would be an awkward one to clue so, unsurprisingly, the surface reading isn’t great, but it’s all very fair. The wordplay takes BAG (to catch) and a type of wild cat (big game) and places them in three letters; an abbreviation for “Zone”, a word meaning “one” and a word/abbreviation for the drug “ecstasy”.

6d    Force to underwrite endorsement’s opposite number (3-1-3)
{VIS-À-VIS} It was the enumeration that helped here. For our “opposite number” (an equivalent counterpart) start with the Latin word meaning “power” or “force” and place it underneath (so it “underwrites”) a word which means “endorsement” but will be familiar to most as a type of credit card.

9d    Go north and wait in pub (The Old Penny — average) (3-8)
{BOG-STANDARD} I like this for its quirky image and conciseness, although the first bit of wordplay isn’t spot on. We start with a reversal of GO – “north” to indicate this isn’t really specific enough for me – then STAND (wait). These are placed inside BAR (pub) and D (old penny).

13d    Ploughman’s lunch, say, a group consumed in grass (6,4)
{SQUARE MEAL} And another nice image. “Ploughman’s lunch” is just one example of what the answer could be, so we have “say” added to make that clear. For the wordplay, take A and REM (the group what done “Losing My Religion” etc etc) and put them into a word meaning “to grass”, as in to snitch.

16d    Unpleasant patches encountered after wrong turning across border (8)
{RINGWORM} This is the only clue where I really had a bit of a beef about the wordplay. We take an anagram of WRONG and place it inside RIM (border). For me, “across” should mean it’s placed outside, not inside.

17d    Indigenous American dog nipping stray cat (7)
{CHOCTAW} If you have the cross-checking letters you’ll put this one in without looking! If not, place CHOW (a type of dog – setters love to clue this as “dog food”) outside an anagram of CAT.

18d    Reminder for 4 captured by London police ring (7)
{MEMENTO} Our answer (meaning “reminder”) consists of MEN (as referred to at 4d) inside MET (London police) and a letter that looks like a ring.

21d    Woman’s three distinct articles (6)
{ANTHEA} I have no idea why it took ages to get this right. It’s just a combination of three “articles”, namely A, AN, and THE… but not necessarily in that order.

24d    Receptacle into which to wee, wee again — and stick! (4)
{POGO} And we finish with a titbit of mild naughtiness. The answer is a type of stick that bounces, and consists of the colloquially shortened version of “chamber pot” and a word meaning to “wee”.

I can’t really say this was tremendous fun, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it was a superb challenge peppered with marvellously inventive clues; for me, a pretty spectacular puzzle for its technical proficiency more than anything else.


  1. Digby
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink | Reply

    As you say in your debrief, Anax, the first shall be last. 7a was my final insertion. I needed your help too often for this puzzle to have been as satisfying as it could have been. Several times I had the correct answer, but couldn’t see why – 20a, 3d, 13d, for example. So, thanks for your help, and to Elgar, who gets 4* despite my reservations.

  2. BigBoab
    Posted May 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I got the answers to 20a and 23a but could not understand them till I read your explanations, I did not get 14a at all till I read your clue, however I did enjoy doing this one and I really liked 7a, 8a and 9d. Great crossword and a great review.

  3. Posted May 14, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Whenever I see a Q in a crossword, I immediately think pangram, and this led straight to the J and X in 11a, Z as the unknown in 5d and finally to the one which I struggled with most, 1d (must have an F).

  4. mark
    Posted May 16, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Many thanks for this review Anax. I have wrestled with this a fair amount today and had to admit defeat. Of the ones I got (!) my favourites were: 21d, 9d, 17d and 6d.
    I found this hard, but then that’s the point of a Toughie!

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