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Toughie 386

Toughie No 386 by Petitjean


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

A generous smattering of F1 references in this offering from Petitjean, and my first review of a puzzle by this setter. It was difficult to pinpoint an accurate BD rating and 4/4 may be a compromise. I have a little knowledge of motorsport so some answers were easier for me than they may be for others; combined with some obscure answers elsewhere you may find it warrants 5 stars for Difficulty. For Enjoyment I was close to giving it 5 stars as there are some lovely clues, and certainly no quibbles worth dwelling on. Perhaps what took the edge off was the frequent use of initial/last letters for the sake of tying in with the theme – when it’s not done well it looks a little desperate, and in fairness that’s not the case in this puzzle.

Immediately noticeable, on printing the puzzle, was a clutch of long clues. For me they ran to about ¼ of a second page (hence my brilliantly observed and impossibly clever choice of title) whereas previous puzzles have always fitted on one page with a little spare space above the footer. I’ve been called “Mr Short and Snappy” before – hopefully it was a reference to my cryptic clues – so very long clues can feel like a bit of a slog. But again, as with the initial/last letters thing, the long clues here didn’t seem tortured – in most cases they’re actually very smoothly presented.

I’ve highlighted my favourite clues in blue – please let us know about your favourites too.

Leave a comment telling us what you thought. You can also add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a    On top of the world getting the perfect start at Silverstone (4,8)
{POLE POSITION} – The motor racing theme begins with an answer which is where the fastest qualifier starts the race. On top of the world refers to what North can be said to have, although the answer could equally refer to South which is just the opposite.

9a    With Massa’s rear puncturing, high speed around first corner is missing (7)
{ESCAPED} – Clever as this is, I think it’s just slightly overworked in that a container device is used twice, in an unusual way. Massa’s rear points to a last letter which is inside (puncturing) an anagram (high, as in drunk) of SPEED. This combination is then placed around C (shown as first corner – a non-Ximenean indicator) to give the answer meaning (having gone) missing.

10a    Northern town of Grimethorpe cleaned up and regenerated following Morecambe’s lead (7)
{MORPETH} – To find this northern town, the letters of GRIMETHORPE are firstly cleaned up (i.e. we remove the GRIME) and then anagrammed (regenerated) and placed after the M of Morecambe.

11a    Accidentally maim officer in mosque (4)
{IMAM} – A welcome give-away here, the letters of MAIM being presented jumbled (accidentally).

12a & 14d    Hammer features in art house horror season’s new venue (5, 5)
{SOUTH KOREA} – This Asian republic is clued as season’s new venue – it joined the F1 calendar this year. To hammer is to stun, floor, knock out – take the boxing abbreviation of the last of these and put it inside an anagram (horror) of ART HOUSE. A nicely misleading and coherent clue here.

13a    Poor air quality dogs country around Baghdad (4)
{IRAQ} – The country of which Baghdad is the capital is made from the jumbled (poor) letters of AIR and the abbreviation for quality. Good clue construction, although I’m not sure what role dogs plays.

16a    Rick’s familiar greeting can be heard (7)
{HAYCOCK} – The definition Rick is a tricky one – you have to think of cut grass used as fodder. The answer is a moderately obscure word which sounds like an informal greeting; “Hey, —” where the last word is as regional as similar varieties such as duck, love etc.

17a    Amateur north-east champion in command before sharp left-right combination (7)
{CHICANE} – A collection of four abbreviations here with a neat bit of transposition before we see the answer. Start with abbreviations for amateur and north-east, then place them after abbreviations for champion and in command.

18a    See 27d

21a    Alpine forest’s eastern border destroyed to make way for garages (3,4)
{PIT LANE} – Very nicely worked! The answer is defined as way for garages (it’s one of the theme answers) – in Crosswordland, way very often points to some type of road. The wordplay takes an anagram (destroyed) of ALPINE and the last letter (eastern border works for an across answer) of forest.

23a    Gloom of seaman out of work (4)
{LOUR} – This is almost impossible without checking letters but surprisingly easy when you see what’s going on. The answer means gloom, which is found by removing AB (seaman) from a word meaning work.

24a & 26d    Stuck in this, Rosberg’s foremost gifts are wasted (5,4)
{FIRST GEAR} – Make an anagram (are wasted is the indicator) of the first (foremost) letter of Rosberg and GIFTS ARE. Coupled with this wordplay, the partial definition stuck in this suggests the appropriate answer.

25a    Count plot as rumour (4)
{GRAF} – As well as a former female tennis star’s name, this answer is a German word which means count (as a title). It also sounds like (as rumour is the homophone indicator) a plot, as in one of these:

28a    Open river entering gorge (7)
{OVEREAT} – Outside of the Listener environment it’s unusual to see the dialectic EA (river) used in crosswords, but here it appears inside a word meaning open (obvious) to give the answer meaning to gorge on food.

29a    Cutting of magnolia can’t have thorny growth (7)
{ACANTHA} – Full credit to Petitjean for making this obscure answer as easy as possible to get by hiding it inside magnolia can’t have.

30a    Source of ‘I’m going to stop the start watch’ and similar slips — nonsensical malarkey with unmistakably rhapsodic race tips in-between (6,6)
{MURRAY WALKER} – And he also said (describing a pit stop) “He’s done that in a whisker under 10 seconds. Call it 9.7 in round figures”. Take an anagram (nonsensical) of MALARKEY and W (with) and place them around the initial letters (tips) of unmistakably rhapsodic race. Perhaps the surface is a tad forced but it does describe the great man rather well.


1d    Porky South American’s muscle less than frightening (7)
{PECCARY} – A very small quibblet here. We start with a shortened form of a type of muscle typically developed in an ugly way by body-building fanatics, and following this is SCARY (frightening) but with the first letter removed. I’m not keen on less than to suggest the removal of a first letter, though.

2d    Circuits pass into disuse without Ecclestone’s capital (4)
{LAPS} – Excellent, even if it does exploit a “cheap” first letter device. The answer means circuits, and it’s a word which would mean pass into disuse if we added the E (capital letter) of Ecclestone to the end. The surface reading is perfect and relevant.

3d    Heidfeld’s finish the prelude to party in press enclosure near 21 across (7)
{PADDOCK} – Ah, you see, another initial/last letter to fit the theme. Take the last letter of Heidfeld and place it in front of a 2-letter word for a party, and put these inside a word meaning press (or a rugby team, or a group of dogs). The enclosure near 21 across is the area of a motor racing circuit where team vehicles etc are parked up.

4d    During the day old Mark in charge of cells (7)
{SOMATIC} – The day in question here is an abbreviated form of Saturday, inside which we place O (old) and M (Mark). Follow this with another abbreviation, this time for in charge to give a fairly obscure word meaning of cells.

5d    Potentially a slick virtuosity replaces content (4)
{TYRE} – The content of virtuosity replaces leads to something which – typically in motor racing – may be a slick.

6d    Australian evergreen melody adapted originally by Electric Light Orchestra making a comeback (7)
{OLEARIA} – This obscure answer, a type of Australian evergreen shrub, has pretty difficult wordplay. Start with a 3-letter word for a melody or tune, the first letter (originally) of adapted, then the name by which Electric Light Orchestra were more familiarly known, then reverse all of it (so it’s making a comeback).

7d    Not-so-typical Sunday driver in ‘otel in SE13? (5,8)
{LEWIS HAMILTON} – It’s amazing to think this particular wordplay treatment has already gained chestnut status – after all, the F1 driver in question has only been on the scene for a couple of years. The SE13 area of London covers Lewisham, and if you were inclined to drop your aitches the hotel chain Hilton would come out as ‘ilton.

8d    A number of lefties ignore the sometime bouncer’s previous signal that the event is over (9,4)
{CHEQUERED FLAG} – For a number of lefties, think of a Labour anthem whose full title starts with The, but drop it as indicated by ignore the. Previous to this is something – a form of payment – that can be a bouncer if there aren’t sufficient funds in the account.

14d    See 12a

15d    Split pistil threatens cultivation (5)
{TILTH} – This word for cultivation is hidden inside pistil threatens – I’m not sure split works as a hidden indicator though.

19d    Family of chefs not unknown over the water in France for continental roll (7)
{ROULEAU} – If you see unknown in a clue, zoom in on the possibility of either X or Y. In this case we take ROUX (the family of French chefs whose name, I think, is given to the thickening agent used in many French sauces) and remove the X, then add a translation into French of the water.

20d    Knowing about Tina Turner or, like, John, Paul and George — but not Ringo (7)
{SAINTLY} – The addition of the comma after like almost persuaded me to keep the lid on the blue highlighter, but I think that would be cruel for such a cleverly observed clue. Take SLY (knowing) and place it around an anagram of TINA (Turner is just about forgivable as the indicator) for a word that can mean like John, Paul and George – but not Ringo, since it’s not The Beatles we’re talking about.

21d    Salsa’s athletic stompers suddenly appear beginners in tap dance (7)
{PASSATA} – Another obscurity here, an answer which is an Italian sauce similar to salsa. Take the first letters (beginners) of athletic stompers suddenly appear and put them inside an anagram (dance) of TAP.

22d    ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ like East Ender reportedly not enamoured of hippie musical (7)
{AERATOR} – ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ is, unexpectedly, the definition here. For the wordplay, start with Hair hater but say it in the way an East Ender might say it.

26d    See 24a

27d & 18a    Tail-enders better score in opening session (4,7)
{BACK MARKERS} – The definition is tail-enders, the answer consisting of a word for betters (or people who are backing something) having inside it a word for score (especially in an exam), followed by the first letter (opening, another non-Ximenean indicator) of session.

Did you reach the 8d with this one or did you never get out of 24a/26d?

14 comments on “Toughie 386

  1. I thought this was a corker!. Last Saturday at the White Horse Elgar threw out a couple of copies of a GQ puzzle with a similar theme – 7d also appeared with the same treatment!. 20d made me grin as did 30a.
    Thanks for the review, anax, and thanks to petitjean who is turning into a bit of a favourite!

  2. Its taken the whole of my lunch hour to complete and I have to admit that I did have to look on the web to see which was the new country to have a GP this year as I could see the anagram letters were missing one and then had to consult the hints to see where the first letter of the second word came from. Very good theme and clues with lots of laugh out loud moments. Thanks to Petitjean for the puzzle and Anax for the explanations. Very tame pics compared to that one last week!

    1. For 21a I considered a pic of the “babes” associated with the answer. But I couldn’t do it. Honest, I just couldn’t.

  3. Great puzzle; loved it! Failed to solve 10a (never heard of it), and needed explanations for 20d, and the ‘ea’ in 28a. Thanks to petitjean, and to Anax.

  4. I’m certain this crossword suited many but I’m afraid it did nothing for me. F.1 or indeed any kind of racing leaves me cold. Having got that off my chest I did appreciate the artistry of the whole thing and I confess that I loved 30a. Thanks Anax for the review and apologies to Petitjean whom I consider one of the better compilers.

  5. Not an F1 fan – repeated boredom – but the clues were, on the whole, tremendous. There is a chap called Richard Heyduck, who went in for 16a, and I needed Anax’s help to get that sorted out. Thanks to him and to PJ. The weekend (almost) starts here!

  6. Sorry, but this was NOT my cup of tea! I found it very obscure and the clues so complicated I lost track of what I was trying to find. I didn’t find the theme and even if I had, I know so little about this particular activity it wouldn’t make any difference. Better luck on Monday!

  7. I thought 30a was mint. I just had to say that.
    The whole puzzle was Formula 1 for me. I loved every bend and turn, all the clues were great and more importantly, fair.

  8. I loved this puzzle.
    Favourite clue 20d, though it took me ages to crack it.

  9. Got to the final three before beginning a day’s gardening for give and gain day. Several pints of Guiness after the event did not assist resolving the final three. Fantastic crossword from Petitjean and thanks to him and Anax for the notes.

        1. True Enough – it was lass than it was 5 weeks ago!
          Just realised I have Haycock wrong – I had Hayfork as it was sort of alluded to in Chambers but the clue did not refer to the second bit.

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