Toughie 554 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 554

Toughie No 554 by Firefly

A Curmudgeon Writes…….

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BD Rating – Difficulty ***Enjoyment **

Greetings from the Calder Valley.

Well it’s a special once-in-a-lifetime day today. Yes, if the weather stays fine, you’ll be able to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour just after its launch later as it passes over the country.

Oh that’s right, there was something happening in London today. That event seems to have brought out the commemorative puzzles. All the newspapers have them and there were two in the Telegraph (although the Guardian’s Paul is restricted to just one clue: Fancy lad and me tied knot! (4,9)). Paul can fight with Giovanni for the cleverer version of it.

I’m risking death-rays I know, but I didn’t really enjoy the Toughie today. I have solved all the big newspaper puzzles today and this lags a bit behind all the others. The Times puzzle has elegantly written (if rather sycophantic) topical clues, the Indy and FT both made me laugh out loud and Giovanni’s DT puzzle was his usual elegant work. This offering by Firefly really seemed a bit too contrived in parts and mystifying in others. It doesn’t give me any pleasure to say this, as I do normally enjoy his puzzles in other papers, especially his barred ones.

Favourite clues are in blue. Please 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    Toast an ‘unco’ girl? That’s in order today! (15)
{CONGRATULATIONS} We start with an anagram. Rearrange the letters making up TOAST AN UNCO GIRL to get a word relating to today’s celebrations.

9a    ‘Overlord’ left behind tank trailer (7)
{OUTRANK} A word meaning left behind goes before the last letter (indicated by “trailer”) of tank and indicates a word meaning to have a superior title than someone else. Overlord is used here as a definition, and to allude to the D-Day landings etc.

10a    Cool statement on the German issue that may follow 6,19dn (7)
{CHILDER} Statement here is used to indicate a homophone. You need a word meaning “to cool” followed by the definite article in German, and this will give you a word meaning progeny (Here, issue is used as one of those words like “banker” and “flower” that means something different in Crosswordland). The answer is listed in Chambers under the main heading of a similar word and is archaic; I’d have liked to have seen some indication of the fact in the definition.

11a    Perfect dream about ‘Journey’s End’ follows 6,19dn (9)
{HONEYMOON} If you perfect your skills, you do this and add a word meaning dream. Wrap this around Y (JourneY‘s End), to get something that follows on from the answer to 6, 19 dn.

12a    Dope starts to imbibe impure spirits (5)
{GENII} Thanks to Big Dave. Dope is another word for “information” and add I I (the starts to “Imbibe and Impure”) to reveal non-liquid spirits sometimes found in bottles.

13a    Retired insolvent? His work’s represented at the 15 (7)
{DEBRETT} This is one of those clues that probably divides the crossword aficionados. Some will think it clever, and others (like me) just don’t like it. RET (retired) goes inside a word that means insolvent i.e. IN DEBT. The question-mark is designed to indicate that this is a bit odd, or unusual. The definition refers to the work of this person, which records the lineage of the British nobility, as well as the modern guide to etiquette at such events as today.

15a and 23a    Drink and eat bags — we’d offend otherwise here (7,9)
{WEDDING BREAKFAST} Like 13a, another one to divide the camps. An anagram of DRINK, EAT BAGS WE’D and F (OFF-END) gives a phrase that is defined by the whole clue.

17a    Dean’s joyful expression when embracing single temptress (7)
{DELILAH} A word than means a dean in the topological topographical sense of the word is added to a two word two-letter expression of satisfaction and then I (single) is inserted (embracing). This will give you the name of a Biblical temptress and the title of the song Prince Harry will be doing at tonight’s wedding karaoke.

19a    Annoy noisy engineers, in the galley … (7)
{TRIREME} Another homophone, this time indicated by “noisy”. If you irritate the Engineer Corps in the Army you may be said to do this, and its homophone is the name of a boat with three sets of oars.

21a    … to cook baked meats (not for a 15,23 though!) (5)
{STEAM} An anagram (indicated by “Baked”) of MEATS gives a method of cooking.

23a    See 15 across

25a    Controversial openings to international singing tournaments bore Mr Clapton (7)
{ERISTIC} The first letters (openings) of “international singing tournaments” go inside (bore) the first name of the guitarist nicknamed Slowhand to reveal a word meaning controversial.

26a    Not one prosperous, but many of them at the 15? (7)
{NOBLEST} A word meaning “not one” is added to a word meaning “prosperous” or “endowed with” to lead you to a superlative adjective form of a word that can also mean a titled person.

27a    Grill fancy women who may attend the 15,23? (15)
{TOASTMISTRESSES} A word sum. A word meaning to grill in cookery is added to a word than means “fancy women” in the carnal sense of the word! This gives the name for women who may be in demand at functions.


1d           Cyclo the driver trimmed and kitted out (7)
{CLOTHED}  For me, this sums up my difficulty with this puzzle.  If you knew that a cyclo is a type of trishaw (I didn’t), then it works well.  Otherwise it looks odd.  It’s a hidden clue; a word meaning “kitted out”  his hidden in the phrase “Cyclo the driver”.  Hidden clues (as practiced superbly by the Sunday Telegraph puzzle setter) should be  almost invisible.  This sort of leaps out at you.

2d           During lunchtime, tee off? Inadvisable (3,2)
{NOT ON}  An unusual clue with two definitions and an indicator which works well.  T goes inside the time of day for lunch to give a phrase that means a course of action is inadvisable, as well as a cryptic definition for “off”.

3d           One made early? Possibly (not for today’s 15,23 though!) (5,4)
{READY MEAL}  An anagram (indicated by “possibly”) of MADE EARLY reveals something that is prepared in advance for use, and would not be seen (hopefully!) at the 15,23.

4d           Giving Kate fish and chips perhaps (not at today’s 15,23 though!) (7)
{TAKE OUT}  This is a sort of double definition clue, with one of them a cryptic one.  A phrase that describes the type of food that you buy from a fish and chip shop.   The same phrase could be seen as a crossword clue that gives (the answer) KATE.   I hadn’t heard of this expression in that way before.

5d           A wish for those 6,19dn somewhere in India? (7)
{LUCKNOW}  I think this should have had the word “today” after 6 19dn to indicate the second part of the answer.  Something you wish to the bride and groom is also the name of the capital of the Uttar Pradesh state in India, known as “The City of the Nawabs”.

6d and 19d          Nth king — yet to become — getting hitched (5,3,4)
{TYING THE KNOT}  Didn’t like this clue, which is key to solving the puzzle, as it links to other answers.  It has a poor surface reading.  An anagram of NTH KING YET TO

7d           Reportedly ‘eapin up draught booze (not for today’s 15,23 though!) (9)
{ORDINAIRE}  A homophone of a phrase meaning “storin(g) up a wind”  leads you to a description for a type of wine.  There should be another apostrophe at the end of ‘eapin to indicate the “g” is missing and this would make the clue look a bit odd.

8d           Vigour unconfined in chorus of waiters (at the 15,23, undoubtedly) (7)
{SERVING}   A word meaning vigour, flair needs to lose its first and last letters (indicated by unconfined) and goes inside one that means chorus.  This gives you an word that is sort of defined by the whole clue, otherwise the definition would be “waiters at the 15, 23 undoubtedly”.

14d         Go French in boarding airline with de Valois, say? (9)
{BALLERINA}  A word mean “to go” in French plus IN  is place inside our national airline to give the job of Dame Ninette de Valois.

16d         Red I blank out — such as 7? (9)
{DRINKABLE}  An anagram (indicated by “out”) of RED I BLANK gives a description of the liquid at 7 –  a nice all in one definition.

17d         Hair plaited up of course at the 15,23 (7)
{DESSERT}  A  description of plaited or decorated hair is reversed to give the name of a dish at the aforementioned event.

18d         Call twice about taxi turning up for barbecue (7)
{HIBACHI}  A word  uttered when you call someone is repeated and has another word for a taxi reversed inside to give the name of a type of barbecue.

19d         See 6 down

20d         Tea sets put out for many great ones represented at the 15 (7)
{ESTATES}   An anagram of TEA SETS gives a description of royal residences.

22d         Periodically import best music (for the 15?) (5)
{MOTET}  Take the alternate letters of IMPORT BEST to give the name for a piece of music.

24d         Words spoken (during the 15?) from people in vestments needing a pound off! (5)
{AMENS}  Some words that are frequently uttered as part of church services can be found by taking the name for a clerical vestment and removing LB (for pounds) and replacing it with MEN (people).

I am quite sad that I didn’t really enjoy this.  I have tried hard to find things in the puzzle that I enjoyed, but they are slim pickings.  Have a great weekend, and if you are going to The Gathering tomorrow, have one on me.  Sorry I won’t be there for a couple of reasons.  If you are thinking of going, but not sure, do go; you’ll have a great time and meet some really nice people.  Pictures (and salacious gossip) please!

22 comments on “Toughie 554

  1. Apart from 13a (which I would not have got in a month of Sundays), I thought this slightly less tricky for a Friday.
    I quite enjoyed it; thanks to Firefly, and to Tilsit for the review.

  2. Have to agree it’s not the most exciting of today’s themed crosswords – the Indy wins it for me, closely followed by Giovanni. (The FT mostly celebrates another anniversary with the longest anagram I think I have ever seen). Like the DT Cryptic this one had another word I had never heard of but was able to get from the wordplay: 25a. I couldn’t imagine setting a cryptic of any level so to do so on a theme such as this must be even harder so thanks to Firefly. Thanks to Tilsit too.

  3. I agree with everything Tilsit has written – I found this to be a big disappointment.

    Several of the constructs are of the kind that some solvers regard as clever (off-end / in debt etc.) while others, like me, suck their teeth!

  4. You might want to change the post number to 554 to avoid problems with the archive in a few days.

  5. Thanks to Firefly and Tilsit.

    I thought this was alright, although it seemed easier than usual. Took me less time than the one on the back page…

    Is it only me that learns new words from these? 18d and 25a.

    I liked 17d – (I always like the longer words that on reversal become other words – does anyone know the longest word that will do this? ‘Redivider’ is apparently the longest palindrome) – and also enjoyed 27a.

    1. I have a list that I was going to add to the site at some time (thanks for the reminder).

      dioramas / samaroid
      desserts / stressed

      are both 8 letters.

      1. Gosh, that was quick.

        Eight letters, the longest words – fancy that! I think I’d expected something a bit longer…

        Thanks, BD.

  6. Thought it ok . Liked 7 &14d , agree with the” contrived ” comments on some of the clues

  7. Although I don’t dislike either “offend” or “insolvent” I do agree that many of the clues seemed contrived. The constant attempt to link clues to the theme became tedious.

  8. Re the fourth paragraph above : what are “barred puzzles “, or clues ? please elucidate, not sure which the barred word applies to ?

    1. Standard UK newspaper crosswords are sometimes called “blocked” puzzles, meaning that some of the squares are blacked out.

      In “barred” puzzles, none of the squares is black; all contain letters when the puzzle is properly completed. The squares can have one or more of their edges printed in bold type to indicate where one light (word or phrase) ends and another begins.

      It sounds more complicated than it is; here’s an example.

  9. Well, call me Mr Thicky, but I still don’t get 17a. What is a Dean in the topological sense & what is the two-word expression of satisfaction?

    1. The dean is a DELL. Insert I (single) and then add AH, the two-letter expression of satisfaction.

      I’ve amended the review!

    2. A dean and a DELL are alternatives to a valley and the two word expression of satisfaction is AH!

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