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Toughie 566

Toughie No 566 by Firefly

A Day of Sadness

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

Greetings from the Calder Valley.

The blog is tinged with sadness today as I learned yesterday of the death of Mike Laws. Mike was a former Times Crossword Editor, and was currently Independent Magazine (Inquisitor) Crossword Editor. Mike set puzzles under many pseudonyms including Fawley in the Guardian, Jude, Yorick and Ikela and others. I think he also had a couple of EV puzzles published in the Sunday Telegraph over the years. He also provided one in three of the Mephisto Crosswords in the Sunday Times. Many of you probably won’t have heard of him but his influence on the crossword world is immense. He was a larger-than-life character who was one of the experts both as a setter, editor and aficionado. His unusual appearance belied one of the most amazing minds and I know that many setters have benefited from his warm words of encouragement and advice.

A look at the Message Board on the Crossword Centre ( will tell you the high regard in which Mike was held.

RIP Mike, we are all the better for having met and known you and your influence on the crossword world will live long with all of us.

Back to today’s Firefly and this was a ferocious challenge, one of the toughest we have had for a while. It’s a pangrammatic puzzle (one with all the letters of the alphabet inside). It is also noticeable that there aren’t too many correct solvers on the Telegraph leader-boards, which is a sure-fire indication of where this sits on the difficulty scale. Some clever clues, although a couple seemed a bit too clever for their own good. I found it quite difficult to get a foot-hold in the puzzle and although my first few answers were in the top right corner, so was the last one I entered!

Thanks to Firefly for a really stern test. I hope to see some of you at the S&B gathering in London on Tuesday. If you can, please try to make it.

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.


7a    Air-conditioning’s piercing sound can’t be repaired? That’s presumptuous (9)
{AUDACIOUS} I thought this was quite a tough clue to start with, but having received a nudge from my fellow-bloggers, it’s sort of obvious. I worked it out by the crossing letters, though I could see that AC = air conditioning. “Piercing” here means that it is to go inside, and although I thought it was to go inside a word that sounded like “can’t be repaired”, it turned out more obvious than that. AC actually goes inside a word meaning “sound” and a slang abbreviation for “can’t be fixed.”

8a    Printing ink empty — on blink? (5)
{BATIK} IK (“INK empty”, i.e. without the N) is added on to BAT (blink as in bat one’s eyelashes) to reveal a form of textile printing that uses wax.

10a    Pronounced Arnold somewhat wooden (6)
{CEDARN} I bet you’ve never heard of this word. Hidden in the phrase “Pronounced Arnold” is a word that means relating to a type of wood associated with Lebanon.

11a    Anagram of 9dn? There’s a catch there! (5,3)
{DRIFT NET} After realising that it couldn’t be an anagram of NINE DOWN, it turned out to be an anagram of the answer at 9 plus DN. That gives you somewhere you fill find a fisherman’s catch.

12a    Distracted traveller returning to earth — almost broken (6)
{EPERDU} Another unusual word. A word derived from the French and meaning distracted is found by taking an abbreviation for a commercial traveller and reversing it, attaching it to E (for Earth). Onto this add two thirds of a word that means “broken” – DUD

14a    Fixed penalty’s about the last straw (6)
{FINITE} The word for a financial penalty goes around IT ( the last straw) to give a word meaning fixed or definite.

16a    Lame duck? (4)
{GAME} A double definition which when put together makes this phrase. A word that means “lame” (and rhymes with it!) is also the type of bird that ducks (and pheasants, partridges and grouse) are.

17a    Cox for Hereford, perhaps? (5)
{STEER} Another double definition. A word meaning to cox (as in The Boat Race) and a word for a type of cattle such as a Hereford (or Jersey or Guernsey or Fresian!)

18a    OUTDOES (4)
{CAPS} This will probably divide the audience. Clever or too clever for its own good? It’s a cryptic definition of sorts. A word that means “outdoes” is shown in Capital Letters or it’s PC (as in computer keyboard) abbreviation. You could argue that it perhaps should have a question mark to indicate you need to think outside the box, but given the way it’s presented you could probably assume there’s something odd. I personally feel that it’s not quite complete, but how to amend it in such a way as to not lose its impact is tough. It would be interesting to see what you all feel, and what some of the “professional” setters think.

The Araucaria puzzle in yesterday’s Guardian had this clue, which works better for me. See what you think. Incidentally, our 90 year old superstar also managed to include Plan B, Kylie Minogue, and Scouting for Girls in his puzzle yesterday!

Could be ARIA 1100 HELP (10)

Answer below.

19a    Wrath with Opposition leader producing genuine conflict (3,3)
{HOT WAR} A phrase I hadn’t heard of, but means a “real conflict” (as opposed to the COLD WAR, which presumably is more psychological than combative). An anagram of WRATH, plus O (for Opposition leader) reveals this phrase.

21a    No time to sort out lines at start of service? Heavens! (6)
{IDYLLS} If you clean up or sort something out you do this. Remove T (no time), the first letter and add LL (lines) and S (start of service). This gives you a poetic word for heavens.

24a    Sounds as if Jacob conceivably will scrap casket (5,3)
{JEWEL BOX) Another one that I can’t decide if it’s clever or one that makes you suck your teeth. It’s a homophone clue that leads you to the likely religion of a person named Jacob and the fact that he might take part in a fight. That produces a phrase meaning a casket. Hmmm……

26a    Nothing wooden about Clay? (6)
{KAOLIN} A word meaning “nothing” is added to a type of hard wood and both then reversed to produce a type of china clay.

27a    Top brass briefly suffer hollow intelligence (2,3)
{LT GEN} Not often that you see an abbreviation used as an answer, but we have one here. A word that means suffer (or an infringement in tennis) is “hollow”, i.e. has its middle removed. This is added to a word meaning intelligence or information.

28a    Game miler painfully addressing technique (9)
{MAILMERGE} An anagram (indicated by “painfully”) of GAME MILER leads you to a computer way of addressing letters.


1d    Got hot — regularly unbuckled top of denims (5)
{NUKED} A slang way of saying you’ve cooked something in a microwave can be found by taking the even letters (regularly) from UNBUCKLED and adding D (top of Denims)

2d Tentatively OK with appeal for growth? (3,5)
{OAK APPLE} An anagram (indicated by tentatively) of OK and APPEAL gives a fruit. I thought the definition was a bit weak here.

3d Part of Harrow’s headgear (6)
{PINNER} A word for a type of hat is also a district of the London Borough of Harrow, and the birthplace of Sir E H John.

4d Sound playground-type bike: one of four (4)
{QUAD} A rather clever four way definition. A word that defines a type of sound system, double stereo, the name for a playground or a walled enclosure in a school, a type of bike that has become popular over the past few years and a word that means a quarter, or one out of a batch of four. Clever, and well done, Firefly!

5d Interminable knocking on nursery door gets the cane (6)
(RATTAN} The sound made by someone knocking loses its last letter (interminable) and N (door, i.e. first letter) of “nursery” gives you a type of cane used in making furniture.

6d Tips seeds over skirts (9)
{SIDESTEPS} An anagram (indicated by “over”) of TIPS SEEDS produces a word meaning bypasses, skirts.

9d For 3, say, set up makeover — around Tuesday the First? (6)
{TITFER} A word that gives you a slang word for what 3 is (they wouldn’t use it in 3, would they?) is found by taking a word for a makeover or amendment, reversing it and placing it around T (first letter of Tuesday)

13d Where we all set out in some up-to-the-minute rig-outs (5)
{UTERI) Places that physically produce people are found hidden in the phrase “up-to-the-minute rig-outs”

15d Steamship hove to at port, piping at bow and stern lost in accident (9)
{VAPORETTO} An anagram (accident) of (HO)VE TO AT POR(T) without HOT (piping) from the first two letters and the last letter (bow and stern) produces the little motorboats found in Venice. Are these steamships?

17d Writer’s copy found in midst of refuse heap (6)
{SCRIBE} A word meaning to copy or cheat goes inside SE (The middle of “refuse heap”) and produces a word for a writer, especially in ancient times.

18d Recite list of clubs defunct (4,4)
{CALL OVER} If you read a list, you do this, and it can be found by taking C (for Clubs in bridge) and adding to it an expression meaning defunct.

20d Uprooted, you and I worked for The Listener (6)
{WEEDED} A homophone of “we did” is used in gardening to mean uprooted.

22d Join Lesotho’s countrymen (6)
{YOKELS} Country bumpkins are found by taking a word that means join (as in cattle) and adding LS (IVR for Lesotho).

23d Amazingly, monk’s stood up and gone euphoric (5)
{ZINGY) If you take AMAL (“Monk” stood up) from Amazingly, you will be left with a word that means happy, euphoric.

25d Bit of muck in instrument held up brief celebration (4)
{XMAS} A short word for a musical instrument is reversed and has M (bit of muck) inside gives a short word for an annual festivity.

Thanks to Firefly for a really stern challenge today.

The answer to the Araucaria clue is ALPHAMERIC – clever!

27 comments on “Toughie 566

  1. I found this very tricky and ended up using a letter hint on-line. However, after I’d finished it, I couldn’t really see why it had been so difficult. My favourite clues were 11a and 4d. Thanks to Firefly and Tilsit.

    1. I agree-I used an on line hint and then couldn’t believe I’d needed to….don’t think lack of solvers on telegraphpuzzles is much of an indication- only how slow the site is to update times/solvers all round!!

  2. I thought that this deserved better than three stars for enjoyment; I thought that it was very good.

    Re 18a: personally, I’d have preferred a question mark at the end, but I think that it’s OK as it is, because the answer is quite obvious.

    23d took me ages to figure out, but it was actually a pretty straightforward clue. D’oh!

    Many thanks to Firefly for some great entertainment, and to Tilsit for the review so far.

  3. Beyond me I’m afraid so glad you said it was so hard! Managed about 2/3 on my own!
    18a – I quite liked this one!
    Thanks Tilsit, much needed today, and thanks to Firefly for the mental stretching.

    1. I’m with Pommers today, about 2/3rds before realising you need a more advanced knowledge of obscure words and general knowledge than I seem to have to have any hope finishing this. Too “clever” for me. Maybe I’m just cross at doing so dismally, I’ll re- look at it over the weekend and may change my opinion.

  4. Time 15.58 CluedUp showing only 15 plays… some of the names on the leaderboard I recognise :-)

    1. that’s the point I was making earlier as a reply-I’m sure there must be loads more solvers whose entries aren’t there….my leaderboard has only 8 finishers at 4.16 so it clearly updates differently for different users?

      1. Bakesi,
        There is a difference between the leaderboard and the number of plays shown if you look at the puzzle directly. All users have an option to be incognito and not appear on the leaderboard.

        1. thanks-it’s showing 16 in total but only 8 on leaderboard so there are a lot of modest/reclusive types! ;-)

          1. Bakesi

            If you solved this in the time showing on the leaderboard against your name then you should be writing the review!!

            1. beginners luck-some of the answers were right without really understanding them-my other times would prove why I leave it to the experts! ;-) but maybe one day…

  5. I liked most of it – had apercu for12a , for no other reason than it fitted and am looking forward to see if my 15d is right – it fits and it’s nautical but that’s about all. wasn’t overly keen on 27 & 28a , but the rest were tough but fair .
    Thanks to Firefly and revue .

    1. re 15d: If your answer is an anagram of “hove to at port” minus “hot”, then it’s probably right.

      1. Well I’ll be …. so it is – too many distractions with fore and aft … ta qix

  6. Anyway on another note, I struggled with this off an on all afternoon. Satisified to finish it (finally), but more careful reading of the clues and explanations make me want to concur with Gazza…

  7. I used all 5 letters on Clued up anbd still couldn’t get the Top Brass – Thanks to gazza for forwarding and thanks to Tilsit and in particular Firefly. This was a real challenge and worthy of a Friday Toughie. I did like the CAPS clue once I got it.

    Regarding the very sad news of Mike Laws – I only met him a couple of times but each time was struck by his intelligence, gentle manner and patience with novices like me, along with his breadth of knowledge on many matters uncrosswordlike. My thoughts are with his family.

  8. Before everyone gives up and moves on to Saturday – may I pop in with a word or two….

    I badly wanted someone to notice that the pangram came from the first letters of each answer — in alphabetical order except for XYZ, which I couldn’t make work! And I hoped that 16, 17 and 18 Across (GAME STEER CAPS) would help folks along. But there you go…

    Thanks to all bloggers, and to Tilsit for his thoughtful and (mostly) positive comments — there’s a fifth definition in 4dn: QUAD is also a kind of type….

    Best wishes to all


      1. Thanks to Firefly.

        Oddly, when I started filling in answers I noticed the Q and X and suspected there was a pangram, but of course didn’t think of the fact that it could have been that every answer started with a different letter (too many of Araucaria’s alphabetical jigsaws, I guess!).

        That makes 4dn an even cleverer clue!

    1. I certainly was Mr Grumpy yesterday and wish to retract my negativity. On second sitting this just got better and better and now realise just how well constructed it was. To quote Qix, Well Done Sir. And well done to Tilsit for an excellent review on such a sad day for so many of you.

  9. I am full of admiration for all the above who finished this, I got less than half before I collapsed in agony. Totally brilliant brains Firefly and Tilsit, Respect!

  10. Well, i have successfully tackled Firefly’s offerings in the past, but toughie 566 has prompted me to finally feedback.
    I regularly visit this blog to double check my answers, and ordinarily successfully complete both the cryptic and quick crosswords in very short order, on a daily basis, once you get into a mindset, it just flows, and the toughie, i can normally have completed by about the afternoon (4ish) then i can complete the lesser puzzles at my leisure.
    Toughie 566 definitely had me scratching my head and reaching for the thesaurus a few times, and i don’t think i would have ever completed it without these tips.
    Many thanks to Firefly for setting such an entertaining puzzle, and to Tilsit for delivering unto me the definition of the words “eperdu” and “vaporetto”.
    Definitely a 5 star difficulty, but i would have gone higher, up to 4 for the enjoyment (only losing one for the infuriation of trying to make a coherent unjumble of some of the anagrammatic clues.
    My favourite clues were 1d and 18ac (which I adored for its simplicity, maybe enclosing it in inverted commas might have made it clearer, but potentially detracted from its’ beauty as a clue)
    On a similar note, i think my favourite ever crossword clue simply read as follows: H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O (5)
    The answer, of which i am sure many of you are aware is “water” as in H2O or “aitch” to “oh”
    But i seriously have to consider OUTDOES (4) as one of my all time favourites now

    1. Welcome to the blog John.

      As I said, clues like the “OUTDOES” one tend to divide the crossword aficionados. It is a very clever one and Firefly should be commended for a new addition to the genre of these. I much prefer it to the “H2O” clue, as there is a cryptic definition there to help you. If you took the H20 clue and stood it on its own, it’s not instantly obvious as to what it refers. Firefly’s clue does have the luxury of a self-referential definition.

        1. And who can forget the division caused by Elgars “soldier” for Icarus. Fantastic.

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