Toughie 686 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 686

Toughie No 686 by Elkamere

The Bigger Picture!

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

Greetings from the Calder Valley. After expecting Firefly or Myops today, I was pleasantly surprised to see that today’s Tormentor was Elkamere. I think this is the first outing on a Friday for him and the puzzle is more than worthy of its place in the spot reserved for the hardest puzzle of the week.

This is a slightly unusual puzzle and one that I appreciate may cause a few solvers to give up. There are some lovely elegant clues, but the “gimmick” of the puzzle is clever and perhaps some may say a bit too clever. In this puzzle, there are four clues that have the indications of four and six letters each with grid slots for the four letters. The clues are all “justified” by 14 across. An explanation is shown after the Downs, although you will need to highlight it to see it. I twigged 5 across fairly quickly but couldn’t see how it fitted in to the scheme of things. Only when I completed the grid did it dawn on me how it worked. There was a Guardian setter called Apex who used to use a similar sort of device in some of his puzzles and it is nice to see this sort of working again here.

One of the difficulties with this type of grid is that you have one way only into each section and I managed to sort out most of the top right corner and this gave me the letters for 14.

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. Favourite clues are highlighted in blue.

Thanks as well to Big Dave for stepping in last week at short notice when I had to cancel with my health problems. I’m still a bit sore and tender, but am getting there.


1a    As negotiator, admit failure hosting Arab group (8)
{DIPLOMAT} The name of a Middle Eastern political faction goes inside an anagram (failure) of ADMIT to reveal the name for the sort of person that conducts negotiations in such situations.

5a    Mountain man — see 14 (4) (6)
{FELL / FELLOW}    See postscript

9a    Medic guards huge pack in warplane (8)
{MOSQUITO} A famous aircraft from WW2 is found by putting an abbreviation for a Medical Officer around an abbreviation is the fashion world meaning huge, and a word meaning to pack in. Nice surface reading.

10a    Go on, get married (6)
{REPAIR} Clever little short clue. A definition of the word “go” is found by solving a wordsum. The abbreviation for ‘on’ when it means ‘a subject of’ is added to a word meaning to marry or join.

11a    Not worried, introduce global law (8)
{INTERPOL} Something that means to introduce or interrupt needs to lose the last three letters (a word that can mean worried or consumed) to give the name of a global law enforcer.

12a    Roman orator about to kill half of Rome (6)
{CICERO} A famous Roman orator and historian is revealed by solving another wordsum.

14a    Secret places suggesting why nothing makes sense in four clues? (5-5)
{HIDEY-HOLES} This particular clue is just a straight definition and points you at the gimmick with the other four “themed” answers.

18a    Slippery snow banks were crawling with it (8,2)
{SWITCHED ON} A phrase that means “with it” or “in tune” is found by taking an anagram (slippery) of SNOW and inserting (banks) something that means “were crawling”.

22a    Urge former husband to have scrap (6)
{EXHORT} Not a reference to the Jeremy Kyle show, but a word meaning to urge is revealed by solving a word sum. The prefix used to indicate something is former is added to H (for husband) and add to this a word meaning a scrap or a piece (or the German word for place!).

23a    Plug Irish author, humorously said to be more skilful (8)
{ADROITER} Don’t think Elkamere should give up the day job! My least favourite type of clue is the homophone since a lot of them fall because of regional and national pronunciation differences. Here it works nicely because the homophone is sort of qualified. A short word meaning a plug or promotion takes how an Irishman may say a word meaning an author. This gives you a word meaning more skilful. Kindly leave the stage!

24a    Visibly embarrassed about short girl’s skin (6)
{DERMIS} I solved this almost as soon as I saw it and then spent a while fretting about how it worked. Then a slap of the forehead when it fell into place! The medical name for the skin is found by taking a word for how you are seen when you are embarrassed and reversing it (about). Add to this the title for a young lady, missing its last letter (short!). Easy when you see it!

25a    Sweet lozenge turned into circular shape (8)
{LOLLIPOP} Sadly I never get these when I go to the hospital! I should probably buy my own jar! The name of a popular sweet is found by putting a word that means a lozenge or similar medication backwards (turned) into a circular shape.

26a    One side in an argument — see 14 (4) (6)
{WING / ROWING} See postscript

27a    Line in ‘Sorry’ defines US sitcom (8)
{SEINFELD} Inside an anagram (indicated by Sorry, a new indicator on me) of DEFINES goes L (for line) to give the name of a famous American comedy show.


2d           Spain sank within a year of its old currency (6)
{PESETA}  Inside the abbreviation for each year goes the abbreviation for Spain and a word meaning to sink below the horizon

3d           Man, dismissed by engineer, works (6)
{OEUVRE}  The name for an author’s canon or list of work is found by taking a word that means engineer and removing MAN  –  not entirely sure this reads satisfactorily.

4d           Throw her out, said official (10)
{AUTHORISED}  An anagram (throw) of HER OUT SAID leads to a word that means official or valid.

6d           Perception of crew about right (8)
{EYESIGHT} The meaning of the exclamation “Right!” goes inside the name of a large rowing crew to give something that means perception.

7d           Welsh town in trouble over imprisoning a little girl (8)
{LLANELLI}  The name of a place in South Wales can be found by taking a word meaning trouble and reversing it.  Inside it goes A and the name of the Dickensian heroine whose death gave rise to a memorable quote by Oscar Wilde.

8d           Who rears mongrel? Vet (8)
{WARHORSE}  An anagram indicated by “mongrel” of WHO REARS gives the name for a military vet and also the title of Stephen Spielberg’s new film based on a stunning Michael Morpurgo work.

9d           Primary concern — see 14 (4) (6)
{MAIN / DOMAIN}  See postscript

13d         Where one occasionally lives in sin? (6,4)
{SECOND HOME}  This is clue with two definitions, the first is a straight one, the second is a wordplay cryptic.   If you take the word SIN and split it to S + in, you have two words defined by S and IN.  The question mark shows you have to think outside the box.  The whole clue provides a definition as well.  Very clever stuff!

15d         Part of letter one posts, say (8)
{ASCENDER}  Time to learn something!  The top part of letters like h, k, b and so on is called this!  It’s also a homophone for the someone who may post a letter,

16d         Take cash by raising charge (8)
{WITHDRAW}   To take money from a bank account comes from a preposition meaning by and the reversal (raising) of a charge or dependant.

17d         Child’s arrested for climbing tank (8)
{SCORPION}  The name of one of the army’s weapons is found by taking a five-letter word for a child or younger member of a family and inserting the Latin word for ‘for’ reversed.

19d         Almost lose 6 thanks to unpleasant creature (6)
{GOBLIN}  If you were to lose your 6, this would happen to you.  Take off the last letter and fuse together and you’ll have the name of a nasty troll.

20d         Basic ammunition for a gun (6)
{STAPLE}  Something that means basic, as in a diet, is a type of gun found in the stationers.

21d         Fall/stand — see 14 (4) (6)
{TRIP / TRIPOD}   See postscript.

Thanks to Elkamere for an interesting challenge.  The solution to 14 across provides a sort of instruction, more details of which can be revealed below.

{Each of the four clues is really two short plain definitions.  One relates to the four letter word that goes in the puzzle.  The other defines the six letter word that is formed from the two spaces before or after, the blanked out square is in each case an O.  hence   FELLOW, ROWING, TRIPOD AND DOMAIN.  For me, this works with 5 across and 21 down, but the other two DOMAIN is technically 1 down and ROWING is 25.5 across.  I’d be interested to hear what you think.}

18 comments on “Toughie 686

  1. I recognize the language as being English but that’s about as far as I got. Even with Tilsit’s help it does not make more sense. Looking forward to Cephas (?) tomorrow & to Virgilius on Sunday although I have got the Ageing Ps for the weekend which may curtail puzzle solving time. Whose on NTSPP duty?

  2. It took me ages to progress beyond the obvious 12a and 22a, then I guessed at 14a. That gave me the hint I needed to do solve most of the remaining clues without assistance. Thanks to Tilsit for those I failed to see. On the whole I enjoyed this puzzle but I think the theme might be too clever for its own good.

  3. After a very long tiring and even emotional week this was possibly the wrong day for me to attempt this puzzle. However, I perservated, cogitated and invoked several ‘laws’ and finally crawled to the end. Apart from having trouble working out how the theme worked, never has an overtired experienced solver taken so long to spot the obvious anagrams. Thanks to Elkamere, I think, for the extreme brain-teasing and to Tilsit for the much appreciated explanations. If Tilsit has finished with the darkened room, I am off there for a rest :)

  4. Strewth! I got there eventually but failed to think outside the boxes sufficiently to understand how 14a etc. worked, so thanks for the explanation. Particularly liked 23a. And it was nice to see 22a again, having only learned that three letter word when it appeared a week or so ago.

  5. I solved the puzzle, but was too tired at that point to work out the reasoning behind 14a.
    Thanks to Elkamere for the puzzle, and to Tilsit for the excellent review.

  6. Completed all bar 27a I’m sorry but I don’t watch American trosh, enjoyed the puzzle overall but like others I did not think much of the theme. Thanks to Elkamere and to Tilsit for the comments.

  7. Strewth indeed!
    Got most of it but gave up on the last 3 or 4 in the bottom right – lost the will to live by that point!
    Bit pissed at the moment but will come back tomorrow to read Tilsit’s hints with interest and hopefully understand what it was all about!
    Don’t think Elkamere had the fluffy pink slippers on here – it smacked of Anax at his most devious to me!
    Thanks to Elkamere for the brain stretch and to Tilsit for tomorrows explanations – off to tackle today’s Giovanni over dinner now. Hope he’s a bit more gentle with us!

  8. The wordplay for 3D might have been satisfactory if the clue had read ‘Engineer, man dismissed works’.
    The crossword ‘gimmick’ was too clever for me so I give it a ‘miss’ even though I managed to complete the puzzle.

  9. Thanks for the explanation – but after not understanding the crossword, I don’t understand the explanation. Oh well, better luck tomorrow.

    1. if you need further explanation, please ask. It’s a lot easier for us to explain in the comments as the hints are intended for those still trying to complete the puzzle.

  10. Sorry but I hated this puzzle, even with Tilsit’s very good explanations. As said earlier, too clever for its own good. I was in a good mood when I started it but was losing the will to live towards the end. Solving a cryptic clue should lead to a feeling of achievement and an “ah of course”! But all this one did for me was to think “What?!?!?! Not a pleasant experience.

  11. Hello all. Firstly, apologies for logging in so late in the day but I’ve been away all weekend in Llangollen which, on Vodefone at least, offers zero reception, so I couldn’t use my phone to check responses.
    Secondly, I’m sorry the puzzle fell a bit flat for most. It was an odd thing – rummaging through the Toughie grids, this one jumped out as a bit odd and it immediately made me wonder if a gentle theme might be used to ‘justify’ the strange blocks which created the double unches. The intention certainly wasn’t to be clever – only to exploit the oddity – but, in retrospect, the overall clue difficulty was higher than usual (without me noticing, strangely) and I think this was detrimental.
    Many thanks to Tilsit for the great review and to all who persevered with the puzzle.

  12. Chris Cox

    Well I thought it was clever and great fun! Actually finished it (took a few days though) but got Hidey Hole quickly which helped a lot. Not sure why ‘itched’ is crawling (fleas??) .

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