Toughie 981 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 981

Toughie No 980 by Notabilis

The Fine Art of Clue Writing

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

Greetings from the Calder Valley! It is nice to be making one of my occasional ventures into Blogland and even more so when the puzzle you get to blog is so stunningly breath-taking.

When I found out it was one of Notabilis’ puzzles, I was delighted; I waited till midnight, eagerly printed it off, and then stared at a blank grid for over an hour! I then solved a couple and one by one like a Christmas tree’s needles, they fell into place and I kicked myself more and more. I then began to admire the beauty of the construction of these clues; 19 down stood out early on, followed by 1 across and then more and more of them. When the last answer went in, I wanted more. And that is the mark of a good crossword! I am lucky to test solve for a number of setters, including one or two of the up and coming ones, and I would recommend to each of them that they study this puzzle carefully and learn from it.

I thought it only fair to write to our setter and congratulate him and was greeted with the news that there was a Nina in there too! I went off searching with a certain cryptic lady’s help and then it leapt out! I’ll leave that for you to discover.

If only all crosswords were this splendid! Thanks to Notabilis for a masterpiece. Here’s to the next one.

Incidentally, when you are lucky enough to receive a mail from our hero, there is a lovely widget that extracts a quirky definition from Chambers. The one I got in his mail back was as follows:

*album Graecum* (Low Latin) the dried dung of dogs, formerly used for inflammation of the throat” — The Chambers Dictionary

Another incidentally, if you are at a loose end on Monday afternoon, I am taking part in Counterpoint, the music quiz on Radio 4 at 3pm and on iPlayer all week. I am sworn to secrecy on the result, but I will confirm that I was rather surprised to discover that the host. Paul Gambaccini, was incredibly tall!

Now there’s a thought! If you want to join in the adulation, please leave a comment and add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a Best replacement, a bit less than stellar? (5)
{STARR} We start with a lovely bit of trivia. The definition is “Best replacement” and although I quickly realised we were looking for someone who succeeded best, I went off thinking of George. You need think of P Best Esq and a surname which is just short of being a word that means stellar, think of Van Gogh’s painting of night.

And here’s our subject’s finest hour. Discuss.

ARVE Error: need id and provider

4a Weight of ring in purple and very very black (5,3)
{PLUMB BOB} A weight used by some professions is revealed by taking a shade of purple and one of the very darkest pencils you can get and inserting O for ring.

8a Strength of monkeys regularly seen in trees (8)
{FIRMNESS} The alternate letters of MONKEYS go inside some coniferous trees to give you a word for strength.

9a Mount races to capture heart of Maureen O’Hara in a film (8)
{SCARLETT} I know it’s my silly sense of humour, but I imagined Dame Peggy rushing round in a particularly bad 50’s B&W pic. However, a word that means to mount or climb and the abbreviation of some famous race on the Isle of Man takes R (heart of Maureen) to give the name of the most famous O’Hara in film.

peggy mount

11a One’s learned what breaks short knife, in hindsight (7)
{EGGHEAD} Someone who is clever (like Daphne, Kevin, Chris or Pat for example) is found by taking the name of a knife (think Cluedo), but not all of it. Insert a word that means “What?” and reverse it all.

13a Leeway of little magnitude in a cavalry weapon (9)
{ALLOWANCE} If something like a sound has little magnitude, it may be said to be this, which goes inside a long pointy weapon to give a word meaning leeway or latitude.

15a Treat to spy? Thing quite different! (3,1,6,5)
{NOT A PRETTY SIGHT} This is a nice example of a type of clue known as “&lit” (defined beautifully here: ) An anagram (shown and qualified by “quite different”) of TREAT TO SPY THING reveals something that may be defined by the whole clue. Very clever!

18a Get French cheeses picked up for a drink with vodka (3,6)
{SEA BREEZE} The name for a vodka-based cocktail with cranberry and grapefruit juices is a homophone of “get [as in understand] some soft cheeses from la belle France.

sea breeze
21a He devised cuts since accordingly introduced by young man (7)
{SASSOON} Oddly, I worked this out through ignorance and have only just realised again how clever this is. This was one of the last entries and seeing “young man” assumed that Siegfried Sassoon did a work with “young man” in the title, such as James Joyce’s work. Of course he wrote the “Anthology for Doomed Youth”. After slapping myself on the forehead, I realised that the definition is “He devised cuts” which of course refers to Vidal, not Siegfried and AS SO (since accordingly) goes inside SON (YOUNG MAN).

22a Logic’s abandoned with theologian involved in popularity-based award (4,4)
{GOLD DISC} An award for sales in music is found by taking the traditional abbreviation for someone who is qualified as a theologian and placing it inside an anagram of LOGIC’S.

24a Revocation of secular condition Foreign Office authorised (8)
{OFFICIAL} A reverse word sum. A word that means of secular condition is added to a short word meaning conditional and the abbreviation for the Foreign Office. This is all reversed (indicated by revocation) to give you something hat means authorised.

25a Thoroughly involved with demand in store (4-4)
{KNEE DEEP} A word for demand goes inside the name for a store in a castle to give you an expression that means embroiled in.

26a Run right into perhaps a baleful badger (5)
{HARRY} This one was another that had me fooled for a while, as I was convinced it was BROCK and duly went searching for the word BOCK meaning “baleful”. But it’s nowt of the sort, and is the far more clever RR (run right) inside something that is sold by the bale.


1d Ordeals of following lines in petition on phones (10)
{SUFFERINGS} A word meaning what people endure (such as Tamino and Pamina in The Magic Flute) is found by taking the poetic abbreviation for following, placing it inside something that means legally petition and adding a word meaning calls on a phone.

2d Overbearing Arthur cuddles frequent companion for (dishy) Josh (8)
{ARROGANT} Inside the shortened form of Mr Garfunkel’s name goes the other part of the spicy Indian dish whose suffix is Josh to give you something that means overbearing.

3d Bridesmaid turning more chaste when worried nun enters (6-2)
{RUNNER-UP} Now there’s an image for you! An expression for the person deemed the bridesmaid in a contest is found by taking a word meaning more chaste and reversing it with an anagram of NUN inside. If the Royaume Uni are this tomorrow night in Malmo, then it will be a triumph (and a bloody miracle!)

4d Col. Blimp, at bottom a buffoon (4)
{PASS} Another meaning of the geographical term known as a col. The last letter of Blimp (at bottom) is added to a word for a buffoon or clown to give the aforementioned term.

5d Essence of male orientation symbol (6)
{MARROW} The word for a form of tissue in a plant (or the name of a plant itself!) is found by taking M (male) and adding the symbol used to show direction.

6d Large mammal’s horny plates enable scuffling (6)
{BALEEN} The horny plates found in a whale’s mouth that are used to make Crypticsue’s corsets can be found by making an anagram of ENABLE.

7d Promotion neglecting small computer start-up (4)
{BOOT} Take a word meaning promotion and remove (neglecting) S (small) to give the method of starting your computer.

10d Mostly faddish argument over loose clothing (8)
{CULOTTES} Those who remember Kenneth Williams on Just a Minute will recall he described himself as this word meaning faddish. Take three quarters of the word and add to the name for a bust up or row reversed to get some fashionable items of wear again probably worn by Crypticsue.

12d Shimmering steel blue turns around, never going out of style (8)
{DATELESS} Inside the reversal of a word meaning blue goes an anagram of STEEL to give a way of saying that something remains fashionable just like Crypticsue’s (That’s enough – ED)

14d Someone helping seabird in the past, according to appearances? (10)
{EXTERNALLY} Think of how to say former (in the past) and add the name of a sea bird and someone who would be a help or supporter. This gives you a word meaning according to appearances.

16d Mum crossing Thames at Oxford hugs somebody vacant like mummy’s boy? (8)
{SISSYISH} A way of describing a mummy’s boy is found by taking the word for mum, as in “keep mum!”, and inserting the name for the River Thames at Oxford and inside that placing SY (SomebodY vacant).

17d More hip from good jumper to compete at start of run-up (8)
{GROOVIER} How you said more hip, as in more trendy. In the 1960’s /70’s is found by solving this word sum: G (good) + the short name for something that jumps down under + to compete with/rival + R (start of run-up).

19d It‘s entirely about protecting university (6)
[ALLURE} Several sites run Clue of the Week features and I have nominated this gem for this week’s contest. Something that means entirely is added to the short word for about (as in correspondence). This all goes round (protecting) U for university. Where’s the definition? It literally is the definition!

Think of the late actress Clara Bow and her nickname.

20d Pushed a blockage through, not even having flushed 14 (6)
{RODDED} Another clue where you stifled the giggles and admire the clever way Notabilis uses words. The work that Dyno-Rod (other drainage unblocking companies are available) do is revealed by taking the word for not even and putting it inside a word for flushed (as in my face when Crypticsue gets her hands round my throat!). 14 is the way of indicating that flushed goes around it.

22d Someone obsessing about computer language without introduction of recursion (4)
{GREEK} An ancient language minus R (introduction of recursion) gives a way of describing myself or say, the big tall one on the quiz show Pointless.

23d Nothing in arrest leads to place of confinement (4)
[COOP} The name for somewhere to confine your chickens is found by taking O (nothing) and placing it inside something that means arrest (or the person that does it).

And so we are done. Heartiest thanks to Notabilis for a delightful and amazing masterclass in clue writing and setting. Here’s to the next one. If you’d like to thank him personally, you may be able to at next Thursday’s S&B do in Wapping, as he might just attend. I hope to be there to show my appreciation.

And the Nina: Well –


See you again soon, if I can avoid being throttled by Crypticsue, who was really a big help today! Ta ma’am!!

32 comments on “Toughie 981

  1. Definitely a candidate for Toughie of the Year. It had everything required, the perfect toughness level, lots to smile at, I have a very ‘spotty’ piece of paper today with dots by all my favourites (and with a crossword this good, one can certainly have more than one favourite). As Tilsit says, one of those puzzles that you finish and then wish there was more to solve.

    Thanks to Notabilis for a great end to the Toughie week and to Tilsit for the explanations.

  2. For some reason I found this to be to easiest Toughie of the week.

    Tilsit, the clip for 1a doesn’t seem to work ….

    … it works now!

    Who was the Beatles’ best drummer?

    1. John Lennon: “Ringo, the best drummer in the world? He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles.”

  3. More penny dropping moments than in any puzzle I can remember .Occasionally felt idiotic for not twigging sooner .Gave up listing favoured clues when I had reached 10 .
    Smiled a lot ,swore a little and took absolute ages .
    Thanks very much to Notabilis and to Tilsit .

  4. Absolutely superb toughie from Notablis and a cracking review from Tilsit. Great stuff!!

  5. I am stunned. I thought I’d be struggling with this the whoe weekend, but I have finished, and without hints! This is not to say I completely understood the wordplay for every clue, even though I was sure of the answer. IA was the last one in since I, too, had George stuck in my mind, but I got there eventually. Lots of clues I liked. I really enjoyed the challenge, so very many thanks to Tilsit, and to Notabilus for the review.

    I never rated Ringo much, myself.

    1. Oops…wrong way round. Very many thanks to Notabilus and to Tilsit for the review.

  6. I’m a little bit with Stan on this one, however it was certainly the most enjoyable puzzle I have done for some time. Astounding skill by the setter. Many thanks to Notabilis for the experience and Tilsit for his comprehensive review.

  7. Way beyond this humble solver I’m afraid. This is more of a “backsolver” for me so I’ll just stand & wonder in amazement at a) the setter’s ingenuity & b) the skills of those who have finished it.

  8. Top notch puzzle and very enjoyable, favourites for me were 4a 9a 15a and 16d thanks to Notabilis and to Tilsit for the comments.

  9. This was so enjoyable! I’m so glad I got the chance to tackle it this morning before any hints were available as I may have given in. As it is I persevered and had fun. So many great clues all so satisfying to solve (although I always find the ‘what’ in 11a a bit annoying). Did need pointing in the right direction for 1a though as I was thinking of George rather than Ringo! Too many favourite clues to list! Thanks to setter and Tilsit.

  10. I’ve had a day off work and was able to solve this at leisure. And what a pleasure it was! Thanks to Notabilis & Tilsit for the review. Arachne in the Graun is in fine fettle today, for those of you left wanting more :-)

  11. There will definitely be throttling – why not come along to Wapping and watch :)

  12. I rate my colleague Notabilis very highly. This was an excellent puzzle and (for me) not all that difficult — but one reason why this was so is because Notabilis is always scrupulously fair in all aspects of his cluing, . I rarely comment in blogs about Telegraph colleagues and I wouldn’t here, except that I am surprised by the use of more than five stars by Tilsit (five should be a maximum methinks) and by the surprisingly low rating from other solvers. I am honoured to have N as my crossword-setting companion today and wanted to put that on record amidst the perplexingly different reactions!

    1. I get your point Giovanni. I wanted to say that it was better than most of the stuff that has passed my pencil tip this year.

      For me Notabilis, along with Virgilius, Elgar and Bannsider of the Indy (Mr Crossword Editor get him on board and your Toughie truly has reached its acme) are the finest setters around today and produce consistently challenging and stimulating challenges.

      At the risk of bing put in Pseuds Corner (Should that be Crypticsued’s Corner?) the more you unpick this puzzle, the more satisfying it becomes. I doubt whether any other setter would have produced the consistently high quality of clues in that puzzle, hence my suggestion that aspiring setters study the constructs carefully.


  13. I tried my first ever Toughie on Wednesday and failed miserably. Egged on by CS (thank you so much :-) ), coupled with awful weather, I decided to give this one today a really good go, and I have to say I am so glad I did – even though it took far more time than I dare admit to my wife!

    I actually managed to finish it with only a little help from Tilsit (for which many thanks) on 3 clues – 2d, 5d and 6d (which was a new word for me). Every clue was very satisfying and some were very amusing, and I concur fully with all the comments about what a splendid puzzle it is.

    My rating for this was ****/*****, and my congratulations and heartfelt thanks go to Notabilis for several hours’ wonderful entertainment.

    1. Me from the other puzzle, 2 of your last 3 in matched mine!! Seriously though, I do wish more people would venture to the Toughies at the suggestions from Cryptic Sue and others, they are experienced enough to know when it’s a good move!!

  14. We agree that this was a really top-notch puzzle. We are very pleased with ourselves that we even managed to completely parse every clue too, although we totally missed the double letter phenomenon. (Does it actually qualify as a Nina though?) Very much appreciated and enjoyed.
    Thanks Notabilis and Tilsit.

  15. Thanks to Notabilis for his customary excellence and to Tilsit for the review. I too missed the double-letters. My last clue solved was 11a because, although the answer was fairly obvious, I couldn’t get it out of my head that ‘what breaks’ was EGG.

  16. 19d for its brilliance, 21a because I got the hairdresser not the Poet -the fox hunting man, 25a as on first read through was much deeper in it than that….This has to be in the running for Toughie of the year, Thanks Tilsit and Notabilis

  17. Apparently, I solved more clues than Tilsit in the first hour. However, there are other things to do today. I may keep this one for my hols.

  18. Finished eventually, actually I got off to a bad start with 1ac, I reckoned Best (beer / bitter) replacement (ie it’s not on what else would you like) was LAGER which unfortunate is also clued as STELLA(r) otherwise a fine tricksy crossword and nicely done, thanks Dave and Notabilis

  19. Hopefully, future Bloggers will never again leave a clue unsolved:-

    What’s the answer to:-

    *album Graecum* (Low Latin) the dried dung of dogs, formerly used for inflammation of the throat”

    Thank you in anticipation!

    1. It’s not a clue. It is the definition of The phrase. Just don’t ask for it at your local chemists!

  20. Agree with virtually everything in Tilsit’s excellent review. 19d a clue of the month for sure, and I loved “baleful” in 26 and “dishy Josh” in 2.
    I was concerned that there might be redundancy in the clueing of 1d – either “lines” or “in” to indicate inclusion of ff – silly me – ff can mean “following lines”, so it is perfect then.

    Many thanks to Notabilis and to Tilsit.

  21. Pleasant crossword to solve but nothing to justify Tilsit’s ecstatic pleasure and fawning adulation. Better than some Toughies not as good as the best

  22. I printed this off Friday, but didn’t have the chance to look at it until this morning.
    The top right corner was my finishing point in this very enjoyable puzzle.
    I got 20d, which then gave me 14d with only one checking letter.
    4*/4* for me.
    Many thanks to Notabilis, and to Tilsit for the review.

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