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Toughie 999

Toughie No 999 by Micawber

Dial 999!

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

Toughie number 999 is themed on its puzzle number. Micawber has pulled out all the stops for this tour de force.

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    Remove slight uncertainty in voice (4,3)
{WEED OUT} – this sounds like (in voice) a slight uncertainty (3,5)

5a    Overlapping targets for snooker and croquet balls provide chance to shoot (5,2)
{PHOTO OP} – the target for a snooker ball (aaa) and that for a croquet ball overlapped as abaab bb

9    9 (9)
{EMERGENCY} – why one calls 9 9 9 (and the number of this puzzle!) [Micawber described this clue on Facebook as “unconventional”]

10a    Source of fibre in breakfasts is all-bran (5)
{SISAL} – hidden inside the clue

11a    Shorts for children (4)
{TOTS} – two definitions – the first being short alcoholic drinks

12a    8 captain briefly could get mad (10)
{APOPLECTIC} – an anagram (could get) of the answer to 8 down and the abbreviation (briefly) for CAPT(ain)

13a    It sounds like sic transit gloria mundi’s essentially a clue (NB cryptic) (9)
{AMBULANCE} – this sounds like sick transit, or a conveyance for the sick – the middle two letters (essentially) of gloriA Mundi’s followed by an anagram (cryptic) of A CLUE NB [one of the 9 across services]

16a    Get the sack (3)
{BAG} – two definitions

19a    He’s often seen putting fish starter away (3)
{ELS} – taking advantage of the fact that putting can be derived from to put and to putt! – drop (away) the initial letter (starter) of some fish

20a    Water renewed hardy tree (9)
{REHYDRATE} – an anagram (renewed) of HARDY TREE

22a    Body monitoring offshore activity on Spooner’s phantom Amex? (10)
{COASTGUARD} – split the answer into two words and treat as a Spoonerism to get a phantom and a piece of plastic issued by Amex [another of the 9 across services]

25a    Light  sack (4)
{FIRE} – two definitions – the second being to sack from a job [another of the 9 across services]

27a    So long for Strasbourg to reform EU aid (5)
{ADIEU} – the French for (for Strasbourg) “so long” is an anagram (to reform) of EU AID

28a    Usually nine? (4,5)
{MOST OFTEN} – split as (4,2,3) and you get nine

29a    Squalid digs that fellow’s found in middle of Exeter for term (7)
{EPITHET} – some squalid accommodation and the pronoun for “that fellow” inside the middle letters of ExETer

30a    Was after teacher caught in act (7)
{DESIRED} – how his pupils address a teacher inside (caught) an act


1d    Bird‘s display around mating period (8)
{WHEATEAR} – a verb meaning to display or show around the mating period for an animal

2d    Having a chance of getting in with gorgeous date being taken out (9)
{ELECTABLE} – start with an adjective meaning gorgeous and drop (being taken out) the D(ate)

3d    Government deposed by soldiers in bloody riot (4)
{ORGY} – start with a word meaning bloody and move the G(overnment) down a couple of places (deposed)

4d    Row about excuse for not writing, perhaps — might it get one into a can of worms? (3-6)
{TIN OPENER} – a row or rank around what could be (perhaps) an excuse for not writing (2,3)

5d    Aide’s informal agreement to settle (3,2)
{PAY UP} – the abbreviation for an aide or Personal Assistant followed by (‘s / has) a word of informal agreement

6d    Source of seafood dish deters boy (6,3)
{OYSTER BED} – an anagram (dish) of DETERS BOY

7d    Start filming… (5)
{ONSET} – split as (2,3) this is where filming takes place

8d    …’Cut!’ — coming up, ‘Kill Bill‘ (6)
{POLICE} – a verb meaning to cut reversed (coming up) followed by a slang verb meaning to kill [the last of the 9 across services]

14d    Conservatives abandoning both cabinet and sofa fail to maintain lines of communication (4,5)
{LOSE TOUCH} – drop (abandoning) the C(onservative)s from both a six-letter word for a cabinet and a five-letter word for a sofa

15d    What comes before ‘The Fall’ in edition put out? (9)
{ETHERISED} – what comes before The Fall (3,4) [and it’s not pride as that comes before a fall – “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall”) inside ED(ition) gives put out in the sense of mad unconscious

17d    Carnivore swallowing boy, one who featured in circus (9)
{GLADIATOR} – a reptilian carnivore around (swallowing) a boy and I (one)

18d    Humiliated and perhaps distressed as a lion fed mouse’s tail (8)
{DEMEANED} – what could mean removed the hair from (dis-tressed) a lion with the final letter (tail) of mousE inserted (fed)

21d    A little butter and pickle (6)
{SCRAPE} – two definitions –a small amount of butter and a pickle or fix

23d    Defence evidence, perhaps — adult impulse stopped short of act (5)
{ALIBI} – A(dult) followed by an impulse without (stopped short) DO (act)

24d    Not satisfied, global body held talks (5)
{UNMET} – a global which promotes peace and international security followed by a verb meaning held talks

26d    Vessels clog up (4)
{POTS} – a verb meaning to clog reversed (up in a down clue)

This promises to be an excellent week, with a collaborative effort tomorrow for Toughie 1000 and arch-tormentor Elgar on Friday.

21 comments on “Toughie 999

  1. Definitely a contender for the Puzzle of the Year prize, as well as Toughie of the Year. I have so many * s by so many favourites that I couldn’t really pick a clue that wasn’t a ‘favourite’ (sorry Kath). Possibly the top one has to be the penny-dropping moment of the significance of 9 9 (9).

    Thanks to Micawber for the great entertainment and to lucky BD for the review. Can’t wait for tomorrow and Friday.

  2. I don’t think I have enjoyed a puzzle more so far this year. Thoroughly excellent stuff!
    Thanks to Micawber, and to BD.

  3. I must echo Crypticsues’ sentiments, 9a was truly exceptional in my opinion, however the whole crossword was fantastic. My thanks to Micawber who is surely the compiler of the year and to BD for the masterly review. 5*/5*.

  4. Absolutely brilliant with loads of penny drop moments, difficult to select favourites but I’ll opt for 9a 14d and 28a thanks to Micawber and to Big Dave for the review.

  5. I can only agree with all the above- an utter delight. Last one in was 19ac, with a loud “DOH” It’s been a great week so far,looking forward to tomorrow and friday.

  6. Thanks to Micawber and to Big Dave for the review and hints. I thoroughly enjoyed it, a really super puzzle. Managed most of it apart from the NW corner where I needed 5 hints. Favourites were 9a and 18d.

  7. It must take an enormous effort to set a puzzle of this quality, it certainly is appreciated. Thank you Micawber and thank you BD, I needed you to understand the wordplay for 14d. Also thank you to the Don for yesterday’s splendid offering but am still sulking as got one wrong. Looking forward to the rest of the week.

  8. Magic, our Maurice, magic! If I thought that yesterday’s Toughie was difficult then this one takes it to a whole new level.
    Thanks to Micawber & as per to BD without whose tips this solver would still be staring at a grid devoid of 75% of its answers.

  9. May i also add my thanks to Micawber for producing a most excellent crossword. It bodes well for tomorrow.
    Many thanks to Big Dave for his review.

  10. Absolutely brilliant. A joy from start to finish. Many, many thanks to Micawber and to BD for the review.

  11. Roars of laughter accompanied us throughout the solving process. Thought 9a was brilliant. Incidentally, the clue does not work so well in NZ as our equivalent number is 111. The reason for this relates to the way that telephone dials were numbered in the days when such things existed. The clue that got the biggest roar though was 13a. “Sic transit” as a homophone – magnificent.
    Many many thanks Micawber and BD.

    1. One of the downsides of solving at work is the funny looks you get when you laugh out loud, sic transit being once such occasion this morning.

  12. Exceptional crossword set with a smile and a lot of thought .
    Like others too many favourites to list .
    Much thanks to Micawber and BD

  13. Finished the last three this morning, and can only echo what others have said. Very clever and entertaining stuff. ****/***** for me.

  14. The explanation for 5A ( the target for a snooker ball (aaa) and that for a croquet ball overlapped as abaab bb) has gone waaaaay over my head – please can somebody put me out of my misery and explain what all that means before my brain finally explodes? :-)

      1. Ooooooh, I seeeee. I was trying to understand how all those a and b characters came into the equation. Thanks for the explanation Crypticsue, :-)

  15. Five-star comments all round, and rightly so, IMHO. So why are there only four stars on the overall rating?

    Come on, own up – who are you?

    I dread to think how your tactics/conscience will make you vote today, if at all….but tomorrow I already know.

  16. Absolutely superb stuff!. Thanks Micawber and BD.
    Is it worth pointing out that Els was a Konstabel?

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