Toughie 1037

Toughie No 1037 by Elgar

(or Never Decreasing Circles)

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

Greetings from the Calder Valley. Just when you think you can relax and sleep easy, over the hill comes the tramping of hobnailed boots, and Elgar’s back to drive you berserk. And it’s probably my favourite puzzle this year, I think. This time, our Evil Genius is undoubtedly at his most devious. I like cross-referential puzzles; at one time the Guardian used to feature one most weeks, usually by Araucaria, but now you don’t see them as often. This is a thing of beauty to be treasured. We should be giving out badges saying “I cracked Toughie 1037”

A mind-bending mixture of evil word play and that little extra to have you going round in circles. I’m not going to spoil the fun at the moment, but just ask you to persevere and stretch your brain a little. Even BD was stretched formatting this beast to go here as well. After starting by solving the anagram at 17d/28, I went off looking for the categories associated with the phrase. Wrong!

Because of the nature of the puzzle, some of the answers make up the clues so where they appear in the blog, they have been set so that they have to be highlighted as well, so it doesn’t spoil your solving.

There’s no beating about the bush. This is a stonker (and a stinker in terms of difficulty) of a Toughie and it displays the sheer genius of our setter. This is where the Telegraph’s claim of ‘giving you the toughest puzzles in Fleet Street’ is more than justified. It’s a Friday Toughie, always the hardest of the week and you have a whole Bank Holiday weekend to crack it! I know some of you won’t like it, but then there were three easier ones this week, and I pay my sub for this sort of challenge.

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 aren’t in blue, because they would all be highlighted; they are all so clever! Definitions are underlined.


7    See 9 Down

8    … given by 17Ac 4D 25D 17D, 16Ac 1D 27Ac 5D 17Ac to exchess champion? (5)
{TOTAL} If you look carefully where the underline starts, you’ll see the definition. How you may interpret 8 using the answers to the clues in order in the above {THREE TENS PLUS TWENTY LESS SEVEN TIMES DOUBLE THREE} is found by taking the word TO and adding the surname of Mikhail, a former World Chess Champion. As the Guardian might say, my Brian hurts!

10    5D 17Ac playing 27Ac in arrangement of 22D, missing intro (6)
{SEXTET} A description of 5D (DOUBLE} 17Ac (THREE} (people) playing music can be found by inserting the symbol associated with 27Ac (X) inside an anagram of the word at 22D {RE-TEST}, minus its first letter.

11    Spooner’s group is flagging protection up to defend attack (8)
{SANDBAGS} If the gentlemen of Black Dyke Mills feel tired, it’s a Spoonerish description of what is needed for defence, especially in my local area used against flooding.

12    See 15 Down

14    Fish out of water recuperating on dry land in Calais (1,5)
{À TERRE} This threw me completely! I got the answer from the definition and then went to look how I got it. A phone call to our glorious leader and while talking to him realised it’s a hidden answer with the wickedly clever “Fish out” as the instruction to extract the hidden answer!

16    Not so much brought back from Dusseldorf (4)
{LESS} And another hidden answer hidden backwards in the German city is a word that means not so much.

17, 27 & 17Ac    17Ac hoorays with hips — nine? (5,5,5)
{THREE TIMES THREE} Put a number of hips and hoorays together and you get this number of cheers. And if you use the instructions in the answer you get nine

18    Square follower of 3D and 17Ac repeatedly following 25D in bags, of course! (4)
{FOUR} Sequentially what comes after the answers to 3D (ONE-TWO} and 17Ac (THREE} is used in the plural following 25D {PLUS} to give bags (as in those from Oxford) found on a sporting course.

19    Minerva identified with her description of first third of Aeneid (6)
{ATHENE} I got the answer but couldn’t work out the wordplay so I consulted the Cruciverbalan Delphic Oracle (Crypticsue) who spake thus “Minerva the Roman goddess of wisdom is often linked with her Greek counterpart whose name if split 1, 4, 1 would explain how you spell the first two letters of Aeneid”. A very handy device to have!

21    See 6 Down

24    Give too little recognition for waiting up, nasty trend I interrupted (5-3)
{UNDER-TIP} An anagram (nasty) of TREND I goes inside UP to reveal what you do if you don’t look after your waiter properly.

26    17Ac 27 18Ac (or 17D 16Ac 5D 18Ac) — with 3D (part 1) it could make 20D with 3D (part 2), alphanumerically (6)
{TWELVE} One of the most famous anagram pairs provides the main theme for this puzzle. So here if you take 17Ac {THREE} 27Ac {TIMES} 18Ac {FOUR}, or to put it another way, 17D {TWENTY} 16Ac {LESS} 5D {DOUBLE} 18Ac {FOUR} you get something that when put with the first half of 3D {ONE} is a clever anagram of 20D {ELEVEN} and 3D part 2 {TWO}.

27    See 17 Across

28    See 17 Down


1    Very engrossed, watched film 17Ac 25D 18Ac (5)
{SEVEN} V (very) goes inside (engrossed) a word meaning watched to give a film starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman that fits in with our theme because 17Ac {THREE} 25D {PLUS} 18Ac {FOUR} is this.

2    In our party, the onset of political correctness marks move away (2,6)
{UP STICKS} An expression meaning to move away is found by putting P (the first letter, onset, of Political) inside a word meaning our party and added to this are the symbols for correctness (in a test)

3    Artifice in sport covered by radio networks (3-3)
{ONE-TWO} The first two BBC national radio networks AND rather cleverly hidden (covered by) in the same phrase is a tactic used in football, often talked about by managers such as Harry Redknapp.

4    17D at least sent to distraction (4)
{TENS} An anagram (to distraction) of SENT is 17d (TWENTY) in their minimum form.

5    17D 17D, for instance, but that wouldn’t produce such vision! (6)
{DOUBLE} Two lots of 17D {TWENTY} is 5D {DOUBLE} 17D (TWENTY} and could also produce an expression meaning normal vision – if you saw this it wouldn’t be how you were looking at things!

6 & 21    Admitting fury, 5D’s not half shown one has contempt for play (9,6)
{DANGEROUS CORNER} A famous play by J B Priestley is found by taking a word meaning fury or rage and putting it inside the first half of 5D (DOU}. Add an agent noun for someone who shows contempt at things and you get the work.

9 & 7    ‘You’ve no choice but to make these wild parties?’ Nonsense! (6,9)
{INNATE RESPONSES} An expression for automatic reactions is an anagram (wild) of PARTIES NONSENSE.

13    African wind — my word! — is heading north (5)
{SIROC} the name for a warm wind that blows through Africa is an old expression meaning “My word!” and IS reversed (heading north in a down clue).

15 & 12    Explaining that Ascot tie and g-string fashions (7,2,6)
{GETTING IT ACROSS} An anagram of ASCOT TIE and G-STRING gives an expression meaning explaining something.

17 & 28    Variety of IQ test new to us (Y/N game) (6,9)
{TWENTY QUESTIONS} So who remembers Anona Winn, Peter “Crackerjack” Glaze, Norman Hackforth and the other panellist? Variously hosted by Gilbert Harding, Peter Franklin and Kenneth Horne, this radio show ran on BBC R4 for many years. A lovely surface reading referring to the nature of the show where people had to identify items using statements that elicited the answers Yes or No. It’s an anagram (variety) of IQ TEST NEW TO US Y/N.

And if you are still stuck….

18    Distracted doctors reinfect (8)
{FRENETIC} An anagram (doctors) of REINFECT gives a word meaning distracted.

20    1D 25D 18Ac (or 17D 16Ac 17Ac 27Ac 17Ac) — with 3D (part 2) it could make 26Ac with 3D (part 1), alphanumerically (6)
{ELEVEN} Time for another round of Blankety Blank! Our answer here is found by taking 1d {SEVEN} 25d {PLUS} 18 ac {FOUR}, or put another way, 17D {TWENTY} 16Ac {LESS} 17Ac {THREE} 27Ac {TIMES} 17Ac {THREE}. When put together with the second half of 3D {TWO}, it makes the reverse anagram for 26ac {TWELVE} and the first half of 3d {ONE}

22    Subject to another 20D-25D summers in Brittany, occupying coastal parts of resort? (2-4)
{RE-TEST} For those of an age, if you got another chance to take your 20D (ELEVEN} 25D {PLUS} it was this. The word is found by taking the French word for summers and placing it inside the first and last letters (coastal parts!) of ResorT.

23    1 to 1, or 1D’s head dropping 18Ac and 17D, say (5)
{EVENS} In horse racing what 1 to 1 means is also the title of the film at 1D {SEVEN} with its first letter moved to the end (dropped) and what 18Ac {FOUR} and 17D {TWENTY} are examples of!

25    Not entirely luxurious advantage (4)
{PLUS} A word meaning an advantage is the same as one that means luxurious or the trendy (American) word for a cuddly toy, minus its last letter.

Huge thanks to Elgar for producing a stunning work of genius. Honorary mentions for BD for formatting all this and my friend Ginger for explaining 19 so brilliantly. I’m off for a very long lie-down in a very darkened room!

[I have suspended the normal practice of adding an a or d suffix to the clue numbers – but not to the references to those numbers. BD]


  1. Joe 90
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    “Stunning work of genius”……..I think not……I found this easier than yesterday’s puzzle……..if yesterday’s was a four-star then today is a three……so there…a lovely waste of time though.

  2. AndyB
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Only 8 completely defeated me.
    It’s not the hardest Elgar’s ever been, but this type of crossword leaves me in awe. How did he even begin to compose this beast.
    14ac is my clue of the year so far. Thanks to Elgar and Tilsit.

  3. Gilbert
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Joe 90. In fact I would go further and say it was one of the easiest offerings by Elgar.

  4. Chris
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but I also thought it was the easiest Elgar for ages. Must be the mathematical brain!
    Many thanks for the explanation of 8 ac.

  5. BigBoab
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I find these cross references extremely confusing but once the theme has been grasped there is not quite the difficulty one might have expected. Many thanks to Elgar for stretching me to the limit at first then letting me relax into the numerical theme. Many thanks also to Tilsit for a superb review.

  6. halcyon
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Whilst I respect Elgar’s attempts to push the boundaries I’m not his biggest fan. I find some of his stuff rather laboured – but this was exceptionally good. He has provided sufficient “gimmes’ to get the solver started and then most of it falls into place.

    I agree with Tilsit that the “hidden” indicator in 14a makes for a superb clue, and the definition in 24a is lovely. Ignorance of chess champs meant that I needed the hints to understand all of 8a but I really enjoyed the battle this time.

    Many thanks to Elgar and to Tilsit and BD for a superbly lucid analysis.

  7. Bakesi
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    didn’t really get all the wordplay but dropped on to theme very quickly and thus got nearly all the references before most of the other clues…thanks for explanation of 19…also a word in favour of anagrams (which get such a hard time on this blog) they certainly helped here! Can anybody give me the name of a website for multiple word anagrams? I know I’ve seen one but can’t remember site address…thanx to setter(genius!) and blogger(also genius) as always!

  8. Deep Threat
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Good fun. 8a was the last in – loud clang as penny dropped. Overall, though, I found this not as difficult as yesterday, where I needed to resort to the hints to finish.

    Thanks to Elgar and Tilsit.

  9. spindrift
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    As far as Tilsit’s darkened room is concerned then I’m afraid it’s standing room only. As my grey haired old Granny was fond of saying: “Even my arse has got a headache!”

  10. Heno
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Elgar and Tilsit. A fascinating puzzle, which I am pleased to say that I managed to get into. Needed lots of hints though to continue. Favourites were 19a and 3d.

  11. neveracrossword
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Ideal for filling in the longueurs in the test match. Never heard of the chess player, so just missed getting the badge.

    • Joe 90
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      Tal………….a genius……….

  12. 2Kiwis
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Lots and lots of jottings around the margins where we wrote down little calculations to help us on the way. Last one is was 8a where one of the duo was very keen to see Boris in there (although it did not fit 6d) until she was talked out of it. A different sort of challenge to what we are used to. Great fun and satisfying to complete.
    Thanks Elgar and Tilsit.

  13. nanaglugglug
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but couldn’t be bothered!

  14. Expat Chris
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad some folks had fun. Personally, I took one look at the clues and ddn’t bother to print the puzle out. These multi cross-referencing thingies make me cross-eyed and extremely cross. Better for my blood pressure that I avoid them.

  15. Only fools
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    I was exactly the same as nana etc and expat Chris at first glance but solved the “easier ” starters and then the rest sort of followed . For me much more enjoyable and solvable than yesterday’s ” toughie” which I found almost impenetrable .
    14a standout favourite and found wanting with 8a so thanks to Tilsit and Elgar .

  16. Outnumbered
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Great fun, but not all that hard once you get the theme. I missed out on 8a though…

  17. Witchfinder
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Add me to the list of solvers laid low by 8ac – I spent more time puzzling over that than the rest of the clues put together, and gave up in the end. I knew half a dozen ex-chess champions but even that and resorting to Wikipedia for inspiration wasn’t enough to crack the clue.

    Also agree that it wasn’t particularly hard beyond the above – once the theme because apparent, many of the clues could only really have one answer. I did enjoy it a lot, but more on account of it being something a bit different than anything else. Kudos to the warped imagination of Elgar for coming up with the idea in the first place!

  18. gnomethang
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Superlative .
    Two pints for everything apart from 8a then one more pint this morning.
    Thanks to Edgar and Tilsit .

    • crypticsue
      Posted August 24, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      I just love your predictive text – who is this Edgar????

      • jezza
        Posted August 24, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        … the bartender who served the pints? :)

  19. F1lbertfox
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Am off into a darkened room in order to recover with the help of a wee dram and some music on BBC Radio Scotland now I’ve finally completed this mind boggling puzzle. I hadn’t the time to just ‘sit and do’, but came back to it at various times during today and keep adding (and looking at the occasional hint) I can’t pretend that I really enjoy these ‘things’, but I hate being beaten. By the way, is there a simple way to explain 8 across? I’m more befuddled than ever after reading the hint. Am happy after LCFC’s win today though.

    • crypticsue
      Posted August 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      The number 8 is not only the number of the clue but also the TOTAL of the sum in the clue. Total can be split 2, 3 to mean TO TAL (Tal being the chess champion).

      • desertislanddick
        Posted August 25, 2013 at 3:00 am | Permalink

        Going a bit too far to use the clue number as the result of the calculation, which was NOT a total, but the difference of two products!

        • Posted August 25, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

          Welcome to the blog desertislanddick