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Toughie 1357

Toughie No 1357 by Excalibur

The Sword in the Stone and the Stick in the Mud

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BD Rating - Difficulty **** - Enjoyment ****

The more I get into crosswords, the more I realise what a fusspot I can be about strict cluing (at least as I see it). Why, then, do I make an exception for Excalibur? I found this puzzle unnerving and downright unfair in parts, often struggled to see the obvious as a result, and enjoyed every minute of it!

Definitions are underlined. 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 Out when one takes in skirt for alteration (2,6)
ON STRIKE ONE from the clue around (takes in) an anagram (for alteration) of SKIRT.

5a Jokey word for 'discipline'? (6)
PUNISH A verb meaning discipline or chastise looks (or at least sounds) like it could be an adjective meaning jokey or involving a play on words.

9a Find he is bound over (8)
FINISHED An anagram (bound) of FIND HE IS. (Is 'bound' a fair anagram indicator?)

10a Shut up or having been banished, for having a gun (6)
FASTEN FOR from the clue after OR is deleted (having been banished), then A from the clue and a mass-produced British WWII submachine gun.

12a Expurgated version of 'Hit the Jackpot' (7,2)
CLEANED UP A phrase meaning expurgated or edited to be free of offensive material is also a synonym (version) of having hit the jackpot or scooped all the winnings.

13a Covering hot period, it measures heat (5)
THERM A period (in school or prison, say) around (covering) H(ot).

14a Shouted 'Evacuate out from building!' (4)
SHED Remove (evacuate) OUT from SHOUTED.

16a Jumps when rider turns and gives signal (7)
SPRINGS A rider or caveat (traditionally at the end of a letter) in reverse (turns) and followed by a word meaning gives a signal or sounds a bell.

19a Succeed in getting their dithering straightened out (7)
INHERIT A word meaning succeed (to) is given by... IN from clue plus an anagram of THEIR? An anagram of the inner letters of (d)ITHERIN(g)? IN plus an anagram of (s)TR(a)I(g)H(t)EN(ed), where the extraneous letters are just random noise (dithering)? No time to dwell so I'll have to come back to this! 

21a Audibly lamented superciliousness (4)
SIDE A homophone (audibly) of lamented, as in: '"I can't make head or tail of 19a," Toro lamented.'

24a Excuse ('Little time') that's tailor-made (5)
PLEAT An excuse or claim in mitigation plus the abbreviation (little) of T(ime).

25a Cuckoo in a cage (4-5)
STIR-CRAZY Nice cryptic definition of the state of mind that afflicts prisoners or others cooped up in one place for a long time.

27a On taking good look round, prepared to absorb (6)
SPONGY ON from the clue plus G(ood), with a verb meaning look or secretly observe on the outside (round).

28a Crass, ranting ludicrously about nothing (8)
IGNORANT An anagram (ludicrously) of RANTING around the symbol for zero or nothing.

29a Mean, having got home, to put back key (6)
DENOTE A home or animal lair, TO from the clue reversed (put back), and a musical note or key.

30a Outside court, ring newly freed subject of court martial? (8)
DEFECTOR a deserter (a word which also fits and is arguably closer to the definition). The abbreviation for court in a street address plus the ring-shaped letter, with an anagram (newly) of FREED on the outside.


1d Rotten being on the rocks, getting job (6)
OFFICE A word for rotten (or starting to get that way) above a slang word equivalent to rocks (referring to something precious).

2d Split second to meet below (6)
SUNDER S(econd) plus a synonym for below or beneath.

3d Hardliners, half crazed, revolted (5)
RISEN in rebelled. One half (you decide which) of HARDL|INERS anagrammed (crazed).

4d Having made bloomer, perhaps, required to speak out (7)
KNEADED A homophone (to speak out) of a word meaning required. Think bloomer loaf. (Definition seems a bit imprecise).

6d Later streaks in nude, tipsy as always (9)
UNALTERED An anagram (streaks) of LATER inside an anagram (tipsy) of NUDE. (Thoughts on 'streaks'?)

7d Finally, then, I will readjust, taking aim (2,3,3)
IN THE END An anagram (will readjust) of THEN I, and a word for aim or objective.

8d Like a tail-ender, devil take it! (8)
HINDMOST An adjective meaning at the very rear, as in the phrase "Every man for himself and the Devil take the ________".

11d Work up parts so uplifting (4)
OPUS UP goes inside (parts) SO, all reversed (uplifting).

15d In short supply, which is almost beyond comprehension (4,2,3)
HARD TO GET A phrase literally meaning in short supply (although as a set phrase it really means feigning unresponsiveness) also means difficult to get one's head round.

17d Willing, given medicine, to swallow odd sip (8)
DISPOSED A word meaning given a measure of medicine around (to swallow) an anagram (odd) of SIP.

18d It encourages stubborn mule to go on (8)
SHOEHORN Cryptic definition that requires knowing that a mule is an item of footwear -- though being an open-backed slipper it would never require one of these!

20d As far as 'Wrap up garbage' (4)
TOSH A preposition meaning as far as plus an expression meaning wrap up or be quiet.

21d One needs an H in 'hairdo' (7)
SHINGLE A synonym for one around (needs) an H.

22d He displays erudition -- a front when finding way around (6)
SAVANT The A from the clue plus a word for the front part of an advancing army, with an abbreviation for a type of road or way on the outside (around).

23d Silly story about egghead and aphrodisiac? (6)
OYSTER An anagram (silly) of STORY around the first letter (head) of E(gg).

26d Finish unfinished cupboard (5)
CLOSE A small room, like a broom cupboard, minus its last letter (unfinished).

Phew, done! Now then, time to take a longer look at 19a...

Over to you - please rate and comment on this puzzle below.


54 comments on “Toughie 1357

  1. I won’t be around at 4 pm so…

    At the gathering at Little Venice in January, I was taken to task by someone who probably should remain nameless about the fact that if I could solve 30 – 40 puzzles a week with relative degrees of difficulty, why did I have such problems getting on Excalibur’s wavelength. As I said then, I really don’t know why I don’t but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying.

    However, I can report that I didn’t have my usual wavelength problems today and solved this puzzle in more or less the same time as the backpager and liked several of the clues.

    Thank you to Excalibur and, in advance, to Toro.

    1. Hi Sue – that sounds suspiciously like a short conversation I had with you. I plied a lot of people with a lot of questions that day and learned a great deal – from setters about setting, and from solvers about solving – and am sorry if it came across as ‘taking you to task’. It certainly wasn’t meant that way!

      Anyway, as you will see from the review I’m about to write, I did not find this at all easy, and am actually struggling to parse a couple, though I did enjoy the tussle.

  2. I won’t be around at 4 either and I usually have exactly the same problem as CSue with Excalibur puzzles. But also not this time – what’s going on here?
    I rather liked 16a, 4d and 22d but, assuming I’ve solved em correctly, thought “straightened out” in 19a was superfluous and couldn’t parse 29a at all [I assume “mean” is the def?]
    Thanks to Excalibur [and I’m sure Toro’s blog will be impeccable.]

      1. Thanks for explaining 29a Toro. It’s a neat clue which I should have seen but was too focussed on home = in.

  3. I can’t remember from one week to the next which toughie setters I have them most difficulty with! I need to start keeping a log. I had no trouble with this one, though it certainly took me longer than the back pager. I thought it was fun, and have ticks by a number of clues . I liked 18D in particular, but I rather think the object in question would be surplus to requirements. The one I can’t parse is 30A. Many thanks to Excalibur. Looking forward to the review.

    1. Hi Chris,
      30a is only an anagram of freed, the two letters abbv for court and the letter in the shade of a ring.

  4. I wonder if the review will be entitled ” every man for himself “.
    That’s how it feels at the moment.
    A good mixture of clues from Excalibur and enough anagrams to last us the whole week. And 5a is going to make a few people cringe I’m sure.
    No real favourites.
    Thanks and I shall be back when the review is online.

  5. Sorry to be in disagreement with others today, but I didn’t find this enjoyable. Some of the surface readings were clunky (10 & 19a ) and I have my doubts about 5a &1d. I normally enjoy Excalibur’s puzzles so please forgive me for being picky today.

    Anyway, thanks to Excalibur for the puzzle and to Toro, for which I’m sure will be an interesting review.

    1. I always have a copy of The Chambers Crossword Dictionary (as well as the BRB) handy to check on my parsing when the crossword is complete. So I agree with Toro’s query of the 9a anagram indicator – ‘bound’ is normally a containment indicator and I have never seen it used as an anagram indicator.

  6. Oh ‘eck! I was hoping to find some tints & hips for solving this, which for me at any rate is proving very difficult. And it’s only Tuesday so what does that bode for the rest of the week?

  7. Excalibur is far and away my favourite Toughie setter. Short,witty clues. No convolutions. I loved this puzzle and I’ve loved every Excalibur crossword I’ve solved. Keep up the good work, please

  8. I normally like Excalibur but today wasn’t sure about “dithering straightened out” as an anagram indicator in 19a. I agree with halcyon that the last two words aren’t needed except in surface. Wasn’t sure about “bound” in 9a either. And Rabbit Dave ( I think it was him) will complain again that absorb is a transitive verb and definitely cannot be used without an object, as it is in 27a.

    Last ones in were 21a (took me a while to see the supercilious bit) and 20d, where I’m
    still not convinced about the “wrap up” bit (if my answer is right! looking forward to the review)

    There were some nice clues – I really liked 23d (aphrodisiac) when the penny dropped, and I liked 18d (stubborn mule). I also liked 6d (the tipsy streaker).

    I didn’t know the “devil take it” expression but found it.

    Many thanks Excalibur and Toro in advance

  9. Spent far too long before realising that 21a answer was not rude, homophone of rued, making 21d almost impossible. 10a last one to unravel. Thanks to Excalibur and Toro

        1. OK Toby but I was on a packed train with just a pen and no books internet or nuffink. The train wasn’t late though ;)

          1. Oi! I was just taking issue with davelawes suggesting rude was “a better answer”. Glad your train was on time, but was it free?

  10. The one that took me the longest was 21d.
    There seems to be a name for every kind of haircut.
    Thanks to Toro for coming to terms with the great review.

  11. Having all the checking letters, I confess to bunging in ‘deserter for 30A, so no surprise I couldn’t parse it. I also confess to looking no further than the obvious for 19A. Thanks for the review, Toro!

  12. Thanks for review Toro – very interesting.

    I also really liked 25a (cuckoo).
    streaks as an anagram indicator (6d) grated me a little too but it is easier to forgive when the surface is interesting.
    17d – “odd” must be an anagram indicator to get the “i” in as well
    21d, funny, I also read “single” as one who needs an H (husband), but that lends itself to lots of argument so your interpretation is clearly right.

    Cant see anything more in 19a yet, do let us know if you get any further

    Thanks again

    1. Hi Dutch,
      I just noticed that too. I’m sure it is DOSED with an anagram of SIP inside.

  13. I found it very annoying but good fun. Last in was 18d. Particularly liked 25a . Learnt a new word for Front

  14. I enjoyed this puzzle. It took some time to complete but (unusually) I managed without resorting to electronic help. So ***/****
    Like Toro, I am unsure about 19a. I can’t see that the last two words are necessary. Can anyone give an explanation?
    Thanks to Excalibur and Toro

    1. To add to the possibilities I toyed with in the review, it could even be ‘in’ (gett)IN(g) (t)HE(ir) dithe(RI)ng (straigh)T(ened) (out) — but none of these suggestions really works, so I’m still mystified.

      And no sign yet of the Gazza cavalry either….!

      1. When I wrote in the answer I was in a bit of a hurry to publish the back-page blog and I thought it was just IN + an anagram of THEIR.
        Having looked again I still think that must be right and it’s just a massive coincidence that the central letters of dithering are also an anagram of the answer. I can only assume that the anagram indicator is ‘dithering straightened out’ (i.e. with the lack of precision corrected).

        1. Ultimately I can’t see any more than that either although I somehow feel at the very least there is an attempt to mislead us into thinking of other possibilities!

  15. This one took us almost exactly the same time as the back-pager. Still visible on our papers are the marks where we had corrected the first guess of deserter for 30a when the parsing did not work. We had plumped for the simple explanation for 19a with ‘dithering straightened out’ as indicator. Glad it was not us having to write the hint though. Good fun.
    Thanks Excalibur and Toro.

  16. Of course I enjoyed it – I finished it, which is always a huge bonus in the me versus Toughies challenge.
    Didn’t know the hairstyle name at 18d, relieved that the answer was fairly obvious and took a while to parse 16a & 20d.
    No problem with 21a – as it’s meant to be a sound of lament(ed) then ‘side’ (sighed) works whereas ‘rued’ doesn’t.

    Favourite contenders are, as usual, the smiley ones – 12&25a plus 8&15d.

    Thanks to Excalibur and to Toro – both for the review and for giving this a 4* rating for difficulty, I’m positively bursting with pride!

    1. Hi Jane,
      For the hairstyle I had such fun. I fell upon a very extensive list of haircuts and one of them was called a ” Croydon Facelift “.
      It had me in fits.

      1. I remember all the fuss when Kate Moss first showed off the style – lots of experts rushing into print to warn of potential hair loss and facial damage. I suspect their words didn’t make much of an impact!

    2. I knew the hairstyle. Very Roaring Twenties. The latest series of Downton Abbey has just been on here and Lady Mary got one, so it was fresh in my mind!

      1. From the description I just couldn’t imagine where the V shape was.
        The only thing that came to mind was Gary Oldman in the 5th Element.

  17. I needed 5 hints to complete the SE corner (l’ve never heard of the hairstyle, and l don’t see why a savant can be said to display erudition). I won’t attempt a rating, but must confess l didn’t enjoy it much. Still, thanks to Excalibur for trying, and to Toro for the explanations.

    1. That was my first reaction too about savant, but on checking in the dictionaries I found it does seem to mean a scholar or expert. Perhaps we are getting confused with the notion of an idiot savant, who is intuitively gifted without being erudite.

  18. Just re-reading the hints. Anyone else work out the second part of 1d as ‘I’ll have a Scotch on the rocks, please bartender’ rather than ‘rocks’ being a slang term for something precious?

  19. I didn’t get round to doing this one until last night so a rather late comment from me.
    I really enjoyed it very much.
    19a didn’t bother me at all as I just wasn’t smart enough to see anything other than a simple anagram of IN and THEIR.
    I did fall into the 21a rude trap even though I got as far as registering that it wasn’t the right part of speech – then got 21d and realised the mistake.
    Too many good clues (for me that means the ones that make me laugh) to single out any in particular but, if pushed, I’d go for 5 and 25a and 8d.
    Thanks to Excalibur and to Toro.

    1. Alternatively, you weren’t stupid enough to go hunting like me for other readings that weren’t there!

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