Toughie 1396 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 1396

Toughie No 1396 by Elgar

Hints and tips by Tilsit

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

Greetings from the Calder Valley!

It’s the King of the Toughies today, the Toughie equivalent of Mark Labbett from The Chase quiz show. I found this a fairly stern challenge and it took me a fair old while to get my head around a couple of the answers, particularly in the bottom right. Having the wrong final word in the long across clue didn’t help this. Still, an elegant and challenging puzzle, just what the Toughie is all about!

Hope to see some of you next Tuesday at the S&B do in London. There should be a number of Toughie setters lurking around so you can say hello to them!

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.


7a    Sharp piece by The Scotsman when reporting Alpine ceilidh? (5-3)
SKEAN-DHU: We start with a trademark Elgar clue, a double cryptic definition. You’re looking for the name of a Scottish weapon, one that is sharp (a piece is slang for a weapon). The other part (which also uses The Scotsman) is how he would describe a party night on the piste!

9a    Sanctioned Arthurian knight to open Book of Words (6)
OKAYED: The name of one of King Arthur’s knights (the one with the shortest name) goes inside an abbreviation of a big book of words, not the Big Red One. This gives a word meaning sanctioned or approved.

10a    First book live backing groups … (6)
GENERA: The Latin name for groups of things is revealed by taking an abbreviation of the first book of the Bible, followed a word that means live or exist reversed.

11a    … the people’s holding account 25 per cent outstanding — it’s not being settled (8)
LABILITY: The name for the common people as opposed to the clergy holds a four letter word meaning account, minus its last letter (25% outstanding). This gives you a word that I hadn’t heard of meaning something that is constantly undergoing change or something that is likely to undergo change.

12a & 20a    Doing employee’s job, as mad ogre is seen to be? (7,1,3,3,7,7)
KEEPING A DOG AND BARKING HIMSELF: Another trademark Elgar clue. A way of saying that someone is doing another employee’s job. The expression can be found in two ways. The first part is how you might view the animal hidden in the phrase MAD OGRE and secondly a description of such a person. Not to everyone’s taste and definitely not to be found in a daily 15×15 puzzle.

15a    See red  ale mixed with spirits … (4)
FLIP: The first of three ‘run-on’ clues, not really connected other than together they could make a sentence. A double definition. A word that means to see red or go off on one is also the name of a drink. Apparently it was made and then served hot by means of inserting a red-hot poker into it. Cheers!

17a    … so highly acidic call … (5)
PHONE: A word meaning to call someone is found by thinking how you might know that a liquid was very acidic, i.e. it had a scientific test score.

19a    … to cover the inside track (4)
LINE: This is another double definition. A word meaning to cover and to hold the inside track in cycling as to hold this,

20a    See 12 Across

23a    Sources of wood, good sort initially … (5,3)
FIRST OFF: A phrase that means initially can be split into two (4,4 rather than the required 5,3) to show a word for some types of tree and a word that means an upper-class gent.

25a    … until penny drops close (6)
ENDING: Something that means close or finale is a word that means until, minus its first letter which is a P (penny drops).

27a    When I choose a woven fabric (2,4)
AT WILL: A phrase that means whenever I choose is A plus the name of a woven fabric used to make blankets and clothing such as jackets and skirts.

28a    Refined sharp piece about Government (8)
CUTGLASS: This could also be an expression of five and three letters. A way of saying refined is the name of another weapon (as in 1 across) with G for Government inside.


1d    Southern tip to northern tip, this island will get cooler (4)
SKYE: The name of a beautiful Scottish island becomes the Australian name for a cool box (a bit like we call a vacuum cleaner a Hoover) when the final letter (southern tip) is moved to the beginning (northern tip).

2d    Cosmetics  supplement (4-2)
MAKE-UP: A double definition. A word for cosmetics, and to supplement an item.

3d, 14d & 24d    Look down, but don’t push someone over cliff (4,1,4,4)
PULL A LONG FACE: This was one of two clues that I’m still not 100% ok with. Definition is fine, but I think the remainder is word play rather than another cryptic definition. The opposite of push, plus A (someone) + LONG (over) + a word for part of a cliff.  I think on reflection – Gazza’s comment below is a correct parsing.

4d    Error reports doubly detailed (6)
BOOBOO: A word for an error (or Yogi Bear’s best friend) is found by taking a word for report twice, and removing its last letter(s) twice.

5d    Support given by everyone to both halves of afternoon game (4-4)
PALL-MALL: The name of the forerunner to croquet and a card game is revealed by putting a word meaning everything after each letter of the abbreviation for afternoon.

6d    Bizarre tale about nutty nudist impersonating a tortoise (10)
TESTUDINAL: The description of something looking like a tortoise, often used when talking about Romans fighting with their shields held above their heads is an anagram of NUDIST inside an anagram of TALE.

8d    Stopped The Guardian of Wordplay heading north? (5,2)
DRAWN UP: This is the one I’m definitely not 100% about. An expression meaning stopped is the reverse of a type of wordplay plus a word meaning a Guardian, but I rather think the word needed is someone under the charge of a Guardian.

13d    More than one bookplate collector is touring house no end (2-8)
EX-LIBRISTS: The posh name for a group of bookplate collectors is the name of an astrological house (i.e. a sign of the Zodiac) minus its last letter inside a word meaning ‘is’. You can still win a bookplate in the monthly Azed Crossword clue competition!

14d    See 3 Down

16d    One stowing away aboard ship’s left undying city (4,4)
PORT SAID: The name of a Middle Eastern city is found by taking the word for the left on a ship and a word meaning undying or distressed and inserting I (one).

18d    Urgent news stops departure (7)
EXIGENT: A word meaning urgent is found by taking a slang word for news and placing it inside one for departure.

21d    Would that old bats fly in circles! (2,4)
IF ONLY: A way of saying if only is revealed by taking O for Old and placing round it an anagram (bats) of FLY IN.

22d    If you’re up, what you’ll be in society’s bad (6)
SADDLE: Up is another way of saying on horseback, so something you may need for that is S (society) plus a word meaning to go bad, as with eggs.

24d    See 3 Down

26d    Dramatic goings-on in Tokyo inspiring trailblazer in sushi cuisine (4)
NOSH: A slang word for cuisine or food is found by taking the name of a type of Japanese theatre and inserting S (first letter, trailblazer of SUSHI).

Thanks to Elgar for today’s challenge. I’d love to see how you found it below. See you again soon!

18 comments on “Toughie 1396

  1. Had 12 across ending in oneself instead of himself.
    ruined the bottom right hand corner! Very difficult.

  2. Thanks to Elgar for a proper Toughie and to Tilsit for the blog. I got held up in the SE corner by putting ‘oneself’ rather than ‘himself’ as the last word of 12/20a. I thought that 3/14 down was just saying that rather than pushing someone over a cliff you’d save them by pulling them along the face (of the cliff).

  3. I too fell into the trap of himself/oneself, but the pennies dropped when I got the bottom right corner sorted at last. For 19 ac I thought the double definition was to cover the inside of something like a coat and then track being a railway. A fine puzzle many thanks.

    1. That’s how I read 19a too, and it’s how Tilsit has it underlined in the review.

  4. Really struggled with this today. Some excellent clues but I don’t understand 1d. To me it reads that if you swap the top and bottom words of the’ island’ you get a cooler as the definition, but the definition is the ‘island’. Am I just being thick? Anyhow, I too fell into the ‘himself / oneself’ trap so the SE corner took a fair bit of unravelling.

    I am now off to a darkened room to recover. Thanks to Elgar for the puzzle and Tilsit for his review (hope fully meet you next week).

  5. Thanks to Elgar and to Tilsit for the review and hints. I was pleased to say that I managed to solve 9&27a and 2, 8,26d. The rest was way beyond my comprehension. I take my hat off to the setter and to anyone who can solve it. I had never even seen the words for 7,11,28a or 5,6,13d. Must try and remember them for future reference. That said, I did enjoy reading the hints and trying to understand the wordplay.

  6. I’m with Gazza re 3/14d and also had oneself in 12/20a [until it made no sense]. I think the split between the 2 defs in 19a is before the very last word i.e. the answer = to cover the inside = track.

    Easier than usual from Elgar and [for him] relatively uncomplicated, helped by a few gimmes [2,4,5d] and 12/20a [once you get the last word right]. Favourites were 17a and 21,22,26d.

    The anagrinds were pretty straightforward too.

    Many thanks to Elgar and to Tilsit for the blog.

  7. That was painful.

    I got all but five in the end, and a couple of the ones I did get made no sense.

    Had to double check 7a, 11a and 6d. Although I’m sure I’ve come across 6d before.

    13d got the better of me by a long way.

    Many thanks to Elgar for showing me how far I still have to go and thank you Tilsit for your much needed help.

    On Shropshirelad’s recommendation there is new wine in our fridge all ready for tonight. After this, it cannot come soon enough.

  8. Was very pleased when I finished this.Took me a while… I was in no danger of the himself/oneself worry since I had all the crossers, the mad ogre clue was my last one in! – and what a great clue! How do you think of that? very clever.

    Lots of clever stuff. I so wanted to put in NORI (a kind of sushi) for 26d then finally saw the answer. I thought skye/esky was clever – was looking for a jail (cooler).

    Not too bad on obscurities, I hadn’t heard of the scottish dagger and tortoiselike, both great clues, but all else was fine. I liked highly acidic (17a) and I was trying to imagine who the Guardian of Wordplay was. I also quite liked “old bats fly in circles” (21d)

    Brilliant puzzle, many thanks Elgar and many thanks Tilsit the brave for committing to
    doing an Elgar review…

  9. I fell three short of successful completion. I found this the hardest Elgar I have tackled for a while (excluding the Christmas one) mainly due to a lot of unfamiliar words appearing in a total of 8 clues. Still very enjoyable and it has been a pretty good toughie week in my view. Most surprised to see it only get 4* for difficulty – unless this is a new special scale for Friday toughies!

    Thanks to blogger and tormentor

  10. As Brian would say on another page this was out of my pay scale. 4* time for entering the answers into this oh so unfriendly grid (am I missing a nina) but parsing.. Still two which I cannot and trying not to look at hints so at least 5* really. 5* fun though. Thanks to Elgar and Tilley

  11. I’ve been so slammed with work on deadline today that I haven’t even looked at this or the back-pager. Avoiding the hints and comments, and will see if I can get some toughie time in tomorrow…not that I expect much success. It is Elgar, after all.

    1. Couldn’t finish it yesterday – tried again this morning. Still five short – three were words i hadn’t heard of and just couldn’t see 28a and 22d. Loved 17a. Good luck Chris, and thanks to the guys

  12. Didn’t want to visit the blog until I completed this toughie. When I say completed, I mean until I cannot go any further.
    The NE corner was left with 4d, 9a and 11a unanswered.
    Spelled 7a SGIAN DUB originally until I got 3d. Why the long face? as the man said to Mr Horse.
    12/20 was deduced from the checkers as I didn’t know that expression and therefore didn’t fall into the oneself trap.
    5d was also new to me. I knew the fags and the thoroughfare: The Mall and Pas Le Mall. Sounds a bit like not the nine o’clock news. Or maybe it comes from parallel to The Mall. We’ll never know.
    For 13d, my dad has a lovely handcrafted ex libris in each and every one of his books. A strange creature with a human head and owl’s feet. Never asked him what it meant.
    Agree with the wrong use of ward in 8d. So much so that I thought I had the wrong answer. As if the crossword wasn’t hard enough.
    But I do enjoy Elgar’s challenges. He certainly will remain in the collective memory.
    His style is so unique.
    Thanks for a great puzzle and to Tilsit for the needed help.

  13. Just haven’t had time this weekend to get to grips with this one…still only half way there, so I’m not really entitled to give an opinion on it. However I just wanted to say what a cracking clue I thought 7a was….made me laugh out loud. Also wanted to say that I had heard of 11a, but used in a medical sense…if someone has labile blood pressure or a labile pulse rate, but obviously not in the same context as the clue, so I did need the hint and the answer here. I also really liked 12 & 20a…got that one all by myself though completely stuck with 3d, so had to use the hint. Only 7 more to get……press on regardless……so far ****/*** thanks to Elgar and to Tilsit for the hints. Wouldn’t have got even this far without them.

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