NTSPP – 291 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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NTSPP – 291

NTSPP – 291

Surgeons? by Shark

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Shark is a surgeon who has set barred puzzles in the Listener, Enigmatic Variations and Inquisitor series and we are fortunate that he has chosen the NTSPP series for this venture into the world of blocked puzzles.  This is by no means an easy puzzle, but it is worth persevering, if only for the penny-drop moment when you realise why there is a question mark in the title.

A review of this puzzle follows:

Surgeons and consultant doctors drop the appellation doctor from their title and are simply known as Mr ….  Surgeons might, therefore, be known fancifully, as Mister Men.  Six of the across answers contain the name of Mr Men in the children’s book series by the author whose name appears in the diagonal from top left to bottom right.  The two blue highlighted parts of the grid are rotated versions of the letter M which also alludes to Mister Men.


1 Welsh Mr interrupts her hysterectomy (4)
RHYS – The answer is hidden (interrupts) in HER HYSTERECTOMY

4 Caught one who repairs pillboxes with coffin (10)
CHATTERBOX – The abbreviation for caught followed by a person who might repair pillboxes or other types of headwear and a general description of what a coffin is.

9 Keen shortening upper limb, bowel and earlobe to begin with (6)
ARGUTE – Remove the final letter (shortening) from an upper limb of the body and follow this with another word for the bowel and the initial letter (to begin with) of earlobe.

10 To be sure catches doctor separating blockage (8)
DAYDREAM – Word meaning to be sure or yes includes (catches) a two letter abbreviation for doctor and the resulting letters go inside (separating) a word for a blockage or obstruction on a river.

11 Hormonal sign of growing up: males reach out (8)
MENARCHE – A three letter word for males followed by an anagram (out) of REACH.

13 Without doctors due, blood finally oozed out of the body (6)
EXUDED – A two letter abbreviation meaning without (as in ex-dividend) followed by an anagram (doctors) of DUE and the final letter of blood.

14 Silly removing tip of crushed radius (primarily left) (4)
LAZY – A five letter word meaning silly or mad removing the CR (tip of crushed and the abbreviation for radius) with an initial L (primarily left).

15 Messy GI reaction induced by surgeon? (10)
IATROGENIC – An anagram (messy) of GI REACTION.

18 It measures over 1.435 metres from opening of back passage to first part of gut (area bulgier in places) (5-5)
BROAD-GAUGE – The initial letter (opening of) back followed by another word for a passage or street, the initial letter (first part of) of gut, the abbreviation for area and the even letters (in places) of bUlGiEr.

20 Medicine man extracts heart – four times! (4)
MEAN – Remove the central letters from MEDICINE MAN four times.

21 Is operation connected with overdose – it may give the creepy-crawlies? (6)
ISOPOD – The IS from the clue followed by the abbreviation for operation and the abbreviation for overdose.

24 Cheese found in Italy‘s army applied to lower limb – soldier skins toe (8)
TALEGGIO – An old abbreviation for volunteer soldiers followed by the name of the lower limb, a private American soldier and the inner letter (skins) of TOE.

25 At last, reconstruction without breaking nose (8)
NONSENSE – The final letter (at last) of reconstruction and a word meaning without go inside (breaking) the NOSE from the clue.

27 Severe upset passes through any hole (6)
REEVES – An anagram (upset) of SEVERE.

28 Monkey’s bone is pointing the wrong way … almost haemorrhaged (10)
IMPOSSIBLE – A three letter word for a monkey or pest followed by a reversal (pointing the wrong way) for a two lettered bone and the IS from the clue and a word meaning haemorrhaged with the final letter removed (almost).

29 Ventilates American first without limits (4)
AIRS – An abbreviation for American and the inner letters (without limits) of first.


2 Perhaps Arab’s shock from sore hands – dizzy and in need of air (9)
HORSEHAIR – An anagram (dizzy) of SORE and the abbreviation for hands (HH) followed by the AIR from the clue.

3 Almost complain medical lubricant is grating (7)
SQUEAKY – A six letter word meaning complain with the final letter removed (almost) followed by a type of lubricating jelly used for medicinal (and other) purposes.

4 Holding new facial feature splitting canine part (9)
CLENCHING – The abbreviation for new and a facial feature for which Bruce Forsyth is famous inside (splitting) the abbreviation for canine and a word for a part or stage or something.

5 Relief uttered when start of surgery cancelled (3)
AID – Remove (cancelled) the first letter (start of) surgery from a word meaning uttered or spoken.

6 Labiate gland retaining only 66% energy (5)
THYME – Remove on-third of another word from a gland of the body and follow this with the abbreviation for energy.

7 Divert blood network around beaten body – dropping temperature! (7)
REROUTE – RETE, a blood network, around ROU[T], a beaten or defeated body without (dropping) T(emperature).

8 In short, US operating room’s worried talk (5)
ORATE – The abbreviation for an American operating room followed by a word meaning worried.

12 Confide in nurse in front of local hospital’s governing body (7)
ENTRUST – A two letter word for a nurse in front of the generic name for an NHS hospital’s governing body.

16 Far from skinny admirer is cycling prior to changing gear (9)
OVERLARGE – A word for an admirer or beau has the first letter moved the end (cycling) and this is followed by an anagram (changing) of GEAR.

17 Designer of new technology shifts migraine swallowing drug (9)
IMAGINEER – An anagram (shifts) of MIGRAINE includes (swallowing) the abbreviation for ecstasy (drug).

19 Tradename is expunged from this postnatal repair according to a fixed rate, (7, two words)
AL PASTO – Remove the abbreviation for tradename from POSTNATAL and make an anagram (repair) of the remaining letters.

20 Fury! Enormous amounts of bloody fluid originally lost (7)
MEGAERA – A four letter word used to express enormous amounts followed by a word for bodily fluid (in the plural) with the first letter removed (originally lost).

22 Diaphragm’s contracted by jolly strong wind (5)
STORM – A word for a diaphragm has the final letter removed (contracted) and followed by the abbreviation for a Royal Marine (jolly).

23 Depresses doctor of surgery ringing hospital department (5)
DENTS – The abbreviation for doctor of surgery goes around (ringing) the abbreviation for a well known hospital department.

26 Very black after ecchymoses initially recede (3)
EBB – The first letter (initially) of E[cchymoses] followed by the indication used on a pencil for very black.

61 comments on “NTSPP – 291

  1. I almost gave up on this one at one stage because the unclued answers I’d got didn’t seem to have anything to do with each other, much less with surgeons. Then the light dawned and it all fell into place, with significant help from the BRB. After that it was easy to find the surgeons’ father in the completed grid. Thanks to Shark for the enjoyment.

  2. A very busy day so no time to look at this one or the MPP – I’ll try both tomorrow.
    I just thought it might feel a bit unfriendly to a new setter if there weren’t many comments so decided to pop-in.
    If BD says that it’s tricky and, by the sound of it, gazza also thought so then I probably don’t stand much of a chance – I’m hoping that my background may come to the rescue – I certainly know the names of lots of famous/pioneering surgeons although I suppose that could be a red herring!
    Back tomorrow . . .

  3. Well, I’m completely in the dark about the theme, and I don’t particularly enjoy Listener-style clueing, so I found this a bit of a slog. Sorry.

  4. I’m getting annoyed. The answers I have so far are uber-obscure, without the reward offered by a fantastic surface. Not sure I’m going to bother to finish this. Other blogs refer to “compileritis” as a disease where the compiler ruins the crossword by trying to show off.

    I feel like suggesting to the compiler that (s)he spend a day clueing “table” with a good surface, then move on to “chair” and maybe “window”. Walk before you run.

    1. Given BD’s preamble, in which he points out that Shark has had many puzzles published, that second paragraph is pointlessly offensive. The clueing in this puzzle is excellent if you like that sort of thing. I don’t particularly like that sort of thing, which is why I rarely even attempt a Listener/EV/Inquisitor, and why I didn’t enjoy this one all that much, but it is a very good example of the genre.

  5. A couple of years ago I used a phrase to describe another setter’s offerings which upset crypticsue. I would describe this awful puzzle in the same way – it’s “Intellectual m***********”. Probably great fun for the setter but none at all for the solver.

  6. I’ve got about halfway – although some could well be wrong.
    Only got this far with a great deal of ‘googling’ and – to be honest – that rather spoils the enjoyment. Maybe this one belongs in a more specialised publication?
    Sorry, Shark – think I’m going to call it a day at this point.

  7. Whilst I wouldn’t use Poimmers’ expression, I would agree with him that this isn’t much fun. I did solve about a third of it, checking all the way, and then couldn’t be bothered to go further. I don’t spell the cheese like that and my online researches confirm my view that the second letter is wrong.

    Sorry Shark but what Dutch said In his first para matches my view too.

  8. It’s a very British thing to apologize if you don’t like something…as if not liking it is your fault. It’s a bit like apologizing to someone who bumps into you. I’ve been gone too long to do that any more. I have no idea what’s going on in this puzzle. I don’t see the significance of the blue squares. I don’t understand the theme. And I don’t care to beat my brains out trying to find out. This type of clueing may appeal to some. Count me out. I am happy to be challenged, but this puzzle comes across as self-indulgent, and I don’t think that is what a crossword should be all about.

      1. I have been informed, and not by the setter, that the coloured squares are gently related to the theme. More will no doubt be revealed in the review.

  9. I think this crossword is somewhat like sturgeons’ roe: an acquired taste which one has to persevere with in order to appreciate how exquisite it is. After persevering for much of yesterday I got 14 answers but will need help to fully parse them, and even there learned a few new words and facts (I knew it was 4 ft 8.5 inches, but had never translated that to metric). Shark – thanks for the brain stretch.
    And many thanks to BD for taking us out of our comfort zone. I look forward to the answers on Sunday

  10. I thought this was a brilliant puzzle with very inventive and sound cluing. It was an astonishing achievement to work a medical reference into virtually every clue.
    In 24ac, the wordplay leads to the correct spelling – the second letter is wrong on the website.
    Setters will kick themselves when they see the very clever theme. There’s a big hint in 1ac.
    Roger and out.

    1. Mea culpa – I introduced the spelling mistake during transcription into Crossword Compiler. It’s now corrected.

      4a originally had a medical reference but was changed at my request as I thought it to be a tad difficult for one of the clues that lacked a definition. Here is the original:
      “Surgeon finds pus excising mass – it is in theatre (10)”.
      What do you think? Was I unreasonable in requesting a change?

      I knew that not everyone would enjoy this puzzle, but I’m glad some people did. What I didn’t expect was for the setter to be blamed by some who failed to complete the puzzle. It took me several sessions to solve and the feeling when the penny finally dropped made it all worthwhile.

      1. I like the idea of the original clue but not happy with the joining word “finds. I think it would be a fairer if “finds” was replaced by a different word such as “encounters”.
        Anyway, as the NHS continues to decline more and more patients will probably end up in a coffin so perhaps the replacement clue does have an oblique medical reference.

      2. Took me a while to parse the original clue knowing the answer. Since there is no definition as this is one of the themed clues (as beet has already pointed out), I think the substitution is a fair call.

      3. Thinking about it, this puzzle reminds me of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. John McLaughlin and his band were frighteningly brilliant musicians, but I just couldn’t see the point of what they were doing. I admire what the setters and solvers of the Listener and its near-relations do, but it’s just not my kind of fun.

  11. I solve a great deal of cryptic crosswords – Mr CS would say too many for my own good – and I admire anyone who is a setter as I wouldn’t know where to start.

    Themed puzzles whether full, partial or ghost, should be clued to suit their target audience whilst being accessible to those without the required technical knowledge. Brilliant achievement by Shark but too much investigoogling, checking and headscratching for me on a busy Saturday

  12. I sometimes try the barred puzzle in the observer and it ‘s a good day if I can get half a dozen. I’ve got about ten so far including one which I think is a themed answer (4a) and from which I think I have guessed the theme. I’ll keep trying…

    1. I’m up to 17 and another answer supports my theme theory. Going is getting tough now though, but it actually wasn’t ‘t as horribly tough as I was expecting from the comments.

      1. Doh! Read the instructions again, theory confirmed. But I have to go out now so I’m throwing in the towel. A great puzzle for those who like a challenge. Too tough for me but I did enjoy the theme.

  13. all done. persist and conquer. getting the theme helped fill my last few, though i look forward to the review for clarification of some of the parsing.

    having finished, the appreciation for the puzzle increases. very cute, including the blue shading.

    1. I’ll give you ‘persist and conquer’! http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_sad.gif
      Still six short at this end – all of which are making me think I’ve gone awry elsewhere – no idea as to the theme and the blue shading is making my eyes go ‘funny’. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_cry.gif

      1. you probably haven’t gone awry. you need to find the connection between the undefined across clues. put them together in a google search if you get stuck.

          1. Well……….I was in such a miserable muddle, but now I’m perfectly happy and feeling rather good! http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_yahoo.gif

  14. Used to have all the magnets on my fridge until recently.
    Great Nina and the symetrical position of the unclued answers prove how much hard work has gone into setting this puzzle.
    And the subtle reference to surgeons is fantastic.
    Took a few seatings to almost complete it . Had to cheat on 13 and 18a and a couple were bung ins but apart from that, I enjoyed the challenge.
    3d was one of my first in and made me laugh. Voted favourite.
    Thanks to Sparks.

    1. Found them. See gravatar.
      Only got four left!
      Mr tickle, Mr forgetful, Mr messy and Mr mischief.
      The rest must be under the fridge.
      One of my cats used to jump to catch them.
      Thanks to BD for the review and explanations.

    2. hadn’t picked up on the symmetrical position of the undefined clues – thanks for pointing that out

  15. Thank you, BD – your help was much needed to parse, or partially parse, six of these (plus that 7d, which you seem to have let me down on!).
    Perhaps, with hindsight, this one appeared more difficult than it actually was – although the liberal use of medical terminology made for a lot of ‘googling’, given that solvers obviously didn’t have the benefit of knowing the theme. There were certainly three words required as answers that I hadn’t come across before and a fair sprinkling of same within the clues, knowledge of which just MIGHT have been required!
    To finally realise what this was all about reduced me to near hysterical laughter – Shark has a wicked sense of humour, for which I may forgive him over time.
    My favourite has nothing to do with the theme but I loved the simplicity of 21a.

    Thank you, Shark – hope you were prepared for all the bricks and teddies that were coming your way with this one!

    By the way, I never did sort out the significance of the blue shading – I’m guessing that the answer to that came either from ‘the knight in shining armour’ or Dutch’s 12 year old son!

    1. I read the ‘blood network’ in 7d as a family TREE, so it’s (t)REE containing ROUT (defeated body).

      1. Thank you, Gazza. I’d got around to thinking about a family tree but not gone far enough with the ‘rout’ possibilities! http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_good.gif

        1. It wasn’t me that noticed the significance of the blue shading – it didn’t feature on the printout from my monochrome laser printer!

    2. Prolixic wrote this one. Usually I make the setter’s notes, if supplied, available to him but unfortunately I uploaded the wrong file.

      1. Oops – I was so anxious to look at the review, I managed to catch it before the name check went up!
        Sorry, Prolixic. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_good.gif

    1. Just asked husband – he said “Miss”. I said what about if they’re married – he thinks it’s still “Miss”. I then asked if they could ever be called “Mrs” – he thinks not but says never say never . . . not much help then, really!

  16. Despite being so dog-in-the manger yesterday, I continued to work on the puzzle, avoiding the review…then Jean Luc gave the game away in his comment that popped up in my e-mail. No real point in continuing now, darn his eyes, but I hereby tender my profuse apologies to Shark. Perhaps he can implant an ” engage brain before opening mouth” device in my skull when I’m in the UK.

    1. To be fair, we have always said that caveat emptor applies when reading the comments, and I suppose the same goes for the corresponding emails.

  17. I have to confess that this was a very long way beyond me. If I had a hat I would take it off to all who completed it in general and to Prolixic in particular for untangling it all.
    I did try. In my defence (or as my excuse) we have, yet again, had two visitors for the weekend – they’re the kind who rock up here every Friday night at the moment with all their washing and starving hungry – elder Pet Lamb and partner have no kitchen at the moment.
    At least I was right about something when I thought that the names of surgeons could be a red herring.
    I think that with the benefit of hindsight, not to mention having read the review, this was a really smart crossword.
    With thanks to Shark and to Prolixic and huge admiration to both. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_yes.gif

  18. Many thanks for the review Prolixic. Especially for “RETE” in 7d, good lord, where did that word come from? news to me. I should have asked my 12-year old son.

    I’m unhappy about the “over” in 18a and the plural/singular thing in 21a.

    An amazing achievement, congratulations shark, however i do honestly believe that including ARGUTE, MENARCHE, IATROGENIC, MAGAERA, AL PASTO, ISOPOD, and IMAGINEER (and the obscure meaning of REEVES) in one puzzle ( I might have forgiven one of them) is ott in terms of obscure answers. Sadly, these were encountered early in the solve.

    also, what’s with the enumeration for 19d? cut and paste error, I expect, which gives a hint as to the original audience for this puzzle.

    1. Wow, Dutch and Kath! I am immensely flattered. This is just a two-week trip and very much a last hurrah for us as my husband’s mobility is limited and our itinerary is very family oriented and pretty full. But if you can make it to Cheltenham ( a hop and a skip for you, Kath. Dutch, I don’t know where your base is) for early drinks on the evening of Tuesday, September 15th, that would be fabulous. We are staying at The Queens Hotel ( believe me you can’t miss it and everybody knows where it is). My e-mail is cjherridge@comcast.net. Let me know before we fly out on Wednesday!

  19. I’m another of your NTSPP setters and also set in a couple of combinations (we work as pairs and teams sometimes) with Shark. I knew this lovely, challenging crossword was coming to NTSPP and that it would be a massive stretch for solvers. Still, I was quite distressed by the almost angry early responses, as a crossword by Shark is a real scoop (he’s the current holder or the gold cup for the best Listener crossword and last year’s top Magpie setter!) Thus it has been a joy to see that even Dutch, with a few reservations, finally came to appreciate it. We follow the input very carefully and maybe Shark will be persuaded to set another real challenge by the ultimately enthusiastic response.

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