Toughie 1503

Toughie No 1503 by Petitjean

Hints and tips by Bufo

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

I really struggled with this one. It didn’t help that my brain’s anagram function appeared to be switched off because I made hard work of the 9-letter anagrams. The user-unfriendly grid didn’t help either. There are four separate quadrants and over half of the entries start with an unchecked letter. There are a couple of things that I haven’t been able totally to resolve.

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1a    Draw attention to grass wearing thin (9)
SPOTLIGHT: Grass (marijuana) inside (wearing) ‘thin’

9a    Rocked around clock once exhausted? (6)
WASTED: When split (3,3) this could mean ‘used to be an unruly adolescent around the time of Rock Around the Clock’

10a    Number taken in by sluggish university — happen it should be blown up (5,4)
INNER TUBE: N (number) inside ‘sluggish’ + U (university) + ‘to happen’ = that part of a bicycle that gets filled with air

11a    Build up outstanding vintage for investment (6)
ACCRUE: A vintage (wine) goes inside (or is invested in) ‘outstanding’

12a    Choice tofu I rave about (9)
FAVOURITE: An anagram (about) of TOFU I RAVE

13a    Nut missing north departs street, more or less (6)
ALMOST: A nut without the letters N (north) and D (departs) + the abbreviation for Street

17a    Host waves (3)
SEA: I don’t really get this one. It’s an expanse of water that has waves and I suppose it could also mean a host

19a    New evidence will hold key, one is first to admit (7)
INCLUDE: N (new) + evidence (that points towards the solution of a mystery) round a letter denoting a key

20a    Guts shown by local while crossing road (7)
INNARDS: A local (public house) and ‘while’ round the abbreviation for Road

21a    Take the plunge midweek (3)
WED: The abbreviated form of the name of the middle day in the working week

23a    Within reason a talent for composition (6)
SONATA: Hidden in reaSON A TAlent

27a    Buffet e.g. mutton, including a vegetable (9)
MANGETOUT: An anagram (buffet) of EG MUTTON round A

28a    Top group putting on look that’s close to stern (6)
MIZZEN: The first part of the name of the rock band ** Top goes inside a look to give a word meaning ‘nearest the stern of a ship’

29a    Entertaining party piece with a knockout to deliver? (9)
PUNCHBOWL: A container for drink at a party = a blow with the fist (that may result in a knockout) + ‘to deliver a cricket ball’

30a    Engineer clear about one creation that is ‘long in shape, but short in duration’ (6)
ÉCLAIR: An anagram (engineer) of CLEAR round I (one). I was aware of this Chambers definition and so had no problems with this one

31a    Voila drunk hero types (3,6)
HEY PRESTO: An anagram (drunk) of HERO TYPES


2d    Letter-writer vindictive about paper’s leader (3,3)
PEN PAL: An otherwise unknown person with whom one corresponds = ‘vindictive’ round P (first letter of Paper)

3d    Mobile home kept in large storage unit criminals organised (3,3)
THE MOB: An anagram (mobile) of HOME inside the abbreviation for a unit of computer storage capacity equal to 1012 bytes

4d    Half of bitter in pub could represent one’s wages? (6)
INTERN: The second half of the word bitTER inside a pub. I don’t know what the definition is though [The definition in this semi-all-in-one clue is an allusion to the low wages often paid to such people – thanks Liverpool Mike]

5d    Regular held up European organisation note: ‘Humbug!’ (7)
HABITUÉ: A regular frequenter of somewhere is a reversal (held up) of a European organisation (2), a note (2) and ‘Humbug!’ (3)

6d    Torn muscle in a strapping (9)
MASCULINE: An anagram (torn) of MUSCLE IN A = strapping (tall and robust)

7d    Rodents going over where one serves food, right? (9)
STARBOARD: A reversal of ‘rodents’ + ‘where one serves food’ = the right-hand side of a ship

8d    Site raved about in hype (9)
ADVERTISE: An anagram (about) of SITE RAVED

14d    Unclear about total by sea in France in June? (9)
MIDSUMMER: A reversal of ‘unclear’ + a total + the French word for ‘sea’ = a period in June (but only in the Northern Hemisphere)

15d    School head covered in piercings may constitute a feature (9)
SCHNOZZLE: An abbreviation for ‘school’ + a head or spout that may be full of holes = a facial feature

16d    Duvet slid off — this restricts breathing? (4,5)
DUST DEVIL: An anagram (off) of DUVET SLID = a small storm in which a whirling column of particulate matter travels across a dry country

17d    Darn waste — but there’s no time (3)
SEW: ‘To darn’ = ‘waste’ with the letter T (time) removed. I hope that’s right because I’m not convinced by ‘waste’ in this context [Start with a six-letter word meaning waste and drop the AGE (time) – thanks Gazza]

18d    Matilda occasionally providing help (3)
AID: Alternate letters of MAtIlDa

22d    Removal firm appears after time (7)
ERASURE: ‘Firm’ (as an adjective) comes after a long period of time

24d    Having stirred kippers, present them with this? (3,3)
EGG CUP: A cryptic definition for something that may be placed on the breakfast table for the benefit of kippers (sleepers) who have just been stirred (woken up)

25d    Secure with string (6)
STABLE: 2 meanings: secure (as an adjective)/string of horses

26d    Expose humorist better (6)
OUTWIT: ‘To expose’ + a humourist = ‘to better’

I think I enjoyed it!


  1. Gazza

    This was a tricky one – thanks PJ and Bufo. I wasn’t helped in 17d by reading ‘darn’ as ‘dam’ for ages, but eventually got there – I think the waste is sewage. My favourite was 1a.

  2. crypticsue

    A toughie two days running – whatever next?

    I’d agree with 4*/4* – I don’t have a special favourite but today’s “Homerian stupidity acknowledgement” has to be when I realised how 9a worked!!

    Thanks to PJ and Bufo.

  3. halcyon

    I found this pretty hard going too and agree that the grid is awful. But there were enough flashes of the PJ wit to cause chuckles. Favourites were 9a [very PJ] 10a [as an exiled Northerner I liked the use of “happen”] 28a [I think he’s used ZZT before but close to stern is nice] 30a [nice rhyming surface] and 15d [lovely bizarre surface].

    I think 17a is just a double def. Host =Sea as in golden daffodils.
    17d makes more sense if you start with sewage.

    Thanks to PJ and to Bufo.

  4. dutch

    I don’t envy Petitjean, yesterday’s toughie was a hard act to follow and affects my appreciation of today’s puzzle.

    I did the little box first, leaving 4 puzzles – success in one did not help the others at all.

    12a is a favourite (I rave about), and I liked “mobile home” and “large storage unit” in 3d.

    As Bufo mentioned, 30a is a write-in if you’ve seen the briliant brb entry.

    A few unnatural definitions lowered the enjoyment for me. I winced a little in13a – I’d prefer “just about” to “more or less”, picky perhaps. But then I also found the definition in 6d a bit forced, and like Bufo I don’t understand the definition in 4d. 16d I find a bit of a stretch (and I don’t see how the surface follows). Humbug means fraud, Bah Humbug is an expression but I don’t think it follows that one half equals the other (5a).

    27a, strange choice of anagrind given all the cooking opportunities.

    Many thanks Petitjean and Bufo

  5. Liverpool Mike

    I found this a bit of a struggle especially the NE corner.
    I think that 4d is alluding to the invidious practice of not paying these people working for you.
    thanks to PJ and Bufo

  6. jean-luc cheval

    At least there was one and sometimes two anagrams in each corner which gave enough checkers to continue.
    Wasn’t able to understand the answers in 4d and 24d.
    The one I misread was 6d. Thought it was Tom. So started with cat and ended up with some cataplasm.
    Soon rectified as usual, as was my Superbowl in 29a. Double
    Favourite is 30a.
    Thanks to PJ and to Bufo for the review.

  7. Expat Chris

    I was getting on swimmingly albeit not all that quickly until I hit the SE corner. 15D, 28A and 30A totally flummoxed me. Having read the review, I really should have got 30A because it’s come up before. Same with the “top” group. With those two in place, I might have worked out 15D, but they weren’t and I couldn’t. But even though I fell at the last fence, I enjoyed the exercise. My runaway favorite is 9A. Thanks Petitjean and Bufo.

  8. Lesley

    Yep – a challenge! Started really easily because of so many anagrams, but then grounded. Needed solution for 28a (which was a good clue that I missed even though I had looked up mizzen and tried various spellings. Need a new dictionary) to help me correct scintilla that I had used for 15d. Totally agree about sewage and how much an intern earns. Also missed the grass in 1a although answer obvious.

    9a absolute favourite – rock on! Thanks guys.

    Off on hols now. Laters x

  9. Hanni


    5* difficulty for me today. Golly that was properly tough with some clues beginning to drive me beserk. But in a good way. I appreciate a good challenge.

    Still don’t understand 17a, the anagram for 27a needed all the checkers I did what Gazza did re 17d.

    Like Jean-luc, I also put in superbowl for 29a. Messed things up a bit.

    My preference of clues has to be 1a with 30a coming second.

    Many thanks to Petitjean and to Bufo for blogging.

  10. 2Kiwis

    Our last one in was 9a. We had the right word for some time but were loath to put it in until we could get the wordplay as there were so many words that fitted the checkers. We did eventually twig it though. We found it quite frustrating having to start all over again in each corner. The only link letters being vowels was not much help. Lots of chuckles so, basically, we’re happy.
    Thanks Petitjean and Bufo.

  11. Una
    Actually , that emoticom lies as it implies I finished it , which I didn’t.I got about 15.
    My favourite is 31a , but it would have been 5d , had I got it myself.
    Thanks Bufo, and Petitjean.

  12. Jane

    Just got back in from a long day of looking at the various leaflets and info posters on display in a plethora of hospital waiting rooms – for hours and hours……
    Thought I’d have a quick look to see what you’re all saying about this PJ. Are there enough hours left in the day to tackle it, I wonder!

    • Jane

      Thank you all for being concerned. No new issues – just that I have to attend on a regular basis for Lupus consultations (anyone else out there?) and the clinics and pharmacy were running so far behind today that it took forever to get through all the tests and queues for prescriptions.
      Finished the day with a bottle of red (no booze restrictions with the meds!) and a fight with the PJ. Feeling much better now!

  13. Salty Dog

    I did rather better than I did with yesterday’s Toughie, but still needed Bufo’s help for three clues. 4.5*/4* or thereabouts (working on the basis that anything with 4* or more for difficulty will almost certainly test me). After 34 years in the RN and many more in some sort of association with boats, I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t spot 7d (which is not even difficult). I did get 28a, though, which was my favourite. Ta to PJ, and to Bufo for the assistance.

  14. Jane

    That was a battle royal – a good 5*+ and probably down to a 3* for enjoyment because there were too many I didn’t fully understand.
    17a – still not very happy with this one.
    19a – needed the hint to persuade me of the answer.
    28a – should have remembered the group from its last appearance but, sadly, didn’t.
    30a – whoever gave the hint for this in a previous puzzle (Gazza?) gave the definition that is shown here in inverted commas – many thanks – I wouldn’t have got it otherwise!
    3d – pure guess (wretched IT again).
    4d – another guess. Had the right answer but no clue as to why it was correct.
    5d – only the reversed ‘humbug’ allowed me to parse this one.
    15d – Should have thought of Mr. Durante!
    17d – without our ‘knight in shining armour’ explaining this one, I would still be none the wiser.

    Phew! Sorry to be so downbeat but I still enjoyed a great deal of this one. Podium is hosting 1&20a plus 7d.
    Thanks to PJ (always tackle yours a little more confidently under the affluence of incohol) and to Bufo for taking on a real challenge to blog this one.

  15. Heno

    Thanks to Petitjean and to Bufo for the review and hints. I enjoyed the challenge, but was 4 short and had to refer to the hints. Wouldn’t have got 10a or 15d in a million years. I know someone with the surname of 28a, and have heard of a mizzen mast, but didn’t know what it was. Strange definition in the BRB for 30a. Favourite was 9a. Brilliant entertainment. Was 4*/4* for me.

  16. andy

    Agree with Bufo this is an awful grid. which should be retired very quickly. Why on earth would a setter agree to use it. Lots of smiles in solving all 4 quadrants, through gritted teeth

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