NTSPP – 309 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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NTSPP – 309

NTSPP – 309

A Puzzle by Mitz

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Mitz makes his debut in the NTSPP series with a puzzle that hides a timely surprise.

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

A review of this puzzle Prolixic follows.

Mitz has certainly arrived with a bang on the pages of the NTSPP and my job is to pick up the pieces for those who fell at the hurdles in solving this.  For those who fee Low following their attempts to solve this, hopefully this review will help – as usual it appears The Next Day.  Since Mitz joined from the Rookie Corner Nothing Has Changed.  As I said in one of his Rookie reviews “As many of the comments have indicated, is some places it seemed as though this crossword was trying too hard to be difficult leading to a lot of obscurities and some clunky surface readings”.  At some points I thought it would be Tonight before the review appeared.

There is a Bowie theme running through the crossword.  The letters around the edge variously spell out “Life on Mars”, “Ziggy Startdust” and “Starman” and there are a number of references in the clues such as “Space Oddity”, “China Girl”, “Hunky Dory”, “Let’s Dance”, “Rock & Roll Suicide” and presumably many others.

David Bowie 1947 – 2016: Rest in Peace


8 After voyage, arriving where Bond’s earthier cousin was brought up? (8)
LANDFALL – A cryptic definition by reference to the house in Scotland where James Bond was raised and also the eponymous name of the last but one James Bond film.

9 Oh, what a capital malapropism! (6)
OTTAWA – A mispronunciation clue.  Mrs Malaprop was a character in Sheridan’s the rivals who would use the wrong word in a humorous way.  Modern examples include Tony Abbot, the former Prime Minister of Australia saying “No one… is the suppository of all wisdom” instead of repository.  Here the capital could be mispronounced as Oh What A if the consonant are swapped.  I am not sure that swapping the consonants actually counts as a malapropism and it is not a good example of its kind.

10 Brother: in short, I return a bird (4)
IBIS – Reverse (return) a three letter abbreviated form of sibling (brother – as a definition by example maybe this should have been indicated) and the I from the clue.

11 Changes to herb mum can use to indicate speed (4,6)
MACH NUMBER – An anagram (changes to) of HERB MUM CAN.  I think the construction wordplay use to indicate definition jars slightly.

12 With honour lost, everyone stuck in the bog (6)
FALLEN – A word meaning everyone inside (stuck in) another word for a bog or marshy area.

14 Marvellous Heroes little boy defended? (8)
SHIELDED – The heroes in the Marvel comics are referred to a S.H.I.E.L.D (who says you don’t need obscure pieces of general knowledge to solve crosswords) and followed this with a diminutive (little) name for Edward (boy).

15 Extreme evidence about Space Oddity – the one that got away (7)
ESCAPEE – The outer letter (extreme – shouldn’t this be extremes if both letters are required) of evidence around an anagram (oddity) of SPACE.

17 Butting in, China Girl, whose ship has sailed, finds posh French residence (7)
CHATEAU – Hold on to your hats for this explanation!  Remove the in (butting) from China and follow this with a the name of a girl from which the SS has been removed (whose ship has sailed) and add a U for posh.  Butting does not work for me as a deletion indicator.  To butt is to go forward forcefully, to hit with the head or to push against something, none of which indicate a removal other than by association that push and go can mean removal but not in the sense in which they are used in the verb to butt.

20 Caught, say, with fruit, having to initially use knife more skillfully? (8)
OUTFIGHT – A three letter word indicating a dismissal in cricket of which caught is an example (say) followed by a three letter fruit and the first letters (initially) of having to.

22 Decks where sailor is found, drunken sot. (6)
TAROTS – A three letter word for a sailor is found by an anagram (drunken) of SOT.

23 Leprosy can turn into sleeping sickness (10)
NARCOLEPSY – An anagram (turn) of LEPROSY CAN.

24 Let’s Dance: 50 going at the last with enthusiasm (4)
ZEST – An anagram (dance) of LETS without the L (50 going) after the last letter of the alphabet.

25 Spooner’s children, close to docks (6)
MINORS – A Spoonerism of nigh (close to) moors (docks).

26 Twice animals at first encapsulate umpteenth Australian; no corals for example (8)
ANTHOZOA – Another one to hold onto your hats for!  The first letter of animals goes before and after (encapsulates) another way of saying umpteenth (as in the Nth degree), a two letter word for Australian (Chambers allows for its usage as an adjective as well as a noun) and a shortened form of no.  The usual rule for setters is that the more obscure the word the simpler the wordplay should be which is not the case here!  Also the surface reading even reading it generously does not read well.


1 Nationals of South Africa put feet in, heading off with playing partners (8)
ZAMBIANS – The IVR code for South Africa includes another word for feet in poetry with the first letter removed (heading off) an a pair of bridge players.

2 Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, briefly leaving out you, I see, on the 15th (4)
IDES – An anagram (rock and roll) of SUICIDE after removing the letters sounded from YOU I SEE.

3 Actor demands millions, not billions, the ham (6)
GAMMON – The actor Michael Gambon with the B for billions replaced by an M for millions.

4 Sugar paste childishly put in, because… (7)
GLUCOSE – Another word for an adhesive (glue) includes a childish way of saying because.

5 …about 40 is, some say, like the journalist Dudes, sort of? (8)
YOUNGISH – A cryptic definition from the song written by David Bowie and performed by Mott The Hoople “All the young dudes carry the news”.  To obscure for a cryptic definition for my liking.

6 Someone who copies English out instead: it’s surprisingly something exciting (10)
STIMULATOR – Remove the E (English out) from emulator (someone who copies) and replace it (instead) with an anagram (surprisingly) of ITS.

7 Thin White Duke, first outside and last respectively on leaving zone, shows pluck (6)
TWEZE – The first letter of thin followed by the outside letters of white, the last letter of duke and the outer letters (on leaving) of zone.

13 Fashion fad: cool art leads to maximum capacity (4,6)
LOAD FACTOR – An anagram (fashion) of FAD COOL ART.  The answer is given in Chamber as a percentage of the maximum capacity not the maximum capacity itself.

16 Advantage not as much as an infinite plane (8)
EDGELESS – A four letter word meaning advantage followed by a word meaning not as much.

18 Love in tatters – in tatters I tell you (8)
ATTESTOR – The letter representing love or zero goes inside an anagram (in tatters) of TATTERS.

19 More work, not at the outset Hunky Dory (7)
UTOPIAN – The name of a book by Thomas More followed by the first letter (at the outset) of not.

21 Muse on town: be off, by the sound of it – first class return (6)
URANIA – Another word for town (as an adjective as in town planning) with the B removed (be off by the sound of it) followed by a reversal (return) of A1 (first class).  Here we have definition on wordplay and in 2d we had wordplay on definition, neither of which work particularly well for me.

22 Oddly, took yoof to a car (6)
TOYOTA – The odd letters of TOOK YOOF TO A.

24 Go with high 11, masked swordsman chucking out bishop at mass (4)
ZOOM – The name of the masked swordsman without the RR (chucking out bishop) followed by the abbreviation for mass.

59 comments on “NTSPP – 309

  1. Thank goodness for Gnome’s Law – I looked at this puzzle, wrote in four solutions, moved on to type the review of today’s prize puzzle, had another go at this one, printed off the other puzzles I want to do today, had another look and wrote in a few more. Then I sent the ‘is it me or him?’ email (it is apparently Mitz not me!) and Gnome’s Law kicked in and I eventually finished the crossword.

    So the crossword had the benefit of my ‘three separate goes’, and I have four and a half clues with ? by them, the parsing of which I await with interest.

    Thanks to Mitz for the extremely challenging challenge and, in advance, to Prolixic for some much needed explanations.

      1. Once I’d ‘seen’ the majority of the ‘timely surprise’ mentioned at the top of the page (and I do know why it is timely too) that helped no end.

      2. I’m up to eleven, which includes one I’d never heard of before, two that only rang very distant bells and one that must be right but I can’t quite work out why!
        Have you got the Spoonerism, Kath, you’re usually good at those. Not asking you for the answer (at this stage!) but just wondered whether you’d worked it out.
        Time for a break, I think.

    1. I have the grand total of four answers and I am not sure that they are correct. Think I’ll have a go at the GK in the Weekend and see if I can find some inspiration after that.

  2. Thanks to Mitz for a stiff challenge. I got the theme fairly early on but I’ve almost certainly missed some of the references. I’m a bit confused by the Nina because it appears to be using two of the letters twice (although, again, it may be me – I’m not very well up on the theme).
    I can’t fully parse 5d (who’s Dudes?). Top clues for me are 8a, 20a and 7d.

  3. I found this quite hard, and depended heavily on the Nina to help me solve it. I found the clues more “busy” than “elegant”, so it was not the type of puzzle that I enjoy most. Some of the surfaces meant very little to me.

    I was completely happy with the overlapping and bidirectional Nina, as far as I know there are no rules there.

    There were some clues that did not work for me – for example I don’t think malapropism is appropriate for 9a. I haven’t understood the spooner thing. “On town” I thought was strange in 21d. I needed to search for 26a….

    But there were many clues that I thought were very clever (though not because of surface – which for me is the name of the game) including 24d, 20a, 16a, 7d, 16d

    There were reasonable surface readings in 23a, 18a, 22a, 3d, 4d, and maybe some more

    For me the puzzle would have been more enjoyable if there were smoother surface readings and more elegance rather than mechanical manipulation in the clues.

    However, the puzzle is a remarkably clever construction with a lot of nice theme clues and superb Nina, and mitz is to be congratulated on a fantastic effort. Thank you very much for sharing this, and I already look forward to your next effort

    Many thanks

      1. That comment made no sense to me until I worked out what the answer you were referring to was. I had mis-entered 16d, so my answer for 25a was MITOME, which I didn’t bother to look up, but it’s about the only word that looks even vaguely plausible that will fit.

        So I’m a bit irritated that you get the congrats for finishing message just for filling in the grid. Since my misspelt 16d and wrong answer at 25a weren’t picked up, I got an unfairly poor impression of 25a, which is perfectly fine.

      2. I should have seen that, seeing as I looked all over the place for nimors – though a bit strange having it at the end and including “to”.

    1. I’m now thinking “on” is a link in 21d (it is really confusing me) – if so, it might have been better as “in”, or maybe “of” to give you “of town” – or i might still be missing something

  4. I admit to not understanding 25a at all, but otherwise this was very impressive. Two or three constructions don’t entirely work, in my opinion: for instance, I’m not fully convinced of “butting” as an exclusion indicator, although I can certainly see the argument for it. (Let’s just say it’s not a device I plan on ever using myself.) I raised my eyebrows at the malapropism, but I reckon it’s like some of Monk’s devices: it would be very easy to write a clue along those lines which ended up being unfair, but I’ve not got an objection to it if it’s handled well – as here. But I can see what Mitz was trying to do and applaud pushing the envelope – if no-one did it, we’d never find interesting new devices, and even if some haven’t quite come off in my opinion, there’s no real reason why the same approach might not work in a different clue.

    I have some sympathy with Dutch’s view of the surfaces, but I thought they made quite a bit more sense than some of Elgar’s clues. With this style of clueing, there is a risk that unravelling the clues turns into a tedious chore rather than the succession of little surprises the setter’s hoping for – and it looks like it got that way for Dutch. For me, though, it stayed on the fun side of the border (except for 25a, as previously mentioned).

    Very good overall, I thought.

    1. I agree. This reminded me of Elgar in both difficulty and style. Oh, and I have just worked out what 8 ac is about – nothing to do with Peru after all.

      Great puzzle.

  5. I struggled through this late afternoon when I was a bit tired. Nice NINAs, although I forgot to read both ways.

    Of course with a NINA grid one inevitably ends up with an obscurity or two. The golden rule, I think, with difficult words like 26 is to make the clue relatively easy, which in this case it wasn’t. I don’t think Australian is correct, shouldn’t it be Australia? I don’t understand 25 either. I assume it is not a Spoonerism?

    LOI was 8, which I have only just parsed. I agree with Dutch that some of the clues lacked good surfaces but a nice effort anyway.

  6. Well, I got there in the end, and I will look forward to the review to fully parse a few of the answers (1, 7, 9, 19, 25). I came to the blog because I could not make sense of the five “extra” letters in the Nina in SE corner – now see I have to use two other letters twice; obvious when you see it Doh!
    Overall – extremely challenging, but very welcome on a wet, miserable day given that the SPP was over all too quickly.

  7. I found this one very hard work, not helped by the fact that I know little about what transpired to be the theme.
    My overall feeling was that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the solve, although I have got ‘ticks’ besides five of the clues – 8,12,15&22a plus 4d.
    I thought a few of the clues veered into ‘too clever by half’ territory and there are still a couple of answers that I haven’t fully parsed. It was also a shame that the Ninas had to overlap.
    Having said all that, it was definitely a sterling effort for a debut NTSPP – thank you and well done, Mitz.

  8. We had a team on this one. Our son Tim is with us and he picked the theme fairly quickly and was a big help working out the references. Even with this it was very hard work but we did eventually get there although there are a few bits of the parsing still to check. A real challenge.
    Thanks Mitz.
    PS from Tim: Ashes to Ashes

  9. Completely and utterly defeated, I am off to the cupboard under the stairs to join the poltergeist with a nice big box of tissues to hand. http://bigdave44.com/wp-content/plugins/wp-monalisa/icons/wpml_cry.gif

  10. I have 10 answers to go, no idea what the theme might be (don’t tell me), and thoroughly frustrated. The sun is almost over the yardarm however.

    I’m starting a petition to have a Gazza NTSPP very soon.

  11. I have seven to go and I am rapidly losing the will to live. It may be very clever for all I know, but there has been zero enjoyment factor for me so far and that’s what I look for in the NTSPP. I can fail to finish but if I’ve enjoyed the battle, I’m happy. Not so today.

  12. I have six to go myself and have to give up as I am making no further progress. And staring is not a nice thing to do.
    I spotted the theme quite a way into the solving process but I’m left without the last word or words in th SE corner.
    I was so up on it that Twiggy made an appearance in 7d at some point.
    This was very tough clueing but I like a good challenge and it is very refreshing when clues try to tell a story.
    As far as construction goes, 6d was my favourite.
    Favourite clue is 3d: the “singing detective”. What a great actor.he was.
    Thanks to Mitz and I shall wait for the review for the remaining failures.

    1. I said I’d wait & I did but looking at Prolixic’s review I’ve decoded that life’s too short to get involved in this sot of puzzle.

        1. You’re right – I’m a wuss. I’ve printed the puzzle again & will endeavour to complete as my own pathetic homage to Bowie who was a showman to his dying breath.

  13. A good night sleep was enough to reboot the old grey matter and now have a completed grid.
    Had to bung in 19d and 8a though. The only two that I can’t fully parse.

  14. Many thanks for the excellent review Prolixic. In particular thank you for the parsing of 5d, which was over my head, and also 19d – I have repeatedly been tripped up by More with this clue and I missed it again! I was trying to make work=op

    In 26a I did see it as an insertion, (i)AMBI inside ZA.

    I agree with 9d, for me malapropism means using an existing word in the wrong context, which is not what is happening in 9a. I did wonder whether the intention was that malapropism itself was a malapropism (!?), but I imagine the word was just misused. I agree with Alchemi, it’s great to experiment with new ideas, but unfortunately it was one of my earlier clues and all I thought when solving was “that’s not a malapropism” which is a serious issue because as a solver you lose faith in the integrity of the puzzle. I’m not having a go, I’m trying to help the setter.

    Another minor point worth mentioning I think is that in 6d, simulator and emulator both could be someone copying and both are close to the answer, though only the latter fits the wordplay. Technically fine, but (1) an ambiguity for the solver and (2) it felt the clue was unnecessarily complex.

    Hope that helps, and I’m glad that I persevered to get a full grid.

    Good luck Mitz! And thanx.

    Oh, and what was the “timely” aspect of the theme? I feel this is something I probably ought to know, and CS mentioned she knew…

  15. Thanks, Prolixic, for the thorough, and much needed,review. Far too much specialized knowledge and too many tortuous constructions for my taste. I am totally unfamiliar with Bowie’s song list, apart from Space Oddity. I presume the “timely’ reference is because he had a birthday this weekend, and I only know that because someone posted it on Facebook. I do think puzzles requiring in depth knowledge of a single person are rather self-indulgent on the part of the setter. Marvel comics indeed! Not on my reading list, nor ever have been. As for 8A…

    1. Hi Chris. I know my style is not to your taste – you have said so more than once in the past, and that’s absolutely fine. But absolutely no knowledge of David Bowie was required in order to complete this puzzle. Whenever I include a Nina or a theme in any of my puzzles, far from being self indulgent it is in the hope of giving something extra to those solvers for whom the subject matter is familiar when they see what is going on.

      Both “Skyfall” and “The Avengers” grossed over $1bn at the cinema. Not your thing? Fair enough, but I utterly reject the assertion that knowledge of them is specialised in a way that is unacceptable.

  16. Having read answers I still don’t understand some of them but the few I had put in appear to be correct, perhaps for the foreseeable future I would be better staying away from NTSPP.

    1. This was very hard for an NTSPP. Just as an Elgar is a lot more difficult than some Toughie setters who barely register on the difficulty scale.

  17. Thanks to Prolixic for the detailed review and help in parsing the ones that didn’t make sense to me.
    This crossword really proves that clueing is a fine art and the slightest imperfection makes solving difficult.
    But I encourage Mitz to persevere as I find his style very interesting.

  18. Thanks very much for all your comments.

    I have come to accept two things. First, my puzzles are hard. They just are – there is absolutely no “trying to be difficult” in the setting, unless it comes as a result of avoiding the obvious and looking for new ways of doing things. If not everything works – and there are a couple of examples here where I agree with the reviewer and some of the comments – then so be it: I can try something different next time.

    Second (and related to the first, I’m sure): not everyone is going to like my style. That’s fine – wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked the same things? As long as I get a few comments like the one from Muffyword then I’m a very happy camper.

    A couple of comments on the specific points that have been raised:

    9a – fair cop – “mispronunciation” would have been simpler and more appropriate in this case than “malapropism”.
    11a – the full definition is “use to indicate speed”.
    14a / 5d – Too obscure? “All the Young Dudes” is listed by both Rolling Stone and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame amongst their respective 500 greatest songs of all time. “The Avengers” is the 5th biggest grossing movie of all time. One person’s obscure is clearly the next’s common knowledge.
    17a – “Butting” was intended as in the expression “butting out”. Might not work, but I intentionally made the definition in this clue as obvious as possible so that the wordplay could be reverse engineered if necessary.
    25a – one clue I would definitely re-write, as it is just plain wrong. “Children of Spooner: close to docks” would have been better.
    26a – clunky as hell. I did the best I could with it, but I’m not happy either. I reject the accusation of “a lot of obscurities” in this puzzle, but here it is fair enough.
    1d – dutch is correct: the parsing is ZA including [i]AMBI + NS
    13d – yep, “percentage of” should be inserted.
    21d – I have honestly no idea what the problem is here.

    Re the Nina – why should it be a problem that two of the words overlap?

    @dutch – in answer to your question, January 8th was Bowie’s 69th birthday (and also the day he released his latest album Blackstar); BigDave very kindly agreed to publish this puzzle to coincide with that, for which many thanks.

    Thanks once again for all the comments, good, bad and indifferent: all are appreciated. Happy New Year to all.

  19. I don’t know if it is my failing ancient memory but I think I remember a debate at some time recently about how much so-called GK was acceptable in what was supposed to be a cryptic crossword. Mitz’s comment above does not bear this out IMHO.

    1. Hi Hilary. For me, the interesting part of the GK debate is around who is the arbiter on what is fair and what is not. Everybody has areas of good general knowledge and on the other hand areas about which they know very little, but who is to say where the line should be drawn? On any given day among the crosswords published in the national press you might expect clues about poets, classical composers, battles in the Napoleonic wars, rivers in central Europe, capital cities in South America, the abbreviations of the various United States and even (gasp) the occasional bit of popular culture. I think I would always be a bit wary of saying “I don’t know anything about XYZ so therefore it’s not fair to put anything about it in a cryptic crossword”.

      1. hard to disagree with you Mitz. On the other hand, you’ve mentioned your puzzles are “just hard”, and if you’re ever concerned about that (i’m not suggesting you should be), limiting GK is one tactic..

        I think you are spot on, it is a peculiar debate with no arbiter – i’m trying to learn to say “new to me” instead of “that’s obscure”. I fail ocassionally.

  20. Mitz, thanks for your response. This was a good experience. 21d, “on” is not a great link, that’s all, I may have made it a bigger problem than it was. Cheers and good luck!

  21. Many thanks for the revelations, Prolixic. I did post a long diatribe about my experiences with this puzzle but it seems to have disappeared into the ether – not to worry – I’ll content myself by simply saying how enlightening your review proved to be!

  22. As a massive Bowie fan I loved this, especially the clues where the song titles were included. For me a Nina is a bonus where rules aren’t really enshrined – I believe Ximines didn’t ever mention them – so overlapping ends is fair game, at least until the crosswording community agrees to say otherwise!
    I was able to finish the crossword with a lot of enjoyment and not too very much trouble, BUT the parsing on quite a few completely defeated me – it was only the definitions and crossers that got me there. As usual Prolixic is bang on with all his review, but I for one and a happy solver… Effort, for me, always shows. :)

    1. Last year it was Terry Pratchett & now I’ve lost another great idol. Great loss to those of us who grew up in the 70’s & who copied everything Bowie did including the hairstyles & the make-up.

    2. Shocked when I heard the news this morning, and saddened for David’s family and friends, not to mention the millions around the world who have been touched by him in some way.

  23. Shocked to hear about David Bowie – one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. This puzzle coming out – with maybe some pathos just when it did – just shows how his influence extended right across society.

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