Toughie 1540

Toughie No 1540 by Excalibur

Hints and tips by Toro

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

A surreal treat from Excalibur: no fewer than 16 definition clues (cryptic, straight-plus-cryptic, or double-straight), a playful parallelism, and a shapely trio. Plus the obligatory Yoda-isms (but only two, despite the Space Invaders motif  in the grid). 

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 Fearfully lacking in mobility (6,5)
SCARED STIFF Cryptic definition of a phrase meaning petrified

9a Day at end of June, perhaps? (4)
DATE D(ay) + AT + (Jun)E

10a I’m clever. Have sprayed myself with insect repellent (2,5,2,2)
NO FLIES ON ME Cryptic definition of a phrase meaning I’m clever or savvy


11a A vegetarian would, if served it (4)
BEEF Something a vegetarian would not eat, which is also a word meaning to complain

14a Thought, that’s good, having got head round it (7)
OPINION An edible head or bulb around good or devout

16a Make speech and renounce rights? (7)
DECLAIM The solution could be construed as a verb meaning to retract an assertion of one’s right to something

17a Blasted hole’s found in back, made by rambler (5)
NOMAD The hole-shaped letter inside a mild expletive like blasted, reversed

18a Rebounding, ball is in goal. Fait accompli (4)
DONE The ball-shaped letter inside a goal or objective, reversed

19a Rings about times to see ‘Man from Berlin’? (4)
OTTO The ring-shaped letter either side of two instances of T(ime)

20a Send miles, getting in row heading west (5)
REMIT M(iles) inside a row or line, reversed

22a Tormented, it’s difficult to conceal simmering ire (7)
HARRIED Difficult or tough around an anagram of IRE

23a Have a right to remove food dished out? (7)
DESERVE The solution could be construed as a verb meaning to take away food brought to the table

24a Idle learner: yahoo (4)
LOAF L(earner) + a yahoo or numbskull


28a Very disturbed as result of quake? (5,6)
BADLY SHAKEN Cryptic definition of a phrase meaning very disturbed or in shock

29a Playful ‘Apres mon roi!’ (4)
ARCH If placed after MON, the solution would give a word for king (or queen)

30a Glance that shows you’ve been recognised? (7,4)
KNOWING LOOK Cryptic definition of a glance that expresses recognition of a fact or tacit understanding


2d Key question is, what’s the breed? (4)
CHOW A musical note or key + a question word


3d Are leaving earlier, out to annoy (4)
RILE Anagram of EARLIER after subtracting the letters of ARE

4d Assume water has penetrated to linger over (5,2)
DWELL ON To assume or put on (a hat or mantle) around a water source

5d Blast off for ’19’ (4)
TOOT Anagram of 19a

6d Didn’t feel well (7)
FUMBLED Cryptic definition of a verb meaning to grope or to handle inexpertly (in the past tense)

7d Embitters equally perhaps and sets off (5,1,5)
MAKES A START Read (5,2,4), the solution could mean imparts an equally bitter taste to

8d Not put upon by others (4-7)
SELF-IMPOSED Cryptic definition of a word meaning foisted on oneself

12d Stay in front and don’t let go of dog (4,3,4)
HOLD THE LEAD The solution could mean to keep a rein on a dog

13d At which to do a foxtrot but not fast? (6-5)
DINNER-DANCE Cryptic definition of an event that might involve doing the foxtrot but does not involve fasting


15d On record as rank-and-file journalist? (5)
NOTED Read (3,2), the solution describes someone who is not in the most senior post on a newspaper

16d Name and number needed, keen to follow (5)
DAVID A Roman numeral + keen or fanatical

20d I fear troubles, getting Navy to curb or stop (7)
REFRAIN R(oyal) N(avy) around an anagram of I FEAR

21d Squeals about drains (5,2)
TELLS ON Squeals about or grasses up, and drains or takes a toll on

25d Gurgle loudly, then quietly (4)
FLOW Musical abbreviation for loudly + quietly or sotto voce

26d Great! Unbelievable! (4)
TALL Great in height, and not credible

27d It’s ten after one — and cold (4)
ZERO The number that turns one into ten when placed after it, and a low temperature

29a earned the biggest smile, but I enjoyed all of it, including the playful clueing of the Os in 17,18,19a, and the parallelism between 16a and 23a. There were a fair few iffy clues too, and I thought some of the cryptic defs were rather weak. But with Excalibur I somehow just don’t care.

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


  1. dutch
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    We know to expect interesting construction and word order from this setter, but it still it took me a while to see why 29a (Playful “apres mon roi”) was right – playful indeed. “It’s ten after one” (27d) also took me a while to get my head around (read zero for “it”), nice clue. I liked 3d (are leaving earlier), 15d (rank-and-file journalist), the all-in-one 9a (day at end of june, perhaps) and all the long clues, though 8d seems only mildly cryptic

    Despite 4d being my FOI, NW was my last quadrant.

    Many thanks Excalibur and thanks Toro

  2. Shropshirelad
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I wholeheartedly agree with the ‘surreal’ tag. Like Dutch I had to read 9a, 29a & 27d a few times to make sure that the answers I had fitted well with the parsing. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable puzzle to solve with the SE corner last to cough up it’s answers.

    Thanks to Excalibur for the challenge and Toro for his review.

  3. happy days
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Excalibur put me in a good mood all day. A sunny crossword. June in January. I particularly liked 6d (didn’t feel well) 14a (thought, that’s good) 13d (at which to do a foxtrot) and 27d ( It’s ten after one) Thank you Excalibur and Toro. Come again soon

  4. Expat Chris
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    No grumbles from me, except to note that 11A appeared with very similar wording somewhere quite recently. I checked off a number of clues, including 10A, 17A, 23A, 29A, 7D and 13D, but favorites among those are 29A and 7D. Thanks to Excalibur and to Toro.

  5. Peta
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Yikes! I see why it’s called the toughie. Managed perhaps half a dozen before needing to resort to the tips. Could understand where most of the answers came from though, and everyone has to start somewhere. First timer.

    • Toro
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      Excalibur is an extremely idiosyncratic compiler who takes some getting used to. Even our “resident” speed-solver crypticsue struggles with her sometimes. It sounds like you’re not one to be deterred, though, so do keep at the Toughie.

    • Hanni
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Don’t give up Peta. Like Toro said, Excalibur is a very ‘idiosyncratic’ setter. I’m sticking with trippy. :yes:

      You’ll get there.

      • Peta
        Posted January 27, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for the encouragement, not had much time for anything today, but I will be back.

  6. Hanni
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink


    A psychedelic puzzle of the highest order. Loved it. I think I smiled all the way through solving this. Not easy mind but with a lot of favourites to add colour to a grey day. Loved 10, 23 and 29a. For whatever reason 26d made me laugh.

    Add me into the happy surreal camp, wonderful stuff.

    Many many thanks to Excalibur and to Toro for a great blog. Have you started your next puzzle yet?

    • Toro
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Of course I haven’t…

      • Hanni
        Posted January 26, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        That’s the spirit Toro! :good:

  7. jean-luc cheval
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Invented quite a few idioms before being stuck with some unhelpful checkers such as Scared Solid in 1a which gave me Immured in 6d as in bedridden.
    Keep the lead in 12d and Earth Shaken in 28a.
    10a was new to me and so was 30a.
    7d made me laugh.
    The two de-,in 16a and 23a were fun.
    Favourite is 29a bien sûr shortly followed by 7d.
    Thanks to Excalibur and to Toro for the review.

    • Hanni
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      I initially thought ‘frozen solid’!

      • dutch
        Posted January 26, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        i also had earth shaken at first

  8. stanXYZ
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    It’s always a great pleasure to cross swords with Excalibur!

    Surreal? Psychedelic? It all seemed quite normal to me!

  9. 2Kiwis
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    A real delight from start to finish. The pesky little 4 letter words were the biggest hurdle with 29a and 27d being the last two for us to parse. A big Aha moment for both of them when the pennies dropped. Not sure which one to pick as favourite between those two and 10a but wouldn’t dare nominate more than one considering who is sitting just across the breakfast table at present. Good fun.
    Thanks Excalibur and Toro.

  10. Jane
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Some good ‘smile’ moments here although I wasn’t very keen on 7d (sorry, JL) and didn’t manage to fully parse 27d.
    SE corner was last in as it took a long time to twig 28a (with the checkers in the first word I was trying to get ‘fault’ into it) which left me with 26&27d as the last to fall.
    Best for me were 10&29a.

    Thanks to Excalibur and also to Toro – liked the pic. for 13d!

  11. Sheffieldsy
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Lovely stuff for us with Mrs Sheffieldsy filling in half before I even got to it. She then announced she was going out and I had to finish it!

    Strangely, needed the blog to to even solve, let alone understand, 9a and had self empower for 8d – somehow convincing myself that there wasn’t actually a tense mismatch. Favourites were 6d, 7d and 29a.

    3/3 stars for us. Thank you Excalibur and Toro.

  12. Miffypops
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Blimey. What was that? very interesting and very enjoyable. i had to deconstruct a few I had in Declare, No Fleas, Earth Shaken but got here in the end ith a smile.

    • Hanni
      Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Trippy, that’s what it was. Or 26d.

  13. Salty Dog
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    3*/4* or thereabouts. No major problems, apart from 27d which I just didn’t twig. I nearly went for 16d as my favourite clue (for no better reason than that I am one), but then cracked 7d which I feel deserves the accolade even more. Thanks to Excalibur, and Toro for the review.

  14. Una
    Posted January 26, 2016 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    I got about three quarters way through and then had to use the hints.Terrific stuff.
    Thanks Excaliber and Toro.