Toughie 1551

Toughie No 1551 by Sparks

Hints and tips by Toro

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

BD Rating – Difficulty ***Enjoyment **

I’m filling in for Dutch today, who is preparing to go on the piste. This was a more straightforward solve than I was expecting on a rare visit to the Friday Toughie chair, and the style will probably have appealed more to those who enjoy tussling with clue components than to someone like me who has more of a liking for surfaces and inventive definitions.

[POSTSCRIPT: Gazza has suggested below that there is a personal message in six clues beginning with 1d. If there is, and it is what I think he means, then it’s not surprising this puzzle is not exactly brimming with levity (and my ratings are even less relevant than usual).]

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 One old grasping bore laid back in state (5)
IDAHO Roman numeral one + O(ld), around a past tense verb form that can mean bore (as in bore a child, bore a resemblance)

4a Striking police officers holding flower back to front (8)
DRAMATIC Plain-clothes branch of the police around a West Country river, all reversed


8a Rubber mistress? (8)
MASSEUSE Cryptic definition of a woman with professional rubbing skills

9a Kick out the cast for interrupting boring speaker (8)
DETHRONE Anagram of THE inside a boring or monotonous speaker

11a Phrase repeated by soft siren (7)
MANTRAP A repeated phrase that induces a trance (intentionally or otherwise!) + musical abbreviation for soft


13a Deviation by expert, penning note to follow late baseball player (9)
ABERRANCE US baseball player Yogi _____ (d. Sept 2015) + N(ote), all inside an expert or whizz

15a Simultaneously needs resistance to stop defeat in grip of frenzied heathenism (2,3,4,6)
IN THE SAME BREATH R(esistance) inside a verb meaning to defeat, all inside an anagram of HEATHENISM

18a Russian movies cut for redistribution (9)

21a Save outliers in Renaissance age (7)
RECYCLE R(enaissanc)E + a word which according to Chambers can mean an age


22a Drink for each in excellent proper round (8)
APERITIF Preposition meaning for each inside a letter-plus-digit grade meaning excellent, then a word meaning proper or suitable, reversed

24a English in pub annul disparaging hint (8)
INNUENDO A pub or tavern, followed by E(nglish) inside annul or reverse

25a Ghastly rogues attacked the setter (8)
GRUESOME Anagram of ROGUES + a pronoun the setter uses to refer to himself

26a Sign of approval — to host retired artist for a long time (5)
YEARS The word that signals the speaker’s approval or agreement around the familiar abbreviation clued by artist in crosswords, reversed


1d First one leaving car around capital after being held up — one is thinking of you (2,8)
IN MEMORIAM A brand of car minus the first occurrence of Roman numeral one, reversed + then a capital city, also reversed + a less posh way of saying “one is”.

2d Should one get a lighter sentence? (8)
ARSONIST If one who murders should get a murderer sentence, who should get a lighter sentence?


3d Decide against deliveries right before yet-to-start Christmas season (8)
OVERRULE Six deliveries in cricket + R(ight) + a term for Christmas minus the first letter

4d Passed on stamp duty to begin with (4)
DIED A stamp for making an impression on coins + D(uty)

5d Dam in need of test — oh dear, it’s been regularly neglected (6)
MOTHER Vehicle test or inspection + alternate letters of OH DEAR IT’S

6d Shied from personnel stopping urban development (6)
THROWN The business department that used to be called personnel inside an urban settlement

7d Perhaps waffle about kinetic energy (4)
CAKE About or approximately + K(inetic) + E(nergy)


10d Breeze swirling round empty nave in chapel house (8)
EBENEZER Anagram of BREEZE around N(av)E

12d One who doesn’t believe in beginning to inspire composer (8)
PAGANINI A heathen or pre-Christian + IN + I(inspire)


14d Temporary engineers turned up to cut power in derelict house (10)
EPHEMEROUS P(ower) inside an anagram of HOUSE, into which is inserted the four-letter acronym of the British army’s engineering corps, reversed

16d Once more take up tenant again (8)
REOCCUPY To take up (e.g. a seat or position) once more, and to tenant again or to resume tenancy of

17d Reptile in foreign land decapitated when sting is grasped (8)
ANACONDA A sting or deception inside a foreign country minus the first letter

19d Copper briefly announced farewell (3,3)
SEE YOU Soundalike of the chemical abbreviation for copper

20d Horrid sort of slip pinched by old dames on vacation? (3,3)
ODIOUS A slip or acknowledgment of debt inside O(ld) D(ames)S

22d Excited since graduation, selecting top 10 per cent? (4)
AGOG Since or in the past (as in e.g. ‘three years since’) + the first 10% of the 10-letter word G(raduation)

23d Cardinal commonly seen in the velvet revolution (4)
FIVE The cardinal number found repeatedly as a Roman numeral in THE VELVET REVOLUTION

2d made me smile. After her reaction on Tuesday, I’ve spared Hanni an illustration to 17d!

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


  1. dutch
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    More double unches from Sparks! but I haven’t spotted a nina – I wondered if 1d was going to be relevant. Thanks Toro for the review – a big help to me today (not in the usual sense). Quite a tricky one I thought – I spent too long trying to turn the first 5 letters of 13a into a late baseball player – looked like an anagram of what was needed – or even bits of babe ruth – when i finally saw him in the middle, duh. And I first thought 9a was going to be a homophone of “the thrown”, argh! I liked 19d (although I saw something similar recently) and also 22d. 25a made me laugh – yep, that’s what you get for your efforts.

    See you all in a week or so
    many thanks Sparks

    • Toro
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      You make a good point re. 25a! I sometimes wish we didn’t have to give ratings at all. The first puzzle I blogged was a Warbler Toughie with the wonderful clue:

      “You’re probably one of these brave critics with lust almost for upsetting (15)”

      At least you’d heard of the baseball player. I hadn’t, and wasn’t familiar with 14d, but they were both gettable fortunately.

      Hope you and yours have a great time skiing.

      • dutch
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        Well i did have to go hunting for baseball players as well..

        • stanXYZ
          Posted February 12, 2016 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          As the baseball player once said “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

          I haven’t found the Nina … yet.

  2. Expat Chris
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    The only problems I had were with 8a and 16d, and I needed a bit of e-help to sort those out. 13a took me longer than it should have to spot the baseball player. 19d was a penny drop moment and I particularly liked 11a, and 6d. Thanks Sparks and thanksToro for pinch-hitting (given 13a, I couldn’t resist that!)

    Dutch, have a lovely time and please don’t break anything!!

    • dutch
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks EC, I will try to keep the family in one piece – nice and easy – we have had some bad luck over the past couple of years, my wife is petrified.

      • Hanni
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure you’ll all have a great time Dutch. :smile:

  3. jean-luc cheval
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me or are we missing the last 3 down clues?
    It’s a shame as I have FI-E for 23d and can’t parse the clue.
    Apart from that one letter, the rest is complete and wasn’t as hard as expected.
    Nice surface in 18a and 4d.
    Thanks to Sparks and to Toro for the review.

    • dutch
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      23d, the remaining letter is the one that is commonly found (i.e. often found) in velvet revolution (not e!) and is another way of representing the answer (a cardinal number)

      • jean-luc cheval
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Dutch,
        Hope your son gets better in time to enjoy the snow.

      • Hanni
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        Cheers..that was another I bunged in without parsing.

    • crypticsue
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      23d was marked as a favourite because I liked the way the solution and letter linked to the Roman numeral.

    • Toro
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Yikes – thanks for pointing that out Jean-Luc. Will put hints up now!

  4. Gazza
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Sparks and Toro. This was on the gentle side for a Sparks production. I think that there’s a personal message from Sparks in six answers, starting with 1d, but I don’t want to spell it out in case I’ve misinterpreted it.

    • Expat Chris
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Ah. I would have had no clue without your comment, of course. I think I see what you mean.

      • Hanni
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Yes I think I’ve seen in too.

    • dutch
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      well, if it is “in memoriam mother died five years ago”, I offer condolences and peace to Sparks. Same is true for me, more or less.

    • Toro
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I’ve just seen it too and added a note at the top of the post.

      • Hanni
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        My condolences too Sparks.

  5. Hanni
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Well I didn’t find it all that straightforward…I did find it rather delicious though…always do with Sparks.

    13a was a complete guess as I have never heard of the baseball player, or many baseball players at all. I think Babe Ruth was one.

    Highlights include 18a, 2d, 7d, and 18a.

    Clue of the day is the brilliant 8a…rubber mistress indeed. That made me laugh! Love it.

    Many thanks to Sparks (and my usual hello to Sparky) and to Toro for a great blog. Thank you for not putting an illustration in for 17d. :rose: When the clue went in I did remember you were blogging today and actually thought, “Please don’t put a pic in Toro!”

  6. Jane
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Been out and about today so only just got around to starting this one. Not off to a very auspicious start………… :sad:

  7. Shropshirelad
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Excellent way to end the toughie week with a very enjoyable challenge from Sparks. Loved 8a – that did make me laugh, thought the homophone in 19d was up there with the best of them and 13a was very clever, but my favourite is 23d.

    Thanks to Sparks for the puzzle and to Toro for his review – personally I would most definitely have inserted a picture for 17d. I do hope there is a spider as an answer when I next blog – I will have to get tips on how to post pictures. OK with that Hanni? :whistle:

    Have a great weekend everyone – Mrs SL and I are off to our relatively local theatre tomorrow evening to see the touring production of the Jersey Boys and then out for a meal.

    • Hanni
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      No no no no no.

      No spiders, no snakes and no weird reptiles altogether. Shivering remembering the pic from Tuesday. I dread when the adders come out to bask on the moors.

      NO pictures! :yes:

      • Shropshirelad
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

        Spoilsport :sad:

        • Hanni
          Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink


          • Shropshirelad
            Posted February 12, 2016 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

            Right back at you :cool: :yes:

        • Jane
          Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          Always amazes me that some folk are terrified of spiders, snakes and even mice which, in this country at least, are unlikely to cause them any harm, but are more than happy to travel in cars, planes or aloft horses where the risk factor is considerably higher! :unsure:

          • Toro
            Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

            As a kid I couldn’t look at a dead spider from 30 yards without screaming!

            • Jane
              Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

              Did that change when you got to be a Dad? Often seems to be the turning point!

              • Toro
                Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

                I think the turning point was when I was about 18 staying with my dad and stepmother, and woke them up in the middle of the night trying to blow an enormous house spider out of my bedroom with a hairdryer. They still tease me about it!

          • Hanni
            Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

            Can’t stand centipedes or rats either. Horses are fine so long as you can handle them and don’t fall off. You are more than welcome to ride mine if you visit, they are very sweet!

            Toro, I think that’s rather impressive. Even a dead spider would bother me!

            • Toro
              Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

              Hmmm, not sure about the horses idea. How many legs have they got?

              • Hanni
                Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

                As a rule I try and buy the ones with four legs. I’m quite picky and I just find them more fun that way. :yes: Except when I fall off. Then I don’t.

                • Shropshirelad
                  Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                  Thought you said if they’re handled correctly, then you don’t fall off :yes:

                  Talking of animals with 4 legs – it reminds me of the joke about that pig……

                  • Hanni
                    Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

                    They are. Unless the damn things spook at something ridiculous and decide to buck, rear and spin all at the same time. Then I have to find somewhere I can mount again. Usually covered in bruises and bits of a hedge.

                    • Shropshirelad
                      Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

                      I did that on a ‘Bucking Bronco’ machine in Newcastle (sorry – Gateshead) a few years ago and I lasted 6 minutes. Mind you, it didn’t do my arm any good. On the plus side, I did win a bottle of Vodka. It never left the pub :wacko:

  8. 2Kiwis
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Knowing that the puzzle was by Sparks we did look for a Nina but failed to spot it. We did know the baseballer from 13a and looked for him when Babe Ruth did not seem to want to fit. All those double unches did seem to increase the difficulty level for us, particularly in the NE, but it all went together in pretty reasonable time. We enjoyed it.
    Thanks Sparks and Toro.

  9. Jane
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Bit of a wavelength issue for me with this one and I’d certainly never heard of the baseball player! Babe Ruth is about as far as I can go.
    Boat definitely floated by 8&11a plus 22d but the remainder was somewhat depressing. If the collective opinion as to the Nina is correct, then I also offer condolences to Sparks – the pain of losing a parent never quite goes away.

    Thanks to Sparks and ‘Hi’ to Sparky. Many thanks to Toro for the review – surprised you weren’t tempted to put in a pic for 8a!

    Dutch – have a brilliant time on the slopes next week. Do hope that son puts in a miraculous recovery and no bones get broken!

    • dutch
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      thanks Jane – we have just checked our bags in, taxi to airport at 4am, have ordered a take-away tonight which arrives in 45 mins – just time to nip over to the pub for a quick beer…

      • Jane
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

        ‘quick beer’? :wink:

      • Hanni
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        Nicely done!

      • Toro
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        Is there such a thing as avant-ski?

        • Hanni
          Posted February 12, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure? I suppose watching anyone after a couple of Grappa’s on the slopes could be described as avant-skiing?

      • Shropshirelad
        Posted February 12, 2016 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        Have a good trip Dutch – although, for the life of me, I cannot see the enjoyment to be had careering down a very steep hill on 2 lollipop sticks. Now, après ski………… :wacko:

  10. Salty Dog
    Posted February 12, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    I found the LHS much easier than the RHS (and needed 7 hints to crack the latter). Consequently, I couldn’t give this less than 4* for difficulty. There are some lovely clues, though, of which my favourites are 11 and 22 across. Thanks to Sparks, and of course to Toro.

  11. Sparks
    Posted February 13, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Many thanks to all for comments and good wishes. Worry ye not! There was nothing over-emotional in the “Nina”; it was simply that it happened to be 5 years (to within 2 hours) when I sat down to do the grid, and that was the only muse that took me. [The first three letters at 1ac were her name.] And Toro (and all bloggers, for that matter), worry ye not either: when comments are polite and fair, as they always are here, I’m sure that setters welcome the blogs. Cheers, Sparks.