Toughie 1591

Toughie No 1591 by Sparks

Hints and tips by Dutch

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

Sparks told us he’s going through the standard grids systematically and this is his 4th toughie in a row with double-unches (two consecutive unchecked squares). Sparks has use these for a nina before, and looking for one during the solve has made this puzzle all the more enjoyable. I wasn’t sure what I had found in the first quadrant (NW), but I am happy to say I depended on the nina to get my last-one-in (20a) after getting a bit stuck in SW. This took me a generous 3* difficulty time, smiling all the way

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    Oval tie clip with large split (8)
ELLIPTIC: Anagram (split) of TIE + CLIP + L(arge)

5a    Bond agent, outwardly macho, stripped off after introduction to Tiffany (6)
ATTACH: Outward letters of A(gen)T, then (m)ACH(o) with outer letters ‘stripped off’ after the first letter (introduction) of T(iffany)

8a    Old city, part of Pennsylvania’s best-known metropolis (6)
DELPHI: Six consecutive letters contained in (part of) the biggest city in Pennsylvania

9a    Most of light dish otherwise called a casserole (8)
MOUSSAKA: All but the last letter of a light (but hardly low-calorie) dish, usually a dessert, followed by a 3-letter abbreviation meaning “otherwise called”.

10a    Rich, boring person’s memo to self? (4-2-2)
WELL-TO-DO: This kind of boring person may have become rich in the oil industry, and this memo to self might be a reminder to expand business

11a    Sons standing down from unnecessary rivalry (6)
NEEDLE: Take an 8-letter word meaning unnecessary and remove two S’s (sons plural standing down)

12a    Crime study by John (3,5)
CON TRICK: A 3-letter verb for study plus another word for a John, as in a customer of a lady of the night.

13a    Brief display about international religion (6)
SHINTO: A 4-leter word for display without the last letter (brief) goes around the 3-letter abbreviation for international

15a    Previous bills or demands (6)
EXACTS: A 2-letter word or prefix meaning previous and a word for bills or proposed laws

18a    Finished a tiny jumper, following to the end where extra instructions might be found? (8)
OVERLEAF: A 4-letter word meaning finished, plus a tiny jumper of the bloodsucking insect variety with the F(ollowing) moved to the end

20a    Unlimited strikes interrupting House led by British Prime Minister (6)
BHUTTO: To get this Pakistani Prime Minister, take a 5-letter word meaning strikes with the head without the first and last letter (unlimited) and insert into the abbreviation for HO(use), all after the abbreviation for British

21a    Burning, single and dashing, all out to get engaged in a suit (8)
LITIGANT: A 3-letter word for burning, the Roman numeral for one, and a 7-letter word for dashing from which ‘all’ is removed

23a    Rebelling and still moved forcibly (8)
UPROOTED: A 2-letter word for rebelling (as in ** in arms), and a past participle that can mean still or unmoving

24a    Flight south, having been stuck in city — take off (6)
ESCAPE: The abbreviation for south goes inside a London postcode area, plus a 3-letter verb meaning to take off or mimic

25a    Right to stop lame award (6)
GRAMMY: The abbreviation for right goes inside a word for lame to give an American music award

26a    Agreed to intercept mobilised fleet’s command for port observation? (4,4)
EYES LEFT: A 3-letter word of affirmation goes inside an anagram (mobilised) of FLEET to give a military parade drill command


1d    Provide income now or tomorrow — somehow, all do (5)
ENDOW: Split (3,2), the answer describes what 3 words in the clue all do

2d    Ill-advised Danish coppers caught following pimp having blown cover (9)
IMPOLITIC: A six-letter word for police in Danish (?!) plus the abbreviation for caught comes after (following) pimp with the outer letters removed (having blown cover)

3d    Journey over, left island capital (7)
TRIPOLI: A 4-letter word for journey and the abbreviations for over, left and island

4d    Women, long-mocked, treated badly — it’ll hardly surprise you (6,9)
COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Anagram (treated badly) of WOMEN LONG-MOCKED

5d    Going round university, almost all male students graduate (7)
ALUMNUS: Most of the letters in all plus M(ale) ‘going around’ U(niversity), then add the 3-letter abbreviation for a student organisation

6d    Leader of action group working for freedom (7)
ABANDON: First letter of action + a musical group + 2-letter word meaning working or in operation

7d    Prevented top news boss literally escaping? (6,3)
HEADED OFF: I took this as a 4-letter word for top, 2-letter word for news boss and 3 letter word for escaping or going away, with the ‘literally’ referring to the (4,2,3) split of the answer which the whole clue would also describe – but I wasn’t sure, so please comment if you have any other ideas

12d    New brochure on good port (9)
CHERBOURG: Anagram (new) of BROCHURE plus the abbreviation for good gives a French port

14d    Senseless, self-inflicted problem, one dividing two US states (9)
ILLOGICAL: The 2-letter abbreviation for a self-inflicted football catastrophe plus the Roman numeral for one goes in between (dividing) the 3-letter abbreviations for two American states

16d    Answer question over Arabs once Iraq regularly reveals tanks (7)
AQUARIA: Abbreviations for A(nswer), QU(estion), AR(abs) plus the odd letters of Iraq

17d    Little chap should hold line soon (7)
SHORTLY: Informal word for a little person goes around (holds) the abbreviation for line

19d    Very strict communication unopened by soldiers (7)
EXTREME: A 4-letter electronic message without the first letter (unopened) plus a 4-letter abbreviation for an army corps

22d    People in general blocking an offensive brief message (5)
TWEET: A 2-letter pronoun describing ourselves or people in general goes inside (blocking) one of the largest military offensives of the Vietnam war

I liked the original clueing in 8a and 1d, and the nice surfaces e.g. 11a, 4d. Which clues were your favourites?


  1. crypticsue
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    I never consciously look at the grid when solving a crossword so never notice (and thus never complain about) double unches. The only time I do look is when it says Sparks above the puzzle.

    In addition to the Nina-y unches, is there any significance in the fact that the last three letters in each of 21a, 24a and 26a are all members of the animal kingdom?

    Thanks to Sparks – my particular favourite is 1d – and to Dutch too.

  2. jean-luc cheval
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Dutch for the music.
    Thanks to Sparks for a fun although not very demanding crossword.
    Liked the anagram in 12d.

  3. Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    This took me a long time to get into, and I thought it was going to be evil. I was wrong: it was challenging, but there weren’t any obscurities and all the wordplay was sound.

    Very happy to have managed the grid fill and most of the parsing “all my own self.” Just needed Dutch’s help untangling a few little bits (I’m a little embarrassed to admit which, because they were all things I should have seen).

    My only remaining question is about the “literally” in 7d.

    I spotted the obvious part of the nina, which helped in the solve, but spent a while trying to make something out of the letters in the other double unches, thinking there must be more.

    I wasn’t sure about the definition for 11a and checked in the other BRB (the thesaurus). One of the synonyms given for the answer is: “make sparks fly” – given the setter, an amusing image :) .

    Thanks to Sparks for a top quality puzzle and to Dutch for a top quality review, especially the video for 19d.

    P.S. My favourite clue is 1d.

  4. Hanni
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Great way to end the Toughie week. Loved it.

    Like Dutch my last one in was 20a. I guessed at the answer but it took me so long to figure out why.

    Lots of smiles with Bond stripping off for Tiffany, the lame award (gosh that made me laugh), the anagram in 4d, the wonderful surface of 11a, the brevity of 12a…I could go on but I won’t.

    Favourite is the Bond one but 1d came a close second.

    Got no earthly idea where the Nina is. I accept that it will be there and that I will miss it.

    Many thanks to Sparks for a brilliant puzzle (hope Sparkly is well) and to Dutch for a top blog. Like the music and kudos on the 11a pic.

    • dutch
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      in NE & SW, the double unches have double letters. These read vertically as a fly in NE and a drum in SW. I’m not sure what else there might be – CS cleverly spotted some animals in SE – though i’d be more convinced that these were intentional if there were a symmetric equivalent in NW.

      • Hanni
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink


        I spotted the double letters as they came up last time or the time before. And we had the fly this week. I just didn’t put it together. Completely missed the animals (well done CS).

        Cheers Dutch.

      • andy
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        At a push I did wonder if you could reverse the letters in the SE row 15 with reverse NW row 1 , then 13, 3, which spell 2 four letter words . Probably barking in the wrong forest…

      • dutch
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        maybe – or NW could be LL = EL + EL. None of these seem strong enough to elicit an AHA! (yet)

        • Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

          The SW double unches could cryptically indicate copycat, and the NE ones (at a big stretch) double offset. No idea why. Argh – I think it is time to leave it and wait for someone to enlighten me.

          • dutch
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

            I liked you in red

            • dutch
              Posted April 22, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

              but of course black (like the bat-mobile) would be really cool

              • Posted April 22, 2016 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

                No promises. Kitty does not always come when called. I will sleep on it and see how I feel in the morning.

                • dutch
                  Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

                  getting used to blue

    • Hanni
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Sparky….I meant Sparky not Sparkly!

      • Sparks
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

        Hi Hanni. Sparky is indeed both sparky and sparkly these days, so correct either way ;-) Cheers, Sparks

        • Hanni
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          Glad to hear it. Does he come and help when you are ‘walling’?

          • Sparks
            Posted April 23, 2016 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

            That would contravene the Canine Health and Safety (CHAS) code … Screwfix don’t do hard hats in his size … and it might also upset the Dogs Are Vole Exterminators (DAVE) fraternity. Seriously, he would root out and annihilate the wee, helpless, squeaky beasts for whom rebuilt walls comprise luxury accommodation. I could go on (and on) about how lack of walls preservation = drop in vole population = decline in wild owls, but I won’t. There’s a lot more to dry-stone walls than folk think … or, more to the point, care.

            • Hanni
              Posted April 23, 2016 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

              I am loathe to admit this..but…CHAS and DAVE have just made me laugh.

              I am a Cumbrian/Yorkshire girl, who doesn’t sound like she is from either, but I can remember my grandfather building walls and having to pass him stones (I rarely picked the right ones). That makes sense re voles/owls though. I love owls. I have a Barn one that visits a tree outside most nights at the moment.

              Seriously..CHAS and DAVE? :grin:

  5. Gazza
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Sparks for another enjoyable Toughie and to dutch for the excellent review. I took ‘literally’ to mean that as well as the words head and ed being clued individually, when put together they could literally mean the editor-in-chief or ‘top news boss’.
    I was a bit puzzled by 16d. I can’t find AR (in the BRB) or elsewhere meaning Arabs (plural) as opposed to Arab (singular).

    • Sparks
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Hi Gazza. The note for 16D in my initial submission says A + Q + UAR(=Arabs once) + I[r]a[q] ; D = [fish] tanks . Cheers, Sparks

      • Gazza
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for confirming that, Sparks. My parsing was all wrong until Gilbert at comment #9 put me right.

  6. Expat Chris
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I loved it and smiled the whole way through. The only one I couldn’t parse was 1D, but the answer couldn’t have been anything else. I also didn’t know that 11A meant rivalry. Among many that I ticked are 8A, 10A, 26A and 17D. Thanks Sparks and Dutch.

    P.S. Of course I had no idea when solving that there was a nina and couldn’t find it even after I did know!

  7. Gilbert
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    The John in 12a could be Whittingdale the customer of a sex worker as they are now called.

    • dutch
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink


    • Hanni
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:24 pm | Permalink


  8. Brian
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    I don’t usually have the time to attempt the Toughie but today I was glad I did. Not easy and needed a certain amount of electronic help but great fun. Some really clever clues I thought in 12a, 23a and 25a (the award is lame let alone the music!).
    Still not sure I fully understand the concept of a Nina, I thought it was some sort of message spelt out by the outer letters but can’t really get it.
    Thanks to all

    • dutch
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Glad you tried it, well done. A Nina can be anything hidden in the grid as a bit of fun, doesn’t have to go around the perimeter, though often it does.

    • Hanni
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      And don’t worry if you can’t see them. I remember a ‘space invader’ one awhile back. I think it was quite obvious, but despite help from Gazza and Dutch I just couldn’t see it for the longest time. They must have been banging their heads on the desk at my inability (or in Dutch’s case, the kitchen table).

      Is good when you finally see them mind.

      • dutch
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Of course I didn’t bang my head on the kitchen table. No room.

        • Hanni
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

          You’re right…ridiculous of me, but your comment made me laugh!

  9. Gilbert
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    !n 16d aren’t the Arabs UAR and the abbreviation for question Q?

    • Gazza
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re right. That also explains the “once” since the UAR no longer exists.

    • dutch
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Well spotted

      • dutch
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        Though I worry a bit – isn’t it like brits=UK?

        • halcyon
          Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but why worry? Students = NUS; soldiers = REME, etc, etc. All part of the fun.

          • dutch
            Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

            Hmm, why do I feel it’s not the same? I’d squirm at Brits clueing UK

  10. halcyon
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Probably the easiest Friday toughie for a long time but none the worse for that. Some lovely, inventive clueing as you have pointed out Dutch [8a, 1d, theres also a “letter-shift” clue – 18a – similar to one of Beam’s yesterday.]
    I took the strikes in 20a to be golf strikes but your head strikes [of which there are 2] would do just as well.
    Gilbert is correct about the UAR.

    Favourites apart from those already mentioned were 9a [clever construction which fits the surface perfectly] 10a [boring person] 12a [never seen John for trick before] and 5d [another perfect construction & surface].

    Many thanks for a fine blog and to Sparks for a fun puzzle.

  11. Kath
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    That was more than tricky enough for this Toughiephobic, thank you very much!
    1d and 8a nearly finished me off and they were my last answers – neither could have been anything else but I had no idea why – have I ever said that Geography is yet another of the things that I can’t do?
    I always forget the ‘own goal’ stuff so had no idea about the ‘why’ bit of 14d.
    Even knowing that there was a Nina I couldn’t find it and now I still can’t – is it just the double letters in the double unches? Sorry to be so totally dim.
    Wasn’t familiar with John in 12a.
    All I can say is thank goodness for anagrams or I’d never have got started.
    I liked 5 and 10a and my favourite was 17d – don’t know why, it just was.
    Very good fun so thanks to Sparks for the crossword and to Dutch for the sorting out.

    • Gazza
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      For the Nina, as dutch says, you have to read down the vertical rows of the double unches in the SW and NE corners, which will give you tom-tom and tsetse (two examples of words where both halves of the words are identical, like bonbon and dik-dik for example).

      • dutch
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink


        ok, have now looked up

      • Kath
        Posted April 22, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        Thanks gazza – I think this will teach me to stick with my instincts and stay well away from Toughies – I was looking at . . . oh, why bother – I’m just never going to get this kind of stuff.
        I’m a simple soul – I’ll carry on with the garden.
        Thanks again for bothering gazza.

  12. Salty Dog
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid the technical niceties (ninas, double-unches etc) mean nothing to me and I can’t really stir up the interest to find out what they are and what – if anything – to do with them! All that said, I rather enjoyed this, albeit not for very long. 2*/4* is my assessment, and I loved 26a (nice to see my friends in green berets in the picture accompanying the hint as well). Thanks to Sparks and Dutch.

    • dutch
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      I think they are Australians

  13. Jon_S
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    So this was the day they got the back pager and the toughie mixed up? This took less than half the time, and is probably the easiest we’ve had in a while. A happy punter, but a surprised one. An ill-advised shot at a misspelling of Pompeii at 8ac was probably all that really held me up. Perhaps Sparks was trying to make up for all the double unches which, I must admit, I completely missed.

    • dutch
      Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      i also tried Pompeii, and having done the back pager after the toughie, I was also wondering which was harder. The toughie took me longer but not much – maybe Giovanni needs to ease off….

  14. Jane
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    Certainly needed Dutch’s help with some of the parsing – the 3/2 split in 1d went right over my head (stupid girl), didn’t know the Danish police and, yet again, missed the ‘own goal’ reference and that wretched district of London.
    As for the NINA – off to hang my head in shame…….

    Top two for me were 9&26a.

    Thanks to Sparks – sorry for my lapses! – and many thanks to Dutch for both the explanations and the music at 19d.

  15. 2Kiwis
    Posted April 22, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Loved it. Sparks always keeps us smiling. We manged to work out the Nina but did spend time, without success, trying to make something of the remaining double unches too. Lots of clever wordplay to unpick and very satisfying when we got them.
    Thanks Sparks and Dutch.

  16. Sparks
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Dutch for characteristically excellent blog, and to all posters for the nice comments, which really are very much appreciated. BTW, apropos of the blog and the comment by Jane@14, what’s the (ir?)relevance, w.r.t the answer, of the YTV at 19D? Cheers, Sparks

    • dutch
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Hi Sparks, was hoping you’d drop in,many thanks for the puzzle.

      The song is by a group called Extreme – normally hard rock but this was an uncharacteristic acoustic number and an instant hit.

      • Sparks
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        Cheers Dutch: I feel really daft now, as the only reason I asked is that I thought a completely different name had come up when I saw it!

        • dutch
          Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

          it’s a pleasant change to be able to give you an answer straight away!

    • Posted April 23, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Hi Sparks. Yes, many thanks for dropping in – it’s always appreciated by everyone. Do you ever go to any of the Sloggers and Betters gatherings?

      • Sparks
        Posted April 23, 2016 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        Hi Kitty (cue Brucey). Yes indeed: the ones that have had any remote connection with Mr and Mrs Elgar have been truly wonderful … humans, ales and organised food. BTW, weren’t you blue, so to speak, earlier today?!

        • Posted April 23, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

          Nice to see you, to see you nice? I’m feeling like I’ve missed the cue and worried I’m being very stupid…

          It’s good to hear you’re a S&Ber. I’d only managed to get to the London ones until recently, but had such good times that I’ve become completely hooked – so I’m now to be found at most of them. Everyone I’ve spent time with at these events has been lovely. I rather like beer (lager, sorry!) and food too.

          I had no idea when I felt like a change of colour that it would have such an effect! Yes, I went from red to blue yesterday, but Dutch seemed so perturbed by the change that I, soft-hearted little kitty that I am, went back to black.

          • Sparks
            Posted April 24, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            Yes, cue missed. There was, I seem to recall, a(n execreable) Bruce Forsyth routine about a deaf cat and the owner shouting “Here Kitty Kitty!”, but I’m not going to Google it as I don’t want my browser history to record any searches about Brucey from this IP address ;-)

            • Posted April 24, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

              Arghh! So I’m indeed not only clueless (in the NTSPP) but also cueless. Thanks for putting me out of my misery!

              Since I’m already disgraced, I may face the shame and Google the routine anyway. (Although, isn’t it “Brucie”?)

  17. Mike Starkie
    Posted April 23, 2016 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    The shading is not there over the answers. Does anyone know why?

    • crypticsue
      Posted April 23, 2016 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

      BD is aware of this problem but hasn’t yet got to the bottom of why this is happening on some platforms and not others

  18. Heno
    Posted May 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Sparks and to Dutch for the review and hints. A very enjoyable puzzle, which I managed without the hints, probably my first 3* Toughie completion. Hooray ! It was like 4 mini puzzles which I solved SW,NW,NE,SE. Favourite was 9a, last in was 22d, thanks to Dutch for explaining tet.