Toughie 1611

Toughie 1611 by Sparks

Hints and tips by Kitty

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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


Welcome all.  Sporks has today provided us with a very stiff challenge in a puzzle with some fun definitions, spiky wordplay and a cosy little nina (See below).

With our usual reviewerman preparing for his travels, your Kitty (with a Y) has once again snaffled up a juicy Friday Toughie slot.  There is lots of wetness in this crossword, but it was not a damp squib.  I found it very hard but satisfying, with plenty of “aha! moments” to keep me happy.

Shamelessly inveigling oneself into a reviewer’s good books in ways which will become clear (see below) is only to be encouraged and will earn extra enjoyment stars.  (Hey – we make no claims to be impartial: the ratings are simply a reflection of the reviewer’s subjective experience and provided for illustration only.)  Unfortunately, Spirks did not reckon on me being in the chair, and I may have deducted one again, for reasons which will also become clear.  Hahaha!

The definitions are underlined in the clues below.  The answers are hidden under the Answear boxes.  The exclamation mark is not an imperative – click only if you wish to reveal the answer.

Do leave a comment telling us how you found it and what you thought.



1a    Elegant clubs curtailed bumpkin (4)
CHIC: C(lubs) then a bumpkin or yokel without its last letter (curtailed)

3a    Financial guide in parts expired unexpectedly with 100 seized (5,5)
PRICE INDEX: IN from the clue inside (parts, as a verb) an anagram (unexpectedly) of EXPIRED, with a further insertion of the Roman numeral 100 (seized)

8a    Setting east for Lillehammer, old sled being sent over (6)
REGULO: The final letter of (east for) Lillehammer, then the reversal of O(ld) and a racing sled which will be familiar from the Winter Olympics.  The answer is a temperature setting for a gas oven (and not something I knew of)

9a    Mark catching half-followed Eastern hacker (8)
SCIMITAR: A permanent mark left by a wound containing (catching) half of a word meaning copied or took as a model

10a    Place article in fast food (6)
PIAZZA: A place or square surrounded by buildings is formed by putting a grammatical article inside an Italian dish that is not necessarily fast (except in the eating, when I’m around)

11a    Service providers agitate bureau when both fall short (8)
CHURCHES: Words for agitate or stir and bureau or dresser, each without their final letters (both fall short)

12a    Expose rupture in report such as George might deploy (3-5)
AIR-BRAKE: Expose or make public then a homophone (in report) of rupture.  To make sense of the definition, you have to know that George is the name given to the autopilot system on aeroplanes (link)

14a    Cut leading couple out of short routine (4)
ETCH: A short scene or skit without its first two letters

16a    One short term for Oxford perhaps needing extra time (4)
UNIT: A shortened word for something Oxford is an example of (not shoe) and then T(ime)

18a    Monk‘s society set to enter storm perhaps (8)
RASPUTIN: S(ociety) and set or place inside (to enter) a type of storm (at least, it is with storm appended).  By the way, Monk is today’s setter’s alter ego in The Independent and elsewhere


19a    I’m amazed – pub – party – it’s all coming back in general (8)
HANNIBAL: An expression of surprise, a pub and a party, all reversed (all coming back) – but reverse them separately, keeping the word order the same as in the clue.  The general is a Carthaginian who fought the Roman Republic and is known for bringing elephants over the Alps

20a    Sooner or later hint at leaving (2,4)
IN TIME: Hint or imply without the at (at leaving)

21a    Wetness of silk fabric, about a bolt? Not quite (8)
MOISTURE: A silk fabric (moire) around (about) most of the letters of (not quite) a bolt or knob

22a    White man from England once moving over (6)
ALBINO: The old name of England (actually the whole island of Great Britain – the name for Scotland in the Celtic languages is related to it) with the O(ver) moved slightly.  May not be a man – indeed, I’ve chosen something cuter for the picture

23a    Let down second American soldier left in pass (10)
DISGRUNTLE: S(econd), US slang for a low-ranking soldier or unskilled worker and L(eft) all inside pass, expire or cease to be

24a    Take one from a number or take two from another constant (4)
EVEN: Remove a letter from a number or two letters from a different number, one that is two letters and four units larger



1d    Shell in vehicle that’s shifting quickly (8)
CARAPACE: A vehicle and then a word meaning quickly

2d    Awful chat-up about unknown husband’s lack of shame (8)
CHUTZPAH: An anagram (awful) of CHAT-UP around a mathematical unknown, all followed by H(usband)

3d    Stay on courts, nationalistic? (3,6)
PRO PATRIA: The stay is a four letter brace and the courts are the central ones in an ancient Roman house.  For the definition, we need to stay in ancient Rome and put our Latin hats on (or get out our very modern dictionary apps, as I did)

4d    Flies undone by this? (6,9)
INSECT REPELLENT: No need to check any zips.  This stuff should encourage the buzzy kind of flies and their kin to keep a wide berth

5d    Plunge right into nameless giant (7)
IMMERSE: An adjective meaning giant without its N (nameless), with R(ight) inserted (in its place, as it happens, though that’s not necessitated by the clue)

6d    European staff headed by Cockney partner (8)
DUTCHMAN: Staff as a verb preceded by (headed by) the cockney term for wife

7d    Could it be served in De Luxe restaurant? (5)
XERES: A pleasing all-in-one clue.  This sherry (which I’d never heard of and is marked as obsolete by Chambers, but it’s the original word from which the Anglicisation comes) is lurking in (served in) the de luxe restaurant.  It only spans two words of the three, so may earn some frowns.  I think it’s one of those marginal cases, since the luxe is rarely seen without the de

13d    Announced pool vigil for high-flying colonial? (9)
KITTIWAKE: A homophone (announced) of a pool of funds, then a vigil for the dead (which is also a word describing what I found it difficult to do this morning)

15d    Councillor, somehow insane, cracks (8)
CRANNIES: The abbreviation for councillor followed by an anagram (somehow) of insane

16d    Unhinged duke banished from Beds town (8)
UNSTABLE: Having lost a few marbles.  A market town in Bedfordshire with D(uke) removed (banished)


17d    Moderate carapace supporting tons? (4,4)
TONE DOWN: The definition is a verb.  Carapace may ring a bell (if it doesn’t, then it might be best to come back to this clue).  Find its location (1d: one down) and spell it out, topped off with (supporting) T(ons)

18d    One apparently assigned duty to revel (7)
ROISTER: The letter that looks like one has been put in a list of chores (apparently assigned duty)

19d    Wet kept secret about doubtful statement (5)
HUMID: Kept secret or concealed around an expression of doubt or hesitancy, similar to er


Thanks to Spanks.  I was expecting, as in his previous puzzles, a nina in the double unches, but instead we find three of our regulars (DUTCHman, HANNIbal and KITTIwake – yes, no idea who that is) nestling in the answers.  There is a fourth in the grid if you start at the 3rd letter of 8a and go down then across – thanks to the man in question for finding himself! 

I liked the quirky definitions (Eastern hacker, service providers, flies undone, the high-flying colonial…) and 17d.  Which clue(s) sparkled for you?



  1. Gazza

    Thanks to Sparks for a very enjoyable puzzle and to Kitty for the excellent explanations. I spent ages perusing the double unches looking for the Nina to no avail, though I did spot that two clues started with Mark (the setter’s forename) and Monk (his alter ego). It never occurred to me that he might be using bloggers’ identities for the Nina – so well done to Kitti for spotting that.
    The clues I liked best were 22a, 4d and 17d.

  2. Jane

    I’ve got nine in – possibly ten. That could well be as far as I get before turning to Kitty, booze or maybe even both………

      • Jane

        The booze definitely helped, although not with the fact that I didn’t know the American soldier and was wondering why my GIs were mixed up!
        Found our name-checked bloggers and wondered whether we could stretch a point to include a reversal of CS in 9a.

        Am I the only one who noticed that Kitty also managed to slot in a nod to one of our Wednesday bloggers?
        Favourite beyond any doubt was 17d.

        Thanks to Sparks (and Sparky of course) and to Kitti for a great review. Think you’ll find that a lot of recipe books (maybe older ones) refer to gas oven settings as ‘Reg’ followed by a number.

        • Kitty

          Well spotted, Jane. It’s a nod to both of them of course – and as you know, every bird picture I include is for you. It’s why my pic for 13d is of the actual answer and not a cat waking up. Though I have just found a video of the latter that has a (very brave!) bird in it too:

  3. dutch

    A wonderful blog Kitty (and a tough puzzle).
    Thank you for standing in for me.

    How flattering to be in a Nina!

    Double unches rule!

    19a probably raised the biggest smile but there were clever definitions and yes, spiky wordplay throughout that made for a very satisfying solve.

    Many thanks Sparks!

  4. Expat Chris

    I surprised myself by trotting through most of this at a good lick, though I couldn’t parse 16A and I didn’t know who (or what) George was. Then I hit a roadblock in the SW corner. I did reveal a letter for 19A, which gave me the solution but didn’t get the “party” bit until just now. 21A was last in because I had initially (and stupidly) misspelled the second word of 4D. I thought the puzzle was a lot of fun. 22A and 17D are my picks. Thanks Sparks and Kitty.

    PS. At first, I thought 13D might be *****hawk, with the high flying colonials being Orville and Wilbur. Pity it couldn’t be worked in because that would have given us the correct spelling of a certain blogger.

    • Sparks

      Thanks not only to Kutto for a great blog, but also to all (Gozzo, Ditch and Henna) for helpful feedback on previous occasions, for which the Nina is this setter’s way of highlighting the appreciation at this end. I’ve posted at this spot simply because Expat Chris’s PS describes the path intially trodden (with clue definition “Early flight departure from here …”). However, the resulting entries were so OTT for a 15×15 daily that I had to modify the grid, acting upon the generic advice for my age group: to keep one’s vowels moving. [Apologies to G/azza for the split, especially as Sparky took one look at your avatar and asked me to include you.] Great to meet new TT friends at the S&B, about which few memories survive … (cf. 19ac).

      • Kitty

        Thanks, Spraks. Appreciation goes both ways. When a setter takes the time to drop in and enter a dialogue with us mere mortal solvers it enhances the whole experience no end.

        It was great to meet you in London. I remember having a wonderful time with wonderful people, even if some details are a little fuzzy.

      • dutch

        Many thanks Sparks (see, no issues from me!). Wish I’d spotted Gazza earlier, but the man himself has the eyes of a hawk.

        Great to see you in London. I think I escaped just as things were beginning to spin a bit. Many thanks for the puzzle and the Nina – cool.

      • Hanni

        Love it Sparks! Thank you.

        Didn’t figure out what was going on until 6d went it. Unlike Gazza I am not that bright. Fall off horses too often.

        • Sparks

          Mon plaisir D, G, H and K! I did actually try to include other Toughie peeps, but had to abandon several attempts as a result of the aforementioned OTT vocab. And make no mistake, K, we setters are also very mortal indeed: as you plainly saw at the S&B, we too may be a tad affected by alcohol …

            • Sparks

              When’s that? I’ve been to a couple there, and the last trains back to Leeds were, well, interesting to say the least. York seems to be stag/hen party city at a weekend, and one doesn’t have to be gifted in maths to solve the equation alcohol + low IQ = x for x.

              • Hanni

                It’s not far from me either but I have booked to stay…don’t fancy getting the train back to Northallerton and then a taxi!

                Not sure I will survive the Friday night mind.

                • Hanni

                  You’re coming to York? That is fantastic news. I have been sourcing unusual moors honey for you. :yes:

                • beery hiker

                  If you are planning to go to York the Friday night is highly recommended (I was there last year and Mr Henderson’s quizzes are always entertaining – you also get to see more of the city that way). Look forward to seeing a few new faces!

                  • Hanni

                    I had initially only booked for the Saturday but BD mentioned the Friday night! Could be interesting. And I do like York. Exactly how hard to John’s quizzes get..after say a glass of wine or two?

  5. Hanni

    Brilliant end to the Toughie week..and I found this tricky. I like tricky.

    8a was my LOI and I had to drag it from the memory banks but I like the surface having Lillehammer/Olympics/sled etc.

    7d was new but as I already had the ‘x’ there was not much else it could be (I did double check). I have no problem with the ‘De’ in the clue.

    4d made me laugh when I cottoned on. Also like the unhinged duke, the ‘Monks’ society (spotted your name and your pseudonym…good stuff) and the silk fabric.

    My favourite is obviously 19a! Fantastic name check and a cracking clue.

    Many thanks to a man that made me laugh at CHAS n DAVE (usual hello to Sparky) for a brilliant puzzle and to Kitty for blogging.

  6. Merusa

    I never do the Toughie, but I just had to look in to tell you how entertaining I found your blog, Kitty!

          • Sparks

            OK, but as long as you don’t stalk the birdies coming to the feeders in my garden then I’ll not release Sparky and Brie onto you. Actually, K, you (very coincidentally) mentioned “damp squib” at the start, and the late Squib (my beloved JRT predecessor of Sparky) can be seen here.

            • Kitty

              Oh, well I’m happy Squib got a coincidental namecheck! I promise faithfully not to stalk any birdies – I like to look but not hunt. It was pointed out to me earlier that kittiwake was the wrong way round, what with the kitti inside the bird.

  7. 2Kiwis

    What wonderful fun. Knowing that Sparks usually gives us a message of some sort, we, like Gazza, searched the double unches in all sorts of combinations looking for one. Giving up on that, all we could find was Kate R and thought we would comment on that this morning, never guessing that we had stumbled on part of the message. Sorry Hanni and Gazza that we overlooked both of you. Thanks for thinking of us in your pic for 22a Kitty, we had actually found ourselves in the definition for 13d, but then again maybe that does not accurately describe us.
    It all went together smoothly for us until we got to 23a where we could not get past GI for ages.
    Excellent fun and much enjoyed.
    Thanks Sparks and Kitty.

  8. jean-luc cheval

    Sorry to interrupt.
    Every time I refresh the page there’s a new comment, read it, go back to the top to post, go down to read it, go back up again.
    I loved the solved. Starting with NW, SW, then NE fell when I got the Eastern hacker and finally SE on which I spent the most time.
    Nice to see our friends scattered around the grid.
    Loved the flies in 4d.
    Thanks to Sparks for a great Friday crossword and to Kitty for the wonderful review.

  9. Wolfson Bear

    I found this really hard – a 5* for me. I finished in the end after a lot of pondering and managed to get them right which was a surprise!

    Totally missed the ninas as always. Thanks to Sparks and kitty

  10. Salty Dog

    I completed in 3* time, but if I add the time taken to understand how l should have arrived at some of my answers (rather than by my usual method of inspired guesswork) it’s definitely a 4* puzzle, with the same for enjoyment. 17d had me utterly flummoxed; it’s one of the cleverest clues I have ever come across, so that’s my favourite. Many thanks to Sparks (or indeed “Spanks”, as Kitty says at the end of the review above) and to Kitty.

    • Hanni

      Hi SD,

      I agree about 17d and forgot to mention it above. Such a clever clue. I bunged it in and then had to write it out a couple of times to parse it. Big smile when I did.

  11. Verlaine

    I did find this quite a challenge, perhaps partly to do with my unfamiliarity with the Telegraph house style – some clues flew straight in and then others I couldn’t make head nor tail of due to the strange devices employed. The surfaces seemed very odd by the standards I’m used to but I agree completely about the cleverness of various definitions and 17dn, when the penny finally dropped, was a great delight. I lost a lot of time in the middle by assuming that George, Gilbert’s partner, would deploy an airbrush. Enjoyed overall, would Toughie again! V.

    • Kitty

      Thanks Verlaine – always good to get another perspective. And to entice more of you over here from other places [waves to Beery Hiker above :bye: ] … we’ll lure some defectors over yet!

  12. Heno

    Thanks to Sparks and to Kitty for the review and hints. I enjoyed what I could do. Which was NE and SW corners. Needed the hints for the rest. Great to meet Sparks on Tuesday. Very clever NINA, nice to see the bloggers get a mention. Favourite was 4d.

  13. Mr Kitty

    I’d like to say that pressures of work and of travelling prevented me from solving this but that would, as today’s guest blogger has been known to say, contain traces of lie. Big traces. This one was way beyond my pay grade. However, Merusa speaks the truth when she says that that one can appreciate the beautifully-crafted hints and commentary even if one hasn’t battled the puzzle. Which is exactly what I did. So kudos to Kitty for coming through and hitting the heights not once, but twice in one week. And also to Sparks for creating a puzzle that clearly delivered much entertainment to those more skilled than me.


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