Toughie 1615 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 1615

Toughie 1615 by Elkamere

Hints and tips by Kitty

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


A warm welcome to you all.  Well, Dutch really does time his holidays excellently.  From my perspective at least!  Little did I know when I agreed to do today that I’d get the pleasure of covering another superb Elkamere puzzle.  I don’t do fandom, but if I did…

As soon as I printed this I noticed that the clues are short: the whole doesn’t exceed 150 words, with the average word count just five and a half (just over six in the acrosses, and under five in the downs).  Plenty to drink too, and refreshment is always welcome here.

I found this both very accessible and very tricky: by this I mean that there were quite a few easier clues to get started but also some wickedly fiendish stuff to grapple with.  The factors that made it hard were not stretched synonyms or rare words which would necessitate rooting through the dictionary or thesaurus, but well-disguised definitions and beautifully original elements of wordplay.  Just how I like it.

So, to anyone quaking at the thought of a Friday Toughie, let me say this: get stuck in.  You may well find you get further than you thought you would, and you will certainly find much to enjoy in the show of verbal dexterity and cunning linguistics even if you need help to get you through.  And if you do, well that’s handy: help is exactly what I have endeavoured to provide here.

The definitions are underlined in the clues below and the answers are hidden under the 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.



4a    Learner given one lecture free (8)
LIBERATE: To get things going, we take our usual crosswordland learner, give him or her one, Roman-style, and then lecture or scold. Release

8a    Good move to create protest (6)
GROUSE: G(ood) followed by move or stir leads to a protest or grumble

9a    Head for Soho hotel, going in for a drink (8)
SPRITZER: This mixed drink starts with the first letter of (head for) Soho, then a hotel (a swanky London one) is inserted into (going in) “for a” (three letters)

10a    Evening entertainment near market (5,3)
NIGHT OUT: A poetic word meaning near and market as in hawk or peddle

11a    For one hiding war criminal, I listen in (6)
EARWIG: For one means for example: the abbreviation for this is containing (hiding) an anagram (criminal) of WAR and the I from the clue.  An informal term for eavesdrop

12a    Denied support with up-front profits (8)
GAINSAID: Financial or practical support preceded by (with up-front) profits or yields

13a    Switzerland housing project is unpleasant (8)
CHURLISH: The IVR code for Switzerland containing (housing) a four letter verb meaning throw, together with the IS from the clue.  Rude in a mean-spirited and surly way

16a    Spread as muscle comes into play (8)
SPECTRUM: A muscle usually found in the plural and always found in the chest is inserted inside (comes into) play, in the manner one might finger a guitar

19a    Pirate perhaps still gets broken oar working (8)
PICAROON: This still is a photo and is followed by an anagram (broken) of OAR and then working or in operation.  The answer is a historical word for a pirate, rogue or scoundrel (and will be known to many of you as a Guardian crossword setter)

21a    See you alone with nothing, gutted (2,4)
SO LONG: Single or unaccompanied and then the outer letters (gutted) of nothing

23a    Nobody keeps dry in front of aircraft (4,4)
NOSE CONE: Nobody contains (keeps) dry – not teetotal: on the contrary, it’s an adjective applied to wines

24a    Alternative to rice etc if not cooking (8)
CONFETTI: An anagram (cooking) of ETC IF NOT.  That bit isn’t so hard, but the definition is neatly misleading: it’s not an alternative to rice in culinary use but at weddings

25a    Storm happening to change course (6)
ATTACK: Happening to or engaged in and then change course, as a sailing vessel has to do when going against the wind

26a    Song we’ve regularly found in romances (8)
FEELINGS: The even letters (regularly) of we’ve inside brief passionate romances.  Those affairs are likely to involve the answer, which is the title of a song by Morris Albert.  I didn’t know this song, which caused me some confusion

  ARVE Error: need id and provider



1d    Circling, touch parts of trap (7)
ORBITAL: A word meaning touch or smidgeon is inside (parts, here a verb) “of trap,” trap being a cakehole

2d    Real gold, so it turns cold (9)
AUTHENTIC: A charade (inappropriately perhaps, given the definition!) of the chemical symbol for gold, so, a reversal of IT (it turns) and C(old)

3d    Iron the explorer’s hat (6)
FEDORA: The chemical symbol for iron followed by the name of an explorer on children’s TV.  Between the last answer and this, the first two letters have changed from gold to iron: a feat of reverse alchemy

4d    Are they inclined to offer shares? (6,9)
LISTED COMPANIES: Read cryptically, these could be firms that are tilted or leaning (not that I have a handle on how that would work).  Straightforwardly, these are businesses that do offer shares, and in that case the answer to the question posed in the clue is yes!

5d    Wine carried, bread delivered? (8)
BORDEAUX: Homophones of a word meaning carried and one meaning bread (in the slang sense of money, or the uncooked stuff)

6d    It turns corrupt soldiers (5)
ROTOR: A charade of corrupt or spoil and our usual soldiers who are not commissioned officers

7d    Worst possible  place to find crew (3,4)
THE PITS: Two definitions.  The crew in question might be a mining crew Formula One (or other track-based motorsport) crew of mechanics.  Thanks to Gilbert, Gazza and Expat Chris for pointing this out – Motorsport just didn’t occur to me

14d    Oil race-built buggy (9)
LUBRICATE: Oil here is a verb: to make slippery.  An anagram (buggy) of RACE-BUILT

15d    Rattle all the way through Slough (8)
FRIGHTEN: All the way or completely goes inside (through) a marsh or morass.  Allow me to begin a little Simon’s Cat fest

  ARVE Error: need id and provider


  ARVE Error: need id and provider

17d    Prompt permitted during show (7)
PROVOKE: Acceptable inside (during) demonstrate or verify

  ARVE Error: need id and provider

18d    My sweet is moulding (7)
CORNICE: The crossword staple of my(!) being an expression of surprise, followed by sweet or good.  The moulding is not an unpleasant verb but a projecting moulding along the top of a building

20d    Before a run, damage the other lead (2-4)
CO-STAR: Take the A from the clue and the cricketing abbreviation for run(s) and before them place a word for damage or expense

22d    Waste (from ‘become short’) (5)
OFFAL: A two letter word which can mean from and then become or get (as in, for example, **** ill) without its last letter (short).  I’d want to be left with a better taste in my mouth: not an offally good note on which to end, I thought.  I do* apologise for the tearable pun

*no, wait – I don’t.  Here are some more (click to enlarge):


Many thanks to Elkamere for another top quality puzzle.  I’m completely at a loss to choose a favourite today.  Which bits generated your biggest smiles, groans and “aha” moments?

60 comments on “Toughie 1615

    1. So did I for 7D. I don’t think miners as a group are called crews and pit would surely be singular if they were.

      1. Chris, your comment got me thinking. Australian mines have crews, as do casino gambling pits (at least in the US). But in both cases a crew would be found in only one pit, as you pointed out. So I think it has to be motorsport.

        Kitty would have known this if she paid attention when F1 comes on the telly :)

        1. Hi Mr. K. Do I sense a little dissension in the ranks over TV viewing choices? Actually, I rather think you may be facing questions regarding your knowledge of the operation of US gambling pits………

  1. Thanks to Elkamere for the excellent puzzle (are his clues getting shorter and shorter?) and to Kitty for the top-rate blog. I’d never heard of the 3d explorer so had to check that out. In 7d I think that Elkamere (who, I believe, is a motor sport fan) is probably thinking of the Kwikfit fitters on the motor racing circuit rather in the mines.
    Difficult to choose a favourite but I’ll go for a choice between 24a and 1d.

    1. Sorry, the 7d point has aleady been made – more proof of how slow my typing is.

      1. Hi Gazza, it matters not a jot how slow your typing is – the resulting text is always well worth the wait. I’m sure I’m far from being the only one who has learnt so much from your input on the blog.

  2. 3D was my first one in and my favorite because it reminds me of my grandson when he was small and loved to throw the odd Spanish word into his sentences. Top left (mostly) and bottom right quadrants went in before bed, and the other two fell into place this morning. 1D was last in and I certainly needed the blog to parse it. Lots of fun. Thanks Elkamere and Kitty.

  3. Excellent stuff. As I’ve always said – he is indeed the master of hiding definitions in clear view. One of the factors I enjoy about his puzzles is the pithiness of his clues. So when he appears on the Toughie page, I always have an extra bit of ‘working out’ space. Alas, the DT has thrown the mockers on that as they’ve now managed to squeeze an advert in :(

    Lots to like and far too many to pick one favourite.

    Thanks to Elkamere for the splendid puzzle and to Kitty for her equally splendid review. Dutch who? (you know I’m only joking).

  4. I found this a very congenial puzzle of just the right level of difficulty, nothing to frighten (pace 15dn) the battle-hardened setter but equally requiring some thought to disentangle in various places.

    1dn was my favourite; I thought “of trap” really quite clever.

  5. Terrific, but Elkamere-lite. All but the SW went in fairly quickly. Part of the “problem” may be that his clues are so inventive that you remember them better than with other setters – but it’s a great feeling to look at something like 1d and think “aha – I wonder if…”

    Favourites: the above named 1d [parts of trap so very Elkamere] 23a [neat &tidy with a nicely misleading “front”] and, last in, 15d [only when 26 & 16a finally went in did I stop trying to crowbar “shed” in for Slough.]

    Many thanks to Elkamere for the entertainment and to Kitty for an entertaining blog.

  6. I suspect this one was more difficult to blog than to grid-fill – I didn’t check but I think a couple went in unparsed. Not as difficult as some of his Anax puzzles in the Indie, but still a proper challenge with some lovely entertaining clues. 18d was last in – the moulding was unfamiliar to me, but must be related to the overhanging snow. The brevity was a welcome contrast after the very verbose Paul in the Guardian.

    Thanks to Kitty for an entertaining blog (and for drawing my attention to this one), and thanks to Elkamere for another fine puzzle.

  7. Thought this was quite a benevolent offering from Elkamere (no, I’m not complaining!) although I had to look up the explorer and the archaic pirate and needed Kitty’s help with the parsing of 22d – didn’t like that clue (sorry, Dean).

    16a made me smile – only Dean (and possibly our own TS) would have ‘strum’ as their first definition of ‘play’.
    Plenty to enjoy, my top two are 10a&18d.

    Many thanks to Elkamere/Anax/Dean for the puzzle and to Kitty for the great blog – I do love Simon’s cat. By the way, I know you are SO young by comparison with a lot of us, but can’t believe that you haven’t heard ‘feelings’ before now. It’s been recorded by so many people from Frank Sinatra through Elvis to Barbara Streisand.

    1. Feelings heyday appears to have been very much the 1970s… 1974 baby here, and I can’t recall having run into it.

      Youngsters (ish) may be most likely to have heard The Offspring’s 1998 version of it, though it’s more of a… subversion rather than a version.

      1. I didn’t come into existence until the 80s had begun, and furthermore I didn’t get into music until much later than my peers. Hence (as you have found out by trying to talk to me about the subject) I have big gaps in my musical knowledge.

        Just listened to The Offspring’s (sub)version – it brought a smile to my face. Thanks for that. :)

      2. OK Verlaine, so I’m just old! I count anyone born after about 1960 to be little more than a baby.
        It will not surprise you to learn that I’ve never heard of The Offspring – other than my own, that is!

        1. For you Jane…I think you’ll like it. It is the clean version of this song. I prefer the other version.

          1. Umm…. can just about cope with that. Reminds me of the head banging stuff that Slade used to turn out!

          2. That’s good, but when it comes to California punk you just can’t beat Social Distortion.

              1. I love Cash too. I was lucky enough to see him perform in small clubs twice when his career got a second wind in the nineties. The Social Distortion cover is respect for him. Punk rock loved him, and the feeling was mutual – he covered a Nine Inch Nails’ song on one of his last albums. This video for it, recorded just before he died, is one of the most powerful ever made, I think. Just stirs up so many emotions. Genius.

                1. Fans of JC may be interested to know that there are two programmes on BBC4 tonight about the Highwaymen (the supergroup of which he was a member).

      1. If it makes you feel any better I’m not familiar with it either, though it was obvious enough once all the crossers were there…

        1. Even watched the version by Nina Simone where she does more talking than singing.

    2. I just popped in, having (remarkably) managed about half of it in short time, (mainly to see what today’s Kitty innuendo was). Hopefully I will get chance to finish it, as it’s quite wonderful.
      You might want to see the definitive version of ‘Feelings’, certainly the funniest…

  8. I must have said it a hundred times but I do like short and concise clues.
    Very comfortable with those.
    This was no exception and took less time than the back page.
    Favourite is 9a (head for Soho hotel).
    Thanks to Elkamere and to Kitty for the review.
    As it happens, I only discovered Simon’s cat last week.

    1. Only just discovered Simon’s Cat, JL?!! Don’t know what you’ve missed. Of course, it does help if you’ve ever shared your home with a member of the feline tribe.

  9. Master of brevity and hidden in plain sight definitions. I cannot name a favourite, there are far too many. Brilliant from start to finish Elkamere.

    Ta to all.

  10. My day started with an email saying ‘Was this the easiest Friday Toughie ever?’ Surely not I thought, it’s an Elkamere – but after I’d solved the inside back pager, I turned to the middle of the paper and found that my correspondent wasn’t wrong. I’d have to add that I thought it was probably the easiest Elkamere ever too.

    However, the easiness didn’t detract from the joy of solving all those lovely clues. I have one Across favourite – the aforementioned ‘earworm’ and one Down favourite – the lovely Iron Explorer.

    Thanks to Elkamere for the fun and Kitty for the explanations.

    1. Rats, damn and blast – there I was thinking I’d done really well today – a Friday Toughie and an Elkamere who I normally can’t do at all . . .
      No time to comment properly now as friends coming for supper very soon so tomorrow – i.e. I’ll comment properly tomorrow.
      In the meantime thanks to Elkamere and thanks and well done to Kitty. :smile:

      1. Well, you won’t read this until later, Kath – and I’m glad that you’ll be having too much fun for that, but I’ll reply now. It does seem from the consensus that it was a bit easier than one might expect on a Friday and from Elkamere, but so what? If you feel you did well, I’ll bet you did well. It was a Friday Toughie and it was an Elkamere, so well done you.

  11. Carol was away sorting out a new set of glasses so I had the pleasure of this one all to myself. I noticed the brevity of the clues and did a quick word count check (one actually stretches to 9 words, would never do for RayT) but nothing like Kitty’s statistical analysis. Really good fun that all came together smoothly but not too quickly.
    Thanks Elkamere and Kitty.

  12. Like Jean-Luc, I go for short, snappy clues and hate long, convoluted ones. I particularly like 17d “Prompt permitted during show”. Very neat. Thanks Elkamere and Kitty

  13. I haven’t finished an Elkamere puzzle before so I am feeling very pleased today – he’s a very different setter, and it took me a while to see much of the wordplay, but very much worth it as it slowly came together.
    Many thanks to Kitty and Elkamere.

  14. I am glad my few guesses turned out to be correct but I found this probably the easiest Elkamere in the Telegraph to date. I had more of a struggle with the back-pager by Giovanni whose puzzles I seldom like and today’s was no exception.

    An Anax stinker with little obscure vocabulary or general knowledge is a wonderful treat. I hope he gets a Friday slot again soon and really lets rip

  15. A testing and inventive puzzle, but one which defeated me in the SW corner. I didn’t know the song at 26a and was too thick to work out 17d. Nevertheless, 4*/4* seems about right. As a sailor, 25a gets my vote for favouritism. But please, Kitty, don’t say “sailboat”.

    VMTs to Elkamere and Kitty.

    1. I have made the edit just for you, SD, and never again will that term cross my lips. Unless it inadvertantly does. By the way, I neglected to wish you Happy Birthday yesterday – I hope it was a good one.

  16. Glad that everyone was having fun while I was slogging at work trying to prevent Italian brats from tearing the restaurant apart like Snape’s cat.
    But I forgive you as you included me in your discussions.
    Thanks for the videos.
    See you all tomorrow.

  17. Funny Halcyon should mention Elkamere’s inventiveness making his clues so memorable, as it was nagging me that I’d seen the excellent 24a before. And sure enough, he’d used it in Toughie 1456 last year, with “cooked” for “cooking”! Coincidentally it was 24a in that one too – and the same grid design! (No need to reply that I need to get out more – I’ve been told.)

  18. I came back to this, and needed a few hints to finish, but brilliant all the way through. Thanks to Elkamere and Kitty.

  19. Kitty – my sincere apologies for seeing this so late! For some reason I had it in my head that this puzzle was for today (10th), and didn’t know about it on the publication date as I was coming to the end of a 3000-mile driving round trip to see my beloved Simple Plan in Lithuania, along with my daughter. Huge thanks, hugs, kisses and unmentonable extras for the lovely blog.
    The trip itself was amazing. All great until we crossed the border into Poland and met an apocalyptic thunderstorm. With the fuel gauge reading zero we somehow managed to cover 40Km before finding a petrol station. After filling up we grabbed some lunch at McDonalds, only for a lightning strike to knock out the power – as a security measure this locked the doors and it took the staff half an hour to work out how to unlock them. The satnav took us through Belarus but the border guards weren’t satisfied with passports; they wanted driving licence, insurance docs, proof of car ownership, the works. After bribing them (that’s what you do) they suggested an alternative route avoiding Belarus altogether and saving about 100Km, except they were wrong. It added 2 hours to the journey, but the roads of Lithuania – while not of great quality – are mostly straight and deserted, so I had the little beast up to about 110mph most of the way and made up the time. Lithuania is beautiful.
    The gig tickets I ordered online never arrived, but the band sorted us out. They actually refused to accept payment! They gave us full access and VIP backstage passes – incredible. On the return trip we got pulled over (routine stop) in Poland. The cops, like the Belarus border guards, wanted all sorts of documents and actually threatened me with taking the car and us somehow getting home by taxi. For reals. Eventually they got bored and just said “Go”.
    Brilliant and unforgettable, and my baby girl got the trip of a lifetime.

    1. Apology accepted! I’m delighted to hear your absence was due to your having such an exceedingly good time. Sounds awesome – thanks for sharing the story.

      1. P.S. I’ve been gently reminded to make explicitly clear that while I accept the hugs, I must apologetically decline the kisses and unmentionable extras. :)

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