Toughie 1631

Toughie No 1631 by Sparks

Hints and tips by Dutch

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

Sparks is systematically working his way through the Telegraph grids. When I saw today’s grid, I thought thank goodness, no more double unches. It’s nice that Sparks thought so too. A challenging yet readily doable puzzle with lots of clever definitions, plenty of interesting wordplay and some great humour – this one should keep everyone happy.

The definition part of each clue is 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    Small weeds jump from mule, maybe picked up here (4-4)
SHOE-SHOP: The abbreviation for small, a verb meaning weeds, and a verb meaning jump

5a    Skinned two fish in distress (6)
HARASS: Two 4-letter fishes with their first letters removed (skinned). Edit: two 5-letter fish with the first and last letters removed (skinned) – thanks Gazza (see comments)

10a    Show insight, adamant at changes after head of department is sacked (3,4,3,5)
IT’S THAT MAN AGAIN:  An anagram (changes) of INSIGHT A(d)AMANT AT, without the head of D(epartment). The answer is a BBC radio comedy that ran in the 1940’s

11a    Post opened by sheepish female film star (3,4)
MAE WEST: Another word for post which is split (opened) by the insertion of a female sheep

12a    Dare, for example, one to get drink served up for woman (7)
DANIELA: A cartoon character with the surname Dare, the Roman numeral for one and the reversal (served up) of the favourite beverage at sloggers and betters meetings

13a    Go to here to act extravagantly on spare capital (8)
FREETOWN: When you act extravagantly you go to ****. Place that after (on) another word for spare or available (as for time, or a seat)

15a    Run into walrus, maybe causing wreck (5)
TRASH: Place the abbreviation for run inside an informal word for something that may be a walrus

18a    Former upper class to be arrested, not a moment too soon (2,3)
ON CUE: A word for former contains (to be arrested) the abbreviation for upper class

20a    Photos containing old ladies, perhaps, providing high-level coverage? (8)
SNOWCAPS: A 5-letter informal word for photographs contains both the abbreviation for old and a 2-letter abbreviation that could be the ladies.

23a    In a short time, rogue is a bit of a swine (7)
TROTTER: Read this as ‘In wordplay is definition’. The abbreviation for time and a 6-letter word for rogue

25a    Bohemian family turning on switch (7)
BEATNIK: Reversal (turning) of a 3-letter word for family follows (on) a transitive verb that can mean pound or batter or (definition 5 in brb) to whip up or switch

26a    Attract hanky-panky with anybody? — you’re kidding me (4,3,5,3)
PULL THE OTHER ONE: A word for attract, a (3,5) expression for sexual relations and a 3-letter pronoun meaning anybody

27a    Cycle maker found in middle of canal in punt (6)
WAGNER: Place the central letter of canal into another word for punt or bet. The definition refers to the composer of an epic work

28a    Medication found in extremely unclean toilets around university (8)
UNGUENT: The extreme letters of u(nclea)n, then some toilets (not the ones in 20a) around the abbreviation for University


1d    Spot anonymous driver on dam (6)
STIGMA: The anonymous driver from Top Gear and a 2-letter word for dam or mother. Note the different use of on in a down clue

2d    About a matter concerning the club bistro, etc up for renewal (9)
OBSTETRIC: A club only for women (after admitting men). Anagram (up for renewal) of BISTRO ETC

3d    Artist in school that is likeable on the surface (7)
SCHIELE: The abbreviations for school and that is, plus the surface letters of l(ikeabl)e

4d    Company promoted offensive group (5)
OCTET: The abbreviation for company is reversed (promoted, in a down clue) with the largest military offensive of the Vietnam War named after the Vietnamese New Year.

6d    Touching win secured by a good man (7)
AGAINST: A 4-letter win is contained in (secured by) a from the clue and the usual abbreviation for a good man

7d    Wow — ma’am dazzled regardless of the odds (5)
AMAZE: Even letters of (regardless of the odds) ma’am dazzled

8d    Bronze gets dirty, unusually, top to bottom (8)
SUNBATHE: Bronze here is a verb, as in tan. When you move the top letter (of the answer) to the bottom, you see a fanciful way (unusually) of saying ‘gets dirty’. 

9d    Dance, even if interrupting one following turn (8)
FANDANGO: Insert (interrupting) the most common conjunction (even if, definition 10 in brb) into a 3-letter word for one following or a devotee, followed by a 2-letter word for turn

14d    Where celebs are frequently working blind (2-6)
ON-SCREEN: A 2-letter word meaning working or in operation, and a word for a blind or shield

16d    It’s blown by planner altering exterior of house (9)
ALPENHORN: An anagram (altering) of PLANNER goes outside (exterior of) the abbreviation for house

17d    Lefty messed up — so what? (8)
SOUTHPAW: An anagram (messed) of UP SO WHAT

19d    Perhaps name characters covering equestrian sports championship (7)
ENTITLE: The two characters covering e(questria)n and a championship in sports

21d    After church, drink in gold castle (7)
CHATEAU: Abbreviation for church, then a non-alcoholic brew goes into the chemical symbol for gold

22d    Sloppy kisser who may go downhill rapidly (6)
SKIERS: An anagram (sloppy) of KISSER

24d    Force stepping in over prisoner in camp (5)
OFLAG: The abbreviation for force goes between (stepping into) the abbreviation for a cricket over and a prisoner. The prisoner is also a hint as to the kind of camp

25d    Don’t declare staff (5)
BATON: Split (3,2) the answer is a cricket term which would mean don’t declare. I learnt this from BD’s list of cricket terms on this website! (in the mine, under the features tab)

Plenty to like. 20a and 23a stood out for me, as well as 1d and 2d. Which were your favourites?


  1. jean-luc cheval
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The Nina was very well suited for Andy I thought.
    Great puzzle.
    Thanks to Sparks and to Dutch for the review.

    • dutch
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Yes, it made me laugh out loud…

    • andy
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Ha ha JL :)

  2. Expat Chris
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have a complete grid but definitely wasn’t able parse them all. I spotted the nina! Oh, joy! Loved 23A and 27A, but my top spot goes to 2D. Thanks Sparks and Dutch.

  3. Gazza
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Super puzzle – thanks to Sparks and to dutch for the very entertaining review (I loved the hint for 2d). My top likes were 11a, 15a and 2d.
    In 5a I thought that “skinned” probably meant without both ends so I took the answer to be 2 x 5-letter fish without their outside letters.

    • dutch
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

      That’s what I was hoping – but I saw char and bass and didn’t think further. Now I see both have alternative spellings with an extra letter! I will edit.

      • Gazza
        Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

        I hadn’t thought of chare – I was thinking of shark.

        • andy
          Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

          I’m as usual very dim and could only come up with Shark and wrasse :(

        • dutch
          Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink | Reply

          Yep, that works as well as charr and is perhaps more obvious

        • Expat Chris
          Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

          I had char and bass, thinking that skinned was just taking the surface off.

    • Kath
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

      . . . and I’m still swimming around in the sea with all the fish – can’t see which ones we’re meant to be thinking of. Oh dear!

  4. andy
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Had to look up 24d to confirm but other than that very enjoyable. Liked 27a and those mentioned by Dutch, to whom thanks for a great blog and Sparks for the challenge.

  5. Jane
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hadn’t spotted the Nina so thanks for that, JL!

    Found a way in at the bottom of the grid and worked up slowly from there – very slowly at times.
    Plenty of ticks amassed en route but top marks go to 20a.

    Many thanks to Sparks (and Sparky) for the challenge and thanks to Dutch for an excellent blog. I’m sure that Kitty will be smiling over the pic for 8d – I was rather hoping for a touch of Procol Harum at 9d…………

    • dutch
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Ah yes, didn’t think of procol harem, that would have annoyed miffypops. I did look for a clip for the dance, mainly to find a lot of stuff to do with some wrestler….

  6. Shropshirelad
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink | Reply

    An enjoyable romp through ‘toughieland’ with Sparks. Lots to like and, for once, I saw the nina – good heavens, whatever next! I really can’t pick out one single favourite – so I won’t even try. Nice to see the artist popping up at 3d as Mrs SL & I have a print of one of his works in our conservatory and we had to check his name when Jane came to visit.

    If I had one grumble – I wasn’t too fond of 22d – I thought it was missing a ? at the end of the clue.

    Anyway, never mind – thanks to Sparks (and Sparky) for a very enjoyable solve and to Dutch for his usual excellent review. Have a good weekend all.

    • Jane
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Sadly, SL, that didn’t help a bit during the solve. It was only after I’d worked out the answer from the wordplay that I thought – umm, I’ve heard of him before! Some time later, the proverbial penny dropped……..

  7. Kath
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 6:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Oh well – that just serves me right for trying a Friday Toughie.
    I ended up with about six answers without an answer – in other words six gaps – some of these I know I would never have got so that makes me feel a bit better.
    The only time that I’ve heard of 10a was when Brian used to say it on Ray T Thursdays over in the other place – where has he got to?
    Did I see the Nina – no, don’t be silly – even having been told that there was one it took me an age to find it.
    All good fun – I liked lots of these but my favourite was 26a.
    With thanks to Sparks – the first time I’ve ever dared to try one of his – and to Dutch for sorting out my problems, of which there were many.

  8. Sheffieldsy
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 7:06 pm | Permalink | Reply

    That was quite tough but really very enjoyable; we arrived at 3*/4*. So many good clues, it was a pleasure all the way but let’s pick out some anyway: 13a, 15a, 20a, 1d, 4d, 24d.

    We had to check that 3d as built by the Lego approach was, indeed, an artist. We thought 5a was the toughest clue in the grid.

    Thanks to Dutch fir the review and to Sparks.

  9. Posted July 1, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Well, it’s been a long week. A nice relaxing Friday evening in beckons. This was lovely, but I did take a couple of teeny bits of help with parsing.

    I amused myself by – having fallen bodily into the intended trap – assuming 27a was some manufacturer I didn’t know and at first coming up with the answer with the middle two letters transposed. It sounded plausible! 22d conjured up an image … not exactly like the one shown above. 26a is very funny, but I will self-censor my comment about the illustration.

    It’s telling that people have chosen a variety of favourites. I’ve found it impossible to pick one.

    Lovely fun nina too.

    I laughed at the hint for 2d. Jane is right about my reaction to the 8d picture, though it does not depict me. I am a shade-dweller. When we have taken holidays in hot places, my routine has always been to hide under a parasol with a book until I get too hot, take a refreshing swim, and rinse and repeat until it is time to eat.

    Many thanks to Sparks and Dutch: superlative work both.

    • dutch
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

      interestingly enough(?), 27a was also an early brand of motorcycles.

      the book cover illustrated in 26a is also interesting – you can get it from amazon. I think it is a book of blank pages.

      • Posted July 1, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Oh, I am relieved to know that I may have a smidgen of justification in failing to twig the definition in 27a, even having got the answer (it did seem vaguely familiar as a bike maker). Still, the colour of my avatar is quite appropriate today: :oops:

        I like the 26a book. I think it may be a variation of a theme that has been done before, but still amusing.

  10. 2Kiwis
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We started off with a smile. This developed into chuckles as we worked through the puzzle, a laugh out loud when we found Toulouse in 20a and 28a and ended up with a roar of laughter when we finished the puzzle and found the Nina. A delight from start to finish.
    Many thanks Sparks and Dutch.

  11. Nairnsue
    Posted July 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I managed a little more than half of this before consulting the hints, although I had to google 10a to make sure. The hints helped me with most of the rest, so thank you Dutch. I had never heard of the artist or (I’m ashamed to admit) the camp – went for gulag which completely screwed up 23a until I read the hints.. I have also never heard of a nina, so looked it up in the FAQs but am still quite hazy about how to spot one. Hopefully enlightenment will come with time. Enjoyed 23a, 18d and 1d.

    • dutch
      Posted July 1, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Did you see the nina (= hidden message)? it is in rows 6, 8 and 10.

      • Salty Dog
        Posted July 1, 2016 at 11:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

        I confess I too fail to spot this (to me, at least) mythical beast. I can’t even understand what “rows” you are referring to. I can only see eight rows in the grid. Dutch – could you possibly spell it out a bit more clearly?

        As for the puzzle – 3*/3.5*. I needed 4 hints to complete, but enjoyed the struggle. 27a made me laugh. Thanks to Sparks and Dutch.

        • 2Kiwis
          Posted July 1, 2016 at 11:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

          There are 15 rows in the grid. Rows 6 8 and 10 are three of the rows between the ones that contain the answers. We are looking for a 2,4,6,6 phrase.

          • Salty Dog
            Posted July 1, 2016 at 11:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

            Thank you so much, 2Ks! That’s pretty nifty, isn’t it? It also served to goad me into finding out what “unches” are, a matter which has hitherto been equally opaque to me. I just solve the crosswords, you see. I don’t try to understand them as well.

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