Toughie 1647

Toughie No 1647 by Sparks

Hints and tips by Dutch

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

I was delighted to see a Sparks puzzle this Friday. This took me well into 3* time with a few clues that stretched my lateral thinking (and added to the enjoyment). I haven’t found a conventional Nina but I suspect there is significance to the 5- and 6-letter Down answers. Please comment and let us know what you think

Definitions are underlined.


1a    Narrow, small feature secured in Oxford, say (6-5)
STRAIT-LACED: The abbreviation for small, a feature or characteristic, and a verb meaning tied up (when referring to something that could be an Oxford)

9a    Tugging hard, split goldfish? (7)
HAULING: The abbreviation for hard, then the chemical symbol for gold and a fish (having ‘split’ goldfish into two separate words)

10a    Keep getting soaked when removing top in bad weather (6)
RETAIN: A 3-letter word for soaked without the initial W (when removing top) goes ‘in’ a word that typifies bad weather, or here we can say typifies the weather

12a    Shape faith in branch of society that’s died out (7)
LOZENGE: A 3-letter Japanese faith goes inside a 5-letter branch (or meeting-place) of e.g. a freemason society that has (that’s!) the abbreviation for D(ied) removed


13a    Flexible cleat is bent (7)
ELASTIC: Anagram (bent) of CLEAT IS

14a    Mentioned spots before the eyes — this is where they can be (5)
SPECS: A homophone (mentioned) of small spots or particles gives something you may have in front of your eyes. My first interpretation using only last 5 words as definition was that these were where the spots might be physically located – time to clean your glasses!


15a    Wonder at former prison staff on the inside … (9)
AMAZEMENT: Take AT from the clue and then ‘on the inside’ include both an old Northern Irish prison known for the 1981 hunger strike and a word for staff or personnel

17a    … showing foresight about one here on the outside (9)
PRESCIENT: A single-letter abbreviation for about plus the Roman numeral one have a word for here ‘on the outside’

20a    Great hawk, circling wide (5)
SWELL: A verb meaning to hawk or peddle goes around the abbreviation for W(ide) to give a slang word of commendation

22a    Determined, makes money long ago? (7)
EARNEST: How you might say makes money in Olde English

24a    Alternative source of biofuel introduced by power plant (7)
POTHERB: Another word for alternative and the first letter (source) of B(iofuel) are preceded by the abbreviation for P(ower)

25a    Gentle stroll outside theatre, evacuated for now (3,3)
PRO TEM: A contraction of a leisurely walk goes around (outside) an ‘evacuated’ T(heatr)E

26a    Learner‘s boss briefly getting depression (7)
STUDENT: Another word for boss or pin without the last letter (briefly), and a word for depression or hollow

27a    Wade perhaps in displays — was first to get over dam (11)
SPORTSWOMAN: As in Virginia. A verb meaning displays or wears, then a verb meaning came first (in a competition) goes around a 2-letter word for dam or mother



2d    Plough pitches around Rhode Island (7)
TRIONES: Musical pitches around the abbreviation for Rhode Island. I learn something new every day

3d    Mass exit after unsheathed daggers sported (9)
AGGREGATE: An exit (which could equally be an entry) follows an anagram (sported) of the ‘unsheathed’ letters in (d)AGGER(s)

4d    Cardinal‘s hot in plane, maybe (5)
THREE: This cardinal is a number, as opposed to ordinal. Place the abbreviation for H(ot) inside a word describing what a plane (or pine or oak or palm) is

5d    Tightly drawn back in one move (7)
ACTUATE: A 4-letter word for tightly drawn is reversed inside (back in) the one used in playing cards, etc.

6d    Letter from European left in winter sports venue (7)
EPISTLE: The abbreviation for E(uropean) followed by the abbreviation for L(eft) inserted into a skiing slope

7d    Calm, rational type of duke presently leading men harbouring dashed hopes (11)
PHILOSOPHER: The contracted name of the current Duke of Edinburgh (duke presently) goes in front of (leading) an abbreviation for a group of soldiers that is in turn containing (harbouring) an anagram (dashed) of HOPES. I thought some might be hotheads, but brb suggests otherwise

8d    Ponder about what’s in front of you (6)
PUZZLE: Two definitions

11d    Hack into unusually subtle, dry gossip (11)
SCUTTLEBUTT: A 3-letter verb meaning hack or chop goes inside an anagram (unusually) of SUBTLE, followed by an abbreviation that means dry or abstaining

16d    Allergic to begin with, points at nuts in starter (9)
ANTIPASTO: The first letter of A(llergic), then an anagram (nuts) of POINTS AT

18d    Means of reviving The Listener? (7)
EARDROP: A cryptic definition for some medicine that might improve your listener

19d    Clergyman getting caught up front, embracing a god (7)
CREATOR: A 6-letter clergyman in which the abbreviation for C(aught) is moved to the front, ’embraces’ the letter A from the clue.

20d    Fruit borne by university degree after school exams (7)
SATSUMA: Abbreviations for U(niversity) and a degree you might obtain there follow the abbreviations for some school exams (plural!) that my 11-yr old daughter has just taken.

21d    Cross one getting time for a break? (6)
ELEVEN: Think Roman numerals!

23d    Organ indicated by an X? (5)
TIMES: The name of a newspaper can also be an arithmetic operation


My favourite today has to be 21d for the penny drop moment, which took its time – I was beginning to panic!





  1. jean-luc cheval
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    No problems on the right side but the left was another matter.
    From my parsing 2d had to be either triunes or triones and had to check both in order to get the right answer.
    Had real trouble with 27a too as I thought 18d was either an earwash or a earbath originally so SW corner was last to yield.
    A real toughie which started well and finished with a good headache.
    Thanks to Sparks and to Dutch for the review.

  2. Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

    A Sparky puzzle with lots of humour. I found it tricky in places but not as fiendish as Fridays can be, and all very satisfying.

    I didn’t think I knew the 11d word but was able to construct it with confidence, so it does probably lurk within the dark recesses of my brain.

    2d was new to me and required a bit of dictionarying to get. I also ended up cheating to fill in 5d, though have no idea why that might be the one I should fall at. My only parsing fails were with the lo[d]ge part of 12a, and missing the significance of sported in 3d and so wondering if there was a mistake. Again, goodness knows why. Oh, and I also still don’t understand the first part of 21d … :wacko:

    I spent ages mid-solve and afterwards nina-hunting. Well done to Dutch for spotting the probably significant numbers.

    There are some excellent clues, but if I have to name a favourite I’ll go with the final one, purely for the smile.

    Many thanks to Sporks and Dutch.

    • andy
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

      21d, cross X (ten) add One I = eleven . Probably confoozed you even more :)

      • Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Aha! No – that’s done it. Thanks Andy. :)

      • dutch
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

        yes XI, sorry, my hint could certainly have been clearer – I was hoping to leave some of the ‘aha’

        • Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

          Don’t apologise, Dutch! I think it admirable of you to preserve the “aha!” for those less dense than me. :)

  3. Conrad Cork
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I enjoyed this a lot, so thanks to Sparks and also to Dutch for the blog.

    The only problem for me was the fact that Zen (in 12 across) is not in any way a faith. It is not even a religion, as the term is generally understood in the west. It has more in common with psychotherapy.

    Back under my stone now.

  4. crypticsue
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you Sparks for a proper Toughie – lots of splendiferous d’oh moments and some lovely wordplay too..

  5. Jane
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Well outside my comfort zone and needed Dutch’s hints for four – 14&25a plus 2&21d.
    Also failed to get the complete parsing of 12a.
    20a was my stand-out favourite.

    A great challenge which left me in need of the solace of a darkened room for a while!
    Many thanks to Sparks and also to Dutch, without whose help I wouldn’t have crossed the finishing line.

  6. Verlaine
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 5:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Enjoyed this one, though the Dada probably still takes the week’s crown chez moi. Add me to the list of people plentifully baffled by 21d – so many thanks to Dutch for elucidation and to the devious Sparks.

    Am I the only one who really doesn’t like 22? Surely this is the second person singular “long ago”, which doesn’t tally at all with the third person “makes”? Or have I missed something yet again?

  7. Wolfson Bear
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Most enjoyable. I thought it was slightly easier than recent Sparks puzzles but that does mean it was fairly hard. To me it was a draw between the Sparks and the Dada contributions this week

  8. Hanni
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great stuff as always from Sparks! Liked 12a as it’s a lovely word but I agree about 21d. Fab clue. 2d took some working out!! Many thanks to Sparks for a great puzzle and to Dutch for a top blog and the 20d pic.

  9. 2Kiwis
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent stuff that kept us our of mischief for quite some time. We too spent more time searching for a message and all we came up with, as Dutch suggests, is that this might be Sparks’ 33rd Toughie puzzle but we would be surprised if he has given us that many. We felt smuggly pleased when we looked in BRB and found that what we had worked out for 2d was correct. Good fun.
    Thanks Sparks and Dutch.

  10. Giovanni
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 7:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Needless to say, the Church Times crossword editor is again unhappy to see a rector having to be a man, let alone the Creator being labellled as ‘god’.

    • dutch
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Fully supportive of the sentiments – please keep pushing. I do think rector remains an example of a clergyman, and I believe I have seen God = creator in the church times crossword, but I have no religion and would not appreciate the subtleties.

      However, I emphasise I fully agree with and support the equality sentiments

  11. Giovanni
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    You may have seen God=Creator/creator in the CT, but not god (with small g) =Creator/creator!

    • dutch
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thank you – I believe I am a little closer to appreciating the subtleties – please never refrain from educating us.

      and thank you as well for dropping in, highly appreciated

  12. Marie
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I used to read a lot of Victorian books and I thought earnest just meant money. Chambers says it is “a payment given to confirm a contract”. But maybe I am wrong, Marie

    • Posted July 30, 2016 at 12:18 am | Permalink | Reply

      Welcome to the blog Marie

      I think the setter was using the word in the context of “he earnest” as possibly being an old-fashioned way of saying “he earnt”.

  13. Expat Chris
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:15 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I needed the hint for 2D. Triunes was as far as I got. Lots to like once I unraveled the clues, which took quite some time. 23D is also my favorite and biggest D’Oh moment, though I also liked 9D, 19D, and 14A. Thanks to Sparks and Dutch.

  14. LetterboxRoy
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Tricky, but a really enjoyable solve. Needed hints for 11d & 27a (strangely). Still don’t really get 7d.
    Liked 24a, 14a & 6d.

    A classic Toughie ****/**** Loved it.
    Thanks to all.

  15. Heno
    Posted August 3, 2016 at 12:03 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks to Sparks and to Dutch for the review and hints. Too tough for me, could only solve 6 clues, got one from the hints, had to look up the rest.

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