Toughie 1688

Toughie 1688 by Giovanni

Hints and tips by Kitty

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

BD Rating – Difficulty ****Enjoyment **


A warm welcome to you all from sunny Anglesey, where I’ve been enjoying stunning views, wonderful company and moderate* quantities of red wine.  Oh, and I saw a red squirrel yesterday, high up in a tree munching on a pine cone.  Bliss.

The puzzle was fine, but a moderately unfriendly grid and the usual esoterica from our most educational setter conspired to make it somewhat arduous to solve.  I don’t mind working hard, but don’t think I smiled once during this.  I did, as usual, find more to like while writing the review.

The definitions are underlined in the clues below, and you’ll find the answers inside the [ANSWER ANSWER ANSWER] boxes.  The exclamation mark is not an imperative – click only if you wish to reveal all.

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


*may contain traces of lie



4a    Guard military kit (8)
WARDRESS: Split this prison officer (3,5) to get attire for battle.  (Don’t make assumptions about the guard’s sex) 

8a    Mountain rescuers gathering cold animal (6)
ALPACA: A mountain, one of a range favoured by crossword setters, and some motoring rescuers around (gathering) the abbreviation for cold

9a    Capital college in which academic enthrals a thousand (8)
EDMONTON: A college near Windsor (and in the heart of crosswordland) in which a university academic lies and which in turn contains (enthrals) the Roman numeral for a thousand

10a    Twin girls eating an aromatic plant (8)
GALANGAL: Two instances of the same short word for girl (twin girls) have inside them (eating) AN from the clue.  The plant is an Asian plant of the ginger family, the aromatic rootstock of which is widely used in cookery

11a    Wait with sides going out being transformed (4,2)
HANG IN: Take a word meaning being transformed and remove the outer letters (with sides going out) then split to fit the given enumeration

12a    Most worthless, being badly mistaken (8)
MANKIEST: Not so much most worthless, to my mind, as most filthy or rotten, it’s an anagram (badly) of MISTAKEN

13a    Stuff handed down monks initially concealed in museum (8)
HERITAGE: A museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with the first letter (initially) of monks removed (concealed)

16a    Insensitivity shown when small daughter is strapped in (8)
HARDNESS: The abbreviation (small) for daughter is inside a set of straps

19a    Very fine British swimmer, outwardly modest (8)
COBWEBBY: B(ritish) and then a swimmer, the first to swim the English Channel for sport without the use of artificial aids, have outside them (outwardly) a word meaning modest or bashful

21a    Bug in food – is packet returned? (6)
CAPSID: This bug, a pest of fruit and other crops, is included (in) backwards (returned) in the clue

23a    Colour of big wave captured by author (3-5)
PEA-GREEN: I’d forgotten this dialect word for a tidal bore which I’ve only encountered in crosswords; it’s inside a verb meaning author

24a    Revel naughtily in bed – with this on top? (8)
COVERLET: Tuck an anagram (naughtily) of REVEL into a small bed

25a    Philosopher‘s witty saying about wickedness returning (6)
MONIST: Not a specific famous philosopher but any one of a school attributing unity or “oneness” to a particular area (such as that between matter and mind, or God and the world).  A pithy or witty saying (not pun!) goes around the reversal (returning) of an ecclesiastical term for wickedness

26a    Girl power said to be something thrilling (8)
DYNAMITE: Homophones (said to be) of a girl’s name (and the name of Alice’s cat) and power or strength



1d    The French revolutionary despot besieging a fortress (7)
ALCAZAR: The reversal (revolutionary) of a French definite article and a Russian despot around (besieging) A from the clue.  It’s a Spanish palace or fortress

2d    Ancient city leaving a symbol in the desert? (9)
SAMARKAND: A from the clue and a symbol or mark inside the stuff most deserts are made of.  A city in modern-day Uzbekistan and one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia

3d    Butcher – fellow getting leg cut (6)
MANGLE: Follow a chap with an anagram (cut, in the sense of cut up) of LEG

4d    Have complete control with decree spelt out (5,3,7)

5d    Trumpet message that sheep-shearing has occurred? (4-4)
RAMS-HORN: The answer split (3,5) would indicate that a male sheep had been divested of its woolly coat


6d    Enzyme bringing control, limiting secretion ultimately (5)
RENIN: Control or check outside (limiting) the final letter (ultimately) of secretion.  This enzyme secreted by the kidneys helps to maintain blood pressure.  Mine could probably do with being lowered after this lot!

7d    Appearance of grass around tumulus (7)
SHOWING: Grass or tell tales around a dialect word for tumulus (a burial mound or barrow), which isn’t listed my thesaurus under tumulus but has the required definition in Chambers

14d    What may be logged in two boxes? (4,5)
TREE TRUNK: Each of the words of the answer could be a box: the first an arboreal one, and the second a large suitcase.  Search images for “funny” plus the answer to see some of the illustration options I refrained from using for the sake of decency

15d    Idle when relaxing in metropolis (3,5)
NEW DELHI: An anagram (relaxing) of IDLE WHEN

17d    Tiny thing in some branch of science (7)
ANATOMY: The smallest unit of matter which still has a chemical identity inside a word meaning some or whichever

18d    Old boy opposing Irish heads (7)
OBVERSE: A charade of abbreviations for old boy and opposing with the Gaelic language.  For the definition, toss a coin.  (Tails, you lose)

20d    Composer shows effrontery, briefly hugging the Queen (6)
BRAHMS: Effrontery or cheek missing its final letter (briefly) surrounding (hugging) two letters which mean the queen (for a nice change, not ER)


22d    Drink’s getting served up – patient finally swallowed tablet (5)
STELA: Some beer and the s from the clue reversed (getting served up) containing (swallowed) the final letter of patient.  My dictionary tells me it’s an upright stone slab or tablet, and the internet adds that it typically bears a commemorative inscription or relief design, often serving as a gravestone.  What a grave way to end.


Thanks to Giovanni for the new words – it’s nice to feel that the blog might be useful.  I liked 5d and also 14d once I twigged it.  What did you make of it all?



  1. dutch
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Many thanks Kitty for a superb blog – happy to hear you’re enjoying yourself in Anglesey

    I didn’t know the ancient city, the tumulus, the bug, the tablet and I’d forgotten heads – and just barely remembered the philosopher – so I was happy for some mild comic relief in 5d.

    glad to see Giovanni has become slightly more specific in his biochemical definitions (enzyme in 6d, vs “substance that works in the body” for trypsin some time ago)

    all seems fairly clued in retrospect, as always, but the new words did feel a bit daunting during the solve.

    many thanks Giovanni. Pleased you had a female guard

  2. beery hiker
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have only done about two thirds of this because I ran out of time, but so far I agree – quite a challenging one and not too much entertainment, though I did quite like 14d. Might come back to it later…

    Thanks to Kitty and Giovanni

  3. crypticsue
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Started and got stuck in RH side. Checked with a friend that it wasn’t just me (it wasn’t) and then went out to take Alfie for his first ever trip on what he calls a “decker” bus. I’d forgotten how much you can see from the top deck. Returned home and managed to fill in the missing solutions with a bit of muttering and non-assistance from the non crosswordy family.

  4. Jeroboam
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I could feel very pleased with myself for solving this, but I’d be completely missing the point as to what constitutes a fair newspaper puzzle. The toughness factor here is derived from the obscurity of the vocabulary rather than the ingenuity of the wordplay and as such would require many solvers to seek outside help or confirmation. I think I said something very similar last time Giovanni had a Tuesday puzzle. If anything this is an even worse example. Thanks Kitty for taking the time to wade through it. Time for some more ‘moderateness’ I’d have thought.

    • LetterboxRoy
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Agreed, I got bored with it and gave up half way. Just not my cup of tea.

      Thanks to all as ever, especially those who could be bothered to trudge through it.

  5. halcyon
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I got held up in the NE corner by deciding 5d should be bass-horn [which is as good as the real answer]. Then got held up in the SE by inadequate knowledge of tidal bores [even tho the colour was fairly obvious] and branches of philosophy.
    Typical Giovanni stuff – clues perfectly kosher and some words that don’t crop up very often, but no LOL moments.
    Thought 11a was somewhat Yoda-esque and can’t see what “leaving” is doing in 2d apart from serving the surface.

    Thanks to the Don and to Kitty for the blog.

  6. Jane
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Have to whole-heartedly endorse Jeroboam’s comments – it took me far longer to complete this one than it did for Kitty to solve, write the blog and find the delightful as ever pics & music.
    Pick of the bunch for me were 5&14d – in both cases for the penny drop moments.

    Just starting to cloud over a little now – might have to start early on the moderate* amount of red wine!

    Thanks to Giovanni for continuing my education and thanks to Kitty for producing yet another great blog despite my interruptions!

    • Jeroboam
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Just dipped back in here, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who thought this way. I did wonder if I’d been a bit harsh,as I know Giovanni is a long established and respected setter. I think the point I was really trying to make was that this style of crossword is not suited to a newspaper, when the solver may not have access (even in this era of smartphones, tablets etc) to outside assistance. We all occasionally need Google or the hints on this blog but that should only be because we can’t get our heads round the wordplay, rather than because the vocabulary and/or general knowledge required is obscure.

  7. jean-luc cheval
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 2:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Would have rated it the other way round. 2 for time and 4 for enjoyment.
    Only held up by 18d and 25a.
    Learned a couple of new spelling in 7d (how) and 22d, and a few new words, but found the parsing very fair and the BRB did the rest
    Favourite 26a.
    Thanks to Giovanni and to Kitty for the review. Do give my love to our friend from Anglesey.

  8. happy days
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    With another crossword by Giovanni in prospect for Friday, I’m wondering about giving up my subscription to the Telegraph. I thought this was his most boring yet. Well done Kitty for wading through.
    Couldn’t Rufus give us a Toughie?

  9. Kath
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I found this difficult and I agree with others who’ve commented on the lack of fun – I do have to have something funny in a crossword for me to really enjoy it.
    I failed totally with about three answers and made life more difficult than it needed to be by getting 4a wrong – better to have a gap than a wrong answer.
    I liked 10 and 26a and . . . . actually, looking through them all again I liked several clues but I stick by what I said about no proper laughs.
    Thanks to Giovanni and to Kitty – glad you’re having fun in Anglesey.

    • Kath
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

      PS – Kitty, your pic for 19a was brilliant – looks like dogs/cats that have inadvertently ended up in our cellar – or under the bed. I think that being in the cellar would probably have been the lesser of the two 19a evils!

  10. Verlaine
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Needless to say I enjoyed this one (to the tune of about ***, at least) – but then vocab is a bit of an end in itself for me.

    I would agree that it was quite hard, and looking at the grid I made a bit of a hash in the NW, having bunged in “ON” as the last two letters of 11a, and EMMANUEL for the college (well, worth the old school try). I don’t know if the correct answer is the capital of anywhere other than the Canadian province of Alberta, but if that’s what was intended then I feel a little stupid, as I lived in that very capital for a year about a decade ago…

    I also lost my mojo a bit with my last one in, 1d, where I’d broadly worked out what was going on but hadn’t read the clue properly so was looking for EL- of AL- followed by RASAT or RAZAC. None of which was ever going to fly.

    But yes, this is the kind of mental toil that I actually find quite stimulating. My clue of the day was 14d by the way, I thought that was very clever. Thanks Kitty and Giovanni!

  11. 2Kiwis
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 6:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

    When it is a Giovanni puzzle we know to keep our reference material handy and that is fine with us. Just a couple that we needed to look up or check on and it all went together in a time that still left an opportunity to get the lawns cut. A pleasant solve for us.
    Thanks Giovanni and Kitty.

    • andy
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

      …..And as Kitty said, we have a strange grid with those double unches (only two ) and words left to fill squares seemingly when boxed into a corner. 22d a word I will never see again (famous last words) . Did chuckle at 5d. However horses for courses , thanks to Giovanni and Kitty

  12. wolfson bear
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 8:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Giovanni puzzles have for some time had a similar effect on me to watching the England football team. I tell myself it’s too painful and I will not start watching/solving – and for a long time I have given it one more go. After the Iceland fiasco my resolve strengthened and I have not watched the last two matches – nor tonight. In similar vain I will now delve into a wad of untouched Times puzzles I have accumulated next time one of these trips through obscure corners of the dictionary crops up in the Telegraph. 52 x backpager + ca 12 toughies per year is rather a lot in my opinion

    • LetterboxRoy
      Posted October 11, 2016 at 9:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Well said. I’m no turncoat, but the Times was good today & I’m not a Giovanni fan; mind you, not a footie fan either so I’ll stick to the snooker :smile:

  13. jean-luc cheval
    Posted October 11, 2016 at 9:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    As there’s not much activity today, I’m going to share with you the weather forecast I have just seen for Thursday.
    We are going to suffer one of those “Cévenol” épisode.
    The forecaster said to expect three months worth of rain in 48h, high winds, thunderstorms and snow. Execrable really to quote her exact words.

  14. Sheffieldsy
    Posted October 12, 2016 at 12:17 am | Permalink | Reply

    We got to this late but it was solved in reasonable time and we enjoyed it, so we’re in the Jean-Luc camp of something like 2.5*/4*.

    Thanks Kitty (we saw the trunks you couldn’t show) and Giovanni

  15. Gillatin
    Posted October 16, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the Rescue Service.

  16. ulaca
    Posted October 20, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Solved this on the plane to Samui in between naps – neither knowing nor guessing who the setter was – and towards the end wrote “witty and innovative” on my print-out.

    The Don is certainly a Marmite setter, but then I like Marmite. In the end, as with many Donovian puzzles, I came up short, not quite trusting Galangal enough to look for something other than “token” in my sand.

    So, I’d have to say gettable and a lot more fun than watching England attempt to play football.

    Particularly enjoyed Cobwebby – just able to dredge Webb up from an almanac of the 60s – and then, when I came here, for the brilliant pictures of the cats.

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