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Toughie 1928

Toughie No 1928 by Excalibur

Hints and tips by Kitty

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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


Hi all.  To start the Toughie week we have a puzzle in the distinctive style of Excalibur, which is to be expected, for she is today’s setter.  I found quite a range of difficulty and enjoyment within this (I could write a whole essay about 23d, but will spare you!) and am still not sure what I thought overall.

The definitions are underlined in the clues below and indicators are italicised when quoted in the hints.  You’ll find the answers inside the buttons.  The exclamation mark is not an imperative — click only if you wish to reveal all.

As usual, you may click on pictures to enlarge them or uncover hidden extras.



1a    Attacks sport as ‘waste of time‘ (4,4)
MUG’S GAME:  We start with a charade: attacks and robs, plus a sport or recreation

5a    Turns half of us into idiots (6)
TWISTS:  Put half of the word “us” into some silly people

9a    Said they’re what we deserve — for eating our greens? (8)
DESSERTS:  What we deserve is our just *******.  These sound like (said) something that parents may promise to their broccoli-shy children for when they’ve eaten the healthy part of their meal

10a   Caught in embrace of a sweetheart: hole-in-the-wall affair (6)
ALCOVE:  C(aught) inserted into (in the embrace of) A (from the clue) and a cherished one

12a   Try, try again to become a marksman (5,4)
CRACK SHOT:  Two nounal synonyms for try put together give us a sharpshooter

13a   Damn! Bowled tail-ender! (5)
BLAST:  The cricketing abbreviation for bowled and coming at the end

14a   Is in red, evoking audible exclamations of admiration (4)
OWES:  A homophone of some exclamations which can be of wonder, like ahs.  In the red financially

16a   ‘Dance originated with energy,’ I interposed (7)
BEGUINE:  Originated or started, and then the scientific symbol for energy.  Inside this, the I from the clue is placed (interposed).  I didn’t know this dance

19a   Prominent in support: a big noise (7)
LEADING:  In a supporting limb is the A from the clue and a loud continuous jarring noise

21a   Also succeeding. Hard worker (4)
HAND:  Also, after (succeeding) the symbol for hard as used on lead pencils

24a   Island totem’s origin shrouded in Native American language (5)
CRETE:  The first letter (origin) of totem inside (shrouded in) the language of a Native American tribe

25a   Indicates rate of scoring (5,4)
BEATS TIME:  A cryptic definition of what the conductor of an orchestra does

27a   Pupils can present such a problem (6)
OCULAR:  Another cryptic definition: relating to the eye or to vision

28a   Affix a warning in garment (8)
PINAFORE:  String together affix or fasten with a sharp pointy thing, the A (from the clue), and a golfer’s warning

29a   Understanding doctor? Unknown (6)
TREATY:  A formal understanding or agreement.  A verb to doctor and a mathematical unknown

30a   A place I will leave, given danger sign (8)
ASTERISK:  We again take the A from the clue, then add a location without its “I” (I will leave) and a danger or hazard.  The sign is one I’ve used in one of the above hints*



1d    Comedian playing an abstracted physician (6)
MEDICO:  An anagram (playing) of COMEDIan without an (an abstracted)

2d    Like black joke about waffler (6)
GASBAG:  A conjunction meaning like and B(lack), with a joke around (about) them

3d    European in good and bad odour (5)
GREEK:  G(ood) plus a strong odour

4d    Do they bear a striking resemblance to each other? (7)
MATCHES:  A cryptic definition of things which are exactly or nearly equal, with a pun on “striking” since the answer is also some firelighters which are activated by striking

6d    Drilling in early stages, having made good progress (4,5)
WELL BEGUN:  I can’t actually find this term meaning having made a good start in Chambers, but (hyphenated) it’s in Oxford.  According to the proverb this is half done.  The answer words could also indicate that an excavation for water has been started

7d    Scattered as constables turned up surrounding robbery with diamonds lifted (8)
SPORADIC:  A word for the police, reversed (turned up), surrounding a robbery or attack in which D (diamonds, in cards) has been moved a bit nearer the beginning of the word (lifted, in a down clue)

8d    Covers for female — hates falsifying (8)
SHEATHES:  A feminine pronoun is followed by an anagram (falsifying) of HATES

11d   Go crazy, having flipped (4)
STAB:  The reversal (having flipped) of an informal adjective meaning crazy or bonkers.  Am I going crazy or am I getting déjà vu?

15d   Fish bite excitedly what I spread outside (9)
WHITEBAIT:  A nested anagram: WHAT I is anagrammed (spread) outside an anagram (excitedly) of BITE

17d   Want nothing but to bring round from fainting fit (8)
BLACKOUT:  Want or need and the letter that can stand for zero have wrapped around them BUT from the clue

18d   Horse boxes employed going north. Left nothing to chance (4,4)
MADE SURE:  A female horse contains (boxes) a word meaning employed written backwards (going north, in a down clue)

20d   Dig up huge weed we’d missed (4)
GIBE:  The reversal (up, in a down clue) of large and then the word weed without the letters in we’d

21d   Pulls one in. They’re thugs (7)
HEAVIES:  Pulls or drags containing the Roman numeral one

22d   Italian resort in the ascendant. I love it. No English (6)
TIVOLI:  Write three words of the clue backwards (in the ascendant, in a down clue) but leave out E(nglish)

23d   Embellish peeved young cockney’s response to ‘Pyjamas on. Lights out!’ (6)
BEDECK:  The last part of the clue being an instruction to go to ***, the annoyed response could be “***? ‘***!” the exclamatory second word having had its leading h dropped, cockney-style

26d   Second-rate room (5)
SPACE:  An abbreviation for second and rate or speed


Thanks to Excalibur.  I particularly enjoyed 13a, 19a, 30a, 20d and 22d.  Which shone for you?


*and in one of the down ones


24 comments on “Toughie 1928

  1. I found this one pretty challenging in places, largely because the grid wasn’t very helpful and I got stuck towards the end – in retrospect 5a and 6d should have been obvious earlier but I was a bit rushed after an even tougher Nutmeg in the Guardian. Plenty to enjoy – 3d was neat. Still have Knut to look forward to later…

    Thanks to Kitty and Excalibur

  2. 1a completely won me over so I really enjoyed this one. Took me longer to get the 25a/20d combo than the rest of the puzzle put together!

    Tops for me were 12a & 4d.

    Thanks to Excalibur for the entertainment and to our Girl Tuesday for the analysis – think you need to check out your Cole Porter for enlightenment on 16a.

  3. I liked 5d, 30a, 26d

    I was surprised the second word in 6d had essentially the same crosser.

    I did three of the mini-puzzles without too much hassle, but then it took me a while to find a way into SE.

    I wasn’t keen on 27a – I would have liked it more if the answer were some eye trouble, eg myopia. As it is I’m not even sure the adjective is clued, and the answer doesn’t exactly relate to pupils.

    Many thanks Excalibur and thanks Kitty for the usual excellent blog

  4. Excalibur is my Morecambe and Wise of crosswords. Brings me sunshine and lots of laughs. Loved so many clues but perhaps 22d (Italian resort…) and 23d (Embellish peeved…) are winners for me. Thanks very much Excalibur and Kitty, too

  5. Quirky, some gimmes but hen I ground to a halt. Don’t seem to be able to get on wavelength with Excalibur. 23d went over my head, for one.

    On reflection, my biggest penny-drop, and laugh out loud moment was when I noticed the ‘DITTO’ in the illustration for 23d, so that will be my pick of the day, even though I didn’t get the clue. Brilliant.

    Many thanks for the challenge, Excalibur; many thanks for the laugh Kitty.

  6. I didn’t think that this one was as quirky as Excalibur usually is (except for 23d). The clues which shone for me were 30a (my last one) and 20d.
    Thanks to Excalibur for the entertainment and Kitty for the blog.

  7. SW corner gave me the hardest time.
    Not helped by thinking that 25a was Shows Time and Hoodies in 21d.
    Couldn’t finish without a bit of help from Kitty.
    So thanks muchly for the explanations and to Excalibur for the challenge.

  8. Not a rapid solve for us with the SE putting up the longest resistance. What an amazing coincidence with 11d here and 1a in the other puzzle. Plenty to keep us smiling.
    Thanks Excalibur and Kitty.

  9. I also needed a bit of help from Kitty , mostly in the SW corner.
    I can’t pick a favourite , lots of clues gave great satisfaction when finally unpicked.
    Thanks to Kitty and Excalibur.

  10. Successful foray into toughie land by my standards though needed hint for 25a. I enjoyed deciphering 17d and 30a but my top clue was 20a.

  11. SE corner hardest with 20d my last clue. 23d my favourite and 16a “When we begin……..”.

    Finished at 2220 after starting around 1630 and having dinner. How does that rate? 25a?

  12. I too struggled in the SE corner. ***/***, but l needed a couple of hints. I liked 2d and 10a. Thanks to Excalibur and Kitty.

  13. I really couldn’t get my head round some of this one. I maybe left it too late in the day to concentrate properly. Needed quite a few hints and a couple of peeps at some answers. No grouses though – all good solving experience. Thanks to Excalibur and Kitty.

  14. I stared at this for the longest time and could not find any way in. I was on the point of giving up, but eventually I turned to the blog, fully expecting a hue and cry as to how impossible it all was. However, Kitty’s calm introductory summary and ** difficulty rating told me that it was me rather than the puzzle. On this basis I returned, and soon after 12a came to me – (why it did not initially I don’t know), and then I was off and running. In the end I finished and enormously enjoyed myself along the way although I would rate it quite a bit more than Kitty’s ** difficulty rating. Thanks to Excalibur and Kitty.

    1. It’s a bit late now, but I do want to point out that my rating for this one is (and always was — I haven’t made any sneaky edits!) 3*. Excalibur transmits on a particular frequency and there’s no shame at all in finding it difficult to tune in. The enormous enjoyment is surely the bit that counts. :)

  15. Only got round to this one early this morning and needed your help, Kitty, to complete it but, as 23d was a laugh out loud moment for me when I got it, I am fascinated by your “whole essay” comment. Would it be in praise of or a case against? Many thanks for the blog and of course thanks to Excalibur.

    1. Oh no, gsol — you’ve compelled me to actually write one now!

      (What actually happened was that the comment I started to make after the hint became a little too large for the space so I moved it to the intro, but it was still unwieldy and I ran out of steam. The words weren’t flowing for me yesterday.)

      It wasn’t that I was for or against, but that I had many varied reactions — not even ending in a single one, but two at once. When I first saw the clue it looked full of promise, on track to be a favourite if it lived up to expectations. It held out on me though, and I began to suspect it of evildoing: it lurked there in a sparsely populated area of the grid, and I became wary.

      I started this puzzle without knowing the setter, which is how I’m doing Toughies at the moment, and was about half way through when I realised who it must be. (That is congruent with Gazza’s assessment that this was not as quirky as Excalibur’s puzzles can be: normally it would be clearer earlier). Much as I enjoy her puzzles, I don’t have complete trust that every clue is going to hit the spot for me or satisfy my liking for tight cryptic grammar.

      So from initial promise, this was now smelling like a potential bad ‘un and I was, if not actually grumpy at it yet, getting ready to be.

      I’d been looking for more intricate wordplay in that last part, see. I’d not yet taken a step back and considered that the phrase as a whole might have the same meaning in the wordplay as the surface.

      (Now if I were one of these clever people like Mark Goodlife, I expect my mind would have in nanoseconds furnished me with a bunch of 6-letter synonyms of adorn, from which “bed___” would have jumped out at me and the rest followed effortlessly. But I’m pretty slow, though I generally get there in the end, and here I spent some time staring blankly.)

      Anyway, once I’d finally got myself an extra checker or two the required word fell out from the definition and pattern … and here is where I still failed to form an opinion. Or rather, I had two reactions simultaneously. The first, undeniably, was a laugh. The second was a clear “I don’t like that!” But surely it was fair enough. I was misled initially — which is the name of the game — and then got there, understanding the rationale. Still, there is part of me that still thinks those pyjamas are a bit too woolly …


      tl;dr: This clue intrigued me pre-solve, but took quite a while to get. When I did, part of me didn’t like it, but at the same time I laughed, which is always good.

      1. I understand exactly how you feel, but in my case, I was annoyed (after solving it) for less than two seconds and then I started laughing. Many thanks for taking the time to answer fully though.

    1. Thanks, Milvus. Yes, I totally had. Not sure why, as I do know the difference between desserts and deserts really, but I must have a blind spot because I made a similar mistake in one of my early blogs. Anyway, now amended above — thanks again.

      1. I can’t say it’s a clue I particularly like since there seems to be overlap between wordplay and definition. The only definition that makes sense to me is “[they’re] what we deserve for eating our greens?”, but “what we deserve” is already used as the homophone. I’m probably too fussy.

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