Toughie 1990 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 1990

Toughie No 1990 by Excalibur

Hints and tips by Mr K

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BD Rating  -  Difficulty **** Enjoyment ***


Hello, everyone.  I'm standing in for Bufo today.  I found this puzzle from Excalibur to be a serious challenge that had me wondering for a while if I had bitten off more than I could chew when I volunteered to blog it.  I will be interested to see if crypticsue declares it a proper Toughie.  While I found in it a lot to ponder, I also found a lot to like.

In the hints below definitions are underlined, and most indicators are italicized.  The answers will be revealed by clicking on the buttons.  In some hints hyperlinks provide additional explanation or background.  Clicking on a picture will enlarge it or display a bonus illustration.  Please leave a comment telling us how you got on.



1a    Not quite a free hand (5,6)
CHEAP LABOUR:  A cryptic definition of a worker who doesn't cost much

9a    A joke when retiring? Mad! (4)
GAGA:  A from the clue and a synonym of joke, all reversed (when retiring)

10a   'Not bad but almost inaudible'? (5,6)
FAINT PRAISE:  A cryptic definition of a deliberately weak endorsement or assessment 

11a   Take hasp off duck coop (4)
OPEN:  The usual crickety duck and a coop containing animals

14a   By end back off, negotiate and plead (7)
ENTREAT:  END minus its last letter (back off) and a rather formal synonym of negotiate

16a   One making themself at home in the dog pound (7)
SETTLER:  The symbol for pound sterling is inserted in one of crosswordland's favourite dogs

18a   Got off lightly (5)
DOZED:  Another cryptic definition.  Think sleep

19a   Missing daughter, petite, dainty and very dark (4)
INKY:  Delete D[aughter] from an adjective meaning petite or dainty

20a   Not the kind of money that talks? (4)
HUSH:  No, it's the kind of money meant to keep somebody quiet

21a   Given permission verbally for all to hear (5)
ALOUD:  A homophone (verbally) of given permission

23a   Silly scare about going in for various pursuits (7)
CAREERS:  An anagram (silly) of SCARE with a usual word for about inserted (going in)

24a   Flier, one caught on board plane in a spin (7)
PELICAN:  The usual single characters for one and for caught are inserted in an anagram (in a spin) of PLANE

25a   Utter expulsion of love creates evil (4)
VICE:  Utter or speak with the usual letter for love deleted

30a   Silly thinking cats are dangerous (4-7)
BIRD-BRAINED:  How one might describe the thinking of a creature that could view cats as dangerous.  It's not cats that they should be worrying about …

31a   A lot of cash in register (4)
ROLL:  A wodge of cash is also a register of those eligible to vote

32a   Killing oneself from curiosity about the hereafter? (5,2,4)
DYING TO KNOW:  A cryptic definition of an expression that means desperately curious



2d    Save diamonds lost in deposit during winter? (4)
HOAR:  Save or stockpile, with D[iamonds] deleted

3d    Spots sign of puberty (4)
ACNE:  A cryptic definition of spots that might appear on a teenage face

4d    Regarding what you say, get the message (3-4)
LIP-READ:  Another cryptic definition:  To understand what another is saying by watching them

5d    Dress up and show off (4)
BRAG:  The reversal (up, in a down clue) of dress or clothing

6d    Spent -- gone on a computer? (7)
UNSAVED:  A double definition.  Spent or not put aside, and the state of a computer file that will render it gone when the machine is turned off

7d    Practise jackknifes (just half): really good swimmer (4)
CARP:  The answer is revealed after PRACTISE is folded in half (jackknifes) and then just half is taken

8d    Regardless of whether it’s fair (4,2,5)
RAIN OR SHINE:  A cryptic definition:  Not caring if the weather is fair or foul.  Come what may.

12d   Again finding I scored unusually highly (11)
REDISCOVERY:  An anagram (unusually) of I SCORED followed by a synonym of highly

13d   Could he provide counteraction for the chilling Dracula tale? (6)
STOKER:  A cryptic definition.  The he who provided the counteraction, the action, and everything else in Dracula has a name suggesting that he could fire up a source of warmth

15d   Opening up about student fees (5)
TOLLS:  A thin opening, reversed and with the usual student inserted

16d   Accuse falsely, retracting to end disputes (3,2)
SET UP:  Reverse the appropriate number of letters taken from the end of DISPUTES (retracting to end disputes)

17d   Article penned during meal is something to celebrate as author (6)
LAUNCH:  Put a grammatical article in a midday meal

21d   Drought? Enter it in badly-written diary (7)
ARIDITY:  IT from the clue inserted in an anagram (badly-written) of DIARY

22d   Self-absorbed. Tried to correct this fault (7)
DEMERIT:  An anagram (to correct) of TRIED, containing a synonym of self (self absorbed)

26d   One may frisk -- for a gun (4)
COLT:  A double definition.  Both are nouns, and both were found in the Wild West

27d   Imbibing port, had enough (4)
ADEN:  The last two words of the clue are hiding (imbibing) the answer

28d   Clip and a wash for cat (4)
LICK:  To clip or to beat is also how a cat washes itself (or anything else)

29d   That female has nothing on male who rescued her? (4)
HERO:  A pronoun describing that female, and the letter resembling zero or nothing


Thanks to Excalibur setter for a pleasant and rewarding solve.  I ticked quite a few clues today:  16a, 19a, 30a, 4d, 6d, 7d, 16d, 22d, and 28d.  If I had to pick a favourite, I think it'd be 6d.  Which clues did you like best?


20 comments on “Toughie 1990

  1. Ow! I too found this tough. Makes me worry what’s in store for us tomorrow …

    My main problems were in the NW where I got hopelessly tangled. For some reason I couldn’t think of 10a or 6d. After wanting slave as the first word of 1a, the checker from 2d helped me to settle for child. I thought that was clever, as one is dependent (so not quite free) as well as inexpensive to employ. Unfortunately it was wrong. It also meant that 3d would have started with the wrong letter, so that stayed blank too. Needed help from Mr K to finish.

    Memory of the rest of the puzzle has faded a bit after that, but I think I enjoyed it. Have to say though I prefer this setter when in gentler mode. I wasn’t familiar with the last 5 letters of 14a meaning negotiate, but it had to be.

    Favourite is of course 30a which earned a big smile (once I understood the wordplay).

    Thanks to setter and blogger.

  2. Well, all went quite well today but was held up by 2d and 28d which I had trouble parsing which were my last in. I did have the right answers but did not know why! Strange how sometimes the shortest answers give the most trouble.

    Overall I thought the puzzle very doable but not too easy as it took me a few revisits to get it all done. All very enjoyable to get a nice challenge.

    Thanks to Mr. K and the setter.

  3. I agree that this needed a fair bit of cogitation but the effort was worthwhile, Thanks to Excalibur and Mr K.
    I wasn’t very keen on 13d and I didn’t think the wordplay in 29d worked in a down clue. The clues I liked best were 1a and 10a.

  4. Another lovely fun-filled puzzle from Excalibur. Impeccable surfaces and never an abstruse word. So many wonderful clues, how can I choose the best? 18a Got off lightly 6d Spent – gone on a computer 8d Regardless of whether… Actually, for me every clue was a winner Thanks so much Excalibur and Mr K

  5. A grid with so many pesky 4-letter clues always makes me nervous!

    It must also be difficult for the setter.

    Thanks to Excalibur and Mr K.

  6. Mr K. I haven’t done this one yet, but have had a quick scan through the revue. In the 18a photo I couldn’t help noticing the dual device being deployed to prevent the young lady from being slid out under the chair arms whilst she’s asleep. Not seen that before… :-)

  7. Can’t make up my mind about this puzzle. Some of it is strangely intriguing, some of it nose-wrinklingly odd.

    Isn’t 8d missing the first word of the phrase? Does 13d make sense? I could go on, but I shan’t.

    Many thanks to Excalibur and Mr K for stepping in. *** / ?

  8. Recently Excalibur has created many nice toughies, shifting away from her Yoda-like style that many find infuriating. In today’s puzzle there were a number of clues that just didn’t do it for me (but perhaps others liked them. I didn’t like clues like 10a, 30a, 32a, 3d nothing orthogonal about those two definitions, luckily the surface saves it a bit, 4d is iffy – I think the idea was ‘get the message’ as in ‘read my lips’ – but it doesn’t quite come off. 13d with the first definition ending after chilling doesn’t seem quite right to me, 27d the word order seems all wrong (an excalibur speciality), 29d, pity the final word is most of the answer.

    I look forward to her next puzzle hoping it will be more like her more recent toughies which i found amazing

    Many thanks Excalibur and thanks Mr Kitty for stepping in.

    1. Hi Dutch. I’m in almost complete agreement with you but feel I can defend a couple of the clues you mention.

      As you see I liked 30a. I thought that the second (wordplay) bit of the clue did adequately suggest a literal interpretation of the answer: someone who has a brain like a bird and thus would be thinking cats are dangerous.

      27d: Imbibing definition, fodder. I can just about make that work to mean the fodder contains the definition.

      You are right that 3d doesn’t work as a double definition because that would be two of the same definition. Unless “repeated definition” becomes an accepted device, that’s a no-no. But after spending some time detesting that clue I decided that it could work as a cryptic definition, interpreted as “spots: sign of puberty” or spots [which are a] sign of puberty” – there, using the classic cryptic definition ruse of saying one thing but appearing to say another (the surface makes you think spots is a verb). So I decided it works … but then again, as I failed to get that one I still very much want to give it the thumbs down!

      I have some musings about the others too (Mr K asked my opinion about what should be underlined in the troublesome clues, which is why I have given them some thought) but have already waffled on lots and am getting tired. Maybe later, if you’re interested. :)

  9. Like Kitty, it was the NW corner that gave me the most trouble and I had to resort to seeking Mr K’s help with 1a to get up and running again. Had a vague feeling that the clue was going to relate to a hand of cards!

    Didn’t help matters in that corner by convincing myself 10a was going to start with ‘sound’.
    Mr K was needed again for assistance with 6d – any IT stuff and I’m lost.

    All in all, not my finest hour although I was immensely proud of myself when the penny dropped over 30a.

    Top clues for me were 16&20a.

    Thanks to Excalibur and gratitude to Mr K – well done indeed, Sir!

  10. Like some others, I found the NW corner the major sticking point. For me it was the two very loosely defined cryptic definitions in 1a and 10a that held me up for the longest time (I was trying very hard to make prayer work for the second part of 10a). Like yesterday, the bottom half went in relatively very quickly although I was almost on the point of giving up before even getting to it. Overall I enjoyed this very much, and many thanks to all, and especially Excalibur and Mr K.

  11. I found the plethora of 4 letter words quite a challenge so it was far from a quick solve for me. 6d was my last one to get sorted.
    Thanks Excalibur and Mr K.

  12. We found this tough. Satisfying when realisation came. Except in a few cases we weren’t sure if it had come.
    Thanks to Excalibur for the challenge and to Mr. K for sorting it out.
    G: After that I need a drink 🍺 🤪

  13. I don’t know what some of you are griping about. It seemed perfectly acceptable to me. My favourite was undoubtedly 30a.

  14. More like a *** for difficulty here, with the NW corner putting up more than a little resistance at the close. The far NE and SW corners were quite scary, isolated as they were, but thankfully fell with a little thought because, otherwise, there was no way in. I never felt that I was on the same wavelength as Excalibur, but never mind, I got there in the end. Last in 6d, which really was quite clever.

  15. Late on parade, but I had to think about any comment I may make about our setter’s puzzle. I cut my ‘blogging’ teeth on an Excalibur some years ago due to a problem that the regular blogger had in posting his review and BD was (is?) not a fan of our setter of today – so I stood in at short notice.

    Personally, I have never had an issue with her clue construction – albeit it’s not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. However. I have to agree with Dutch that her previous ‘Toughies’ have been very solvable – nay – emjoyable without the need to be a Jedi Knight. Today there were some really good clues but I’m afraid that they appeared to be in the minority.

    That said, she is a professional crossword setter and produces a puzzle worthy of distribution on a major daily newspaper – a lot more than I can do.

    I thank Excalibur for her puzzle and to our blogger for his review.

  16. We did this in the pub after our bridge evening, which explains whe we’re even later on parade than SL. We were pleased to finish without help and found it enjoyable throughout.

    We didn’t have any of the problems mooted by other contributors above; we found it fair all round.

    Thanks to Excalibur and Mr K.

  17. It took a while to settle into this puzzle but I find that is usually the case with an Excalibur crossword. This was what I call a B&B puzzle – started before bed & finished after breakfast.

    I have several clues where I will need Mr K’s review to fully understand the solutions but thanks to he & to Excalibur for a real challenge.

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