NTSPP – 455 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
View closed comments 

NTSPP – 455

NTSPP – 455

An Exercise in Futility by Elgar

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

This puzzle was distributed at the S&B meeting in York on Saturday 27th October.

It is important to bear that in mind while solving that this puzzle is intended for attendees at the above meeting.

If, like me, you find the instructions confusing then both the setter and crypticsue have provided some additional clarification, which will be available at 2:00 pm.  BD

Additional clarification from Elgar:

1 There are 38 clues. From the preamble, only 8 are not normal. So 30 clues are “normal”.

2 Of the 30 normal clues, only 10 are not entered normally. So 20 clues are normal and have answers that may be entered normally.

3 The eight clues whose wordplay ignores a letter are all down clues, and their answers are all entered in the lower half of the grid.

4 The red squares form an appropriate (countryside) shape. Since they are “supportive”, you need to look at the letters in the eight cells immediately above them.

5 (a) Eight of the ten answers that are too short are for across spaces; all ten are grouped around the central area of the grid.

(b) Those eight across answers in (a) all intersect with the two unclued answers.

6 (a) The eight letters omitted (see 3 above) and the eight letters “supported” (see 4 above) are the same letters in each column.

(b) They “spell” a key phrase.

7 Use that phrase to help fill the central unclued area.

8 The puzzle is based on a familiar song that you probably learnt in the nursery.

9 Use the grey squares to help you if you haven’t deduced the song.

10 Remember the location of today’s S&B event!

crypticsue says: [updated on Sunday for review purposes]

“I would imagine that quite a few people will have read the title and preamble to this puzzle and groaned.  It is important  to understand that this puzzle was created for the York S&B this weekend where it would be solved by people in groups of two or three or more, rather than a solitary solver sitting at their kitchen table at Saturday lunchtime.   The best thing to do with a puzzle with ‘structions like these is to read them through, and then ignore them and see what clues you can solve.   There are several quite helpful clues which do give you a starting place (anagrams, lurkers and so on) – you’ll eventually realise which are the ‘letter’ clues Elgar refers to in his introduction (marked with a * in my review below). Some of the letters turn some solutions into new words, others form the ‘unclued’ answers in the middle of the grid, which together with the extra letters used to form new words in the solutions for 15d and 16d, produce one part of the Nina.  Once you have solved the bottom part of the crossword, you should spot another useful Nina, which, once you remember where the S&B is, will set you on your way to working out the figure responsible for the Exercise in Futility (especially with the help of the letters in the grey boxes), even if, like me, you were still scratching your head about several of the clues you had yet to solve.”

An Exercise in Futility by Elgar

Three stages of an exercise in futility are represented in the grid. In eight clues, wordplay ignores one letter of the solution (Stage 1; the red squares are supportive upon arrival) and the definition is for the entered answer (Stage 2, upon return). The answers to ten other clues are too short for their grid entries, a situation solvers must rectify to represent Stage 3. The figure responsible for the exercise is represented by (i) the unclued answers; (ii) the blue cell; and (iii) the letters in the grey squares.


9a Music events sharing company and crew reversed street disturbances (15)
DISCONCERTMENTS Two music events, one where popular music is played for dancing and another where classical music might be performed – one ends in the abbreviation for company and the other starts with it – put the two words together with one abbreviation (sharing company) follow with another word for crew and a reversal of the abbreviation for street

10a Out of line, crossword compiler’s obscene fill (5)
IMBUE Remove the abbreviation for Line (out of..) from a way that Elgar might say he’s obscene to get a verb meaning to fill or instil with ideas

*11a Smooth surface racecourse centrally expanded (5,4)
STAND DOWN Take the name of a racecourse in Esher in Surrey and ‘expand’ the centre’ or put the middle letter twice. This clue contains the first of the letters

13a A not completely prostrate stage (5)
APRON A (from the clue) and almost all (not completely) of a word meaning prostrate

*15a Plodder‘s step backward (4)
SOAP A reversal (backward) of a [ballet] step – The solution is another term for a plodding student

17a Months behind on account of order (4)
FORM The abbreviation for Months goes behind a preposition meaning on account of

*18a Short of things even in cloister, get uncommonly comfy? (7)
COSTUME The odd letters (short of things even) of ClOiStEr produce an uncommon way of spelling a word meaning comfy or warm and snuggly.

*20a Caging lion, perhaps, can it cause injury to Ed? (6)
SCATHE Put the type of animal a lion is inside (caging) an informal way of saying be quiet (can it)

*22a A pain in the neck on cycling strips (6)
ETAPES Take another way of referring to a pain in the neck (1,4) and ‘cycle’ or move the last letter round to the front. One of the letters you need to include in the grid should be put before the resulting ‘strips’ when you enter the solution in the grid

*26a Recipient of belt once all but loses it (7)
ENSNARL Someone whose title goes back to the period prior to the 18th century when a sword and belt received from the monarch were tokens of that title is obtained from the middle letters (it loses its belt or the outsides) of a word meaning ‘all but’. Three letters required here

28a Would Napoleon have articulated this reason for not committing to paper? (4)
OINK Napoleon from Orwell’s Animal Farm might have uttered this sound. Split your solution 1, 3 and you’ll have a reason for not putting pen to paper Variations on this clue turn up quite regularly these days

*29d Sceptre of gold from the East (4)
ROAD A reversal (from the East in an Across clue) of a, possibly French or even ice cream brand-related), way of saying ‘of gold’

30d Gutted of course to be eclipsed by heavyweight boxer (5)
TYSON Remove the middle letter (gutted) of a word of agreement (of course) and insert into (to be eclipsed by) a heavy weight

*32a Particulars unfortunately not put out for runners on track (9)
RAILCARDS An anagram (out) of pARtICuLARS one you have removed PUT ( not put) will produce some runners on a particular type of track

36a Hanging back as arranged? Not entirely (5)
ARRAS Lurking in reverse (back) in part (not entirely) of aS ARRAnged

37a Gel put on cranium – unusual preparation for this! (6,9)
NEURAL COMPUTING An anagram (unusual preparation) of GEL PUT ON CRANIUM Apparently the solution relates to the work done by animal brains – my brain has certainly had a good work out with this particular crossword


1d Northbound writer is stowed away by fat acting officer (7)
ADMIRAL A reversal (northbound in a Down clue) of a way Elgar might refer to himself (the writer) inserted into (stowed away) some animal fat, plus the abbreviation for Acting

2d Very good place for a pint – one pre-eminent feature on map! (6)
ISOBAR I (one) goes before (pre-eminent) a way of saying vary good and a place for a pint

3d Very intricate token left to give to Romeo’s bit on the side? (4-4)
LOVE-KNOT An anagram (intricate) of V (very) TOKEN L (left)

4d Newspaper chief from The Scotsman expressed disbelief more than once? (4)
OCHS The surname of an owner of the New York Times or how a Scotsman may express disbelief more than once

5d Killer using motorcade for cover (4)
ORCA Lurking (using… for cover) in motORCAde

6d Surrounded by the morning papers? (4)
AMID An abbreviated way of referring to a time in the morning followed by an abbreviated way of referring to identity papers

7d Source of lighting in O2 Centre for cinema confrontation (3-2-3)
ONE-ON-ONE A source of lighting goes between two O’s (O 2) and is followed by the two letters at the centre of ciNEma

8d one of the dangers to the coast of North America it’s imperative for me to round up (7)
TSUNAMI The abbreviation for North American inserted into a reversal (round up) of how Elgar might say it’s imperative

12d Close to which endlessly nestles e.g. cat? (6)
NEPETA Remove the final letter (endlessly) of a word meaning close to and insert (nestles) a household animal such as a cat – this gives you a type of plant a cat loves to ‘nestle’ in

14d Native of Peru content in pub? (3)
OCA A type of South American wood sorrel is obtained from the ‘content’ or inside letters of a way of referring to your nearest pub

*15d Bone up well (5)
STENO A reversal (up in a Down clue) of a technical name for a bone produces another way of saying ‘well’

*16d Commercial feature of snooker table overlooked by amateur (5)
AMEND To get an abbreviated commercial, the abbreviation for Amateur overlooks or goes on top of a particular marking on a snooker table

19d Nepalese furnisher packing cases? (6)
SHERPA Another helpful lurker – found ‘encased’ in furniSHER PAcking

*21d Part for bass fiddle lifting one (8)
CONTINUO A fiddle or scam followed by a reversal (lifting) of a single entity (one)

*23d Jazz pianist done after knocking lowers head (3,5)
ART TATUM Reverse the first two letters of a way of saying knocking (on a door for example) followed by U (done as opposed to non-U, not done)

24d Regularly travel over strand (3)
PLY A double definition – to travel regularly over the same route – or a strand of wood or rope

*25d Trebles concession – supported by one in service (7)
SOPRANI A three-letter concession, supported by (in a down clue) A (one) inserted into the abbreviation for one of our Armed Forces (service)

*27d A fox and a Roman say I’ll show up because of a variety of gins (3,4)
INN SIGN A way of saying ‘because of’ and an anagram of GINS

*31d Return trip resulting in drunken riots (6)
SORTIE An anagram (drunken) of RIOTS plus one of the ‘letters’ produces a relatively short return trip

*33d Spies see you! (4)
CIAO The abbreviation for the American’s spies followed by one of the ‘letters’

*34d Man from Mexico, maybe, three-quarters full (4)
RICO A name of a man from Mexico, maybe – the first three letters (quarters) of a four letter word meaning full, plus one of the ‘letters’

*35d Total sport (4)
SUMO A (mathematical) total followed by the final of those pesky ‘letters’

So did you get there in the end? And were you, like me, left with an earworm??




The 10,000 men going up and down the top of the [light] red blocked squares forming the ‘hill’, and then they appear at the bottom when they have marched back down again. They also appear in the middle of the grid. The Grand (the unclued THOUSAND) Old (the O in the blue cell in row 14) Duke of York (found in the grey shaded letters) was the person responsible for the Exercise in Futility.

16 comments on “NTSPP – 455

  1. Well I’ve read the instructions twice and the second time they made just as much sense as the first time – so I’ve decided that this may be a good week to give the NTSPP a miss.

    1. My rule with any crossword with instructions is ‘ignore the instructions, see what you can solve’ and then go back to the crosswords to see if they make any more sense

  2. I think the most useful piece of information has been hinted at but not given explicitly. When entering the ten “short” answers ignore the blue square, the unclued answers and the other six squares around the central black square

  3. I give up. Totally colour blind so all I can see is some greeny-pinkish squares, and I’m damned if I can find any significance in relation to those. Several steps too far for me.

    Didn’t have much fun with this, to be honest – should have known better, taken Gazza’s advice, and given it a miss.

  4. we solved this in york with a table of 5. we soon found everything to do with the theme, but we struggled to complete the clues in central area, and eventually consulted with some neighbours to get a full grid.

  5. Many thanks for the enlightenment, CS, but I think I was wise to call it a day when I did!
    With Elgar’s extra hints, it was easy to guess the theme but I still found most of the clues somewhat impenetrable.

    Not sure about the suitability of this one for the NTSPP slot – perhaps it would have been better as a ‘special’?

    PS Yes – I did have an earworm from the very early stages!

  6. Phew, that was tough! It took both Mrs K and I several hours to get about 90% of the way through, and even though we had the theme early on, we failed to solve the clues orbiting the centre. This was because we had mistakenly thought that the answers which were too short for the grid would only be too short by a single letter, which as the review has shown, is wrong.

    This was a masterful piece of compiling, although far too difficult for a normal NTSPP. However, as it was specially for the S&B, where there was presumably a significant amount of cruciverbal collaboration, I think that it more than fits the bill.

    Looking forward to a ‘ordinary’ cryptic puzzle now. Thanks Elgar and Sue, and I hope everyone concerned enjoyed the weekend.

  7. Many thanks Sue for the blog. The hardest part for me was realising that the central nina corresponded to the clues with extra letters – i.e., the letters belonging to the nina weren’t part of the clue-derived grid entries. Hence COSTUME, ENSNARL, STENO and AMEND really did my head in, didn’t see that for ages.

    And in terms of the central nina – of course “when they were only half way up they were neither up nor down”

  8. Thanks Sue for the blog and Elgar for a grid full of beauty.

    I was on the same table as dutch and we did struggle a bit, especially with the centre. Incredible setting to pack all that in.

  9. Great construction but a bit of a beggar to solve. Completely ground to a halt with just the middle left to complete then, in an attempt to get things moving, guessed that the central column unclued answers would spell out THEG RAND (an idea that unfortunately fitted with the three checking letters I had at that point), which of course created a spanner/works situation. Would agree with above comments that sometimes trying to solve the clues can help shed light on what the instructions mean. Thanks Elgar and crypticsue.

    1. You weren’t the only one to guess wrongly at the central column. If only I’d listened to the earworm more carefully, I’d have realised that I needed some men ‘neither up not down’

Comments are closed.