ST 2978 (Hints) – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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ST 2978 (Hints)

Sunday Telegraph Cryptic No 2978 (Hints)

Hints and tips by Senf

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

A very good Sunday morning from Winnipeg, where, so far so good, the new puzzle website is performing well.

A very warm welcome to the fourth occupant of the Sunday ‘chair’ – Mr John Halpern, a.k.a. Dada – for his first Sunday puzzle I think he has given us something that is closer to one of his Toughies rather than one of his recent Monday back pagers.

Joint favourites – 9a and 8d.

Don’t forget to follow BD’s instructions in red at the bottom of the hints!

As is usual for the weekend prize crosswords, a number of the more difficult clues have been selected and hints provided for them.

Most of the terms used in these hints are explained in the Glossary and examples are available by clicking on the entry under “See also”. Where the hint describes a construct as “usual” this means that more help can be found in The Usual Suspects, which gives a number of the elements commonly used in the wordplay. Another useful page is Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing, which features words with meanings that are not always immediately obvious.

A full review of this puzzle will be published after the closing date for submissions.

Some hints follow:


1a Italian city not quite maintaining already disagreeable relationship with host (10)
An Italian city with its last letter removed (not quite) containing (maintaining) a three word synonymic phrase for already.

6a Snapper in pot, did you say (4)
A homophone (did you say) of a synonym of pot.

9a Where litmus paper may be found in red, or a blue (10)
The short name of the political party represented by red, OR and A from the clue, and the nickname of the political party represented by blue.

13a Composition with citrus twist (8)
A type of citrus fruit and a synonym of twist (as in put one’s back out).

18a Playground where one might attempt to remove hooks from swings (7,5)
Where the practitioners of ‘a good walk spoiled’ (Mark Twain?) go to practice.

22a Motherly character? (6)
How we sometimes refer to everything that surrounds us.

26a Caught in eye, tiny hairy thing proving elusive (4)
A lurker (caught in) found in the rest of the clue.

27a Conscious, put on one’s thinking cap (10)
A double definition with different pronunciations of the same word.


1d Perfect language (6)
A second double definition – the second is spoken by some of crossword land’s favourite Europeans.

2d Overseen by teacher, student ultimately poor performer (6)
The last letter (ultimately) of studenT placed after (overseen by) a religious teacher.

5d Soldier handles climbing about right, weakness following (10)
The word that handles is a slang synonym of reversed (climbing) containing (about) the single letter for right and a type of weakness.

8d Super solving! (8(8)
A third double definition – the second might relate to decoding a message.

16d Breach of faith true, lady not to be trusted (8)
An anagram (not to be trusted) of TRUE LADY.

17d Poisonous, half a dozen law books (8)
The Roman numerals that represent half a dozen, a synonym of law, and one of the well known collections of books.

19d Old rhino somewhere in western Africa (6)
Start with what rhino can be a synonym for and then come up with an old version which is also a country in West Africa.

23d Military cap held briefly upon head of infantryman (4)
A synonym of held with the last letter removed (briefly) followed by (upon) the first letter (head of) Infantryman.

Could new readers please read the Welcome post and the FAQ before posting comments or asking questions about the site.

As this is a Prize crossword, please don’t put any ANSWERS, whether WHOLE, PARTIAL or INCORRECT, or any ALTERNATIVE CLUES in your comment.

Please read these instructions carefully – they are not subject to debate or discussion. Offending comments may be redacted or, in extreme cases, deleted. In all cases the administrator’s decision is final.

A number one for Joe Cocker in 1968, here he is, at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Concert in 2002, with a little help from Phil Collins and Brian May:


101 comments on “ST 2978 (Hints)

  1. I’m not sure what’s going on. I came here expecting loads of comments about our new setter’s first Sunday puzzle but nearly two hours after Senf’s hints appeared there are none at all.
    I thought that this was fairly tough (which is quite right for what is a prize puzzle) but full of Mr Halpern’s wit. I particularly liked 24a and 4d.
    Welcome to our new Sunday supremo and thanks to Senf for the hints.

    1. I think the reason there were no comments Gazza was that it was perhaps a little on the ‘toughie’ side, I found it really tough and couldn’t have managed without lots of perservation and electronic help as well as the hints!!!!!!

  2. Agreed very hard and not very enjoyable either. Still dumbfounded by 7d, 10a and 24a, but getting past caring whether I solve it or not, and I usually do.

    1. Yes they were my last 3 but , in order to avoid the naughty step again , I hesitate to comment further . Perhaps more hints than normal required due to the toughness .

    2. I can help you with 10a and 7d but also need a hint for 24a.
      In 10a the def is a book: A six letter word for hit hard or the tool used to that effect without it’s outer letters and then reverse it.
      In 7d, the def is left: A five letter us state on the east coast goes inside the colour of a sore.

      1. re:24a If I’m right then think what a manager who wears a suit could be a member of then reduce the number of letters by 5. I’ll probably get redacted for this but hey ho.

  3. WOW ! Not sure if I want too many of these “toughies”. Managed to complete without help from the hints but needed to consult the on line dictionary a few times .
    As Gazza mentions , expected a few comments but , no doubt , many still struggling and more will soon emerge .
    Loved 4D & 12A best as brought smiles of relief .
    My first scan of the clues only resulted in 23D , the very last , being entered and then the parsing need investigating. Thinking cap then worn and fitfully progress made especially after 1D got , admirable clue .
    Thanks to everyone .

  4. I am not surprised there are so few comments. Although I have enjoyed Dada’s recent Monday offerings and his Toughies, I am sorry to say I didn’t like this at all – and that is in no way related to 2d! :wink:

    I found the LHS challenging but doable but, very unusually for me, I have given up without finishing on the RHS.

    Sorry I don’t feel able to be more positive especially as I am sure a lot of effort will have gone into producing it. So, thanks to the setter for that and thanks to Senf for the review.

    I hope others will enjoy it.

    1. I’m in agreement. I don’t often give up, but the slog was proving more pain than pleasure. Hats off to anyone who finishes this one. Will try again tomorrow.

  5. This reminds me of a recent Sunday puzzle in The Gaurdian. After the first read through I had no answers at all. I like a challenge. Thanks for providing one John.

      1. I will celebrate anything. I don’t know what Black Sunday is but a pint will go down well. Cheers

  6. As I just said, I am still working on 24a in this rather tough Sunday offering.
    14d was a complicated Russian doll clue which was last in with 25a.
    Thanks to Dada and to Senf.

    1. 24a Suit informally with flower clipped at the front (4)
      The name of a ‘flower’ followed by the first letter of clipped.

        1. Good to see you commenting, Mary. Wales are going well this autumn!
          That meaning of suit is in Chambers.

  7. Back to Sunday being out of my league.

    Do they give booby prizes?

    Thanks to Senf for hints. Thanks to setter not really for me perhaps with Senf’s help I might get half way!

    1. Told my daughter, who I introduced to the DT some years ago, I couldn’t get much of today’s – cue a series of calls as she put my effort into perspective. I think she gave it ***** enjoyment for showing dad how dumb he is! She is struggling with parsing 7d – any help without getting onto the naughty stair?

        1. Thanks CS there seems to be gettting a number of phrases now for “surround” or “inside” – I just can’t keep up!

  8. Oh dear, way off my pay grade and thus not enjoyable. Some unknown words and difficult wordplay but some definitions not understood also.
    Thanks to setter and Senf.

  9. Sadly, I think I am giving up on this one. Having done about half the clues, I am nowhere near getting the rest. This has to be the first time in years I have failed to finish a Telegraph crossword. Congratulations to Senf and anyone else who manages to complete it. You have my undying admiration. Thanks Dada, but give us a chance next week please.

  10. I wasn’t going to comment today but was going to say what I thought in my review. But then in eleven days time who is going to remember to read that so here goes

    I tried very hard before I started solving to forget that it was Sunday, and that we had a different setter. If my first one in hadn’t been 26a, then I’d have been able to quote one of my creche and his immortal phrase ‘you know you’re in trouble if the first clue Sue gets is 23d’ which wasn’t that far behind in the solving experience. Looking at the crossword while preparing my blogging notes, I see that we have a couple of chestnuts, a couple of easy ones and a considerable number of head-scratchers. If I’d been giving the hints, I’d have tried to help with more than half of the clues.

    Sorry young Halpern, but I don’t think you are half as much fun as you used to be, both in the DT and other places. This crossword would have been more suited to the Toughie spot and, as I wouldn’t have had to blog it, would probably have been given the Rabbit Dave treatment

    PS: if you are one of the people who will read my review on the 29th, I do apologise in advance for the ‘deja-vu’ you’ll experience then

    1. Am in complete agreement. I’m loath to make negative comments on crossword puzzles, but sadly this one isn’t for me. Back to the Times today I think :-(

      1. Sheer bloody mindedness and the determination not to be beaten got me past the finishing line with this one. I needed quite a lot of electronic help along the way, as the hints or at least many of them, made little more sense than did the clues. Now for quiet recuperation – with a gin or two :-)

    2. A bit harsh methinks, Sue – it wasn’t that tough (in my opinion). Some of the Graun surfaces are nonsense, not so here.

      1. I’m with Sue here. I struggled with it as well.

        Maybe it shows what an amazing talent Brian was and how very much we were spoilt.

  11. Having been away and just managed to catch up on Wednesday through Saturday, of which Saturday was an absolute joy, the ‘tea’ clue being clue of the month, I am so disappointed to find this.
    The number of clues I could solve was less than one. I don’t ‘do’ Toughies, I don’t have the time.
    Fortunately the weekly online prize puzzle needs completing.
    Thanks to Senf, I’m sorry but I didn’t even bother read the hints.

    1. Completed the weekly prize cryptic puzzle and the new site said:=
      Correct Answers = 0%
      Me thinks some work needed on the new site!!

      1. Hi LROK,
        I had read a cross-section of clues and it reminded me of a tough Paul in the Guardian, which are miles beyond me. At this point I decided that there were much better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially when I read the hints of those far more talented than I.
        I also had the weekly prize cryptic to do.

          1. ‘Golfy stuff’ innit! You either get it or you don’t – if you don’t you probably have a more interesting life/more important things to do – such as real life.
            I think that I’m verging on giving up on all this.

            1. No, Kath. Just consider giving up Sunday and go to church instead! We would miss you too much, founding member and so on. C’mon, say it isn’t so.

            2. Kath,
              HIYD is a single figure (ie pretty serious) golfer so he probably didn’t associate the term “playground” with anything golfey.

  12. We struggled for a while but then everything fell into place nicely. Thanks to our tester and senf.

    Mr & Mrs T

  13. Well I persevered as I hate to be beaten and got there in the end, albeit with a fair amount of electronic help. This was way beyond any reasonable time/difficulty measure, and although I felt a sense of achievement, not to say relief, upon inserting the last letters into 24a, I cannot truthfully say I enjoyed the challenge. Thanks already offered in my earlier posting.

  14. Well, Sundays seem to be a bit different all of a sudden. This seemed to me to be more like a Grauniad Paul than a ST back pager.
    Very tricky indeed and on first pass we got just two of the acrosses and then seven of the downs sort of came to the rescue. For a back pager I’d give it *****/**** as I did quite enjoy the challenge but back pagers shouldn’t get any harder than this one.
    No real favourite but if pushed I’d go for 26a for it’s rather silly definition.

    Thanks to Dada and to Senf.

    1. Pommers says “we got just two of the acrosses and then seven of the downs sort of came to the rescue”
      Errr that should say Pommers got 2 across and 7 down clues.
      I managed to work out just 3 of the down clues :(
      WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY above my pay grade – so please Mr Halpern, I know it’s a prize puzzle, but make them a bit easier in future – please, please, pretty please.

  15. Perhap BD can provide some empirical evidence here but it seems that folk treat enjoyment as the inverse of difficulty. How many 1/1s and 5/5s have there ever been… is there something to be learned from the stars and their distribution?

    Anyway, we enjoyed the puzzle, it made us feel young again (reminded us of when we first tried a ST puzzle). Thanks again D and S.

    Mr & Mrs T

    1. For me personally, I have really enjoyed some easy and some difficult puzzles and I have not enjoyed some easy and some difficult puzzles.

      1. Exactly and when you solve between 30 and 40 puzzles a week, both those instances happen quite a lot!

  16. Much too hard for me today, can’t solve even with the hints. Surely Toughie stuff. Throwing in the towel, disappointing on a Sunday. Only 9 clues solved.

  17. Eventually down to the last two
    4d and 11d if anyone can help
    A challenge and not a nice one!
    Thanks to Senf and Dada
    Same as young salopian, years since I didn’t complete.

    1. 4d remove the capital or first letter from a synonym for say and then look at the ‘sugar daddy’
      11d you need works meaning critical and a particular mark (check in the dictionary for that one) which go together to relate to a ‘block of flats’ for which again, you’ll need the BRB

      I’m being a bit careful because we haven’t any cake for the Naughty Corner

      1. Doh the penny just dropped on my last holdout the first word of 11d. It was a hard puzzle and lots in the NE needed hints to get so thanks to Senf and others who have filled a few gaps in too. 24a took a while and a hint here too before it succumbed.
        Thanks to Dada too I imagine it will be a while before I am totally on wavelength here but not going to give up on the fight yet.

      2. Thanks CS
        The penny sort of dropped for 4d although I don’t get the daddy bit.
        I don’t have the BRB so I’ll just soldier on without until the penny drops. I have the second word in but you have led me to think it’s wrong so I’ll have another look.
        Thanks again

    2. 4d – I think the definition is “Sugar daddy” – a synonym of “say” minus its first letter.

      1. Thanks Stan
        The penny had sort of dropped.
        The sugarcsays Morrison’s but it doesn’t fit

  18. For the first time in I can’t remember how long I have failed to complete a puzzle. The clues were too obscure for me – not an enjoyable puzzle at all. Roll on Monday!

  19. Oh – the gremlin that eats the comments is at it again – just wrote lots and it’s disappeared so time to try again.
    My main feeling at the moment is one of relief that I’m not the only one to have found this really tough.
    This has taken me a very long time.
    I had 8d wrong – a pity as it worked perfectly well but didn’t do much for my chances in that corner.
    I still don’t quite ‘get’ 7d and I’m not convinced that JL’s explanation works.
    The other one causing grief is 24a although Gazza’s given a hint – why ‘suit informally’!
    I liked 9 and 25a and I think my favourite was 26a.
    With thanks to our new Sunday setter and to Senf.

    1. If you work your way down the list of definitions for suit in the dictionary, one of them should answer your qeustion

    2. It means ‘suit’ as a nickname for someone who might wear one, as in ‘we knew the takeover was underway as suddenly there were suits all over the place’.

  20. Oh drat – as happened to Kath, the gremlins waltzed off with my comment!
    Anyway, I’ve been out and about today so didn’t have chance to put anything on the blog although I did solve this one before I left this morning.
    Like RD, I’ve usually enjoyed Dada’s Monday backpagers and his Toughies but this one didn’t inspire me at all. Not, as Tantalus suggested, because of the difficulty factor – more to do with not feeling in some instances that clues married with the required answers.

    I did like 9a & 3d but those were the only ones to receive a tick.

    Thanks in any case to Dada for his efforts and certainly to Senf for making the difficult decision as to which clues to hint. I did enjoy the Joe Cocker clip!

    1. I see we’ve got a Dada Toughie coming up on Tuesday. I shall tackle that with an open mind.

  21. A number of ridiculously obscure clues with incredibly tenuous connections made this the most unenjoyable crossword ever in my many years experience. Finding some of the answers and working out their basis was a tedious and unsatisfying process.

  22. This was a real tester and overall not very satisfying when I look back and not a single smile during the solve. I think if future Sunday puzzles are like this I’ll be looking for other challenges for the little grey cells. Nevertheless thanks to the setter and Senf.

  23. I solved exactly four clues but I’ve got better things to do, and I’ve enjoyed Dada’s puzzles in the past.
    Oh Virgilius, please come home, all is forgiven!
    Thanks for the hints Senf, you’re brilliant to have unravelled that lot.

  24. Certainly very tricky and one of the hardest back pagers I have ever solved in the DT.

    Dwelling in the US, I was able to tackle this one yesterday evening and I was being urged to finish it by Mrs JP as she wanted to go out for dinner. I did use a thesaurus for a couple of clues but I have to say I really enjoyed the challenge (after I’d completed it).

    Thanks to Dada and Senf 5*/4*

  25. It ‘s a relief to know I have plenty of company in the malcontent corner because I can’t remember when I enjoyed a cryptic puzzle less. First read through produced 17d as the one and only solution and after that I completely failed to get on the right wavelength so resorted to a large amount of hint gazing which resulted in no fun or satisfaction. Too many distinctly dubious clues to mention them all. Thank you John H and Senf but here’s hoping we won’t be presented with any more weekend horrors like this. 👎👎.

  26. All I can say is er, 20d. That was hard. Like several have said the last three in were 7d, 10a and 24a. I was very pleased to complete even tho’ I’m not 100% sure I am totally correct. No real favourite; I was too concerned about my answer being correct to enjoy anything!
    Thanks to Dada; I shall now go and lie in a darkened room for a while. And thanks to Senf for the hints.

  27. Thanks to Dada and to Senf for the hints. Well, what a contrast from the usual Sunday puzzle. Not enough hints. Much as I’ve enjoyed Dada’s puzzles during the week, I did not enjoy this one. Like Rabbit Dave, I managed most of the left hand side, but resorted to the hints, the blog, electronic help, you name it, to try and finish it. Just seemed like a Toughie to me. I hope next week’s a bit more gentle, and a bit more fun. Was 5*/1* for me.

  28. Don’t usually comment on the weekend prize puzzles but did want to welcome one of our favourite setters to the Sunday chair. This was at Friday Toughie difficulty level for me but so full of penny-drop moments that I loved it. My last ones in were three of the pesky four letter answers, one of which, 4d, needed a bit of GK that I did not know.
    We keep hoping that one of these days the Telegraph (who charge us the same amount for the subscription) will allow us to enter their much promoted competitions.
    Thanks for the fun Dada and Senf.

    1. Sadly last Sunday was his last as the Sunday Telegraph cryptic setter. He will still be setting for various publications on an ad hoc basis under different pseudonyms.

  29. The picture in Senf’s hints should give it away.
    However a low handicapper like you at Royal Wherever probably doesn’t have the need to use such facilities.

  30. Tougher than a Toughie set by the Professor of Toughness at Oxford University (with apologies to Blackadder, I think)! Got there in the end. I enjoyed it in the way a mountaineer might enjoy climbing Everest without oxygen – hell on the way but very satisfying to finish. Thanks to setter and Senf.

  31. Found that real 12a.
    Took me ages – am on holiday, so had plenty of time but wouldn’t like a Sunday prize to be like that every week! Needed the BRB, hints, intuition and comments to get there in the end. Thanks for help to all concerned.
    Regarding zero marks for last week’s solutions, on which I have commented before, I have now received zero marks for the past 4 weeks on both Saturday and Sundays. It might be that these occur when I submit my solutions whilst abroad. I will test this theory in two week’s time, on my return.

  32. Ah well, I’m going to try to finish this later, but don’t feel too hopeful looking at the comments above …

  33. Gosh that was hard, even with the hints here I was left clueless and needed cheats elsewhere on the web. Still not sure what the Italian city is in 1a. XX xxxxxxx to complete certainly a record for me, not even any bonus points.

  34. Let’s just say that wasn’t what I’m looking for from the Telegraph on a Sunday. Got there in the end just because of sheer bloody mindedness, and with recourse to electronic help, and I’m still not sure how one or two are supposed to work.

    1. Better put a knot in your hanky to remind you to look at the review on Thursday 29th at 9 am

      1. Definitely will, Sue. If this is the shape of things to come on a Sunday, then your answers will hopefully get me out of the starting blocks next week.

  35. Note to Chris Lancaster – if this is the standard of puzzle Mr Halpern is now going to provide can we have them on a Friday please – traditionally the hardest of the week. Don Manley could then appear on Sundays with his almost guaranteed religious references which seem appropriate for the Sabbath.

  36. Got as far as 4 left to go but admit I used some electronic help, then had recourse to the blog. So good to see I am not alone in struggling a bit and that it’s a different setter. (I thought my brain had finally given up.)
    I am happy to have some harder and some easier crosswords – it adds interest and life would be dull if they were all the same – but do hope they will vary and not all be Toughie standard if Dada continues on Sundays.
    Has Virgilius gone for good then? Oh dear . . . his sparkle will be much missed.
    Many thanks to BD for the blog, to Dada for the crossword (I enjoyed it), Senf for the review, and multiple bloggers above for help with the ones I couldn’t do. Invaluable help!
    (PS to moderators – sent via desktop as the iPad is misbehaving.)

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