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Toughie 2150

End-of-Year Toughie No 2150 by Micawber

Hints and tips by Dutch

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

Thank you Micawber for another wonderful end-of-year puzzle, where every clue is a topical reference to 2018. The puzzle is no harder than a back-pager, and I hope lots of people will try it and enjoy it. On writing the blog, I noticed that there is a lot of single letter manipulation, as you might expect in a puzzle of this nature. Also, Silvanus may wish to turn off his repetition radar – 2018 was a year of leaders and borders! Not all illustrations refer to the answers.

Definitions are underlined as always. The hints and tips are intended to help you unravel the wordplay, but you can always click the BEST WISHES FOR 2019 buttons to reveal the answers. Please leave a comment telling us what you thought.


1a    Depleted legislators, president having lost fifth in elections (4)
RUMP: Our favourite president minus (having lost) the fifth letter in elections. The answer refers to the remnant of the Long Parliament in English history, but the surface of course cheekily refers to the 2018 midterms.

3a    Separation agreement last month suffering from stress about borders of Eire and N Ireland (6,4)
DECREE NISI: The 3-letter abbreviation for the last month of the year, then the abbreviation for a suffering or condition arising from repeated stress or strain goes around (about) the outer letters (borders) of Eire and the abbreviation for N. Ireland

10a    Gives support to summit’s contingency plans (9)
BACKSTOPS: A verb meaning gives support to plus a word meaning summit or peak, including the ‘S

11a    Yield, abandoning Norway to offer accommodation again? (5)
RELET: A 6-letter verb meaning yield without the IVR code for Norway

12a    Small leader meeting Trump succeeded, in brief readings (5)
SKIMS: The abbreviation for small, the rocket man who met Trump, and the abbreviation for succeeded

13a    To take over southern state, leaders of Italian nationalists and populists are in debt to right (4,5)
GAIN POWER: The abbreviation for a southern US state, first letters (leaders) of the next 3 words, a verb meaning ‘are in debt’ plus the abbreviation for right

14a    Game participant May dancing — there’s something impressive about that! (8)
PLAYMATE: An anagram (dancing) of May has around it (about that) an engraved piece of metal for printing impressions

16a    Alert — data’s beginning to be harvested for commercial apps (6)
ADWARE: An adjective meaning alert contains (to be harvested) the first letter (beginning) of data

19a    Prolong UK’s final European exit after end of deadline (3,3)
EKE OUT: The last letter (final) of UK, the abbreviation for European, a word that can be used to mean exit, all after the last letter (end) of deadline

20a    Plot to ‘study steeple’ (8)
CONSPIRE: A word for study plus a word for steeple. A reference to the ‘research’ in the ERG

22a    Leaders of Iran and USA worried about nuclear and oil, giving cause to behave foolishly (9)
INFATUATE: The first letters (leaders) of Iran and USA plus a 3-letter verb meaning worried go about the abbreviation for nuclear plus another word for oil or grease

24a    International competition remains (5)
ASHES: Two definitions, the first being something Australia won in 2018

26a    Concise Oxford coming in to name mainly retro word describing bad things (5)
TOXIC: A 2-letter shortened form of Oxford goes inside (coming in to) the first 3 letters (mainly) of a 4-letter verb meaning to name or quote

27a    Throwaway line — guess rubbish word Collins picked (6-3)
SINGLE-USE: An anagram (rubbish) of LINE GUESS. The answer is the Collins 2018 “word of the year”

28a    Having lost control, minister sacked then given new role by female boss, not so senior (10)
RUDDERLESS: A minister who left and then rejoined cabinet in a new role, a 2-letter abbreviation for our head of state, and a word meaning not so senior (def 6 in Chambers)

29a    Classification of this foreign director’s ‘Last Tango’ (4)
CERT: French for this, the Last letter of director, plus the letter corresponding to the radio code Tango. A reference to Bertolucci, who died Nov 26, 2018


1d    Taking leave in the end, Boris unexpectedly not one for trappings of office? (5)
ROBES: Insert the last letter (in the end) of leave into an anagram (unexpectedly) of BORIS excluding the I (not one)

2d    America’s rising rival power with outlines of trade scheme (9)
MACHINATE: A reversal (rising, in a down clue) of a 2-letter abbreviation for America, a rival power (of America), plus the outer letters (outlines) of trade

4d    Draw out scandal involving Musk? (8)
ELONGATE: Musk’s first name and the suffix used for a scandal

5d    Strain rising when helm of Ukrainian ship caught by neighbour (6)
RUSSIA: The wordplay qualifies the definition here. The reversal of a strain or melody includes the first letter (helm) of Ukraine plus an abbreviation for ship

6d    He made drama of EU rupture on fateful March day in Rome (9)
EURIPIDES: EU from the clue, another word for rupture or tear, and a fateful March day for Julius Caesar

7d    After fashionable Hollywood setting, wedding’s introduction for Meghan to Harry’s family? (2-3)
IN-LAW: A word for fashionable, the city that includes Hollywood, after which comes the first letter (introduction) to wedding

8d    Mediate with outspoken top tennis player after explosive tie containing new winner finally (9)
INTERCEDE: A homophone of a top tennis player comes after an anagram (explosive) of TIE which contains the abbreviation for new and the last letter (finally) of winner

9d    Customs Union has Dover area linked to terminal in Calais (4)
USES: The abbreviation for Union, the part of the UK that includes Dover, and the last letter (terminal) in Calais

14d    ‘Erotic spasms’ attracting a bit of derision after publicity — might one might have expected it? (9)
PREDICTOR: An anagram (spasms) of EROTIC includes (attracting) the first letter (a bit) of derision, all after an abbreviation meaning publicity. Vince Cable fluffed a speech where he said the ‘exotic spresm’ instead of the erotic spasms (of leaving the EU felt by Brexiters)

15d    Borders of Mexico and United States tense — long legacy of Zapata? (9)
MOUSTACHE: The outer letters (borders) of Mexico, the abbreviations for United States and tense, and a verb meaning long

17d    Acrimonious parliament, a scene from the 1980s? (4,5)
ACID HOUSE: A word for acrimonious and a word for parliament. Says it all, really.

18d    The same money? Three quarters, for top women (8)
DOYENNES: The abbreviation of a word meaning the same, some money in Japan, and three compass points. The reference is to the 2018 revelations on sex discrimination in pay

21d    I’m treated as slave almost (6)
VASSAL: An anagram (treated) of AS SLAV[e] (almost).

23d    Minister has journalist baffled (5)
FOXED: Our trade secretary plus the abbreviation for journalist

24d    End for May? Total’s higher in support (4)
ALLY: The last letter (end) of May, with a word meaning total or entirely above it (‘s higher)

25d    Whiff of US money pursuing leader of Saudis (5)
SCENT: A US coin follows the first letter (leader) of Saudis

Wow. Where do you start?. I think my favourite has to be the wonderful 4d. I also really liked 10a and 14a. Actually I like anything Brexity, so it was easy for me to enjoy this a lot. Which clues did you like?

15 comments on “Toughie 2150

  1. The Micawber end of year puzzles never disappoints. This one was, as expected, full of wonderful clues to the events of 2018 – too many clues I really liked to list them all, so I’ll just go for one of the ones that made me smile – the ‘small leader’ in 12a

    Thanks to Micawber and Dutch – one of these year’s I’m going to have to arm-wrestle you for the chance to blog the final Toughie of the year

  2. Another superb year-end puzzle by Micawber. How clever to get so many topical references into a single crossword.
    My main difficulty was that in scaling the puzzle to fit on one page of printout (which I always do) the print became so small that I had difficulty reading the clues.
    I ticked 12a, 28a, 2d, 4d, 14d, 15d and 24d but really I could have carried on ticking.
    Thanks to Micawber and Dutch and a Happy New Year to both.

  3. I totally agree – a real tour de force from Micawber: to make everything 2018-related; and yet still keep the standard of cluing up to “proper” standards! My favourite was 10a.

  4. Excellent puzzle from Micawber and it did take me rather longer than back-page time to sort out the parsing of a few of the clues.

    So many ticks on my page but I’ll settle for a top three of 10a plus 17&23d.

    Many thanks to Micawber and to Dutch – a very Happy New Year to you both.

  5. We always approach these with some trepidation as many of the newsworthy events are not familiar to us. We did not need to worry as we were able to get them all sorted apart from 29a and we should have got this from the wordplay. Very cleverly done and much enjoyed.
    Thanks Micawber and DT.

  6. Neck-deep in family “fun,” I’m lacking time and energy for crosswords … but had to summon some up for the Micawber special. Brilliant as usual. I am, however, hoping 2019 brings us better news!

    Many thanks Micawber and Dutch, and a very Happy New Year.

  7. I agree, a wonderful puzzle. I made heavier weather of it than I should have, partly by not knowing either of the politicians in the SW corner, which in general put up far more resistance for me than the rest. My last in, and I think favourite, was the brief readings in 12a. Many thanks to Micawber and Dutch.

  8. Designed to mislead and bemuse
    Micawber invented some clues
    He thought up a theme
    Of twenty-eighteen
    And topical stuff he could use

    And although the news has been grim
    With Trump and Brexit and Kim
    He’s made us all smile
    In his inimitable style
    So Happy New Year to him

  9. A display of crossword pyrotechnics. Much more fun than all those reindeer and carols. Thank you Micawber and Dutch.

  10. Needed the hints to understand the subtleties of some of my answers.
    Namely in 14d and 27a.
    Favourite 4d too.
    Thanks to Micawber for a worthwhile year of crosswords and to Dutch for all the Fridays reviews.

  11. I tried to comment yesterday from my phone, but a gremlin seems to have eaten my words.
    Thanks very much for the blog, Dutch, and the limericks, LetterboxRoy, and all your kind comments.
    Jut to clarify, 26 across is there because it was OED’s word of 2018. And while our own politicians may be conspiring away, 20 across was intended to refer to our snow-booted Russian chums who travelled afar to see Salisbury’s famous steeple.
    Happy New Year everyone!

  12. I’ve only just found time to get around to this, but I’m very glad I did decide to do it.


    Many thanks to Micawber and to Dutch.

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