Toughie 2279 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
View closed comments 

Toughie 2279

Toughie No 2279 by Dada

Hints and tips by Big Dave

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

BD Rating – Difficulty ***Enjoyment **

Why do setters use words like river, author etc. as definitions where there are thousands of possible answers? For me this puzzle was spoiled by an excess of General Knowledge, hence the reduction in enjoyment rating from four to two stars.

Please leave a comment telling us what you thought.


1a    River breaks in rounding marsh, finally (6)
THAMES: a verb meaning breaks in, as in breaks in a horse, around (rounding) the final letter of [mars]H

4a    Revolutionary bound to cover up Catholic plot (6)
PARCEL: the reversal (revolutionary) of a bound around (to cover up) the abbreviation for Roman Catholic

8a    Sound as a bell to drink wine, showing off (8)
BOASTING: I started by guessing that the wine was port, which led to a word which fitted the definition but only half of the wordplay – a verb meaning a bell-like sound goes around an Italian wine that used to be regarded as a cheap substitute for Champagne

10a    German maestro cups vessel (6)
BRAHMS: this German maestro, when split into two three-letter words, gives a female garment with a pair of cups and the abbreviation of a prefix used for many vessels in the Royal Navy

11a    Unexciting place to live (4)
FLAT: two definitions – the second being a one-storey dwelling which is part of a larger building

12a    Regular payment retaining value in recession, spouse ultimately giving up work (10)
RETIREMENT: a regular payment to a landlord goes around (retaining) the reversal (in recession) of a five-letter value and the final letter (ultimately) of [spous]E

13a    Emperor again fiddled with unholy alliance? (4,8)
OPEN MARRIAGE: an anagram (fiddled with) of EMPEROR AGAIN

16a    Possible result of inflation, man in high spirits? (6,6)
BOUNCY CASTLE: the old name for a particular man on the chess board id preceded by an adjective meaning in high spirits

20a    Thrilling to catch cold! (4-6)
NAIL-BITING: a verb meaning to catch followed by an adjective meaning very cold

21a    Menace — weaver? (4)
LOOM: two definitions – the second being a device used in weaving

22a    Noble gas, so it, strangely, could be noble (6)
ARISTO: the chemical symbol for a noble gas followed by an anagram (strangely) of SO IT

23a    Part of armour somewhere in Belgium once allowed (8)
GAUNTLET: the former name of a Belgian city followed by a verb meaning allowed

24a    Save millions in abridged text (6)
SCRIMP: M(illions) inside most of (abridged) some text

25a    Leave space (6)
RECESS: two definitions – the adjournment of a lawcourt or Parliament during a vacation and a niche or alcove


1d    Toss in drink for author (8)
TROLLOPE: a verb meaning to toss or sway inside a verb meaning to drink

2d    Strength equally established (5)
ASSET: a two-letter word meaning equally followed by a word meaning established

3d    A queen gets flag raised in African country (7)
ERITREA: the A from the clue, the Queen’s royal cipher an a verb meaning to flag, all reversed (raised)

5d    Vigilant around leader of battalion, a Canadian province (7)
ALBERTA: an adjective meaning vigilant around the initial letter (leader) of B[attalion] and followed by the A from the clue

6d    Unappealing male in King Stephen, primarily (9)
CHARMLESS: M(ale) inside the name of one of two 17th century kings followed by the initial letter (primarily) of S[tephen]

7d    Sharp line taken on funny money (6)
LEMONY: L(ine) followed by an anagram (funny) of MONEY

9d    Begin to understand magic (3,8)
GET CRACKING: a verb meaning to understand followed by an adjective meaning magic or terrific

14d    New line sure to involve black spray (9)
NEBULISER: an anagram (new) of LINE SURE around (to involve) B(lack)

15d    Errors, those made in bakery (8)
BLOOMERS: two definitions – the second being loaves of bread

17d    Consistent Oxbridge class? (7)
UNIFORM: an abbreviation applicable to Oxbridge followed by a school class

18d    Waterproof container holding contents of soup, leaking originally (7)
CAGOULE: a container around (holding) the inner letters (contents) of [s]OU[p] and the initial letter (originally) of L[eaking]

19d    Old Indian city up in Amritsar, damaged (6)
MADRAS: the former name of Chennai is hidden (in) and reversed (up) inside the clue

21d    Drink second, but not last (5)
LATTE: drop the final letter (not last) from a word meaning the second of two

I would be interested in your thoughts on the use of General Knowledge in cryptic crosswords – is there an acceptable level?


33 comments on “Toughie 2279

  1. For a Gnoment or two, I thought this was going to be an actual proper Toughie but then I got going and finished in the sort of time in which I’d expect to solve a Wednesday/Thursday back page crossword, so still not anything like the required difficulty level I’d hope for in a Toughie but a vast improvement on Dada’s previous crosswords appearing in the middle of the paper.

    Thanks to Dada for the crossword and BD for the blog.

    I didn’t think I had too much of a problem with GK in cryptic crosswords (as I consider I have quite a wide range of General Knowledge, but I have to agree that the appearances of random rivers, authors and the like does seem to be increasing to a point where I’m starting to channel my inner Rabbit Dave.

  2. I enjoyed this one – I thought that Dada had upped his game a bit from his previous Toughies (though without reaching the fun of a Paul puzzle). Thanks to him and BD. My ticks went to 8a, 10a and 20a.
    As long as it’s fairly clued (as all the relevant clues are here, except perhaps for the noble gas) and it’s the sort of thing that most people should be familiar with I don’t mind GK. Mind you I do draw the line at (to me) obscure characters from the more impenetrable parts of the Old Testament!
    Certainly I object less to GK than I do to dodgy homophones and very long anagrams (of which we had a dreadful 26-letter example recently).

  3. It’s no secret I positively dislike names, rivers, towns, obscure religious or ancient references etc in cryptics. To me, ‘author’ for example is a definition of a writer not the name of an author, otherwise it suggests all authors are called, say, Proust.

    Thanks to setter for the challenge and thanks to BD

  4. Definitely a Dada, but not one of his best, and I agree with CS on the time required to solve. In fact, this took me less time than today’s back pager and about the same time as one of his quirky Sunday puzzles – completed at a Toughie gallop – **/**.
    Favourite – a toss-up between 8a and 10a – and the winner is 8a (but only because I tried to make RING the bell sound).
    Thanks to Dada and BD.

  5. Two most enjoyable puzzles in one day – very happy bunny here.
    Unlike our blogger, my first thought for the wine in 8a was ‘red’ as that seems to have featured regularly in recent puzzles. Sadly, we were both on a hiding to nothing!
    Happy to admit to reverse parsing of 22a – ‘noble gas’ is well outside of my comfort zone.

    Top three for me were 13,16 & 20a. Apologies to RD for the inclusion of 16a but the image it conjured up made me laugh.

    Thanks to Dada and to BD for the review. I think it is very subjective when it comes to what constitutes acceptable GK but I have to agree with Gazza over the likes of obscure characters from the Old Testament!

  6. I would be the first to acknowledge that my general knowledge is not nearly as strong as many who comment on this bog. I got hopelessly stuck in the SE corner, and in the end I resorted to ‘cheating’ by looking at the review. I settled on 15d because of the picture, which meant nothing to me, and sure enough, when I ‘clicked here!’ I had not heard of the bakery. Once I had it, the flood gates opened and the rest of the SE corner went in beautifully smoothly. Pity – for me it spoiled what was otherwise a most enjoyable puzzle. Thanks to Dada and Big Dave.

    1. Hi Tony,
      Not sure I’ve interpreted your comment correctly but 15d is a particular item produced by a bakery – as shown in the picture – not a specific bakery.

    2. Thank you, Tony. Your inadvertent typo about where we are commenting raised a big smile. :smile:

  7. I enjoyed this and, while I was solving it, I didn’t register the amount of GK involved. It is a subjective issue and, having looked again at it in the light of the foregoing comments, I can see that I was lucky today in knowing all the required GK which is probably why I didn’t notice it before.
    I do agree with Gazza and Jane about obscure biblical references, but there will doubtless be some solvers who are well versed in this area.
    I was of course disappointed to see the childish reference in 16a but even I have to admit that, in this instance, it does make for a very good clue (but please don’t take that as licence to use it again, Dada!)
    13a & 20a were my joint favourites.
    Many thanks to BD and to Dada.

  8. I found both this puzzle and the back pager a bit trickier than normal for a Tuesday.

    I am a pretty consistent commentator on my dislike for clues that use GK (or obscure words) that is not widely known. To me the most enjoyment comes from puzzles I can complete, perhaps with a guess or two, without any aids. Elgar puzzles fall into a different category – I know before starting it will contain a fair bit of obscure GK and obscure words and there is no hope of me finishing unaided. However they are quite a challenge even with electronic assistance and therefore good fun. I would love to do an Elkamere puzzle without the obscurities and GK he throws in, as I like his style of clue. The average (broadsheet-reading) person in the street has a much more humble vocabulary and GK than crossword setters and enthusiastic solvers imagine. Once, a few years back before I retired, I struggled to solve a Giovanni clue (pretty sure it was him!) in my lunch break where the answer was “how” and the definition was “tumulus”. A few groans from me led to enquiries from folk nearby and, for some silly reason which I forget, we ended up carrying out an informal office survey. The question posed was “Do you know a synonym for tumulus – 3 letters beginning with h”. Out of 22 people (all graduates) no one knew the answer, half had to ask what tumulus meant and a further half of that half also had to ask what a synonym is.

    Thanks to Dada and BD

    1. They’re in good company, Path, even Mr Google refused to recognise it without a final ‘e’. Must have been a Giovanni!

  9. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head BD, in that gen knol is [or should be] a no-no if a word can lead to hundreds of possible answers. In fairness to setters though, I think most of them restrict themselves to examples [of river say, or authors] which they think are fairly well-known by most solvers. And here’s the rub!

    There was a time, not that long ago, when solvers of cryptics in broadsheet newspapers were expected to have the knowledge of a well-educated upper-middle class person [the arts, sciences, the [Anglican] Church, hist & geog, French, Latin and even a bit of Ancient Greek], plus the usual haut-bourgeois leisure pursuits – huntin, shootin, fishin, golf, cricket, horsey stuff, etc, etc. Now not so much, altho’ Giovanni still entertains us with ecclesiastical references and we now also have pop culture [the late great Petitjean] and details of London bus routes or even worse [Elgar].

    I suspect that what we all really object to is words we ‘re not familiar with, gen knol or not. For me, if it’s in Chambers [and most proper nouns are not] and the word-play leads to it then it’s legit. They’re [supposed to be] toughies after all.

  10. Off today so I had time to do the toughie, like Sue, on a quick read through I thought it was going to be a proper toughie -not that I really wanted one, but it proved to be a steady solve which I enjoyed and agree with a ***/***.
    On the GK matter ,there does seem to be a plethora of authors at the moment-one in the back page today too.
    My last to parse was 16a which brought the D’oh moment !
    Liked 13a for the surface-I was thinking of Nero-never mind.
    Favourite was 20a-thanks all.

  11. I can usually figure out authors and rivers from the checkers and then, like Jane, parse the clue. It’s place names that are my bugaboo, along with those obscure biblical names of course. Been gone too long to recall many of the former and didn’t pay enough attention in RI for the latter. I quite liked the puzzle. 13 and 16A earned ticks from me.

    1. Hi Chris,
      My heart always sinks when I see the likes of ‘African country’. Fortunately, even I knew today’s example!

  12. On balance I think this came out as a typical Toughie for me: I got an above-average number of clues unassisted (about a third), but then came unstuck and needed hints for many of the rest — thanks, Big Dave.

    What makes the river and author worse here is that they cross, and on their initial letter. It turns out to be a very well known river, but it might not have been, so I left the clue until I had some crossers. Ditto for the author, and I ended up deadlocked, each clue waiting for t’other.

    I think the noble gasses are fair: they’re covered in pre-GCSE science (I can remember Dr Hoare teaching them in Year 9) — before people choose specializations, and drop some subjects — and there are only 6 of them. Unlike, say, rivers, of which I believe there’s more than 6.

    They’re also known as ‘inert gasses’ — as in the Yes, Minister episode ‘The Greasy Pole’, featuring Sir Humphrey’s desperate explanation of an inert compound being safe as “it isn’t ert”, and Bernard muttering “Wouldn’t ‘ert a fly.”

    Whereas the wine in 8a was yet another I hadn’t heard of before encountering it in a crossword, and which I’m pretty sure we didn’t cover in pre-GCSE chemistry.

    With arbitrary names like this, it often isn’t possible to guess at them even with a few crossing letters. Once I’d finished the crossword I still wasn’t sure whether the wine was letters 2–5 or 3–6 of 8a — the surrounding letters remaining in each case making a different bell sound!

    Plenty of clues I did like though, with 20a being my favourite, for ‘catch cold’.

    1. S. Your comment is very interesting and it’s good to hear different opinions. May I respectfully respond with mine:

      Regarding 1a and 1d: this a cryptic puzzle and a “Toughie” to boot! It isn’t a GK quiz where you are being asked to identify a 6-letter river and an 8-letter author out of thin air – where there could indeed be hundreds of possible answers (not so sure about “thousands”). Here, you have some eminently parsable word-play, plus possible checking letters to work out the answer. And it may take a fair bit of time, cogitation and lateral thinking to get there – exactly what to expect from a Toughie puzzle! If “river” and “author” aren’t reasonable “definitions” (especially in a Toughie), then I don’t know what are? In each case, once the word-play is sussed out the answers become axiomatic/apodictic – there’s no guessing required. They couldn’t be anything else.

      Sorry if you disagree, but that the way I see it.

      1. “Thousands” of rivers was Big Dave — I only claimed that there are more than 6!

        That’s a fair point that it’s supposed to be tough. I don’t expect to solve the Toughie unaided, and if there are solvers who like vaguely defined clues then it’s reasonable for publications to cater to their tastes (among others).

        Though with clues which are surnames I think it’s reasonable for solvers to expect the clue to be precise enough such that after solving the crossword they know which person is being referred to — rather than “this is a surname which throughout history has belonged to at least one novelist/playwrite/poet/journalist”.

        1. That’s fair comment, but may I expand a little.

          Imagine a Quick crossword with the following clues:

          1a. River (6)
          1d. Author (8)

          Most people would just crack on, persevere and solve the crossword without a thought. Nobody would complain that the clues were “vague”, “unfair” or “nebulous” or whatever. Would they?

          Here, you have the same (albeit generic) definitions plus other help in the form of cryptic word-play. Therefore, it could be argued that the two cryptic Dada clues are easier to solve than the Quick clues. Having more specific definitions like “London river” or “Barchester Towers Author” would ruin the clues and render the word-plays largely redundant.

  13. Just got in so, time to comment on both this Toughie and the back page. Was no one as appalled as I was to have authors in both of them? After the furor caused by the elusive, probably misspelt author of Saturday’s prize puzzle, here we were again with not one but two! Thank goodness these were obvious except was 1d Anthony or Joanna? Discuss!!

    We won’t even whisper it, but the back pager is still on the back page. Perhaps the editor listens to us after all.

  14. We enjoyed this puzzle (as we always seem to with this setter) and there was no GK that we did not know.
    The GK that annoys us, and on which we have commented many times, is obscure geography that has a distinct regional origin such as the small Scottish town that was in last Friday’s Toughie.
    16a had us laughing out loud once the penny dropped.
    Thanks Dada and BD

    1. Hi 2Ks,
      I guess that’s a perfect example of GK knowledge being subjective – the small Scottish town didn’t cause me any problems. How are you on African countries?!!

    2. Absolutely, I sympathise. These cryptics (in my opinion) should be about dictionary words clued by clever, amusing, misleading wordplay – that’s the fun for me
      I don’t mind the occasional ‘Well I never knew that’ clue but not keen on ‘How and why would I or should I know that and I’m not too interested’ clues
      I blame Google! I’ll bet if I searched for a river called Roy there would be one somewhere

      Just checked – there’s a River Roy and Glen Roy plus Brae Roy…

  15. On the GK point, I suspect that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Some weeks ago, we had ‘hoplite’, which I pounced on immediately but which at least one blogger had not heard of. My Achilles heel is horticulture. Give me a plant that is not a factory or a flower that is not a ‘banker’ and my heart sinks to my boots.

    1. Hi Max,
      Just had to ask Mr Google about hoplite – and I probably did the puzzle you mentioned!
      Swap you for the next plant or flower?

  16. I enjoyed this puzzle which seemed to be following the trend f giving us a relatively easy Toughie on a Tuesday. I actually like an element of GK in these puzzles, so long as they are not stupidly obscure..

    1. Yep, I’d go along with that, Ray. I didn’t look at the Toughie until this morning and the only one that I gave up on was probably one of the most simple to ‘get’ – 21 across. Otherwise this one has given me quite a pleasant start to the day – now waiting for our paper boy to deliver today’s Telegraph. Thank yous to Dada and BD.

  17. Had to carry a couple of clues over to today. They took me much less time to complete than it did to read all the correspondence about the pros and cons of General Knowledge……

    Thanks to Dada and Big Dave.

Comments are closed.