Toughie 2323 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 2323

Toughie No 2323 by Serpent

Hints and tips by Big Dave

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BD Rating – Difficulty ***Enjoyment **

Today not only does Atrica become our 26th setter to graduate to the national press with a puzzle in The Independent but also Serpent, known here as Skipjack, becomes our third graduate , after eXternal / proXimal and Silvanus, to join the ranks of Toughie setters.

I may be in a grumpy mood, but I thought this was a competent but disappointing debut and seemed to lack that je ne sais quoi. Many of the definitions (make merry, undergarment, unfair, witness etc.), while technically correct, were a bit of a stretch and a lot of the wordplay, like 19a and 15d, had to be ground out after guessing the answer.

Please leave a comment telling us what you thought.


8a    Better‘s almost certain to get good result (7)
SURPASS: most of a four-letter word meaning certain followed by a good (I would have said indifferent) result

10a    Disclosure of plot to overindulge head of state (7)
SPOILER: a verb meaning to overindulge followed by our head of state’s regnal cipher

11a    Make merry as Britain and Europe’s borders are redrawn (9)
INEBRIATE: this verb meaning to make a person “merry” or drunk is an anagram (redrawn) of BRITAIN with the outer letters (borders) of E[urop]E

12a    Undergarment starts to tantalise Cambridge University dons (5)
TUNIC: this item of clothing can be an undergarment – the initial letters of (starts to) two words in the clue around (dons) a shortened form of UNI(versity)

13a    Student to take home master (5)
LEARN: The letter that represents a student followed by a verb meaning to take home pay

14a    Movement of clay pit is not unexpected (7)
TYPICAL: an anagram (movement) of CLAY PIT

17a    Perhaps unflattering review of small exhibition is unfair? (3,4,2,4,2)
NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT: what could be an unflattering review is actually unfair in the sense of not fair or not pretty

19a    Witness mispresented French Revolution, ignoring front line’s collapse (7)
VOUCHER: this person who gives witness is an anagram (mispresented) of [FREN]CH REVO[L]U[TION] without the various letters (collapse) of FRONT LINE

21a    Raise army to besiege India (5)
HOIST: an army or large number around (to besiege) the letter represented by India in the NATO Phonetic alphabet

24a    More than one circuit reported an error (5)
LAPSE: sounds like (reported) more than one circuit

26a    Temporary vehicle in which to sit test again (9)
CARETAKER: temporary, as such a football manager might be, is derived from a 3 vehicle around (in which) a verb meaning to sit a test again

27a    Fish developed ears to assimilate noise (7)
SARDINE: an anagram (developed) of EARS around (to assimilate) a noise

28a    Case for detective to supply warrant (7)
DESERVE: the outer letters (case) of D[etectiv]E followed by a verb meaning to supply


1d    Observation from London area about one in China? (6)
ESPIAL: the reversal (about) of one of several areas of London is followed by I (one) inside a china (Cockney slang, china plate / mate)

2d    Something known to be associated with human skill and endeavour, primarily? (8)
ARTEFACT: a four-letter word meaning something known to be true is preceded by (associated with) a human skill and the initial letter (primarily) of E[ndeavour] to get something that is loosely defined by the whole clue

3d    I agree amount that’s sufficient to support trade show (4,6)
FAIR ENOUGH: an amount that is sufficient is preceded by (to support) a trade show

4d    Claim Trump’s behind replacing former partner in industry (9)
ASSERTION: start with a word meaning industry or effort and replace EX (former partner) with an American (Trump’s) word for the behind or backside

5d    Solicitor runs to escape something fishy (4)
TOUT: someone who solicits for custom, particularly one selling tickets, is derived by dropping (to escape) R(uns) from a type of fish

6d    I love over 200 nurses in health centre (6)
CLINIC: I from the clue and another word for love or zero reversed (over) inside (nurses) the Roman numerals for 200

7d    Couple hire piece of jewellery (8)
BRACELET: a couple or pair followed by a verb meaning to hire out

9d    Reporters finally pitch for The Sun? (4)
STAR: the final letter of [reporter]S followed by some pitch or bitumen

15d    She predicts he has to decide about entering crowd (10)
PROPHETESS: a three-letter verb meaning to decide around (about) HE from the clue all inside (entering) a crowd

16d    Distinctive example of human nature (9)
CHARACTER: two definitions

17d    Unfamiliarity largely constrains lives in London? (8)
NOVELIST: most of (largely) a word meaning unfamiliarity or newness around (constrains) a two-letter word meaning lives gives [Jack] London

18d    Briefs arresting individuals over the phone (8)
KNICKERS: sounds like (over the phone) some individuals who make arrests

20d    United Kingdom losing top court official (6)
UMPIRE: U(nited) followed by a large kingdom without (losing) its initial letter (top)

22d    Screw lacking essential feature is a failure (6)
TURKEY: an old word for a screw or prison warder without (lacking) its middle letter (essential feature)

23d    Answers here grate? (4)
GRID: where, when you have finished, you will find the answers to this puzzle

25d    Throw out Vegemite sandwiches (4)
EMIT: hidden (sandwiches) inside the clue

Not one of my favourite puzzles.


26 comments on “Toughie 2323

  1. I am not feeling at all grumpy today but I agree with BD that this was rather underwhelming. A lot of it was not tough enough to be a Toughie and at the other extreme a few clues were over-complicated. I thought that 22d was a US term, or have we now incorporated it into our language on this side of the pond?

    I quite liked 17a, 6d & 9d.

    Thanks to Serpent and to BD.

  2. A big welcome to Serpent as the newest member of the Toughie setters’ club. I didn’t know that Serpent was aka Skipjack until reading the blog – it’s good to know that he’s another of our NTSPP graduates.

    I enjoyed the puzzle which I thought was pitched at just the right level for an early-in-the-week Toughie. There were several gimmes to get us going then some clever wordplay and cunning misdirections.

    I thought that it was light on obscurities (good) though I had to check with the BRB that 12a can be an undergarment (I was surprised to find it there as the first meaning).

    My podium has on it 26a, 4d and 17d. Thanks to Serpent and BD.

  3. Found this easier than the back page with, sadly, no stand out clues. Don’t think 12ac Is an undergarment. Usually it is worn over on top – but I see Gazza has discovered otherwise.

  4. Sorry to disagree with our blogger but I thought this was a great debut and pitched correctly for a Tuesday.
    Loved 11a, 19a, 21a and 9d amongst many others.

    Always look forward to a Serpent puzzle in the Indy and shall look forward to many more here.

    Thanks all.

  5. I didn’t find this particularly easy for a Tues Toughie – say 3.5/5, but at least all the surfaces made sense and there were some cunningly constructed clues [12a, 4d and, particularly 6d, my COTD]. Maybe too much Hattie Jacques on the telly as a kid but “nurses” always makes me giggle. Overall I thought it was a creditable debut. Thanks Serpent… and thanks BD for the blog.

  6. Had a bit of time on my hands so the toughie it was.
    I started well but came to a stop until I tuned in again and a steady solve thereafter.
    Last in was 19a,which I failed to parse-thanks BD..
    Favourite was 17d when the penny dropped, I remember reading the book many years ago.
    About a ***/*** for me and a good mix of clues, there was some over -complication but fair enough for a debut plenty of snakes and ladders!

  7. I’ve always struggled with Serpent’s wavelength and this was no exception -‘ hunt the definition’ gets a little wearing after a while.
    Not to worry, I’m pleased to see that others enjoyed his DT debut and variety is the spice etc.

    Congratulations to Serpent and thanks to BD for the review.

  8. I was a little concerned when I saw that Serpent was to provide a Toughie as his Indy puzzles are usually on the tricky side.

    However, I thought this was just right for a Tuesday Toughie in a time on the cusp between a hard back pager and what I’d hope for as a ‘easy’ Toughie. Average enjoyment so my rating would be 1*/3***

    Thanks to Serpent and welcome to the DT – thanks also to BD

  9. Not difficult as you would expect on a Tuesday but this exceptional setter gives a great lesson in how to make an easy puzzle clever and rewarding to parse.

    The criticism above is frankly bewildering. ‘Make merry a stretch’????

    It’s about as precise as you could get.

    1. You’ve changed your alias since your last comment so this one required moderation. Both aliases should work from now on.

          1. Thanks
            I’d forgotten about that. It was just a name I set a puzzle under years ago.

    2. To make merry, according to Chambers:

      1.To be festive
      2.To indulge in lively enjoyment
      3.To turn to ridicule (with with or over)

      Where does that mean inebriate, except as I explained in the hint? Unless, of course, your idea of fun is to drink too much.

      1. Many thanks to Big Dave for the comprehensive blog and to everyone who has taken the time to solve and comment on the puzzle.

      2. I would like to clarify one point. “Make merry” is the definition for INEBRIATE, not the other way round. And Chambers defines “inebriate” as “To make drunk”. So, “Make merry” is a pretty watertight definition for the answer, as David Thomas said.

          1. I’m sorry, I don’t understand what case you’re making. The essence of cryptic crosswords is deceptive surface readings. In the surface reading “Make merry” suggests to celebrate (the redrawing of borders with Europe), whereas the cryptic reading is a straight definition of to inebriate plus an anagram.

            1. I find these in-depth discussions about cryptic clues fascinating but, in this case and with the greatest respect, I don’t understand what you guys are arguing about? I read this (excellent) clue as a standard cryptic clue with a valid, two-word verbal definition (possibly a little obscure but not particularly “cryptic”), followed by some good cryptic word-play and with a smooth, relatively deceptive surface – just as described, but briefer, in the review above. You all seem to agree about that, in a somewhat convoluted/confused way, and I think that is the “case” BD is making.

      3. Are you serious?

        I thought you were an experienced solver.

        Merry is about a common a euphemism for drunk as we have in our language and there is absolutely no reason to expect phrasal definitions to appear in a dictionary.

        STOP DIGGING! (or blogging!)

        1. I’ve read this rather controversial thread and done much research and cogitation over it. My conclusion is that I can’t see any problem with any of the 4 definitions listed in the second paragraph at the top of this page. Perhaps you wouldn’t use them in a Monday back-pager, but they’re fine for a Toughie. That is my opinion – others are entitled to theirs.

          Just one point, the last line in your comment here is at best harsh, at worst rude (especially the capitals). Not necessary!

  10. We found this quite a bit trickier than most people are reporting and were held up for quite some time in the NW corner. especially 1d. A real penny-drop moment with 17d when we twigged that it wasn’t geographical.
    We enjoyed the solve.
    Thanks Serpent and BD.

  11. As a Tuesday Toughie setter, I was surprised to see that the editor had put Serpent in the same category as me, and we had some trouble solving it – we felt that it was more like a Thursday – but we did enjoy it, and I know how ‘tough’ it is, initially (indeed, probably forever) to meet the somewhat different parameters of a Toughie (the choice of vocabulary we use, the stress on less-obvious definitions, compared with the use of more comple wordplay that some of us – thematic cryptic setters – are used to using). As Dutch said to me at the weekend at John’s Sloggers and Betters event, anyone who puts all those hours into setting a crossword deserves our warm approval – Serpent has mine.

  12. Good stuff from Serpent that was pitched just right for the Tuesday slot. A step up from the back pager, but accessible and thoroughly enjoyable. More please!

  13. Totally forgot about the turnkey so 22d was left unsolved.
    Didn’t have access to my BRB and did wonder about some defs in 26a and 19a but the parsing led me to the answers.
    Thanks to Serpent and to BD.

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