Toughie No 2358 by Micawber
Hints and tips by Gazza
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BD Rating – Difficulty ** – Enjoyment *****
This is Micawber’s customary year-end puzzle covering the events of the last 12 months and what a joy it is. Many thanks to Micawber (and thanks to BD for giving me the chance to blog it).
I was alerted by Wahoo’s comment on today’s back-pager to the fact that this puzzle has the significant characteristic of a proXimal puzzle – if this was deliberately engineered by Micawber then even more kudos to him but I suspect that it is just a happy coincidence.
May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous New Year.
Please leave a comment telling us how you fared and what you thought of it.
Updated 01/01/2020 to add (some of) the references that I missed on the day (Must do better!).
5a Backing for yellow vests securing popular gains (4)
WINS: the rearmost letters of yellow and vests contain an adjective meaning popular or trendy.
The ongoing protests by the gilets jaunes in France have secured some notable victories including the postponement of a fuel tax hike and tax cuts for low earners and pensioners.
7a It’s abrasive when football manager meets directors (5,5)
EMERY BOARD: charade of the recently sacked Arsenal head coach and company directors as a group.
9a Barnet seat Conservative’s held (4)
HAIR: remove an abbreviation for Conservative from a type of seat to leave what barnet is Cockney rhyming slang for.
Theresa Villiers (Conservative) retained her marginal seat in Chipping Barnet in the recent election.
10a ‘Money for nothing’ conceals question — Ukraine’s chief getting something in return? (4,3,3)
QUID PRO QUO: string together an informal word for a pound sterling, a preposition meaning ‘for’ or in favour of and the letter that resembles nothing. Now insert the single-letter abbreviation for question and the leading letter of Ukraine.
Allegedly President Trump demanded that the Ukraine leader provided some dirt on a possible election rival in return for US aid money.
11a Ulster politicians permitted ally’s ultimate betrayal? (9)
DUPLICITY: knit together one of the Northern Ireland political parties, an adjective meaning permitted or legal and the ultimate letter of ally.
The DUP got a billion pounds for supporting the Tory government but withheld their backing for Mrs May’s deal. They, in turn, were then shafted by Mr Johnson’s deal in spite of his promises to them.
13a Green fighter in prison? (4)
HULK: double definition, the second a permanently moored old ship once used as a prison.
In September Boris likened himself to the Incredible ****.
14a What Johnson is May to July? (5,8)
PRIME MINISTER: Mrs May was this until July.
16a Exit — die being the alternative? (4)
DOOR: split the answer 2,2 and it precedes die in an expression describing a determination not to fail.
I think this refers to Boris’s vow to die in a ditch rather than ask the EU for a further extension. Of course he sent the letter (but petulantly didn’t sign it) – the ditch is still waiting!
17a Only domestic produce available here — where can one buy ships? (5,4)
CRAFT SHOP: cryptically this is where you might go to buy a ship.
Defence contractor Babcock has been chosen as preferred bidder to supply the Royal Navy with five new frigates.
19a Northern town with Labour not returned (10)
WORKINGTON: a synonym of labour followed by the reversal of NOT.
Labour lost this seat to the Tories in the recent election.
22a Source of biometric data digital assistant turned over? (4)
IRIS: reverse the name of Apple’s digital assistant.
23a Conduct unprofitable business in travel, failing to understand (3,2,1,4)
RUN AT A LOSS: glue together a verb to travel or race and a phrase (2,1,4) meaning puzzled or failing to understand.
Thomas Cook went bust during the year.
24a A head mischief-maker evading charge (4)
EACH: remove a young mischief-maker from a verb to charge or indict.
The great tweeter will probably be able to evade the charge that he’s currently facing.
1d With green light to enter country, exercised rivalry around Syria’s borders (6)
VISAED: a verb meaning exercised rivalry contains the outer letters of Syria.
Trump betrayed his erstwhile allies the Kurds and gave the green light to the invasion of Syria by Turkey.
2d Judge backing up leaderless faction — they’re linked to Rebel Alliance (4)
JEDI: the abbreviation for judge precedes the reversal of a faction or wing without its leading letter.
Yet another in the interminable series of Star Wars films was released during the year. I can’t elucidate further because I’ve not watched any of them.
The Rebel Alliance was a term applied to the anti-Brexit Tories and representatives from Labour and other parties who formed a loose alliance to try to prevent a No Deal Brexit. The supreme court judges later unanimously rejected Boris’s bid to close down parliament for weeks to stop Brexit being debated.
3d Stokes’s last over — look at that individual performance! (4)
SOLO: assemble the last letter of Stokes, the cricket abbreviation for over and an exhortation meaning behold or ‘look at that’.
Ben Stokes almost single-handedly won the World Cup for England with an exciting final over.
4d Agitator ploughing Russian cash into Twitter’s extremists (8)
TROUBLER: insert the Russian currency between the outer letters of Twitter.
Russia has been accused of using social media to interfere in elections in the West.
6d With pressure involved, running Tories’ PR gets more difficult to handle (9)
STROPPIER: an anagram (running) of TORIES PR containing the abbreviation for pressure.
7d Risqué cracks on Conservative right-winger demanding title (7)
ESQUIRE: an anagram (cracks) of RISQUÉ followed by the right-hand letter of Conservative.
There are so many Tory right-wingers now that I’m not sure which one is being referred to, but Bernard Jenkin was made a knight in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Let me know if there were any risqué jokes about him (as long as they are not too risqué!).
8d Aspiring professional party needs skill to face both ways to preserve union (5)
YUPPY: remove the synonym for skill from the word ‘party’ and have what’s left facing both ways. Finally insert the abbreviation for union.
I don’t know which political party is being referred to – the DUP perhaps?
12d Sanchez ultimately in the hands of leaders of independence battle in autonomous Catalan-speaking territory (5)
IBIZA: insert the last letter of Sanchez into the first letters of ‘independence battle in autonomous’.
Apparently Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez needs to come to an agreement with Catalan separatists in order to form a stable government.
13d Use ride-sharing system? Problem with lift (5-4)
HITCH-HIKE: combine another word for a problem or snag and a verb to lift or increase.
In November the cab company Uber was refused a new licence to operate in London due to repeated safety failures.
14d Suspend professional prankster (8)
PROROGUE: join together an informal word for a professional and a prankster or rascal.
Our PM tried to shut down parliament for several weeks to avoid his ‘deal’ being scrutinised and was duly found guilty of doing it illegally and lying to the Queen by the supreme court.
15d Means and what they are said to justify, in support of elected leader of Tories (7)
INTENDS: what means are said to justify (4) is preceded by IN (elected) and the leading letter of Tories.
How our PM justified 14d.
17d Follow leader in a merry dance, losing in like 58 seats? (5)
CONGA: start with how a Tory win from other parties in the recent election was flashed up on the screen (3,4) and remove the trailing IN.
The Tories did win 58 seats from other parties.
18d After public relations initiative’s launch, November borders on catastrophe for royal (6)
PRINCE: stitch together the first letters of ‘public relations initiative’, the letter that November represents in the Nato Phonetic Alphabet and the outer letters of catastrophe.
The hapless Duke of York’s attempt to vindicate his behaviour in a TV interview in November backfired disastrously for him.
20d Hong Kong upset by an Asian leader (4)
KHAN: reverse the abbreviation for Hong Kong and append AN.
The ongoing protests in Hong Kong were originally caused by a decision of its Chief Executive.
21d Lifting toilet takes time, first, and specialist equipment (4)
TOOL: reverse an informal word for toilet and precede that with the abbreviation for time.
A gold toilet was stolen from Blenheim Palace leading to many jokes like ‘Police have nothing to go on’.
I have pretty much covered my sheet of paper with ticks. I’ll just mention a few from the across column – 9a, 11a, 19a and 24a. My favourite was a toss-up between 3d and 21d. How about you?