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Toughie 2358

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!).

Across Clues

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.

Down Clues

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?

24 comments on “Toughie 2358

  1. There are a few puzzles to which I look forward, particularly towards the end of the crosswording year (and yes I am one of the few people who looks forward to the Christmas Double Toughie from Elgar) but another long-awaited highlight is the Micawber End of Year Special.

    The usual brilliance tied up in a not too tricky crossword – like Gazza I have too many clues marked for stardom, but the first one I marked was what my friend’s daughter when small would call the ‘Credible’ 13a

    Thanks to Micawber for the treat, Gazza for the blog and I’ll echo his New Year wishes

  2. A very enjoyable and not too challenging puzzle completed at a Toughie fast gallop – **/****.
    Candidates for favourite – 13a, 23a, and 13d – and the winner is 13d.
    Thanks to Micawber and Gazza.

  3. Absolutely brilliant. 5 star +. Impossible to pick a favourite but being led a merry dance was a big smile. I hope it does not have other connotations, politically.

    Thanks to Micawber (sorry for mixing you up this morning) and to Gazza. HNY. Now off to friends to continue the over-eating and drinking. I’m sure I’m getting too old for all this fun.

  4. This was not too tough but wonderfully enjoyable. How clever to pack in so many events from 2019, beautifully clued and with only two slightly dodgy words (1d & 4d).

    I am in the same boat as Gazza regarding 2d and put in the answer without understanding why it was right. I also needed Gazza’s explanation of the full parsing of 8d as I always seem to miss words like “needs” as an indication to remove something.

    Many thanks to Micawber for the fun and to Gazza for the review and detailed explanations.

  5. Always a joy to get a Micawber end of year special – the only surprise inclusions in this one being 13a & 2d which seemed to be very old hat for 2019.
    Podium places here went to 11,23 & 24a along with 14d.

    Thanks to Micawber for the fun and to Gazza for the review and explanations. Wishing a very happy New Year to both of you.

  6. I failed (ie needed the hints) on three of the 4 letter words otherwise I solved it, so am happy enough with that. I certainly echo Jane’s thoughts re 13a and 2d (two of my “failures”) but other than that a contemporary and witty delight. My joint favourites were 11a and 14d.
    Many thanks to Micawber, and to Gazza for the explanations.

  7. Lovely way to finish off the year – not too difficult but lots of fun to be had almost everywhere. Thanks to Micawber for the ‘end of year’ puzzle and to Gazza for his review.

    I would also like to echo Gazza’s wish for the New Year to you all. Have a good one.

  8. Brilliant!!

    Clever and thoroughly enjoyable, yet could be completed quickly with no delay to tonight’s festivities.

    Thanks to Micawber for the trip down memory-lane and to Gazza for the blog.

    Happy New Year to all!!

  9. My second de-lurk of the day!
    Marvellous entertainment from Micawber and nearly made it.. just a couple of hints required.. thanks to Gazza for blogging and the welcome earlier today.
    HNY to all.

    1. OK Micawber, you win! I should have known that you would be able to justify their appearances.
      So good to have you back compiling but hope that the new ‘day job’ is also going well?

    2. Thanks for looking in and the two explanations, Micawber. I should have remembered the ‘hulk’ remark from Boris.
      Happy New Year and I hope that we’ll see your puzzles more regularly in 2020.

  10. Simply brilliant. Loved it.
    I took 16a to refer to Brexit and 13d as an allusion to the Uber spat.
    I have no problem with the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, they are topical and quite enjoyable escapism, kudos to Micawber for including such an eclectic range in his review of the year.

    Thanks to BD for this site. Really helpful and such a nice community. Happy New Year to all

  11. I was back at work today and had to print the Cryptic and Toughie out from the puzzles site as the dead tree doesn’t arrive until after I have left for work. Anyway, I misread the top line and started this first and what a treat it was. loads of laughs and recollections and amusement to be had. 24a was LOI and needed a hint but the rest flowed well. Thanks to Gazza for explaining the references I had forgotten and to Micawber for a treat of a puzzle. better go see if I can finish the Cryptic which has been abandoned as I got into this delight.

  12. I don’t often venture into the toughie domain but so glad I did today. Beautifully clued with a real sense of achievement when solving them. Favourite for me, as I took so long to get the answer, was 17a. Changed my mind. It has to be 13d. Brilliant. Thanks to all, and Happy New Year.

  13. I’m not sure whether to confess this or not, but I had a wonderful time solving this. I finished in perfectly reasonable time (although I was held up briefly by one or two of the four letter words). I had a look for a possible nina around the edge of the puzzle. Imagine my surprise when I turned to the blog and discovered what was going on with the retrospective theme! (I did wonder why, for instance in 19a, it wasn’t Labouring rather than Labour). It was fun and enlightening to see the wit and cleverness of it all (and several of the references where unknown to me – such as the Arsenal coach). Thank you Micawber for a thoroughly enjoyable puzzle, and thank you Gazza for the enlightenment!

  14. About to leave the squirrels of Cleveland Square and make my way to the West End to enjoy the New Year celebrations.
    Been in London for a few days enjoying the rather mild weather for this time of year.
    Micawber was relatively easy to solve but some references eluded me.
    Thanks to him for the fun and to Gazza for all the explanations.
    Happy New Year to all.

  15. I’d just like to add my own appreciation, on top of all the other plaudits. Thanks to Gazza for the blog and to micawber for an ingeniously set puzzle which was an unalloyed joy to solve.

    Happy New Year to all who contribute here.

  16. Totally agree with others regarding the quality of this offering. Got within one clue of completion without recourse to the hints so an unaided Toughie finish is still an elusive commodity.
    Happy new year & solving decade to all.

  17. I have had a puzzle-free Xmas, but sought this out to do today as I definitely did not want to miss it. Loads to like of course. And much more pleasure reading Gazza’s blog to find additional depth I hadn’t spotted first time around. Like the toilet. How could I forget the toilet!

    Thanks, as always, Micawber
    Thanks, as always, Gazza

  18. Great puzzle-enhanced by the hints….
    liked 16A “exit — die being the alternative? (4)”

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