Toughie 2386 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 2386

Toughie No 2386 by Serpent

Hints and tips by Big Dave

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BD Rating – Difficulty **Enjoyment **

I am not a fan of obscure words, like the potpourri in 15d, but at least it was clued unambiguously so the alternative spelling, which involved its unchecked final letter, was not an issue. I am even less keen on the use of foreign words in UK puzzles, particularly like the swede in 17d, which lacked any indication of it being American.

Please leave a comment telling us what you thought.


8a    Charity worker on strike (7)
HANDOUT: a four-letter worker followed by a word meaning on strike

10a    After losing case, tyrant has to employ advocate (7)
ESPOUSE: start with a tyrant, drop (losing) his outer letters (case) and add a verb meaning to employ

11a    Callous crime ransacked bar (9)
MERCILESS: an anagram () of CRIME followed by a word meaning bar or

12a    Flock initially caused damage (5)
CHARM: the collective noun for a flock of goldfinches is derived from the initial letter of C[aused] followed by a verb meaning to damage or hurt


13a    Police officer impounds stolen material covering sensitive areas (5)
DHOTI: a senior police detective around a colloquial word for stolen

14a    Beginning to develop new way to go up in the world (7)
NASCENT: N(ew) followed by a way up

17a    Curse felon’s ruse to change desirable property (15)
RESOURCEFULNESS: an anagram (to change) of CURSE FELON’S RUSE

19a    Letter from abroad captures skilful pictorial representation (7)
TABLEAU: put a letter in the Greek alphabet around (captures) an adjective meaning skilful

21a    Setter related to Serpent? (5)
ASPIC: two definitions a savoury jelly and an archaic word (that’s why there is a question mark) for a snake that is related to a serpent

24a    Advertise footwear protecting back of legs (5)
BOOST: some footwear around (protecting) the final letter (back) of [leg]S

26a    Uncertainty following start of dispute with union is spreading (9)
DIFFUSION: a two-letter word indicating uncertainty is preceded by the initial letter (start) of D[ispute] and followed by a union or merger

27a    Seize two principal assets of greedy tech company (7)
GRAPPLE: the first two letters (principal assets) of GR[eedy] followed by a tech company

28a    Wife has to eat again outside tent? (3,4)
RED WINE: W(ife) inside a word meaning to eat a meal again – tent is an alcoholic drink from Spain


1d    Harmonised short anthem penned by revolutionary (6)
RHYMED: most of (short) a four-letter anthem inside (penned by) a revolutionary

2d    Very large portion of chicken or moussaka (8)
ENORMOUS: hidden (portion of) inside the clue

3d    Care about first person to enter retirement (10)
SOLICITUDE: the single-letter Latin abbreviation for about and the fist person subjective pronoun inside (to enter) retirement or seclusion

4d    Represent someone myself — that’s provided for everything (9)
PERSONIFY: start with an adverb meaning from my point of view and insert a two-letter word meaning provided instead of ALL (everything)

5d    Impressive online image? (4)
EPIC: a prefix meaning online followed by an image

6d    Perhaps select pictures for office in religious establishment (6)
CURATE: two definitions

7d    Social workers‘ brief ultimately failed to protect child (8)
TERMITES: an adjective meaning brief without its final letter (ultimately failed) around (to protect) a colloquial word for a child

9d    Post on social media that’s short and sweet (4)
TWEE: most of (short – again!) a post on a specific social media platform

15d    Exotic island bordering Guam distributed potpourri (10)
SALMAGUNDI: An anagram (exotic) of ISLAND around an anagram (distributed) of GUAM gives this obscure word for a potpourri

16d    Villain misled counsel about daughter whose body’s disappeared (9)
SCOUNDREL: an anagram (misled) of COUNSEL around D[aughte]R without her inner letters (whose body has disappeared)

17d    Swede’s routine win accepted by driving club (8)
RUTABAGA: to get this unindicated American word for a swede a three-letter routine is followed by a colloquial verb meaning to win inside a club for car drivers

18d    Trade fair has allowed for nothing specific (8)
EXPLICIT: stat with a four-letter trade fair and replace the O (nothing) with an adjective meaning allowed

20d    Large plant beginning to bottle four different types of claret (6)
BAOBAB: the initial letter of (beginning to) B[ottle] followed by four different blood groups (types of claret)

22d    Transport company resent moving base south (6)
CONVEY: CO(mpany) followed by a verb meaning to resent with the letter that represents the base of natural logarithms moved down (south in a down clue) two places

23d    African expedition exposed overseas, perhaps (4)
AFAR: start with an African expedition and drop (exposed) its outer letters

25d    What covers individual’s head? (4)
TOPI: An individual preceded by (covers) head or first

Sorry, no smiles so no favourite clue.  There is a Nina which utilises the unchecked letters in the top and bottom rows and may have been a factor in the use of some of the obscurities.


32 comments on “Toughie 2386

  1. I thought that this was a bit tougher than usual for a Tuesday (I spent ages trying to make 26a work as an anagram before the penny dropped) and I enjoyed it. We have had both 15d and 17d before (which didn’t mean that I remembered how to spell them!).
    Unusually for me I did notice the Nina.
    The clues I ticked were 10a (nice surface), 21a (I didn’t know it was an old word for a snake – I took it to be a cryptic definition meaning ‘like the compiler’) and 20d.
    Thanks to Serpent and BD.

    1. I prefer to think of the second definition of 21a as relating to the 3 letter Egyptian cobra rather than an archaic snake per se, so I agree with your original assumption!

        1. I think that aspic cryptically could mean related to an asp in the same way that, for example, atomic means related to an atom.

            1. OTHELLO Act 3 Scene 3
              Oh, that the slave had forty thousand lives!
              One is too poor, too weak for my revenge.
              Now do I see ’tis true. Look here, Iago,
              All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven.
              ‘Tis gone.
              Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!
              Yield up, O love, thy crown and hearted throne
              To tyrannous hate! Swell, bosom, with thy fraught,
              For ’tis of aspics’ tongues!

  2. Unusually for a Tuesday we have an actual 3* Toughie – possibly one for lovers of collective nouns, one of my favourite appearing in 12a, and unusual words, all of which on this occasion I knew and didn’t have to turn to the BRB. I’ve actually got a very nice recipe for a meat 15d. Add to that a Nina I noticed and I am quite a happy solver.

    Thanks to Serpent and BD

  3. Hmm. I found this to be a 6d’s egg. A lot of the clues were easily solved but I got the feeling that the setter used the Giovanni technique of introducing obscurities in order to try to make it a Toughie.

    I’m not particularly keen on rhyme = harmony nor bar = less; and isn’t 6d the officer rather than the office?

    Thanks to Serpent and to BD.

  4. This seemed to be a puzzle where the difficulty is entirely due to the use of obscure vocabulary and GK. In my case there were 11 words (in answers or clues) I either didn’t know at all or are buried in remote parts of the memory. I failed to answer 20d and for 15d I could not uniquely fit the two anagrams as I had never heard of the word.

    Thanks to BD and Serpent

  5. I keep trying to get along with this setter’s puzzles but regret to say that I’m not winning thus far.
    Apologies, Serpent, I do indeed respect your abilities – obviously just fall short when it comes to getting onto your wavelength!

    Thanks for the challenge and thanks also to BD for the review.

  6. I failed miserably with this one. I am glad I threw the towel in when I did, as there were some I never would have got.
    It would be unfair of me to rate a puzzle that I could not complete, however thanks to Serpent for the challenge, and to BD for the explanations.

  7. I am going for a ***/*** today, I too was not convinced with less for bar in11a but my old Chambers says bar is a synonym for less so wrong as usual !
    Thanks to BD for the four clarets in 20d I had the answer but the parsing alluded me, had a 2007 pommerol a few days ago-bliss.
    liked 21a for the setter, which worked on several levels.
    Nice to see Ming again Remembered when Ming the merciness Cambell slew Flash Gordon Brown.

  8. Solved without knowing who the setter was but kept thinking, ‘I bet this is a setter I like’ and so it proved!

    16d is today’s favourite for a great surface and disguise. Also worth a mention are 19 and 27a among many other enjoyable clues.

    Thank you Serpent and sorry you didn’t like it BD

  9. This beat me. Or rather I let it beat me when I couldn’t work out the whys and wherefores of too many clues. 20d being a case in point. I don’t think I would ever have sorted that one. My total number of unaided Nina spots remains at Zero. My Grandson Ethan is snuggled up to me with an apple. We are watching Peppa Pig. Oh deep joy. Thanks to Serpent and Big Dave.

  10. Took some time to realise that claret was blood. Great penny drop moment.
    Was trying so hard to put Chimed in 1d. That Che Guevara has a lot to answer for.
    The Nina helped getting 25d. Never keen on crypticy clues.
    Lots of great constructions and misdirections.
    Enjoyed the solve immensely.
    Thanks to Serpent and to BD.

  11. Well I like this setter. Fair, well-constructed clues with decent surfaces. Are 15d and 17d really that obscure compared with words used by many other DT setters? 15d is one of those funny-familiar words and 17d is well-known to any Zappa fan! S/he seems particularly adept at substitution clues and I especially liked 4d once the penny dropped. 20d also raised a smile.

    Thanks to Serpent and BD.

    1. I saw Frank Zappa at the Empire Pool Wembley (now Wembley Arena) on September 14th 1973. What a great gig and what a great guitarist he was.

  12. Stumped by some words that were beyond my vocab in the SW corner (17d, 20d and 25d). Also wasn’t aware that tent was a red wine but managed anyway. Failings out the way I actually enjoyed the rest although it was slow going for me today. Thanks to Serpent and BD.

  13. I had an unusual day. I kept being interrupted whilst simultaneously attempting the Toughie and Pasquale’s Guardian puzzle; I finished the latter first. I had met all the solutions before but failed to spot the Nina top and bottom. The last light to complete was 22d; it had to be what it was yet it took time to parse, the little grey cells were struggling!

  14. Well I got there in the end but not without electronic help, how else is one supposed to find words one’s never heard of? 15d, 17d and 25d. I had heard of 19a but never knew what it meant. I parsed/justified most of the clues correctly although 5d I took to be like email and I’d never heard of the first definition of 6d but I have now along with the others. So I found this harder that BD but I would wouldn’t I. Having said that I still enjoyed this and a number of the answers made laugh. Favourite was 12a which I had long before the penny dropped. Many thanks to Serpent and BD, I always read the hints even if just to check the parsings.

  15. Many thanks to Big Dave for the blog and to everyone who has been kind enough to leave a comment.

  16. Struggled with this. Three completely new words (15d, 17d and the tent as wine), and didn’t get 22d. Moving the letter an imprecise amount is too tough for me. I ended up with canoes, which I couldn’t parse, but that’s not all that unusual for a toughie. Thanks to BD for the enlightenment, and to serpent for the brain taxing!

  17. Thanks, Big Dave — especially for the tip-off about 15d in the intro, which saved me wasting any time on it. I started well, so had hopes of being able to get reasonably far with this, but in the end needed quite a few hints to finish.

    The 17d word for a swede is actually found in many British kitchens — it appears in the ingredients list on Branston pickle jars! The OED labels it as “Now chiefly US”, so maybe that ‘chiefly’ permits not marking it as foreign?

    As well as all the words that others didn’t know, I was also somehow unaware of the ‘allowed’ in the 18d wordplay — even though I’m quite familiar with its negation, apparently it’d’ve never occurred to me to think what it was the opposite of.

  18. Away from home so posting a day late. Like CS I came across 15d in a cookery book and had heard of 12d. It is an ingredient in Branston pickle ……just checked, it’s there in microscopic print.
    Not a very enjoyable puzzle with an easy to spot Nina so, why didn’t I?

  19. Didn’t enjoy this at all. Agree with above comments about obscurity, and although I twigged that claret meant blood, didn’t get the answer. Can you tell me the four different types are please Serpent?

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