Toughie 2423 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 2423

Toughie No 2423 by Serpent

Hints and tips by Gazza

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BD Rating – Difficulty ***Enjoyment ****

Thanks to Serpent for a fun puzzle where the difficulties come from tricky wordplay rather than obscure vocabulary (just the way I like them). A few of the surface readings do relate to the current health problems.

Do leave a comment telling us how you fared and what you thought of the puzzle.

Across Clues

1a Head of college locks position for its senior staff (5)
CHAIR: the first letter of college and the sort of locks that one can’t get cut in these times of social distancing.

4a Old person somehow beginning to improve, right after avoiding hospital care (9)
GERIATRIC: an anagram (somehow) of I[mprove] RIG[h]T CARE. It makes a change to clue this word without referring to a Spice Girl.

9a Honour nurses taking risks lacking clothing related to treatment (9)
MEDICINAL: an honour or gong contains a present participle meaning ‘taking risks’ without its outer letters. Excellent surface covering the current shortage of PPE.

10a Winner has tea with politician (5)
CHAMP: join an informal word for tea and our usual elected politician.

11a Large spike in approval is preceded by brief career (7)
OBELISK: inside an informal term of approval (2) we have to put IS preceded by an informal verb to career or move swiftly without its last letter.

12a Hard Rock Cafe finally faced by one blocking subsidy (7)
GRANITE: the final letter of cafe is preceded by a subsidy or handout containing the Roman numeral for one.

13a Resented contest separating half of field (6)
ENVIED: a verb to contest or compete goes inside the second half of a verb to field (e.g. in the manner of a football player fielding a cross from an opposition corner kick).

15a Hound arts graduate that is cursed primarily with doctrinaire manner (8)
DOGMATIC: string together what a hound is a type of, an arts graduate and the primary letters of ‘that is cursed’.

18a Broadcaster is keen to provide accommodation for star (8)
ASTERISK: hidden in the clue.

20a Rasher guards last to observe warning signal (6)
BEACON: an edible rasher contains the last letter of observe.

23a Chat inanely following introduction of this platform (7)
TWITTER: a semi-all-in-one. The first letter of ‘this’ is followed by an informal verb to speak at length about nothing very important.

24a Fabulous animal that’s product of agricultural college? (7)
UNICORN: split the answer 3,4 and it could be a cryptic description of a strain of cereal developed at an agricultural college.

26a Cultured pearl is less vivid (5)
PALER: an anagram (cultured) of PEARL.

27a Concession opening shortly is hardly raising awareness (9)
SOPORIFIC: bolt together a synonym for concession and a general term for a bodily opening without its last letter.

28a Row about company call terminating early, ending in disarray (9)
CACOPHONY: assemble a 2-letter abbreviation for about or approximately, the abbreviation for company, a verb to call without its last letter and the final letter of disarray.

29a Good spirits falling short of ecstasy (5)
MORAL: a word meaning spirits or self-esteem without the abbreviation for the drug ecstasy.

Down Clues

1d Period drama’s central character subjected to no peer pressure (6,3)
COMMON ERA: the central letter of drama goes after someone who’s not a peer.

2d Go off with naked canoeist? (5)
ADDLE: remove the outer letters from a word for a canoeist (based on how he or she moves the canoe through the water).

3d Lie about copyright policy (7)
RECLINE: string together a preposition meaning about or concerning, the letter used in a copyright symbol and a synonym of policy or stance.

4d Growth of goods to eat in — passable when served up (6)
GINGKO: this is an deciduous Chinese tree. Two occurrences of the abbreviation for good contain IN. After that reverse a short adjective meaning passable but not great.

5d Faith in generalissimos restored after purging rebellious masses (8)
RELIGION: remove the unordered (rebellious) letters of MASSES from GENERALISSIMOS and make an anagram (restored) of what remains.

6d Triumph one’s driven to celebrate (7)
ACCLAIM: you probably have to be of a certain age (and not live abroad) to remember that this was the name of an undistinguished Triumph car in the early 1980s.

7d Pragmatic article is in need of editing (9)
REALISTIC: an anagram (in need of editing) of ARTICLE IS.

8d Policemen reported rather sticky situation? (5)
COPSE: if ever a clue was deserving of its question mark this one is! What sounds like an informal word for police officers (NB not policemen in this day and age) could very cryptically be a stick-y (or wood-y) location.

14d Break up civil riot expressing considerable bitterness (9)
VITRIOLIC: an anagram (break up) of CIVIL RIOT.

16d Cycling picture screened by commercial channel is authorised (9)
CANONICAL: cycle the letters of a religious picture contained inside a channel used (mainly in the past) for commerce or the transportation of goods and materials.

17d President stops oil company producing black fluid (8)
ESPRESSO: an abbreviation for president goes inside the trading name of a US oil company (the name coming from the initial letters of Standard Oil). A very perceptive clue since the US oil price has recently gone below zero for the first time in history.

19d Two artists quietly drinking dry type of gin (3,4)
RAT TRAP: two occurrences of our usual recognised artist’s abbreviation and the musical abbreviation for quietly contain the letters used for dry or ‘on the wagon’.

21d Gnome mounted horse to cross gorge (7)
EPIGRAM: reverse a female horse and insert a verb to gorge or overeat.

22d Outfit with a fluid approach (6)
SUPPLY: double definition, the first a verb to provide with equipment.

23d Dispenser of alcohol has raised tense issue (5)
TOPIC: raise the abbreviation for tense in a device for dispensing a standard measure of alcohol.

25d Tender assassin? (5)
OFFER: double definition, the second deriving from a US slang verb to kill.


I ticked 18a, 1d and 17d but my favourite has to be 9a. Which one(s) earned your acclaim?

17 comments on “Toughie 2423
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  1. Lots to enjoy in this proper Toughie – thank you Serpent – my favourite definition was the ‘rather sticky’ in 8d

    I was held up a bit in the NE by the fact that I spell 4d with the K before the G which of course meant that I couldn’t solve 11a for ages

    Thanks also to Gazza

  2. The theme helped me get the last few in the SE.
    Asterix, Obelix, Geriatrix, Dogmatix, Soporifix, Cacophonix, even perhaps (Age) Canonix in 16d are all characters in the comic books of the first listed.
    Made me laugh.
    Thanks to Serpent and to Gazza.

      1. I suppose it’s a very French thing even if the names vary from one country to another.
        I forgot to mention Vitriolix and not too sure that one is called Realistix but it would make it very symmetrical on the grid.
        Agecanonix is the equivalent to Geriatrix in France.

  3. As always seems to be the case for me with this setter, it was a tough and not much fun overall.

    For his last Toughie, I wrote: “A curate’s egg for me, which, if I remember correctly, was my comment last time I tried a Serpent puzzle. I enjoyed parts but had quite a few hmms. Similarly I found parts quite straightforward to solve and parts very tough. Thanks to Serpent and to BD”.

    The only change I need to make this time is to substitute Gazza for BD, and I will add my huge disappointment that Chambers seems to think that “outfit” can be used as a verb. 👎

  4. Another fun puzzle. I agree with Gazza that 8d [and 6d] are somewhat “groan-worthy”. No peer pressure in 1d also raised a smile but I think “growth” for a definition in 4d is a tad unkind.

    Thanks to Serpent and Gazza and to J-LC for identifying the theme which is so obvious once you know it’s there but which I completely failed to see.

  5. An enjoyable puzzle with only low-level GK which could be worked out fairly easily from the cryptic. The Triumph car brought back some memories as it was one of the first Japanese British cars. Shortly before that (c1978) my family had bought a Toyota after years of (pretty awful) British cars. My mother was delighted because it was an “easy starter” – my father and I were fairly proficient at adjusting a manual choke according to the engine sound but my mother just could not, and would end up cursing the car like a Basil Fawlty. But the Toyota would start first turn of the key every time in any weather. Whatever next, cars that don’t rust?
    Like CS I liked 8d “sticky situation” best as it took a while to realize before lots of laughter – I was starting to think the answer was an obscure gum or resin. I have no knowledge of Asterix so the theme went above my head – but at least it was not necessary to complete the puzzle
    Thanks to Serpent an Gazza

  6. It would seem that, like RD, I am destined never to gel with this setter – perhaps in this instance it would have helped if I’d had the first clue about the comics mentioned by JL.
    On the plus side, I did laugh at the description of 23a and I liked 24a.

    Thanks to Serpent for his efforts and to Gazza for the parsing of a couple where I’d eventually settled for just slotting in the answer.

  7. Some tricky cluing today and some iffy ones ,agree with Gazza with 8d which was really pushing it and 25d which was a new americanism and should somehow have a US hint.
    Apart from these two ‘grumbles’ I enjoyed the puzzle and agree with a ***/****.
    Hard to pick a favourite, liked 21d and 17d for its surface., as Gazza says 9a was most apt.

  8. Enjoyed this a lot and now I see there’s a theme! Brilliant! I can’t believed i missed it, my excuse is that i did the puzzle in the early morning hours.

    Particularly liked 9a and plenty more, including the cultured pearl

    Many thanks Serpent and Gazza

  9. Thank you, Jean-Luc!! What a discovery. Even though I finished this amazing Serpent Toughie, I failed to parse so many (there were five that I simply bunged in) that I’m ashamed of myself. Lots of electronic help needed to finish this extraordinary gem. Well, I guess there’s no shame, really, in such an endeavor when one meets his maker as I did. Thank you, Serpent, for the gift and Gazza for the very helpful hints. **** / *****

  10. …and thank you jean-luc from me as well. I had missed the theme when solving, but with j-l’s help I hugely enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane (I think I even have the set still somewhere). I also very much enjoyed the puzzle and its absence of heavy doses of GK. It all flowed relatively smoothly with the exception of the SE quadrant which took me a good time to find an entry point. Many thanks to Serpent and Gazza.

  11. Thanks to Gazza for an excellent blog. Thanks also to everyone who has taken the time to solve and comment on the puzzle. The inspiration for the puzzle was the recent death of Alberto Uderzo, one of the two people behind the Asterix series.

  12. Totally missed the ghost theme. Very clever it is too.
    Struggled with a few. One of those was 6d as Gazza predicted above.
    Plenty to keep us smiling and chuckling.
    Thanks Serpent and Gazza.

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