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Toughie 2497

Toughie No 2497 by Elgar

Hints and tips by crypticsue

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

I found some of the clues in this proper Friday Toughie were on the friendly side which enabled me to get going in the corners of the grid (the NW corner being the most straightforward). This was more than made up for by some of the rest, the parsing of which took a fair bit of muttering and scribbling on bits of paper to see how the various parts of the wordplay worked.

This is Elgar’s Toughie 156. As I always say, it is possible to solve the crossword without any idea of a theme related to this number and that is indeed the case today. As Elgar said, the whole number thing is more for his own amusement than ‘the solver must find the theme or else’. Let’s face it, if you hadn’t found BD’s blog, you’d never know anything about number-related themes. I’ve got a couple of theories but I’ll see if other commenters can come up with better ideas than me before I add my thoughts

In the hints below, the definitions are underlined. The answers are hidden under the click here buttons, so don’t click if you don’t want to see them. I have a fair idea what the ‘usual comments’ will be on this one, but hopefully one or two people will surprise me.


1a    Trek up a track (6)
ASCENT A (from the clue) and a track left by an animal perhaps, enabling it to be followed

4a    Sorry barman has nothing left to give deviant (8)
ABNORMAL An anagram (sorry) of BARMAN with O (nothing) and the abbreviation for Left

9a    Connery’s The King of Fairies? (6)
ELVISH How someone with an accent like Sean Connery might refer to ‘the King’

10a    Refuse to bottle cool pop? This keeps one thinking (8)
BRAINPAN Another word for the cranium (where the part of the body that does the thinking is kept). The husks of grain (refuse) into which is inserted (to bottle) the two-letter word meaning fashionable and another informal word for father (pop)

12a    Python disinclined to move? (4)
IDLE We had a Monty Python reference in yesterday’s Toughie too – the surname of one of the members can also be a verb meaning disinclined to move

13a    Tongue of thief a king received … (5)
ARGOT A (from the clue), the Latin abbreviation for king and a synonym for received produces some slang originally used by thieves and vagabonds

14a    … not his father stealing pouches … (4)
HERS Hidden in (pouches) fatHER Stealing

17d    … for king’s ransom prince turned over two chaps — their feet bound, say (2,3,3,1,3)
AN ARM AND A LEG A reversal (turned over) of a Rajput prince followed by two chaps, the second one reversed so that the last letters (feet) bound or lie next two each other, and then the abbreviation meaning for example (say)

20d    Hospital revolutionised Gulf capital city (5,7)
SANTA BARBARA An abbreviated hospital and a reversal (revolutionised) of a word describing the states in the Gulf and the capital city of Morocco

23a    Number one in front changes for it (4)
HEAD  Change the first (number one) letter of a way of saying in [the]front

24a    Salted mutton or salted pork? Choice of Master, not Bachelor (5)
MACON Surely that’s red wine? The BRB informed me that, with a small M, it’s salted mutton. Take some salted pork and change the first letter from a B (not Bachelor) to an M (master)

25a    I agree about installing cross with it (4)
SEXY A reversal (about) of a way of saying I agree into which is inserted (installing) the letter that looks like a cross

28a    Run on which jim-dandy cargo gets across river? (8)
RAILROAD The abbreviation for Run in cricket scoring, a top class (jim-dandy means fine or excellent) cargo, the latter going across the abbreviation for river

29a    Was mum swallowing entertainer’s most common sword? (6)
TOLEDO If you were mum, you would have stayed silent or ‘said’ ‘nothing’ – another way of saying this into which is inserted the most common letter in EntErtainEr

30a    Retrospective series in The Times: ‘Oyster Park‘ (8)
YOSEMITE Hidden in reverse (a retrospective series) in thE TIMES OYster

31a    Director’s cut daughter’s viewed in corner (6)
ANGLED Cut or leave off the final letter of a Taiwanese-American film director (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility) and replace with the abbreviation for Daughter


1d    & 2 Down Styling Cavalier up front with Mini, car forms conflict (8,5,3)
AMERICAN CIVIL WAR An anagram (styling) of CAVALIER W (with) MINI CAR

2d    See 1 Down

3d    Leg raised, can it feed? (4)
NOSH A reversal (raised) of one leg or side of a cricket pitch followed by an instruction to be quiet (can it)

5d    Hearing character’s life story in smart club (6,6)
BURTON ALBION Insert into a verb meaning to sting or smart, an adjective relating to the character of hearing and an abbreviated life story

6d    ‘I get it!’, I do finally state (4)
OHIO An interjection meaning I get it!, I (from the clue) and the final letter of dO

7d    This Nanny magically does penance with hymn (6)
MCPHEE A compound anagram (magically does) of PENANCE with HYMN produces NANNY plus her surname – she apparently has magical powers but I’ve managed so far to get away without either reading the books or watching the films

8d    Woolly beasties on all lines northbound (6)
LANOSE If, like me, you know this word meaning woolly, it is quite easy to spot it heading northbound in beastiES ON ALl

11d    Gradually stop hating old art — view it in new light (5,2,1,4)
GRIND TO A HALT An anagram (view it in new light) of HATING OLD ART

15d    Oil applied in early baptism after swap? (5)
SMEAR Take the first three letters of EARly and the final two of baptiSM and do as the clue says, swap them  As Wahoo says, if you swap the words EARLY and BAPTISM, the solution can be found ‘inside’

16d    In the Krays’ Manor, you’ve got to act tough and brave (5)
BEARD Brave here is a verb meaning to oppose resolutely – in East London (the Kray Twins’ manor where Cockney might be spoken) you would have ‘to act’ a synonym of tough without its H

18d    I grow wild with a rebel Lord’s caresses … (8)
HAREBELL Hidden in (caressed by) witH A REBEL Lord’s

19d    … the state of his wife Marian after marrying Locksley? (8)
LADYHOOD Robin of Locksley was a Lord so after Marian married him, she could call herself ….

21d    Stray reserved seats for a drink (6)
SHERRY A verb meaning to stray or sin is inserted into (seats) an adjective meaning reserved

22d    Turned up fraud injecting on-the-spot mood-changers (6)
MANICS A reversal (turned up) of a fraud into which is inserted (injecting) an adverb meaning on the spot

26d    Adjusting device that runs on both halves of 28 (4)
TRAM A device for adjusting or aligning a piece of machinery can also be an electrically-powered vehicle which runs on the first half of 28a on the second half of 28a

27d    One occupant of English (or 1 Down?) throne room (4)
JOHN One of the occupants of the English throne or what a 1d would call the ‘throne room’, where throne is an informal term for the lavatory

Lots of cleverly sneaky wordplay, with several d’oh moments and several clues that made me smile, my favourite of which is 27d

49 comments on “Toughie 2497

  1. I thought that Elgar was being rather more generous than usual with his ‘gimmes’ today but once those were out of the way it was the usual slow but steady progress for me with the SW corner putting up the stoutest resistance.

    I ticked 25a, 3d and 19d but favourite has to be the LOL 9a.

    Thanks to Elgar for the enjoyment and to CS for explaining it all.

  2. I’m overcome with admiration for anyone who finished this puzzle. Elgar always terrifies me so I wasn’t surprised to only solve 2 or 3 clues. Words I’d never heard of and, even with CS’s hints, parsing I just do not understand. Perhaps one day?

  3. I guessed my last few but could not parse (eg 7d) – I suppose that makes it another Elgar DNF
    Nice challenge all the same so thanks to Elgar and CS
    Hang in there, JB

  4. Well Sue I found 5 on the friendly side then switched to the Graun for yesterday’s (liked 7d) & today’s cryptics. May return to see if I can extract a few more teeth…..

  5. Another planet from mine, a puzzle by Elgar and a review from crypticsue, though I did manage to complete a bit over half of today’s Toughie, probably the best I’ve yet done on an Elgar. I finished the NW corner completely and then bits and pieces elsewhere, but nothing in the SE, alas. There were five or six answers I would never, in this lifetime, have arrived at, and so there’s some comfort in that. I did like all the long answers, except for the B.A. club, which I simply couldn’t remember, and I also liked 30a. Thanks to Elgar and CS. 5*/5*

  6. Managed to complete it but with quite a few bung-ins and google to check some words and even then a few I didn’t or couldn’t be bothered to fully parse, so thanks CS for explaining , e.g. 17a which was a write in from the lettering and checkers but would have taken ages to parse and again, what now looks obvious “can it” in 2d and “said zero” in 29a.

    Isn’t 15d just “swap” the whole words and then you’ll see the answer “in”.

    Thanks to Elgar for being generous with some relatively “easier” ones to get started and to CS.

    Oh, the significance of 156? No idea!

    1. So it is – after a while the brain is so boggled, you can’t see let alone explain the obvious

  7. After 2 hours I’ve done 4 of these little puzzles [the remainder of the SE corner will have to wait]. It seems less gimmicky than Elgar’s usual and all the better for that. A couple of crackers at 3d and 29a but no sign of a theme yet.

  8. Interesting as always to read the review alongside the puzzle itself but no point in kidding myself that I’ll ever be in Elgar’s league. To be honest, I’ve no real ambition to be there anyway!

    Many thanks for the time you’ve taken to produce the review, CS, pleased to hear that you found it a decent challenge.

  9. Typical of recent Elgar’s, alas. Obscure vocabulary, definitions that only exist in the BRB and clues that don’t quite work.
    I used to be able to solve his puzzles, but had to work hard at it. Now they seem to be designed as a challenge to the bloggers with no real hope for amateur enthusiasts.
    Difficulty 7*, enjoyment 2*.
    Come on Elgar, quit the rivalry with Dutch, and set some crosswords for people who aren’t professional solvers.

    1. Thank you Coatweazel, I agree totally. I managed about three quarters of the puzzle after several hours and that is just barmy. I have resolved to ignore Elgar’s concoctions henceforth; it’s not fun any more.

      1. It just seems that these puzzles are set out to challenge you, an acknowledged master solver, not mere mortals. It’s like you’re having a crossword duel every second Friday.

        1. Nah, I’m pretty slow, it takes me quite a while to get my head round an elgar. But I like accuracy, and since the Friday toughie slot was the only one available when I offered to blog, I have the advantage of having been compelled to explain quite a few elgar puzzles over the years. Practice helps. Sometimes I think I’m on wavelength, most of the time I don’t!
          Thank you, very flattering

  10. Yes, we find them no longer enjoyable. Seems like Elgar is just showcasing his superior knowledge which isn’t what crosswords are for! Very disappointing.

  11. As expected Elgar continues to be an acquired taste and not for me. I went for a 6d very early on after getting the easy lurkers and anagrams. When the answers include Santa Barbara and Burton Albion I throw the towel in. I still cannot understand how Macon and Railroad relate to the clues’ surfaces. Bring back Micawber! Cheers for the hard work in parsing this one but the answers and explanations failed to tickle my sense of humour.

  12. OK done now! Last in was 27d with a large guffaw, even tho’ [and here I sympathise with Coatweazel and Kiwiman] the clue certainly isn’t ‘fair” in the Ximenean sense. Nor is there an obvious definition for 28a, nor is the enumeration for 19d correct as given in the paper [4,4]. But still a lot of head-scratching fun. 9a was a hoot, even if we’ve seen something like it before – poor Sean.
    Thanks to CS and Elgar
    Does anyone have any idea of the relevance, if any, of 156? Surely we should be told!

    1. I do not know of the relevance or significance of the number 156 and I don’t care.

  13. Much the hardest since the Toughie has been available on the iPad. Wouldn’t have made it without being able to check the answers. Even then took us an hour.

  14. Having posted earlier, I’m pleased to see my initial reaction to this puzzle is reflected in other comments. The expression ‘Too clever by half” sadly keeps coming to mind and I think this is a great shame. Big Dave has said that a difficult puzzle should also have light hearted moments. I do so agree with him. Where is the fun in this offering?

      1. Not really. I was too sure the answer was, without any proof, Oberon! Wasn’t there something wicked a while ago referring to Sean Connery’s hairpiece? Incredible to think he is 90 years old.

  15. I’m back, after reading through all the comments since I posted earlier today. Just a couple of things: why is ‘san’ an abbreviation for ‘hospital’ and how is one to know if the clue doesn’t suggest as much? There’s a great deal of anxiety and just plain aggravation among dedicated solvers about Elgar’s puzzles, obviously. Might it be possible for Thursday Toughies to offer a second puzzle, one in addition to Elgar’s? And then the “professional solvers” (which is what I’ve been calling them for months–in my mind) can have their cake and eat it too. (I imagine that the logistics of doing that, however, are simply unfathomable.) And what is the definition for 28a? CS’s clue doesn’t say in her hints: how is one to know what one is looking for, if there is no ‘defining word or phrase’?

    1. San is short for sanitarium – a hospital for the treatment of long-term chronic conditions.

        1. I meant Friday Toughies above. My mind was fixed on Thursday nights, which is when I attempt Friday’s Toughies.

  16. There’s an LVI = 56 in 9a and a C symmetrically above. That’s the best I can offer. I said it before and I’ll say it one last time: it would be nice if the compiler’s name appeared in the online versions.

  17. Thanks cs. You say definitions are underlined but quite a few are not. And of course in 7d the definition is only “this nanny”. You haven’t explained 156. I’ll leave it there for now. Love light and peace.

  18. I didn’t find this as difficult as some recent Elgars, and just about completed it.
    Failed only on MACON, which I’ve just checked via google, it’s a portmanteau word from mutton and bacon. I only knew of the wine. I had bunged in JAMON, but I was pretty certain it was wrong.
    To those who have complained about Elgar’s puzzles, I used to be in the same boat, but now I can nearly finish them. Persevere.

    To crypticsue, I liked the photo of the Edinburgh trams. It reminds me that my Council Tax helped to pay for them.

  19. Enjoyment levels for Elgar’s last two Toughies have sadly plummeted for me, as they have taken even more time than usual, with rather too much obscure wordplay such as 29a and 22d. I got 16d completely wrong today, and would never have worked out the solution. After researching the Krays’ addresses I found out that they lived at Cedra Court in 1964, which fitted, although I couldn’t parse it !! As ever there were plenty of ingenious clues, such as 20a and 19d, which I did appreciate. (Incidentally if Graham Garden was ever ennobled as a Lord, would his wife also use her corresponding title ?!?!!) I hesitate to criticise Elgar’s puzzles, as they are so clever and original, but from other solvers’ experience as well as mine I think he needs to bear in mind that people will turn off if it takes too long to work out too many of the answers, just as I never attempt Mephisto crosswords in the Sunday Times, because it takes me too much time to research lots of words I don’t know ! (I persevered with one once, but gained no satisfaction from completing it.) I will persist with Elgar, though !

  20. Before anyone comments further about the difficulty of this puzzle, please remember that the key word is “Toughie”, allegedly the hardest puzzle in Fleet Street. Just because some Toughies are more Floughies doesnt mean that all of them should be.

    1. Hear, hear!

      Demands for a second Toughie when Elgar (or the harder setters) are on duty are just non-starters – why not ask for a Monday Toughie and that may realign things? In theory, with the Friday one, you have three days until the next one – there was talk of a Sunday one but that has possibly gone on the back burner.

      Elgar’s puzzles often ask you to make an extra leap that many other setters don’t, but they are ALWAYS absolutely fair, no matter how you want to argue. No rules are broken though some may be bent into knots. From the very first Enigmatist Guardian puzzle back in the day, they have always been a challenge and scrupulously fair, which is why John is admired and respected by almost all of his contemporaries.

      There is a solving progression where newer setters start with the Monday puzzles in most of the papers to give a gentle introduction. I think the idea came from the fact that the first commute of the week was always difficult, so the editors adoped the unwritten rule that the puzzle for the journey ought to be something straight-forward (as they perceived their target audience was those people). Nowadays the solving progression is more along the papers chosen for solving – people start with the tabloids such as the Daily Heil and Express (I started with the Mail cryptic a hundred or so years ago but with the encouragement of Gilbert Burrows my Latin master, I switched to the Guardian and Telegraph and developed the bug). Normally they then progress via the Telegraph through the Guardian and end up with the Times. The Telegraph tried to keep their solvers from wanting more challenging puzzles by bringing in an extra layer of solving with the Toughies. When recruiting the setters, the then Crossword Editor consulted a number of friends and colleagues and recruited a panel of established puzzle setters, including Elgar, Kcit, Giovanni, Firefly and Myops because they were mostly people who produced barred (invariably harder) puzzles or in Myops case, the Wee Stinker puzzle.

      For most people, solving a Toughie is as hard as they like it, but there are still solvers who crave more, hence the Listener, Enigmatic Variations and IQ puzzles where you often really have to get to grips with difficult concepts, but people like them and entries are healthy for those puzzles. Then there are the subscription magazines like The Magpie, which I subscribe to. I’m lucky if I finish one puzzle an issue but in those puzzles you can end up reconstructing a famous album cover’s artwork or in one famous Listener puzzle, you decoded the hidden messages which told you to throw the puzzle away and send a nice picture postcard with your name and address on instead.

      The bloggers here all try their darndest to help you make sense of the puzzles and often have the same (or less time) than you to solve and understand the puzzle and then produce a blog – hence Toughies going up at 2pm.

      I have a simple rule of thumb when solving and I’m aware of the setter, if I don’t like them, they go into the virtual cyber bin. if I see a fellow blogger’s recommendation, I may retrieve it and have a look at it. Sometimes I still don’t because I know how that setter works and it doesn’t interest me and my life is busy enough as it is. If I do tackle a puzzle and then 30 mins later my grid is still blank, it also goes you know where. But there are some that I have spent the best part of three weeks trying to crack because they have drawn me in and intrigue me.

      A recent example is Listener puzzle 4617 by a setter called Sabre who makes Elgar look like one of the Saturday setters; he is that tough. It was called Selfie. Here’s the preamble:

      This puzzle marks the 50th anniversary of Sabre’s first Listener crossword, on July 30, 1970.
      Each clue contains an extra word that must be removed before solving; the words’ initial letters give
      features of the selfie. Half of the answers must be entered with one letter omitted, and half with one letter added (anywhere along the length); numbers in brackets are the lengths of grid entries. The omitted and added letters in clue order give a two-part instruction for changes solvers must make after filling the grid, leading to a different portrait. The Chambers Dictionary (2016) is the primary reference.

      His puzzles appear once or twice a year and often contain mathematical stuff that floors me immediately. I thought this would be special.

      Here’s the solution rubric.

      Initials of extra words gave “Zimmer frame, bifocals, bald pate, toothless grin, hearing aid”.
      Letters omitted and added in the grid spelt out “replace two columns in code; add to them this
      puzzle’s heading”. Adding “Selfie by Sabre” to each of columns 2 and 12, using A = 1 or 27 etc,
      produced the title of a Goya painting of old men.

      And you think Elgar’s tough!

      I persevered and got there and then wondered afterwards how I had spent so long cogitating over some of the clues, but the puzzle hooked me. I hadn’t been that hooked since Notabilis, under his Kea name had produced a puzzle that represented the dials of a safe and I had to crack the safe to find the treasure. Or the puzzle where by solving it, I created a staircase of blanks at the top of where the word PIANO sat. The piano fell down the staircase, as in a Laurel and Hardy film and when it sat at the bottom it produced all new words.

      Some of these are works of genius and if we can encourage you to dip your toes in, you may get the bug, or just stop off on the way.

      The lovely Chalicea sets delightful puzzles in these series, but they are usually at the Tuesday Toughie end of the scale, and no less enjoyable.

      The world of crosswords is wide and diverse, and we should embrace it all.

      PS This was a pretty darned fine puzzle by Elgar,

      1. Tilsit, a big hug – I am so flattered and honoured! I am always worried that the Chalicea ‘first of the month Toughies’ are going to be a letdown after the Friday struggle with Elgar. It’s the other ‘Numpty’ (we are the Numpty bloggers on the Listener crossword on Listen With Others’) who fights his way through Elgar’s fortnightly Friday ones and this week he needed Cryptic Sue’s help for 5d (and we had to decompose the clue with its superb surface reading to get a ‘club’ we had never heard of).
        Chris, our editor, reassures me that Toughies need both ends of the range.
        Sabre actually came to a Saturday zoom meeting of crossworders and quizzers yesterday (he lives in Arizona so interrupted his breakfast to join us). He is as enchanting as his puzzles and nothing like Goya’s old men – he set the first of his 50 Listener puzzles when he was 19 and is contemplating retirement from his university work only next year.

        1. Thanks Ma’am.

          A Saturday Zoom bloggers and setters gathering…. Interesting!

          I see that the EV’s in September are going to be at the ‘easier’ end of the scale to encourage people to dip their toes in. I hope that means we’ll get a Chalicea puzzle among them.

          1. It’s the very first of them and very easy indeed and a bit of fun, I hope, to really encourage newcomers (but there might well be groans about such a gentle one – we’ll see! )
            Angus Wilson hosts the Saturday sessions and a message inviting us all appeared on the Crossword Centre message board. Serpent, Encota and a number of other well-known crossworders, as well as bloggers and gifted solvers and some quite spectacular quizzers are often there. Sabre’s visit was icing on the cake.

  21. Well I enjoyed it and I found it easier than some of the normal back page ones, so there!
    I am just so happy that at long last digital users are offered a Toughie, which I feel will only serve to improve my performance, increase my tolerance and make me a better loser when I don’t finish them! But this week’s have been ok.

  22. If its too hard it is still worth reading the blog so you can see how to get the answers and improve your technique.On this occasion I did not learn any new technique,it was just very hard.

  23. Really glad that I returned to the blog or I would have missed all of the comments. I returned to the crossword & managed a further 6 clues on my own (11 in total) & then nearly completed with CS’s excellent help but still revealed 2 in helpless exasperation.
    Mindful of BD’s ‘toughest in Fleet St’ comment I would suggest that perhaps it’s the fact that an Elgar, impenetrable to all but the most able, means that effectively we’re down to 3 Toughies for the week whereas if it was one of 7 it wouldn’t matter so much.
    No matter how much I improve there’s simply no way I’ve the mental capacity to cope with the likes of this but there’s also a weird masochistic pleasure in having ones inadequacies so hopelessly exposed.
    Ta for the hints CS.
    PS Thought 15d wordplay device very clever & have never seen that before.

  24. Just looked in here to see if anyone had worked out the theme yet.

    I keep thinking of something to do with the Holy Grail (and maybe the USA? – what is a holy grail for an American?)

    Maybe that’s just because I can see Eric Idle in 1d/12a, John, Albion, arm and leg (knights losing them) but most likely I am probably just mad.

    A little surprised about some of the comments later yesterday.

  25. i knew of Macon, GA and the wine and town-mostly white in my experience-the entry level for burgundy
    Hpowever this was not the entry level for crosswords. I got the long ones and smiled at ELVISH (may have seen it before) and JOHN
    Then I got desperate and wrote in Llamas for 8d which made 10 and 7 impossible.Hence me coming here for help.
    I’m still looking for 156 but Elgar has already done a bus route.
    He’s cruel man, but fair as Mr Idle may have said
    thanks Dutch too,

  26. I have read the tales of woe above and I have considerable sympathy for them. But Elgar is always a challenge and as I managed to solve over half the clues unaided I was quite satisfied with my effort. I managed to solve most of the corners but failed with the longer words in the centre of the puzzle but most of those became clear once I had read Cryptic Sue’s excellent guidance . So thank you for that and thank s to Elgar for giving my brain a good work out. My favorite was 27d a good laugh.

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