NTSPP – 559 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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NTSPP – 559

Social Distancing by Phibs

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The puzzle is available by clicking on the above grid.

Phibs returns with one of those crosswords which definitely wasn’t a ‘lunchtime solve’ but took quite a while to solve and parse and even then, I needed a break for refreshments before I finally realised what the ‘structions were on about.

The rules of Social Distancing say that we should stay two metres (M M) apart – on the right-hand side of the grid (in 4a, 12a,19a and 17d), the inserted MMs are obeying the rules, on the left-hand side (11a/3d, 22a/14d) they aren’t – it isn’t clear whether anyone was wearing a mask, using a hand sanitiser or keeping to their ‘bubbles’, but I would imagine the ones on the left-hand side probably should be self-isolating!


1     Pilot boat putting out in the morning (5)
STEER Take a kind of boat and remove (putting out) the two letters meaning ‘in the morning’

4     Supporting King George before Edward’s initial broadcast (9)
PROGRAMME A three-letter word meaning supporting, the regnal cipher of any of the Kings called George, an A (the abbreviation for ‘ante’ before), and two of the ‘elements’ followed by the initial letter of Edward.

9     Apprehensive about first of exams, college degree not guaranteed (9)
UNSECURED A way of saying apprehensive goes ‘about’ the first letters of Exams and College, and then the abbreviation for Degree is added at the end

10     Vet valued hints every so often (5)
AUDIT The alternate letters (every so often) of vAlUeD hInTs

11     English cover put around American import of Catch-22 (7)
DILEMMA A reversal (put around) of the abbreviation for English and a cover, followed by the abbreviation for American – you’ll also need to insert the ‘elements’

12     Sink one before hosts start on Scotch (7)
IMMERSE The letter meaning one and a conjunction meaning before ‘hosts’ or goes round the ‘start’ of Scotch. Again, more elements required

13     He’s lived with unsettling disorder (8)
DISHEVEL An anagram (with unsettling) of HES LIVED

15     Moderates are covering for Boris, inwardly worried (6)
ABATES The abbreviation for the measurement ‘are’ followed by a synonym for worried put inside the outside letters (covering) of BoriS

18     Does same job as Bob Savage, spending week aboard coach (6)
BUILDS Take a synonym for savage and remove (spending) the abbreviation for week, then put the remaining letters inside (aboard) a coach

19     Against Conservative twisting stuff (8)
TOMMYROT Another way of saying close against and a reversal (twisting) of an informal Conservative – another solution with extra letters

22     Root regrets missing half season (7)
RUMMAGE I can’t tell you how long it took me to look at this one and eventually realise that I needed the first two letters (missing half) of a synonym for regrets followed by a verb meaning to season in the sense of mature. Again, there are two of those letters

24     Left Italian international in goal after rotating reserves (7)
MILITIA The abbreviations for Left, Italian and International inserted into a reversal (after rotating) of a goal

26     One about to deliver bitter (5)
ACRID A (one), the Latin abbreviation for about, and a verb meaning to deliver

27     Right returning old item of underwear famous duke’s pinched (9)
STARBOARD A reversal (returning) of the abbreviation for Old and an item of underwear inserted between (pinched) someone famous and the abbreviation for Duke

28     Nude wrestling stretched church’s patience (9)
ENDURANCE An anagram (wrestling) of NUDE, a way of saying stretched and the abbreviation for the Church of England

29     Come after stolen suede skirts (5)
ENSURED ‘skirts’ indicates a hidden word found in stolEN SUEde


1     Seemed very much like a zombie, one conceded (7)
SOUNDED A synonym for very much followed by a way of saying being like a zombie, the latter part of the word having the A removed (one conceded)

2     Stand when stuffing fish (5)
EASEL A synonym for when ‘stuffing’ a fish

3     Suggest upturn hasn’t got very close (9)
RECOMMEND An upturn without the letters VERY (hasn’t got very) and a synonym for close or finish

4     Shared gin flips with one such as Branagh? (8)
PARTAKEN A reversal (flips) of a snare (gin) and the abbreviated Christian name of one such as Sir xxx Branagh

5     Order, alternatively someone who’s desperate to receive one (6)
ORDAIN A conjunction meaning alternatively, and a comic character famed for being Desperate into which is inserted the letter meaning one

6     Domain name and URL leaving beginners confused (5)
REALM Remove the first letters (leaving beginners) from nAME and uRL and an anagram (confused) with produce the solution

7     I keep posters in order to dream about Dorothy Dandridge, essentially (9)
MODERATOR An anagram (about) of TO DREAM goes ‘about’ the essential letters of dorOthy and dandRidge

8     Admires character at rear of firefighters holding bucket (7)
ESTEEMS How one might say the character at the rear of firefighterS ‘holding’ a verb meaning to bucket (down with rain perhaps)

14     Played his damaged reed badly (9)
SHIMMERED Insert two of the themed ‘elements’ into an anagram (damaged) of HIS followed by another (badly) of REED

16     Jerk milked complaint, ultimately releasing PDF flier (9)
BUMBLEBEE Take synonyms for jerk, milked and complaint and release the ultimate letters of each one, which just happen to be a P, a D and an F

17     He puts up with another friend of Pooh’s, a turtle on vacation (8)
ROOMMATE Insert two more of those ‘elements’ between a friend of Winnie the Pooh, A (from the clue) and the outside letters (on vacation) of TurtlE

18     Block newspaper editor’s opening salvo (7)
BARRAGE A verb meaning to block, a derogatory term for a newspaper and the ‘opening’ letter of Editor

20     Time women go off rhubarb (7)
TWADDLE The abbreviations for Time and Women and a verb meaning to go off or become rotten

21     Understanding about a ‘male issue’ (6)
REASON The two-letter word meaning about, A (from the clue) and a male ‘issue’

23     One sums up how to turn tips of bine into beer (5)
ADDER If you take the ‘tips’ of BinE, what do you do to get the word BEER?

25     Rents are staggering in street that’s on the up (5)
TEARS An anagram (staggering) of ARE inserted in a reversal (on the up) of an abbreviated street

Thank you Phibs for a thorough stretching of the cryptic grey matter – I’m hoping I don’t need to self-isolate, but I’m definitely going for a bit of a lie down in a darkened room.

26 comments on “NTSPP – 559

  1. Done with quite a lot of revealing and quite a lot of not knowing what I was supposed to be doing – I still have no idea
    All in all Phibs, thanks for the challenge but I can’t make any sense of it

    1. No wonder I’m struggling if you needed reveals. Half way through & completely flummoxed.

  2. I must admit that I don’t really enjoy puzzles where bits of the wordplay are missing. I did soon twig that the same letters were missing from the wordplay in many clues but I’ve no idea what the title and preamble mean.
    Having said that I did enjoy many of the ‘normal’ clues – so thanks to Phibs.
    My ticks went to 1a, 18a, 4d and 8d.

  3. It’s the first time I’ve ever set a vaguely topical puzzle, and probably the last! :smile:

    An alternative version of the preamble said “The wordplays in eight clues lead to two distinct elements which are a safe distance apart in the solution” – I don’t know if that would have helped…

  4. So relieved to read the previous comments – I’ve got a completed grid but can’t pretend that I knew what I was doing for much of the time.
    Looking forward to reading the review when hopefully the fog will clear.
    Thanks for the challenge, Phibs, but I probably understood it to the same extent as I do many of the current social distancing rules!

    1. Sorted out my social distancing as far as the puzzle’s concerned and now have only a few that await CS’s enlightenment.
      The ‘leaving beginners’ and ‘ultimately releasing’ took a fair bit of head-scratching as did a couple of the definitions.
      18&25d rather amused.

  5. Like Jane I now have a completed grid after 4 letter reveals. In the end I was reduced to ignoring the sometimes convoluted wordplay & taking a punt with a synonym of what I thought the definition was (27a typical example). As for the theme I have absolutely no idea.
    Thanks Phibs but while it was fun trying far too difficult for me I’m afraid.

  6. I don’t know whether it is because I stopped staring at the crossword and went and had a cup of tea and a piece of swiss roll while solving the GK crossword, but now I’ve returned, I’ve realised what Phibs is on about. :phew: I can now finish drafting the blog

  7. I don’t drink tea and we don’t have any Swiss roll so that’s my excuse for being completely sunk with this one. I’ve done a bit over half.

  8. I do enjoy Phibs’ puzzles and this was no exception. You know it is going to be a challenge and it is a great pleasure when each light-bulb moment arrives. This one was made more complex by the eight special clues but happily for me I twigged what was going after I had solved 11a fairly early on and the penny dropped about the clue construction while I was wrestling with the seemingly bizarre wordplay.

    I have a personal dislike (one of many, do I hear you say?) of using “words” which describe letters, such as “tee”, as I simply can’t understand why we need them. If you want to write T in a sentence, why not write “T”? What is the purpose of having a word for T? I know they all appear in the BRB so are fair game for setters but …

    I was about to say that I couldn’t understand why the definition for 16d “PDF flier” and not just “flier”. I have just realised that “PDF” is serving an entirely different function! What a clever clue.

    The only things I still don’t understand are how the As are clued in 4a & 15a.

    Well done again, Phibs, and many thanks for the fun.

    1. I have just remembered regarding 15a that a long time ago I had previously been concerned about “a” being used as an abbreviation for “are” and the penny dropped that it is fine using a very different meaning for “are”.

      When I double-checked it in my BRB (I should certainly have done that sooner!), I also found the relevant abbreviation for 4a.

    2. Thanks, RD, much appreciated – I’m glad you enjoyed the puzzle.

      I know what you mean about words describing letters, and personally I wouldn’t be happy to see “tee” (for instance) being indicated by “beginning of term”, only by something like “letter from head of training” or “character leading Tories”. The one that always catches me out in puzzles is “see” for C, which just seems wrong.

      Apologies for any obscure abbreviations – I very rarely solve blocked puzzles these days, so whilst all the abbreviations that I use are in the BRB some of them may be infrequent visitors to blocked puzzles (and complete strangers to everyday use, as so many abbreviations in Chambers are). I do occasionally make a mental note not to use a particular one again – I remember that ‘fighter’ for F in an early NTSPP caused (understandably) a few raised eyebrows and has been avoided since!

      1. Good of you to pop in, Phibs. If nothing else, this puzzle has taught me that ‘A’ can stand for just about Anything!

  9. I was nearly complete (having put in several words from definition and crossers alone) before I realised what the preamble meant. Very neat!

    I just hope people don’t interpret the ‘separation’ indicator differently (as one might!). Very risky!

  10. We had the whole grid filled with question marks beside quite a few of the clues until the penny dropped about what the preamble meant and it all made sense. A real challenge and a lot of fun.
    Thanks Phibs.

  11. Many thanks for the review CS. This has a tough enough challenge to solve so reviewing it must have almost mind-blowing.

    As someone who originally had a lot of trouble finding where the As came from in 4a & 15a, I notice you have cited the use of the abbreviation for “are” twice but in 4a I think it’s “before” which leads to the A.

    1. Ah – You read the blog and typed your comment probably at the same time I was amending my hint to 4a

  12. Many thanks for the review, CS, which I needed to sort out the full parsing of 1&23d – easy when you know how! Also have to admit to not looking in the BRB soon enough where those pesky ‘A’s were concerned.
    Think you have blips in the hints for 4&7d and in the answer for 29a but it’s hardly surprising given all the concentration required to maintain social distancing!

    1. I never thoroughly proof read any of my blogs any more as I know how much pleasure it gives you to do so – I can see the problem with the 29a solution which I’ve corrected, but I can’t see what you are on about in the 4 and 7d hints and haven’t got time to look hard at them as I am about to go for a walk and then have other non-crossword things to do after that.

  13. Crikey don’t think I’d have twigged that on my own. Even after reading the explanation twice it still took a moment to sink in. Very clever mind you.
    Thanks for the review CS.

  14. Thanks to CS for the review, and to all those who attempted the puzzle. I wasn’t intending that the MMs themselves should be separated, only that the two clued bits of the eight solutions should be ‘two metres’ apart.

    Some minor points:

    In 11a the intended definition is ‘import of Catch-22’ – I felt that a dilemma was a consequence of a Catch-22 rather than being the same thing, though I may have been overthinking it :smile:

    In 1d the definition is ‘Seemed’ and the ‘very much’ indicates SO.

    The intended parsing for 7d is an anagram of ‘to dream’ followed by the middle letters of dorOthy dandRidge.

    1. It was the instructions that confused me rather than the incomplete clues
      I did notice something going on left/right but didn’t put two and two together
      Thanks again Phibs

    2. This was a particularly tricky crossword and even more so to blog – took me ages to work out what was going on with the MMs and I never noticed that they were separating the two bits of the clues

      Having spent quite a while on this review on Saturday afternoon, I was determined to do non-crossword things yesterday afternoon, but I have now made the corrections

  15. Thanks to phibs for the crossword and for making me realise that I’m not half as smart as I sometimes like to think I am and to CS for making me realise that she IS at least twice as smart as I am.
    This one was as far beyond me as the Friday Elgar Toughies are.

  16. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, but once the penny dropped I managed to identify the eight clues and, as the rest then had to be normal, it all came together without too much trouble. ‘Bine’ in the clue to 23dn was a new word to me and I even checked in the BRB to see if there was such a word – and found it was quite appropriate to the surface.
    A satisfying solve. Thanks, Phibs and CS.

  17. Lighting upon such a delightful crossword is why I am working back through the archive! I deduced the theme quite quickly by musings on 4a (despite a query on the A, now answered by the comments above). With thematic elements in hand it was just :roll: a matter of finding the other 7 clues! After getting 17d, the last one in the SE corner took a while – I knew there was one word left with MM but struggled to find it until a lightbulb moment :idea: arrived with 19a. That led to unravelling the excellent 16d. Other favourites were 18a, 5d, 7d and 23d. Thank you, Phibs, for the fun and games!

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