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Toughie 2776

End-of-Year Toughie No 2776 by Micawber

Hints and tips by Dutch

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

Welcome to the prized toughie end-of-year puzzle, a unique look at some of this year’s events in Micawber’s inimitable style. We’re all delighted that this has become an annual offering. Enjoy, and Happy New Year.

The blogging protocol that suggests any illustration must refer only to the answer is ignored today. Please leave a comment telling us what you thought.


1a    Ex-Soviet jet helping movement of refugees? (9)
MIGRATION: An old soviet jet and another word for helping

6a    You heard? I invested in ‘non-fungible token’ that’s no use (5)
UNFIT: A homophone (heard) of ‘you’, then I from the clue is contained (invested) in the abbreviation for ‘non-fungible token’

9a    French entirely blocking end of harbour to get fish (5)
TROUT: The French word for all or entirely contains (blocking) the last letter (end) of harbour

10a    Adult gets into origins of Peppa Pig with hesitation in front of function needing sheets of A4? (9)
PAPERWORK: The abbreviation for adult goes into the first letters (origins) of Peppa Pig, a 2-letter expression of hesitation, and a verb meaning function

11a    In Afghanistan, a bilateral withdrawing sees new rulers (7)
TALIBAN: Reverse hidden (Inwithdrawing)

12a    Singed fans after inserting end of flare? Creeps, entering with stealth (5,2)
EDGES IN: An anagram (fans) of SINGED with the last letter (end) of flare inserted

13a    Agreed test for where north and south should ideally end up? (2,1,5)
ON A LEVEL: A short word that can mean agreed, plus a (1-5) secondary school test. It took me a while to realise the clue referred to the North South divide in this country

14a    ‘Gathering’, no longer unknown, turns into pitfall (4)
TRAP: A reversal (turns) of a 5-letter ‘gathering’ (with cheeky quotes) without the algebraic unknown

18a    One dropped by Starmer, character from Labour’s centre-left? This one’s not middle of the road! (4)
KERB: Remove the I from Starmer’s first name and add the centre-left letter (character) in Labour

20a    Asian produce supply chain on the way regularly interrupted (5,3)
CHINA TEA: An anagram (supply) of CHAIN plus the odd letters (regularly interrupted) in ‘the way’

24a    Leaders of Russia and Ukraine mobilise support around country (7)
RURALLY: The first letters (leaders) of Russia and Ukraine plus a word meaning to mobilise support

26a    Battles start to rage in G7 venue (7)
STRIVES: The first letter (start) of rage goes inside (in) the Cornish venue for the G7 meeting

27a    Climate summit in Glasgow forever held talks around new division of contributions (2-7)
CO-PAYMENT: The acronym for the climate summit, a 2-letter word meaning forever, then a verb that can mean ‘held talks’ goes around the abbreviation for new

28a    Disassemble oil installation — international organisation taking lead (5)
UNRIG: A word for an oil installation but first (taking lead) an international organisation

29a    After setback, short-lived NI party leader to submit (5)
STOOP: A reversal (after setback) of the DUP leader who was in office for only a month

30a    Trials of Conservative seen in clinches (9)
PROCESSES: A shortened version of ‘of’ and the abbreviation for conservative go inside a word meaning clinches


1d    Greek character — adapt it to a name for variant (8)
MUTATION: A Greek letter, an anagram (adapt) of IT TO A, and the abbreviation for name

2d    Dancing alone, cabinet minister’s out to enjoy a break from work (2,2,5)
GO ON LEAVE: An anagram (dancing) of ALONE has a cabinet minister surrounding it (‘s out)

3d    A role could be found so Milan is on board (7)
ACTABLE: The abbreviation for Associazione Calcio (Milan FC) plus a word meaning board

4d    One’s informed of infectious contact that’s encroached (8)
IMPINGED: Split (1’1, 6) the answer suggests one has been electronically notified of an infectious contact

5d    He’s related expression of astonishment after North Shropshire’s outcome (6)
NEPHEW: A 4-letter expression of relief or astonishment comes after the abbreviation for north and the last letter (outcome) of Shropshire

6d    In revolt — Conservatives? Honest! (7)
UPRIGHT: A word meaning in revolt plus a word for conservatives

7d    Currents bearing off ice sheet and discontented walrus (5)
FLOWS: Remove the bearing from the end of a word for ice sheet, then add ‘W(alru)S’ without the inner letters (discontented)

8d    Accepting job in government’s first, relinquish second (6)
TAKING: Another word for job, IN from the clue, the first letter in government, then omit (relinquish) the abbreviation for second

15d    Combating bad stuff spreading online dealing with Covid? (9)
ANTIVIRUS: Two interpretations, the first referring to computer malware. It felt to me that there was a part of speech mismatch, but Chambers lists the answer as an adjective, live and learn

16d    Follow-up stage of project to throw out anything going north (5,3)
PHASE TWO: A homophone (project) of a verb meaning to throw or unsettle, plus a reversal (going north) of a dialect word for ‘anything’

17d    Body of water, no longer European, requiring customs for meat products (8)
SAUSAGES: A 3-letter body of water with the abbreviation for European, then another word for customs

19d    Corporation, second to supply power, is bust (5,2)
BELLY UP: The corporation that gets larger with beer, the second letter in supply and the physics symbol for power

21d    Tend to turn nasty over river (that’s almost all waste!) (7)
NURTURE: An anagram (nasty) of TURN plus a river consisting of the first 3 letters (almost all) of a 4-letter waste

22d    Pumps empty, staple food being stockpiled — these are affected by inflation (6)
PRICES: ‘Pumps’ without the inner letters (empty) contains (stockpiles) a staple food

23d    Promote what’ll get jabs in arms increasing (4,2)
HYPE UP: A shortened version of what gets jabbed into arms plus a 2-letter word meaning increasing

25d    Proof about 6th of January (and Capitol) receiving backing from Trump? (5)
REPRO: A word meaning about or concerning and the 6th letters of January and Capitol contain (receive) the last letter (backing) of Trump

Favourites. Gee. A long list, but I liked the harbour blockade, the January 6th Capitol riots, the river pollution, and I think my favourite, biggest laugh, was our customs arrangement for meat products across the Irish Sea. Which clues did you like?

45 comments on “Toughie 2776

  1. How lovely to find a doable and very enjoyable Toughie on a Friday, coupled with such a splendidly illustrated review from Dutch.

    I’m not convinced that “throw” or “throw out” in 16d is synonymous with “phase” even though “throw out” could lead to “phase out”.

    Picking a favourite is too tough for me from such a fine selection.

    Many thanks to Micawber and to Dutch.

    1. Ah! For 16d I took the definition to be “follow up stage of project”, but now I see from Dutch’s review “project” is in fact a homophone indicator. Objection withdrawn!

      1. Ah! (Again!) Thanks Gazza. That makes sense and means I was actually right about “project” being part of the definition.

      2. ‘out’ as a homophone indicator? Ah, since seen Micawber’s explanation – i didn’t know that.

        1. I didn’t know phase was an alternative spelling of faze either. I thought that ‘out’ was a homophone indicator meaning loudly (it is in the BRB) as in ‘the bells rang out’ but I was obviously on the wrong track.

  2. What a joy this is – I ended up reading all the clues twice to twig some of the references. Many thanks to Micawber and to Dutch and a Happy New Year to both.

    The clues I enjoyed most were the French blockade, levelling-up, the Downing Street ‘gathering’, Hancock’s clinches, Gove’s “dancing” and the HS2 cancellation.

  3. Another joyful end of year crossword from Micawber – I don’t know what happened last year when I could have actually had the pleasure of blogging the end of year treat, but there wasn’t one :cry: I’ve just checked when the next New Years Eve appears on a Wednesday and apparently I have a chance in 2025!

    Hard to pick one favourite out of so many so I’ll just say thank you to Micawber and Dutch

  4. Started at a cracking pace for the top half but slowed considerably for the bottom half. Spent a long time trying to make sense of 27a and 30a. Thanks to Micawber and Dutch amd Happy New Year to all.

  5. What fun! Do we need any other review of the year?
    I was fazed by the cunning homophone indicator at 16d and spent a while trying to reconcile the H and the S with the rest of it – so that should be my clue of the day. I also liked the clever charade at 27a.
    Thanks to Micawber and to Dutch for the blog.

  6. What a great end to the Telegraph’s crossword year, thanks Micawber. Great satire. Better than the review of the political year in the paper no doubt. Impossible to pick a favourite but the shadow cabinet re-shuffle is near the top for me. Thanks to Dutch.

  7. My 3rd ever attempt at a Toughie – and what a brilliant crossword- so clever. I did need a little help from Dutch in the SW to finish.
    Thanks to Micawber and Dutch- and to all of the Big Dave bloggers all year. This site is a daily source
    of education and inspiration!

  8. I needed the hints to parse 13a and 16d but I rate that as a success for me. Favourite was 17d, lots of others came close. Thanks to Micawber and Dutch.

  9. My only comment on a Dutch blog this year, talk about leaving it to the last minute!.
    Good fun though I’ve probably missed some references as a few went in on a wing and a prayer but I’ll look more closely later.
    I thought 18,26&29 plus 4,16&17d were all very clever.
    Many thanks to Micawber and Dutch.
    Ps….either he aged incredibly during his (very) short incumbency or that’s an old picture Edward Poots!

  10. Thank you both, Micawber and Dutch, for all of the pleasures you’ve given this old wornout American here at the end of another blasted year. I did much better on this lovely Toughie than I expected to, and I thoroughly enjoyed this topical work of art. Happy New Year to all.

  11. Very enjoyable. Favourites were 11a and 14a. Thanks to Micawber and Dutch. The latter is much in demand today making gold Eiffel Towers on Talking Pictures too!

  12. It is hard not to be impressed by such a cleverly-clued and topical crossword. As for picking a favourite – no chance. I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliant puzzle, and congratulate our setter.

    Many thanks to Micawber for this gem of a grid, and to Dutch for an amusing and comprehensive review.

  13. I have this to look forward to this evening and it looks fun
    Just wanted to say thanks and best wishes to Micawber and Dutch

  14. Great review of a fun crossword – I join in the admiration at Micawber being able to set such a puzzle. For me, the top half went in very readily, the bottom half less so, hence I agree with Dutch’s difficulty rating. I confess that I had to read the Wikipedia page for the DUP, and I still didn’t remember the poor man’s name.

    I hope everyone who likes that sort of thing has a lovely night tonight. I plan to be in bed before ten, but I wish you all a very happy new year.

    1. The pubs will be heaving. Good reason to stay home. I’m knackered, I reckon 10pm sounds about right 😀

      1. Never mind 10pm – I’m in bed now and about to put out the light and listen to Audible.

  15. Incredibly clever and great fun, many thanks Micawber. Failed to parse 16d (and still not quite sure which was intended as homophone indicator, project or out?) Had antivirAL for quite some time so 30a LOI, I always miss o=of too. Too many top clues to pick a fave. Thanks again Micawber and thanks Dutch for the review and illustrations.

  16. Had to look up who followed Ian Paisley as head of the DUP to get my final ones in 29a and 25d.
    Noticed some of the topical answers but not all.
    Thanks to Micawber and to Dutch.
    A very happy new year to all.

  17. Well worth the wait but how I wish we saw more of the Green Woodpecker’s puzzles in the DT.
    Took me a while to figure out some – the Milan reference in 3d and the abbreviation used in 30a but it was a battle worth the fight.
    Top three here were 14a plus 16&17d.

    Many thanks to Micawber and to Dutch for the review – loved the cartoons!
    All the very best to both of you for a hopefully better New Year.

  18. Knowing that this was tropical helped to get most of this on my ownsome, but I still needed Dutch to help me over the line. I completely missed the NI leader but reverse parsed it. The image of Gove dancing is burned into my retinas now!
    The river is well known to this Yorkshire bred person but I had to think a bit about the waste product that contained it. I imagine there is a lot of Sheep urea in the upper reaches though.
    2d, 4d and 17d got the biggest titters from me and share my podium.
    Thanks to Dutch and Micawber
    Pig traders change to dealing in game birds (8)
    (a crossword clue seen in a Shooting Times)

    1. I saw that in ST, John. A good clue with a great surface. Could the Shooting Times become another source of quality cryptics?

      1. I didn’t have too long with it Steve but I would bet it was the work of an accomplished setter.

    2. (10) perhaps for that clue, not (8)? (I failed to solve it, so searched online.)

      Happy new year, all.

      1. Silly me I should have spotted that myself but drink was involved – I hope you had a great Christmas.

  19. What fun. Thank you Micawber for a perfect end-of-year crossword. From so many brilliant clues I would choose 16d as my favourite. Thanks also to Dutch for the blog and his great illustrations. Happy New Year all.

  20. Thanks for all your comments, and especially Dutch for illustrating the references so well. 16 down is simpler than it maybe seems, there is no homophone – PHASE is an alternative spelling of FAZE, but perhaps one that’s less well known than I thought. Anyway, it can be quite a struggle wrangling the last recalcitrant words into a topical frame, so it’s nice to know I’ve given you all something to smile about at the end of another grim year.
    If you want something else, here is my alter ego @twitmericks/Mick Twister’s limerick review:

  21. We probably had to make more use of Google than most other solvers did but we did get everything sorted and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
    Happy New Year everyone. We saw it in about 8 hours ago.
    Thanks Micawber and Dutch.

  22. I made good progress but did not manage to finish. However, what I did solve – just over half of it – I found most enjoyable.

    Grateful thanks to Micawber and Dutch.

  23. Started yesterday and completed this morning. Didn’t quite get all the parsing or links to 2021 events, so in awe of Micawber, and Dutch of course, whose ratings i agree with. Happy New Year everyone!

  24. Like others, the top half went in quickly, maybe too quickly to appreciate the clues properly. SE next, which took ages til I got 17d, then the rest fell in place, but SW held out til this morning. 25d and 29a needed help to parse.
    Thanks Dutch and Micawber, and a HNY to everyone!

  25. This was a cracker, thanks Micawber. My only hold up was the wrong ending to 15d, which I think works just as well (stuff spreading on line = viral), which fouled up 30a. But a work of brilliance nonetheless. Happy New Year to all the BD community, and thanks for all the help and amusement.

  26. Top half easier than bottom, and did not get 3 of the words in the SW so a DNF for me … but what I completed was enjoyable. Liked 13a, 28a, 1d, 16d & 23d

    Thanks to Dutch and Micawber

    On dog walk this morning. Really tough slog in the compact snow even with cleats. Looks like he would be quite at home in Baltasound on Unst!

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