EV 1553 Hints – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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EV 1553 Hints

Enigmatic Variations 1553 (Hints)

Exclamations by Maranga

Hints and tips by Phibs

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

I wasn’t familiar with this setter, but a check of Dave Hennings’ Crossword Database (xwdb.info) revealed three previous EVs by Maranga, the most recent in 2019. Incidentally, this database is an invaluable resource for setters because it enables you not only to find out whether a particular theme has been used before in any of the major themed puzzles (including EV, IQ, Listener and the Magpie magazine) but also how it was treated by the setter.

Preamble: Reading clockwise, the perimeter comprises four EXCLAMATIONS first heard together around half a century ago; each one starts in an asterisked cell, with the upper left cell doing double duty as the start and end letter of two EXCLAMATIONS. A fifth example must be highlighted in the grid (nine cells in a straight line). Corner and unchecked perimeter letters might result in UNIT, THEM DUMB LOT, DELIGHT US. Chambers Dictionary (2016) is recommended; one entry is a combining form.

My blogging run of five puzzles featuring clue gimmickry comes to an end, prompting a sigh of relief. A nice straightforward preamble of the sort which we probably won’t need to refer back to until we’ve got a full (or nearly full) grid. Maranga was the scene of a battle which saw the Persians retreating in disorder – let’s hope we can improve on their performance.


11a      Melancholy request by Oliver Twist? (8)
Like me, you may well get this from the definition and the checkers, working back to the phrase suggested by the wordplay, which is (4,4) but lacks the four-letter word I was expecting (and which, you might feel, should be on the end).

15a      Root of Berliner’s agreement – drink to it (5)
Only the words “Berliner’s agreement – drink” have active roles in the wordplay, and it may be helpful to view ‘agreement’ as ‘expression of agreement’.

16a      Haul with tackle on vessel leaving outside of boathouse? Promise? (4)
The best bet here is probably to focus on the last word of the wordplay and work from there (very likely with help from Chambers) in order to parse the clue.

17a      One bites once more, striking first person back (4)
‘First person’ needs to be interpreted in its grammatical sense, indicating the single letter to be ‘struck’.

20a      Period of intensive search announced? It’s an old command (4)
The informal term for a period of intensive search by law enforcement agencies, and which sounds like the answer, has its roots in the US, where it might also be applied to the police force or to a firearm. The ‘old’ indicates that the answer is shown by Chambers as obsolete, while the word ‘an’ is potentially misleading (suggesting a noun) and should be ignored. Note that in the paper version of the BRB the entry for the answer redirects the reader to the entry for an alternative (and significantly different) spelling of the word.

24a      Stranded explorer finally frozen (5)
A slightly fanciful definition, as here, is often indicated by a ‘perhaps’ (or similar), but it shouldn’t be too difficult to reconcile it with the result of the wordplay.

28a      Female name Faith, not male (4)
We are not looking for a particular ‘Faith’ (‘Adam’ probably springing to the minds of those of a certain age), rather a particular ‘faith’.

33a      ‘Before food’ on prescription absent, turning medic sceptical (8)
Three wordplay elements combine in a 2+1+5 pattern to produce what may be an unfamiliar meaning of a familiar word, derived from the name of the garden near Athens where Plato taught.

35a      Exempt opener in batting from extra responsibility (4)
The verb ‘exempt’ (here in the imperative form) is used in its original sense of ‘take out or away’.


1d      Reduction of claret and oil prepared with a game starter in Italian (9)
The anagram fodder here consists of three words plus a letter selected from another, while the definition brings into play a usage given by Chambers as ‘old slang’.

8d      One starting fifty-fifty, then getting everything (3)
Here the second, fourth and fifth words can be ignored when resolving the wordplay.

19d     Exploited guile with cash arrangement (9)
You might be lured into thinking that ‘arrangement’ is the anagram indicator in this clue, but it isn’t.

26d      Timothy maybe doesn’t want second parking clamp (5)
The setter has cunningly made a common noun in the wordplay look like a proper noun by putting it at the start of a sentence, where it gets a capital letter.

34d      Language of woman bereft after case is lost (3)
‘Bereft’ is an uncommon past tense of ‘bereave’ in the sense required here.

Given the relatively high proportion of letters missing from the periphery, I chose to start by looking for that ‘fifth example’, quickly finding and, as directed, highlighting it. This enabled me to identify the theme with near-certainty (the 44-year-old alternative didn’t even occur to me until later), and I could then rapidly fill in the blanks and mark off the unchecked letters against the pleasingly apposite phrase. In hindsight, I don’t think I’d have needed to stare at the perimeter too long before the first and third exclamations would have yielded.

This seemed to me an uncomplicated puzzle that didn’t require too much in the way of mental gymnastics. Perhaps some of the clues would have been more at home in a blocked puzzle, but once solved their answers could be entered confidently. There was likewise little scope for doubt surrounding the five exclamations, which I’m sure will have prompted pleasant memories for many solvers.

Phibs Toughness Rating : 🥾/🥾🥾 (very suitable for those new or relatively new to EV)

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15 comments on “EV 1553 Hints
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  1. Another straightforward EV and very welcome too. I took your advice Phibs and found the 5th exclamation, which narrowed the theme down to one of two. The first of the four was the easiest spot, which then confirmed the theme. I needed the check words and still can’t parse 16a.
    Thanks for the hints and thanks Maranga for the puzzle.

    1. For 16a, if you have the answer, then remove it from ‘boathouse’ and you’re left with a word that fits the opening of the wordplay.

  2. Only a few clues required extra effort, but an entertaining puzzle. The penny dropped with the top row and the rest of the margins became obvious. The theme brought back happy memories. Thanks Maranga.

  3. Dear Phibs, I am intrigued to learn from you that my crossword-setting pseudonym has such historic connotations. And there was me thinking it was just an anagram of something or other . Best wishes, Ian Gilchrist, aka Maranga.

  4. Thank you, Phibs, for the the toughness rating and explicitly marking this as being suitable for beginners. I haven’t started it yet, but your saying that is sufficient to mean that I will give it a go.

    1. Just one thing to add: access to Chambers in some form is strongly advised for EVs generally, and this puzzle is no exception (it contains a high proportion of familiar words, but there are a few obscurities or relative obscurities in there).

      1. Yeah, I probably should get one. So far I’ve managed with a combination of The OED, Mrs Bradford, and the ‘british-english-huge’ wordlist that comes with Ubuntu Linux.

        1. The apps for Android and iOS are excellent – if you have a device running Android or iOS :smile:

          I’ve had a quick look at the words used in this puzzle – I think OED gives them all (the answer at 20 it shows as a noun whereas C has it as a verb) except the answer at 19d, which is given by the Collins online dictionary.

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