DT 30496 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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DT 30496

Daily Telegraph Cryptic No 30496

Hints and tips by Mr K

+ - + - + - + - + - + - + - +

BD Rating  -  Difficulty **** Enjoyment **

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the last Friday of 2023, which means that today is the day for me to wish all members of the BD community a very Happy New Year. I thought that today’s puzzle resided at the more difficult end of the Friday spectrum, with several clues requiring some head-scratching and pondering to work out the parsing. It’s one of those puzzles where I schedule the blog at bedtime worrying that I’ve got some explanations wrong. I look forward to hearing what others thought of it.

In the hints below most indicators are italicized, and underlining identifies precise definitions and cryptic definitions. Clicking on the answer buttons will reveal the answers. In some hints hyperlinks provide additional explanation or background. Clicking on a picture will enlarge it or display a bonus illustration and a hover (computer) or long press (mobile) might explain more about the picture. Please leave a comment telling us how you got on.



1a    One with cracking art who could get deco? (4-7)
CODE-BREAKER:  A cryptic definition of a “cracking” worker that, when treated as cryptic instruction, will give DECO  CODE-BREAKER read cryptically might be an anagram of CODE, which is DECO

7a    Plant and flower ultimately having cut prices -- excellent on the counter (7)
FREESIA:  The last letter (ultimately) of FLOWER inserted in (having cut) some prices or rates, all followed by the reversal (on the counter) of an informal adjective meaning excellent  [flowe]R inserted in FEES is followed by the reversal of AI = A1

8a    What could be in the cupboard -- mothballs? (7)
SHELVES:  A noun for things that could be found in a cupboard is also a verb meaning mothballs or puts aside 

10a   Unopened kit characterises reserves (8)
EARMARKS:  All but the first letter (unopened) of a synonym of kit with another word for characterises  [g]EAR + MARKS

11a   Little woman breaks up row begun by a neighbour (6)
ADJOIN:  One of the sisters in Little Women is inserted in (breaks up) a row or noise, and that lot all comes after A from the clue (… begun by A)  A + JO inserted in DIN

13a   Student in bed using dope? On the contrary (4)
CLOT:  On the contrary tells us to invert the wordplay to read “Dope using student in bed”. So, insert the single letter for a student or learner driver into a bed for a baby to get a dope

14a   Keep reduced portion of shrimp over -- I shared (10)
IMPOVERISH:  The answer is hidden as a portion of the remainder of the clue 

16a   Gossip takes part in promotion (10)
BACKBITING:  A part or piece inserted in (takes … in) promotion or support 

18a   Resounding item often used by 1 Across (4)
ECHO:  A cryptic definition of a word in the NATO phonetic alphabet. Two clues here point to which word we need: it is, cryptically, a “resounding item” and because it represents (thanks, Gazza) a letter that appears a few times in the text of the clue, it could be described as often used by 1a  The letters in the NATO phonetic alphabet, known as code words, could be used by the answer to 1a

21a   Flaws of traitor spotted in time (6)
ERRATA:  Another word for traitor inserted in a significant period of time 

22a   State of teacher, maybe the one instructing us? (8)
MISSOURI:  Link together a title that maybe given to a teacher followed by a (3,1) phrase that could describe “the one instructing us” with the one being a Roman numeral  MISS + OUR I, with OUR I = OUR ONE = the one instructing us

24a   Something posted about Hollywood suppressing Universal movie (7)
DRACULA:  The reversal (about) of something posted for Christmas or a birthday and the abbreviated city containing Hollywood are sandwiching (suppressing) the single letter for universal  The reversal of CARD and L[os] A[ngeles] (Hollywood, kind of) containing U[niform]

25a   Sidle on in elegantly, circling like a cat (7)
LEONINE:  SIDLE ON IN ELEGANTLY is hiding (circling) the answer 

26a   Dope Tony's knocked out on, abrasive basic stuff (5-6)
NITTY-GRITTY:  A dope or idiot with TONY minus ON (knocked out ON) is followed by an adjective meaning abrasive 



1d    See you support 'X'? (7)
CHEERIO:  Support or applaud followed by two letters that look like the value of X read as a Roman numeral. The surface reading refers to owner Elon Musk’s renaming of the social media site Twitter to the concise single letter ‘X’. As a result, all publications now refer to it by the much less concise term “X, formerly known as Twitter”

2d    Dull, dreary, dingy, depressing ... D is the initial sign of misery, all unending (6)
DISMAL:  Concatenate D from the clue, IS from the clue, the first letter of (the initial sign of) MISERY, and all but the last letter (unending) of ALL from the clue 

3d    Worker who might put on two pairs of shoes (10)
BLACKSMITH:  A cryptic definition. The worker is likely attaching two pairs of shoes to four legs

4d    Extra accessible solve you'd set for beginners? (4)
EASY:  The wordplay instructs us to take the beginning letters of EXTRA ACCESSIBLE SOLVE YOU’D. The entire clue could serve as the definition 

5d    Want to get aboard, carry on wading (4-4)
KNEE-DEEP:  Want or lack inserted in (to get aboard) continue or carry on 

6d    Fashionable rival hosts love Italy's pasta (7)
RAVIOLI:  An anagram (fashionable) of RIVAL contains (hosts) the letter representing a love score in tennis and is followed by the IVR code for Italy 

7d    Bakery sticks with francs? (6,5)
FRENCH BREAD:  Some stick-shaped items that one might get from a bakery are also what francs can (informally) define by example

9d    Broadcast of Sonny & Cher is set at the same time (11)
SYNCHRONISE:  An anagram (broadcast of) of SONNY CHER IS 

12d   With four-fifths of poll, upcoming turn in charge for me? (10)
COUNCILLOR:  The wordplay tells us that after four-fifths of a word meaning poll or tally comes the reversal (upcoming, in a down clue) of the fusion of turn or spin and the abbreviation for “in charge”. The entire clue can serve as the definition  COUN[t] + the reversal of ROLL + IC

15d   Criminal court locking up bishop over street stall (8)
OBSTRUCT:  An anagram (criminal) of COURT containing (locking up) both the chess abbreviation for bishop and the abbreviation for street 

17d   Hanging in the bag, uniform needed for Spain (7)
CURTAIN:  In a word meaning “in the bag” or definite, the letter represented in the NATO phonetic alphabet by uniform is replacing (needed for) the IVR code for Spain 

19d   Hundreds taking in rugby when Italy finally could get Slam (7)
CRUCIFY:  Two copies of the Roman hundred containing the abbreviation for the full name of rugby are followed by a synonym of when and the final letter of ITALY  C+R[ugby]U[nion] + C + IF + [ital]Y

20d   Tango with flower girl spinning about around partner (6)
ESCORT:  The letter represented in the NATO phonetic alphabet by Tango and a flower that is also a girl’s name are joined and reversed (spinning) and then wrapped about the single letter for a Latin word meaning around or roughly 

23d   Adult human female's complaint when we're instructed: Don't use 'mother' (4)
LADY:  Another word for a medical complaint minus (when we’re instructed: don’t use) another word for mother MALADY minus MA


Thanks to today’s setter. Which clues did you like best?

The Quick Crossword pun:  ARTY + FISH + HAUL = ARTIFICIAL

107 comments on “DT 30496
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  1. Thank god that’s over, what a slog. Is it just me, or was this needlessly hard even for a Friday, back to the toughies with you!

    1. Thank the Lord I’m not the only one!! That was a real head scratcher. Just got over the line but only with electronic help and the assistance from Mr K. Thanks for that.

    2. Agree that was far beyond any DT back pager I’ve ever attempted. The detailed explanation (Thanks Mr K) was necessary for so many clues!

      1. Hear, hear. Thank you also from me, Mr K. I take my hat off to anyone who can hint such a tricky puzzle; it’s been a very long time since I last had to reach for the hints so early in the solving process. Pfff, glad that’s over…

  2. It fought me to the end! Phew. South East corner particularly.
    Favourites 10a and 26a.
    Not every day please, but thanks to compiler.

    1. It was fortunate I was not at work today. I got there in the end but it took an age and encompassed four sessions. I’ve done the DT crossword for nigh on 40 years because I’ve been able to get through the majority of puzzles in the time I have available. This does not fit the bill and seems to be a recurring feature of Fridays, where puzzles are becoming too time consuming. Puzzles like this should be restricted to the Toughie. Thank you to the setter. I particularly liked 1 Across.

  3. I have to respectfully disagree with our esteemed blogger, I thought this a typically clever puzzle from this setter with lots of nuance and subtle misdirection…. though do agree that it was tricky.
    We don’t often see a reverse anagram in a back-pager, after two in his previous Toughie are they becoming a bit of a trademark?
    I liked lots but I’ll highlight 8,16,24&26a plus 1,5&15d.
    Many thanks and HNY to setter and Mr K.

  4. I am not sure if it is a wavelength ‘thing’ or the general level of difficulty that Zandio seems to be setting at but I am in full agreement with the last two sentences of Mr K’s opening paragraph. I too have retired at the end of the day wondering if I have got something wrong and then, occasionally, I have woken up in the middle of the night with a sudden inspiration of the need for a correction to a hint.

    I am in full agreement with Comments 1, 2 and 4. Not a lot of fun today – 4.5*/1.5*

    Thanks to Zandio anyway and thanks to Mr K.

  5. 5*/1.5*. Crikey, that was hard work, particularly the bottom half. At least the two female names that appeared in 11a and 20d were suitably qualified!

    The OURI bit of 22a doesn’t work for me, even with the question mark.

    We’ve seen it before, but why is LA the abbreviation for Hollywood? The latter is part of LA not all of it.

    I’m off for a cold shower now.

    Thanks to the setter and respect to Mr K for all the explanations.

  6. I loved this. Yes, it was hard, but it is Friday! The north went in with only a little head scratching but I came to a halt in the south which must have taken three times as long, though I don’t time myself. I was very grateful for the hints for 20d and 23d and only then did 26a reveal itself. It’s difficult to choose a favourite since my paper is littered with ticks. I’ll go for the aforementioned 26a supported by the cleverly amusing 1d and a tie for third place between 7a and 11a. Thanks to the compiler and Mr K, who as well as giving us a very detailed blog – much appreciated – managed to find time for the kitty pics.

  7. I am in the camp that found this particularly difficult but worth the effort as it was certainly rewarding in the end. I’m sure some will find it a slog and too hard but working through it is how this solver has improved over time. There were a couple of iffy surfaces, but the good ones more than compensated. 26a and 1d were my favourites.

    My thanks to, presumably Zandio, and to Mr K.

  8. A really excellent puzzle from, I assume, Zandio – just what I want on a Friday morning. Great clues, a toughish challenge and an enjoyable tussle with a real sense of victory/achievement at the end. Too many fine clues to pick any favourites. 4*/5*.

    * Good to see some more “detailed explanations” for the trickier clues – I’m sure plenty of novice/less experienced solvers will appreciate them. Another neat innovation from Mr K!

    1. I’m neither novice nor less experienced but greatly appreciated Mr K’s “detailed explanations” for this wee beastie of a crossword!

  9. My word what a toughie! Took a loong breakfast plus some e-help to finish. Needed Mr I’d help to parse 17a and 5d properly. But despite having agreed with Mr K about the parsing of 12d, still don’t see how the clue means that!
    Thanks to Zandio for that loong breakfast and to Mr K for the help.

  10. I finished this before the hints were posted. It was a real slog and at least a half of the answers were found by electric means as I struggled with the parsing of the clues. Anyway no favorite other than the last one in perhaps.

  11. It was fortunate I was not at work today. I got there in the end but it took an age and encompassed four sessions. I’ve done the DT crossword for nigh on 40 years because I’ve been able to get through the majority of puzzles in the time I have available. This does not fit the bill and seems to be a recurring feature of Fridays, where puzzles are becoming too time consuming. Puzzles like this should be restricted to the Toughie. Thank you to the setter. I particularly liked 1 Across.
    PS I would appear to have accidentally clipped of all but the first two letters of my user name. Apologies.

  12. Well, for me, I found this puzzle a bit of a curate’s egg. Some good clues but also some that were almost impenetrable for me. Seemed like this was the hardest puzzle of the week and being Friday … that should be expected. Definitely at the harder end of the spectrum for a back pager.
    One word I have never heard of before, as well in the mix.

    3*/3* for me today

    Favourites include 1a, 22a, 26a, 3d & 9d — with winner 3d

    Thanks to Zandio(?) & Mr. K for hints/blog

  13. Goodness, well I agree with most above, that was a tussle. I found the south easier to open up and then completed NE, SE, SW and finally NW in weirdly circular order.
    My favourites were 1a and 26a.
    12d still confuses me, it is clear enough to build the answer but I have no idea what relevance that has to “me”.
    Anyway thanks to the setter for the work out and to Mr K for his much valued help…

      1. Well certainly I think that is how the clue should work, but why this particular office or job as opposed to any other – now if the answer had turned out to be compiler as I first thought of, or setter or some such then I would understand…
        I know I am missing something!

    1. As Michael propounds, I reckon”for me” does relate to the solution, he’s thinking to himself in the surface – with four-fifths of the poll, upcoming term in charge (imminent spell in office) for me.

    2. Hello, Phanciful. Cryptic convention requires that the definition either come at one end of the clue or occupy the entire clue. The “me” at the end of the clue, which is not part of the wordplay, is a rather vague definition on its own. So, we need the description of an elected official offered by the surface reading of the wordplay to narrow things down. One could underline the “me” and say that the answer refers back to the rest of the clue or, as I chose to do, indicate that the entire clue can serve as a definition/description of the answer.

  14. A tricky and inventive puzzle that I’d have enjoyed blogging as a Thursday Toughie – thanks to Zandio (if the above comments attribute it correctly. The lack of Xs made me think it was from proXimal) and to Mr K.
    I’m not sure about 18a – is it just saying that there are three (often used) letters coded as Echo in the 1a answer?
    My ticks went to 8a, 11a, 26a and 3d.

    1. Thanks, Gazza. Compiler has confirmed below that the “often used” refers to the text of the clue and not to English text in general, so I have updated the hint. I was right to feel, as often happens with this setter, that I had some parsing not quite right.

    2. I did wonder if the reference to resounding was more a description of the word ‘Echo’, as in re-sounding, sounding more than once?

      1. Welcome to the site. Yes, that’s the wordplay ingredient which identifies the correct letter from the several that appear more than once in the 1a text.

        1. Sorry, I get that, but I was thinking more about the ‘proper’ definition of an echo – a sound that happens more than once, like shouting in a cave. Could be described as a re-sounding.

  15. I had a look through the clues and printed off Stick Insect’s toughie from earlier in the week. Having looked at some of the answers, I’m glad I did and am in awe at Mr K’s solving skills! To me, it does seem to be excessively difficult, especially as there’s a toughie available. Little fun to be had (for me) in a puzzle like this.
    Many thanks to Mr K and all the bloggers for all your hard work throughout the year and for keeping this amazing blog up and running.
    Happy New Year one and all!

  16. A very cleverly clued puzzle, but very difficult I thought. I’m certainly not complaining though, as IMHO the previous three days back pagers were quite easy, so it was nice to get something to ponder over. I loved 1a and 3d, but needed to reveal 12d and 23d – I really couldn’t see the wood for the trees. On another note – strange weather here in Shropshire, with lightning bolts at night to scare the living daylights out of folk, wind, heavy rain etc – now wondering whether to send the raven or the dove out! Thanks to our setter for a really tough mental workout and to Mr K for his in depth hints etc

  17. Beyond my pay grade today. I gave up with less than a quarter of the grid completed. Hats off and many thanks to Mr K in unravelling this puzzle and posting the additional explanations. Thanks to the compiler. Whilst I applaud the cleverness there was not much fun to be had for me.

  18. Hello, compiler here. Thanks very much for taking the time to solve, analyse and discuss. In 18a the idea was, as Gazza suggests, that it is used repeatedly in 1a, as well as being a word that 1a might use. Have a great weekend.

    1. I haven’t blogged yet as only just finished after a late start. Excellent! Cruel but fair at top end ***/***. Thank you Sir.

    2. Golly I found that tough and had to use my electronic word finder which I regard as cheating – and it wasn’t much help either. Many thanks for entertaining us throughout the year and keeping my very old brain cells working. Lang may your lum reek! All good fun.

  19. Apologies to Zandio but I found this far too convoluted to be enjoyable. One of the few smiles came from the mothballs in the cupboard.
    Thanks to Mr K and his felines for unravelling the complexities.

    1. My feelings were similar to yours ,Jane, with 8a the only enjoyable clue. The pusscats were very good today. Thanks to Mr K.

  20. I’ll go along with the 4/2 rating! First time the crossword has outlasted lunch AND the cup of tea AND the washing-up.
    But it’s mostly in the mind. None of those clues was that difficult if you were on the right wavelength. Our last was 17D and we knew what we had to do; we just didn’t know what to do it to until we got 16A!

  21. Ouch! That hurt.

    I ended up one short – 12d. I have noted the synonym for poll as I’m sure it’ll come up again. I like the idea of the last four letters of 22a as that sort of thing is good fun but I would never have worked it out.

    I applaud Zandio trying some new approaches; it’s to be encouraged. Yes, some of them don’t hit the mark but, the more he compiles, the more polished his crosswords will be.

    I too didn’t realize that Hollywood is known as the two letter abbreviation though I’m aware of the 2016 film that didn’t win the Best Film Oscar. How hilarious was that, btw??? Poor, Warren.

    My podium is 11a, 16a and 1d

    Many thanks to Zands and Mr K


  22. Oh my – not our finest hour. Even had pommers stumped and scratching his head on a couple and commenting about back page vs toughie! So 4*/1.5* for us.
    We love tricky puzzles but we couldn’t get on Zandio’s wavelength at all today, but thank you for testing us and to MrK for unravelling a couple that we couldn’t spot.
    Love the kitties as usual – but what on earth is the one at 10a?

      1. Hi, Pommette. Evidently there are a few cat breeds with very large ears. I’m not sure which one that is, but it is definitely a cat.

  23. Far too difficult for my level, had to use the “Reveal” button excessively. One benefit of the new site I guess.

  24. PS

    People have mentioned the word wavelength today. Our son bought us for Christmas the boardgame Wavelength which I highly recommend.

    You need to predict someone’s opinion on various topics.

    Very clever and great fun.

  25. Good afternoon

    Pen down after a titanic battle with the Mind of Zandio, but pleased to say that they’re all done.I must respectfully disagree with those who say that this standard of cluing is better suited to a Toughie than a BPer; I’ve come to expect a bit more of a stretch on a Friday. Speaking purely for myself, of course, now that I’ve dropped down to a 3-day week and I’m always off on Fridays now, I’ve got the time to devote to the crozzie.
    Plenty of misdirection, nuance, verbal skill and wit on show today; several contenders for COTD, but the winner is 12d.

    My thanks to The Mind Of Zandio and to Mr K.

  26. Too hard for me. I could not even follow the hint for 7a – unless there’s a typo and the last two letters are reversed?

    1. The pair of letters meaning “excellent” are indeed reversed, which is what the hint and the Detailed Explanation try to say.

  27. Great puzzle!! Had to work hard, but very satisfying. LOI was 11a, and my resolution for 2024 is to learn the names of those little women properly, because the one required took quite a while to come to mind!

  28. I don’t mind having a struggle. I would probably be unbearable if I finished a DT cryptic every single day without a struggle (I can hear George muttering). We went to stay with DD2 for a couple of days and a certain birdbrain forgot to take the DT coupons so I’ve had an enforced few days of cruciverbal deprivation, although I have glanced at the comments. Sorry to see that Mrs C is still suffering, it must have been an odd festive season for you Steve, when everyone else is being jolly. It’s the same with New Year – George goes into plastic surgery on Sunday to have yet another (5th) squamous growth removed. Thank goodness (or more correctly, thank all the setters and hinters) for giving us something else to think about. Surely 2024 must bring some peace and harmony in the world. The 14a lurker is favourite with 3d and 17d very clever runners up.

  29. Me too…not often I give up half finished to go through the hints, but this was such a day…..remaining clues just too convoluted for me, though they all made sense once explained – all I can say is that I am v impressed by those of you who managed it unaided, it certainly shows I still have a way to go….’Put down your vanity, I say, put down…’!!

  30. I needed the hints to parse 18a and 12d. An almost blank grid after first pass but after getting a few more answers things started to progress smoothly but slowly. On completion it was hard to see why. I parsed 26a as two ty’s. Favourite was 23d. Thanks to Zandio and Mr. K.

  31. A mis-quote I am afraid…..s.b. ‘Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down’……memory is a treacherous friend, Google a bit more reliable (but only a bit)….

  32. Well I got there but only with the wonderful hints from MrK for the last 4. I do not know how you managed to provide hints, lovely pics and the fantastic detailed expanded hints which I find so helpful. I am going put some of my difficulties down to post festivity addled brain with the added help of COVID which my husband and I both now have. So I had plenty of time to stare at the clues but today the grey cells did not compute.

    Many thanks to Zandio for the challenge and to Mr K for the brilliant hints and pics as ever.

    1. Oh dear, that is a blow. Did it ruin your Christmas or did it appear afterwards? We have had all the jabs but
      it seems to strike regardless. Get well soon !

      1. Thanks Daisy, fortunately not until Wednesday, when all the relatives had left, one of whom showed signs as soon as they got home, we followed soon after. At least we had a great 2 days all together, I don’t mind New year plans having to be cancelled. Thanks for your good wishes but compared with your challenges and those of others on the blog it is really just a momentary inconvenience.

    2. Very sorry to hear – I’ll stop moaning about my sore throat & bunged up & count my blessings.
      Hope you both recover soon

  33. Not one for me – I have thrown in the towel on this thoroughly unappetising challenge which IMHO lacks a single intelligible surface. Reassured to find others have similar reservations. Sort of thank you Zandio and to MrK for completing such a demanding task on our behalf.

  34. Well as above quite a tricky Friday but not absurdly terrifying. The SW was the stumbling area pour moi but all fair and square and it is of course a Friday! Mr K has excelled with his feline photos and I have already thanked our esteemed setter,

    1a my COTD as I thought it intricate clever and fair.

  35. The north went in at a canter, the south very, very slowly. I did manage to finish unaided but I had to read the hints to find out why and how. At least half a dozen were put in because the word fitted and looked reasonably OK. I can press the ‘reveal mistakes’ button which I did a couple of times to find the answer was correct but was totally mistified. Hey ho can’t win em all but it was rather a struggle. Thanks for the detailed explanation which was very useful. 10a – is that cat’s ears for real?! Thanks Zandio and Mr K.

  36. What a dreadful puzzle. It has no redeeming features at all.
    I really dread Fridays these days, they are really only for the experts with plenty of time in my opinion.
    Please no more like this thing.

      1. I have to agree. Friday backpagers should be more difficult than the rest of the week but not hard Toughie standard.

    1. Two days on and I managed to complete this. Was it really worth the slog? Er, no. I have to agree with all that you said, Brian.

  37. As others have commented, this was a tough challenge. With three clues remaining unsolved, a bit of electronic help nudged me in the right direction for one of them which in turn provided the checkers needed to solve the remaining two.

    Thanks to the setter for a stiff mental workout and to Mr K for the hints.

    By the way, all the paragraph tags appear to be missing in the HTML code for the hints. Is it just me, as no one else has mentioned it (at least in the earlier comments — I haven’t yet read through them all)?

    1. The paragraph tags disappeared because the blog was edited by a colleague with different WordPress settings for Raw HTML I’ve repaired it.

  38. Last Friday of the year, most difficult Friday of the year. What a struggle particularly in the South West. LA ? Hollywood, humbug as Scrooge would say! Challenging but fun, no.
    Thanks to all setters / bloggers for your efforts over 2023 .
    PS favourite clue code breaker because at times it felt you should have been at Bletchley Park to solve this.

  39. Maybe not for Zandio, but uncharacteristically tough for a back-pager, even a Friday one. I’ve enjoyed it however, though it would have passed muster for a mid-range Toughie fairly easily, I’d guess.

    Many thanks for the tussle Z, and to Mr K for the hints. Is that big-eared cat a real breed btw?

  40. Blimey O’Reilly!
    Can’t believe I finished
    This unaided.
    So much brilliance eg 24a and 4d.
    Double 5*s latter well-deserved.
    Thanks Zandio and Mr K.

  41. This may as well have been in Sanskrit for all it meant to me. I solved four clues and decided I didn’t want to mangle what tiny brain I’ve got. Not my bag at all. I found last week’s NTSPP by Chalicea that I was unable to do due to an unexpected, delightful visit from friends from Jamaica whom I haven’t seen for ages. That puzzle was a treat and I loved it, not easy but huge fun. Thank you Mr. K for the lovely kitty pics, I so enjoyed them. Maybe I should save the NTSPP puzzles for Fridays in future, it would save so much emotional upheaval.

  42. In 18a, I would have thought that it was “often used by 1a” because it is the most common letter in the English language and can therefore be a key to assist the 1a.

    I’m still struggling. Under half complete.

    Thanks to Zandio (I think) and MR K.

  43. The unusual cat is an Oriental Shorthair. They normally have rather large ears, but some of them are more bat-like than others!

  44. Well that kept me nicely occupied (for some time) in the back seat during the trek down south. Lovely weather when we left (ain’t that a kick in the head) but predictably squally in parts on the drive down. Not quite as tough as last Friday’s Silvanus but certainly in that ballpark. I didn’t not enjoy it but reckon it was probably more suited to the other slot. 12d was last in – the answer & downhiller were the only 2 words I could think of that fit. I pegged the wordplay parts eventually but still don’t understand the definition really.
    Top 3 for me – 1a&d + 26a.
    Thanks to Zandio & especially to Mr K

  45. Only managed 6 unaided then gave in.

    Thanks to the setter anyway, but huge thanks to Mr K for the unravelling…and the cat pics.

    Happy New Year when it comes to you all.

  46. No time to do the guzzle today but I wanted to see the pusskits. 😊

    I spent most of the day at the bank because I have been scammed. They took a substantial sum of money. I am furious because I am usually very careful. I never click on links in emails, never open emails from those I do not know and never answer the landline until it goes to voicemail. Despite this careful approach, the scammers broke through my defence. It all began with a text message purporting to be from Royal Mail saying they had tried to deliver a package. Trouble is, I am awaiting a package so I clicked the link that asked for payment of £1.25 for re-delivery. That is when the warning bells should have sounded but, with everything else going on at the moment, I didn’t think. The Post Office will never ask for money to be paid for re-delivery.

    Just want to say to all you lovely friends – be very careful.

    1. Oh dear Steve, I am so sorry to hear this. There are some very evil people in this world who like to prey on us “mature” folk. You really don’t deserve this on top of everything else.

  47. I was warned, and should have listened, that it looked like a waste of paper and ink today. I am going to join the growing number of others (including Kath) who have now given up on Friday backpagers. I wish I could understand why the DT persists in offering OTT Fridays, when there is also a Toughie for those clever enough to find the backpager too gentle. Make it the toughest day of the week by all means, but not to the point where you disappoint most of your subscribers. Perhaps we should ask for a rebate, for puzzle access excluding Fridays. Truly frustrating.

  48. Managed about 6 before making a tactical withdrawal to something less demoralising.

    If I had known it was a Zandio (no disrespect to your genius), I wouldn’t have bothered.

    Thanks to all.

  49. Took a while but eventually finished unaided. Felt as though my old brain had had a good work out. Thanks to Zandio and Mr K.

  50. Did find this very challenging and needed a number of hints and the occasional reveal too, so thank you all for making us realise we were not alone! Will return on that basis. Hope tomorrow is kinder…

  51. Apologies, I am very late on parade for this one.
    We are just back from a lovely dinner with our eldest granddaughter. Crikey, are we really that old?!
    Very tough (the puzzle, not the dinner), as others have already commented but it is now complete and I can sleep well (if only!).
    Plenty of original thinking, but a bit too wordy in parts for me.
    Thanks to Zandio and special thanks to Mr K. I hope that the lovely people who use this blog realise quite how much work you do to make it run so smoothly.
    HNY to you all.

    1. Very late to this puzzle after being out all day. Many thanks to the compiler and for the brilliant hints. I needed some help but finished in the end and really enjoyed the challenge. I wouldn’t have got very far at all a few months ago, so feel quite pleased after reading the comments above!

  52. An appropriate level of challenge for a Friday backpager, solvable, requiring close attention, and with largely fair clues.

    However I usually enjoy a Zandio puzzle but not today. Several uncharacteristically poor and / or tenuous clues, and only one, 18d, getting close to the shadow cast by the podium.

    4* / 1*. Thank you Zandio but sorry, way off your usual high standard and just not for me today. Thank you also to MrK – the need for so many detailed explanations (not generally required even for an Elgar or Osmosis Toughie) said it all.

  53. Tough going but rewarding to finish. Managed most of this earlier today but then out to a friends big 60 party – nice to be invited by the youngsters! Just picked it up again and managed to complete the North East which had held me up. I’d convinced myself that 11a began with a B (a neighbour)!
    Podium clues 8a 22a and 5d.
    There were a number of strange surfaces which did take the gloss off somewhat but overall ***/***
    Thanks Zandio and Mr K. Happy New Year to you both

  54. After getting back from our local, after the third attempt I still only had completed 12 out of the 28 answers, therefore I gave up.

    Thanks Zandio and Mr. K., but this little brain wants to retire for the night, but I will still try for another mythical tomorrow.

    Best wishes for the New Year to you all.

  55. Yikes – I thought I had strayed into Toughie territory or maybe needed to learn Martian to cope with this. DNF and did not even come close. Didn’t even understand some of Mr. K’s detailed explanations! Roll on tomorrow.

  56. Really, really hard. I saw the answers before the parsing on quite a few and it took until this morning to finish it. I woke up at 2am with 10a. Maybe not so bad for the Toughie regulars, but for the rest of us mere mortals, a cryptic Hamburger Hill. Happy to get my flag finally planted on the top of this one.

  57. I was a bit worried by so many people saying this was hard, but I can’t resist a Zandio puzzle, so jumped in anyway. It wasn’t exactly straightforward, but it was fun, and I’m not sure I’d’ve noticed it was harder than other Friday backpagers if I’d done it without looking here first — certainly not as hard for me as most Monday crosswords and many Thursday ones.

    Biggest smiles for 8a (mothballs), 12d (four-fifths of poll), 17d (Spanish uniform), and 2d (all the Ds). Thank you to Zandio for setting it, and to Mr K both for explaining “Hollywood” and the wordplay for 23d and for the pic of the cats in a circle.

  58. For 3d please note that the answer is the person who makes the shoe. It is the farrier who fits it. Apart from that a good solve.

  59. Zandio is clearly very clever indeed but I often wonder whether he has a mild inferiority complex with respect to the toughie setters. Which manifests itself as ‘l’ll give you a back page puzzle every bit as tough as a toughie’. Which is a serious problem when so many do not enjoy the result and the DT guys are not smart enough to realise.

    1. That’s pretty insulting to both the setter and the puzzle editors. Also, Zandio is one of the Toughie setters (one of 3 who set on Sundays), and they’re hardly likely to have an inferiority complex with themselves.

      But also, different setters resonate with different solvers. That you always find a particular solver hard it doesn’t follow that everybody does, nor that a newspaper shouldn’t publish them. I manage to complete more Zandio puzzles than I do Monday backpagers, but that doesn’t mean there’s a problem with Monday puzzles.

      Let people enjoy the puzzles they like, and on days when the crossword doesn’t suit you, just accept that there are others who are enjoying it, and that a crossword which suits you will be along shortly.

  60. Enjoyed plodding through this one with the aid of the hints, for which Thanks!
    Liked 8A “What could be in the cupboard -mothballs?”

  61. A late comment from me as I printed this off and saved it for later. I’m very peased I did.
    Although this must be the most difficult Zandio crossword I’ve solved, I thoroughly enjoyed it! It took me simply ages! The wordplay was tricky but excellent and I was, thankfully, able to follow it correctly.
    I ticked many of the clues, among them 1d, 3d, 8a, 22a, and 25a (delightfully illustrated by Mr K).
    Big thanks to Zandio for the mental workout and entertainment. Much appreciation to Mr K for an excellent review.

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