Toughie 3221 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 3221

Toughie No 3221 by Serpent

Hints and tips by ALP

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

I can’t be alone in fearing a professorial setter who based his pseudonym on a “cryptographic algorithm”. The very words make me want to sob. As a chap who epically failed Maths A-level, my brain is clearly cheese to his chalk. And it was certainly Gouda after this majestic work-out. It is, without doubt, the toughest Tuesday Toughie I can remember. Well, since Serpent’s last one anyway. This is considerably tougher (in my book) than its supposed sibling, the Friday back-pager, and I, for one, am all for it. There’s a little bit of everything here: music, newspapers and, sadly, even some geometry. But there are some “soft” edges (where you’ll also find some quickie-style puns) and I loved it. I hope you did too. All yours.


1a Broadcast performer of nonsense verse? (7)
SCATTER: I was almost tempted to mark this as a double definition but it isn’t, quite. This performer/singer of (jazzy) meaningless vocals may **** but he/she is not a ******* (at least according to the dictionary).

5a Plot to restrict water supply firmly knocked on the head (7)
BRAINED: Plot (for flowers) restricts/contains (an airborne) source of water.

9a Endless stress close to breaking flunkey (9)
UNDERLING: A stress used in punctuation (as seen in the line above in fact) loses its last letter + breakinG (close to).

10a American Idol rejected fundamentalist views (5)
DOGMA: The two-letter abbreviation for American (not US!) + a (religious) idol, reversed (rejected).

11a Set off around River Severn’s first lock (5)
TRESS: SET, off, around/outside R(iver) + S(evern).

12a Record appeal constitutes source of internal problems (9)
ENTERITIS: (To) record/log + (sex) appeal + constitutes (to be, in the third person).

 13a Moving onto email following reorganisation (9)

16a Square number rotated in original scheme (5)
PLAZA: When the answer’s N(umber) rotates 90 degrees anti-clockwise it becomes a way to say original scheme (4,1). Crikey – you can tell the man used to be a maths professor!

17a Witness admits terms of decision bias soundness of judgement (5)
SENSE: (To) witness admits/contains decisioN + biaS (terms of).

18a I appreciate that accepting the French is depressing (9)
CHEERLESS: Thanks (for a drink?) accepting/containing the French for (plural) the.

20a Crazy authoritarian issuing garbled oath in novel setting (9)
RURITANIA: AUTHORITARIAN, crazy, minus OATH, garbled = a make-believe place coined in The Prisoner of Zenda back in 1894. Serpent’s just showing off now!

23a Member of company works naked (5)
ACTOR: Works or plant, without its first and last letters.

25a Newspaper reporter’s essential part in unpleasant matter (5)
ICHOR: The one-letter newspaper + a homonym (reporter’s) of essence/heart. This foxed me for a while as the essence of “reporter” gives you the last two letters. But, then again, it doesn’t really! LOI.

26a Intimate phone conversation narrowly avoided clash (5,4)
CLOSE CALL: Double definition – how one might describe an intimate chat and also a near thing.

27a Clear description of former journalist? (7)
EXPRESS: How one might describe someone who used to work for newspapers, etc.

28a Literal meaning initially suggests correspondence (7)
LETTERS: Literally/To the ****** (of the law) + S(uggests).


1d To let: abandoned vehicle (7)
SHUTTLE: To (when applied to a door) + LET, abandoned.

2d Become confused when inane chatter alienates tense wife (5)
ADDLE: A word meaning inane chatter without (alienates) T(ense) and W(ife).

3d Entrance to terraces in Ulster ground? (9)
TURNSTILE: T(erraces) + INULSTER, ground. A superb all-in-one.

4d Establish level for the audience (5)
RAISE: A homonym (for the audience) of  a word that means level (to the ground).

5d Gain for each bank employee shortened game (9)
BAGATELLE: Gain/secure/pocket + the one-letter per + a word for a cashier, missing its last letter.

6d Dread may be caused by this reptile slithering about (5)
ADDER: A reverse anagram of sorts, ie DREAD is an anagram of the answer.

7d Dark horse that poses threat to rest (9)
NIGHTMARE: (The) dark + a female horse.

8d Repeatedly unveiled ideas about southern tourist destination (4,3)
DEAD SEA: iDEAs + iDEAs (unveiled twice) with S(outhern) inside. I can personally NOT recommend this place as a tourist destination!

14d They will admit joint possession? (9)
OWNERSHIP: A word for those who admit/concede + a joint above the knee. You could also – at a (big) pinch – see it as a cryptic definition when read (6′,3). Nice.

15d Steal food after losing son’s trifles (4-5)
NICK-NACKS: Steal/pinch + items of food (between meals) minus S(on).

16d Superman enthralled crowds hanging around indefinitely (9)
PERMANENT: A lurker, hidden (crowds) in the first and second words.

17d How one might describe mass employment in the armed forces (7)
SERVICE: A double definition; a (church) mass and (what you’re doing in) any one of the three of these, the RAF, etc.

19d Self-contained lists? (7)
SCROLLS: S(elf)C(contained) + lists/leans (as a boat might).

21d Half-hearted setter misinterpreted brief (5)
TERSE: SET(t)ER (half-hearted), misinterpreted.

22d Island in the form of a ring (5)
ATOLL: A + ring (as a bell).

24d Discover whereabouts of something hard to find (5)
TRACE: A double definition that effectively also serves an all-in-one, meaning (to) track someone down and a small quantity that can just be detected.

Glossy, smart and oozing with class – it’s all but impossible to pick a favourite(s). 16a is unique, 18a and 1d are immaculate, 20a is sharp and 14d is simply lovely. I could go on. But I really must give the expertly disguised 25a (even though it’s a hateful word) the nod because it very nearly broke me. What did you think?

43 comments on “Toughie 3221
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  1. Great fun, with the peripheral clues giving extended answers that helped the solving process. I didn’t find this particularly testing, but it was certainly highly enjoyable with some memorable clueing. The short and sweet 1d was my pick this afternoon.

    Thanks to Serpent and ALP.

  2. I’m going to wait to comment fully until I see what others think but wanted to point out that Serpent’s usual hidden something or other seems to be easily found in the outsides of the grid

    1. You are entirely right, of course, Sue. I completely forgot to mention the four quickie-style puns. Oops. Very remiss of me!

  3. This is a cracking puzzle to start the Toughie week. Thanks to Serpent and ALP.
    I have ticks all over my printout – I’ll just mention 1a, 5a, 16a, 23a, 14d and 19d.

  4. Toughie completed unaided, checks BD blog, 3 stars for difficulty. Slaps self on back and goes for a lie down in a darkened room. 😀

  5. Yes! Rather tricky for Tuesday but some great stuff here. I had the same problem with 25a as our Blogger so that’s one winner. Others are 16a [although I think we’ve seen the device somewhere else relatively recently] 1d [beautifully concise] 3d [a perfect and lit] and the clever 8d.
    Thanks to Serpent and ALP.

  6. Cracking puzzle with which to re-start the week’s Toughies following the Monday pause. A very enjoyable solve though I could not parse my (correct) answers to 16a, 25a & 1d (many thanks to ALP) – of which 16a is the most diabolical. Wish I’d noticed the Nina because 1d would have been filled in a little sooner. 20a familiar to me (Prisoner of Zenda is a great fun novel, and the sequel is almost as good) and my COTD is 19d, but for an example of the nonsense in 1a I give you this marvellous and more recent ear-worm of a piece:

    2 / 4 Many thanks to Serpent and ALP

      1. Yes I saw that. What I meant was that you don’t need construction of s/c/rolls. Scrolls are lists which are rolled up in themselves.

          1. OK I guess it is both. I wasn’t happy with ‘self contained’ providing the s and the c, but I have just thought about dive’s breathing apparatus, so I suppose that works.

          2. Just another observation re 19d. I concluded that, since the answer items are made of paper/writing material, the “lists” refers to r***s/lists/inventories (of peoples’s names for example), and not the nautical allusion. Seems a tad more logical somehow.

  7. Blimey that was hard. I needed the hints to parse 16a, 25a and 28a. I hadn’t noticed the outside ‘puns’ until CS pointed it out, very clever. Only six answers on first pass so I thought this was going to be beyond me but as more checkers appeared it became a little less difficult. Favourite was 1d. Thanks to Serpent and ALP.

  8. Although I solved this in ** time, I find myself for the first time in ages having to come and get help with a couple of parsings – 25a and 19d, to be precise. So I think this officially counts as hard for a Tuesday. But it was certainly superbly constructed, good fun, and I am most grateful to the setter and to ALP for putting my mind at ease. Elgar on Friday, I suppose, so I will no doubt be back :-)

    1. I totally agree. It was pretty much a ** solve, time-wise, for me too but a couple of knotty parsings just tipped it up, I thought. But, as we know, Elgar is never less than a full-fat five!

  9. Despite not noticing the cleverness around the perimeter we thoroughly enjoyed solving this one with lots of ticks on our pages.
    Thanks Serpent and ALP.

  10. It took me a while to unpick this one and of course there was a new learning for me once more.
    Favourite clue was 8d and my favourite hint was 10a for the photo that made me laugh…
    Thanks to both Serpent and to ALP

  11. A reasonably quick grid fill but figuring out the whys much trickier. Got them all pretty much pegged apart from last in 1d – I got the anagram indicator bit but still don’t understand the first part or the hint (anything to do with Larry Grayson & Everard?). I see others have it as a tick so I must be missing something. Pleased to recall 25a, to peg the rotational number (which fooled me not so long ago) & always chuffed to spot a subtraction anagram. Lots of ✅s in a very enjoyable puzzle with 9,18&20a plus 7&18d particular likes.
    Thanks to Serpent & to ALP – great pic at 10a & have just played Imagineering loudly through my Linn speakers & will investigate further.

    1. Linn speakers? You swank! I love his stuff, though he can’t make music videos for toffee. Knowing you, you must recognise the sample, surely? Re 1d, if you pull a door “to”, you “shut” it.

      1. Oh of course. Ta. Re NOW (who I’d never heard of) really liked You Wish. Had to replay Imagineering twice to peg the sample & it’s my all time fav British gangster movie (The Long Good Friday & Brighton Rock on the podium) which I know scene for scene – love that opening sequence on the train with him reading Farewell, My Lovely.

        1. Another classic sample! Did you clock where that’s from? Rappin’ 4-Tay’s version – Playaz Club – is very different, of course, but rather lovely, too. Now that would thrum on your Linns. Re Get Carter, why oh why did they “remake” it? WHAT was Caine thinking of? The pay cheque, I guess.

          1. Never seen it & didn’t know Caine was in it. Watched about 50 mins of the remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 the other day – perfectly good but wouldn’t hold a candle to the original & they rarely do. Course I’m now thinking of exceptions

  12. Many thanks to ALP for the excellent blog – great pictures and clips. I’m delighted you enjoyed the puzzle so much. Thanks also to everyone who has taken the time to leave such nice comments.

    With regard to SCROLLS, the clue is certainly intended to be an &lit or all-in-one clue. It is pure coincidence that ROLLS could be defined by “lists” in two different ways. The surface reading certainly uses the inventory definition. (S/C is defined as “self-contained” in Chambers and Collins.)

    1. Huge thanks for popping in – always much appreciated. And many thanks, too, for an absolute snorter. This still begs the question, though … which “lists” did you have in mind?!

    2. My word that was hard. I managed 3/4 before turning to the hints but even then clues like 16a were hard to work out. I loved 8d (although I did not much like floating in it when I was there) nice lurker at 16 and I liked 23a. How clever of you to incorporate the four phrases. Many thanks for filling in an hour of a sleepless night!

  13. I’ve said it already. a nice accompaniment to a hot chocolate and digestive biscuit. Also did the panagram (I’m a Wird Naster!) or even if spell check will allow it, a word master. Although maybe weird nasty could be better. Time for bed again. Thanks to Serpent & Alp and hats off to all you clever clogs.

  14. Thank you, ALP, for recommending this: I wasn’t going to do a crossword today (after failing so badly at last Tuesday’s backpager, I was too scared (scarred?) to give this week’s a go), but your introduction made it sound fun, and it was.

    10 answers on the first pass is way more than usual for me on a Toughie, and more than on quite a few backpagers, so this seemed at the more-approachable end of the range. Thank you for the hints for 12a (problems) and 25a (matter), neither of which are words I know — and having looked them up, I’m not really sure I want to know them either! There’s no way I was getting those on my own. So technically a DNF, but it was so enjoyable that I really don’t mind.

    There were so many contenders for favourite, including 9a’s flunky, 8d’s repeatedly unveiled ideas, and 15d’s stealing food; I’m going for 16a’s square number. Cheers, all, and especially to Serpent — looking forward to your next one.

  15. I’m delighted you enjoyed this little belter, Smylers, and relieved that my gushing didn’t, in fact, put you off. The last time I raved about a crossword (Vagabundo) I cut a very lonely furrow indeed! Going from a back-page battering to a Toughie romp (and this was tough, for a Tuesday) is no mean feat. Hats off.

  16. 2*/4* …..
    Liked 6D “Dread may be caused by this reptile slithering about (5)”
    Still puzzled by the parsing off 16A ..n becomes z ???

    1. In 16a, the letter N (the abbreviation for number, at least in the Telegraph) needs to be turned (rotated) on its side, effectively becoming a Z. So PLAN A becomes PLAZA/square. It’s not a device we see that often but it does pop up. We had M and W flipped only the other day.

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