Toughie 3253 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 3253

Toughie No 3253 by Zenas
Hints and tips by ALP

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

BD Rating – Difficulty * Enjoyment ****

I’m sure many of us have been wondering who Zenas is. I was certainly baffled. Thanks (as ever) to the omniscient Gazza, I’m able to say it’s someone you all know. It’s only fair to let them choose whether or not to pop in later. But I very much hope they do: this is a puzzle worth claiming. Suffice to say, when you do find out, the soubriquet will make perfect sense. It’s got nothing to do with the ancient sculptor (at least I don’t think so) or even a misspelt warrior princess. There’s some judicious clueing here and admirably fair definitions: supremely friendly but elegant and far from toothless. The name might be new but that doesn’t mean this is a rookie. Far from it. This is actually someone I’m slightly scared of and I was desperate for this to be good. But it’s not. It’s great. Phew! Can you guess who it is?


 1a        Spotted condition of salesmen almost tipsy (7)

5a        Dodge a fly (7)
SCAMPER: Dodge/con + the ever-cunning three-letter “a”. “That’ll be £30 a head”, etc.

9a        Relative seen during south-east river walk (7)
SAUNTER: A (maiden?) relative inside SE and R(iver).

10a      Reduces sound (7)
NARROWS: Double definition; lessens, etc, and/or a stretch of water.

11a      Agreement to include old Poles in survey (9)
CONSENSUS: A survey or (head) count includes O[ld] + the two poles.

12a      Wife feeding Irish clan cleaned up (5)
SWEPT: W[ife] feeds (is inside) an Irish clan or part of a tribe.

13a      50 inch thread (5)
LISLE: The Roman 50 + (Scots/Irish) inch. One of these xxxx is actually a real xxxx in Ireland.

15a      French gallery with picture framing small dish (9)
FRICASSEE: The usual (abbreviation for) French + a gallery on The Mall + picture/view, with S[mall] inserted.

17a      Incas till ground for grain (9)

19a      Delete from camera setup (5)
ERASE: Lurker, hidden in the last two words.

22a      Sappers regularly working to make stage (5)
APRON: sApPeRs + the usual “working”.

23a      Wanting to signal a means of communication (5,4)
SHORT WAVE: Wanting/lacking + signal (that’s not drowning). I could have sworn this was one word and I was relieved to see that Collins agrees. Chambers, however, does not. Hence the (quite correct) two-word split here.

25a      Fancy record producer returns carrying a drink (7)
IMAGINE: A + drink (I used to prefer a slice of grapefruit to lemon in mine but perhaps I’m just odd) inside a music label that’s been reversed.

26a      Beneficiary received work for carrier (7)
AIRLINE: A beautifully disguised homophone (received) of beneficiary/successor + work/trade, etc.

27a      Paper about flower competition in Augusta (7)
MASTERS: Paper/manuscript about/outside a flower (the one that looks like a daisy but isn’t). Poor Daisy, btw. Horrendous news that. I’m sure we all wish her well.

28a      In megatons with energy released explosively (7)
AMONGST: M[e]GATONS, explosively.


1d        American visiting Michigan state and Oklahoma? (7)
MUSICAL: One of the usual American(s) inside the abbreviation for Michigan plus another state on the other side of the country. Liked this.

2d        Confused Asian tackles question for old theologian (7)
AQUINAS: ASIAN, confused, outside/tackling the usual two-letter question.

3d        Briefly fluster Turner (5)
LATHE: Fluster/panic, minus its last letter. You can cheerfully ignore that capital T.

4d        Worrying note from teacher with terrible flu (9)
STRESSFUL: A (female) teacher missing (from) the note that comes between Re and Fa + FLU, terrible. Great surface.

5d        Creates notes of good found in crimes (5)
SINGS: G[ood] inside the usual crimes. Less great surface.

6d        Quickly embraces Greek God of the skies and above (9)
AEROSPACE: Quickly/at speed outside a love god. One with wings, as it happens, but this word, though usually a noun, is an adjective too.

7d        In favour of old tax system (7)
PROCESS: In favour + an obsolete (old) tax. New to me but very fairly clued.

8d        Blushing having time for a favour (7)
ROSETTE: Blushing/pink (7) has its “A” replaced by T[ime]. Nice.

14d     Comprehensive school event is after examination (9)
EXTENSIVE: EVENTIS, schooled, after the two-letter examination. Lovely surface this.

16d     A sailor meets Arab turning up to see lover (9)
INAMORATA: A + the usual sailor that’s not AB or salt + an Arab (a Muscatter, say) national, reversed.

17d     A stage in the development of sports ground? (7)
STADIUM: I think this is just a double definition. This certainly is a word that means a stage in (the) development of life (animals/plants, etc). But not of sports as such. I suppose sport is, or at least should be, a part of life. But that distinction seems a tad loose for a setter who (as I know all too well) has the “rules” down pat. And it certainly means a “sports ground”. But what the “the” is doing here, I’m not quite sure. The “of” just seems slightly odd to me. You would normally expect definition of/from wordplay. Not definition of/from definition. The question mark puzzles me too. We’ve got two straight definitions, no real whimsy (that I can see) and certainly no Definition By Example. This is the only parsing that gave me pause. I am quite sure my many betters can shed light on this. But, knowing who Zenas is, one thing is certain: I’ve clearly got the cryptic grammar wrong and they’ll have got it right!

18d     Attacks popular Greek holiday destination in speech (7)
INROADS: The usual “popular” plus a homophone of an inexplicably popular Greek island. Worst holiday of my life!

20d     Mother in a dash is formidable (7)
AMAZING: The usual short mother inside A + dash/gusto.

21d     He may be one producing ingredient (7)
ELEMENT: What He is (chemically) is also an ingredient or part.

23d     Stops races (5)
STEMS: Double definition. Stops/checks and races/families.

24d     Body temperature, thereabouts (5)
TORSO: T[emperature] + thereabouts/roughly (2,2).

I thought this was a charming and nicely-varied bag of tricks with six anagrams (including three partials) homophones, a lurker,  an alternative and a couple of double definitions, plus charades, etc. After 2d, I was on the qui vive for the pangram that didn’t quite come but, for my money, they’re over-rated! Nothing to scare the horses: pitch-perfect for a Tuesday. I admired the leanness of 5a and 10a and I particularly enjoyed 1d, 4d and 8d but I think, for me, 14d’s surface (very simple, very pleasing) just takes it, by a whisker. What did you make of it? And have you figured out who it is yet?!

32 comments on “Toughie 3253
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  1. I was trundling along quite happily until the brick wall loomed up before me in the NE. Having now decided who our setter probably is, it doesn’t surprise me in the least! 8ds handed out to 26&27a plus 1&3d.

    Thanks to our not-so-mysterious setter and to ALP for unlocking that pesky NE corner – your 1* for difficulty made me laugh out loud!

  2. ALP. I’m just reading the (excellent, as usual) review and was intrigued by your comments on 17d. I take this to be a straightforward double definition compising two phrasal definitions, the first being of 6 words and the second one of 2 words. And the ? is there because the surface is suggesting “a stage in the development of (for example/maybe) a sports ground” (which is presumably being planned, constructed or renovated). But I could easily have missed something. Haven’t the foggiest who the setter might be, but am itrigued for sure …..

    1. Hi Jose. Ta for that. Yes, it’s undoubtedly a DD. But, as I said, the “the” the and the “of” just oddly bothered me. I’m probably just making a meal of it but I’m still so scarred by Iliadgate that I’m at pains to cross my Is and dot my Ts. As it were. As for the setter … time will no doubt tell (Jane clearly knows already!). It is definitely someone you know!

  3. I, too came to a halt in the east, but for me it was predominately the SE that was the problem. But with Alp’s excellent hints I have a complete grid and can see why Alp liked the puzzle so much. Thanks to him and the compiler, of whom I have no idea being terrible at guess the setter.

  4. It’s one of the most assured debuts I have encountered and one of the toughest Tuesday puzzles for some time. A warm welcome to Zenas. It took me a bit longer than a normal Tuesday challenge, but you could see a lot of craft had gone into the construction.

    I loved lots of great clues, although my only slight grumble is the definition at 17 across, which I feel is a bit ‘once removed’. Can’t wait for the next one.

    1. Hello Tilsit! Good to hear from you – you should call in more often. I think 17a is pretty sound as in: There wasn’t a grain/s*******a of truth in anything she said.

  5. Having done the NW corner I thought “par for the course for a Tuesday but there’s some top quality here” [e.g. 1a and 1d]. Then it seemed to get a lot tougher, especially in the SW, where I got stuck on17d. Yes it’s a double def but it seemed like anything but. I had noticed how terse the clues were and then the definition at 28a got me thinking. Is Zena a daughter and do I hear a bass guitar? Not sure but I do hope so.
    Oh yes – fave clues -5a, 28a and 8d.
    Thanks to whoeveritis and to ALP for the blog [nice to see Angelique get an airing].

  6. An enjoyable puzzle, nicely chewy for a Tuesday, and very accomplished. I’ve no idea who the setter is, and while I congratulate them on their debut, in a way do rather hope it’s not a regular contributor to the daily blogs, who seem to disappear once they’ve achieved published notoriety and fortune! Top three for me were 5a, 15a and 23a.

    I got stuck in the NE, so on my Toughie scale this goes in at 2*.

    Thank you ‘Zenas’ and I look forward to your next appearance (this one does make me wonder whether you’ve been the originator of some of the unclaimed back pagers in recent months?), with thanks also to ALP.

    And very good to see Tilsit back – we may not have ‘corresponded’ much if at all, but during the years I lurked and my early months/years posting here, you were a fixture on BD.

  7. This certainly felt too self-assured to be a first published crossword, so I assume it is by a setter with whom we are already familiar. Or not. Either way, an excellent puzzle with just 17d holding me up in the parsing. 4d was very clever and my favourite ahead of 8d.

    My thanks and congratulations to Zenas for a most enjoyable challenge, and to ALP.

  8. I thought this was refreshingly different and, although I found it rather tough, I really enjoyed the challenge.

    I couldn’t parse 15a when I solved it and I still needed a bit of Googling to unravel it even when armed with ALP’s decryption. I share ALP’s concerns about 17d so it would be good to get clarification from the setter if possible. I also can’t make any sense at all of the surface of 5d, so can anyone please explain what I am missing?

    My favourite was 1d with a special mention for 2d. My first wife was a classicist and she gave our very contemplative cat that name.

    Many thanks to the mysterious Zenas. This seems to be a more erudite version of The Masked Singer. Come on – reveal yourself!

    1. The setter unmasked himself on X/Twitter this morning. You just need to sign in, type Zenas in the search bar, then spend the next three hours scrolling through a lot of nonsense in the hope of finding the post. By which time he’ll have posted here anyway. 🤗

    2. 5d’s surface troubled me too, RD. I’m glad I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t make it read smoothly either. Perhaps someone can and it’s just us! I do like the definition, though. I just would have thought “gang’s boss engaged in crimes… ” (or similar-ish) could have worked better, for a quasi counterfeit feel. Notes as in money, etc. Hopefully, all will be revealed …

  9. A very enjoyable debut puzzle from our new Toughie setter – thanks to Zenas and ALP.
    My 8ds were pinned on 5a, 23a, 26a and 1d.

  10. Thanks. I am not in great shape at the moment and am awaiting (much delayed) urgent surgery]y. I’ve also had one or two other issues that have restricted things. I haven’t been outside my flat since well before Christmas and am largely being looked after by my carers. I still lurk quite a lot and enjoy many of the puzzles. There are one or two that I feel are way short of the mark, but I felt that today’s was worthy of comment..

    Thanks to the well-wishers that have kept in touch and I may be around a bit more now.

    1. Nice to hear from you and glad to hear you are being well looked after. I hope at least you have a nice view from your flat, some thing green or people to watch.

  11. Thanks to Zenas and congratulations on making it on to the Toughie Setters list. As Mary used to say, perseveration gets you there in the end

  12. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments on my debut. You know me better as Prolixic but could not resist the pseudonym Zenas for my first Toughie as it links nicely my legal career, crossword setting and my church ministry!

    I am glad that people found it enjoyable and that different people hit the buffers in different quadrants. As I am at work at the moment, I will try and pop back later to comment further.

  13. Tough for a Tuesday but with a fair bit of help from ALP I got there in the end
    Thanks to Zenas, I hope you get many more opportunities to set alongside the many Rookies who learned at your knee
    Thanks to ALP for some nudges when struggling (BTW you have a slight error under the 2d click here – I made the same mistake on the grid and got the close but no cigar until I corrected it)

    1. Oops, thanks. Well spotted. Duly amended, ta. It’s a happy miracle I didn’t accidentally call Prolixic Zenus to boot!

  14. Found the West much easier than the East. Came to a grinding halt in the NE. Having confidently entered skipper (butterfly) for 5a, I was going nowhere. Struggled too with the SE too till the penny dropped for 23a.

    Thanks to you ALP for putting me back on track. So pleased to see the master in this spot. Let’s hope for many more like this.

  15. Thank you Alp for your kind wishes. I am under a lot of pressure at the moment (are nt we all) and think I was a bit off kilter. It was a lousy place to choose to faint though!

    1. We all hope you’re well on the mend. Big Dave needs you on top form. These things happen – I fell through a greenhouse once myself. And, like you, I was sober at the time! All very best.

  16. Congratulation to Zenas on their Telegraph debut, and for revealing yourself (I didn’t have a clue). Mustafa can rest assured that we haven’t lost another daily blogger.

    Best wishes to Daisygirl and Tilsit — nice to see you both.

    I tried this puzzle based mainly on the combination of Tuesday, ALP’s single-star difficulty, and new setter. I enjoyed many clues. My favourite for a long time was 18d’s Greek destination, later topped by 28a when I finally spotted its little definition.
    But overall I’m nowhere near this level: I started OK, but my vocabulary just isn’t good enough to have got the last few. For me℠, this was significantly harder than puzzles by the Toughie setters I tend to attempt, and much harder than a typical Friday backpager. That isn’t a complaint: it’s fine for Toughies to be tough, and I am so impressed at ALP breezing through it. Thank you for the hints, of which many were used.

    1. As ever, you live up to your name, Smylers. I love your attitude. I am truly sorry to have misled you as regards the difficulty – I was clearly just having a rare good day! Most people agreed with you in thinking it was tougher than I suggested and I totally take your point re vocab. It’s so subjective, isn’t it? Throw in a flower or a footballer and I’m utterly lost. But I did think the definitions were fairly kind. It is so often about wavelength, isn’t it? I actually found today’s back-pager marginally harder – and you probably breezed through that. As you say, it’s great to have Zenas on board. He clearly had a busy day yesterday but I hope he manages to pop back in, if only to explain the cryptic grammar in 17d which still flummoxes me. As Lord Peter Wimsey once almost said: keep smyling, it suits you. All best.

      1. My two-penneth on 17d,

        Stadium is a stage in the development of an animal, plant or disease so adding ‘of sports ground?’ (with the question mark) is correct in that sense. It also happens to be a second definition of the word. All seems perfectly pukka to me.

        While I’m at it, the surface of 5d reads as ‘noting the good that a crime may do’ maybe in the Robin Hood way?

      2. Just seen this, ALP: our home internet connection was broken Wednesday–Friday, and I only just remembered to check back here.

        Anyway, thank you, and no need to apologise: your star rating can only be based on you how you found it.

  17. Sorry about the delay. I was about to post last night and my laptop simply stopped working without warning. Turns out the charging cable was faulty. By the time it was sorted out and I was back on line, it was too late to compose a detailed thank you.

    First of all thanks to everyone who has commented so positively – it is a great encouragement – and to ALP for his review. I must admit it is somewhat nerve-racking to have a Rookie blogging one of your puzzles after you have commented on theirs! I need not have worried.

    On Saturday, I thought that Sloop John B was about to tumble the mystery of your new setter – he was within a whisker of the truth. Fortunately, Michael R sent you all down the wrong path.

    In relation to 5d & 17d, Philbet has nailed the intended parsings. In relation to 5d, I had in mind a criminologist making notes on the good that can come from crimes committed by, say, the suffragette movement; though I like Philbert’s example better. In 17d, the first definition included the “of” and the second definition was simply sports ground. The question mark was there are a stadium is not necessarily a sports ground so it was a definition by example. In relation to 17a, Jose was spot on with his example.

    It has been a long-cherished ambition to become one of the Telegraph’s setters so my particular thanks go to Chris Lancaster for welcoming me on board and his patience with my, I hope, gentle nudges over the past few years to look at the test crosswords I submitted. I have already submitted the next set of crosswords for editing so I hope to appear again before too long.

    Finally, whilst it is exciting to have being welcomed on board, I particualrly want to thank the very many Rookie setters who have submitted their own crosswords to this site. It is more exciting that last Monday was the 10th anniversary of the series. I have had (and will continue to have) the pleasure of reviewing them. The influence (with good and not so good clues) that they have had on my own setting is not insignificant and I hope has helped to improve my own crosswords, so thanks to all the Rookies too.

    1. Huge thanks for popping back in. That all makes perfect sense. I had no doubt whatsoever that you would be utterly correct in your thinking and impeccable cryptic grammar. Ta lots for explaining. Thank you, also, for a cracking puzzle which went down a storm with everyone. Nerve-racking? Ha – how do you think I felt! Very seriously, welcome to the party.

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