Toughie 184 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 184

Toughie No 184 by Excalibur

Hitting the Target

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BD Rating – Difficulty **** Enjoyment **

Thanks to Big Dave for helping out last Thursday when my PC and laptop got the equivalent of man flu.   Now working again, I was happy to swap duties and tackle today’s challenge from Excalibur.  I know that this particular setter’s work hasn’t been well-received round these parts, so I tried to tackle this with an open mind.  I have spent about four hours wrestling with this puzzle today and although I consider myself a reasonable solver, some of the clues just defeated me completely.

When I tackle a tough challenge (like last Saturday’s Independent Prize Puzzle which was by another Toughie setter), I normally have a sense of achievement.  However, I just didn’t get that with today’s, I’m sad to report.

There are some clever  and interesting clues, but there are also one or two that don’t make sense.  The overall puzzle is not helped by the grid itself, which means that you only get help from clues within that corner.  I was lucky to solve the four ten-letter answers, but it didn’t offer me any help with the top right corner and I was staring at a completely  blank corner for over two hours.

The best way I can decribe a few of the clues is to say that in archery terms they hit the outer bull, rather than the inner bull.  When I compile my puzzles, I aim to ensure my clues are precise and hit the inner bull every time, I just felt that a couple here didn’t achieve that.

Let’s take a look at today’s clues, then.  I am afraid there are a couple where my explanation may seem vague,  and if you can help make sense of them, please feel free to comment.  As usual, new posters may take a little while for their first posts to appear, this is purely a precaution against spammers gumming the board up.


1a Lied to impress a girl (8)
{SERENADE}  Lied here is used to mean a song (as in German).  The remainder of the clue is qualifying the definition

5a A shot and a bang (4)
{BASH}  Two definitions of the same word.

9a Giving champion a low clip (8)
{BESTOWAL} Giving is the definition.  The clue is a word-sum.  BEST (Champion) +  anagram of A LOW (indicated by clip, which I don’t see as an anagram indicator, more of an indicator to shorten a word).   My crossword software has almost five hundred different words suitable for use as indicators of anagrams, and clip is not one of them.

10a Doesn’t weave when drunk (6)
{STONED}  An anagram of DOESN’T.  Here the anagram indicator should be “weaved” or “woven”, but it wouldn’t make sense.  An example of an outer bull rather than an inner bull, for me.  Originally here I had STANDS, but couldn’t really make a case for it.

11a They’re taking a trip, but not in schooners (8)
{TUMBLERS}  A double definition clue, with one part a cryptic definition.  There’s a nice misleading surface reading to this clue.  The first part refers to acrobats, and the Schooner is not the old-fashioned ship, but the elegant sherry glass.

12a Back again on my own? It’s a luxury (6)
{ERMINE} ER = Again reversed (back).  Add to this MINE (my own) and you get the expensive and exotic fur, although the definition is a little weak here.

14a Acting honest — rumbled! — get a jolt (2,3,5)
{ON THE STAGE}  An interesting clue which is a sort of word sum but with both parts as anagrams.  So you have an anagram of HONEST for the first part and then an anagram of GET A for the second.  This leads you to an expression which means “acting”.

18a Unworried, makes up with no trouble (2,4,4)
{AT ONE’S EASE} Another word sum.  ATONES (makes up) + EASE (no trouble) = an expression for unworried.

22a Book has it all wrong about love (6)
{LOLITA} The best clue of the puzzle.   I suppose you could argue it sums up the plot of LOLITA  rather nicely.  An anagram of IT ALL with O (love) inside.  I had forgotten that the original film version of the book was by Kubrick.

23a Stole away from the spider out to trap it (8)
{SPIRITED}  An Anagram of SPIDER with IT inside.  Stole away is the definition.

24a Still check the figure entered (6)
{PLACID}  Still is the definition.  PLAID is a check(ed) design with C for figure inside.  Another outer bull clue for me, I’m not keen on C = figure.

25a Ill humour? (4,4)
{SICK JOKE}  A witty cryptic definition, but I have seen it several times before.

26a Sign and enter — there’s nothing to it (4)
{LOGO}  The definition is “sign” and enter = LOG + O (nothing).

27a After drunken sprees, therefore, you need a sobering coffee (8)
{ESPRESSO} An anagram of SPREES + SO = therefore.  Nice surface reading.


2d Continue to create condensation? That would be doubly acute! (6)
{RESUME} I struggled with this and after my third cup of 27a, I think I have it.  “Continue” is one definition.  And “To create condensation……”  is the other indicator.  What the compiler is saying is that if you take the word resume and add two acute accents, so it becomes résumé, you get something condensed, i.e. summarised.  Some will say it’s clever (the setter thinks so, hence the exclamation mark, a sign that the setter thinks it’s a smart clue), some will demur.  I sit in the middle.  It is a nice idea, but I don’t like the way the clue is broken up to achieve it.   What do you think?  You know what to do…….

3d Bringing up age old variation in food (6)
{NOODLE}  Food is the definition.  It’s a reversal of EON (AGE) with an anagram of OLD inside.

4d A complete copy of ‘The Corpse in the Belfry’ (4,6)
{DEAD RINGER}  A definition, plus a cryptic definition.  I think it’s OK but hackneyed.  If you haven’t seen it before you’ll love it.

6d Tries unsuccessfully to find out about star (8)
{ASTERISK} Star is the definition The clue is made up of an anagram of TRIES (unsuccessfully is the indicator) with a word meaning “to find out” (ASK) around it.

7d And the new chap I sent round was no help at all (8)
{HANDICAP}  This clue contains two surplus words  “the” and “was”, and both have to be included for the surface reading of the clue to work.  It’s similar to the last clue in that it’s an anagram of CHAP I around “AND”.  Both clues need you to speak like Yoda to make them work, in effect.  “No help at all” is the definition for HANDICAP. “Was” cannot be used in the definition because the answer would then have to be HANDICAPPED.

8d Brought back to favour, it is thought, again (8)
{REDEEMED}  A double definition clue, and again we have the Yodaesque language.“Brought back to favour” is the main definition.  And then we have “It is thought, again” (note the position of the comma) to give RE-DEEMED.   I really don’t think this works.

9d Cuckoo seen flying about at night (4)
{BATS} Double definition.  Where I, live in Hebden Bridge, we have bats flying round at night.  I live in a block of supported accommodation and one or two of the residents have gone to bed at night with a window open, and woken to find one of these creatures dozing in the corner of their room.  However, they are not allowed to merely chase the bats out of the room, or to pick them up and cast them out.  A member of the local conservation group has to be called to do the honours.  If the Daily Mail is interested……

13d Heartaches? (5,5)
{CHEST PAINS} Another cryptic definition.  Make your mind up about this one.

15d Panic when pal is chucked roughly in can (8)
{TAILSPIN}  Panic is the definition and it’s an anagram of PAL IS (two anagram indicators, not sure why) inside TIN (can)

16d By which people can tell you’re not all there (4-4)
{ROLL CALL}  A cryptic definition that I liked and haven’t seen before.

17d After interview and ensuing article, get furious (8)
{SEETHING}  This would be a perfect clue for SEETHE, however the word needed is SEETHING.  I can’t see why “Getting furious after interview and subsequent article” wasn’t used.

19d The more impecunious won’t need one (6)
{BROKER}  This clue cries out for a question mark at the end.  It’s a cryptic definition, with part as an indicator.  However as one of the definitions is actually not a word, so to show that something is a little mischievous here, it should have a question mark.  I don’t that BROKER can be used as the comparative of BROKE meaning hard up.  It’s a little point, but one which the crosswording forefathers would have had pistols at dawn about.

20d Fills the vacancy in, though one demeans oneself (6)
{STOOPSI am assuming this is a double definition. However, I can’t find a definition of “stoop”  to mean fill a vacancy.  My back-up lexicographer is away, so I can’t check Collins.  The wonderful crosswording aid TEA gives eight definitions, but not that one.
STOPS (fills, as in stops up a hole) with O (vacancy) inside gives a word meaning demeans oneself – reservations about the use of vacancy for O are expessed in the comments below.

21d Don’t work in vain (4)
{IDLE} A final double definition to finish today.    If you don’t work you are idle, and if something is in vain, it is also idle.

A bit of a mixed bag today and I am not terribly happy about the whole thing after finishing it.

For those who like crosswording aids, TEA is an invaluable piece of kit devised by the very talented Ross Beresford, and does all sorts of things including solving anagrams, filling in missing letters and much more.  It also has a superb dictionary with it, and even points you to such dictionaries as Ambrose Bierce’s wickedly funny Devil’s Dictionary for definitions.

You can download a free test copy at

Bats permitting, I’ll see you on Thursday.

11 comments on “Toughie 184

  1. I found this difficult, I loved 4d and 26a. I didn’t like 14a or 18a very much and totally hated 9a, what has a clip got to do with anything?

  2. Found this one easier than the ‘ordinary’ today for some reason. 4d was great & made me chuckle. Not convinced 20d worked that well though.

  3. For 20d I assumed that STOPS = Fills (as in “stops up a hole”) with O = vacancy (nothing?) inside it.

  4. Are there any advances on stoop/fill a vacancy? Been looking myself without success.

  5. Could it be that it’s ‘STOPS’ (as in ‘fills’) with the vacancy, ‘O’ (ie, nothing) in? STO(O)PS.

    1. Hi PercyWoo and welcome to the blog.
      I think that’s pretty much the conclusion we’d reached (see comments above) though no-one is very happy with O meaning vacancy.

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