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Toughie 318

Toughie No 318 by Notabilis

This is what they want

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

This blog often contains comments about whether or not the Toughie does what it says on the tin, but getting the balance exactly right – a tough puzzle, but solvable and enjoyable – is difficult to achieve. The three stars I’ve given for difficulty here are solely a reflection of the fact that I managed to get on the setter’s wavelength very quickly, but I suspect others may have found it hard going in places. What I can be fairly sure of, though, is that those who got through it will have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. No doubt the crossword editor receives many comments along the lines of “I think the Telegraph Toughie should be…”; the only thing I can say is that an increase in the number of puzzles by Notabilis would be welcomed by all. He really is a superb setter; imaginative, witty, concise and solidly Ximenean in technique.

This puzzle is no exception, an absolute delight. The clues are completely fair, smooth, and littered with just the right number of “Aha!” moments, and also a few genuine “Bravo!” moments.

My favourites are in blue but I’ve tried to highlight the very best out of a really fine set of clues.

Your comments on the puzzle are most welcome. You can also add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a    Root of square after couple replaces contents (5)
{SWEDE} I can’t remember the last time 1a was my last answer in a puzzle! This tricky little devil asks you to start with the word SQUARE and replace all of the central letters with a word meaning “to couple”, or to unite in matrimony. The “root” is an edible one.

4a    Play for time, hugging a single wicket? (9)
{STONEWALL} A tip here is to start by looking at “a single wicket”, since “wicket” in a clue is almost sure to mean the cricketing abbreviation W. So a single wicket is probably ONE W. This group of letters is “hugged by” (i.e. appears inside) a word meaning “play for time”. The answer also means “play for time” in a cricketing sense, creating a nice &Lit (all-in-one) clue, but I’ve held back on the blueness this time as I guess few will know about the cricketing term.

9a    Perhaps a binger’s usual venomous attack (9)
{SNAKEBITE} A fairly easy double meaning, but I do like “usual” as in “What’ll it be?”; “I’ll have the usual”.

10a    Mole getting round quiet person who manipulates windbag? (5)
{PIPER} Chambers offers six distinct entries for “mole” and, coming in at number 5, we have “a massive breakwater, causeway or masonry pier”. So, place PIER around a musical abbreviation meaning “quiet(ly)” for the answer here.

11a    Female divinity regularly invoked by Jesus the Prophet (7)
{EUTERPE} I don’t care whether or not “invoked” appears superfluous here – Notabilis’ spot of alternate letters in JESUS THE PROPHET transcends any quibble! Brilliant.

12a    Belong to a Mennonite sect showing happy emotion? (7)
{BEAMISH} I always thought this answer was the name of a brewery only, but the def “showing happy emotion” stands up. The wordplay asks us to think of “Belong to a Mennonite sect” as to BE —” as in:

13a    Deny connection with brouhaha about broadcast (6)
{DISOWN} Nothing in this clue implicitly refers to last year’s Ross/Brand radio incident, but I’ll bet it reminded you! For the answer, put DIN (brouhaha) around a word meaning to “broadcast” – nothing to do with radio; think about seeds.

15a    Fluffing first four shots may necessitate this rest (4,4)
{TAKE FIVE} As they shoot a piece of film, someone holds a clapperboard in front of the camera and says something – so, what would they say if the first four takes hadn’t been good enough? The answer is “rest” as a verb.

18a    Silence in animated film with pantomime (8)
{DUMBSHOW} This one also held me up a bit because I was convinced the answer was two words; Chambers showed me otherwise. For the answer (a pantomime) put SH (silence!) into the name of a Disney film about a little elephant, then add the abbreviation for “with” at the end.

20a    Pan inventor reduced hindrance (6)
{BARRIE} The surname of the author of Peter Pan comprises a word for a hindrance, minus its last letter.

23a    For example, trouble with aged, turning leaves (7)
{FOLIAGE} The wordplay uses the standard abbreviation meaning “for example”, AIL (to trouble) and finally OF – all of these are reversed. “Aged” for OF seems odd at first, but it just about works in the right context; “A boy of/aged 12”.

24a    The lady turned ashen (7)
{DEATHLY} This one should help if you’ve struggled up to this point, a nice easy anagram of THE LADY…

26a    Revival of panto is readily available (2,3)
{ON TAP} …and another! This time the anagram fodder is PANTO.

27a    Principals not showing up for month let down musical (2,3,4)
{ON THE TOWN} This is just stunning. We’re looking for the name of a musical. If we take the sequence MONTH LET DOWN the answer is right there in front of us. To find it, we have to remove the first letters (“principals”) from those words, but after doing so also need to adjust the way the letters are split up. Notabilis has done an amazing job to create a perfectly coherent clue.

28a    Extremist republican boarding owned ship (9)
{HARDLINER} Put the letter R (republican) inside HAD (owned) and follow this with a type of large passenger ship.

29a    Drastically reduce, having seconds to flog (5)
{SLASH} Another bravo moment despite the wordplay being very straightforward, the abbreviation for “seconds” followed by a word meaning “to flog” (with a whip). Although a plain clue, the surface reading is absolutely spot on.


1d    Arrested and prosecuted about exhaust (9)
{SUSPENDED} The answer, meaning “arrested”, is in the sense of “held up/delayed”. Wordplay takes SUED (prosecuted) and puts it around a word meaning “to exhaust” or use up (money, perhaps).

2d    Swallow taking turns with extra large uplift (5)
{EXALT} Another delicious teaser in which the letters X and L (extra large) “take turns” appearing in the letters of EAT (swallow). It’s a lovely wordplay image; OK, EAT, it’s your turn to place your first letter E. Now it’s my turn with the X. And so on…

3d    Were boy hammered, could it mean a hairy hangover? (7)
{EYEBROW} An anagram of WERE BOY gives us a facial feature obliquely described here as a “hairy hangover”.

4d    React to cold start of skiing season in Val d’Isère (6)
{SHIVER} No, the surface reading isn’t 100% smooth but it’s still a bit special as a clue. The start of “skiing” is S and this is followed by the French word for “winter”.

5d    After word of action, each among other ranks is to conquer (8)
{OVERBEAR} Take a grammatical “doing word” and EA (abbreviation of “each”) and put them inside OR (other ranks – soldiers).

6d    Leaderless church brings in a new board (7)
{EMPLANE} A TEMPLE is a type of church from which we remove the first letter (making it “leaderless”), and inside this place A and N (new). The answer, meaning “board”, is a verb.

7d    A PA will require some gain from this (9)
{AMPLIFIER} Is this a very rare weak spot? It’s a cryptic definition so that’s always a danger. The image is intended to make you think of PA as “personal assistant”, but it’s just as likely you may think of a PA system and one of these:

8d    Bend upwards under large tree (5)
{LARCH} A second appearance for L=large, under which is a word meaning “to bend upwards”.

14d    Ruin almost, ruin almost, for pretender (9)
{SIMULATOR} The anagram fodder is ALMOST RUIN but with the last letter removed, to give us a word that properly means a “pretender”, although we gaming geeks will see it as one of these:

16d    What keeps well, incorporated thoroughly? (5,4)
{EVERY INCH} The blue highlighter goes onto this one simply for its clever conciseness. Start with EH (as in “What?”) and place it around VERY (“well” – not an obvious link but it made me think of casual speech as in “That crossword was well difficult”) and the abbreviation for “incorporated”.

17d    Funny show cut to allow bathos? (8)
{COMEDOWN} A funny show is a COMEDY but for us it’s “cut” (has its last letter lopped off). After that, a word meaning to “allow”, or to concede/admit.

19d    Second demand to sheathe sports knife (7)
{SCALPEL} Second=S followed by CALL (demand). This is placed around (i.e. “sheathes”) an abbreviation that refers to sports training.

21d    Cinema finally forced my companions and me to a film (7)
{AMADEUS} “Cinema finally” is a clue to a last letter, and this is followed by a phrase which could be read as “forced my companions and me” – the answer is a film centred on the bloke below. It’s slightly surprising that Notabilis hasn’t used “see” either instead of “a” or before it, as the result would have been an even smoother (and still very fair) reading. I’m wondering if this was accidentally lost in editing?

22d    Press boss to put in travel to the North (6)
{EDITOR} At long last the cryptic wordplay stalwart ED appears in full, in the grid too! Place TO inside a word meaning “to travel”, but reversed, i.e. “to the North”.

23d    Frivolous stuff ahead, lifting the heart (5)
{FROTH} For this frivolous stuff, take a word meaning “ahead” (onwards) but move the middle letter (heart) up a little bit.

25d    Expressions of surprise raised a fuss (3-2)
{HOO-HA} The two components of this answer can each be reversed, and in each case you’ll get a word that’s an exclamation of surprise. In the right order, they may make you think of Manchester United legend Eric Cantona.

If it seems I’ve been a bit stingy with the blue highlighter it’s only because I’ve tried to select the best of the best. This is a belting set of clues and I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

23 comments on “Toughie 318

  1. A thoroughly excellent puzzle that had me fuming, laughing and scratching my head. At least four hard stars for me. Failed in the top left as I had ‘prevented’ for 1d ( an old scots word pree with vent for exhaust inside.
    Clue of the day must be 16d with 4d a close second.
    Thanks for the help anax and keep ’em coming Notabilis!

    1. Thanks matey!
      Another thing to add, by the way, is that this puzzle’s number 318 just happens to be the racing number of my favourite Banger driver, a chap called Wilf Speak – a great, hard-hitting driver who still races, I think, for a team who call themselves Stinkbridge (don’t ask me where the name comes from – this is a genteel crossword blog. Each of their cars is painted pink, with a black roof) – so it seems fitting that crossword 318 happens to have been set by someone who I consider to the the best Toughie setter and one of the very best setters in the country.

            1. I lost a pint on it with my mate in October last year. I’m not really ‘coin-wary’ but it did stick in any case!.

            2. Ha! Actually, it’s amazing how quickly that clue has become outdated. About 10 years ago the MkIII Granny was standard material for the Unlimited meetings – typical for them to make up 90% of the grids. But they’ve been used up; it’s mostly Volvos and Jags now and you hardly ever see Granadas. Sierras fold up too easily, Mondeos are too hard at the front so many promotions don’t allow them, and too much of what’s left is FWD.

              1. My mate was the Banger Racing officionado and he called it on the Granada per the original link. I supose that a smashed up car has a certian shelf life.

  2. Anax,
    Indeed an education….unfortunately too tough for me but I entirely see the reasons for your enthusiasm.
    Having put in blanche as the answer to 24ac the southeast became unsolvable ( surprised you didn’t dislike hoo-ha as an answer ) and10ac and 11ac and 6d were all beyond me…..inspite of staring at the paper for 70 minutes in the gym.!
    Still will keep an eye out for Notabilis in future.
    BD will be unhappy that you get the best puzzle to review again.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Still waiting for the backlash.

    For the record, 21D is as I wrote it. The “to” is part of the wordplay, not a link word: “forced my companions and me to [do something]” = “made us [do something]”.

    1. Purrfect Toughie, not so complicated that I give up in disgust, but enough to keep me going. This took most of the day, off an on and was much appreciated. This and a Giovanni, so much better than yesterday!

    2. I’ll second Libellule’s comments. This was a gem to be savoured througout the day. Top marks for a cracking puzzle.

  4. Absolutely wonderful workout! Loved 11a and 4d, but 27a was best for me , almost as good as the film with Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Ann Miller!

  5. re 12a Fortunately granddaughter Tara had recited Lewis Carroll’s nonsense verse “Jabberwocky” to me the other day and it included the answer which I wasn’t familiar with at that time:

    “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
    Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
    O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
    He chortled in his joy.

  6. An excellent puzzle. i started it late last night but had to stop with the NE corner partly unfinished so completed it this morning.
    I liked 4a, 9a,11a, 12a & 27a 6d, 7d, 16d, 19d & 21d.
    Very good fare!

  7. Just tried this – found it really tough but got there. Solved 15A from an approximate version of the wordplay based on golf, though the result seemed ungrammatical – on reflection, a sure sign that I’d got the answer by the wrong route. Came perilously close to believing that the plant used to make “pan” (betel?) might be the same thing the Aussies call WATTLE – with WATT = inventor and LE(t) = “reduced hindrance”, but saved by 16D in the end. Also had MIME SHOW at 18 for a while until I decided 1D had to end -DED. Final problem: thinking of AMPLITUDE first at 7D, though not convinced enough to write it.

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