Toughie 346 – Big Dave's Crossword Blog
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Toughie 346

Toughie No 346 by Firefly

Bit by bit

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BD Rating – Difficulty ***Enjoyment ***

A pretty straightforward solve today and one of those rare occasions when all corners of the grid were filled at about the same pace. Three stars each pretty much sums it up – a good, solid puzzle with no fireworks but (almost) no complaints either – just a couple of things that looked marginal; 16d but only for pedantic reasons, and 17a which looks a little wrong.

I did notice that several clues made use of initial letters; it didn’t grate, but as the puzzle went on these became easier to spot as I was half expecting them.

Favourites are in blue.

Please leave a comment telling us what you thought. You can also add your assessment by selecting from one to five stars at the bottom of the post.


1a    Pioneer perhaps to give gold nugget to Her Majesty (7)
{ORBITER} The answer refers to a space craft of which “Pioneer” is an example. Start with OR (a heraldic word for “gold”), a word that can mean “nugget”, or a piece of something, and the abbreviation used for Queen Elizabeth.

5a    Cheerful Irish takeaway (7)
{CHIPPER} This double meaning uses one familiar meaning, “cheerful”, and a less familiar one – a colloquial Irish word for a chip shop.

9a    Stone’s odds-on to become a novelist (9)
{STEVENSON} For our novelist, take the abbreviation for “stone” (weight), a specific horse racing starting price (“odds”) and ON. The hyphen is a bit cheeky but no cause for complaint.

10a    Nightmare dunderhead and bore… (5)
{DREAM} I wonder if the answer can properly be defined as “nightmare”, since this is a bad example of what can actually be very pleasant. Start with D – the first letter or “head” of “dunder” (purists won’t like that!) and a word which means to “bore” or drill.

11a    …trolls around in grosser goatee (5)
{OGRES} Hidden and reversed in “grosser goatee”. What a strange-looking clue this is!

12a    Tend to mix English jelly in cafe (3,6)
{TEA GARDEN} Start by making an anagram (a “mix”) of TEND. Into that place E (English) and a type of jelly made from seaweed. The position of “in” as the insertion indicator is the sort of naughtiness typical of e.g. Elgar so, again, no real problems with this.

13a    Former heads of old fashioned firm (one making chemicals) receiving order by post (2,7)
{EX OFFICIO} Lots of bits are used here. Start with a two-letter interpretation of “former” (as in former partner), add the first letters (heads) of “old”, “fashioned” and “firm”, then the name of a famous chemical company, then a single letter abbreviation for “order”. The definition “by post” is sneaky but nice – “post” refers to a position within an organisation.

16a    Make hash of a short in cinema – thus? (5)
{MINCE} Interesting, this. “Make a hash of” works as the definition, and the answer is an anagram of CINEMA but without the A. “Make a hash of” can also be the anagram indicator, but that would leave “thus” as a back-reference to the definition, which doesn’t work. So “thus” would have to be some sort of anagram indicator… which doesn’t seem to work either. And yet I solved this without any pause for thought.

17a    Swiftly give time to prickly plant left outside (5)
{HOTLY} Now this one seems more of a problem unless I’m missing something. The answer means “swiftly” (although it doesn’t appear obvious, it makes more sense if you think of a phrase like “hot on the heels of”, i.e. following quickly). We take the name of a plant typically associated with Christmas but remove L from the middle and replace it with T (abbreviation for “time”). That L is defined as “left” but it leaves us with “outside” supposedly serving as a deletion indicator, which I’m not at all convinced by.

18a    Bookman’s — initially suitable — is pain of a font (9)
{BAPTISMAL} This comprises the initial letter of “Bookman’s”, a word meaning “suitable” and a French word (adopted into English) for “pain” – “of a font” is a very nicely presented definition. Adding the apostrophe S is a little odd.

20a    Laugh about the Telegraph’s crisp contribution? (4,5)
{SOUR CREAM} A “laugh” is a SCREAM, and this is placed around a word which can be read as “Telegraph’s”, i.e. “belonging to the Telegraph”. The answer can be a “crisp contribution” if you think of it as something you could dip crisps into.

23a    Deck playroom out when awkward Amy’s away (5)
{ORLOP} The “deck” in question is one on a ship, and it comes from an anagram of PLAYROOM but with the jumbled letters of AMY removed.

25a    Father of war baby regularly brought to book (5)
{ABBOT} “Regularly” and “oddly” are always on standby to indicate the use of alternate letters, and here we take them from “war baby” before adding OT – “book”. Strictly speaking that should be “books” since the OT is a collection of them, but this cryptic stalwart, along with NT, has been used so often this way that solvers rarely give it a second glance.

26a    Exudation round edges of demesne beginning to compromise youngster’s first home (9)
{RESIDENCY} Start with RESIN (a type of “exudation”) and put this around the first and last letters of “demesne”, then the first letter of “compromise” and the first letter of “youngster”. Bit by bit!

27a    Read about bizarre aspect of hearing (7)
{EARDRUM} For this part of the ear, make an anagram of READ and add a word meaning “bizarre”.

28a    Ongoing court house problem for Corin (7)

{CHRONIC} A similar construction here, using CH (abbreviation for “court house”) and an anagram of CORIN.


1d    Coming in to land, old heron’s flapping (7)
{ONSHORE} Very nice image here, created by O (abbreviation for “old”) and an anagram of HERON’S – “flapping” is a perfect anagram indicator.

2d    Dim, as start of blindness with king (5)
{BLEAR} Take the first letter of “blindness” and add the name of a king as used by Shakespeare in the title of a play.

3d    Lefty sets out to become mordant destroyer (6,3)
{TSETSE FLY} A nice easy anagram of LEFTY SETS gives you the name of an insect.

4d    Ms Witherspoon reportedly got together with Mike out in old harbour (5)
{RESET} There is a much more familiar meaning of this answer, but here it’s an archaic one, a word meaning “to harbour”. For the wordplay, start with what sounds like the first name of US actress Ms Witherspoon then add MET (got together) – but this latter bit is “with Mike out”, so we’re instructed to remove the M.

5d    Might French Department’s publishers make balls of it? (9)
{CANTALOUP} Another puzzler. We have CANTAL (a French cheese) and the abbreviation for Oxford University Press (“publishers”) but I’m not quite sure what “might” is doing there – I spent ages trying to justify it as CAN. Anyway, the answer is a type of melon, hence the reference to their “balls” shape.

6d    Where to discover topless divas regularly? (5)
{INDIA} “Where” sometimes appears in clues as a non-specific definition for a specific geographical location. Here the answer is made up of FIND but without the first letter (so it’s “topless”) and alternate letters in “divas”.

7d    Maybe Lemony Snicket has fees paid up (£25 about) on first of March (9)
{PSEUDONYM} “Lemony Snicket” is an example of our answer, since his original name is Daniel Handler. The wordplay uses a reversal of DUES (“fees paid” – “up” indicates the reversal) inside a slang word meaning £25. We finish with the first letter of “March”.

8d    Cameron’s conversion’s a fantasy? (7)
{ROMANCE} Ooh, political V1. The answer is an anagram of CAMERON.

14d    Unconscious and less able to act, gets beat (9)
{OUTNUMBER} The answer is a verb roughly meaning to “beat”. Start with OUT (unconscious) then “make up” a word! Yes, really. If you’ve lost all feeling in an extremity (so it can’t be used) it’s numb. But if it’s more numb…

15d    Communication from Vincent having little weight (9)
{CABLEGRAM} Ooh, political V2. Take the first name of a politician who we usually just call “Vince” and add a word for a small metric weight.

16d    Request for goods from Liam? (4,5)
{MAIL ORDER} This self-referencing clue notices that the latter of its two words can suggest an anagram of the first one, although in truth most would see it as a reversal.

17d    Captive deer trapped in promontory (7)
{HOSTAGE} Another obscurity at work here, where a type of deer is placed inside HOE, which is a promontory or projecting ridge only now used in place names (thanks Chambers).

19d    A challenge for singers using snippets of prerecorded sound nicely arranged and echo-free (3-4)
{LIP-SYNC} More initial letters here, namely those of “prerecorded” and “sound” which are put inside an anagram of NICELY but without the E (echo). Although a bit cumbersome this clue hangs together quite nicely.

21d    Provide vehicle to carry underpinnings of rebuilt bridge (5)
{CATER} Here we have CAR (vehicle) around the last letters (“underpinnings” is unusual but seems fine) of “rebuilt” and “bridge”.

22d    Melody and Mike stifling you and me (5)
{MUSIC} Nice use of MIC for “Mike” here, and it’s placed around a word meaning “you and me”.

24d    Claim to possess new material (5)

{LINEN} An easy finish with LIEN (a legal right) outside the abbreviation for “new”.

So only two clues highlighted in blue. It’s not that there were serious doubts about any of the others; it’s just that there wasn’t much to get excited about. How was it for you?

12 comments on “Toughie 346

  1. I must be improving as I am noticing these little boggles as well.
    Nothing stunning but a perfectly pleasant solve.
    I liked 1d and 7d.
    Thanks for the review, anax, and thanks to Firefly.

  2. As Anax says, relatively “easy” for a Friday crossword, which are usually much more of a struggle. This was completable in my lunch hour apart from 17a which confused me until I read the hint above. I did comment earlier in the week as to whether the crossword ed is changing the difficult days around – I see he’s a blog reader (see today’s cryptic) so perhaps he would like to comment.

  3. agree with your rating and your highlights. re 17a, I read it as add a t to holly (give time) then take away an l (left outside). 5d Cantal is a department in france as well as a cheese.

    1. CANTAL – yes, you’re right; that was a typo. I’d originally puzzled over the cheese (which is the one I knew) until BD pointed out it’s also a Department. I forgot to change it in the review.

  4. Not too Tough today… got held up with 17a and 17d. For some strange reason as soon as I see ‘prickly plant’, I think cactus, and ignore all other possibilities!

  5. A gentler but fun end to the week. In 5d, the reference is not to a French cheese but to CANTAL which is one of the “Departments” in France. I agree that 17a grated slightly.

  6. Anax
    Re 5d, Cantal is a “proper” French department (department No. 15) in the Auvergne (as has already been pointed out – spent too long typing this), this is then followed as you say by OUP (Oxford University Press). The reference to “balls” is to Melon balls i.e. (from Wikipedia) Melon balls are balls of melon made using a melon baller that varies from around 1.0 centimetre to 3.0 centimetres (about ¼ inch to 1 inch)…
    As such the reference to “might” is that you might make melon balls from a Cantaloup melon, but then again you might not.

    1. Won’t be able to live my “cheese” balls-up down!
      I think there’s still a slight problem though in the positioning of “might”. It’s fairly clear what Firefly is attempting, but there’s something amiss in the logic of the construction. That’s by no means a criticism – I’ve been trained in the sort of Ximenean clue surgery common to the Indie/Times; the Guardian, Tele and (to some extent) FT are far more open to Libertarian clues.

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