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Toughie 374

Toughie No 374 by Notabilis

Anax can fall

+ – + – + – + – + – + – + – +

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

I really enjoyed this, but I also found it very difficult – not that I had to look anything up beyond confirming a couple of answers I’d written in. But, after solving, it turns out a couple of my partners in solving crime had far less trouble than me.

Notabilis has been one of my favourite setters for a long time and, as ever, what shines through in this puzzle (beyond his usual inventiveness) is conciseness, clarity and fairness. The enjoyment rating is only at 4 stars, though; for me the clues were pretty much faultless – just one very tiny grumble – but it just needed a genuine WOW moment to tip it into 5-star territory.

My favourites clues are shown in blue text, but these are the pick of a very high quality bunch.

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    A cub’s a strange means of multiplying (6)
{ABACUS} Notabilis gets us under way with an easy anagram, a strange version of A CUBS A. Don’t be fooled though – things are about to get tricky.

5a    Baggage handler’s employment in seasonal work? (8)
{CAROUSEL} The definition baggage handler is misleading as we’re looking for a piece of machinery rather than a person. Employment in a clue is often a pointer to USE, so at least there’s a hook to work with here. Those three letters are placed inside something that can be a seasonal work – think about a traditional song at Christmas.

9a    Become quite agitated when grasping middle of boa constrictor (10)
{TOURNIQUET} Superb economy of words is a Notabilis trademark which makes this convincing clue story all the more satisfying. Start by taking a word for become (it also means to rotate) and then make an anagram (agitated) of QUITE. Somewhere inside this place the middle letter of BOA to end up with something which, in a medical sense, can be a constrictor.

10a    Hospital needed in great pain (4)
{ACHE} Although cleverly done there’s just something about the wording that persuaded me to pocket the blue highlighter. Hospital is a generous gimme for H and this has to be placed inside a word meaning great, excellent, top. The result is a dull pain.

11a    Legendary rider not outwardly showing respect (8)
{REVERENT} It took me a while to remember the legendary American dispatch rider Paul —. After that it was a (comparatively) simple task to treat NOT outwardly, in other words to use just its first and last letters.

12a    Unusual name? No (6)
{EAMONN} We appear to be lacking a definition here, the clue telling us to make an anagram (so it’s unusual) of NAME NO. Aha! Nothing missing after all, since the answer is a name which is by no means unusual.

13a    Reduced a concrete sphere (4)
{AREA} With no checking letters this is tough – but pretty easy if they’re in place. A concrete is offering a phrase that means “a solid” or “a tangible” but we need to reduce that by taking a letter off the end to give us a word meaning sphere as in a field of expertise or responsibility.

15a    Frenetic manoeuvres give more complaints (8)
{REINFECT} Although this is a straightforward anagram of FRENETIC, for some reason it took me a long time to see it. I’m not absolutely convinced by the definition’s plural complaints, as I think the answer is more likely to refer to a person again falling victim to a single type of infection, but this is a very minor niggle.

18a    Stupid formality reversed in fleet with head dismissed (8)
{IMBECILE} Now this really is a tough one. The answer is one we usually think of as a noun, but it’s an adjective too hence the stupid definition. The next task is to come up with something for formality reversed – colloquially ICE works for formality, so we have to reverse that bit. Those letters are then placed inside a word for fleet (as in quick and agile) but with the first letter removed (with head dismissed). Crikey!

19a    Either way, use element in soda bread (4)
{NAAN} For me either way immediately pointed to a palindromic answer but I couldn’t then account for use element. What I should have spotted sooner was the need to take the chemical symbol for sodium (which was originally called natrium) and then repeat it but in reverse.

21a    Launch periodical over spring (6)
{GAMBOL} Pointing nicely towards the launch of some magazine or other, this clue takes words for launch (to throw in the air) and periodical (or magazine) and reverses them to make a word meaning to spring (as a lamb).

23a    Initially stall for time when British weaponry is returned, being well-protected (8)
{SNUGNESS} Amazingly simple when you spot it, but my word it’s hard to spot. The best place to start is in the middle of the clue with British weaponry – an answer to that is STEN GUNS. This is returned (written backwards) but the abbreviation for time must be replaced with the first letter of stall. I like the way this clue has been developed and carried through; smooth and concise again.

25a    Bit of excitement for pair possibly including … (4)
{ITEM} An easier offering, the answer being hidden in excitement. The last bit of the clue, possibly including …,
can be linked to steady in the next to help with the definition there.

26a    … steady backing equipment to supply around weekday (10)
{GIRLFRIEND} So, using possibly including and steady helps to show that the answer here is gender-specific. Equipment leads to RIG but this is reversed (is backing), then we want a word meaning to supply (perhaps to give a particular quality to) which is placed around the abbreviation for a day of the week.

27a    Mine finally agreed its outputs produce carbuncles (8)
{EYESORES} This is a very good treatment of a deceptively awkward word for clue-writers. Start with mine finally to get the first letter, then a word of agreement, and finally the possible outputs of some mines.

28a    Force club subscription with society overcoming resistance (6)
{DURESS} Force is a noun here, not a verb, and is the definition. Take a 4-letter word for club subscription and the abbreviation for society (S), then place these around the abbreviation for resistance (R).


2d    Barracks heard binge (5)
{BOOZE} This time one of the key words barracks has to be read as a verb, not a noun. Heard points to a homophone, so use the sound of a word meaning barracks (or heckles) to get a word meaning to binge (on alcoholic drinks). The position of heard suggests it could be breaking the “can only apply to one part of the clue” rule, but that isn’t the case because of the two sound-alike words only one will fit the slot.

3d    Associate is devious to Le Carré (9)
{CORRELATE} A straightforward anagram again, a devious version of TO LE CARRE, but you might struggle to find it unless you read associate as a verb. A simple clue made tough by a clever definition.

4d    Six in light bender raised whimper (6)
{SNIVEL} Spelt-out numbers typically point to Roman numerals, so here we have VI appearing inside light bender – that is, a device which effectively bends light – and this has to be reversed (raised) to produce a word meaning to whimper.

5d    Perhaps 1 evaluates retaliations? (15)
{COUNTERMEASURES} If you’ve got the (easy) 1a this should be a simple charade. It consists of what 1a can be used as, plus a word for evaluates.

6d    Ukraine’s capital subsequently piercing sky over mountainous region (8)
{RUTHENIA} The mountainous region of the answer is not one I was familiar with, but a couple of checking letters and pared-down wordplay were a big help. Ukraine’s capital gives us a first letter, which is followed by a very common word meaning subsequently. Outside these, place a reversal (over) of AIR (sky).

7d    For Florence, a room free of destructive devices (5)
{UNARM} Florence is of course a city in Italy, and one Italian version of a is una (there are also un and uno). Add a 2-letter abbreviation for room to get a word meaning to get rid of weapons (or free of destructive devices).

8d    Remedy caught for south in water off N Taiwan (9)
{ECHINACEA} This very uncommon word is a N American plant from which a herbal remedy is taken – it’s thought to boost the immune system. The answer can be split into three parts to give an expanse of oriental water, but we have to change the S (south) of that to C (caught).

14d    Liberal in party man trashed without restraint (9)
{RAMPANTLY} Thankfully this is a bit easier – take L (Liberal) and place it inside an anagram (trashed is the indicator) of PARTY MAN to find a word meaning without restraint.

16d    Enthusiast traps popular banker (9)
{FINANCIER} If you’ve been doing crosswords for a long time you may well have seen this answer given a similar treatment in the past; our banker (someone who supplies money to a project) consists of a word for a type of enthusiast (good idea to think of pigeons) around IN (popular).

17d    Czech beer (specifically and generally) hasn’t succeeded for marauder (8)
{PILLAGER} The surface reading isn’t great here but Notabilis has latched onto a nice exploitation of the answer, which means a marauder. Take a 4-letter word which refers specifically to a type of Czech beer, plus a 5-letter word which generally describes a beer of a similar type. Before joining them together, remove the S (succeeded) from the end of the first word.

20d    Breathless, uplifting French from folios at university (6)
{PUFFED} This reversed charade (word sum) uses a French word for from, FF (folios) and a word crossworders often use to mean at university – all reversed to give a word meaning breathless.

22d    Coach welcomes representative birthday torment (5)
{BUMPS} For this birthday torment, put a word for coach around (so it welcomes) MP (representative).

24d    Fault American hollowness (5)
{SINUS} A very simple construction to finish, although knowing that the answer is a hollowness within the nose might help! Add a word meaning a fault (or a transgression) to a 2-letter abbreviation equating to American.

So, was Anax having a bit of a thick day? Or was it really a stinker? Oh, do tell.

On an unrelated note, the next ‘Rules’ piece won’t appear until some time next week. I have family and friends here all weekend and won’t have chance to write anything until Monday. For those who want an extra challenge tomorrow I’m in the Independent with a thematic puzzle for which no thematic knowledge is needed. In fact you may be pushed to discover the theme at all!

14 comments on “Toughie 374

  1. I found this too hard for me today, and needed the review to finish it and also for an explanation of a couple I had got but was far from sure of the wordplay. Some excellent clues, and I agree with your selection of the best Anax; apart from 23a in which the definition doesn’t quite work for me. I also liked 25a/26a; where the linking helped with two devious (but fair) definitions.

    1. 23a – I think the def is OK if you read it as “being well-protected” (easy to read “being” as a “leading to this answer” link). I just checked the Big Red One for definitions for the 4-letter bit at the start of the answer and it offers “sheltered” and “not exposed to view or notice”, so “well-protected” seems pretty close.

  2. Enjoyably difficult is just right. A bit of a shock after the lovely “easy” cryptic. One of those puzzles where I worked out the solutions from the checking letters and a bit of guesswork, and then had to check Anax’s review to find out exactly why the answer was what it was.

  3. As Anax ignored my suggested supplement to 11a I will have to post it myself!


  4. I found this a right struggle to start with. I cleared up the LHS bar 13a and then got the rest slowly – finally plumping for the correct answer at 23a. I needed the blog (thanks!) for the wordplay to 11a, 18a and 23a and thought this was a great puzzle indeed. Strangely, I have seen Sinus clued 3 times in the last week and struggled each time!.
    Thanks Anax, and many thanks to Notabilis for a top puzzle.

  5. Many thanks Anax, needed help with several……6d 13ac and 23ac all very tough. 12ac tough too without 6d and nowhere near 18ac but otherwise just coped.
    Favourite clue 26ac.

  6. A tough end to what has generally been a pretty good and balanced week. Needed help with SW corner, so thanks to Anax and to our setter. Back to mediocrity tomorrow forenoon, I fear.

  7. Many thanks Anax for the review, I needed your assistance with 6d and 8d. I really enjoyed this crossword today so thanks Notabilis.

  8. Pretty easy. Never heard of 6d or 8d, but both very clever clues.

    I missed the wordplay in 18a, and would have finished sooner if I had known that Eamonn has two ns. (Not in Éamon de Valera, it doesn’t.

  9. Maybe a bit of a thick day – I’d say this was at the easy end of Toughies that count as Toughies. Given the “toughest on Fleet Street” billing, the ones that are quicker than an average Times puzzle don’t count!

  10. Enjoyment factor – nil. Tony Hayward probably had more fun during his recent exchange of pleasantries with US Congressmen.

  11. I was very stuck on the bottom of the grid until I noticed the Nina: Reading the unches in columns 1 and 15 alternately, ALTERNATING SIDES.

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