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Toughie 2996

Toughie No 2996 by Sparks

Hints and Tips by crypticsue

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

Sparks set the toughest of Toughies, but it is so cold outside, what else were you going to do with your Friday morning?

He usually hides something in the grid for us to find, but if there is something in this one, at the time of typing, I haven’t spotted it

Please leave a comment telling us what you thought


1a    Malaysian capital detaining group linked to a secret doctrine (7)
KABBALA A Swedish group is inserted (detaining) in the abbreviation for the capital of Malaysia, the result followed by A (from the clue)

5a    The benefit of not being well? (4,3)
SICK PAY A benefit paid to someone who is not at work through illness

9a    Binds broken bobsleigh whose frame has split (7)
OBLIGES Binds in the sense of imposes an obligation on – an anagram (broken) of the inside (the ‘frame’ or outside letters having split or left) bOBSLEIGh

10a    Former lady’s maid advanced with considerable trouble (7)
ABIGAIL An archaic (former) name for a lady’s maid – the abbreviation for advanced, a synonym for considerable and a verb meaning to trouble

11a    Comrade Victor has converted (9)
TOVARISCH A Russian Communist comrade is obtained from an anagram (converted) of VICTOR HAS

12a    More than one stretch breaks back (5)
SPANS A reversal (back) of part of a verb meaning breaks suddenly

13a    Finally weeping, overwhelmed by dreadful air at funeral (5)
DIRGE The final letter of weepinG ‘overwhelmed’ by an adjective meaning dreadful

15a    Area offering the greatest latitude, in a negative sense (9)
ANTARCTIC This area is the fifth largest continent and has a negative latitude as it is south of the Equator

17a    Hip person looking on, but not at, examiner (9)
INSPECTOR The usual two-letter hip or fashionable and someone looking on without (not) the AT

19a    Nothing must stop academic demonstration (5)
PROOF The letter representing nothing is inserted (must stop) into a familiar way of referring to an academic

22a    Intensity of final farewell following heart transplant? (5)
DEPTH Change (transplant) the letter at the heart of the most final of farewells

23a    Subject of test words that may follow French and precede Latin? (6,3)
GUINEA PIG Place the word French before the first word of the solution to get a West African country. The second word precedes Latin to make a secret language made up by children

25a    Edges of nail-head left in flat wheel (7)
TRUNDLE To wheel, especially heavily or clumsily – the ‘edges’ of Nail-heaD and the abbreviation for Left inserted into an adjective meaning flat or straight

26a    Roland endlessly bored by dame’s male friend (3,4)
OLD BEAN An affectionally familiar term of address to a male friend of any age. Remove the ends of rOLANd and insert (bored by) the abbreviation for a Dame of the British Empire

27a    Complaints made by short thick wife and kids on vacation (7)
SQUAWKS Truncate (short) an adjective meaning short and thick, add the abbreviation for Wife and the outside (on vacation) letters of KidS – Short appears to be both an instruction and part of the definition of the word to be truncated

28a    Try on extremely stiff new pants (1-6)
Y-FRONTS An anagram (new) of TRY ON and the ‘extreme’ letters of StifF


1d    Tangled bird spread out to dry (7)
KNOTTED A small shore bird and a verb meaning to spread new-mown grass out to dry

2d    Statesman, as it happens, almost bitten by animal (7)
BOLIVAR Almost all of a word meaning ‘as it happens’ bitten by or inserted into a male pig (animal) gives us a South American statesman who played a central role in South American independence. I knew him, not least because, back in the Seventies,  when I worked in London near Belgrave Square, I passed his statue on an almost daily basis.

3d    Diviner month, you said, before year’s end (5)
AUGUR An abbreviated month, a homophone (said) of you and the ‘end’ of yeaR

4d    Helping first worker to support Charlie (9)
ASSISTANT An adjective meaning helping – the abbreviation for first and one of crosswordland’s workers go after (to support in a Down solution) an informal term for a fool (Charlie)

5d    Break  bread (5)
SMASH The first of these double definitions is obvious. The second one requires a trip to the BRB to discover that like ‘bread’, the solution is a slang word for cash

6d    Using which a rider may secure essential cover (9)
CHINSTRAP Something to use to secure the essential cover for a rider of a horse, bicycle or motor bike

7d    Rustic type of game that’s not hard (7)
PEASANT A type of game bird without the abbreviation for hard

8d    Ultimately try to fill barrel up wherein soldiers may go for a dip? (4,3)
YOLK SAC The ultimate letters of trY tO filL followed by a reversal (up) of a barrel

14d    Slap detective and cryptically murder playwright (9)
EYESHADOW An informal name for a detective and the first part of a phrase used informally to mean murder inserted (as instructed by the second word of the phrase) into a well-known Irish playwright

16d    Sin and sex repressed by Conservative jurisdiction (9)
TERRITORY A verb meaning to sin and an informal term for sex appeal inserted into the informal way we refer to Conservative

17d    Sea tide briefly changed, trapping old salts (7)
IODATES An anagram (changed) of almost all (briefly) of SEA TIDe ‘trapping’ the abbreviation for Old

18d    Allies picking up equipment for those who treat rising cause of death in Asia (7)
SEPPUKU Another name for Hara-Kiri, Japanese ceremonial death by suicide (cause of death in Asia) – The abbreviations for both our country and our allies across the Pond, between which is inserted the abbreviation for the protective equipment used by those who treat us, the result all reversed (up)

20d    Melodious harp one played (7)
ORPHEAN An anagram (played) of HARP ONE

21d    Worthless bits of objects aimed at bolstering fine silver (3,4)
FAG ENDS Some objects aimed at ‘bolstering’ or going under in a Down solution, the abbreviation for fine and the chemical symbol for silver

23d    Visitor all but seconds judge (5)
GUESS Almost all of a visitor followed by the abbreviation for seconds

24d    Source of down clue I derived to some extent (5)
EIDER Hidden in (to some extent) cluE I DERived

15 comments on “Toughie 2996

  1. I really enjoyed this and unlike most of Elgar’s I finished it. For that reason I was surprised and pleasantly surprised that I noticed todays reviewer was CS and she gave it *****/*****. I certainly agree with the enjoyment rating but I thought the difficulty was ***. Many has been the time on a Tuesday or a Wednesday when I have really struggled and CS has punctured my already deflated ego by awarding the Toughie of the day *. It just shows we all think differently.
    Many thanks to Sparks and especially to CS who has kindly inflated my ego!!

  2. Dumpy wife would have been better, to avoid doubt.

    Overall a thoroughly enjoyable and, for a Friday, not too hard puzzle. Great surfaces, funny images created (like 16d) and special mention for the brilliant 8d PDM.

    Thanks Sparks and CS.

  3. Excellent stuff as always from Sparks. Unusually for a Sparks puzzle, though, I needed to come here to get some help with parsing – 1d I confess I didn’t know either part; 5d I didn’t know the ‘bread’ part … but 14d and 18d I just plain didn’t figure out what was happening and I really should have. So, thank you CS for saving me.

  4. Proper job! Very enjoyable challenge from Sparks (thank you) and needed CS’s excellent review (thank you) to understand why I had a correct and complete grid.

    NW went in surprisingly quickly, boosting my confidence; proceeding clockwise I found each quarter increasingly difficult. 5d my LOI, converting from pencil to pen in trust without checking with the BRB. Had never heard of 10a in that context but the word play was straightforward. 15a ‘could only be’ but I thought it a weak clue when in the company of so many cracking ones. Hon Mentions to 1a, 23a, 26a, 1d and COTD 14d.

    I can’t rate this less than 5* for difficulty, but found it less challenging than an Elgar, certainly less so than an Osmosis, if that makes sense? Great fun though, with new words deduced and learned (17d, 20d).

  5. Quite a tricky puzzle which required several visits to the BRB for me – thanks to Sparks and CS.
    I can’t spot a Nina so I hope that Sparks will visit and reveal if there is one.
    Top clues for me were 26d, 8d and 14d.

    1. And the answer to 14d is also the answer to 14d in Friday’s Times, with the same first word to the clue!

  6. I did very well (for me, for a Sparks Toughie) and needed CS’s hints for only four clues at the end: the soldiers’ dip; the Japanese farewell; the face-saving device; and the old maid (though I really did know this one). Surprised at the ***** level of difficulty, even though it’s what I would have awarded it. I thought that this was a crackerjack puzzle and I enjoyed every moment of it. 23a, my COTD, made me laugh, as did 27a, a very close first-runner-up. Thanks to CS and Sparks.

  7. Outstanding puzzle, with some such as 18d being new words to me, but soluble with electronic and BRB assistance. All completely fair as usual with Sparks, and I liked 8d and 16d in particular. It didn’t take me as long as several recent fiendishly difficult puzzles, but definitely with of a Friday Toughie slot.

  8. I usually avoid Friday Toughies, but seeing that today’s (erm, yesterday’s) one wasn’t an Elgar puzzle, I thought I’d give it a go. Pleased to say that not only have I solved it, but as far as I can remember, it is the first Sparks offering I’ve ever completed – so am feeling rather chuffed. Most entertaining and good fun too. Lots of smiles and a couple of fresh – to me – words learned. Thanks to both Sparks and CS. Now to try my hand at making some Chinese sesame balls – apparently they are a traditional Chinese new year nibble. Not that I am Chinese, but I do Chinese style cookery quite often.

  9. As ever, EXTREMELY late on toughie duty, like my fellow correspondents, I am rather chuffed to have managed to solve a “Sparks”, albeit with electronic assistance. Though well clued, confirmation of (for me) new words and/or definitions at 1a, 10a, 3d, 5d & 18d all required help, so hardly a walk in the park!
    But it was Friday and a Toughie, my pick of the bunch was 6d for the PD moment.
    Thanks to Sparks for the tussle and CS for the review.

  10. Thank you CS for the lovely blog and to others for the very supportive comments. Haven’t responded before now since, while you were all solving this, I was under GA for an emergency arm op! Hence typing now tricky for several reasons :(

    The very unimaginative Nina — more of a grid seed, really — was the interlinking 4 long answers ASSISTANT INSPECTOR and ANTARCTIC TERRITORY. Thank you again.

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