23,441 – Harder than I thought

Solving time 10:12 – but add a few minutes to account for knowing 17A in advance.

This was the third puzzle in preliminary session B of the championship, and it was solved by 54 per cent of the competitors. That makes my time feel rather slow – either this puzzle doesn’t suit me as well as others, or it’s one of those ones that can be solved by many but takes time (or I’m just being thick today – writing ‘DESSIGNAE’ at 28 didn’t help).


1 FIR,E(PO)WER – beginners, note the River PO along with those three-letter ones nearer home.
9 O,N,AIR – wordplay refers to make-up of atmosphere
11 POMP,EI=i.e. rev.,I – “preserved city” is a nice clear definition that fits the surface meaning well.
12 (c)OPE,RATE
13 THEN,ETHER,LANDS – wordplay not understood until post-solve look. But I should remember by now that “number” = ether (‘cos it’s an old anaesthetic and therefore makes you numb – one for the beginner’s notebook)
17 UTHER PENDRAGON – “the R” in anag. of “danger upon”. If you know your Arthurian stories well, this may be a very witty clue. If not, the thing to remember is: Arthur’s dad.
23 NOSTR=”snort compound”,I=single (one run at cricket),L=line – nice drug-taking surface


1 FOOT,P,AT,H – slightly delayed by thinking of SAN before the simple H.
3 PER(SEVER)E – pere (missing grave accent) = Fr. ‘father’
5 RANCOUR = “ranker” = a private. Beginner’s clue of the day – one of those classic homophones like clangour/clanger
7 DOGE,ATDOG = anag. of ‘got DA’. The Doge in Venice (or maybe Genoa – they had one too, it seems) was originally a magistrate, I believe.
8 RUNNER – a classic two meanings clue with misleading surface. Comes up just as I’m discovering that running is a popular hobby among the bloggers and others here and at Fifteensquared.
16 UNCLOTHE – anag. of touchline without I=one. Good surface meaning that led me away from the anag.
20 BARBEL(l) is the fish of the day.
22 DE(c)K,KO – one of those odd-looking English words stolen from India.
24 RASTA – rev. of ‘a tsar’, &lit – brilliantly clever if this is a fresh invention. If not, worth repeating.

My times for Times puzzles since my last posting
23,436 – 5:19
23,437 – 13:03 (after reading Magoo’s headline)
23,438 – 4:02 – nearly that rather elusive sub-four clocking (not done since starting to blog)
23,439 – 4:05
23,440 – 4:36
Probably my best set of three times for ages – just shows what a bit of confidence can do.

Other stuff
Anax site – new link in the green strip on the right. “Anax” is a non-pro setter (now, at least – he was once on the Birmingham post team) whose web-site has a good stock of pretty challenging puzzles.

19 comments on “23,441 – Harder than I thought”

  1. Once again I didn’t realise I’d already done this puzzle at the Times championship. In fact I think I solved it quicker then than I did today (about 10 mins). I only realised I’d seen it before when I got 17 across, but even that didn’t help me finish.

    PS Peter, the link to Uther Pendragon has a bogus > in it (fat finger syndrome?)

    1. It’s surprising how much you can forget. Link now fixed, with mental note to test them properly in future.
  2. Surprised myself with 8 minutes on this one; one of those days when the brain must have been in tune. I spoilt the performance somewhat with the careless mis-spelling DECKO at 22D which threw me at 25A.

    Pete – many thanks for the plug!

  3. Did it at Cheltenham and seem to remember this being slightly the hardest of the three. Since my time was twenty minutes for three, I think, probably about eight or nine for this one. I seem to remember not being able to prove FIREPOWER at 1ac for some time – probably owing to not having seen PO for a while. Is it my imagination, or did the river Ob used to be a possibility?
    1. Memories of the schoolroom world map? The Ob is certainly very possible in principle, but I can’t remember seeing it for ages, and haven’t mentioned it in any blog entries.

      Before the championships, I predicted that anyone who handed in three correct answers in a preliminary heat in 40 minutes or less would qualify for the final. I’m confident that this was true in prelim A. Can anyone say whether it was for B as well?

      Incidental anorak tip: you can search this blog with Google searches like this. Unfortunately I don’t think you can do an “or” with the blog URL and include the old version in the same search.

      1. I don’t think it was true in Prelim B. I didn’t have a watch on me, but I reckon I took 40-45 minutes to solve all three, and only came 21st. However, I think B was easier with 31 all-corrects as opposed to only 16 in A.

        Interesting that Mr Magoo had trouble with 1ac – when I handed my solution in I’d written it in with no confidence at all, only figuring it out a few minutes later.

  4. Mondays puzzle, completed 12 clues in the half hour on the train, then stuck on the rest. Tuesday completed 13 clues in the same time.

    Feeling I was starting to make some progress, especially as I completed both Monday and Tuesday’s Telegraph Cryptics.

    Then today I manage to answer only 1 clue in the Times cryptic, ‘Radar’.

    btw, there is plenty of communication about the Times, Guardian and Indie cryptics but none about the Telegraph, is it considered an inferior cryptic?

    Pete W.

    1. I can remember plenty of similar experiences in my early days of solving, some linked with the statements about how many championship contestants finished inside the time limit. The trick is to learn from the solutions – many of the tricks are used quite frequently. Solving whole puzzles regularly, and then quickly, requires memory as well as skill.

      Telegraph: the “crossword chattering classes” tend to look down on this puzzle, but that’s rather unfair. Some of their setters write for other papers, so they have plenty of talent on their team. And for many people, who want a puzzle they can be fairly confident of finishing rather than something to brag about, the Telegraph fits the bill. When I was travelling to London every day on the train, I think I saw the Telegraph puzzle being filled in more often than the others, so it has a big following. It also has a subscription website, and it’s possible that discussion goes on there. I’d like one day to see the “big 5” completed with blogs like this for the Telegraph and FT puzzles.

  5. I’m trying to find the best way to learn solving cryptics – I’ve read all the books etc – but obviously the best way is to get stuck in and learn from the solutions. I saw this blog a couple of days ago and it looks brilliant. Pete B recommended the Independent to me earlier this year (along with helping me set my first cryptic – still working on the second!), but finding good solution explanations is difficult for the Indie – lack of time prevents me from spending hours trying to understand every clue.

    I’m looking at sticking with one paper which will give me a good grounding, but balanced with a good resource for explained solutions each day. I tried the Times this morning and managed to get ‘on air’ and ‘radar’ but nothing else before resorting to this blog. Many of the answers are obvious when explained which is promising. I can usually complete around 50% to 70% of the Telegraph. The Guardian from other comments seems to be a bit non-standard, but I haven’t tried that one.

    My question is, do you recommend going with the Times even though I won’t complete much (yet) and learn from all the answers here, or go with the easier telegraph, but fail to learn from those which I can’t answer and can’t find explained solutions to? I’m thinking the good source of explained solutions would be more beneficial…?


    Dave E

  6. I’ve just seen the link to the Guardian / Independent blog – hadn’t seen that before I posted, only a few days old too! Sorry! Question now is… which set of clues/solutions will help me learn the most diversity, but are still considered to be fairly standard. What do people here recommend?


    1. If you’re looking for one puzzle to do regularly, I’d suggest the Independent at the moment. It has some setters writing fairly easy puzzles with very fair clues, some thematic puzzles, one or two people influenced by Guardian-style unorthodoxy (which as far as I know is not editorially suppressed), and some difficult puzzles – a good mixture.

      1. Thanks Peter, looks like the Independent blog came along at the right time for me… if I get slow day I’ll probably have a crack at the Times too.
  7. Because of the new site going live with the same format as this one I have ‘treated’ myself to a £3 monthly subscription to the Guardian crosswords to see how it goes. The diversity can only help.

    So currently I tackle the Times Cryptic on the way to work, the Guardian on the way home and settle down with the wife in the snug to tackle the Telegraph in the evening. With this kind of dedication I’m hoping to repeat the success I’m having with the Telegraph in the Times puzzles.

    As for the Guardian, first impressions are that it’s very daunting, but then I thought that of the Times when I started these 6 weeks ago. However with this site providing explanations it soon became more enjoyable(ignoring today’s puzzle!).

    Pete W.

  8. Mr Biddlecombe,

    thanks for the info about the Telegraph puzzle, from it’s lack of mention on this and the equivalent GuardianIndie site I’d assumed as much.

    I think I’ll stick with it as the wife enjoys it and the satisfaction gained from solving it make up for my performance on the other two.

    Pete W.

    1. I used to do the Telegraph regularly (paper and online versions). Some thoughts:
      – online: their online website is the worst of all the online options: clumsy interface and somewhat buggy (in terms of rendering)
      – quality: puzzle quality is very homogeneous (presumably the result of editorial guidelines). Themes are rare. The Saturday puzzle seems to be a cut above the rest in terms of wit and surprising wordplay — probably a different setter.
      – growth: as a puzzle solver I was in a rut doing the Telegraph over and over again — only once I had started to do the Times and Guardian regularly, did I feel that I had started to seriously improve so that I am now ready to being scaling the heights Azed e.g.
      1. You’re right about the different setter. The Telegraph works pretty much like us – a regular setter for each day of the week, plus about three floaters to cover holidays. The Saturday setter is called Peter Chamberlain. Don Manley appears at some point during the week, but I don’t know the whole list. Val Gilbert, DT xwd ed, retired recently (Kate Fassett is the new editor), so DT solvers might detect some changes of style over the next few years.
  9. Well here I am with my very first posting, albeit a day late! I am a beginner at the Times Cryptic, having cut my teeth on the ‘Bournemouth Echo’, the Daily Mail and the occasional Telegraph offerings. The Times gets delivered to work and no-one else dares tackle the infamous grid, so a couple of weeks ago, I thought “what the heck!”

    After some disappointing ‘non-starters’ imagine my delight when, after 90 mins with some inspired guesswork and the help of a big fat dictionary last night, I successfully completed yesterday’s puzzle. May it be the first of many!

    Thanks for this site – it’s brilliant for aspiring solvers like myself.

    Hutch, from Dorset.

  10. Good work. Keep that puzzle somewhere safe. Next target: a solution without that dictionary. I reckon you can get there by sometime in the second half of next year, quite possibly sooner.
  11. Much talk of improving with the Times X-Word here. Maybe this will help anyone practising on back numbers?
    6a Locator of plane travelling there and back = RADAR (the there and back indicating the palindrome)
    10a Jocular issue of Browning, perhaps? = SON OF A GUN (Browning pistol?)
    21a A connection is cut = A BRIDGE
    25a What’s last to be pocketed in bar = BLACKBALL (true in Snooker & Pool – to be blackballed is to be barred)
    26a Popular group’s lesser feature = IN SET
    27a Tempo fast approaching zero = LENTO
    2d World is sure heading for meltdown = REAL M
    15d Police work is remarkable = ARRESTING
    18d Black & white dish with nothing on top = PIE BALD
    19d Puzzle seen only negatively? = NONPLUS (ie only minus – geddit?)

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