23448 – easy for a Thursday (or any day)

Solving time : 5:41

This may not be the fastest time in which I have ever completed a Times Crossword, but it is certainly the fastest I have ever timed accurately. With the single exception of 15D, I solved every clue the first time I looked at it.

This leaves me even more impressed than before with those who often record times of less than 5 minutes, not to mention the few who occasionally beat 4 minutes. I am not sure I can think or write significantly faster than today.

1 E.N.T. + I RELY – “hospital department” is generally Ear Nose and Throat, though I have seen ER clued this way, presumably when a setter felt the queen had been over-used.
13 E + RN + I.E. – I imagine that Ernie (the Premium Bond computer) is less well known to overseas solvers
20 BO(HEM + I)A – I think of stoles as being fur and boas being feather, but they don’t need to be
22 (m)EMBER – I suppose a “member” can be a part of a plant as well as of a person or animal
25 BOO + T.B. + LACK
26 NINJA – Easy to spot as a hidden word, though I don’t follow the definition. Surely a ninja is someone who assassinates man in Japan, rather than concealing him?


3 RIGHT HONOURABLE – as a civil servant, I often have to check if politicians are Privy Councillors or not, so as to know if the are Rt Hon or merely Hon
6 BETWEEN THE LINES – two meanings
7 CHEONGSAM – I was pleased to get the right spelling of this unfamiliar word at first attempt
8 SETTEE – took me a little while to remember that Chesterfield was furniture as well as a town
15 C(LIMB)DOWN – not difficult, but the only one for which I needed to wait for more crossing letters before working out the answer
20 B((t)RACK)EN
21 HER BAL(l)
24 GENOA – two meanings. “Out of” may not be a great link, but I can’t think of a better one that would work

27 comments on “23448 – easy for a Thursday (or any day)”

  1. I agree with all of the analysis, having also been especially pleased to spot CHEONGSAM and know its spelling immediately (the unusual HONGS in the wordplay barely helps if one doesn’t!). My time was 3m52s, bearing out what you say. I actually think this may be one of those rare beasts that might have been harder with straight definition clues (T2 style) as the wordplay was just helpful to push one along in many cases.
    1. In that case Mr M, I trump you by 3 seconds! I’m glad I didn’t stop to check the wordplay of CHEONGSAM at the time or I’d have been stumped, never having heard of HONGS. I think most of the rest was justified at the time of solving.
      I agree about the RTC comparison, in fact I was thinking more or less the same thing. Cryptic puzzles offer solving in stereo …
  2. Virtually the same clue for Bohemia cropped up in Sat’s Jumbo (31D). Seems more than a random coincidence… PB?
    1. I think there are just some useful grid-fillers with common cluing methods. Crossword coincidences have been discussed at great length over at rec.puzzles.crosswords use Google groups to search it for “coincidence” and sit down with a large mug of coffee. I’ll place a small bet that hidden-word clues for NINJA will be in there somewhere.
  3. Well done to you and the sub-4 pair! I found 3/4 of the puzzle nearly as easy as you but had a perfect ‘stuckage’ in the SW – didn’t get the HONOURABLE to go with RIGHT instantly, so with all but 18, 22, 25, 27, 21, 15 and 19 solved, that left the whole corner blank, after maybe 3:40 (many of the others solved on first look but not all). After a minute or so of being stuck, I twigged “consumption”, so got BOOTBLACK as the breakthrough answer and the rest followed after a couple more minutes, for a tortoise-like 6:59.

    For quicker times, there’s probably some part played by a talent for quick reading and thinking – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Magoo or fgbp’s maths teachers had called them like “Speedy Gonzalez” too. At the risk of other “speed merchants” sending the boys round for giving away trade secrets, specific tricks that help are:

    • reading and solving the next clue while writing the answer
    • a shorter first look – I’ve never timed the details of reading/thinking/writing times, but I’d guess that “first look” for the quickest solvers = 2 or 3 seconds of reading and thinking, or even less – increases the risk of failing on first look, but gives you more looks per minute
    • spotting words from the grid, possibly remembering a common way of cluing them which you can confirm easily – N?N?A just triggered the thought “Not NINJA again, hidden word?” – saw it hidden and didn’t even read the def. On a good day I might get one or two this way.
    • Similar lucky spots from definitions, esp. of multi-word phrases.

    (I’m assuming you’re not solving clues in the written order, but using checking letters when you get them, or looking at one corner at a time, or similar. If I’m wrong, this is the first thing to try.).

    Most of these can be sharpened up by trying to do plain definition puzzles quickly. Then, when you get a Times puzzle that’s easy for you, you’ll be using well-practised skills to take advantage. I’ve only consciously used the ‘order of solving’ and ‘reading while solving’ ones – the rest are benefits of experience. The Times Two puzzle is ideal – it’s by a Times setter, so the vocabulary and clues are well above the “Organ of hearing (3)” level.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Peter. On order of tackling clues, my current practice – I think it was one you recommended – is to start at the first across clue. If solved, I do the down clues linked to it. Either way, I then move on to the next across clue, whether or not I have solved the downs. This seems to be an improvement on my previous approach which was to work incrementally from checked letters, only tackling unchecked clues if I was entirely stuck. The downside of that method of course is that I could spend many minutes puzzling over tricky clues, while there might be some easy ones lurking in a virgin corner of the puzzle that would lead to a faster solution.

      I do the Times Two puzzle most days, but the online Race The Clock version (as rvong). I am sure I lose a couple of seconds to slowish typing and (especially) navigation around the grid. But I am simply amazed by the sub-1:30 times.

      If I want to improve my times, I probably should do more than one cryptic and one quick a day. But then there are some other things I need or want to fit into my days…

    2. Of the tricks Peter lists, spotting words from the grid is definitely the one I find works for me – sometimes. What may have really worked for me today was trying to finish before the boss got in: concentrates the mind wonderfully. (He wouldn’t have minded me doing the puzzle, but he would quite possibly have interrupted me!!)
      My maths teacher called me many things: “Speedy Gonzales” was not one of them, alas …
  4. Thanks for your analysis, but would have appreciated a breakdown of how CHEONGSAM worked.

    I presume 19D is TURBAN but have no idea why.

    1. It’s actually TARTAR – I thought this was a nice clue. Offhand, tho, I’m not sure plaque and tartar are the same thing, but probably near enough.

      By the way I’m sure Peter’s “tortoiselike” comment is a dig at himself in the face of some sub-4 freakishness 🙂

    2. c(h(e)ongs)am

      cam the river, hongs the warehouses (new to me) and e for east (nice touch with both hongs and cheongsam being eastern)

  5. Sweet Jesus. Can I just put in a word on behalf of all the tortoises who read this blog? I took about an hour to get all the clues bar CHEONGSAM
  6. sorry, sent that before I’d finished it…

    …CHEONGSAM, which I’d never heard of sadly, and as someone said, HONGS

  7. really sorry, I keep hitting enter to move the cursor down, and keep posting before I’m ready…anyway, HONGS obviously didn’t help me, plus I didn’t know GENOA for sail, and failed even to see it from the checking letters for “port”. Anyway, I just post this in case there’s anyone out there who fails to complete even the easiest Times Xword ever published in less than quarter of an hour. Sorry to sound bitter – don’t mean to – an annoyed with self I think that I can’t seem to get any faster despite doing the thing everyday religiously. Really appreciated PB’s comment the other day about someone being “right not to care” about competitive times. Enjoy reading all the posts here and will try harder not to give inferiority complex its head…Peter F
    1. There is another trick to quick solving: start as young as possible. Most of the really quick people started before they were 18, and the entry for 1996 Times champ Enigmatist (John Henderson) in Azed’s A-Z book implies a start at about 9 or 10! If you start later in life, there may be some levels of speed that are unfortunately impossible to reach.

      Other tip: read a really good book if you haven’t done so before. For the Times, Brian Greer’s terse but informative “How to Solve the Times Crossword” would be ideal if in print. In its absence, Don Manley’s is the best choice for this puzzle and covers a wider range – it may spur you to trying advanced puzzles, which help your Times speed in other ways. Reading the first edition back in about 1986 helped me a lot – without parental or other expert help, I had lots of rather vague ideas about cryptic clues, and not that much speed.

    2. Peter (F),

      I hope noone reading these posts gets an inferiority complex! It wasn’t so very long ago that even 15 minutes seemed an impossible goal to me. Peter (B)’s tips, and the cited books, are certainly good ideas, but there’s no substitute for practice – doing another, easier, daily crossword as well is likely to make a big difference. The Independent is closest to The Times in style but The Telegraph probably contains the most clichés and best lends itself to fast solving on some days (like today’s), even if on other days it’s very much not to my taste (like Monday’s). You’ll pick up lots of ‘crosswordese’ this way: a single piece of knowledge (like ‘sail’ = GENOA) can be the difference between that clue being your last or your first solve, and I think an almost identical clue appeared a couple of weeks ago in the Indy.

  8. Having done this almost as fast (14 mins) as any Times Crossword ever, I said I’d look in to see how you’d all done so I wasn’t too surprised. I got CHEONGSAM straightaway, because I’d met it in a previous crossword (and never anywhere else). No I hadn’t heard of hongs.

    One word in common with today’s Indy by Phi, but the clues are very different.


    1. Having spent rather a lot of time at the dentist lately, I can confidently say that tartar and plaque are not quite the same. Dental plaque is a film of bacteria that live on food debris. Tartar is a mineral deposit from saliva into any residual plaque and needs to be treated by a dentist. Sorry to put you off your breakfast! From a crossword point of view, the only noteworthy point is that tartar can also be called calculus.
  9. About my tenth attempt at the Times, and my quickest time so far – untimed but about 20 minutes I would guess. A nice easy one to encourage us old lags. I didn’t recognize PC – must add that to Politically Correct, Police Constable and Personal Computer. Incidentally, ERNIE isn’t a computer, but I’m not complaining.
  10. 6:53 for me – TARTAR took a frustrating two minutes at the end. Also held up by putting BOOTBRUSH instead of BOOTBLACK.

    I’ve tried Peter’s tip of reading the next clue while writing in the answer, but have found I end up writing things I don’t mean to – today I wrote BETWEEN THE LIGHT at 6dn. Luckily I realised straight away, but I don’t always – and sometimes I probably don’t notice at all, if the square/s in question is/are unchecked.

  11. Ouch! Shouldn’t have been so smug about my performance yesterday!

    Having solved most of it in under 10 minutes, I actually gave up after 15 (which is very early for me to admit defeat) simply because I had worked out that I did not know CHEONGSAM. Combined with the fact that I did not know HONG (and I had gone through the alphabet) meant I could not even make a reasonable stab at anything.

    So, second defeat of the week, but at least I now know that HONG KONG means “big monkey warehouse”.

  12. I did solve this far more quickly than I normally solve the Times, getting three-quarters of the clues as soon as I read them, but I was completely stumped by CHEONGSAM. Never come across the word before, nor have I come across HONG, meaning warehouse. In my neck of the words it’s a toilet. It strikes me that the word and part of the wordplay is more appropriate for the Listener.
  13. I would just like to echo the above comments, re CHEONGSAM being more suitable for The Listener than The Times. In fact I`m sure that I`ve come across HONG at some time in the past,in the Listener, but obviously I never memorised it.
    Having sailed through #23448 in record time for myself…about 10 minutes….I sat and stared at 7D for 10 minutes before giving up and resorting to Bradford`s, having deduced that the warehouse in question was H,L or R blank N blank.
    A disappointing sting in the tail to this crossword, and slightly unfair to most solvers I feel.


  14. Time: 1h5 apart from CHEONGSAM. I tried to do this before I went to bed – about 1am. I completed just over half of it in 30mins – most of the top half was done – then I got stuck. When I came back to it in the afternoon, I whizzed through the rest.
    When I first started doing The Times crossword, I often thought I’d completed as much as I could but then, after a break of a few hours (or a good night’s sleep), I returned to complete a lot more. Now I try to do in one sitting but wonder if I might be quicker doing it in two.

    I found CHEONGSAM on Wikipedia – it is quite cool that you can include question marks in your search, e.g. c?e?n?s?m.

  15. I never time myself and am not really interested in speeds but I was really racing through this and had completed two thirds writing in the answers as I read each clue for the first time UNTIL I got to CHEONGSAM! I had all the across letters including the E for East and spotted CAM right away, so I knew I was looking for a word meaning warehouses _ _ N_S, but what was the chance of thinking of HONGS if one had never heard of it – nor CHEONGSAM for that matter? Wot a swizz!

  16. 5a We can count on it if a vehicle rolls over us = ABACUS ( a – cab rolled over is bac – us)
    10a Chuck a brief relationship = FLING (DD)
    11a Buy drinks for people ultimately impatient for medical care = TREAT MEN T (ultimately impatient is a lot of cluage for just T!)
    12a (See me eat stew)* messily, and dessert = SWEETMEAT
    14a Wickedness cut short by conservative in ship = VICTORY (vic(e) tory)
    16a Penalise offensive involving Ulster = PU NI SH (there was a blog discussion recently about NI = Province which was OK’ed but the general feeling was that ULSTER = NI was not OK. So much for that.)
    18a Ingot revealed in gorge = PIG OUT
    27a Delay departure of vessel carrying leader of government = LIN G ER (even longer way of saying G)
    28a Knits (and knits)* in stationery store = INKSTAND (nice use of knits as anagrind and anagrist)

    1d Bear up – after losing rook, I have become unrestrained = EFFUSIVE (suffe(r) up is effus plus ive)
    2d (I went)* astray, getting into twist = TWINE
    4d Good to get out of lethargy somehow, to be bubbly = LATHERY (lethar(g)y*)
    9d Be quiet and take safety precaution = BELT UP
    17d (Trade was)* bad towards dawn = EASTWARD
    19d For instance, Ghengis Khan’s plaque = TARTAR (all that raping and pillaging plays hell with your teeth)

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