23,473 – Ninas all round

Solving time : 17m40s – so much for no variation in solving times. I really don’t think it was because it was my office Christmas Party last night that I struggled to get to grips with this tricky offering. A lot of clever clues, and a lot of misdirection to contend with. Constant innovation and difficulty has a knock-on effect of making the more straightforward clues hard to spot too. I only managed to spot the ‘Nina’ after the finish – read all the sides of the grid to find 4 phrases, several of which would have helped with the solving if I’d tumbled their existence earlier. All in all, a great challenge. I’m guessing Monk.


4 EN COUNTER – a nice pun, and any wordplay that treats the whole answer as a phrase is tough. I’m a bit galled I didn’t come up with the answer more quickly from the definition.
9 UNI in MCI + PAL – ‘China’ almost always means ‘friend/mate/chum/pal’, so I could have trusted this and got there quicker, especially as 1101 was never going to be anything other than MCI.
11 END (rev) in ROY – 2 men’s names that are rarely seen, so not an easy one to get via wordplay – and yet impossible without, so some checking essential (I needed D and E).
12 WE in anag – Looked a certain anagram of I OUGHT + NS or EW. The latter seemed unlikely to yield a word to me, so I wasted much time on the former, mostly looking for a brass instrument.
14 DECLA(n) + REWAR(d) – Just solidly hard, you’ll probably never have seen ‘Irishman’ translate to DECLAN or ‘deserts’ to REWARD before, so only the definition and word-lengths can help, and it’s hard to tell where the former starts.
16 (Life and) LIMB – Brilliant and fair.
19 VEIL with VE rev – Verb meanings of ‘cloak’ and ‘veil’ may be necessary to agree this one.
20 E(ggplant)S + C(or)E in QUINCE – tough wordplay, tough ‘fruit’, tough answer, even with checking – oooh.
23 DE-SPOT – Last one for me, though fully checked for the previous ten minutes or so; I love the pun in the end.
28 GAP in SIN + O + RE – the apparent ‘in the country’ definition had me thinking SINO- for a bit too long.
29 SLING, initials &lit – the sort of clue that should be simple, but with all the other misdirection, took far too long and several re-reads.


1 MB + RID in CAGE – gave up trying to parse this during my time, but the checking wasn’t allowing any alternatives.
3 ESC(ape) + HEW + AL(l) – good example of a hard-to-clue word well-handled due to clever use of the available synonyms.
4 OP X E, rev – the hardest bit of this is translating ‘by’ as X – though one’s seen it given as ‘times’ often!
5 CALCULATED, 2 defs – short proper sentences as clues often turn out to be this kind of ellipsis clueing an adjective: “Statistics are … (calculated)”. This one didn’t come to me for ages – I really fancied DELIBERATE with its two heterophonic readings, but it wouldn’t quite work.
6 UNSEWN, hidden rev – another straightforward clue imbued with extra difficulty by this struggling solver – it always hurts to be held up by a hidden.
8 (d)ROUGH(t) – ‘starting late and finishing early’ turned out not to be the unXimenean L+Y but a much more precise description.
18 C + HER + OZ (rev) in SS – only attempted with the Z already in, which led to OZ, which led to the answer quite fast.
21 (th)E C(ra)ZE(d e)MA(il) – alternating pairs (‘braces’) is not a device I’ve ever seen used before – hats off for making it work.
24 PETRI, cryptic def – I got it from some checking and the ‘dish’, assuming there was a second famous PETRI, but have now realised it’s not 2 defs but just one. I think the culture was helping me subconsciously, while my conscious mind was pondering the (German) author of “When I hear the word culture…”

17 comments on “23,473 – Ninas all round”

  1. I agree about difficult clues making easier ones hard. I struggled for ages with BLUES (!), but I’m more pleased with my time of 12-23 after reading your report. I fancy the night before may have had more of an effect than you realise tho’!

    Last to bend for me was KNEE …

    1. so what’s a nina or what are ninas? (other than messages from the setter in the filled-in grid). I only know Nina from “24” (season 1 where she’s very very bad).
  2. If it’s not Monk I’ll be “baht ‘at” because I’ve eaten it – “braces” was used in 22A in his Indie 6275 a couple of weekends ago. Edge Ninas not spotted until the end here either, and 12:23 beats my 14:15. The “knock-on” effect got me too and my easy clue made hard was 26A – with U?A?E after eventually justifying CHIEFTAIN, I thought of the UKASE=edict that comes up quite often in advanced cryptics – “authority” of a sort. After failing to make KASE into “application”, I just tried each letter of the alphabet until USA?E made me kick myself. A near-pangram – only J was missing. Glad I didn’t know this sooner – looking for UJA?E might have wasted a bit more time.

    Will be interested to hear how our less experienced readers and contributors got on with this one …

    1. Pete, I hope you like your fibre. It’s not by Monk, but by another Independent setter.

      A N Other
      1. You beat me to it! Just got the “not Monk” bit from the bush telegraph. I think I know who you mean, but I’d better keep my trap shut this time.


  3. It’s always an ominous sign if I get the first two clues I read immediately (1 ac, 2 dn); that generally means that I come to an abrupt halt later. In this case, not so much an abrupt halt, but a pronounced rallentando. A wide range of clue types with plenty to mislead. PETRI, DESPOT and ECZEMA were the last ones for me. Took me a little over an hour; I did have a lot of noisy distractions to contend with, but I don’t suppose I’d have been much quicker without them.
  4. Found this one the most difficult one for ages. Did well to be left with only 2 blanks after 45 minutes (3 x normal time).
    Despot and Petri were the problems – Usually you can stick something in and hope for the best but I would never have got Petri, can someone explain this one please?
  5. In view of his sterling services to the cause of
    cruciverbal reviews, I’m just selecting a very
    small hat to send to Peter to minimise his ordeal.


  6. Really enjoyed this, some very clever but difficult clues. 12:43 but trumped by FGBP – like Mr Magoo I didn’t spot the Nina when solving (indeed, wouldn’t have done so without reading his review). Should have got 1ac much faster though, I needed –O-E. Never mind, at least I got the vowels in DONIZETTI in the right place after some agonising.

    I wonder if this puzzle was saved for this week to allude to the 1dn 22dn’s win in Tuesday’s 1ac 5ac?

    1. FGBP is still subconsciously trailing his dunce’s hat.I now realise I put UKASE for USAGE, which was mighty careless. I had already, like PB, postulated UKASE before getting the leading U. When that went in I put in UKASE without thinking … grrr…

  7. The fact that 25D isn’t mentioned suggests to me that it’s quite obvious. But I can’t see why it’s KNEE, if indeed it is. Some sort of a cryptic definition? If so it seems rather vague.

    Yes, quite incredibly difficult. I won’t admit how long it took me. I didn’t like 5D: the “are” seems wrong. “Statistics are this calculated” is surely what is needed, except that the surface is of course now no good. As it is written there is an invitation to insert a word after “Statistics are”, and that is not indicated. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

    Wil Ransome

    1. 25dn: What can make sharp bend so that foot rises? (4)

      I think this is an &lit, the wordplay being something like KEEN (= sharp) with the N (= foot) rising, but I’m not sure how ‘bend’ is meant to be interpreted in the wordplay; maybe it can mean ‘change’ in some sense?

  8. The omitted “easies” including my take on the Knee at 25d

    1a Tight finish = CLOSE – DD
    10a Confusion of tin and gold-covered francs = SN A F U – an acronym for Situation Normal All F***ed Up where *** could be oul but probably isn’t. If you can’t see where the tin and gold come into it consult the periodic table. Francs used to be used in Paris before the Euro.
    22a In retreat lay a tale exposing two fronts = BIFACIAL – where laic a fib = lay a tale retreats or goes backwards.

    2d Half of (endow)*ments in need of adjustment to be fully paid off = OWNED – after you have paid off the HP?
    7d I shoot up, not one to break an old habit = TRAD I T I ON – where backwards NOT contains I followed by I DART. Tricky wordplay for an “easy”.
    13d Dress game, binding with determination = GET-UP-AND-GO – dress = get-up, game = Go, with = and.
    17d Book about an object showing a sign of life = B RE A THING
    22a Timeless (sub)t(le)* shifting colours = BLUES
    25d What can make sharp bend so that foot rises? = KNEE – this appears to be a convolute & lit with the wordplay mentioned above where the “foot” of keen is lifted to form knee but ALSO if you bend your knee upwards you lift your foot – innit?

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