23,512 – a classic grid

Solving time 6:28

I’m pretty sure this grid uses the smallest possible number of added black squares in an “odd rows and columns” lattice. There are just 8 of them. This puzzle used fairly original 15-letter entries, except maybe 23. A few novel words, but they were all quite easy to work out.

Points for beginners: the effect of a space in 6D, positioning Q in an anag. at 5D, contravention of the “one-letter word must be A or I” rule at 2D as an example of “never say always” in cryptics.

1 SCENARIST – (can resist)*
6 SIMON – reverse hidden in ‘ecomonists’
9 BOW STREET RUNNER – a member of the embryonic police force founded by Henry Fielding.
13 SAGE,GROUSE – so called because it eats sagebrush.
17 REGULATORY – Luger rev.,a Tory
20 GNOSIS – (IS in SONG)<=
1 SA(BO = O.B. rev)T(in) – unfashionable = lacking fashionable = “in” – a trick to love or hate.
4 (d)IVES – a good excuse to put on his 2nd symphony, conducted by someone who enjoyed the Times crossword.
5 TITANESQUE – worked out from the _E_U_ ending – the Q must precede the U in a word this long, then the rest of the anag. was obvious. Watch out for clues contrasting this with Titianesque.
8 NORMALITY – initial letter change in ‘formality’
12 LOVE,F(E)ASTS – love feast or Agape feast is another term for the Eucharist.
13 SH(O,T.T.)OWER – a tower used for dropping bits of molten lead into water to make shot. There used to be one on London’s South Bank
18 REJOIN – 2 meanings – one from the same root as ‘rejoinder’
21 STEAL = “steel” corrected after Andy’s comment – I had the sounds-like the wrong way round (in these notes, not the puzzle grid!)
22 APEX – 2 meanings – but we strictly need an “old” in there – the trade union known as Apex is now part of the GMB union.

Sloggers and betters – the pictures.
If you want to see what some of us look like, check out this entry on the Fifteensquared blog. Somehow the two “flog bounders” managed to avoid being snapped – we’ll try to correct that next time.

Crossword Course report
A couple of Saturdays ago I ran a one-day “How to solve Cryptic Crosswords” course. Here’s an account of what happened.

The course ran from 10 to 4. We served lunch (saying that Mrs B is in charge of catering helps to shift tickets for any event round here), but made it “finger buffet” stuff so that people could work through lunch. 24 people turned up and apart from one who gave up in despair and one who had a previous engagement, they stayed the course. Their ability ranged from “cryptic virgin” to “can do most of a broadsheet puzzle but not all”. I spent about the first two hours on a very brief introduction and a look through the types of clue. I split these into ones fitting the “def. plus wordplay” structure and the rest, and gave about half a dozen examples for each type, a couple with the answer printed, and three or four for people to have a go at. Some of these were tricky, so I used an OHP to put up hints from checked letters, like “O _ _ _ I”. This was also useful for showing how some of the wordplays worked. Sample clues were a mix of old chestnuts, my own inventions, and clues from recent broadsheet puzzles.

After this, we moved on to as much practice as we could get through. I first encouraged people to look at unsolved answers the next day and try to explain them. To practice this, their first bit of work was a completed Times puzzle, ready for them to identify the clue types, underline definitions, and explain wordplay. I gave them another Times puzzle with this already done as an example. Over lunch, they tackled a Daily Telegraph puzzle (a Thursday one). They could choose between trying it exactly as printed, or with hints provided by underlining the definitions. Nearly everyone made some progress with one of the two versions, and a couple of groups got very close to finishing (I encouraged people to work together to share ideas).

Next up was a puzzle from Michael Curl’s Crossword Crazy web-site – one of his “coffee-time” cryptics, solved as a group. This was a good choice – the accessible but entertaining clues were solved quickly and the puzzle was done in a few minutes – with no help from me except some general solving advice. I then chatted (probably for too long) about useful books and what the various broadsheet puzzles are like. The last puzzle we had time to look at in detail was Nimrod’s Indie Saturday puzzle based on Countdown, with the non-theme answers written in to give them a start. This wasn’t such a good choice – it turned out that contrary to my expectations, many of the people there didn’t watch the show, so the theme fell a bit flat for some of them. I should probably have used the other thematic puzzle I had ready – Paul’s Guardian cricket one from early December (much easier than usual for him). That might have given us enough time to make a start on the last planned puzzle for the day – the Times puzzle for which I recorded my quickest ever time. I actually had nine different puzzles ready for use, in case there were people finding the planned ones too easy – apart from the five mentioned so far, another Indie themed one from Virgilius, a Friday (Don Manley) Telegraph, and a couple of hardish Times ones.

With a few thank-you’s that just about wrapped it up. Quite a few people said they’d like to come back for more, so I’m pondering how to accommodate beginners and more experienced solvers on the same day. I’ll also be working on improving the written notes – mainly by adding my advice about books and the puzzles to the printed notes, so that I can cover this ground more quickly. The best news came through yesterday – someone told me that the 30 Jan Times puzzle was the first one she’d completed on her own.

Tips for anyone contemplating a similar exercise:

  • Give out folders with any written notes, all the puzzles, and solutions (folded or stapled so that they can identify the solution but only read it when ready). I probably wasted half an hour dishing out bits of paper.
  • Include explanations with your solutions wherever you can – if people can see that the explanation is there, they don’t mind if you only cover the trickiest few clues when reviewing the answers.
  • If possible, use different colours of paper for puzzles and solutions.
  • Use an OHP – for dropping hints and explaining wordplay, and for showing puzzle answers – you do have a printer that can print on OHP slides, don’t you? Three cheers for our new HP LaserJet P2015 in that department.
  • If you’re trying to photocopy nearly 1000 sheets of A4, don’t forget to find out how quickly the copier you propose to use can churn out the pages.

A big thankyou to the various crossword editors and setters who gave me the go-ahead to use their material.

15 comments on “23,512 – a classic grid”

  1. Can someone explain this one in full detail please? I guessed the answer and read the explanation above but still can’t account for every word of the clue.
    1. Here’s the full clue: Nothing eaten at first during Lenten rituals, Christian celebrations (4,6)

      Accounting for every word:

      Nothing = LOVE (tennis scores)
      eaten at first = E
      during = inclusion indicator
      Lenten rituals = FASTS
      Christian celebrations = definition (one meaning of “celebrate” is “officiate at a religious service, esp. Mass”, and the priest in charge of the Mass / Eucharist is called the “celebrant”.)

      1. Thanks for the explanation. Seeing it set out by you I realise I had gone through all the necessary trains of thought but hadn’t brought it all together in my mind.
    1. You must be right about STEAL, but I see that the solution given is STEEL! (I made the mistake of doing this puzzle when extremely tired, and took ages over 6a and 6d, finishing in a ghastly 15:40 – but at least I’m all correct for the month, assuming that I got Saturday’s puzzle right, and that it really is STEAL.)
      1. Dead tree version gives STEAL. Cue more feeble excuses about “gremlins” from the xwd club website. Says Mr. Grumpy – the grumpiness is down to suffering more techie nonsense than average recently – highlights include Adobe Acrobat insisting on upgrading itself from 7.0.8 to 7.0.9 and demanding a reboot, having to get a new version of Quicktime in order to watch Steve Jobs showing us how good the iPhone is (he seems to be right about that – I want one), shortly followed by the Apple update manager telling me it had a new version of (wait for it) the Apple update manager; and the joys of converting from Office 2003 to 2007 – I’m sure I’ll be a ribbon convert in the end but the change is tough to cope with, and the huge difference in the ability of Outlook 2003 and 2007 to cope with a huge .pst file created by putting off Autoarchives made for a painful hour or so of first use; oh and then watching a keynote address from W Gates where he thinks that one of the great things to tell us about Windows Vista is that you can have a movie as your Windows wallpaper. Deep joy!

        Must go and get some fresh air or something…

  2. Oddly my time was exactly 6m28s too.

    Good start, then sort of stuttered around in SW corner, and finally moved to NE corner finally discovering I hadn’t even attempted long 7d (and had miswritten RUNNED instead of RUNNER).

    Good work on spreading the gospel, PB

  3. I don’t suppose anyone will be confused, but it is amusing that where you have written that Simon is reverse concealed in economists, you have spelt economists wrong and so Simon does not occur

    — paul

  4. About average puzzle difficulty for me. Always a pleasure if you can work out entries you’ve never heard of from the wordplay, excluding straight anagrams. This happened three times for me in this puzzle with SAGE GROUSE, SHOT TOWER, and LOVE FEASTS.
    And, because of this blog I did not have to look in dicts to confirm…

    Congrats on the course – quite an achievement to keep 20+ of mixed ability going for 6 hours.


  5. A harrowing 15:07 for me, though I didn’t know the long answers at 9ac and 2d which might have sped things along. But I still thought this was quite a bit harder than average.
  6. Could someone who is very, very patient please explain 24A for me?

    Q) Queen and knight accompanied to the station (3,2).
    A) RAN IN


    1. Back in ungrumped mode…

      rani / ranee is an Indian queen/princess, N is “knight” in chess notation. (K being bagged by the King), and “ran in” = “arrested and took to the police station”.

  7. The 2d film I really remember is the Cinncinati Kid where 2d stars at “The Man” to beat at Poker. Whilst the eponymous Kid (Steve McQueen) does his very best to beat him, in the final hand The Man turns up the Jack of diamonds to complete a straight flush – the only hand that can beat the Kid’s 4 Aces.

    Back to the x-word. A few “easies” to complete the blog including The Man:

    10a Person with 25? No, presumably (4-2)
    TURN-ON. 25a is SEX-APPEAL. The No is derived from turning on!

    14a One taken round shop briefly (4)
    DELI. I led back’rds – brief form of delicatessen.

    16a Musical instrument used by tOp BlOkE making regular appearances (4)
    O B O E

    23a Gaffer assigned to cowboy film said to have horse in place (6-5-4)
    WESTON-SUPER-MARE. SL Western, Super(intendent), Mare.

    24a Queen and knight accompanied to the station (3,2)
    RANI N. Explained above by PB.

    25a It initially supports application to court by divorcee (3,6)
    S EX APPEAL. In x-word land IT = SA = SEX APPEAL. (As in It-Girl). The clue initially (S)upports a divorcee (EX) in their APPEAL.

    2d (D Bogarde sworn in)* as different actor (6,1,8)

    7d Prominent politician, (one Times at first)* rubbished (8,2,5)

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