23555 – Well done, Helen O

Posted on Categories Daily Cryptic

Solving time : 14:07

Hidden messages or tricks, sometimes referred to as Ninas, are routine in the Times2 non-cryptic puzzle, but rare in the cryptic. Today the bottom and top rows celebrate Helen Ougham’s status as two-times winner of the Times Crossword Championship. And I am not confident there isn’t more going on in the rest of the grid.

The puzzle seemed fairly tough to me, though I made it more difficult by misspelling one of the two easy 15-letter anagrams. Doesn’t “bougainevillea” look better, even if it needs an extra “e”?

Naturally this made 9D difficult. I also struggled with various others, including 3D, 13A, 20A and 27A


1 TWO(TIME)S – I suppose old father time could be white-haired rather than grey-haired or bald
5 W + INNER – “inner” is an unexpected result for “private” which sent me thinking of the usual military abbreviations. “Chasing” for following I now accept as a convention
11 E(LEG IS)T – I suppose one can’t argue that an extraterrestrial is not a stranger, and “stranger” makes a change from “film” or “alien”. “Bemoaning linesman” is good, and would almost do as a cryptic def clue on its own.
12 L(U(MP)S)UM – ie MP in US in LUM. As with the vegetables in 7D, there is no indication that this is a Scottish chimney
13 STAN’S TED – With hindsight it is obvious that if the setter points one towards Thomas, it must be some other Hardy. But I found it difficult not to think of Egdon.
15 CO + W(ith) ER – not obvious wordplay. I thought of the answer early on but didn’t enter it for a long time because I couldn’t justify it
20 I NEX(PER)T, PER being REP(rev) – one of the last I solved
25 U(PRISE)S – I wondered about the definition: “lift” is generally transitive, but it doesn’t have to be
27 H(EL)EN + A – another one I found tricky. I didn’t know Helena was capital of Montana, and the construction is not obvious, being EL(evated railroad) in (Orpington) HEN plus A(rea). Spotting the Nina would of course have helped
28 B + ROUGH + A.M.


3 I + TALI(b)AN
4 E + R.N. + ST
8 ROSE + MA(r)RY – I had to squint at “one runs away” for a little while – after stopping the clock – to persuade myself that it could mean minus one of the Rs. An apostrophe would have made it easier but would have spoiled the surface, and R can stand for the plural “runs”.
9 DIS + LODGE – not sure what “reportedly” is for. Perhaps the setter prefers the variant spelling “diss” to “dis”?
14 TRICYCLE, being TRICKLE with K replaced by YC
17 ELEVENTH – I think this is a cricket reference
21 PURL I + EU – It took me a while to work out where the “I” comes from, but I think the “instruction in making Jersey” is “purl one”
22 E’S TEEM – (that apostrophe is for the plural of the drug) I spent a while trying to analyse this as a container clue, rather than an indication of the whole phrase
24 CRUEL = (CLUE + R)*

12 comments on “23555 – Well done, Helen O”

  1. Thanks, I missed the Nina. Helen does appear to have a crazy BRA in her name, unless her middle initials are ABR!

    ELEVENTH is the last man in to bat in cricket. Yes, “Knit one, Purl one,…” is a knitting instruction. I’d never come across purlieu before though the comparison with milieu is there.

    Thanks for explaining HELENA, I was thinking Kent rather than hens.

    Finally, the definition for ELEGIST is very good.


  2. A puzzle to encourage some of us to solve that bit more successfully this year! As usual, I missed the Nina completely, and also barked up many of the wrong trees you mentioned. Failed to learn from yesterday’s HOLE AND CORNER anagram experience when struggling to spell the plants at 10A – working it out would have been quicker than just leaving a gap between BOUGAINV and EAS.

    Other thematic stuff? Well 10A, 7D and 8D might just hint at Helen’s work being to do with plants. WORDSMITH and ESTEEM seem apposite, and VICTORY usually gets you a LUMP SUM. I wondered whether the spare ABR in the bottom row hinted at Aberystwyth. And the puzzle’s difficulty (I took 11:30) seemed about the same as the Grand Final puzzles last year.

    1. “And the puzzle’s difficulty seemed about the same as the Grand Final puzzles last year”

      I take comfort from this comment as, following my success yesterday, I felt squashed by today’s effort. I got there eventually (1hr+) having experienced problems with just about every clue mentioned above in the blog, and then some.

      One trap I fell into was at 20A where I dismissed the possibility of using REP as I read “amateur theatre” together and knew that reps were not amateur companies.


  3. In 9D, I think the “reportedly” is an indicator for “sounds like” so that dis- is not an alternate spelling for diss but merely sounds like it.

    In 17D, last man in is the eleventh man but also such a late hour refers to the phrase “at the eleventh hour” meaning at the last minute.

    John M

  4. Thanks for explaining several of the clues I didn’t understand, but I have a couple more queries. What is the “book” in the clue for 3d, and the “up” in the solution for 18ac (assuming the answer is lay up).
    R. Saunders.
    1. 3D – “book” is the B that is removed from (rejected by) TALIBAN (Afghan movement)

      18A – UP is indicated by “bound for city” as in “up-train”. Slightly sneaky, as I think it is only in that hyphenated phrase that “up” is an adjective with that meaning, rather than an adverb.

  5. The only part of this clue I DID understand was the connection between Helena and Montana. (Though I think I thought Butte was the capital.)

    I get the EL Railroad now, but what’s with Orpington, what is the bra OR arb, and — what in the name of little green apples is a Nina?


  6. Wait a minute — it’s Oliver Hardy, not Stan. Stan is Stan Laurel. Should it be Laurel’s Heath? Doesn’t point one to Wessex, but it gets the old movies right.
  7. Wait a minute — it’s Oliver Hardy, not Stan. Stan is Stan Laurel. Should it be Laurel’s Heath? Doesn’t point one to Wessex, but it gets the old movies right.
  8. Picking up various recent questions:

    27A: railway = EL – elevated railroad, as in various US cities once upon a time (the film Twelve Angry men includes a reference to ones in NY), but now most famously in Chicago. Orpington = (a type of) HEN. Area = A.

    Nina: a message or gimmick in the grid that you don’t need to know about to solve the puzzle. In this case, the message about Helen O. Named after the similar appearances of the name “Nina” in drawings by Al Hirschfeld.

    Stan: the clue mentions “One associated with Hardy” – i.e. STAN (Laurel), rather than anything to do with Thomas Hardy, which is what the setter presumably wanted you to think of.

  9. 10a could be an easy anagram if the answer was how 99.9% of the world spell it. How on earth did the extra A get into BOUGAINVILLAEA? We had quite a few “bougies” in our garden in South Africa and none of them had an extra A.

    This and the other “easies” are:

    10a (USA gave a billion)* for reconstructing plants (15)

    18a Produce eggs bound for city store (3,2)
    LAY UP

    23a DrY ROT CIVilian conceals when turning over old naval vessel (7)

    26a (On cue, unveil lies) to damage chef’s style (8,7)

    1d Bill was first put up for debate (6)

    2d Nothing (put Nelly)* off like millionaires (9)

    7d Vegetables spotted covering top of pot up (5)
    NEE P S. P inside SEEN backwards or up.

    16d Promise forger he’d be good at coining? (9)

    19d Radio show makes piano tune fashionable (5-2)

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