23696 – easy Monday

Solving time: 20:40
Shaved 2 minutes off my previous personal best from last Thursday, but this time I did understand all the wordplay as I entered the answers! Almost – see 2D. I thought I was going to smash through the 20 minutes barrier, but I was held up by 22D and 29A, which don’t seem all that difficult now.

There weren’t any difficult words today and the wordplay was all pretty standard. So I expect super fast times from some solvers.


4 C(OLD,FEE)T – CT=court
10 ALCHEMIST – anag of ‘St Michael’
17 HO(T,DO)G – T=’last of port’ and DO=party
23 OWE – hidden in ne’er-do-well
24 BITE THE DUST – anag of ‘teeth I’d’ in BUST
30 CLARE,T – County Clare in Ireland; T=’town originally’


1 C,LAY,MORE – a claymore is a Scottish sword – I was pretty sure of this but not 100%.
2 LOCAL – lo-cal is short for low calorie, I think – never tried it myself. No – local is short for local anesthetic, as pointed out by JR in the comments.
3 [s]AGE
7 EX,T(E,MP)ORE – EX=retired; E=English
9 CIRC(L)E – Circe is a goddess in Greek mythology; L=50 in Roman Numerals.
18 PORT,RA,IT – RA=Royal Academician
22 POM-POM – reverse of MOP,MOP! Last one to go in for me.
25 [n]UTTER

25 comments on “23696 – easy Monday”

  1. subsonic again: this time sub-20′. Felt like a Sunday puzzle to be honest. I’m betting someone in the premier league here will clean sweep.
  2. Didn’t think I was in sparkling form this morning but still clocked 4:40. Felt like a Monday puzzle of about 10 years ago, when they were intended to be easy ones.
  3. Dead easy today though I still haven’t worked out the reason for one answer. Usually I aim to be finished by the end of my train journey to work having started whilst waiting, but today I finished before the train arrived on time. So about 15 minutes. Just as well I am still battling to complete Saturday’s Jumbo (I’m sure they are getting harder) otherwise I’d have had nothing to occupy me on the journey.
  4. The most straightforward puzzle I can remember, and a PB for me I believe, at 3:31. I agree that the Jumbos seem to be getting harder, though, and they often seem to contain a few words I need to look up these days. Jason J
    1. 3:31!!? Staggering! Did that employ the “one-pen-in-each-hand” technique? Honestly – if clues took the format clue/(length)/ANSWER I doubt I could fill the grid that quickly.
      Just out of interest – open question here – what are the preferred solving techniques amongst solvers here? My method has always been to tackle clues in order and then go for those clues with the highest number of letters available from the first run. Today, as an experiment, after answering 1A I immediately went for the shortest answer with a starting letter, thus the four corners were solved as blocks. Perhaps this led to my quicker than usual time?
      1. I reckon the limit for writing clues in a 15×15 grid if answers are spotted “instantly” is about 2 minutes – this is based on my best time of about 1:30 on paper for a 13×13 ‘concise’ puzzle. I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions over the years about how to solve quickly but the three things I would most recommend, based on the way my solving has changed over the years, are listed below.

        Look at the grid to decide which clue to tackle next, to record which clues you’ve solved so far, and to review checking letters just before each attempt at solving a clue. This is instead of recording progress by crossing out the clue number, and identifying unsolved clues by looking for numbers not yet crossed out. When using the grid instead you should add a final check to ensure that each answer has been filled in. I combine this with a check that all the answers are legible real words. Another advantage of this method is that you can use scribbling by the clues to more clearly highlight things like doubtful answers or possible links between clues.

        Change the order of solving to use checking letters as soon as poss.
        Some people combine this method with theories about which clues to do first, such as “long phrases with multiple words are easy, or give you lots of help if you get them”. I don’t think the gain exceeds the extra time spent identifying the clues to solve first. So I just look at the across clues in turn, and when I solve one confidently enough to write in, I look at the down clues for which two conditions are fulfilled: first, I haven’t yet looked at them as a result of previous across solutions; and second, they contribute checking letters to at least one across solution that I haven’t looked at yet. As an example, if 10A was my first across solution today, I’d attempt 1, 2, 9 and 5 down, but not 3D. If I got two or more of these four, that would help me considerably with 12A for example.

        The closest I can get to a pen in each hand, not being ambidextrous
        When you get an answer, wait to write it in until after you’ve read the next clue. You can then do at least some of your thinking about the next clue while you write this answer. The theoretical ideal here is that you keep on solving clues while there are others left to write in, and never stop writing. In practice, a list of two or three answers is probably as much as you can expect to remember. But be warned that this takes practice and adds risk, increasing the need for that final check when you finish the puzzle (or when you get stuck, possibly because a previous answer was written wrongly).

  5. For once I can understand how you good guys can do it in five minutes.
    First one for ages I’ve done without stopping.
    Trouble is, it’s no fun at all when they’re so easy.
  6. All but 2 on the train, then 15A and 16D while walking to work. So about 40 mins for me, but I’m a duffer. Also completed Saturday, which is rare for me, took an hour or so, but finished it.
  7. Even I, deliberate slowcoach though I prefer to be, completed this in six or seven minutes. But what shall I do for the rest of the day? (yesterday’s mephisto, that’s what!)
  8. Surely they don’t get any easier than this. Only 4 and 24 across and 16 and 18 down needed more than a few seconds’ thought.
  9. I can only add to the “easy” comments (helped by a lot of old chestnuts I thought) – 6:07, and I have only beaten six minutes once before – so second best time ever for me! Consequently, I am not surprised to see those times in the 3 and 4 minute region! Could we see a sub-three today?
  10. I found it easy as well. Could have been below 8 minutes if I hadn’t lost some seconds looking for an ‘au” start to 12 across
    After entering first answer I tend to use the letters to help me , then it is a bit ‘organic’. (well , I should say haphazard really.
  11. I complete one, and then find it’s the easiest puzzle since the UK returned to the gold standard….

    Oh well, I’ll keep trying


  12. Yes, very easy – about third in a row. At 21 across isn’t the point about a placebo that it isn’t a drug but rather chalk or something else neutral?
    I try to solve the long ones first and then work on those where I have letters to help before moving on to another blank, but I’m not a speed man – about 25 minutes average although a lot less for this one. Jimbo.
    1. I think the explanation lies in the words “modifying drug for clinical trial”. In a clinical test the placebo as you have described it would be adminstered alongside a real drug for the purpose of comparing patients’ reactions to both.
      1. Isn’t modifying the anagram indicator, and the way a clinical trial is often run is to give patients at random either the drug being tested or a placebo without either the patient or doctor being aware of which.

        Placebo is Latin for I shall please, and Placebo Domino in regione vivorum (I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living), taken from Psalm 116, is the start of the first antiphon in the Vespers for the Dead. Those who wanted to find favour with the dead person’s family turned up at the service and were popularly said to be “singing placebo”. By analogy, the word came to be used for a drug without medical activity, that is, it is a form without substance.

        Harry Shipley

    1. Yes, this was the one I didn’t understand when I posted above much earlier. The reference to a local “jab” dawned on me eventually.
  13. 6:42 for me (although that was after three very large G&T’s), but I knocked off Rufus in the Guardian in 4:32 – see blog on fifteensquared.

    Fastest time I can remember since these blogs started was 2:39 for the Sunday Times – I think it was Pete Biddlecombe, but may have been Magoo (quite a while ago now). My 6:00-odd for it seemed a bit lame in comparison at the time…

  14. I claimed a time like this for one ST puzzle, but I had seen comments saying it was extremely easy before I solved it.
  15. Just about the easiest Times crossword I’ve completed, took me about 20 minutes.
    It was interesting to read earlier about the speed of entering solutions into the grid. My problem is that I’m a slow reader partly caused by a congenital nystagmus which greatly impairs eyesight and I have to accept that this condition is without cure or correction.
    I find it infuriating when friends are able to almost instantly read questions on the quiz machine in the pub, likewise, I assume that there are many crossword solverts with this ability hence some remarkably fast solving times?
    1. Yes, very quick reading of clues is part of the overall speed-solving package. But I’m sure there are far more people who can read clues very quickly and then think “this means nothing to me!” than unlucky people like yourself who read slowly but then analyse the clue quickly after that.
  16. Everyone says this was an easy one. It contains 13 answers so easy they did not make the blog. Here they are:

    1a Place for wine retailer, we are told (6)

    11a One identifies bishop and rook catured by child (5)
    MIT R E

    14a Very angry, mother with small daughter (3)
    MA D

    15a Willpower about to crack (7)

    19a Iron Lady’s felt hat (6)

    21a (In lab, cope)* with modifying drug for clinical trial (7)
    PLACEBO. Some have complained that a placebo is not a drug – which it isn’t – but the recipients in the trial think that it is a drug which is probably good enough?

    26a Finished last of pizza, Italian food (5)
    PAST A

    27a Queen new (to palace)* across (r)iver (9)

    5d Bird, odd (sort)*, one on top of church (7)
    OSTR 1 CH

    6d March show (11)

    13d In high spirits, like a cowboy after a meal on the range? (4,2,5)

    20d Piece in paper – tiny piece with no heading (7)

    28d Drink up, buddy! (3)

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