23,711 – no bad for a scunner

Solving time: 18:33

I found this pretty tough-going. Some very good and witty clues, but not enough easy ones for me. And I was worried about 10A until I found that an oxer really is a sort of fence.

There are two homophones for parts of words, rather than for full words, at 20 (PICKNIX=”picnics”) and 16 (IPH=”if”). These can be tricky, but I think that here they are clear and unambiguous enough not to cause problems.


1 GAZ(a) + ED
4 A L + LB + LACKS – I know some, including Peter, dislike student=L. Perhaps “new driver”=L is better? The definition held me up slightly longer than it would have if I had been sure it could not be a cross-ref to 15D (which I also solved late)
9 MAN + A CLING – neat
10 OX(T)ER – I worked through the alphabet on this one, and was convinced I would have to choose between OTTER and OUTER before I reached OXTER. Clearly the best fit for the definition, but I was surprised and relieved to find that an oxer is indeed a fence
11 R + E, N, E, W, S – compass points
12 STUB + BORN, being BUTS(rev) and BORN meaning not made in the religious sense – cf genitum non factum
14 CASTING COUCH – ho-ho. “The sack”, I think, being used here in the sense of sex
20 PICK-N-(M)IX – (PICKNIX = “picnics”) – for a brief moment I thought of putting an ampersand instead of that N
21 GAND(ER) + HI
24 POLYGRAPH, being (H + P(ARGYL(e))OP) all rev – neatly done for such a complicated structure. One too many sporting references in this puzzle for my taste


1 GIM + C + RACK, GIM being MIG(rev) – I was caught out by fighter=MIG a couple of weeks ago, so I got it quickly this time
2 Z(A NINE’S)S – I suppose the plural of Z is Zs
4 AS IF – two meanings
5 L((e)IGHTH)OUSE – slightly elliptical definition – it’s the lighthouse of Alexandria
6 LOOK BACK IN ANGER – It is probably unfair of me to be disappointed that the cryptic breakdown matched the word-endings in the answer. I don’t know if the fabled clue for this (Angkooler(9)) ever actually appeared in a published crossword.
7 C(ape) + O.T.T. + ON – one day I will automatically think ON when I see “leg”. On that day I will probably be wrong.
8 S(H R)INK – took me too long to see that it was the SINK meaning of “founder”
13 E GOT RIPPER – brilliant
15 W(IND F)ARM, IND F being FIND*
19 (j)OCULAR

21 comments on “23,711 – no bad for a scunner”

  1. Tough one, but enjoyable, 14A especially and I liked the smoothness of 15D. Did some hunting around before settling on OXTER but had no idea how to interpret the wordplay.
    15 minutes over breakfast plus about the same during the lunch break.
  2. 7:34 for this, which felt fairly quick. “new driver” at 4A is great – more accurate than “student” and also not something one’s seen umpteen times before.
  3. Having slogged through some pretty tough stuff without access to any reference source I was a bit miffed to fall at the last fence over 10A.

    An obscure word (OXTER)clued with reference to another even more obscure word (OXER) that’s not even in Collins or Chambers or dictionary.com is not playing the game as far as I’m concerned. It belongs in those puzzles in the weekend supplements where I don’t even understand the clues having read the answers the following week.

    1. Chambers has OXER as an “ox-fence”, which apparently is used in foxhunting – it’s also a fence of a similar shape used in showjumping. And OXTER is Scottish/Irish word for the armpit.
      However, I’m very much with you on it being somewhat questionable to have two such obscure words as part of an answer.
      Perhaps the key to it is one of the fundamental principles of a successful clue; if the solver is beaten fair and square by a good ‘un, all well and good. But if, on seeing the answer, the solver still can’t work out what it all means, then it’s a bit of a no-no.
      1. I posted as Miffed! above. Now that you have pointed it out I have found OXER in Chambers under OX rather than a word in its own right. I still think it’s too obscure in the context of today’s puzzle.

        I’m not sure about the reference to the Plymouth football team being unfair though. No-one could have less time for football than I do (gender male), but I have known the name of this team for most of my life yet I have no connections with Plymouth. I remember Saturday afternoons in the 50s waiting for children’s TV to begin and having to sit through seemingly endless football results. In those days one had to switch the set on early to allow time for the valves to warm up!

  4. I agree about OXTER. For the first time in years reduced to going through the dictionary letter by letter and then struggling to find what OXER meant. Most unfair in my view. What’s your view Peter? Are we over reacting? A good puzzle apart from that although Plymouth Argyle is also a bit obscure. Jimbo
    1. I’m glad to see I am not alone in my view expressed above. I only found OXER eventually by typing it into a search engine.
    2. I’m a bit surprised by the reaction to oxer = fence. I’m sure I used to hear those posh blokes on the more frequent BBC show-jumping commentaries 30-odd years ago talking about the “double oxer in the jump-orff”. Must admit to solving POLYGRAPH from the def and not noticing the Plymouth Argyle bit. For what it’s worth, I think Red Star Belgrade in a former communist country was an easier name to work out as a possibility if you needed to.
      1. I think it’s the combination of two rather obscure words in the same clue that has led to all the comments.

        On 4A, is “Fifteen” the definition i.e. the number of players in a rugby union team? If so, can we expect eleven (or whatever it is) to turn up referring to any football team one cares to name (including Plymouth Argyle)?

        1. Perhaps it helps to be a sports fan, but “eleven” and “fifteen” are frequently used to refer to football and rugby and cricket teams. Fair game for crosswords too I’d have thought.
          Interestingly I’ve never heard a RL team referred to as a “thirteen”
  5. another OXTER victim — still don’t what it means other than something to with my underarm.

    Today’s Guardian has a similar “series of points” clue, namely: “A number of points about love’s absurdity” (8). Personally i think they are both, while valid, both slightly lazy.

  6. This is becoming rather sexist I feel. I am sure many females complete and enjoy doing the Times Crosswords BUT how many of us are expected know the various football teams such as Plymouth Argyle and recently a Belgrade team? I think I know the names of most of the really WELL KNOWN teams. However, I am sure the majority of us ladies are not acquainted with the more obscure ones. Any observations on this would be most gratefully received!
    1. Oh, I don’t know. Tuesday’s Times gave considerable coverage in its sports pages to the excellent performance of the female English football team. I think – I certainly hope – that football long ago stopped being an exclusively male preserve.
      And anyway, the Times crossword frequently tests we blokes’ knowledge of “girlie” things like flowers; and a good thing too. Let’s just spread the knowledge and become enriched.
    2. It is, dare I say it, a little sexist to assume that ladies won’t know the names of various football teams(!)
  7. I didn’t like ‘fifteen’, found it far too vague. That aside, I thought of the New Zealand All Blacks, given I live in Australia!


  8. Re oxter – I found that really easy, having a Scottish Granny and having followed show jumping!!
    Ann H
  9. I am having trouble with some of the definitions.

    POLYGRAPH – why is this “shower of pork pies” ?
    GANDER – Does this mean BUTCHER in the sense that both refer to a sort of bungling person?

    1. These are both cockney rhyming slang:

      butcher’s hook (usu. shortened to “butcher’s”) = look = gander

      pork pie (or often porky pie) = lie
      (sometimes “porky” but never “pork”, for some reason)

    2. They are both Cockney rhyming slang.
      pork pie = lie
      butcher’s hook = look

      Startled at so many not knowing “oxer” – did none of you ever watch “Horse of the Year” show on TV? Harvey Smith must be turning in his grave..

  10. Biffed OUTER at 10a. Never heard of OXER nor OXTER so two Harvey Smith fingers to those who think they are in common usage.

    There were half a dozen “easies”:

    23a Unbend, dropping ban finally, and have another tenant (5)
    RELE (N) T. Thought it should be re-let but no.

    25a Switch (on radar, so)* locating plant (6,3)
    AARONS ROD. I use caps for RADAR as it is an acronym but it has become a word apparently …

    26a Type committing a name to memory (5)
    ROM AN, As in Times New Roman here.

    3d (Kind witch toting)* pieces in panto (4,11)

    18d Guile in health club in place of austerity (6)
    SP ART A

    22d Policeman left in self-contained unit (4)
    P L OD

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