23,712 – deSPICAble

Posted on Categories Daily Cryptic
I really struggled with this one, and eventually had to revert to a solver for the last clue – 11 across.

I’d be interested to know how many average commuters solved this one on the train into work – I wouldn’t have managed it unless my commute was to Shanghai by bus!

In the end, it took me nearly an hour, and without the solver, I don’t think I’d ever have worked SPICA out, and I guessed a couple of others.


4 S-MALLA(R)DS – surely it’s the river that’s leaving the ducks, though?


11 S(uffer)-PICA – surely too difficult for a daily puzzle, or am I just being petulant because I didn’t get it? Pica, apart from being a size of type, is also an eating disorder that leads to cravings for unusual things like chalk or earth


16 N-EURO-NE(w) – not sure about the NE bit, anyone got any better idea?

19 A-MATE-UR – not sure how many daily solvers would recognise MATE as “tea” – it’s a tealike beverage from Paraguay, and the tree which provides the leaves

20 CREEDS – SCREED with the S moved to the back

22 LOTUS-EATERS – LOT + (austere)* + S(hun)

25 RAP – homophone of WRAP

26 CU-RIO(t)


28 R(1-BOSOM)E – tempting to think of RIB as the part of the body, but it was BOSOM here

29 GNOMON – the upright part of a sundial, hidden in “havinG NO MONey”


2 MIN-(NES(O)T)-A – Mina is my mum’s name so I often think of that, normally along with ERNE and TIT before I move onto others

3 (<=MR.-A-MS.)

5 MACARONI CHEESE – (or a Chinese)* in MACE


7 A-(g)LIB-1

9 UTILITARIANISM – U + (trains militia)*

15 E-VERSIONS – liked that one

18 CAB-L-(<=RACE) – a nice &lit.


24 SUDAN – SUSAN with the second S(son) replaced by D(daughter) – clue perhaps should have indicated which S was to be replaced, but it was obvious in this case

23 comments on “23,712 – deSPICAble”

  1. I think I have it all now, but with recourse to reference books on a few clues 11A, 16A, 28A and 15D. Additionally I have three I can’t fully square with the clues though I know they are right. I look forward to reading the blog when it appears.
  2. This was a hard one, and I was ultimately sunk by SPICA. I dimly remembered the star, but too dimly, and I had totally forgotten about the eating disorder, so tried SPIGA. A number of others were slow to come, including RIBOSOME (I was assuming the RIB was the part of the body, and couldn’t make it work that way.) 19.47, with one mistake. Jason J
  3. 8:21 here – made enough time on the easier stuff to chew over the others a bit. Knew about pica but not Spica except in an uncapitalised meaning, and would count this as worse than ox(t)er yesterday. For me, star names except the top few are barred-grid material, not daily cryptic fare.
  4. 11A: As Spica (brightest star in Virgo apparently) is in Collins, it’s strictly OK for a Times puzzle. According to Wikipedia it’s the 15th brightest star. Of the brighter ones listed, I recognised all but four, and three of these four were not in Collins. So I reckon Spica is about as difficult as Collins content gets, and could have done with rather easier wordplay.

    4A: I’m happy to read ‘leave’ as ‘omit’ as well as ‘depart from’.

    19A: I did recognise mate=tea, though possibly from barred-grid puzzles.

    16A I thought the idea of “a little more again” was that you serve up NEURO once, and then have the first two letters as partial “seconds”.

    1. NEURO/NE
      Yes Pete, your explanation is better than my initial reading which I thought was N+EURO being followed by an abbreviated (little) N+E(euro). Looking at it again, I don’t think the wordplay would quite satisfy my version.
  5. Gave up after about 30 minutes with no less than TEN unsolved clues, hence the later than usual post – I was too embarrassed to jump in first and announce my ineptitude. So, delighted to know I wasn’t the only struggler. I feel better now. Almost normal.
  6. Having never heard of either Spica or pica I guessed at Shiva after wasting time checking every conceivable entry.One of those occasions where the checking letters left too many possible options.
    I suppose that the comments above re Spica make it fair but difficult in the extreme.By the way, oxter (yesterday) was easier for me as my mother used to always tell me to remember to wash under them, although I couldn’t fathom the wordplay
  7. Yes Damask is reversible though so are most fabrics except some jacquards. It is widely used in the fashion business especially by couturieres who use the reverse and the true pattern in conjunction to produce a contrast effect.

    Found this very tricky.

  8. Damask was easy from the wordplay, but I wasn’t sure about the reversible part. Googling didn’t mention that it was a reversible material. Any fabric mavens out there?
  9. 12:07 here. I had no problems identifying SPICA as the only star I could think of that fit, although I’d never heard of PICA as an eating disorder. I was held up for a while because I put SUAVE in for 3D without really looking at the wordplay, but once I had the two long down clues I knew it had to be wrong – E?L?R?C?I?E didn’t look like anything!

    I also put in RIBOSOME thinking RIB was the body part, and put in CREEDS at the end without understanding how it worked either – seems obvious now.

  10. After yesterday’s Plymouth Argyle I was desperately trying to fit in Trafford! Getting paranoid now!
  11. ditto re the difficulty — i struggled and used TEA (no times this week!). Anyway, no one’s observed how clever 15D (E-VERSIONS) is…
  12. I thought this was an excellent puzzle, tough. Liked in particular SEA LEVEL, ORDER FORM, MOMENT. A little worried about some of the comments e.g. re SPICA which seem to assume a puzzle must be solved without referring to dicts at any point. Yes, I understand how Cheltenham contestants would look at it that way perhaps, but I think most solvers have no problem checking out the last few answers if necessary.
    1. Just realised I meant to query MOMENT. I’m not sure I fully understand it.

      I’m not in the Cheltenham crowd (not in the same league) but I do like to solve without reference to books/on-line if possible. I have 30-45 minutes commuting each morning without access to other sources than my brain; if I haven’t cracked it by then it’s fair game for dictionaries and other help.

    2. I don’t mind looking up the odd answer derived from wordplay to confirm that (e.g.) Spica is a star. But the received wisdom about the Times puzzle (some of it pushed by the paper itself) is that it’s supposed to be possible for the mythical “reasonably well-educated person” to solve without books. And for me the worst thing about SPICA is that it distracted attention from other clues that were challenging in the right kind of way – e.g. finding the correct body part in 28.
  13. For Anon who asked how MOMENT worked:

    Moment is also a scientific term that, to the best I can explain it (ie remember my highschool physics!), is the force that makes things turn around an axis.


  14. Just to put my oar in re difficulty, referencing, etc., I think this puzzle was tough but fair because the more obscure words were interesting to learn (not so Plymouth Argyle from the other day, but that’s just my bias).

    This is the first time I’ve posted to this site. It’s a great resource and clearly the outcome of much generous effort from the contributors. (My only request would be that the titles to the solutions did not contain the answers as it’s hard to ignore these when you’re scrolling down for the solution to older crosswords. Doesn’t anyone else find this?)

    Thanks for the website.


    1. You’re right about answers in the title Matt. I’ll ask the team to avoid doing this. But as it’s so tempting that we’ll probably forget in a few weeks, you might want to play safe by using another route for finding stuff about older puzzles.

      At http://community.livejournal.com/times_xwd_times/calendar you can see a calendar that just shows how many posts appeared on a day. As long as you’ve understood our schedule and we’ve stuck to it, you can use this to get to posts without scrolling back through newer ones.

      1. On the subject of finding older puzzles, I sometimes find it difficult to track these down, especially the prize ones which are not posted to a strict timescale. Is there any chance of having a search function, like they have on the fifteensquared.net site, so we can type in the crossword number?


        1. Unfortunately, LiveJournal doesn’t offer a search function as far as I know. Once pages have reached Google’s index, you can usually find them with Google Blog Search and the puzzle number. Here’s an example for a recent prize puzzle. If you follow the “Advanced Blog Search” link next to the search keywords box on the Google page, you can see how it was done.
  15. As I am more interested in astronomy than in showjumping I found SPICA at 11a a heck of a lot easier than the OXTER yesterday where there were 2 things not to know – the fence AND the Scottish armpit. I shall make a note that PICA is an eating disorder.

    There were some “easies” in this otherwise challenging one:

    1a Block request for reversible material (6)

    12a Line given audibly (3)

    14a Brief time for force to turn things around (6)
    MOMENT. Double definition. It is important to remember that , in electromagnetics, COUPLES have their MOMENTS in FIELDS.

    1d Failing to change sides (6)
    DEFECT. Another DD.

    8d Calm conditions, presumably, at this reference height? (3,5)
    SEA LEVEL. Beaufort scale 0 in Newlyn Harbour.

    17d Possible instruction to get (from)* commercial document (5,4)
    ORDER FORM. Order FROM to get FORM. I had ORDER BOOK for ages (doesn’t fit the cryptic I know now) which made 29a impossible. Thus it took me ages to see the hidden GNOMON there and realise my mistake here and parse the clue properly.

    23d Article reduced – “steal” for pound (5)
    TH (E) ROB

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