23,717 – Vicious but fair

Solving time: 21:31

Alarming to take more than 20 minutes with Cheltenham looming. It was the North West corner that held me up. It would have been much faster if I had cracked the obvious anagram at 5D faster. For some reason I was thinking only of UK tourist attractions. If only I had thought more widely, the S of L must be in the top five most people would think of.

5D would have given me the interesting vowel endings to 9 (APOLOGIA) and 11 (HAUSFRAU), both tricky clues with beautifully smooth and misleading surfaces.


1 (sideboar)D + ASHES
5 SU + BORDER, SU being U.S.(rev)
9 A P(layer) O + LOGIA, O being “ball”(!), and LOGIA being (GOAL 1)*
10 T(h)E(i)R(a)C(c)E(n)T(s)
11 H A U/S FRAU(d)
12 (leavin)G A SOIL
13 DI(AGON(y))AL
15 ORFE (hidden) – I have only now realised that those two favourite crossword fish – ORFE and IDE – are one and the same creature
19 KEELHAUL (=”Keele hall”)
20 S(L(at)E)IGH
21 BO + A TRACE, BO being (O(ld) B(oy)) rev
23 ROCK SAL(mon) + T(aste) – only worked out afterwards. In real time I was trying and failing to persuade myself that LASK was a fish and COR a Scotsman


2 APPEASER (=”A Pisa”) – Bodacious
7 DOCT (=”docked”) + ORAL – I got to the right answer by the flawed process of thinking “spoken examination” must be ORAL, though of course “spoken” here is actually a homophone indicator
14 A VAL(ANCH(ored))E
15 OF + F(ine) + SHOOT – that’s “film” as a verb
17 FLA(RES U)P – RESU being USER(rev)
18 O + R(AC)ULAR, RULAR being (just) RURAL*

14 comments on “23,717 – Vicious but fair”

  1. Very enjoyable puzzle, this one. Had me worried, though – first scan resulted in a measly two firm entries, and a sense of slight bewilderment. Then it just clicked and completion came in about 15 minutes which, for me, is something of a barnstormer.
  2. “Alarming to take more than 20 minutes with Cheltenham looming.” I was thinking the same thing this morning – I did it in 22:17. Glad to see I’m in good company!

    I also got 7D in the same way too – I wrote in ORAL at the end long before I got DOCT. However, it was the left hand side that slowed me down today. I had everything to the right of 5D finished, but only two written in to the left of it (SLEIGH and ODIOUS) after about 7 or 8 mins.

  3. 15:03 for me, also having most trouble in the NW corner. Anyone who spent enough time on 1A to see trophy = ASHES might have profited from the investment. Some fiendish wordplay (ANCHored and SALmon in pareticular) here, and I don’t know whether this is the first time that U/S = unserviceable = useless has crossed over from its usual barred-grid home into the Times puzzle. This is the sort of puzzle I’d expect Richard Browne to save for the championship Grand Final, so wonder whether we’re in for something even worse …

    I don’t think we’ve mentioned that this grid with the black “E” was devised by Edmund Akenhead when he revamped the grids shortly after taking over as xwd ed in the mid-60s – ditching some absolute shockers in the process. I suspect it’s one of the oldest Times grids still in use.

  4. Took a full five minutes before entering the first word, then the RH fell into place steadily with one or two queries why. Struggled on SW corner but cracked it eventually but was almost completely beaten by NW apart from APPEASER.

    It seemed more like a weekend puzzle to me where it’s useful to have a dictionary to hand to check unusual words or meanings.

  5. All this talk of fast times makes me wonder if I am the only one who normally can’t do the thing at one sitting, but find that coming back to it after a couple of hours makes all clear.

    I’m sure I used to be able to do it in one when I was a lad, but now……

    1. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the benefits of doing something else for a while and clearing wrong ideas out of the brain.

      Depending on when exactly your lad days were, tough puzzles might be more frequent these days. I’d say that the average hardest of each week now is about the same as the hardest of each fortnight or even month about 10 years ago.

      1. Thanks for those few kind words Peter. My peak was in the early 70s when clues mentioning stretching one’s legs led to “Procrustes” and a fair bit of classical knowledge came into play. But I think, like everything, my solving is slowing down a bit!!
  6. 24.28 , got the long anagram quickly but a lot of the clues needed some thought. With the starting ‘o’ and another ‘o’ in 15d I looked at the clue – “fine” equals OK = Oklahoma , film = Oklahoma! Put it in without too much thought so lost a minute or two. Doh!
  7. I don’t solve in the times quoted here, but I’d the same experience relatively – really difficult all over the grid, but as the headline said, fair. NW was my last also. Thanks for ROCK SALT – I put it in but could not see why – all is clear now.
  8. It was the Northwest which came last for me too, and I agree with Peter’s comment about DASHES. Having said that, I seem to have been quite fast in relative terms, finishing in 11:42. Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to be at Cheltenham though, since I’m moving overseas a few days later and things are getting a bit frantic at home. Jason J
    1. I offer evidence against Peter’s comment on 1ac; I did spend those few extra seconds on DASHES and put it in first, but it didn’t help. I stalled after about 7 minutes with the rest of the top left remaining, and took another 8+ to get the last six answers. (Knowing that Pisa was in Tuscany – now _that would have helped.) Thought this blockage might have spoilt a decent week so far, but looking at others’ times above, perhaps not.
  9. First puzzle in a few months I gave up on. (kagoule and keelhaul beat me.) Appeaser came late – once again that sounds-like problem I have! – and that got things finally moving, though I couldn’t place the u/s in hausfrau.

    The tough grid certainly did not help!


  10. Just the five “easies” in this one deemed by some to be tricky enough for the Grand Final:

    17a Hit record with loud introduction (4)
    F LOG

    22a Hateful (duo is)* nothing special (6)
    ODI 0 US. Anagram of DUO IS and 0 = nothing.

    25a Power of politician in EU country (6)
    E MP IRE

    5d (Briefly test out a )* modified tourist attraction (6,2,7)
    STATUE OF LIBERTY. It helps if you twig the OF early and think beyond the British Isles.

    8d Travelling at great speed? That’s worrying (8)
    RATTLING. A double def that’s a bit old fashioned. I drove an Aston Martin DB9 at 140mph the other day (on a racetrack before anyone whinges) and it didn’t rattle at all.

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