23734 – Championship prelim 1, puzzle 1

Solving time: about 10 minutes on the day, in two stages

This puzzle included one of the clues that made me sweat a bit at Cheltenham. After completing all but one clue in this puzzle, I was faced with:

14A: Head identifying millennium feature (4) – ?O?E

Seems to be either a cryptic or double def., nothing obvious comes to mind except the fairly flaky NOSE = feature, and the checking letters mean that pretty well any consonant (or one or two vowels) could fit the first or third letter. What to do? First time around, go on to the other two puzzles and hope that when you come back to this one you’ll just see it.

It’s now 15 minutes later, this is the only barrier between you and a place in the final, and you haven’t had any further inspiration. This has been an easy bunch of puzzles and hands are starting to go up. The only choice left is the dull way – just take each letter of the alphabet in turn as the first letter, see what other letters as the third make words, and whether they make any sense as answers. So BODE, BOLE, BONE, BORE, CODE, COKE, COLE, … all rejected for not fitting the clue, and a while later, DOME – which clearly matches “Millennium Dome” and seems OK for ‘head’ in terms of shape-description. I was possibly lucky that the answer started with D, and that I spotted it on my first trip through the alphabet. Hand up, and scan the room to try to judge my position – seems OK, somewhere just in the bottom half of the twelve, so just sit and hope that there were no slips.

Grand Final Puzzles
I’ve hassled various people about this and the conclusion seems to be “they’ll be ready when they’re ready”. This makes no sense to me when the puzzles used on the day must have been stored on some computer system. Churning out three PDFs and putting them on a website with appropriate links should be an hour’s work at the most.

1 SEM(IF)INAL – easy enough but I don’t think I got this on first look. Others who did were already ahead.
6 Y=unknown,ACHT – did get this one quickly, and a couple of its downs. The simplicity of “eight in German” was rather surprising.
10 GE=e.g. rev.,NES(I)S – {I = current}, a second old favourite after Y=unknown
14 DOME – 2 defs
18 F(E)ATHERS – a classic ‘so simple when you see it’ clue
21 C(ED)AR,WOO(e)D – trickier wordplay with {estate => CAR} and cultivated=wooed, and I’m fairly sure this went in from checking letters
24 CHOW=dog,DER=red=ball (snooker), reversed – the ‘American’ aspect seems more appropriate than in yesterday’s SHORTCAKE, though I haven’t looked up either word to check.
25 L(EON)INE – nothing about popes for a change
1 SACKS = “sax”
2 MONEY FOR OLD ROPE – cryptic/enhanced def which includes a plain def, plus bread=money and painter=rope
4 NONES,U,CH – nones seems to be a contender for “Times crossword word of the year, 2007”.
5 L(e.g.)ACY
7 CASH IN ONES CHIPS = kick the bucket, bite the dust, etc.
13 SONG CYCLE – ref. “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do …. you’d look sweet, on a bicycle made for two.” One or two others said they’d initially gone for RING CYCLE, with the ring being an engagement ring, presumably, as the song is effectively a proposal – glad I didn’t think of that one, with only one checking letter different.
16 S,TUB=but rev.,BORN
19 CREDIT – 2 defs.
20 S(O,RR)OW
23 SPEAR – this one felled 1996 champion John Henderson, who chose the fairly tempting SHEAR and apparently had the officials thinking for a while about whether to allow it. John’s hand went up first in this prelim, after something like 18 minutes for the three puzzles. In the afternoon John solved the final puzzles in the audience faster than any of the finalists – on such narrow margins are championships won and lost.

21 comments on “23734 – Championship prelim 1, puzzle 1”

  1. For the second day running the setter has complicated a clue with a reference to a food item being “American”. Yesterday it was “shortcake” today it’s “chowder”.

    Surely both items are eaten in enough countries the world over not to be classified as American even if that was where they may or may not have originated.

    Yesterday’s, being an anagram, was dead easy though I had to look at it twice because of “American” but today’s held me up for ages and was my last entry. It sent me off in completely the wrong direction thinking it was a reference to something in American sport which everybody but me would know immediately.

    1. CHOWDER was one of my last ones to go in but I can’t explain it. I can see CHOW = “dog” but not how RED = ball (unless it’s just a reference to one of the balls on a snooker or billiards table).

      Mike, Skiathos.

  2. This one provided only minor problems in the SW corner, accounting for around 15 minutes of a 23 minute total time. 13D was the main sticking point which also delayed the tricky 21A – while I was also trying to work out something using S at 26A (“opening item in sports”).
  3. Chowder was last in for me as well. Red=ball seems a bit stretched. I think ‘boat’ rather than ‘vessel’ would have improved the surface of 6A.

    I’m rather taken aback to have matched Peter’s time, as usually I need 2.0-2.5x as long. Sometimes it just clicks, I guess.

  4. I was in the second preliminary, but turned up early and was able to solve the first preliminary’s puzzles while they were in there sweating. With no pressure on, I managed all three in about 30-35 mins. This was the easiest of the three for me, although I was also tempted by NOSE at 14ac but convinced there had to be a better answer.
  5. I found this pretty easy, and didn’t have to think hard about any of the clues. Even DOME came immediately. I did have a momentary doubt about SPEAR, but thinking about the asparagus soup I had the night before settled it. I agree with the earlier comment about unnecessary American indicators. In these days of international cuisine I don’t regard Chowder as peculiarly American, and COD makes no reference to America/US.
  6. I was relieved to finish in 18 minutes. I was really stuck on a group of clues which all linked (15d,21a,13d,24a,13a,3d,9a). In desperation I put RING CYCLE in 13, thinking of Wagner and a bell on a bike. Then 13a suddenly dawned on me ( I don’t know why I struggled so much with it), and the rest followed.
    Most enjoyable, though have to agree that BALL=RED is a little vague.
  7. Positively haring along for a sub 25 min finish when became very bogged down in SW corner. Struggled over 19, 21 and 24. Couldn’t see at all why ‘wood’ was ‘cultivated out East’. Last to go in was 18 though. Amazing to think that ‘spear’ just popped into my head straight away when it did for such an illustrious solver at the finals. Respectable (by my standards) 39 mins here. Also managed a baked potato and salad in about 34 (it was a big one).
  8. This is slightly off-topic. I am just curious about the wordplay for justifying SHEAR.
    1. I think it relied on an obscure definition of shoot being almost the same as an obscure definition of shear, which is also a cutting tool (cutting being the same as piercing, sort of). I wasn’t convinced when he explained it.
      1. I think there was also the idea that if you only had one shear out of a pair (which seems a bit like one scissor), you might use it to pierce, rather than to cut. It didn’t really convince me either, but I know what championship pressure can do to the cryptic decision-making processes.
  9. I found Peter’s commentary and the blog entries more interesting than the puzzle. I must have been lucky to just roll along and not hit any of the snags found by others. About 25 minutes to solve. I think red=ball has been used before because it didn’t jar with me. I agree about the American cuisine. Jimbo.
  10. I think this one took me about eight minutes on the day. I remember thinking that it would have been faster if I had started with the down clues as I had lots of gaps in the acrosses, while the first half dozen downs seemed easier.

    Last week I filled in the Wednesday answers in about three minutes. Solving this puzzle this morning took about four and a half minutes, as I couldn’t remember all the answers and had to work some of them out. I won’t be suprised if by next Wednesday I am taking as long to re-solve the puzzle as it took me on the day.

  11. Yikes – glad I wasn’t in the competition – made a total mess of the SW corner by immediately entering “profit” for 19d and thinking literally about the american dish and trying to work “chaffer” in 24ac. Doomed to failure after 15 minutes.
  12. This is one of the rare moments when I can feel slightly smug, as ‘dome’ went in straight away. But that’s as far as it goes – although I did get all the solutions, I was far from happy with ‘chowder’ (never heard of a chow, and didn’t think of ball=red) and had to ask someone what diaphanous meant. I also had an alternative for 23d, thinking of sword = S word = shoot, an expletive of a very tame sort. But, of course, doesn’t fit with other clues.
  13. I was hoping for a better time than 29 minutes but it’s down on last week’s 31 minutes. I filled in ‘chowder’ without being able to prove the ‘der’, and dome was the last. I couldn’t get away from the millennium wheel. (I think that’s what it’s called!)

    And I’ve been humming Daisy since!

  14. I found this puzzle horribly easy on the day, and so, despite my nerves, must have completed the first two puzzles in under 15 minutes. But at that point over-excitement got the better of me, and I lost the plot on the third puzzle. (I’ll be glad when next Wednesday is over and I can finally put it behind me.)
  15. A bit surprised by other people’s difficulties with “dome”. If you attach “bald” or “balding” to it, it becomes a term for “head” that’s so familiar as to be a cliche. But maybe it’s my own troubles in the thatch department that led me to write in “dome” as my first word today. –JR.
  16. I had trouble with 14a despite having clear memories of a visit in year 2000 where we saw Blackadder goes Back & Forth at the IMAX and met a fellow geologist I hadn’t seen in 6 years on the Greenwich Meridian.

    Nice to see that even a championship puzzle contains some answers that are deemed to easy to put in the blog:

    9a Deceive soldiers occupying hold (7)

    11a Former writer’s elegance of manner (5)

    13a Valve power company kept in store (8)

    17a It may illuminate EugeNE O’Neill, a bit (4)

    22 County dandies (5)
    BUCKS. NP is in Bucks.

    26a European introducing opening item in sports programme (5)
    E VENT

    6d (Rodney)*’s represented over there (6)

    8d It’s bland but (sets least)* irregularly (9)

    15d Finish up climbing round chimney swinging weight (8)
    P END U LUM. Lum is a Scots word for chimney.

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