23,735 – a game of two halves

Solving time: 12:51

The right hand side went fairly fast, with its easy SHRINKING VIOLET at 6D. But the clever cryptic def of AUTOBIOGRAPHIES at the other long down held me up on the left hand side.

I seem to be noticing more clues nowadays which have a normal definition+wordplay structure but where the definition part is itself cryptic. For example in 10A, “Not having planned to leave…” could stand as a reasonable cryptic def clue for INTESTATE on its own.


5 TARSUS – home of Saul/Paul (not that my biblical knowledge is great, but “Tarsus, no mean city” sticks in my head as a litotes)
10 (w)INTE(r) + STATE
11 (i)F (h)ER (p)AL
13 AUCTIONED, being EDUCATION* – I wonder if it is a coincidence that DEALT + LOTS also has the right number of letters to be the anagram fodder.
15 E(CO)WARRIOR, EWARRIOR being (A WORRIER)* – Last clue solved. Though I had considered this structure, I thought there was unlikely to be a word that fitted.
19 FOR K (= instead of king) – normally forks in chess involve threatening two valuable pieces with a less valuable one (eg N or B threatening Q&R, or P threatening N&B) but this unusual fork maintains the plausibly non-chess surface
22 UPPER HAND – I am not sure why this is “not usually right for driver”. Perhaps a comment will help? (On edit: Thanks to helpful comment, I now know that for a right-handed golfer it is usual to have the left hand higher than the left when holding a driver.)
26 GOING – two defs, one horse-racing, the other auctioneering
27 C.A. + BRIO + LET


1 CHIN(a)
2 AUTOBIOGRAPHY – cryptic def
3 LAS VEGAS, being SALVAGES* – The apparently helpful information that the city is “surrounded by desert” does serve to make the structure of the clue less obvious.
4 DRAM + A – I wasted only a few seconds thinking of Macbeth characters
6 A + F(F)AIR – &lit, though the cryptic reading doesn’t seem entirely clear
9 RED CROSS – the country this time must be England
16 R(ELI)AN C.E.
18 B + LESSING – That would be the dead playwright, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, rather than the live and currently better known novelist, Doris Lessing
21 O + RIG + IN – at last I now think immediately that “axes” is likely to be the plural of “axis”
23 DE(B)AR

30 comments on “23,735 – a game of two halves”

  1. 6:53 and should probably have been quicker. After 30+ years of solving cryptics, I still wrote in the daft MOOR at 16. Recognised 2D, but should probably have seen straight through 7 as well.
  2. Looked like this would be a walk-over (to me, 15 minutes is a walk-over) but found myself stopped dead at 19A.
    I’m standing by for the inevitable “doh” moment.
    1. It baffled me too and I resorted to going through the dictionary. There are enough hints in the clue that should have suggested it was a chess term but I didn’t twig. And actually I don’t really know it in that context although I used to play chess quite a lot.

      Think cleft stick!

  3. I thought this was a superb crossword, with some stellar clues.

    15A, 19A, 22A and 21D were particular favourites. In golf, right-handers would hold the driver with right hand below left – very neat clue (22A). Queens very rarely fork two bishops, but it is possible (19A).

    The only clue about which I have slight reservations is 10A. I don’t think ‘Not having planned to leave’ really equates to ‘Not having planned one’s departure’ – which might have been a preferable definition?

    1. Thanks for the golf information. I will edit.

      Don’t agree on 10A. An intestate person might have made very careful plans about various aspects of their death. What they have not sorted out is what they “leave” to other people.

    2. 10A But surely then you’d lose the meaning not having planned to leave anything to anyone, wouldn’t you? Feeling a bit dim this morning because I can’t see how the midwinter bit fits in, but no doubt I shall kick myself when told.

      The golf reference is far too obscure though the answer was obvious without knowing about golf.

      I’m not sure about red crosses flying across the country on St Georges Day. I think our parish church used to do this but I don’t know whether the practice continues. Does anyone else fly the SGC these days without reference to football?

      1. midwinter = inte, say = state
        For the golf reference, I was thinking of driving a car – unfortunately I’m yet to learn to drive, but I’d assumed that in the ten-and-three-o’clock position (or whatever it is) the left hand is higher than the right.
      2. ‘Far too obscure’?! All you really need to know is that a driver is a type of golf club. This is considerably less obscure than, for example, the city of Tarsus, the playwright Gotthold Lessing or how a fork works in chess, to give just three examples from this puzzle. And anyway, the more obscure sporting references the better. 6:23 for this one, with AUTOBIOGRAPHIES my first entry and FORK my last.
        1. Sorry, but I stand by my “far too obscure” remark.

          Of course the clue was easily solvable from its definition part especially if one had a couple of letters from the Down clues, but what I meant was that the average solver who knows nothing of the finer points of golf technique would probably not be able to work out the wordplay other than to guess that it had something vaguely to do with golf. Nor would the standard reference books for crossword solvers shed any light on the matter.

          IMO clues should not require specialist knowledge that is not readily available to the average solver.

          The examples you quote are not comparable. The first is fairly obviously a double definition; one stands a chance of knowing one, and the other is easy to check. I agree the second is more difficult but that it starts with a ‘B’ should be obvious and ‘LESSING’ is not hard to guess given the definition and a few checked letters. One might easily assume, if one didn’t know, that there may be a playwright called Lessing and again this is easy to check.

          The thing about 22A is that having easily solved it as UPPER HAND (as I did) and even having made a possible connection with golf one is no further forward in understanding the wordplay without reference to a work on golf technique.

          1. I just realised I didn’t deal with your third example.

            19A presented real problems for me but that was down to my own stupidity as I mentioned in an earlier comment; how could a short clue containing the names of three chess pieces fail to make me think of chess?

            However having got F-R- I eventually resorted to going through the dictionary and both Chambers and Collins offered the chess definition of fork. I then kicked myself for not having solved it from the simple wordplay in the second part of the clue.

            So the solution should have been easy to work out and the part requiring a bit of specialist knowledge was easy to check in a decent dictionary whereas “upper hand” with reference to golf technique was not.

  4. 1 hr 4 mins here. I liked 2 very much. Could also be a definition for people who think they’re Napoleon or such like. But to me this clue is different from 10 in that the whole clue is just a cryptic definition whereas in 10 there is both definition and wordplay. So I have to take issue with richard. (Unless ‘cases’ can mean ‘books’ or something.)
    1. Oh, take it all back. Just reread richard’s comments. He doesn’t lump the two clues together in that way.
      1. There’s not really that much to understand, but these might help:

        Cases of = examples of
        laying down = recording / writing down
        lives = life stories – as in Aubrey’s Brief Lives
        for others = for other people to read

  5. Ah well, there you are – a chess reference. That counts me out. I didn’t know about “fork” when, many years ago, I played a little bit of chess. I then went on to discover girls, and all thoughts of forks promptly evaporated; although cleft sticks probably didn’t.
  6. Please explain the answer to this clue: Chin(a)
    What’s the defintion? I don’t understand the first part, ‘punch to the face’.
    1. I confidently wrote in SLAP here and gave myself considerable problems with 1A and 10A as a result.

      It was only spotting CHARLADY that led me to reconsider 1D and realise a slap is not really the same as a punch and the order of the letters didn’t quite fit the clue. Pretty near though.

  7. I half thought that CHIN meant ‘hit *with* the chin’ (as in ‘knee’), but I suppose that doesn’t make much practical sense when you think about it.

    4D and 26A were my two favourites today ‘spirit of the Scottish / play’ being a good join and ‘going, going, gone’ a good cryptic def. To be topical, there was an All Black rugby player called Sid Going, which gave rise to amusing commentary.

  8. The deceptive use of ‘where axes cut’ was a nice device.Fortunately,as with a few of the other clues (e.g blessing) either the wordplay or the definition was enough to point to the entry. Unlike Richard I got autobiographies quickly having some recollection of similar clues in the past , but the other long down entry needed a few checking letters to become apparent.Happy with 16 minutes for this one
  9. I finished this very quickly for me, less than 20 minutes. I guessed 22 across not seeing the golf reference and I play the game but remembered my chess days for 19 across. I thought 10 across was a clever construction. Jimbo.
  10. Just a thought.

    The avoidance of names of living people is long-standing, but I wonder whether it is now old-fashioned and could be relaxed? It seems a shame that the setter was prevented from a reference to Doris Lessing in the week of her triumph. Should we really have to wait for her demise before she replaces G.E. Lessing in the Times Crossword?

    1. There are – as I understand it – a couple of reasons for the “living persons” policy.
      Death has an odd way of putting a person’s fame into a kind of stasis; they will either be remembered or not. As time passes this degree of recognition settles to an extent that it becomes fairly obvious whether or not reference to that person is justifiable in a crossword clue.
      On the other hand, celebrity (especially the kind of pseudo-celebrity that seems so pervasive in this and the previous century) of living persons can be fleeting and can exist solely because that person is in the news right now.
      There are probably not too many people who haven’t at least heard of Jade Goody. But – perish the thought – supposing she met her demise tomorrow? In 5 or 10 years time, would a reference to her in a crossword be greeted with absolute bafflement by solvers; Jade who?
      It’s also the case that we can’t assume all crossword clues would refer to a living “celebrity” in an entirely complimentary way. No setter worth his/her salt would deliberately insult a famous person, but a clue could incorporate gentle fun-poking humour – which could backfire hideously if the subject promptly popped their clogs.
      All of that said – phew, what a post – my own feeling is that there is room for at least a little relaxation of the rules. Many a time I’ve been left with the letters BO in an answer and been tempted to use Derek as an oblique def. Not permissible at the moment though.
  11. had the same problem as someone else with a too hasty (but very seductive) SLAP. Had NO idea what April 23rd signifies (other than being two days before my mother’s birthday) so my RED CROSS was rather shaky – I also though it slightly weakened by the use of “across” in the clue itself. All in all about 45′.
  12. The upside of using Gotthold Ephraim is that I look him up on Wikipedia, and find out that he wrote Nathan the Wise, which I’ve at least heard of. Following on to the article about the play, I liked the parable of the ring.
  13. Yes, a fun puzzle. Approaching an hour to finish, tho. Missed the anagram in 15a for the longest time, and saw too many f?r? possibilities. I gave up on that one!
  14. So many posts and perhaps I’ve missed it, but it seems that nobody has mentioned this, which seems faulty to me. “A worrier about business, possibly” is presumably an &lit. leading to ECOWARRIOR. (A WORRIER)* round CO. What is the anagram indicator, and what is the indicator that it goes round CO? “About” can’t be both. Please can someone explain why I’m wrong.
    1. “Possibly” must be the AI, and “about business” for “goes round CO”. I wondered whether “A worrier, possibly, about business” would be better, given that CO in the answer doesn’t need any jumbling.
  15. At 19a F?R? with King mentioned in the clue pretty well had to be FORK. Thanks to Richard for the explanation. I am sadly ignorant of chess nomenclature I am afraid.

    There are eight answers that are not in the blog:

    12a Old Bank Of England, originally, as issuer of notes (4)
    O B O E

    17a Secure to river bank (4)
    TIE R

    24a Hide son pursued by relatives (4)
    S KIN

    28a Upwardly mobile and so revolting (6)

    29a Bowled with accuracy and intelligence (8)
    B RIGHTLY. A Jimmy Anderson of a clue.

    7d Plant not growing is a wallflower (9,6)

    14d Fast food bringing complaint by respectable citizen, say (10)

    25d Postpone visit (4)

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