23,741 – lean and fit

Solving time: 13:34

Although there are some very clever and tricky constructions here, most of the clues are very economical with few padding or link words, meaning that the structure tends to be easy to spot. And the straightforward two long acrosses meant that I made fast progress for most of the puzzle. There were some less familiar words (AZERI, DOGNAPS…) but they were pretty clearly clued. Liked the joke at 1D, and the slut at 27A.

Then 23A and 20D took me a bit of puzzling over for some reason. And finally, I was baffled by 14A. Somehow missed the J on my first run through the alphabet and when I spotted it on the second run I had spent about four minutes on just this one clue.


9 RU(M)B + A – the cryptic reading is sound but tortuous: “A B breaks into” meaning B is inserted in A
10 (qu)ISLING + TON – I’ve always thought of Islington as more inner-city than suburb. Filled in quickly and wordplay worked out after the clock was stopped
13 BRAKE + PAD – the split between wordplay and definition comes between “apartment” and “block”
14 RE + JOIN(t)
18 GUI + DANCE – it seems that GUI =”guy” = line. Homophones for non-words are borderline on my scale of acceptability, and especially when they don’t work in my accent
23 EARMARKED – two meanings
27 PORT + S(A)LUT – I spotted the answer first here, and then expected the wordplay to have tart=salt. Pleasantly surprised to find it was tart=slut.


1 PAR IS – ie IS is “below PAR” meaning “not on form”
2 FEMME FATALE – not quite a cryptic definition, more a mildly punning one
3 EXAM + P(L)E
6 PINNAC + E, PINNAC being (CAN NIP)(all rev)
8 PENITENCE (=”penny tense”)
12 GROUNDSWELL – two meanings – can I be disappointed that they are the metaphorical and literal meanings of the same word?
13 BE MY GUEST – two meanings – I did like this one
19 DO + GNAPS, GNAPS being PANGS* – Is that even a word?
20 (s)HOOK-UP

42 comments on “23,741 – lean and fit”

  1. Had to double-check the clock after completing this in 6 minutes. Oddly, it didn’t feel at all rushed and there were a couple of head-scratch moments.
    I didn’t spot SLUT either and entered PORT SALUT with confidence thanks to my ability to recite – almost verbatim – Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch.

    Yes sir!
    Splendid. I’ll have some of that then.
    Oh, I’m sorry sir. I thought you were talking to me. Mr Wensleydale. That’s my name.

  2. Well as it happens I was feeling esurient at Marylebone station last night and negotiated the vending of some cheesy comestibles in the International Cheese Shop. As a keen tyrophile it’s disappointing that today’s featured cheese is one of the most insipid factory products imaginable. Next stop Babybel?

    11:40 for this, with about the last 3:40 spent working out DOGNAPS, not seeing create = DO, or thinking of anything convincing for D?G?A?S. Eventually saw DOGNAPS but chose it over DOGPANS just because CATNAPS is a word, so not for the right reason. Jammy…

  3. Quite frankly, today’s crossword was another example of the declining standards of the Times cryptic. After one famous debacle in the late 1980s, I wrote to that idiot Murdoch to give him a piece of my mind. Things still haven’t improved (despite nearly a letter a week from me since then). Today’s atrocity was 25 across. Azeri is an ethnicity and has nothing to do with citizenship. The citizens of Azerbaijan are, of course, Azerbaijanis.

    I’m delighted to have been directed to this Internet webpage, where my complaints about the catastrophic decline in standards (no less evident than in the ridiculous 12 down of 20,533) can finally be given public voice.

    Parenthetically, let me note that the absurd use of “castle” to describe the “rook” in chess — an error repeated numerous times in the past calendar year — seems to have ceased. My bickering, I imagine, has yielded at least some (minor) improvements. Praise God.


    Col. (Ret.) Roger Boslings, Derbs.

    1. I’d love to know when the completely error-free golden age of the Times cryptic took place. Somehow I doubt it ever did. All crosswords contain errors or things that annoy fussy solvers from time to time. If you really think standards are falling so much that “atrocity” is an appropriate epithet for a crossword clue, I can only suggest finding another crossword.
    2. “the absurd use of “castle” to describe the “rook” in chess – an error repeated numerous times in the past calendar year “

      I don’t see the problem. It’s in common enough usage for crossword purposes. Just because it’s out of fashion in the world of chess purists doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Howard Staunton listed it as an alternative name for a rook in his chess writings in the century before last.

    3. “an error repeated numerous times in the past calendar year — seems to have ceased. My bickering, I imagine, has yielded at least some (minor) improvements. Praise God.”

      If there have been numerous instances of this “error” within the past calendar year I think it’s a bit soon to claim victory for your cause.

    4. Col. (Ret.) Roger Boslings, Derbs. (?,?)

      It looks as though “Ret” should be a reversal indicator and “Roger” an anagind. But I can’t make it work at all.

  4. 1. Chambers might indeed list Azeri as “an Azerbaijani”, but if it lists “Englishman” as “a Briton” does that make them the same? I’ve been to Baku and, make no mistake, calling, say, an Azerbaijani of Turkish descent an “Azeri” will have you diced and spiced before you can say the word “Mangal”. Ask the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh for their feelings on such tomfoolery in the Times crossword!

    2. Staunton’s well-known penchant for populism needn’t concern us here. The word is “rook”. Anything else is balderdash.

    3. Biddlecombe: I’ve witnessed many atrocities, not least in the service of our Royal armed forces. I use the word advisedly here. And if you truly believe that standards have not dropped, I suggest you consult 10 puzzles from 1985 (by my reckoning, the last of the vintage years) and contrast them with a random selection from 2007.
    I doubt very much that an error of Azeri proportions would have crept into a pre-85 puzzle.

    There is far too much emphasis on speed of completion these days, not enough on savouring a truly digestible clue. I sense that the sheep have begun to lead the shepherds!



    1. The phrase โ€œold chestnutโ€ is one that crops up with some regularity on this blog and it highlights a dilemma frequently faced by setters. Are we looking for tried and tested, technically faultless clues which have made regular appearances in perhaps slightly altered forms, or do we seek adventurous freshness at the occasional expense of total accuracy?
      Only personal preference can answer that and, as a solver, I prefer to see definitions which point me towards the answer rather than ones lifted straight from the pages of a dictionary.
      Even if it sounds simplistic, Iโ€™d rather accept a few moderately questionable definitions if the clues are enough to lead me to the right answer and I only raise an eyebrow if the wordplay contains technical inaccuracies. If you can answer the clue, going back to it to look for less than spot on definitions can only spoil the fun.
      1. As a setter I never knowingly use an “old chestnut” but of course one person’s brilliant innovation is an older hand’s chestnut. It’s worth remembering that not all solvers are old hands and there is always someone, for example, who’s never seen the wordplay for RANSACK before.
        Definitions lifted from the dictionary are certainly to be avoided if possible – in daily blocked puzzles anyway.
        It is certainly true that in a cryptic you can – and should – often be able to get away with definitions that wouldn’t be acceptable in a “plain” puzzle
        I feel a record number of postings for today’s puzzle coming on ๐Ÿ™‚
    2. “Ask the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh for their feelings on such tomfoolery in the Times crossword!”

      Cultural snobbism aside for a sec, but one wonders how many residents of Nagorno-Karabakh actually care about The Times cryptic. Or even The Times.

      1. “one wonders how many residents of Nagorno-Karabakh actually care about The Times cryptic. Or even The Times”
        Quite!! And as most residents of that region aren’t Azeri (sorry) but Armenian they probably won’t be too concerned anyway
    3. 1985 was about the time I returned to tackling the Times puzzle, after finding it too hard as a beginner around 1977. Trying 10 sample puzzles from then is rather difficult – the Times xwd club web-site has an arhive that only goes back to 2000, so the best bet for this set of puzzles would be a Penguin Times xwd book of the right vintage, which I doubt I have.

      I know two solvers (Roy Dean and Tony Sever) whose Times experience stretches back to well before 1985. Neither has told me that a higher error count is a feature of current puzzles – and they’ve both talked about various other differences. Tony will read this later and doubtless speak up if he feels differently.

    4. I assume the learned colonel is having a laugh.
      In case not, being an expert on the Caucasus he will know that there are many things it’s wise not to call many of the diverse races there (especially “Russian!”) but that need not concern the Times crossword setter, the solvers or their dictionaries(!)
  5. FGBP:

    You make my point. They are citizens of Azerbaijan, and technically Azerbaijanis — but they most certainly are not Azeris!

    If the librarian thought I was cross when I read the clue in the library this morning, she should be here now!

    I really can’t believe I need to have this debate with other solvers!

    A far better clue would simply have been: “Foreigner clothed…” Instead, we have this nonsense about a “citizen”.

    And this limp-wristed response about how it ought to be allowed because it is the cryptic is an example of the kind of relativism that is undermining the fabric of our society.

    Is there no-one who genuinely cares about this business? I have already written my letter to the Times and cited this website as a beacon of virtue on the matter. Perhaps I was mistaken!

    Col. (Ret.) Roger Boslings

    1. “Foreigner”? Oh, come on! Were I an Azeri/Russian/Nagorno-Karab… er, whatever… I’d feel much more aggrieved by being referred to simply as a “foreigner”. Foreigner to whom?
      Please don’t tell me that if I use the word “African” as the answer in a future puzzle I should simply clue him as a “darkie”!!!
    2. I was right – you ARE having a laugh!
      Azeri is a perfectly acceptable term for a citizen of Azerbaijan – I am afraid I don’t understand the difference between foreigner and citizen in this context. My wife comes from the region and she’s quite happy to refer to the citizens of that country as Azeris. If it’s good enough for her, and my Azeri linguist friend, then it’s good enough for me, even if unacceptable in the retired military ranks of the North Midlands ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚
      But in any case setters – and solvers – go by dictionaries and the dictionaries I’m looking at say “fine”.
      (I’m not the setter of the puzzle, I hasten to add!)
      Anyway, keep going – I can feel a “40-poster” coming on, especially if we can milk the “chestnuts” controversy …
  6. yes, am glad to have found you. well met. am having a spot of trouble with a 5 letter word, of 1980s origin, derivative of dwarf, feebleminded . . . rhymes with schmeeb. much obliged.
  7. FGBP: Let us be straight. I have spent much time in Azerbaijan and was there during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. If you wish to see the outcome of assuming all Azerbaijanis to be Azeris, I suggest you visit the central cemetery in Baku, which is full of the victims of that brutal war.

    Furthermore, whether your wife or anyone else from the Caucasus would call an Azerbaijani an “Azeri” is simply irrelevant. All citizens of Azerbaijan are Azerbaijanis. They are not all Azeris. These differences are absolutely critical in that part of the world.

    Anaxcrosswords: your question about “foreign to whom” would apply equally to the “Foreign citizen” of the original clue. And I find it deeply personally offensive that you should, by implication, suggest that I am a racialist. I served in Africa for over four years!

    From what reserve of loyalty to that idiot Murdoch’s rag does this defence of what is quite clearly a sloppy error stem?

    I’d love to know who the setter was for today’s crossword. Have they rashly hired a new young buck who ought to be cutting his teeth elsewhere, say on the Evening (lack of) Standard(s)?

    I gave up buying the Times in disgust in the late 1980s. I am tempted not to bother reading it at all now.


    1. My sincere apologies to you on two fronts:
      “Foreigner” – oddly, the way this thread had been developing had pointed me away from remembering that “foreign” appeared in the original clue.
      I did not mean in any way to suggest that you are racist – I merely attempted to state that a word like “foreigner” can (and I emphasise, can) be offensive depending on how/where it is used.
      However, on the subject of “citizen” and “Azeri”, Internet sources do present some latitude of interpretation.
      The American Heritage Dictionary (granted, not the ultimate oracle) does include “Azerbaijani” as a definition for “Azeri”.
      Similarly, there are several instances of “citizen” being defined as an inhabitant, civilian, resident etc. Taken to its logic conclusion, is it fair to say that everyone – regardless of ethnicity – is at the very least a resident of somewhere?
    2. “All citizens of Azerbaijan are Azerbaijanis. They are not all Azeris”

      By implication of your logic therefore, at least one must be.
      Ha! Got you!

      Up to 30 comments now by my reckoning and we still have Tony Sever to come. My he’s in for a shock!

  8. What is “the ridiculous 12 dn of 20,533” that rendered the good Colonel so incandescent? I think we should be told.
  9. Wow. I finished this in 7:33, my fastest time for a while. It would have been much quicker, but I got stuck for a minute or two on 20dn HOOK-UP. The only other two that didn’t go in at first glance were 14 REJOIN and 19 DOGNAPS, but I got them straight away when I went back to them after getting the crossing letters.

    I thoroughly approve of Col. Boslings though. The world needs a few more retired colonels if you ask me. I don’t know about the crossword, but the Times Crossword Club website has certainly declined in standard over the last year or so (and it wasn’t much cop to begin with). If you can shake them up I’m sure we’ll all be grateful sir.

  10. Kicking myself now, another unfinished after breezing through most of the clues in under 10 minutes, gave up on dognaps and checked in here to see, yes, I was missing something obvious.

    Dear Col. (Ret.) Roger Boslings,



  11. Henry Root may be dead, but it seems that William Donaldson is still writing from beyond the grave. I applaud… JR
  12. The good colonel will no doubt be delighted to know that this took me 47 minutes. There seems to be somewhat of a pattern to the P’s and T’s in the perimeter – too much to be a coincidence, perhaps, but not enough to be a Nina.
    R. Saunders (Ret.)
  13. Only 28 comments today so far? Come on biddlecombe, get a grip on your sinking ship!
    Thanks to the colonel for a very entertaining day, anyway. Nice to know standards apply somewhere !
  14. My second day of solving late and it looks as though I’ve missed all the fun. I’d planned to come here bemoaning my poor performance at 22 mins 04 secs, but it all seems irrelevant now. At least I’ve learnt that I must never refer to a citizen of Azerbaijan as an “ajeri” without first thoroughly establishing his/her ethnicity.
    1. “At least I’ve learnt that I must never refer to a citizen of Azerbaijan as an “ajeri” “

      I found the original argument quite interesting but as it developed it became fallacious and I find Mr B’s manner utterly tiresome.

      You haven’t missed all the fun as you put it because Mr B says he has discovered a new forum for his campaign against The Times under Murdoch and he evidently intends to offer us more of the same.

      I for one shall be scrolling past his future contributions.

  15. If the colonel is doing the puzzle at the library, he should check things like today’s Azeri in Collins English Dictionary and the Concise Oxford before putting finger to keyboard. These are the main reference dictionaries for the Times puzzle, so if one of them supports a definition, it’s OK for crossword purposes unless it’s obviously wrong. If you think the def. is inaccurate, write to the dictionary.
  16. My gripe about today’s puzzle is using ‘slut’ for tart. It’s come up before and has always irked me.

    Somewhere, and I couldn’t find it this morning on the Times website, I read that all words be considered within “parlour speak”. The words my mother would use, and slut is not one of those!

    Anyway, a thought on Azeri…

    In Canada to refer to a Pakistani as a ‘Paki’ is highly derogatory. Yet in Australia, it’s bandied about quite easily, especially when Pakistan is here playing cricket.

    1. For myself I like to see the Times being slightly less stuffy.

      Alberich has a sensible but interesting page on Which words can I use? on his site. It suggests that the Times rule used to be polite drawing-room conversation. I wouldn’t like to say what the difference is between a parlour and a drawing-room. Nor whether one would be more likely to find a slut in one or the other.

  17. I think the ‘parlour speak’ principle has been slackened in the last couple of years. slut=tart=’promiscuous woman’ is supported by the Concise Oxford.
  18. I came here to check up on yesterday’s crossword (having failed to get ‘pinnace’) and instead discovered that we have our first troll.
    We have arrived.
  19. Blimey – this is the biggest storm in a teacup I have ever encountered. Get a life Col (Retd) Boslings.

    There are 12 “easies” omitted form this blog including the contentious 25a AZERI that has resulted in a larger-than-usual number of comments above.

    1a Filled with pride, as winner at end of long race might be (6,3)

    11a Disturbed (night? Drug please!)* (8,7)

    16a After exercising (Graeme)*’s lean (6)

    21a Parliament backs environmentalist talks on carbon emissions (10,5)

    25a Foreign citizen clothed in blAZER, Incongruously (5)
    AZERI. The source of the controversy. The problem is in the definition “Foreign citizen”. The Azeris are an ethnic group also called Azerbijanis. Of course there is also a country called Azerbijan but Azeri = Ajerbijani does NOT necessarily equate with a citizen of Azerbijan. For example, there are MORE Azeris living in (and presumably a citizen of) Iran than Azerbijan. Reportedly there are also 6000+ Azeris living in the UK and these are, therefore, NOT foreign citizens?
    Despite all this I don’t think its worth getting your knickers in a twist.

    26a Opening of Tannhauser has feeble tune (5)
    T WEAK. Heard this Wagner opera on Radio 3 the other day – it wasn’t all that feeble.

    4d Maybe Chinese (relation)* is in trouble (8)

    7d Vegetarian food freak (3)

    15d Foreigner (is routed)* in battle (8)

    17d Managed to fire rifle (7)

    22d Team of workers eat quickly (5)

    24d Animal bRoOdEd every now and then (3)
    ROE. That is a deer – not fish eggs.

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