23,877 – a bit easier than I expected

Solving time 9:43

After putting up the placeholder, I forgot that my e-mail inbox would still receive the comments. So from subject lines, I got the idea that this had been a struggle for some. I was pleasantly surprised to make a fairly good start though working quite hard, but then found the sticky patch in the bottom half of the puzzle – after 6 minutes or so I had eight clues left – 17, 23, 25, 26, 27, 16, 18, 19. This sort of white clump in the grid is one of my solving fears, and I started to imagine taking about a minute for each and ending up with a slow time. But after a stuck minute or so, it all fell into place thus:

  • Thought of the Court of STAR CHAMBER at 26
  • With B?E at the end, now got STUMBLE at 19
  • This in turn switched 23 from ?D???T to ?D?U?T, which made ADJUST easy to see
  • Now I thought about the ‘half-chance’ possibilities at 18, given ??C????. I initially took ‘given’ as a containment indicator, and thought about ??CHA?? and ?NCE???. Not spotting anything, I decided the C I had could just be a C for coincidence, and pondered ??C?NCE which gave a fairly common ending and made LICE/NCE jump out.
  • At 17, ??L?S ?A?E ?A?S now surely had to be solvable. After a bit of thought, WALLS HAVE EARS came to mind, though I didn’t see the ‘in wears’ part of the wordplay.
  • The new W in ?W?E???? at 16, plus the possible S,___ construction I’d jotted down earlier made SWEEPING easy enough.
  • (f)INN was now obvious
  • another jotted down idea – EN for opponents in 27 – now bore fruit for GRENADE.

So these clues actually took about 28 seconds each to solve, which I counted as a good result. Answers put in without full understanding of wordplay: 14, 17, 15, 21.
I’m not going to nominate a COD as there have been plenty of other ideas, but will say that this was a good challenging puzzle.

1 FO(GLAM)P – got this on first look once I spotted ‘affected man’ = fop
5 GA(TELE)G – gag = crack and tele = box are well-used bits of slang
10 CUE = “Q”
12 EMPYREAN = repaymen(t)* – a doddle clue for an experienced solver, as empyrean is one of those words that keep cropping up in xwds just that bit more often than in real life (“i.e. at all”, you might think).
14 LUNATIC,FRINGE = “locks at the front”, “element with screw loose” is a nicely worked def to go with the nut and locks.
17 W(ALL,SH,A,V,E)EARS – “assumes keeping” meaning “WEARS contains”
21 (E,S(CAP)AD),E – cap = better, sad = down, drug = the first E, beginning of exciting = the last E – which I think is the conclusion reached below before I completed this report.
23 AD = part of a (commercial) break,JUST=merely
25 (f)INN – where you rest on a journey, esp. back in the days of stage coaches
26 STARCH,AMBER – starch = formal was one of only two things I marked down as a possible quibble, but Collins has it.
27 GR(E,N)ADE – E,N are a popular pair of ‘opponents’ from the bridge table – probably the most popular pair in the middle of a word. E,S are most likely at the end. Both can come in either order of course. Pairs with W are possible but less common. range = grade is the other possible quibble but as one has 18 meanings in Collins and the other 33, I’m going to take it on trust.
1 F(RUG)AL – the River Fal is in Cornwall. Probably easiest to find by working backwards from the placename Falmouth. Rug = wig is a bit more slang
2 GA(SOHO)L – I don’t know exactly what this stuff is either but as someone has already said, the wordplay is clear.
4 PIKE – punny def by way of the fish
5 GOBSMACKED – CD – Brit colloq for ‘astonished’
7 (Hannibal) LECTER,N
13 STEAK DIANE = (taken aside)* – Steak with a sauce containing mushrooms, brandy, cream and other good stuff.
15 ROALD DAHL – had rev. in dollar*
16 S,WEEPING – nicely done simple construction
18 LICE,(cha)NCE
19 S,TUMBLE – same comment as 16!
20 STA(R)VE – ‘notes on this’ = stave, as on music manuscript paper – the one for the musical mafia
22 PASHA – a title used by (e.g.) Mustafa Kemal Pasha = Kemal Ataturk. A couple of holidays in or including Turkey come in handy again. A hakim is a Muslim judge, ruler, administrator or physician – which I didn’t know either.
24 SCAM = macs rev.

20 comments on “23,877 – a bit easier than I expected”

  1. I shall be interested to hear how others fared with this one which caused me almost endless difficulty, but having solved it in a little over an hour I really couldn’t explain why. There were a couple of unfamiliar words at 2 and 12 but I think I have met them before and both should have been easily solvable from the wordplay. Other than that it was all quite straightforward stuff so I can only assume I was having an off day.

    My COD nomination goes to 17 even though it took me ages to decipher.

    1. Although I nominated 20D, hear hear for 17A. One of my last entries too, the semi-&lit construction of this is quite exceptional.
  2. I’d appreciate an explanation of 21 across = ESCAPADE.

    Mike O, Skiathos.

    1. Re ESCAPADE, this is how I look at it:


      Better – v., (to) CAP
      to cut – container/contained ind.
      down – SAD
      on – position ind.
      drug – E
      before – position ind.
      beginning of Exciting – E
      adventure – def.

  3. This is an interesting and fair puzzle that provides a good test. About 40 minutes to solve. I had to guess GASOHOL at 2D. The homophone CUE at 10A works for everybody, even the Scots. There are some very good clues at 11A, both the long ones 14A and 17A and 26A plus STUMBLE at 19D, which is my personal favourite. Jimbo.
  4. What an excellent, well crafted crossword. To answer Jackkt, I don’t think you necessarily had an off day. To me the sign of a good crossword is one where several clues stump you for a while and, once you’ve got the answer, you don’t know why you thought them so tricky. GASOHOL was also new to me but the word play left no doubt that it was correct. I have little tick marks next to 11a,17a and 26d but my favourite was my last in – 14a. I even understood the literary references at 7 and 15. It took me 15:40.
  5. Great crossword with some marvellous wordplay. Very difficult to choose just one COD but – among many candidates – I thought the wording at 20D excellent.
    I totally fluffed the NW corner by writing APPENINES at 3D, feeling confident about the spelling but inserting the answer without fully parsing the wordplay. This added at least 10 minutes of bafflement to a time that was already heading for the 20 minute mark. I’d guess Penguin’s time is going to be one of today’s best.
  6. 19 minutes here, liked this one, but found it slow to make a start. Liked 20d a lot, as well as 16d for hiding the second part of the wordplay, wasn’t thinking that way until I had the checking W. Nice little challenge, dear setter!
  7. Peter may find a better explanation but I had this as break=advantage, part=fraction, thus “ad”. Jimbo.
    1. I think ‘part of a commercial break’ was intended, but I applaud your ingenuity!

      Edited at 2008-04-03 04:51 am (UTC)

  8. please explain the wordplay here:
    OK for def. (to carry out minor alterations)
    merely = just;
    But how does ‘ad’ mean ‘break part’?
  9. This was difficult, took about an hour with interruptions; I’m always getting interrupted it seems. In 23 I took ‘ad’ to be part of a commercial break, as did anonymous. Thanks for the parsing of ‘escapade’, a clue with a bunch of separate parts. My favorite was ‘sweeping’ which I spent a lot of time attempting to start with ‘RELEE’ due to my American bias, but which I thought had two further very clever misdirections. “Bookmaker’ to mean an author was clever also. All in all, I’m pleased to have completed it without looking anything up. Regards.
  10. Pretty tough. ‘Break part’, ‘Bookmaker’, ‘formal warning’ all fooled me, and I hadn’t heard of Marceau. GATELEG, which I also didn’t know, took me a couple of minutes at the end; about 13:30 to finish.
  11. Could 10ac have also legitimately been “Gee” (ignoring the checking letters)?
    1. As far as the def – gee = gee up, to enourage/stimulate – goes, yes it could. But the letter name is ‘gee’ so “prompt letter” would be all you’d need. The unnecessary “recited” should be the sign that you’ve found a near-miss red herring answer.

      Edited at 2008-04-03 04:57 am (UTC)

  12. My 7 across was printed as “Cannibal beginning to nibble etc – I figured out it should be Hannibal. Did others have this?
    1. Yes, 7D was “Cannibal”, but it’s not a typo. Lecter was known as “Hannibal the cannibal”; thus Cannibal = Lecter.
      At the beginning of the sentence it’s a chore to determine if it’s meant to be a reference to a noun or a proper noun.
      ‘the rest of a vicar?’ was a cute definition.
  13. Just the 3 omissions from the blog in this one – a sign of a more than usually tricky offering?

    9a Was Marcel Marceau’s act so awful? (11)

    28a (Set meal)* prepared for islander (7)

    6d Youth taking year – or minute? (5)
    TEEN Y

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