Posted on Categories Daily Cryptic
Solving time: 1hr 4mins

Got off to a pretty quick start but came to a standstill with only about half completed. There was quite a bit of general knowledge needed that I didn’t have!
The last to go in were 18D, 19D and 27A.
I’ll have my first go at the pie chart thing but I’m not sure I know what I’m doing – so feel free to suggest changes!


5 BU(CHA)N – John Buchan, author of The Thirty-nine Steps.
10 REST,RAIN – this took a while as I read it as ‘others fail’ – perhaps I need to change the resolution on my monitor.
12 GAR,B = B,RAG reversed.
14 S(TEP)MOTHER – PET reversed in SMOTHER.
17 STRAWBERRY – I guessed this was a reference to Strawberry Hill – I knew the area of London but not the Gothic villa. I didn’t understand the rest of the clue but I’ve just looked it up – the coronet of a duke is bordered by eight strawberry leaves.
20 C(H)ID – I presume this is Husband taken in by the Criminal Investigation Department.
23 COOKIE – a cookie on your computer is a file that contains information about websites visited.
24 C(OTT)AGER – OTT=over the top
27 DEPT,H[a]S
28 BREATHED – anagram of H+DEBATER


1 LYME REGIS – anagram of ‘see my girl’ – I got this from the anagram and didn’t get the Louisa reference. In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Louisa Musgrove sustains a concussion in Lyme Regis.
2 ACCUSER – sounds like ‘a queue’s a’
4 OUBLIETTE – anagram of ‘be let out i’ – I knew that oublier was French for forget and guessed the word.
5 B(LOSS)[0]OM – LOSS in BOOM without an O – I guess ‘none the less’ could mean take out a zero – I’m not sure I particularly like it.
7 ALGA(RV)E – RV=Revised Version
13 BLACKS,POT – Billy Bones is a pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island – he dies after being given a ‘black spot’.
16 RIDER,HOOD – Rogue Riderhood is a character in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.
18 TR(OCHE)E[ad] – a trochee is a metrical foot used in poetry.
19 BLE(W,IT)S[s] – I’ve come across this in a crossword before – but it took a long time coming today.
21 HOG ART,H – William Hogarth

Category Score Clues
Religion 0.5 7d (RV)
Literature 3 1d (Louisa), 13d (Billy Bones), 16d (Riderhood)
Visual Arts 1 21d (Hogarth)
Popular Culture
Sport & Games
Natural World 1 19d (blewits)
Science & Tech 0.5 23a (cookie)
Geography 1 17a (Strawberry Hill)
History 1 4d (oubliette)
Other 1 17a (strawberry leaves)-heraldry
Total 9

26 comments on “23923”

  1. 26:27 – eventually thought of Strawberry Hill without knowing about the leaves. Also ignorant about Louisa – thought she must be the French Lieutenant’s Woman standing on the Cobb. Got the other lit ones without knowing Riderhood, and dimly rmembering the ‘black spot’ as a source of fear. BLEWITS took ages too, with DEPTHS and COOKIE well-hidden in the same corner.
  2. Strawberry Hill was the home of Horace Walpole who wrote one of the first ‘gothic novels’ Th castle of Otranto.
  3. Got off to a deceptively easy start but things soon came to a grinding halt with the SW corner putting up most resistance. I didn’t know the literary references at 1dn and 15dn nor the Gothic thing at 17 but the answers all went in easily enough from wordplay and a bit of guesswork. My COD is 20.

    On the scoring front I think Buchan earns a point for Literature and Algarve one for Geography. As a matter of interest can we score the same clue in two categories?

    1. Personally I’d give author=Buchan and part of Portugal=Algarve no more than half-points if any – both seem much easier than Riderhood and Louisa. No problem with a clue fitting two categories if it uses two tricky bits of knowledge. I think the Avernus/Phoebus one a few days ago scored twice in the same category.
  4. I had to research 17A to complete this, not knowing either meaning/reference. The literary refs were tough – I’ve read OMF but didn’t remember Riderhood. Is ‘using’ in 18D just padding?

    Tom B.

  5. I guess this setter is professor of English somewhere or other. Foggy, there’s a clue number missing at 4D and I’ve checked Chambers and CHID is under “chide” as old english for scold – a clue that would not be out of place in Mephisto.

    I got 1D from the anagram plus I live not far away and also thought it must be from French Leuitenants Woman. I guessed 16D from wordplay – unfair I think that it links with the obscure 20A – and 17A just by looking at the letters and thinking of a word that would fit. I think this clue in particular is way out of order. Not a puzzle that I enjoyed very much – about 45 minutes to complete. Jimbo.

    1. Thanks, Jimbo, I’ve added the clue number.
      I’m not quite sure what you mean by your comments on 20A – CHID is simply the past participle of chide – perhaps a bit old-fashioned but not particularly obscure.
      1. I was pushed for time this morning and completely misread your blog – got it into my head you were qustioning the word, which you clearly weren’t. I then managed to misread Chambers (as spotted by Peter) so all in all a bit of a mess on my part. The clue had actually not given me personally any problems as I was solving.

        I forgot to say well done on the blog, by the way. This must have been something of a nightmare and I’m very glad I didn’t get it. Jimbo.

    2. I can’t see much to moan about with CHID. It may be an irregular plural, but isn’t too hard too understand from hide/hid or slide/slid. As for chide being “Old English”, it’s no more so than ‘child’ on the same page of Chambers – “OE” is in the etymology.
  6. I concur with everyone else that this puzzle was a horror, though that often seems to be the case on Bank Holidays – maybe the editor thinks that we don’t already have enough frustrations with the weather and the traffic 🙂

    My own thoughts are that there are few things more satisfying than looking up an obscure word in Chambers, or an obscure something-or-other on Wikipedia, with a deep sense of certainty in your gut that it must exist, because that’s what the word-play tells you.

    However, for my money, there are conditions needed to make this fair: firstly, an obscure word/place/person/etc. *must* be clued by crystal-clear wordplay: no CDs or overly baroque constructions. Secondly, the checking letters should be reasonable – not an 8-letter word with 4 vowels as checking letters for example. Thirdly, intersecting obscure clues is a no-no.

    Today’s puzzle was gratuitously over-the-top IMO.

    1. I totally agree with you. I relish difficult puzzles where the setter misleads with clever definitions and cunning wordplay. This one was difficult only because the setter resorted to arcane knowledge.

      I must question what the Crossword Editor believes his role to be. In his position I would never have let this puzzle see the light of day in its current form. I suspect that this type of puzzle puts some solvers off and perhaps drives them towards the competition. The Guardian was a decent puzzle today and I suspect far more to the liking of the majority of solvers. Jimbo.

    2. I have some sympathy with this POV but thinking back to my own experience today I wonder if it’s quite fair.

      The only one of the literary references I actually knew (not counting Buchan) was Black Spot, but I got the others from the wordplay and when I looked them up later to check them I knew they would be right – the gut feeling you refer to.

      I agree 17 was a bit naughty but six of its ten letters are checked and with any, say, four of these in place there wouldn’t have been many words that fitted, so maybe we ought to cut the setter a little slack as the saying goes.

      The three that gave me most trouble were 23, 27 and 19, all of which were perfectly fair in my opinion though I hadn’t come across “blewits” before.

      It took me about an hour to solve which is twice my average I think (I don’t keep records) but at no time did I feel completely out of my depth with it as I have with some recent Saturday puzzles.

  7. Dashed lucky for me we have strawberry leaves on the old family coronet. And me great, great grandaddy had that fearful oik Dickens try to tutor me grandpa (it never quite took) so we had a few of his scribblin’s about the place. And of course I keep a Buchan on me nightstand next to the Purdy over’n’under, so I was handily placed to swipe that one away to the boundary. As for ‘oubliette’, well, let’s just say we don’t get so many of those blasted excise chaps callin’ any more…

    All in all, quite the cakewalk, this puzzle.

    Solving time: about 9 hours, including sleep. Now, where the devil’s me morning kedgeree?

  8. It is relief to find that even Peter B found this one a tad more difficult than usual. Around 1 hour for me, but only with the aid of reference books. I recently defended the right of xword compilers to assume a certain level of general knowledge about English literature, but even I must confess that the number of obscure literary references here was excessive – Louisa Musgrove, Rogue Riderhood, Billy Bones and the black spot (though I should have remembered him, I suppose, from childhood reading of Treasure Island). Like Peter, I arrived at LYME REGIS entirely via the anagram. Bring back Waggledagger, all is forgiven!

    The Strawberry Hill/Gothic reference was fairly quickly spotted, but only because a cousin recently hired a room there for a 75th birthday lunch (a venue strongly to be recommended). However, the heraldic significance of strawberry leaves passed me by.

    That said, some very good clues as well. CHID at 20 ac is my COD nomination. The equation of “taken for questioning” with being “inside” CID was ingenious.

    Michael H

  9. In the light of Peter’s time and some of the above comments I feel reasonably pleased with my 55 minutes without checking with any references, though some of the entries or clue items meant nothing to me – STRAWBERRY, RIDERHOOD, LOUISA. Like several others I made a rapid start then came to a halt, but slowly picked up again and plodded to the end, BLEWITS, STRAWBERRY and DEPTHS being the last to go in.
    I didn’t particularly like the clue device for CHID, but it’s becoming common fare and I can live it. I felt “none the less” to indicate removal of O in ‘BOOM’ was far less successful and is a step too far for me.
  10. I didn’t understand why BLACKS means “refuses” (or is it “refuses to touch”?). Also not sure why DEPTHS=”demoralisation”. Would appreciate some help on these.
    1. “blacking” (refusing to touch) is banning by a trade union – often of things made by non-union labour. “depths” seems more figurative – either demoralisation is “lowness”, or (as I think I saw it) there’s a reference to the “depths of despair”
        1. Okay, I’ve got some package holiday Metaxa somewhere that should do the job. I think I may have misspelt ‘Purdey’… a shotgun, over and under being the arrangement of the two barrels, useful for seeing off foxes, uppity crossword setters and so on with an ounce of buckshot.
  11. It’s a holiday in the US today, so once I came to and adjusted to a new day, I thought what better way to shake off the hangovery fog than printing off the crossword and breezing through it while watching Australia polish off the West Indies.

    The best-planned lays of mice and men oft go awry (though Australia are doing pretty well this morning).

    After 45 minutes and two phone calls, I had to resort to the references, the SW corner was utterly empty, apart from an annoying “hopping mad” poking out there. I had B—- SPOT thinking it was BLACK SPOT, but not sure I wanted to put it in straight away. After looking up STRAWBERRY, in went the rest pretty rapidly.

    Might be the bank holiday thing, but this did seem to have a lot of osbcure words and clues. Had to use wordplay to get RIDERHOOD, LYME REGIS, COTTAGER, ALGARVE. My COD tip would go to 4d, anagram+cryptic definition I like, though along with TROCHEE, it is a word that exists solely in crosswords.

    1. I think I have a rather insouciant Bisquit Dubouche 1840 in the cellars. I’ll have my man bring a bottle up.
  12. Teehee. Boone’s Strawberry Hill hooch it is. Sounds quite nice, actually.

    Yes, I think Purdey are ‘purveyors of shotgunnery to the landed gentry’ and thus likely to appear in a crossword at some point. I think it’s what most of their lordships prefer for blowing small animals to bits.

  13. Hmmm. I did this on a train in the company of a friend, as we returned from an extended wedding party we’d been at over the weekend, and at first we thought it must be the effect of two days’ over-indulgence which had turned our collective brains to porridge.

    It turns out we were correct in all our deductions, but while it’s reasonable to expect people to get to LYME REGIS from an anagram without needing to know who the Louisa in question was, I thought RIDERHOOD was obscure to the point of being downright unfair.

  14. I didn’t get to tackle this until about 11pm last night. Not a good idea. Terrible idea, in fact.
    Put the pen down at around midnight with five/six unanswered. Checked the blog this morning and am relieved to find the glut of literary obscurities left others bewildered too.
    It wasn’t just my brain then.
  15. I knew Riderhood but agree it is probably too obscure for a standard Times puzzle. Didn’t know Louisa but Lyme Regis was obvious.
    However came to a halt. Guessed at Strawberry and blewits but couldn’t see depths.
    Probably loaded with too many literary/arts references
  16. Aye – this was a tricky one alright. I managed to get everything except the mushroom from the wordplay and/or checkers. I did not understand the STRAWBERRY, DEPTHS nor RIDERHOOD but got them from wordplay (latter 2) or from checkers (STRAWBERRY). Reference to arcane knowledge of heraldry and a particular building in part of London to clue a fruit really is taking obscurity to its farthest reaches. Many thanks to our esteemed blogmeister and some commentators for enlightenment.

    There are a surprising 9 “easies” not in the blog:

    8a Compere holds a coat (3)
    M A C

    9a Inappropriate, failing to develop? (10)

    11a Like the night, perhaps southern, to linger (6)

    25a Wild, like a kangaroo? (7,3)

    26a First to reach home opening letter (3)
    R H O

    3d Like cat to curl round tip of tail in snow (6)
    F L URRY

    6d Exciting of weather to keep cold (9)

    15d Theatre put up with old artist (9)

    22d Big venues have way to lift opera (6)

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