23925 – you only solve once

Solving time 8:35

This is an example of what’s still a comparative rarity – a Times crossword with an obvious theme. The only others I can remember in the last couple of years are Brian Greer’s puzzle with four symmetrically placed “rubbish” words, and Roy Dean’s Betjeman centenary puzzle. The book named at 18A is published today – which would have been Ian Fleming’s 100th birthday. The amount of thematic material included here is very impressive indeed and I’m certain that this will be a deservedly popular puzzle. The references to the films seem restricted to the older ones, which is good for old fogeys like me who haven’t seen Bond in the cinema for a decade or three and have never read any of the books.

1 BOND – OO,SEVEN is hidden in “TATTOO, SEVEN-DAY” in the last column of the grid. Although I didn’t get this immediately, I didn’t just forget it and move on as usual. Because of the reference to “last column” I had a look at 8 and 17D. Solving the first but not the second, and not noticing the Diamonds are Forever reference in the second, I initially wondered about TOOL as an answer to 1A, but then plumped definitely for BOND as the theme emerged, and justified the SEVEN in SEVEN-DAY.
3 ENEMY=Yemen*,A(GEN)T
9 AUTOMAT(ic) – a “chiefly US” shop where you buy food and drink from vending machines. I think I’ve seen one or two in New York. “somewhat shortened” seems to be a nod to the usual convention by which “almost XXX” means that you only ditch one letter.
11 CAT,MINT – CAT = computed axial tomography. Shame there are so few words with MRI in them to make another scan worth considering. Blofeld was Donald Pleasence with a white cat on his lap, of course.
14 ALEXANDRINES = (sex,adrenalin)* – verses of six iambs. Not quite free of traditional literary refs today then. But this and a couple of other odd words are a small price to pay for the thematic fun.
18 DEVIL MAY CARE – title of the Bond book by Sebastian Faulks published today amid much ballyhoo and given three stars out of five by the Times reviewer.
22 EMBRITTLE – (limb,(B)erett(a))* or (lim(b),Berett(a))* – not a word I remember seeing before but the meaning is pretty obvious.Corrected post-comment.
24 JAM,AICA=(a CIA)*
25 OCEANID = (code Ian)* – a sea nymph
26 B(ONES)ETTER = (one’s better)* – minor quibble here over “without” as an anagram indicator. My duff parsing amended post-comment.
27 I-SPY – def. plus CD
1 BRASS=money,HAT = Odd Job’s weapon
2 NO,TAPE,E.P. – Dr No being the first Bond film of all. The person who asked about it=SA yesterday should note {record = EP} as today’s bit of cryptic clue cliché …
4 … and enjoy the (more blatant than usual) repeat of IT=SA in N,IT,RE = explosive ingredient.
5 MICROFILM – cryptic def.
6 ARTILLERY FIRE = (rifle it rarely)*
7 EM=me rev.,I(G)RE – another note for beginners: crossword convention says that “I” or “me” is the setter, and “you” is the solver.
10 MORTAL ENEMIES – cryptic def using another book/film title
15 DRIVER,AN,(agen)T – a tad inelegant when we’ve already had a golf drive in 21, but needs must when the theme drives!
16 MARTIN=swallow,I’S
17 S(=second),EVEnN=yet,D=diamonds,AY=forever
20 HIT,M,AN – “leader in espionage” falsely suggesting E to those who solve by recognising common cryptic devices, but indicating Bond’s boss this time.
23 BLOKE – O=cipher in KLEB(b)* – etymology anoraks will remember that “cipher” and “zero” both come from the same (Arabic) source.

No need for a pie chart today – a couple of lit/mythology points for alexandrine and oceanid, off the scale for popular culture!

40 comments on “23925 – you only solve once”

  1. Great, great fun and some good clues along the way. It took me about 35 minutes. Neighbours and Hi-De-Hi may have passed me by but Monique’s little boy is my era, particularly the original books. Amongst others I liked the misleading swallow=martin and the nicely crafted BLOKE. Thanks and congratulations to the setter for the second day running. Jimbo.
  2. Oh dear, another struggle for me but I got there in the end somehow. I started at a disadvantage with the James Bond theme as I have read only one of the books and seen only two or three of the films, and that was all 30-40 years ago. I still don’t fully understand half of it, but I’m afraid I don’t care and can’t be bothered to look it all up. I hope somebody enjoyed it. I’m very glad I’m not responsible for explaining today’s puzzle nor for working out how many points to score for references to Popular Culture.
  3. Rather than an anagram, this seems to be a straightforward instruction to include ONE’S in BETTER so ‘without’ is maybe a reasonable indicator.
  4. Great fun. I read all the books when I was about 12 when they seemed very naughty so I knew lald was set in Jamaica, oddjob used a hat etc. I couldn’t see what 1ac was referring to (but the answer was pretty obvious, even if not immediate). More recently, if you didn’t know the bond stuff, you would miss a lot of Austin Powers (random task = odd job etc).

    As a rule, say in the Guardian, I don’t llke the strongly thematic puzzles since it all comes down to getting the theme and then the answers to most of the puzzle are obvious. This Times style version where the theme is evident but it doesn’t help that much is more interesting.

  5. Just about the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on.

    Many thanks to the setter. Great work.

  6. I couldn’t get onto the Times site this morning – so I tried the Independent crossword first. It had an interesting theme, which was fresh in my mind after listening to chat about the new book on the radio this morning.
    I enjoyed the Times puzzle, and suggest that others who did also have a go at the Independent one.

  8. About 25 mins, held up by not knowing the ref. in 18A. Clever and entertaining, 16D made me smile and is my COD nomination.

    Tom B.

  10. Although I’m another of those who have only seen the occasional film and read just one book (like paul, in my early teens under the covers with a torch), all the Bond references must have entered my psyche somehow. It took about 25 minutes altogether but I stopped racing as soon as I realised what a fantastic job the setter had done, and decided to savour every clue and marvel at how it all fitted together. Even the non-Bond clues had a themed clue. Fantastic. 10 out of 10
    1. I did just the same. Once I saw what was going on, I forgot the clock and just enjoyed it. And I agree with your rating. 10 out or 10.
  11. This will be interesting. I’ve just completed a themed cryptic that will appear on another website in the fairly near future, and its approach to clueing is similar. Instead of relying on themed answers, it’s the clues themselves that exploit the theme – and that’s certainly the case here.
    What will make it interesting, though, is how solvers get on with it (mine, I mean) because what I found with this one is that recognising the theme served as a (perhaps unwelcome?) shortcut to placing answers. This was a pretty quick solve for me, just over 10 minutes, but many of the answers went in without thinking and without attempting to parse clues – it was as if I knew what to expect.
    COD 16D, and one minor quibble (the grammatical correctness of “mess” as the anagrind in 24), but overall an extremely enjoyable, well-crafted puzzle.
    1. Anax, I think it depends upon the solver’s objective. Your objective was to fill the grid with answers as quickly as possible – Cheltenham mode. As Ken says above, it is possible to relax and savour the clues and simply obtain enjoyment from them irrespective of time taken – my general approach all the time. I think that at times too much emphasis is placed upon time to complete and not nearly enough upon just having fun. Jimbo.
      1. Absolutely, Jim. My description of the solving process wasn’t as good as it could have been. I just found that, being aware of the theme, I found myself skimming the surface of each clue rather than diving in. An example was 19 – similarly 27. It didn’t really spoil the fun; it just felt like I was subconsciously taking shortcuts.
      2. Solving times reported here are primarily intended to be a way of indicating the relative difficulty of puzzles. When I switched from the solo version of this blog to the current team effort, I had a request from one setter to continue recording my own times so that there was a fairly consistent yard-stick. So that’s my excuse for giving my time each day. There is no requirement for anyone else to do the same in their comments, except for the blogger filing the report. That said, if you want to have fun by beating my time and saying so, that’s OK. Just remember, as I do, that there are a few solvers who beat me at least half the time.
    2. The anagrind ‘mess’ in 24: if this is a noun, then perhaps it’s doubtful, although not everyone I think objects to nounal anagrinds (I have a suspicion that Brian Greer in ‘How to Solve the Times Crossword’ says they’re OK, but I may have got it wrong); but ‘mess’ may be a verb, in the imperative form, in which case it might be OK although the word order is a bit unsatisfactory.
      1. In this case (Get stuck with a CIA mess in location of Live and Let Die) it was a noun. You’re right about what Brian Greer says on his book. I’m with him – at least for daily puzzles, the Ximenean ban on nounal anagrinds has always seemed like unnecessary fussing to me.
  12. Very enjoyable puzzle. Rather more accomplished than the Indy’s similarly themed puzzle, but both were good fun.
    1. I agree that the Times puzzle was a bit better, but when I tackled the Indy one this evening, I was pleased to see how little repetition there was given that both puzzles had the same theme.
      1. I too tackled the Indy one and agree it wasn’t quite as extensively themed as The Times. However, I thought the discovery of RANK and MOORE from MOON RAKER was exceptional.
  13. Great fun to have a themed puzzle. What a pity there are not more. I agree that spotting the theme made it very easy to get some of the remaining clues. Before the theme had emerged I rather hastily and unthinkingly started writing in BRAVE NEW WORLD for 18, seeing “Audacious and novel”, then realised ‘World’ wouldn’t fit, so my grid became a bit of a mess, holding me up with some of the crossing downs. 18 and 9 were the last to go in.
  14. Had another tedious morning meeting interrupted by giggles while I doodled on this one. Very well done to the setter, and I like the occasional themed crosswords – wasn’t there an Alice in Wonderland one maybe a year and a half ago? Now I think of it, I remember jumbos often having a theme, one way back having a bunch of Verdi operas in it.

    On top of that, some great clues – loved 17d, 3a, 23d.

    Re: AUTOMAT, one opened in NYC about two years ago, haven’t been there yet.

    And if you want to see the Feral Chihuahaus take on the spy/secret agent film genre, check out Pope Benedict XVI PI

  15. A very enjoyable puzzle. I was a bit surprised that one has to chop off the ends of LIMB and BERETTA. Makes me wonder if the wordplay is (limb,(B)erett(a))*


    1. Clue: Weaken limb with Beretta endlessly going off. You could read the relevant part as “(limb with Beretta) endlessly” = lim(b),Berett(a), or as “limb with (Beretta endlessly)” = limb,(B)erett(a). Both make sense. This part of my report amended!

      Edited at 2008-05-28 01:09 pm (UTC)

  16. A bit slow to see the theme but once I did it made 1a and a few others fairly obvious. Time – 9.22 but suspect it would have another 4 or 5 minutes if hadn’t known the theme.
    I quite enjoyed this as a change from the norm and I think as a very occasional thing it is to be encouraged if there is a significant anniversary. For those who disagree there’s always another puzzle tomorrow
    1. I think it may depend on whether the theme interests one and I’m afraid today’s subject doesn’t interest me at all. Having now read the blog and comments above I can see that others enjoyed it immensely and the setter was remarkably skilful, so that’s good, but having said that, I would still be very upset if themed puzzles start to appear regularly in the Times. Every theme is likely to exclude certain people as I felt this one did me.
  17. Great fun, very clever clues. I was unaware of a new book published to celebrate the 100th anniversary, so I was confused a bit by 18 until reading the blog here, didn’t see how it fit with the theme. Now I know, and congrats to the author. Took me an enjoyable 30 minutes, favorites are 16 and the combo of 1A and 8, 17D. Regards to all.
  18. did this in about 20 mins – but with little sense of enjoyment as the thematic material robbed the puzzle of the usual elements of surprise and trickery. i like the times crossword straight – not like this; it’s too geeky.

  19. This puzzle was bound to leave a few people out in the cold, but I’m in favour of an occasional themed crossword, if only to break the routine.

    And there is something of a family line connecting the world of cryptic crosswords with that of the spooks, no matter how fancifully portrayed. Didn’t I read somewhere that the codebreakers of Bletchley Park were often recruited on the basis of their ability to solve the Times or The Telegraph? Or is that apocryphal?

    So, be warned, all who resisted today’s mission, especially if you’re a quick solver. If the balloon goes up, you’ll probably find M, or Q or Moneypenny knocking on your door one dark and rainy night…

  20. Ten minutes, and I vote in favour. Having heard Sebastian Faulks on the radio this morning, I didn’t have to think about whose centenary it was, and I’ve seen and read enough of the relevant material not to be stumped by any of the specifically Bond-related references, though obviously mileages vary in these things.

    Different to the themed puzzles in, say, the Guardian, where I often find I have a three-quarter empty grid after half an hour, and then the penny drops, and everything comes in a rush. I think I prefer this sort, rather than the feast or famine that follows when you realise what the theme is, but also that you have no expert knowledge of it…

  21. Just wanted to put in another shout-out of approval, because I loved it – it’s good for The Times to be a little less po-faced sometimes. Took me about half an hour or so.

    I understand certain people feeling left out by themed puzzles. I get that frequently when the Guardian or Indy are themed around composers or playwrights I don’t know. But – and here’s the thing for me – I don’t understand your gripes because I usually enjoy those puzzles nevertheless… I just enjoy them in a different way. Because it means I then have to do a bit of research to finish the crossword and, in the process, learn something new about someone or other. If you stop seeing the only joy being in doing it in record time, you see, there are other things to enjoy.

    Besides, if the sum total of your Bond experiences are as you say (some of you), I think you may have spent far too much time doing the Times crossword for years, and not enough engaging with the world outside your door!


  22. The Telegraph’s “80 Years of Cryptic Crosswords” collection records a speed-solving contest held in 1942. Apparently the War Office contacted all 25 of the contestants with a view to training them as cryptographers to work at Bletchley Park.
    1. I don’t think the anon comments were intended to be as sarcastic as you seem to think, although the implication that the complainers were moaning just because they couldn’t record quick times is probably an unwise one. At least for any solver based in the UK, the chance that you’ve avoided so many Bond film re-runs that you really don’t know about things like “shaken, not stirred”, Blofeld’s cat, and Odd-Job’s hat, seems vanishingly slim. And as so often with cryptic puzzles, there were cases like Klebb as anagram fodder in 23D where no Bond knowledge was needed for clue-solving purposes.
    2. Now now, keep your knickers on, I was only teasing. If I have time to do three puzzles a day and post on here, I’m hardly Mr Social myself, am I?!!

      You’re right though, it does come across a bit pious in the middle. I was just struggling to express myself. All I was trying to say is that I actually actively enjoy it when it’s themed and I have to do a bit of research around the topic — I genuinely get a thrill from it, rather than resent it. (Again, hardly marks me out as one of life’s adrenaline junkies.) And I said that simply because I was mystified that people seemed to be decrying the theme simply because they didn’t know any James Bond, and were annoyed that this had slowed them down.

      Anyway, agree with all that this was really excellently put together – and also that this format of theming the clues but not necessarily the answers is a great one, and much more inclusive than eg some mad Spenser-inspired, cross-referential, Araucaria dottiness in The Graun.

      BTW: I’m only anonymous because I don’t have an LJ account. I’m Steven and I live in East Grinstead. You can call me Steve.

      1. Agreed Peter, no offence meant (and I do appreciate that comparing solving times for speed-solvers has always been one of the primary purposes of the site).

        I’ve been waiting for this site my whole life – a life mostly spent (until now) with an agonising one or two answers still to get on a pile of cryptics in my WC. So the site rocks my world, and I don’t want to rock its boat.


    3. Ah, thank you, Peter. What extraordinary times those were! MI5 placing job ads in the Guardian seems so mundane by comparison.
  23. This aspect of recruitment for BP is covered in Robert Harris’ novel/novelisation ‘Enigma’.

    Tom B.

  24. It became obvious from the accumulating checkers that the answer to 18a is DEVIL-MAY-CARE but – solving 10 years later – this 100 year anniversary (of Flemings birth?) was not so obvious. I must have missed this book release – probably working overseas in 2008 in West Africa or the Middle East. I liked SF’s Birdsong – despite the awful circumstances of the storyline – so I must check out some of his, hopefully, lighter work.

    There are just the 3 “easies” not in the blog:

    13a Slowly revealed in spectacu LAR GO ldfinger part (5)
    LARGO. As in Largo from Xerxes by Handel.

    21a Use Aston Martin, say, in first shot (5)
    DRIVE. We feel a bit possessive about the Aston Martin here in Newport Pagnell but, sadly, not many of us own one.

    19d Casual work for villainous sidekick (3,3)
    ODD JOB. Goldfinger’s bowler-hatted henchman in the eponymous book (1959) and film (1964).

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