28162 Thursday, 16 December 2021 I, the returning officer…

Goes down in my book as A Bit Tricky, my time of 27.40 more inflated by the need to parse properly as I went along than by any particularly opaque wordplay or abstruse definitions. I didn’t know the variety of (presumably real) ale, but I did know the required Latin and French, and the only actual named plant in the grid. It’s at least possible that, for once, the crosssword is timed to reflect a bit of politcai news, with the left hand column sememingly suggesting an outcome to be revealed in the next 24 hours.
Though it’s early days, we seem to be generating quite a few errors, and I’m interested to see whether there’s a common factor at work or just random glitches.
As ever, I present clues, definitions therein and SOLUTIONS
Across
1 Plants and animals farmed (4)
SOWS Double definition. Plants as a verb, not (thankfully) a plural noun. And I know sows as farm animals.
3 Giving in official letter after payment made (10)
SUBMISSIVE The payment made is a SUB, and the official letter is a MISSIVE. I’m not sure why “official” as the clue works fine without. Perhaps to indicate a slightly more formal term than a common or garden letter.
9 Waxes lyrical about silver sacks (7)
RAVAGES Silver is AG (Ag for purists) and RAVES for waxes lyrical surrounds.
11 A deterioration in police vessel (7)
CAROTID That vessel as a bodily tube gets me every time. A plus ROT for deterioration held by the CID police.
12 Lying porter regularly caught dipping into change (13)
PREVARICATION The odd letters (regularly) of PoRtEr followed by C(aught) “dipping” into VARIATION for change.
14 Devise cover for access point (5)
HATCH two definitions, devise as in hatch a plot, and the plainly described cover.
15 Arrived with blue clothing to make an impression (7,2)
FETCHED UP Blue gives you FED UP, which drapes around ETCH for make an impression.
17 Rum clue, it’s rewritten for network (9)
RETICULUM A proper Latin word, which means network, and our first anagram (rewritten) of RUM CLUE IT. Our antipodean fraternity will see it in the night sky, and our veterinary partners as a cow’s number two stomach.
19 Shawl put back when central heating used, at first (5)
FICHU So, you put back (reverse) IF for when, and take the initial letters (at first) of Central Heating Used. Because central heating is a common enough abbreviation on its own, it’s easy to overlook used as providing a third letter.
21 “State of Affairs” feature film? (3,3,7)
THE BIG PICTURE The US President when giving the State of the Nation speech is probably trying to get across the big picture. Some of us can remember that when we went to the cinema, we had two proper pictures, one probably relatively short the other the main feature, whimsically the big picture.
24 West African, heading off like Magellan (7)
IBERIAN The legendary Portuguese explorer whose crew completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth. To get his peninsular designation, today we take the L heading off the West African LIBERIAN rather than the more frequent S from Siberian.
25 When mate’s most likely to kill grouse? (7)
ENDGAME Which I always think of as the closing stages of a chess game when check mate’s at least possible. Divided, end game is equivalent to kill (gamebird such as) grouse.
26 Stuck beyond Tate in snarl-up (10)
BAYONETTED So not stuck as in not moving, but as in stabbed. Our second anagram (In snarl-up) of BEYOND TATE.
27 Last Egyptian leader to enter conflict (4)
WEAR One of the many meanings of the verb is last. The E of Egyptian (leader) inside WAR for conflict.
Down
1 Run through stores let out in border region (10)
SHROPSHIRE The border involved being the Welsh one. “Through” indicates placing the R(un) inside SHOPS for stores, and let out gives you HIRE.
2 Most undulating views at resort (7)
WAVIEST I quite like re-sort as an anagram indicator, our third, inviting you to mess with the letters  of VIEWS AT.
4 Inept Greek character upping drinking capacity, left for north (9)
UNSKILFUL The Greek character is NU, which needs to be “upped”. Then drinking capacity translates to SKINFUL which more usually implies that a safe volume of drink has been exceeded. Switch the N(orth) for an L(eft). I believe we skipped nu as a covid variant as newsreaderrs would have had trouble talking about the nu variant, especially when a nuer one came along.
5 Way to produce tea and coffee (5)
MOCHA Way to produce is the abbreviation MO for modus operandi, and tea is CHA.
6 Part of racecourse tackled with apparent solemnity (8-5)
STRAIGHT-FACED Might be the home straight at a racecourse. Add FACED for tackled
7 Sang like chorister at home and harmonised (7)
INTONED Choristers intone when singing, for example, Gregorian chants. IN is “at home” and TONED derives form harmonised, more I think in terms of matching or sympathetic colours than musing.
8 Chop up less conventional root crop (4)
EDDO A tropical root crop, known under a variety of names including taro. Less conventional gives ODDER, which you reverse (up) and cut the last letter from.
10 Display technique resulting from explicit objective (7,6)
GRAPHIC DESIGN Explicit can mean GRAPHIC: the mating habits of the aardvark were shown in explicit/graphic detail. Objective can certainly mean design.
13 Working party beginning to respond, following neat drink (6,4)
SPRUCE BEER Not I think sold at my local, and not on my fairly extensive list of drinks I have had a go at. But it’s BEE for working party (as in sewing bee) plus the R from the beginning of Respond, tagged on to SPRUCE for neat. I invite contributors to offer reviews of its taste, potency and such.
16 Issue raised by work alarm, possibly (9)
TIMEPIECE So alarm clock, then. Issue is EMIT, which is to be reversed (raised), and work provides PIECE as in a work of art or music.
18 Staggering time for learner in draw (7)
TOTTERY Another letter-substitution clue, this time replacing the L of LOTTERY (draw) with T(ime)
20 Reportedly sounded like rook, maybe bothered with tail (7)
CAUDATE The sound of a rook is CAW, and the sounded sound of the sound of a rook is CAUD, with ATE for bothered. Don’t do what I initially did and go with CORD. CORDATE is heart-shaped.
22 Current number opening paper otherwise (2,3)
IF NOT A slightly odd filler of an entry, but needs must. Current is I, number is NO, which fills FT, the Financial Times newspaper.
23 Progress after ousting Conservative member (4)
LIMB progress is CLIMB, remove the C(onservative). Which may be prescient regarding the North Shropshire (coincidences?) by election.

55 comments on “28162 Thursday, 16 December 2021 I, the returning officer…”

  1. Slow from the start, finally down to 25ac and 8d, which took forever. I’d actually decided to throw in the towel, but came back to them after a shower and saw them immediately. Biffed SHROPSHIRE, parsed post-sub. I was unsure about FED UP=blue (it doesn’t for me), but it had, as they say, to be. In retrospect I don’t see what caused me all that difficulty, but it did, as the SNITCH shows. RETICULUM reminded me of Dr. Johnson’s famous definition of ‘network’: Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.
  2. I have never knowingly imbibed said brew. Neither does it sound like my cup of tea!
    I did this in two sittings, basically the left hand side for just over thirty minutes and after brekker, another twenty, which flowed far better for 53 minutes in all.

    FOI 27ac WEAR clunky-monkey!

    LOI 8dn EDDO which has also passed me by, thank the Lord.

    COD 21ac THE BIG PICTURE which was Ninja-do-dahed from ‘The Big Sleep’.

    WOD 1dn SHROPSHIRE where my mother as a Lass, was at school at Hiatt College, by the Wrekin. It closed soon after the war due to lack of interest.

    19ac FICHU comes in shades of Portuguese Chestnut.

    Edited at 2021-12-16 03:23 am (UTC)

    1. I thought FICHU won the Champions League with Porto back when Mourinho was manager…..😀😉
      1. That was what’sisface!

        Martin can we stick to the cricket as it is a matter of life and death! Cummins isn’t playing!
        Lord Galspray will be commentating soon. Helmets on!

        Edited at 2021-12-16 03:45 am (UTC)

  3. That’s about my average solving time but felt of more than average difficulty.
    The RH side took the longest to solve.
    Thanks for FETCHED UP and SHROPSHIRE, Z. Couldn’t parse those at the time.
    Lexico defines SPRUCE BEER as:
    “A fermented drink using spruce twigs and needles as flavouring.”
    Sounds disgusting!
    I thought EDDO had some connection with that Japanese dish but, it turns out that is spelled edamame.
    COD to CAROTID
    PS: Getting my crosswording in early so I can get my fix of masochism watching England play cricket.

    Edited at 2021-12-16 03:22 am (UTC)

  4. Glad to finish this without errors or aids – it was in the “hard but fun” category.

    Thanks, Z, for the usual entertaining and insightful blog.

    I’d be interested if anyone has actually looked for Reticulum in the sky. It’s one of those unremarkable fill-in constellations. Octans is nearby and also unremarkable, except for the fact that it contains the south celestial pole. I once spent some hours working out if I could use a very faint star in Octans to align a telescope for astrophotography. I couldn’t 🙁

    1. octans is blocked by a tree in our backyard, so we polar align by other methods too. Nice to see another astrophotographer in the commentariat.
      1. Using Sigma Octans to polar align is a mug’s game. The right way is using all-sky pointing analysis, that recognizes polar axis misalignment as part of the pattern of errors. This does not require access to the polar region at all.
  5. Well, I went for cordate as I’d heard of it (!), perhaps thinking chordate/having a backbone/nearly a tail. Typed PICTURE over the top, eyes on keyboard, so ended up with coudate.
    Definitely tricky on the RHS, carotid & eddo last 2. For carotid I had carotop entrenched in my mind for too long.
  6. LOI by a long stretch was EDDO. I almost put in EDDY, in despair, thinking the definition might be ‘chop’ as in choppy water, though obviously I couldn’t parse it. EDDO, on the other hand, parsed but I’d never heard of the root crop ( or has it been in a previous puzzle?).
    A very medical offering today, with CAROTID, CAUDATE and RETICULUM. Helpful for me.
    28:55
  7. No time given a few interruptions, but would have been over an hour. A DNF, missing EDDO at the end. Definitely harder than the previous few days, so probably a good preparation for tomorrow.
  8. A delightfully difficult puzzle. I never mind taking the extra time for a puzzle like this.

    SHROPSHIRE vexed me through the whole puzzle and was my last one in. In retrospect I’m not sure why I found it so difficult — the wordplay was fairly straightforward!

  9. …NHO of EDDO.
    Well, so much for an easy week. I didn’t know where SHROPSHIRE is, exactly, but found it.
    I didn’t know RETICULUM is a constellation!
    Like Kevin, I see “blue” and “fed up” as distant acquaintances (haven’t checked any synonym lists, though).

    1. Credence Clearwater Revival were arguably a bit more than fed up when they wrote

      Hey, look over yonder, up in the tree,
      There’s a rope hangin’ just for me.
      Without a warnin’, without a warnin’,
      Things are pilin’ up to break me down.

      Feelin’ blue, blue, blue, blue, blue.
      Feelin’ blue, blue, blue, blue, blue.
      Feelin’ blue, blue, blue, blue, blue.
      I’m feelin’ blue. I’m feelin’ blue.

      But they weren’t particularly chipper

      Edited at 2021-12-16 06:44 am (UTC)

      1. Don’t know that one. I remember “Wonder if my rope’s still hangin’ in the tree” in “Green River”… which will never sound the same again…
  10. Very hard work and even after my target half-hour I had only about a third of the puzzle completed with words scattered around the grid and I was wondering if I would ever finish. The answer was that I didn’t — not without resorting to aids anyway.

    My NHO’s were RETICULUM, EDDO, SPRUCE BEER and CAUDATE.

    I also failed to complete the QC without aids so I am not having a good day!

    Edited at 2021-12-16 07:15 am (UTC)

  11. DNF with the cricket on, beaten in the SE by 19a, 13d and 20d. I never could do two things at once but I don’t think I’d have got them anyway. It looks like the Aussies are going to finish us off.
  12. I didn’t think I was going to finish this. It was hard but also fun. I guessed EDDO from wordplay but have never heard of it. I also went for CORDATE at first since it seemed like a word I’d heard but had to change when I got PICTURE to cross it. RETICULUM was a word I’ve heard too, but I couldn’t have told you it was a network, but since it was an anagram it went in fairly confidently. ENDGAME was my LOI when I split the clue in the correct place and clicked on what type of mate was involved.
  13. Wash’d his light Limbs as if embalming them;

    I had just invented Spruce Beer, dredged up Fichu and was puzzling over mis-spelling Chordate when the 30 mins was up. Several unfilled including the Never-would-have-got (NWHG) Eddo.
    Not my cuppa mocha.
    Thanks setter and Z.

  14. As for ever-so STRAIGHT-FACED SHROPSHIRE
    TOTTERY drinking is not practised here
    IF NOT MOCHA, then tea
    And the cry wil not be
    “Down the HATCH with a massive SPRUCE BEER”
  15. 29:55. I found that extremely hard. I thought there was a fair bit of loose stuff in here:
    – superfluous ‘official’ in 3ac
    – state of affairs/THE BIG PICTURE
    – blue/FED UP
    – drinking capacity/SKINFUL
    – way to produce/MO
    – harmonised/TONED
    – alarm/TIMEPIECE
    However it’s all there or thereabouts and I can’t honestly say that it slowed me down hugely. It just made it feel a bit Guardianish, which is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly when accompanied by wit and inventiveness as here. So no complaints: in fact I very much enjoyed the struggle.
    Other problems: not thinking of SHROPSHIRE as a border region; not knowing the beer; putting CORDATE at 20dn.
    1. I agree THE BIG PICTURE was loose. Actually my first thought there, and for some time, was THE BIG COUNTRY because ‘country’ equates with ‘state’. But I couldn’t relate ‘big’ to the rest of the clue so I tried to think of a better three-letter word to make a film title THE ??? COUNTRY that would make sense of it. I didn’t have the ‘I’ checker at that stage.
    2. Collins has, in British English, 1. a formal or official letter | 2. a formal word for letter
      1. Fair enough. It’s (most?) often used facetiously to denote something excessively long, in my experience.
  16. Another in the “tough but fun” camp. I’ve tried a lot of beers in my time, but never SPRUCE BEER, which went in from wordplay; having learned more about it, I can’t say I’m desperate to change that.
  17. I found this hard, and somewhat unsatisfactory. After an hour I came here to see what was needed – EDDO was unknown and IF NOT was not spotted. For a while I had STRAIGHT LACED which made my shawl a LICHU or LECHU or LACHU momble. It took an age to spot 26a was an anagram. The top half was good (except EDDO).
  18. Hardest one for a while, and I fell at the final hurdle after nearly 20 minutes, having never heard of EDDO. The cryptic was very loose for that, I thought: ‘Chop up’ to mean ‘remove the last letter and then reverse it’ is difficult to justify: is it a set of two instructions (i.e. ‘up’ is a verb) or is it an instruction followed by an adjective? If the latter, you have to believe that ‘chopping’ an ‘up’ word now means cutting the letter than is at the top. Am I missing something? (Very possible).

    Anyway, I went for EZDA, which isn’t a word, but the best I could come up with because it’s a reversal of ADZE, a cutting tool.

    There were plenty of others I found very tricky, including GRAPHIC DESIGN for some reason, as in retrospect that shouldn’t have caused any real problems.

    1. As I read it, it’s an instruction to reverse first and then remove the last letter: chop [up {less conventional}]. If ‘chop’ means ‘remove the last letter’ then R is still that after a reversal.
      I agree though it’s not the clearest wordplay for an obscure word. As you say ‘chop’ might easily mean ‘remove the bottom letter’. It must have appeared in these things before though because I knew it, perhaps from Mephisto.
  19. A bit of a struggle for me. Although I spotted COUDATE and changed it to CAUDATE during proof reading, I’d put a mombled STRIPSHORE at 1d. Struggled to see the parsing even after seeing what it should be, on being presented with the 3 pink squares, but got there eventually. Always disappointing to get what was actually an easy one (in hindsight) wrong, after solving the tougher ones. Hey ho! 41:40 and still no coconut. A bad day with a failure on the QC too. Thanks setter and Z.

    Edited at 2021-12-16 11:29 am (UTC)

  20. DNF after 56 minutes after having checked FICHU and SPRUCE BEER and wordsearched CAUDATE. But I’d written in SUBMISSION at 3ac so never had a chance with 8dn. Still a good one though. I liked GRAPHIC DESIGN
  21. Took ages, making several mistakes en route. First error was SUBMITTING, then changed to SUBMISSION, then, stuck on 8, changed to SUBMISSIVE. Lesson 1: read the whole clue. I resorted to aids to get the totally inknown SPRUCE BEER (though I had BEER). Finlly, I had a wrong spelling for 20d, making it impossible to get 21a. I agree with those who thought it loose, as were several of the clues. Definitely “Guardianish”, to quote keriothe above.

    I did rather like the clue to ENGAME (25a).

  22. At 29.59 I only just scraped in under the 30 and it was a battle to the finish. There was a bit of an early 19th century flavour to this with TIMEPIECE, FICHU, RETICULUM – ladies used to net themselves reticules(purses) – and SPRUCE BEER which Jane Austen to brew. If it’s anything like root beer it would taste like mouthwash to me and be treated accordingly.
  23. 31:16. A few forgotten words dredged up from somewhere. EDDO, CAUDATE (another “cordate” until the U cropped up), FICHU. I didn’t expect the double-t in BAYONETTED until I came up one short. If the stress is on the first syllable, shouldn’t it be a single t?
  24. Same experience as most other solvers. Hard but enjoyable, with the NHO EDDO occupying a full 5 minutes at the end.

    Very satisfying to avoid the pink squares.

  25. …and had to check that LOI EDDO was actually a thing. So a technical DNF.

    Biffs:
    FETCHED UP — didn’t see how this worked but definition made sense with just the F and H checkers.
    TIMEPIECE — failed to parse.

    (Possible) NHOs:
    RETICULUM — feel that I’ve heard this word before but needed a while to work out the anag with R and C checkers and needing to stuff two Us in somewhere.
    FICHU — think we’ve had this before — bunged in from first and last checkers.
    CAUDATE — from wordplay with all checkers.
    SPRUCE BEER — ’nuff said.

    Others:
    IBERIAN — spent a while thinking SIBERIA’s not in West Africa, then thought IVORIAN, then the penny dropped.
    INTONED — wasn’t sure about this so pencilled in with a shrug until all checkers in place.

  26. No time because I went out in the middle for my flu jab and forgot to pause the clock, but probably about 50 minutes, with fairly free use of aids by the end. The Shropshire answer looked for a long time as if it would be strip…. Several rather unknown words which I only limped towards.

    Why is checkmate most likely in the endgame? It seldom occurs at all — one player resigns — but it is just as common in the middle game as in the ending. One player leaps upon an opportunity. And it even (very occasionally) occurs in the opening.

    Edited at 2021-12-16 01:34 pm (UTC)

    1. I took it that mate is not necessarily the most likely outcome in the endgame, but that if mate happens at all it is most likely to happen in the endgame. Just recently in a place not far from here I had occasion to get to grips with Scholar’s Mate, which happens in half a dozen moves or so, so one of the (presumably rare) occasions when mate occurs during the opening moves of the game.
    2. As a chessplayer that was exactly my excuse for not getting this!

      Funnily enough I sometimes find all the legal clues (yes I’m owning up to that as well) hard as the definitions are often not quite right to a legal pedant (is there any other kind 🙂)

  27. I found this OK coming in just above my approx average time. Two mins spent on EDDO and on avoiding TYPO.

    COD: SHROPSHIRE

  28. Enjoyably slippery and a new word learnt – EDDO. Just relieved to finish without typos.

    Spruce Beer sounds pretty disgusting. In “Beer and Skittles” the late Richard Boston described a pub that had a competition to see which of the regulars could come up with the most disgusting drink. The leader at the time was a cocktail of gin and the juice from a jar of cockles.

    Thanks to Z and the setter

  29. but I was done and dusted in 28:21 minutes. I was badly stuck on EDDO until I realized that 3ac was Submissive and not Submission, after all. My COD was Prevarication. Mocha was neat.
  30. Got through OK, with a number of shrugs and MERs. I think it was my Club Monthly training and I wouldn’t blame anyone who resorted to assistance. Not my favourite, of recent times…
  31. Spruce beer is readily available in rural Quebec, but essentially unknown in the rest of
    Canada. It is mily white in colour, highly carbonated and has a unique but charming
    flavour. I used to drink it as a lad, in the sixties.
  32. Time taken. All day. I thought this was a beast but it all unlocked after figuring out Shropshire. FOI CAROTID and LOI GRAPHIC DESIGN.

    Very possibly the hardest puzzle I’ve actually finished.

  33. 1d answer SHROPSHIRE
    23 Progress after ousting Conservative member (4)

    Today (Friday morning) in The Times:
    “The Conservatives have suffered a humiliating defeat to the Liberal Democrats in the North Shropshire by-election.”

    I told you it wasn’t a coincidence!

  34. I convinced myself that 8d was SNIP, being parsnip without the par (= less conventional) for chop up. Too clever by hald!

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