28810 Spot the X


I have absolutely know idea why this took me 25.23, as there’s only one word I didn’t know, the cheese, and everything else is pretty straightforward, if occasionally requiring rather more elaborate construction work. All the anagrams are in the down clues, and we have three uncomplicated double definitions, two of them being just two words. In keeping with the new tradition, I’m setting this to post at 0800 GMT.

Definitions underlined in italics, the rest quixotically

1 Winning gamble — result! (6)
UPSHOT – When winning you are UP on the rest of the field. Gamble is SHOT
5 Brown has muzzled dog, keeping it quiet (8)
TACITURN – A matryoshka clue. IT kept in CUR (dog) “muzzled” by TAN (brown)
9 Greek character in second statue? (8)
MONUMENT – Of the 24 or so possibilities, you want NU, which you place in MOMENT for second.
10 Fancy horse that’s hugging rails initially (6)
FRILLY – Horse gives you FILLY, insert the initial letter of Rails
11 Place no longer functions, decorate building on high street? (4,6)
POST OFFICE – If you’re lucky, these days, though the postmaster may soon be a lot better of, and quite right too. Place gives POST (what I’ll be doing around 8 this morning) no longer OFF, and decorate as in cake ICE.
13 Wrong pace after retirement (4)
TORT – TROT is a pace between walking and running reversed for the legal wrong.
14 Something soft on the ground (4)
DOWN – Really easy once you see it: two definitions
15 OK, one has cut source of fibre — half one’s loaf? (5,5)
RIGHT BRAIN – Supposedly the more visual and intuitive side, probably the bit that helps most with solving cryptics. OK is RIGHT, then you have I (one) in BRAN, a source of dietary fibre.
18 Courage is lacking in this mug, lovely chap? (10)
HEARTTHROB – Courage is HEART, knock is off THIS, add ROB for mug.
20 Writer of silent work shut up (4)
CAGE – John CAGE’s best known work is 4’33”, this being a very slightly noisy recording.
21 A musical, but not a book (4)
ACTS – The musical required is CATS. Include the A at the beginning, remove the A in the musical, and you have book 5 in the NT.
23 About to fail — like one’s indicators? (2,3,5)
ON THE BLINK – Virtually a double definition. You can argue that indicators are not blinking unless they’re doing their job.
25 Fines collected, last of those stuffed into trousers (6)
LEVIES – Product placement. The E from the end of thosE placed into Levi’s®, a way of making workaday trousers expensive.
26 Course that’s hard in Notts town (8)
WORKSHOP – The Nottinghamshire town is WORKSOP (if pushed, I would have said it was in Yorkshire). Insert H(ard)
28 Ask for private trainee (8)
BEGINNER – Ask is BEG, and private INNER
29 Old carriage I observed in pursuit (6)
CHAISE – I have one from 1902 that is longue and not a carriage, but this one is and is I inside CHASE for pursuit.
2 Book one has expert on cheese (9)
PROVOLONE – Must be a thing, you can get it in Tesco’s. I’ve got an order coming up, maybe I’ll add it and let you know. Book: VOL, one – um – ONE, with PRO for expert on top.
3 Move south and north touring old US city (7)
HOUSTON – An anagram (first of the day!) of SOUTH plus N(orth) pus O(ld). We have no problem.
4 Draw string (3)
TIE – So indeed draw as in football score, string possibly intended as that sort of tie
5 With all players expressing disapproval, sending off no good (5)
TUTTI – Expressing disapproval is TUTTING, knock off the N(o) G(ood)
6 Furniture item, rope securing pedal? (6,5)
COFFEE TABLE – Pedal means of the foot, or in our case OF FEET. Tie a CABLE rope round the assembly.
7 Laugh, glugging whiskey in state of excitement (7)
TWITTER – Now X of course. Laugh is TITTER, and the W comes from Whiskey courtesy of NATO.
8 Measure sovereign (5)
RULER – Two definitions.
12 Relative Fleming, say, rubbed out in Russian fiction novel (5,6)
FIRST COUSIN – Don’t do what I did and cast around for a Dostoyevsky. Instead, take IAN (Fleming) away from RUSSIAN, add FICTION and scramble (novel).
16 Fish swimming around hooks (3)
GAR – Today’s hidden in swimminG ARound.
17 Clever voiding of guarantee, unions I suspect defending it (9)
INGENIOUS – Void guarantee, leaving just the GE, insert into an anagram (suspect) of UNIONS I.
19 Italian maestro edges away from junction, heading for Italy (7)
ROSSINI – Composer of the Lone Ranger theme. Junction is CROSSING, knock off the edges to leave ROSSIN and put on the first letter (or indeed the IVR code) for Italy.
20 English accessing castle, tipsy — is one hammered? (7)
CELESTA – The keyboard with hammers, sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy. E(nglish) included in and anagram (tipsy) of CASTLE
22 Island oddly curved then (5)
CRETE – The odd letters of CuRvEd ThEn.
24 Skyscraper, say, erected on what? (5)
TOWER – It’s RE for on or about, and WOT the less couth version of what. Chambers does not confirm.
27 Mythical bird bigger, so gigantic ultimately (3)
ROC – The last letters (ultimately) of biggeR sO gigantiC.

79 comments on “28810 Spot the X”

  1. I sailed through all but two clues in 28 minutes, then after another 10, bereft of ideas, I gave up. I might have got LEVIES from the straight definition but I was distracted by ‘trousers’ and the checkers which put DENIMS into my mind and I was unable to shift it.

    My other failure was the cheese, which was completely unknown to me and has not appeared before. I had all the checkers and guessed ‘expert = PRO’ but other than that I was lost.

  2. Got there in the end. I thought LEVIS for “trousers” was a surprise both because it is a trade name and nobody would ever call jeans trousers. The story I have always heard is that they made a fortune in the goldrush (1849) but I just looked and it seems they were only founded in 1853, so too late for that to be true.

    1. Forget the trade name thing, please do. They have been using trade names forever. I looked at a Times cryptic from 1954 the other day and it had BP in it ..

      1. Yes, I know. We had RAWLPLUGS a year or two ago, and AUDI crops up in wordplay (and MINI). But tradenames are relatively rare so no the first thing I think of.

  3. 74m 17s. The NW corner gave me no end of grief, partially because I misspelled the cheese.
    Note for Z: I’ve not been to a Subway for a long time but PROVOLONE always used to be one of the main cheese choices there.
    As for Rossini, I don’t think you can do better than play this YouTube video of a Flashmob performance of ‘Largo al Factotum’ from the Barber of Seville…

    1. Without the cheese reference, I would have bet on it being something you could only get from Boots on prescription, or possibly a key ingredient in a Miss Marple story.

  4. 39 minutes with LOI the unknown PROVOLONE. It took me an age to parse COFFEE TABLE, and to happen upon the vaguely known CELESTA. I did know CAGE’s first name, proving it wasn’t an outright biff. COD to WORKSHOP. For some reason, I decided this was hard before I started, so made it so. Thank you Z and setter.

  5. DNF, defeated by the unknown PROVOLONE – I didn’t see book=vol, and instead bunged in Job as a biblical book to invent ‘projobone’.

    Like jackkt above, I sailed through the rest of this until I got to 2d and 25a, though I managed to get LEVIES after a few minutes of head-scratching. FIRST COUSIN was a biff and I didn’t really know what a CELESTA is, but other than that the clues were pretty straightforward. Can’t recall seeing pedal=of feet before for COFFEE TABLE, but it was a nice PDM.

    Thanks setter and blogger.

    COD Acts

  6. 18:05. I knew I would be at this for a while longer than other weekday 15x15s so far this year when I got only 2 across answers on my first read through the clues. But a steady solve after that with LEVIES LOI after a bit of head-scratching. I don’t think I’ve ever had any PROVOLNE chesse, but at least I’d heard of it. I liked TOWER beast.Thank-you Z and setter.

  7. I loved this one. Lots of lateral thinking required, some elegant surfaces and my subconscious was on the wavelength, suggesting several answers from the merest hints and bringing me home in slightly below average time at 34m. I was held up by having biffed AMOS the book with no justification. CRETE finally put me right and a huge penny dropped as I saw the brilliant clue for ACTS – my COD, tied with FIRST COUSIN.

    Thanks classy setter and noble blogger.

  8. 11:09. I knew the cheese, which helped, and TACITURN’s appearance in the QC did me no harm either. Didn’t fully parse COFFEE TABLE but ‘of feet’ for ‘pedal’ is brilliant. Really liked CAGE for the misdirection too.

    MER at the full parse of POST OFFICE. Is ‘no longer functions’ really synonymous with OFF? ‘Is off’, sure, but just OFF?

    Thanks both.

      1. Thinking about it, I wonder if it was ‘no longer functioning’ at some point, which would be fine – then got a bit garbled in revision.

      2. I suppose quite a few people here got it, so ‘wrong’ might be just a bit too strong, but I didn’t like it either and I’m far from convinced that it works. Likewise TOWER, which I bunged in, frowned at, parsed as our blogger has and then threw the towel in. There’s some good stuff in here – FIRST COUSIN, for example – but overall I found the puzzle frustrating so it’s time to find something enjoyable to do instead.

    1. I think you have to take the two together and read the combination like a headline: POST OFF, CANDIDATE DISAPPOINTED.

  9. Like Zabadak, I’m not sure what stretched my solving time. I was, however, another who wasted time trying to justify “denims”, and I did rather labour my way through the NW corner, needing the crossers for my LOI.

    TIME 10:51
    EOD Aqualung by Jethro Tull (“watching as the frilly panties run….”)

  10. 47 minutes. ‘Cheese’ for the crossword solver; where’s a nice bit of brie, Edam or even feta when you need it? Spent ages on that PROVOLONE for which an A-Z trawl did come up trumps in producing a word which fitted the wordplay and which I thought I had heard before.

    Otherwise not too bad, with the surface for ACTS my favourite.

  11. 28:38
    Almost defeated by the unknown cheese but PROVOLONE looked a better bet than PROJOBONE.

    Otherwise the smaller clues provided most resistance, with DOWN, ACTS, and TORT being stubborn opposition.

    A relatively easy week so surely an absolute stinker lies in wait.

    Thanks to both.

  12. 21 mins
    Provolone a write-in. Sometimes you’ve heard of them, sometimes you haven’t. It’s usually the latter for me. Another straightforward puzzle. Twister on the way tomorrow 🙂
    Thanks, Z.

  13. DNF yes, you guessed it, the ruddy cheese. Never heard of it.

    I liked COFFEE TABLE.

    Thanks Z and setter.

  14. I was almost done in 22 minutes but then 14ac and 2dn took me an extra 5 minutes so my final time was 27:30. I finally nudged my brain into a „fresh look“ at 14ac at which point it was suddenly obvious, then finally the cheese had to be pro- with either -one or -tome at the end, and really only pro-vol-one made sense…
    Thanks setter and blogger

  15. 25′ 39 with LOI WORKSHOP. Don’t really think of a workshop as an entire course, more a part of one surely? Took me some trawling to think of the town, too, after assuming -TON at the end for far too long.

    COD – PROVOLONE. Italian cheese-loving fool that I am.

    1. A workshop is not a course to me, and nor to the Chambers app. The closest definition being a group of people working on a creative or experimental project.

  16. This is an observation, not a dig, but I’m surprised at how many people haven’t heard of PROVOLONE. GK can vary, of course, but cheese isn’t exactly a specialist subject for me, and it’s rare that I know something the rest of you don’t…!

    1. I don’t remember it being listed in the Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch, ergo it was unknown to me.

    2. I think people here often confuse general knowledge with knowledge of ‘usual suspects’ in crossword land. Etui and sumac are two common offenders, I’ve noticed. Never encountered either in real life, but they pop up regularly enough in these here parts.

      1. Indeed. I have actually used sumac (in the brief period before I decided life was too short for Ottolenghi recipes) but it’s still more familiar to me as a reversal of CAMUS.

    3. Reply to Amoeba:
      Me too! Provolone quite common in these parts (Melbourne), so 2d should not have been a problem-except that it was!

  17. 12:21, with over 25% of that time staring with increasing desperation at _E_I_S. Got there eventually with an alphabet trawl of the middle letter, having failed with the first.
    No unknowns, and I’m surprised how many people haven’t come across the cheese, although to be fair I am a bit of a food bore.

    1. I got it from being a Sopranos fan – the scene where Sil goes crazy about the gofer sweeping up cheese crumbs while they’re playing cards. The actual quotation is a bit OTT for our blog. It’s a surprise, as Sil is usually calm and diplomatic 🙂

    2. Surprised? Don’t forget, we don’t know a lot more than we do know, which is rather a depressing thought really.

      1. Yes, surprised. I don’t mean any criticism by that, I’m just observing that it’s not as well-known as I would have expected.

  18. DNF. Another PROVOLONE incognizant. I went with PROLOGONE.

    I had all but three in about 18 mins I think. LEVIES, BEGINNER and the hard cheese derailed me. I biffed COFFEE TABLE without spotting the clever ‘pedal’.


  19. I gave up with 2d. I’ve never heard of the cheese. I also had 25 wrong. In desperation I flung in DENIMS at the last minute. A levy is a tax, not a fine. I found WORKSHOP the hardest of the rest, many of which were quite easy.

    1. I think the full “fines collected” makes it OK, as it’s then money that’s owed taken with or without your agreement. A payment imposed rather than made.

  20. The gambler’s fallacy is working, unfortunately. I convinced myself that this was the long-awaited stinker and supported this idea by being very slow to get moving. As a result I made far heavier weather (52 minutes, with a couple of cheats) of this than was necessary. The cheese was a complete unknown, and I was rather uncomfortable with off = not working in 11ac. Wot is in Collins.

  21. Another fairly easy puzzle marred by a pink square for TWIITER, which is no laughing matter.

    Thanks to Zaabadak and the setter.

  22. 21:08 – and apparently lucky to know the cheese – the word at least, as if pushed I would have tagged it as one of those rather bland rubbery cheeses, which on checking it definitely isn’t. LEVIES spotted an instant before I threw in the towel. ACTS was neat.

  23. I spent too long on this and was relieved to come here and find myself in good company with Jack among others, giving up on the cheese and the trousers.

    Thanks Z

  24. I found this harder going than I should have. After 40+ minutes I was still staring at 14ac and in desperation wrote in PORN (don’t ask). At least I had no problem with the cheese.
    FOI – TIE
    LOI – see above
    Thanks to Zabadak and other contributors.

  25. 17:05
    Tricky but fair (apart from the OFF in POST OFFICE, but they’ve got enough troubles of their own at the moment).
    Billy Connolly may not have been the first one to define an intellectual as “someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger”.

  26. 29:43

    2d when I had four checkers seemed familiar – but did I know it was cheese? The whole of the NW corner was sticky I felt – had done the rest bar LEVIES in about 15 mins. Took MONUMENT and then HOUSTON to break the deadlock.

  27. 15:49, fully four minutes of which spent on LEVIES. Very nice. Didn’t parse FIRST COUSIN, HEARTTHROB or (fully) POST OFFICE but all were confidently biffed. Good stuff.

  28. 44:32
    My last three in were PROVOLONE, MONUMENT and TIE. I had initially put TOW for 4d (tow is a kind of string, and to draw through the water is to tow), which blocked seeing MONUMENT.
    Took ages to see Levis for trousers, despite that being my preferred brand of jeans.
    The taciturn canine is much less controversial than the taciturn feline elsewhere.
    COD was CAGE. I’ve often wished that 4’33” was included in all jukeboxes.

    1. I’ve been somewhere where you pay the usual fee and get the usual length of silence, but it gets expensive as you’re the only player!

  29. My posting today mirrors Jackkt’s pretty much exactly. Couldn’t get DENIMS out of my mind for 25ac, and went down the wrong road for 2dn by looking for book as the answer instead of a cheese. I was sailing along quite nicely in about 29 minutes until I encountered these two, but I gave it up when 40 minutes had elapsed.

  30. As some others, gave up on the unknown cheese … but shouldn’t have. Glossed over the end letters of an alphabet trawl too quickly so missing vol/book. The trousers took a little time, otherwise all fairly straightforward.

  31. Can’t recall any real problems when I worked this, early last evening. Was glad, actually, that it was a bit harder than the rest so far this week and I had to stop and think a bit about a few clues. The clue for HEARTTHROB is amazing, but I didn’t parse until I’d put it in. Just noticed that I biffed FIRST COUSIN.

  32. No trouble with the RHS, but the LHS threw a few googlies at me. HEARTHROB took a while, as did FIRST COUSIN and ROSSINI. Last 2 in, LEVIES and PROVOLONE were the big holdups though. Saw LEVIES first, then correctly assembled the cheese from instructions. Still NHO it, so looked it up and it did exist! 26:07. Thanks setter and Z.

  33. Late to this and about 45′ – very chewy for me. Like some others spent time thinking “(to) book” was the definition so searched for a cheese to follow PRO. LOI LEVIES, simple when you see it, and memories of sitting in a bath with my first pair supposedly “shrinking to fit”. Quite a few parsed after biffing, the definitions seemed much more obvious than the wordplays. Enjoyable though. Thanks Zabadak and setter.

  34. Unlike Z I found this a struggle, albeit an enjoyable one, and limped home in 40:46. Again one of those where you wonder why you struggled but there was some lovely cluing – particularly enjoyed the Russian fiction that I did not see as an anagram for so long before realising.

    The cheese, POI, was hovering at the back of my brain all the time – knew it was PRO something, even knew it was Italian, but would it come to mind, would it chuff. I then had to do an alphabet trawl for LOI down that seems so obvious but I did not see it – double definitions often a struggle for me.

    Thanks Z and setter

  35. DNF. PROVOLONE was in my cheating machine, but not in the plural, now corrected.
    Was very stuck on 20a CAGE but remembered 4’33” from a recent outing and looked it up.
    Failed to parse lots. Most shamingly DOWN at 14a. 18a HEARTTHROB sailed straight over my head. Did you know only 3 10 letter words end in B? Missed the well hidden GAR but how many fish are G*R?
    Can’t decide between 12d 1ST COUSIN & ACTS at 21a for COD.
    LEVIES=fines? But Wiktionary confirms it if only quite well down the list.
    A puzzle of two sides – easy to biff, hard to parse.

  36. All recordings of 4′ 33″ should be at least slightly noisy.
    The piece doesn’t offer a silent experience, only an experience of listening to anything but the instrument that isn’t being played.

  37. 41 minutes, but actually more like 30 with another ten checking wordplay and mostly alphabet-trawling 21ac until I finally saw ACTS. I too could solve almost none of the across clues on my first pass through, RIGHT BRAIN being the exception, but the down clues came fairly easily, helping with the across ones, until eventually I was left with only LEVIES and ACTS to solve. I’m a bit surprised that hardly anyone knew the cheese. That’s what you get for leaving the EU, I suppose — here in Germany I often see provolone when scanning the cheese section in the supermarket frantically looking for a decent (and well-aged) cheddar. My COD would be COFFEE TABLE (for the brilliant rendering of “pedal”).

  38. A not very brilliant 29.35 but at least beat the half hour. I found this pretty tough with my last two beginner and levies almost stumping me.

    Lots of well constructed clues I thought but I’ll give my COD to taciturn.

  39. 43 minutes but cheated and googled the cheese. Otherwise a decent, medium-difficulty puzzle, I thought.

  40. DNF

    20 mins for all but the two tough ones and gave up after another 10 minutes. NHO of the cheese. Alpha trawled the first and last of the trousers but not the middle letter. Note to self. COFFEE TABLE was vg but puzzles where you glide through most of it then gaze blankly at the end are never very satisfactory. In many respects it’s a tip of the hat to setters that clues are often quite consistent in a puzzle, bearing in mind one person’s NHO is another’s HO

    Thanks Zabadak and setter

    1. I’d argue to the contrary.

      Lack of consistency in clueing in The Times is a major bugbear for me. Many offerings are perhaps 90% write-ins, with the remaining 10% coming from miles out of left-field, either in bizarre parsings or in mephisto-standard solutions. It’s a bit of a shame because the ‘offending’ clues would actually work perfectly well in a crossword where the solver comes to the awareness that they have to make ‘bigger leaps’. As it is, they jar, and it’s basically a waste of an otherwise good clue. And the whole experience also a waste of time for the average solver for whom the crossword is rendered unsolvable.

      Having said that, it seems to have avoided the habit in the last few weeks. But whether that’s by design or just happenstance is too soon to tell.

  41. 49:42 I found this quite tricky but there were no really hard words. I feel like I’m almost beginning to understand the misdirections sometimes. I got BEGINNER wrong by biffing RETAINER instead (not actually a correct anagram). I also thought that TIE could just have easily been GUT as a double definition…

    thanks Setter and Z

  42. Took for ever on the cheese and the trousers. In the end I cheated on the cheese, mum. It had to be PROLOGONE, PROVOLONE or PROJOBONE. I looked it up. Not proud. 34’43”

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