28870 We have solved the Times at midnight


I got through this in just under 20 minutes, quick for a blogging night when I’m more particular. There are some definitions which are stretchy but always fair, and a particularly aesthetic anagram/indicator combination. A bit of a spelling test for the scientist, where paying close attention to the anagram fodder pays dividends.

Definitions underlined in italics. I use [] to indicate excluded materials, and whatever occurs to me to explain everything else.

1 Therapist in employment following stroke (8)
MASSEUSE – A MASSÉ is a stroke in billiards and snooker (and probably pool) which causes the cue ball to swerve around a blocking ball. Properly done, it looks like magic. Tag USE for employment on the end.
5 Printing office in place with hard ground (6)
CHAPEL – Either the gathering itself or the place of gathering for unionised print workers. Here, our typesetters have rearranged the answer to produce PLACE with H[ard]. Ground is the anagram indicator.
10 Debauchee’s son, Irish, can start to swim in two rivers (3,4,8)
SIR JOHN FALSTAFF – One of Shakespeare’s most vivid creations: I can’t resist a quote which illustrates his debauchee nature:

“I was as virtuously given as a gentleman need to be, virtuous enough: swore little; diced not above seven1 times— a week; went to a bawdy house once in a quarter—of an hour; paid money that I borrowed, three or four times; lived well and in good compass; and now I live out of all order, out of all compass” 

The wordplay is also pretty spectacular: we have S([on] IR[ish] can as in WC as in JOHN, and start to S[wim] between two rivers, the FAL and the TAFF

11 Building stone at last provided in numbered blocks? (7)
EDIFICE – The last of [ston]E and IF for provided secured inside DICE, which are, when you think about it, numbered blocks.
12 “Saw” for “see” say (7)
PROVERB – That’s pro: FOR followed by see, an example (say) of a verb
13 Line with repetition, not on for learned people (8)
LITERATI – L[ine] plus ITERATION from repetition, less ON.
15 Agent on vacation was resting around Crimean resort (5)
YALTA – A[gen]T vacated, LAY for rested, reversed, around. Yalta probably best known even now as the place where the “Big Three” met in 1945 to decide what Europe would look like after the defeat of Hitler.
18 Knightly weapon for Percival perhaps? (5)
LANCE – LANCE Percival was a comedian and singer perhaps best known for his calypsos on TW3 and such, despite being born in the very non-Trinidadian Sevenoaks. “Shame and scandal” is a “real” calypso Percival covered rather than one of his often improvised versions.
20 Subterranean excavation in which animal needs grooming? (8)
23 Jack, one opening wine, stayed behind (7)
TARRIED – Jack gives TAR, then I (one) fills an opening in RED wine.
25 Bellow for example in a way that brings violence? (7)
ASSAULT – SAUL Bellow was a prize winning Canadian/American writer of Lithuanian Jewish parentage. Place him in A ST[reet] for way.
26 Make changes to stop allegation restricting old scientist (15)
27 Right to have hard feelings about water pixie (6)
SPRITE – Among hard feelings is SPITE, placed around R[ight]
28 Satellite states in America (8)
GANYMEDE – One of the moons of Jupiter, about half the size of Earth, so big enough to be a planet. It’s probably been done before, but the States are Georgia, New York, Maine and Delaware.
1 Satisfied garaging Welsh runner’s old banger? (6)
MUSKET – The Welsh runner (river) is the USK, “garaged” by MET from satisfied.
2 Rum and raisin for Italian islander (9)
SARDINIAN – An anagram (rum) of AND RAISIN. One of the more pleasing anagrams, a happy coincidence.
3 Controversial eastern cause (7)
EMOTIVE – Perhaps a little bit of a stretch on the definition, but it is E[astern] plus MOTIVE from cause.
4 Divine direction initially sourced in bishop’s office (5)
SENSE – Direction requires is N[orth] plus the first of S[ourced] inside the Bishop’s SEE. Could have been 5 directions.
6 Toast and greeting succeeded with Conservative (7)
HISTORY – Toast and HISTORY are both slangy expressions for no longer functioning. Greeting: HI, S[ucceeded] and the TORY faction of the Conservative party.
7 Parking on narrow road for flat surface (5)
PLANE – An easy one: P{arking] on LANE  or narrow road.
8 At sea, if able to, this saves people (8)
LIFEBOAT – An anagram (at sea) of IF ABLE TO. fine surface.
9 Slap raised lump on skin without discomfort (8)
WARPAINT – Slap as in cosmetics. Lump on skin is WART, without (outside) PAIN for discomfort.
14 Leader in west becoming a calamity? (8)
ACCIDENT – The first letter of OCCIDENT changes to A.
16 Luxurious vehicle minus oil: engine’s head cracked (9)
LIMOUSINE – An anagram (cracked) of MINUS OIL plus E{ngine]
17 Creature a tailless sort — positive about that? (8)
PLATYPUS – Sort translates to TYPE, remove the E, and place PLUS for positive around it.
19 Obvious competition among papers? On the contrary (7)
EVIDENT – It’s not EVENT competition in ID: papers. It’s its reverse way round.
21 Keeping key articles out of American daily? (7)
CUSTODY – In the key of C, take the articles, both A, out of US[A] TOD[A]Y UK has the Radio 4 Today programme, perhaps the USA has a Today newspaper.
22 United in mess — bust possibly (6)
STATUE -U[nited] takes its place in STATE: look at the state of that!
24 Made-to-measure item for Mikado? (5)
RULER – The Mikado was the emperor of Japan, and a ruler is indeed made to measure, preferably without the hyphens.
25 Gold put in stove makes coin (5)
AGORA – 1/100th of a Shekel, OR for gold (heraldry) in an AGA stove.

69 comments on “28870 We have solved the Times at midnight”

  1. I forgot to note my exact starting time but my estimate for solving this one is in the region of 45 minutes. Around 5 minutes of that was spent shuffling anagrist to come up with the 15-letter scientist at 26ac.

    Elsewhere, very few answers came to me on first reading of the clues so I had to rely heavily on wordplay. Usually I get a fair proportion of biffs and then deconstruct them to find how they work.

    Unknown or forgotten bits and pieces today were MASSÉ, GANYMEDE and AGORA as a coin. The connection between toast and HISTORY didn’t come to me until long after I had stopped the clock.

    Is Lance Percival known overseas, I wonder? He was one of those performers who rose to some sort of fame and was around on our screens for years dabbling in this and that without ever seemingly achieving anything much, although he apparently made a reasonable living at it. Percival’s performance of Shame and Scandal in that clip is embarrassingly awful. Cy Grant was the topical calypso man of that time with real talent and many justified claims to fame in other fields.

      1. I’d agree that Jake Thackray was in a totally different class. Often bitingly satirical, absurdist and very darkly humorous at times.

        1. “Miss Caroline Diggeby-Pratt was at Roedean,
          Her daddy is a brigadier — a bigwig!!

          Caroline likes marzipan and pussycats.
          Caroline is the latest in a very long line of aristocratic Pratts”

          1. Ha, you have done better than me .. the only actual lyrics I recall are about a girl who had “Breasts like apples” and “skin like alabaster.”
            In my defence, hearing the word alabaster, in his Yorkshire accent, was memorable …

    1. I had hoped to post one of Percival’s improvised calypsos from TW3, but ran out of search time. Awful indeed, but then I still get embarrassed doing “authentic” Negro Spirituals in a very English choir! His IMDB listing is extensive and rather more respectable.

      1. He was in quite lot of films, most of them low-grade stuff, and then mostly only bit-parts. But he had a recognisable face so that probably got him the work.

      2. A perhaps interesting piece of trivia is that in its original form Lance Percival’s biggest hit Shame and Scandal featured as a calypso that ran as commentary on the action throughout a 1943 film called I Walked With A Zombie which believe it or not was claimed to have been based on the novel Jane Eyre. It was performed in the film by an actor / calypso singer by the name of ‘Sir Lancelot’ who had a long and distinguished career in both fields. His real name was ‘Lancelot Victor Edward Pinard’ and Percival’s name was ‘John Lancelot Blades Percival’. Bit of a coincidence perhaps, or maybe not?

      3. I didn’t think it was awful. What is more, I don’t think Cy Grant would have thought it so, either.
        Imitation was once the sincerest form of flattery, before it became .. whatever it is called now.

        1. I think we are at cross purposes here because my comment had nothing to do with imitation, just an inept visual performance not helped by appalling staging and production values even for its day. If he’d sat still on stage and sung it to his guitar it would probably have been okay.

            1. Ah, okay. It’s one of the very few drawbacks of the new site that it’s not always clear who a reply is aimed at. I wonder if it would involve much work to have ‘In reply to…’ inserted automatically.

    2. I loved Lance Percival in TV3 and subsequently bumped into him in the Tanglin Club, so to me he’s both famous and international!

  2. I really enjoyed this one, a steady solve undertaken on the high seas, mid Channel, but home now.. some slick clues with nice surfaces, the SARDINIAN one in particular a thing of beauty.
    A slight MER at Lance Percival, well enough known to me, but perhaps not to everyone?

  3. 28:47. I found this challenging, and a very satisfying completion. Only a couple of unknowns though, including Lance Percival, Falstaff’s full name, and the stroke.

    I was relieved to drag GANYMEDE from somewhere, which opened up CUSTODY – I had been thinking it’d be a musical term meaning ‘keeping key’, and so likely -OUS. In hindsight I have *possibly* seen a similar clue for the moon before, but it’s a good one nonetheless, if tricky.

    Neither of the correct senses of ‘toast’ nor ‘chapel’ occurred to me, but the wordplay and crossers all worked. Can’t account for the former, but I had (wrongly) thought chapel was a more general term for a union branch, rather than connecting it specifically with journalism.

    Thanks setter & Zabadak.

  4. 15:57
    USA Today is a nationwide daily newspaper. This went by surprisingly fast. Biffed Sir John from the R N and F, parsed post-submission. Biffed PALAEONTOLOGIST mainly from the length and what looked like anagrist. I wasted some time by typing in HECATOMB; CUSTODY finally showed me the error of my ways. NHO Percival. LOI CHAPEL; I thought of it early on, couldn’t see how it worked until I did.

  5. My good blade carves the casques of men,
    My tough Lance thrusteth sure,
    My strength is as the strength of ten
    Because my heart is pure.
    (Sir Galahad, Tennyson)

    25 mins pre-brekker left me with what might be Ganymede and possibly Custody – so I bunged them in, assuming some US thing was going on.
    Ta setter and Z.

  6. 44 minutes with LOI a biffed CUSTODY. That followed GANYMEDE as I went through all the moons I knew, apart from our own. Three. I had all the other knowledge. I expect LANCE was as unfair to younger solvers as American states was to British ones. COD to SIR JOHN, that swollen parcel of dropsies. Sam, Sam, pick up tha’ musket. And I saw that picture of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin sat together at Yalta on some programme recently. An evocative puzzle. Thank you Z and setter.

  7. 48 mins. After a pretty quick start and three quarters of the grid filled in, I got held up in the SE. Finally figured out AGORA (why do so many words mean two things?) and then guessed the unknown scientist was likely to end in OLOGIST and it all went in. Like Jack, I juggled with the remaining letters and amazingly came up with the right answer. LOI GANYMEDE was also a bit of a guess but it looked right.

    I too liked the SARDINIAN & RULER.

    Thanks Z and setter.

  8. A bit like jackkt, biffing answers then working out the wordplay.
    I didn’t like the clue to GANYMEDE – just four abbreviations out of 50 possibilities. It’s not my idea of a good clue.
    47 minutes

    1. Indeed, I don’t think anyone will have assembled GANYMEDE by throwing all 50 possibilities in the air and reading the result. I think you’re pretty much obliged to biff it and merely confirm with the 4 selected.

    2. Obviously I liked GANYMEDE, which is larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only moon in the Solar System which has a magnetosphere.

  9. 25:03 today, I expected some fast times from the experts because I found it pretty straightforward but coming here maybe not.
    I thought a few clues like Lance Percival and the River Usk were a bit UK centric.
    LOI was the WARPAINT, I’ve got a feeling slap=makeup is also a UK expression?
    Thanks setter and blogger

    1. I didn’t think it was particularly UK centric today, but even if it were wouldn’t that be expected from a British newspaper?

      I sometimes think that a lot of US knowledge is required to solve the crossword these days, which is perhaps reflective of setters catering for the relatively large following in the US.

    2. It is the London Times. It is both important and necessary, that it is UK centric.
      Try solving the New York Times crossword? Takes “centric” to a whole new level 🙂

  10. 39:48. Off to a good start with 1ac MASSEUSE. A bit of a struggle after that, but a good one. DNK AGORA as Israeli currency but the wordplay was clear. I had to write out the anagram for the scientist to get the vowels sorted. I liked PLATYPUS, HISTORY (defined as toast) and RULER

  11. 23′, but failed on SPRITE, having done the hard work.

    GANYMEDE came to mind immediately, but was only parsed just before submission. Liked CUSTODY, nho massé, and didn’t parse ACCIDENT. Must take more care.

    Thanks z and setter.

  12. 24:29
    No real problems aside from initially failing to spell PALAEONTOLOGIST correctly, which held up RULER. No unknowns apart from AGORA, and only CUSTODY went in without understanding the wordplay.

    Nice to have two non-typo days in a row.

    Thanks to both.

  13. About 25 minutes.

    Never heard of a massé stroke, so MASSEUSE went in with a shrug once all the checkers were in place; trusted that there was someone called LANCE Percival; took a long time to be confident on the spelling of PALAEONTOLOGIST; misunderstood SENSE, thinking that ‘direction’ was part of the definition for some reason; and didn’t know that meaning of AGORA.

    Thanks setter and blogger.

    FOI Plane
    LOI Chapel
    CODs Sardinian / Ruler

  14. Straightforward and enjoyable today, 20 minutes, only one biffed and not parsed, CUSTODY. And a bit of thought to get 15 letters into PALAEONTOLOGIST without bothering to unscramble the anagram. Thanks for midnight blog Z.

  15. 28.41

    My FOI and LOI were the same clue!
    FOI SIR TOBY (Toby jug/can?) Hence LOI SIR JOHN when S_Y_E yielded nothing and I finally saw sense.
    My first solve for a while after failing to find the paper abroad, and a very enjoyable one.

    Thanks setter and Zabadak

  16. DNF.
    Plumped for 1a MASSEUSE eventually but the dictionary I used to confirm it didn’t have the stroke in it, so I remained doubtful. Wikipedia has it in a list of strokes.
    SE was the empty bit with 25a ASSAULT (good now I am told how it worked), 28a GANYMEDE was tricksy, and I was never going to parse 21d CUSTODY although I biffed it.

  17. How often do you mention Lance Percival (whom sadly I am well aware of, having been told I resemble him) and Saul Bellow in (almost) the same breath? Made me laugh. Some fun clues here. Held up in the SW corner until the penny dropped on TARRIED, and the rest fell into place. 32 mins.

  18. 27:23

    I might have heard of a massé stroke once upon a time so pencilled that in straight off. Took a while for things to open up, some clues seeming quite easy while others were more impenetrable. Didn’t know the printing meaning of CHAPEL, vaguely remembered FALSTAFF’s first name, thought that LANCE Percival might be a stretch for our younger readers. Key to much of the bottom half proved to be SAUL Bellow – that gave AGORA and enough checkers to realise that the scientist was anagrammed. Didn’t see the parsing of GANYMEDE, so entered with a ho-hum.

    Thanks to Z and setter

  19. I started slowly and suspected that Friday’s horror was a day early, but then things went smoothly enough and I completed in 31 minutes. The US daily at 21 dn was a bit of a mystery: why did it say articles not just article? USA never occurred to me. Was surprised by the appearance of Lance Percival, known to me but to how many who are younger and not UK? Nho AGORA in that sense.

  20. 27:30 – some of the references – the billiards stroke, the US states, the coin – went over my head, but the answers went in anyway. Quite a tussle to assemble the vowels in the right order for today’s scientist.

  21. 17:38. I found that tricky, and spent ages at the end stumped by the scientist. Eventually I spotted that it was an anagram (doh!) and constructed the (to me) funny-looking spelling from the available letters.
    Both ‘Percival, perhaps’ and ‘Bellow for example’ were immediate write-ins for me in spite of the fact that I had absolutely no idea who Lance Percival was. Just a name I knew, somehow.
    I got the wrong end of the stick with 21dn, thinking ‘American’ was US, taking ‘daily’ for the defunct UK newspaper Today, and failing to notice that the clue required the removal of more than one article. Thankfully we don’t have to show our workings.
    2dn SARDINIAN is a beautiful clue.

  22. i wonder why i seem to have disappeared from the list of snitch solvers for 15×15, but still appear in quick cryptic. i am fairly sure i fulfil the criteria. thx.

  23. 27 mins. Seemed quite easy to me starting in the NW, but got gradually harder till I ground to a halt with CUSTODY. Surely any self respecting setter would use the homophone for that?

  24. My biffometer was off the scale. I’ve seen worse puzzles, but I didn’t much care for this.

    TIME 10:24

  25. Enjoyed this. I consulted a thesaurus for a synonym of ‘stove’ when ‘hob’ didn’t work, so I suppose this was technically a DNF. NHO ‘agora’ as a coin, which I thought was a little low. Especially liked PROVERB, SARDINIAN, CUSTODY. I wonder how many solvers below the age of, say, 40, knew of Lance Percival. Not exactly a household name even at his TW3 peak.
    My COD might have been HISTORY for ‘toast’, but GANYMEDE pips it for its clever construction, which was new to me.

    1. Finally completed one this week. No esoteric homophones today. Enjoyed my 21 minute solve with WARPAINT my LOI.
      Thanks to setter and blogger.

  26. 31 minutes. I was only able to spell the ‘scientist’ at 26a courtesy of the crossers and like a few others it seems I had trouble with CUSTODY at the very end. I didn’t know the MASSÉ ‘stroke’ at 1a but the crossers also helped here.

    LANCE ‘Percival’ brought back a few memories of UK comedies in the 60’s and 70’s, including I see Up Pompeii which I suspect may not have aged all that well.

  27. Everything I wrote just disappeared, annoying, so I’ll just say 37.52, difficult but fair, thanks to Z for explaining GANYMEDE, CUSTODY, ACCIDENT and why HISTORY = toast.

  28. 33:42

    Came here to see how CUSTODY was parsed, and I’m still very MER about the whole thing.

    But COD to the lovely GANYMEDE

    Thanks blogger and setter.

  29. I liked the way that the clue answers matched slanginess with the the clue definitions (slap/warpaint, toast/history), and figured the score as UK 5 – NAm 2 – ROW 1 (Aga, Chapel, Usk, Perceval, Fal + Taff / USA Today, those States / Agora) today.
    Just to say Bellow was more than just prize-winning, he was Nobel Prize winning. Nice blog, as usual, Z. Nice puzzle, setter.

  30. 16.05 so a sight easier than yesterday’s offering. But still had its challenges with Ganymede being my LOI and also COD. Catacomb was a close second.
    Thanks setter and blogger.

  31. Having glanced at the Snitch, I thought I would dip my toe into this over lunch, to hopefully pick out a few easy clues for practice. An hour and a half later, I failed on my loi, Custody, as I just couldn’t see what was going on (and wasn’t even sure about the target). Needed to check Masse/Stroke and Saul/Bellow along the way, but the rest was fair game, including an almost unbelievable biff then parse of Ganymede from just the ‘a’. Very enjoyable. Invariant

  32. I was making good progress with this until I reached the SE corner and ground to a halt. In the top half, SIR JOHN and WARPAINT caused a bit of a holdup, but not as much as ASSAULT and LOI, CUSTODY. SENSE eventually provided JOHN, and EMOTIVE, which I should’ve seen much earlier, followed. GANYMEDE went in from crossers and then I saw how it worked. AGORA was eventually the key to the final ASSAULT, although the requisite Bellow turned out to be unknown. PALAEONTOLOGIST pulled up short until I inserted the extra A. Liked HISTORY and ACCIDENT. 29:08. Thanks setter and Z.

  33. I loved this puzzle! I picked the long anagram near the bottom (the scientist) to start with, which gave me lots of crossers. Then, of course, I started working around the other 15-letter answer, further up, but that took a while (should’ve seen the big guy sooner, though!). Had never heard of CHAPEL as a printing office, so that came very late. LANCE Percival was a guess. I laughed out loud at “Toast” for HISTORY. Just a blast! It took me a while, after a day at the (non-printing) office.

  34. Slippery little thing, this puzzle, with quite a lot of niche GK. Got through it, but it took a while.
    Thanks, z.

  35. 1ac went in straightaway, which is normally a bad sign, but not today as I kept up a steady stream of solutions until near the end. For some reason this was my kind of crossword, with testing GK and some clever clueing. All done in 21 minutes.
    Thanks to Zabadak and other contributors.

  36. Got there in 20’13”. I’d heard of Lance Percival, but when I saw his picture I realised I was mixing him up with James Robertson Justice. Not that it mattered. Good fun thanks.

    1. Lance P and JRJ can’t have been easy to confuse, but perhaps you saw them together in a film. They were in two You Must Be Joking (1965) and Raising The Wind which was a Carry On in all but name.

  37. After a long struggle I was pleased to finish with all correct. The NW causing me the most problems.

  38. The “spectacular” wordplay leading to Sir John Falstaff was wasted on me; I had some of the checkers, biffed it, noticed that there were two rivers in there, Fal and Taff, and that was it, parsed – move on 🙂

  39. I often think that the Times Crossword lives somewhere in the past: would anyone under 40 have heard of Lance Percival? I’m 67 and it went straight in, but all the same…

  40. “Emotive” is not a synonym of “controversial” in either Collins Thesaurus or Chambers Thesaurus but “controversial” is a synonym of “emotive” in both.
    It may be more accurate to say “be toast” and “be history” are synonyms. I searched dictionaries for toast and history and could not find any link between the two. It is only when you search with “be” in front of each in Collins that the relationship becomes clear.

  41. Late to this since I held back the puzzle (and others) for a flight back from holiday. However didn’t take up too much time (just over 20′ which is good for me) so had to look to other past times to while away the time. Enjoyed the wordplays of HISTORY as toast, and CHAPEL in connection with printers. Thanks Zabadak and setter

  42. Never did get one of my favourite characters, Falstaff, but kept plugging away at the rest , which was rewarding work all the way! Loved some of the off-centre definitions, like war paint and toast, and happily remembered some more distant memories like chapel and Ganymede. Enjoyable romp, even though I missed out on our loveable rogue.


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