Times 28911 – playtime.

Another Wednesday with nothing to scare even nervous horses. Chestnut time, mostly. One definition was unknown (Karen) but easily gettable from the wordplay. Parsing PICKY took me longer than any of the clues. A 12 minute solve, but enjoyable while it lasted.

Definitions underlined in bold, (ABC)* indicating anagram of ABC, anagrinds in italics, [deleted letters in square brackets].

1 Very old ruined city containing Etruria’s first arena (9)
VELODROME – V[ery], E in (OLD)*, ROME.
6 Bloke coming across mile title holder (5)
CHAMP – M[ile] inside CHAP.
9 Fat misshapen toe’s torn gym clothing (7)
LEOTARD – LARD with (TOE)* inside.
10 Spanish football side, big guns regularly failing, change formation (7)
REALIGN – REAL (as in Real Madrid), [b] I [g] G [u] N [s].
11 Italian banker having billions in bank? (5)
TIBER – TIER with B inside.
12 Tory interrupting judge, extremely unpopular storyteller (9)
RACONTEUR – CON (Tory) inside RATE (judge), U[npopula]R.
13 Be denigrating rugby player, part European (8)
BACKBITE – BACK (rugby player), BIT (part), E[uropean].
14 Second day at the Biergarten, just for men (4)
STAG -S[econd], TAG German for day.
17 Green supporter rejected importing iodine (4)
NAIF – FAN reversed with I for iodine inside. Naïf being the masculine form of naïve.
18 Hag having energy cut off acquires old Scottish kettle (8)
CAULDRON – CRON[E] with AULD (Scottish for old) inside.
21 Switzerland with supplies flown in as aid for people in the mountains (9)
CHAIRLIFT – CH (Switzerland, as country code), AIRLIFT = supplies flown in.
22 Fussy and irritable, looking neither to right nor (later) left (5)
PICKY – I think this is PRICKLY (irritable) with the R and (later on) L removed. Complicated parsing for a guessable answer from P*C*Y.
24 Painter: knighted composer — not a writer from Italy (2,5)
EL GRECO – ELGAR our composer; without A = ELGR, [Umberto] ECO the writer.
25 River sparkled endlessly, with woman taking dip (7)
SHANNON – SHON[E] with ANN a woman inside.
26 Thai people live in the outskirts of Kingston (5)
KAREN – ARE (“live”) inside K[ingsto]N. The Karen people are a persecuted hill tribe in Thailand and Myanmar. I guessed they were.
27 Patriarch of drama school in Yale cast you and me (9)
AESCHYLUS – (YALE)* with SCH inside, US = you and me.
1 Man runs away from rascally fellow (5)
VALET – VARLET, a rascal, loses R. VALET for man was in my mind as it appeared on Sunday last.
2 Barcelona: King OK following surgery drama (4,4,2,5)
LOOK BACK IN ANGER – (BARCELONA KING OK)*. Play by John Osbourne of which even I had heard, but will never see.
3 Awful-sounding clan abuse (8)
DIATRIBE – DIA sounds like DIRE = awful, TRIBE = clan.
4 Stubborn old bishop rude at turns (8)
OBDURATE – O[ld], B[ishop], (RUDE AT)*.
5 Increase the wealth of Henri Charrière, somewhat (6)
ENRICH – hidden, as above.
6 Smuggled in Charlie, New York crack (6)
CRANNY – RAN (smuggled) inside C for Charlie, NY for New York.
7 For engineering, lay a main central Tube (10,5)
8 Corral fierce woman, an old warrior chief (9)
PENDRAGON – PEN = corral, DRAGON a fierce woman.
13 Rely on report perhaps of Kent financial officer (4,5)
BANK CLERK – BANK = rely (bank on, rely on); CLERK as in Clerk Kent alias Superman. EDIT apparently, he is spelt CLARK which explains the “on report” i.e. sounds like. I didn’t bother looking him up.
15 Christians of note on street in Rolls (8)
BAPTISTS – BAPS are round bread rolls where I live; insert TI a note and ST[reet].
16 California cops wearing symbol of rank in a casual manner (8)
SLAPDASH – the LA PD being the California cops, inside SASH a symbol of rank.
19 Encourage ship’s doctor, having not succeeded (4,2)
URGE ON – SURGEON loses its S for succeeded.
20 Mum’s drunk the setter’s very large cocktail (6)
MIMOSA – MA (Mum) has I’M (the setter’s), OS (outsize, very large) inserted. Posh name for Buck’s fizz I think.
23 Years and years working in flipping outer space! (5)
YONKS – ON (working) inside SKY reversed. I suppose the sky is ‘outer space’ in a way.


73 comments on “Times 28911 – playtime.”

  1. The Karen (25 ac) are not Thai people – those currently in Thailand are refugees from their native Myanmar. Fortunately for them the Thais accommodate many refugees, some of whom I have had some association with over the years.

  2. Very enjoyable: hacked my way through this one with no major hold-ups, some minor biffing. EL GRECO went in from enumeration, then deleted, then back in because it was obviously correct. NHO Thai KAREN, and I took a minute trying to decipher “drama school” for NHO / LOI AESCHYLUS, before realising it was plain ol’ SCH. My kinda puzzle, completed in 23:31.

  3. 23.59. I found this reasonably straightforward but obviously it was tougher going for me than for the tearaway piquet. Also they appear to have changed the format of the crossword on The Times site which took a bit of getting used to. I thought CAULDRON (my LOI) was a complicated clue and am grateful to Nelson for explaining what was going on with EL GRECO and SLAPDASH. So Elgar was knighted, right? Does it matter? Anyway, it’s been a pretty approachable week so far and I think we all know what that means.
    From Tombstone Blues:
    John the BAPTIST, after torturing a thief,
    Looks up at his hero, the commander-in-chief,
    Sayin’ tell me great hero, but please make it brief,
    Is there a hole for me to get sick in?

  4. 25 minutes, so each puzzle this week is getting easier for me following on from Monday’s stinker.

    KAREN was unknown and somehow it doesn’t look likely for the name of a people, so I waited for checkers to confirm that it was indeed the answer suggested by wordplay.

    I had intended to return to PRICKLY to consider the wordplay but realised when reading the blog that I had forgotten to do so.

  5. Not great on the ‘WITCH’ for me today. Stuck on several answers in the south-east, including SLAPDASH where all that came to mind for a while was the old TV show CHIPS (California Highway Patrol) – also slow on SHANNON and BAPTISTS

    1. Ah, CHiPs with the legendary Erik Estrada. Now there’s the proverbial blast from the past.

      1. We saw the (rather silly) new Fall Guy movie on Sunday which is another such blast, including a cameo from Lee Majors and Heather Thomas at the end.

      2. Never saw ‘Chips’ or Estrada; for me the CHP was represented by Broderick Crawford.

        1. 18:20
          Another blast from the past. Can still remember the theme tune and his call sign “10: 4”

  6. 17:00
    The Karen haven’t been much in the news lately, but I remembered them . I biffed the two long downs (the play from L, B, G and enumeration), never bothered to check for anagrist.A puzzle of equine calm, indeed. Pip, you’ve got a typo at 13d: it was ClArk Kent, hence ‘report perhaps’. The clue wouldn’t work, of course, in Murcan.

  7. This horse might be ready for the glue factory.

    I made a real hash of this – steady if slowish progress, until I confidently bunged in PLACIDLY(?) and EYONS(???), thereby snookering myself for probably close to 15 minutes in the SE.

    That shambles left me with C_C_E (CYCLE? CACHE?) for ‘fussy’, S_N_N_O (er, something JO?) for the presumably unknown river, and AUSTYELUS for the patriarch (could UST be a drama school?!).

    After much wailing and gnashing of teeth YONKS drifted into my head and snagged on something. I eventually parsed it, and that got me to PICKY. SLAPDASH was next, accompanied by a forehead-smack, then the river, and finally the patriarch in drama, who it turns out I have heard of.

    All my own doing, but a little alarmed at what I might do when a real toughie shows up. Relieved to eventually drag myself over the line this time in a bruising 33.26.

    Thanks setter & piquet

  8. 21:12 but 2 typos today so a great start to the week so far.

    Mostly a fairly steady affair but the SE held me up for a while as the first river that our swimmer ANN jumped into was the SWANNEE, and up I went.

    KAREN and AESCHYLUS were the only unknowns but both fairly clued with helpful crossers.

    Thanks to both.

  9. About one hour. FOI EL GRECO What else could it be. Generally straightforward but slowed by lower right hand corner mainly because I started with TRACT instead of CANAL. Reading “old Scottish kettle” slowed CAULDRON. Seemed to remember reading about it somewhere.

  10. 24:02. A steady-ish solve, a bit uneven in places. I think I must have come across KAREN and AESCHYLUS before because I was happy to write them in once they had been delivered by the wordplay. COD BAPTISTS, WOD YONKS.
    It may just be me, but I thought this puzzle had an odd feel to it. Nothing I can put my finger on. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been compiled by AI, or by a committee

    1. I haven’t checked with GPT 4, but previous iterations were dismal at setting or solving cryptic clues. Possibly due to the lack of dataset if they’re largely trained on US input, but I’d like to think it’ll remain tricky for them.

  11. A very steady solve for three quarters of this one then ground to a halt in the SE, with SHANNON finally opening it up for me.37 mins.

    LOI the unheard of AESCHYLUS which I had to check, but it seemed likely in a Greeky sort of way. I had the ‘TISTS bit of 15d but didn’t get the BAP until CAULDRON dropped into my brain. DNK the KAREN people but the clueing was generous. Thank you pip and Nigel F-H for the clarifications.

    I liked the two long clues and MIMOSA.

    Thanks pip and setter.

  12. 12:30
    I found the SW corner an easy write-in, as my ex-wife’s name is KAREN (who wasn’t amused by the headline I once cut out of The Times, “Karen offensive”) and my son’s name is Clark. LOI was BAPTISTS, despite my own first name.

    1. I don’t normally chuckle reading this blog, but I went as far as a guffaw for that one.

  13. 32 minutes with LOI SLAPDASH. I wasn’t on the right wavelength today. MIMOSA is only a plant in my world, but then we have barm cakes. I’ve known a few Karens but none of them were Thai. But I did manage to dredge up AESCHYLUS. And thanks to Lindsay O, I’m singing “The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken.” Tombstone Blues indeed. I’ve no finger nails left watching these play-offs. Thank you Pip and setter.

    1. I so wanted to get that line in but it was just too far removed from the Baptist ref and I didn’t want to over-indulge!

  14. 33 minutes. Slow, though I agree that this wasn’t too hard, even if I didn’t know who AESCHYLUS was beyond recognising the name. I did remember the KAREN people from a TV documentary several years ago.

    I liked the surface for VELODROME which had me hunting for an ‘old ruined city’ as intended. Favourite was the surface for CAULDRON with its nod to Macbeth.

  15. 27.00. Perhaps my sluggish time betrays the fact that I didn’t enjoy this very much.

  16. This horse was proper nervous. I put the wrong clue in the wrong space TWICE and had to come here to bring order to the ensuing chaos in the NW. Must get more sleep.

    Thanks P

  17. Flying today, thought again I was on for a sub-10′ but stumbled in the bottom half.


    10’40”, thanks pip and setter.

  18. About 15 minutes. Haven’t come across NAIF very often and never heard of the KARENs, but the clueing was helpful in both cases; dredged up AESCHYLUS from somewhere; NHO varlet, but with V_L_T it had to be VALET.

    Thanks setter and blogger.

    FOI Cranny
    LOI Pendragon
    COD Velodrome

  19. 18:35

    Straightforward working the NW and then clockwise with KAREN my LOI. (Didn’t fully parse PICKY or EL GRECO until afterwards).

    Thank you, piquet and the setter.

  20. 33m 00s
    Thanks, Pip, as ever, especially for CAULDRON, EL GRECO and YONKS.
    Similar to yesterday when I expressed mild surprise that there are people out there who had not heard of that arch-villain, Oddjob, today I’m surprised that, in the former realm of classicists, there are numerous crosswordistes who have never heard of Aeschylus, the father of Greek tragedy….and I never went to any university, let alone Oxbridge.

  21. 10:48. This puzzle was an illustration of the phenomenon whereby a puzzle that is bang-on average in terms of time (which this was for me according to the SNITCH) feels trickier than average. Something to do with the distribution of times, and the fact that your median time is almost certainly lower than your mean. Or is this just me?
    Anyway, a mostly steady solve with a slow-down in the SE corner. KAREN rang a vague bell.

  22. Plain sailing until the SE corner. Possibly prompted by the BAPTIST connection, I was keen on the “woman taking a dip” being the Apocryphal SUSANNA, a favourite excuse for otherwise chaste artists to persuade their models to get their kit off. Alas, not so, it was the more prosaic airport-come-river.
    Working LAPD into a clue was impressive, as was the toil and trouble themed clue for CAULDRON. I also lost time in the SW, trying to get the SE Kent into the clue. Should have realised it was more Kryptic than that.
    15.28 my time.

  23. 22:23

    Three-quarters pretty comfortable all done in about 13 minutes, the rest on the SE corner where I was puzzled for some time – eventually got PICKY with just the C checker in place which gave YONKS, then SHANNON, BAPTISTS, AESCHYLUS and finally SLAPDASH (had been thinking too much about CHiPs for too long!).

    Didn’t know a MIMOSA was akin to a Bucks Fizz but had it as a cocktail in the back of my mind – no idea where from.

    Thanks P and setter

    1. More than akin to, I think a MIMOSA is exactly the same thing as a Buck’s Fizz, it’s just the American name.

  24. All went fairly quickly for me at about 25′ with a bit of time spent on the CHAIRLIFT/URGE ON crosser as I tried to come up with a mountain range starting CHA. Doh. Nice puzzle. Thanks Piquet and setter

  25. The general feeling seems to be that this was pretty easy, but I made very heavy weather of it, finishing in over an hour. The top left corner was a big problem and at one point, before resorting to aids, I thought this would end in tears. 1ac led me astray: I’d never have thought of VELODROME for an arena and was thinking that there was a ruined city, or possibly an old ruined city, there. In 9ac it wasn’t clear to me that ‘torn’ indicated the splitting of a word; I thought it was an anagram indicator and that ‘clothing’ indicated ‘surrounding’.

  26. Steady solve, no aids at all for a change. I wondered if the ‘of note’ in the clue for BAPTISTS might have been a subtle allusion to the significant role music plays in their worship (as well as the TI element). It was what gave me the answer, in fact, as I tried to think of sects which are particularly musical.

  27. 25:05
    I started slow with only 3 answers after 8 minutes but then things picked up, until the end where it took me a couple of minutes to get the baptists, I couldn‘t get yawtists out of my head. NHO the Karen. Thanks setter and blogger

  28. 19d URGE ON is green paint to me.
    22a couldn’t parse P(r)ICK(l)Y.
    3d DIATRIBE; I anticipated the rhotic speakers denying the homophone, but was disappointed.

  29. 20 mins, but biffing AESCHULUS gave me a rethink at the end. CHAIRLIFT I immediately thought of and then rejected, until I read the clue properly.

  30. A leisurely solve in 30 minutes. It should have been quicker but for a brain fog on 6dn and 26ac, both of which were not really that difficult. It also took me too long to parse some of the answers which I wrote straight in, such as LEOTARD and EL GRECO. But a pleasant exercise overall.
    Thanks to piquet and other contributors.

  31. Not a hope in hell of seeing DIATRIBE. Non-rhotic “homophones” are a bugbear at the best of times, but when the elision is in the middle of the word I’m simply never going to get it.

  32. c20 mins with interruptions. Nothing too scary, as piquet says, but I’m another who felt he made heavy weather of it all, particularly in the SE where the California police and the Scottish witch with the cauldron held out until the end.

  33. 28:02
    I was pleased to be able to get the NHO KAREN and the only vaguely heard of AESCHYLUS from the wordplay.
    My last three in were YONKS, SHANNON and URGE ON.
    COD to EL GRECO once I had finally parsed it.

    Thanks piquet for the blog

  34. See, this is why my 19 min SNITCH average isn’t representative! V red WITCH for me, nearly but not quite the worst of the day.

    Struggled all over the grid, but just snuck into the top 100, whereas normally I wouldn’t.

    Nothing wrong with the puzzle, either I was not at the races, or I wasn’t on the setter’s wavelength.


  35. 18:20

    Short and sweet. Didn’t know the KAREN or the other name for Buck’s Fizz . Shannon has given me an earworm of The Galway Girl by Sharon of that name.

    Thanks to Pip and the setter.

  36. I’ve removed ‘publican’ from my display name. Innkeeping is just one of many things I’m ex at.
    For me this was tougher than yesterday’s puzzle, with three names slowing me to a crawl at the end. I guessed EL GRECO from (2,5) but held back. Then when the ‘G’ appeared I biffed it without any idea how it derived from the clue. Conversely, KAREN was unavoidable from the wordplay, but I had no idea that Karens came from Thailand, so hesitated until the checkers made it inevitable. Finally, I knew there was a Greek fellow who is considered to be the ‘father of tragedy’, but I had no idea what he called himself. Even with the checkers I had a couple of possibilities involving a SCH[OOL], US and an anagram of YALE, but all options seemed possible and none rang a bell. So I googled ‘father of tragedy’ and found AESCHYLUS to finish in a bit over 40 minutes.
    There was nothing to dislike, but this puzzle just didn’t excite me. More like Monday’s please.
    Whilst here, I see you all commenting on SNITCH. What is it? Where can I get one?

    1. There’s a link to it on this page(under Useful Links). Where on the page depends on your device. It’s a statistical analysis of solving performance and stands for Same-day Numeric Index of Times Cryptic Hardness. Developed by one of our Aussie contributors, Starstruck.

  37. I first worked in random order (starting with KAREN) ten answers with no crossers, which placed at least one letter in each word, which made the rest even easier than it would have been, and finished in the SE, with CAULDRON. Nice one, no problems. I often saw the answer before the parsing.

  38. It took me a while to get going on this one, but TIBER set me off, then the RHS provided easier pickings. I was grateful for the wordplay for KAREN and AESCHYLUS. I was held up for a while at the end by BANK CLERK and NAIF. 20:32. Thanks setter and Pip.

  39. As many have said, a bit of a doddle. I’d not heard of the Karen but, as piquet says, easy enough from the wordplay; likewise, I only know of mimosa as a plant but again it couldn’t be anything else from the wordplay. I held myself up slightly by biffing, more or less, and misspelling (!!!) ‘SWANNEE’ for 25ac, but I soon realised from ‘YONKS’ that it had to be wrong and then actually paid some attention to the wordplay and saw that it was ‘SHANNON’.

  40. Two in a row after a disastrous Monday has restored my self belief, to some extent
    Was pleased to remember AESCHYLUS even if I didn’t know anything about him.

  41. It’s not very often I’m unhappy with a time of 24.07, which is fairly speedy for me on the 15×15, but as I had only five left to complete in the se corner with only 12 minutes elapsed, doubling my time wasn’t what I had in mind. If I hadn’t spent so long solving CAULDRON it might have been different, and AESCHYLUS which had to be carefully constructed cost me a fair bit of time.

  42. I am normally a seaside donkey in this stable of thoroughbreds, nervous or not, but to my astonishment I went straight through that in 13:09. COD to CHAIRLIFT, which got a proper chuckle. Many thanks, PK.

  43. I don’t know what URGEd me ON to try the 15×15 today after my usual QC, but I’m very happy to have done the whole thing, nearly all parsed, without any aids, in just over an hour.

    As usual it’s the Britspeak that introduces uncertainty at best, total ignorance at worst. I won’t say I never heard of YONKS, but certainly not for YONKS. SHANNON was a pure guess. Thank goodness I’d been warned about “banker” as code for river, otherwise I’d never have got there. I’m slowly learning that a back plays rugby. Loved CAULDRON. Don’t care for Mr. ELGaR but at least I can remember his name. AESCHYLUS was a nice piece of misdirection. DIATRIBE had to wait until I experimented with non-rhotic pronunciations. Lucky for me, —- –C- — A-G– somehow was obviously LOOK BACK IN ANGER, though I then had to stare at the clue a bit longer to even see that it was an anagram! I never figured out the Kent thing though.

    Thanks blogger, commenters, and setter!

  44. I wonder if bloggers can stop suggesting that a crossword wouldn’t have scared the horses? They, the bloggers, criticise setters for ‘chestnuts’ in the cluing. Perhaps the bloggers could follow suit and stop using the chestnut of a horse analogy. Whilst not wishing to be too literal, I have never seen a horse that has been scared by any cryptic crossword.

    1. Well, our bloggers didn’t come up with that on their own.
      Probably a variation of frighten the horses [linked] of similar meaning, as in “Does it really matter what these affectionate people do? — so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!”

      scare the horses (third-person singular simple present scares the horses, present participle scaring the horses, simple past and past participle scared the horses)
       1. To upset public order, decorum, or conventional values.

        1. I figured you probably did, actually… after I took a moment to look that up on a work day. What I was really expecting to find was a literary source. Well, Oscar Wilde is one of the people it is attributed to, and the previously cited Wiktionary entry mentions a stage actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, but there is, it turns out, a host of other suspects:


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