Quick Cryptic 2336 by Mara

A couple of great cryptic definitions here, at 2D and 6D. When I come across one of these I am suitably impressed,  I really like clues like these which can’t be easily deconstructed.

When does a great clue become a chestnut? For newer solvers, the first time they come across a great cryptic, they want to cry “Bravo, Setter”, but old hands dismiss it with “Chestnut”. Interestingly, the OED cannot give a good citation for the origin of the phrase.

Also pleasing to see a slightly rarer “European City” : Turin. Famous for Fiat and the Shroud. Ian Wilson’s “The Turin Shroud” was a favourite of mine in my teenage years, with a great mix of history and science.

12:04 was my time on today’s puzzle, and I can take the date from the book:

1204 Crusaders sack Byzantium, “without doubt one of the most shameful episodes in Western history”

Definitions underlined in bold italics, (Abc)* indicating anagram of Abc, deletions and [] other indicators.

1 Testing centre, party or a politician (10)
LABORATORY – LAB[our] (party) + OR + A TORY (politician)
“Tory” clued as politician, not party here.
8 Row about stray dog (7)
TERRIER – TIER (row) containing ERR(stray)
9 Deep valley passing through Luxembourg or Germany (5)
GORGE – Hidden clue inside Luxembourg or Germany
10 London area sadly often heaving, overcrowded, first of all (4)
SOHO – Initial letters of s[adly] o[ften] h[eaving], o[vercrowded].
I expect that many did as I did, finding the “O” first, giving a 4 letter London Area ending in O. Then seeing the others sitting right there, too.
11 Notice eccentric concealing popular drug (8)
NICOTINE – Anagram (eccentric) of Notice containing IN (popular)
Drug not “E” here, and “popular drug” is not the definition, even though it must be the world’s most popular drug.
13 Pull left, finding drone (5)
DRAWL – DRAW (pull) + L[eft]
DRAWL=drone doesn’t seem quite right, in either the verb or noun forms. The OED says that “prolonged vowel sounds” are characteristic of a drawl, whereas a drone is “a low, continuous note or hum”.
14 Dog in need of lead — that’s worth having (5)
ASSET – [b]ASSET. “Need a lead” indicates a missing first letter.
I saw this trick immediately but had to run through some 6 letter dog breeds. [b]EAGLE looked good, on the basis that an Eagle in golf is worth having
16 Medics going to S American capital city fly (8)
MOSQUITO – MOS (Medical Officers in military slang) + QUITO
South American Cities are usually LIMA or RIO, so its nice to see a new entry. At an elevation of 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito is the highest capital in the world. and is also the only one that begins with Q.
17 Laid-back fan (4)
COOL – Double Def, with “fan” as a verb.
20 Laborious routine in mill? (5)
GRIND – Double Def, the second being mildly cryptic: “routine” is being used in both halves of the definition. Neat.
21 Pair set to reform, criminals in the main (7)
PIRATES – (PAIR SET)* anagram indicated by “to reform”.
The “main” is an old word for sea, and is a common misdirect in crosswords. OED says “Now chiefly poetic”
22 Alcohol giveaway for bohemian (4,6)
FREE SPIRIT – Double definition
1 Lily has filled bags with underwear, primarily (5)
LOTUS – LOTS (bags) containing u[nderwear]
2 Once a year naked habit? (8,4)
BIRTHDAY SUIT – I think this is best classed as a cryptic definition, and a good one.
Slang for nudity (which surprisingly dates from 1734: older than Birthday Card, Birthday Cake, Birthday Party)
3 Failure, one caught in race (4)
RUIN – RUN (race) containing I (one)
4 Finally, women in European city go to bed (4,2)
TURN IN – TURIN (European city) containing wome[N]
5 Local, where I go and learn to get drunk (8)
REGIONAL – (I GO + LEARN)*. Anagram indicated by “get drunk”
6 Obsessive hobbyist is a teacher at Hogwarts? (12)
TRAINSPOTTER – Cryptic Def. Such a teacher TRAINS [Harry] POTTER. COD for me.
7 Leave barren terrain (6)
DESERT – Double Def
12 Fish struggle like fish out of water? (8)
This one is usually clued by an L in FOUNDER. But not today. Well done MARA in avoiding a chestnut.
13 Dent, perhaps, in silver collected by noblewoman (6)
DAMAGE – DAME (noblewoman) contains AG (silver)
Silver is always AG, but Gold can be AU or OR.
15 Wire fastener, principal commodity (6)
STAPLE – Double Def
18 Virtuoso with record on the radio? (5)
LISZT – Sound like (on the radio) “list”
This was my LOI, I gave up looking for a Homophone for a bit and tried words ending with SET (on the radio). I even looked up EPSET.
19 Catch piece that’s knocked up (4)
TRAP – PART (piece) reversed (up in a down clue)

54 comments on “Quick Cryptic 2336 by Mara”

  1. 11:22. I thought a solve under 10 minutes was definitely on but TRAINSPOTTER proved a difficult nut to crack. I could only see brain for the start for some silly reason. I agree DRONE and DRAWL don’t seem to overlap enough to work here. I don’t think “routine” is part of both definitions for GRIND. To mill by itself means to grind so I think routine just goes with laborious for the first definition.

  2. I thought of EPSET, too. Merlin, I think you’ve got some underline problems (I don’t know how to underline here, so I’ll use CAPS):
    20ac : LABORIOUS ROUTINE in MILL (where ‘mill’ is a verb)
    6d: ‘a teacher at Hogwarts’ shouldn’t be underlined.

    1. We can’t underline when commenting. It’s just a matter of whether our site recognizes underline tags in comments, and it doesn’t. Maybe just an oversight, or just not thought necessary.

      1. Johninterred will correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that this is a WordPress thing rather than an oversight or something that has been deliberately chosen in the development of TfTT. It works for some but it’s dependent on their access level.

        1. If it’s a WordPress thing, then it must be a WordPress thing determined by “access level,” which latter parameter, however, would seem to depend on site architecture. In any case, I am able to underline only when posting a blog, not when commenting. The tags are automatically stripped out.

          Whoever determined this, I can’t think of any reason why underlining would be a special power limited only to a certain echelon of users, but so it is.

  3. 12:44. I froze in the headlights in the SE corner where, chestnut or not, I couldn’t spot LISZT and not even PART. I agree with the comments about ‘drone’ and DRAWL being not quite the same thing. I liked TRAINS POTTER but my favourite was GRIND which can also be seen as a cryptic def (maybe signalled by the question mark) as well as a double def.

    Thanks to Mara and Merlin

  4. Don’t often comment on a QC, but must add my voice to the chorus: “drone” ≠ DRAWL.

  5. DNF beaten by TRAINSPOTTER (should have got) and LISZT (of course I can see it now but ‘epset’ simply would not budge). COOL went in and out and in and out as ‘xxxxxxmaster’ was hard to shift for 6D.

    MER and a shrug with DRAWL

    Thanks Mara n Merlin.

  6. I had a real problem getting started on this one and was 2 or 3 minutes into it before I picked up any speed. I finished on 12 minutes.

    I’ve had to sit through many a boring lecture or meeting where speakers spoke slowly and monotonously and I might well have described this as droning or drawling on. Maybe I’d have been wrong but in that circumstance the meanings seem close enough to me.

    1. Collins has for DRAWL, “to speak or utter (words) slowly, esp prolonging the vowel sounds,” and for “drone,” “to utter (words) in a monotonous tone, esp to talk without stopping,” which is indeed quite close.

      But I can’t think of a hypothetical instance where I might use them interchangeably. If someone speaks with a DRAWL, they draw(l) out individual words. “Droning” in the verbal sense has more to do with the monotony of a flow of consecutive words.

      And this is aside from the fact that “drone” first calls to my mind the contemporary genre(s) of drone music, while DRAWL is of course never used to describe anything but verbal expression.

  7. Wanted ‘Dent perhaps’ to be Arthur but reading beyond the first two words sadly dashed that. Generally quite fast progress before I came to a standstill with just COOL and LISZT to go. Needed a moment of calmness to think of fan as a verb and then the L from COOL to finally let go of set for radio. Couldn’t knowingly hum a LISZT tune but I’ve definitely heard of him. All green in 12.

  8. Really liked this puzzle. Answers went in at even pace in respectable time for me of 30mins. CsOD Laboratory, Mosquito, Trainspotter. (I love the ‘chestnuts’ but have only been doing this for a year!). LOI Drawl and agree with comments above. Thanks to Mara and Merlin.

  9. Felt like I was wading through treacle with this one – nothing wrong with the puzzle, just the grey cells not playing ball.
    LABORATORY needed all the checkers and I was sluggish throughout but my real problems were with TRAINSPOTTER and the SE corner in general with COOL and LISZT nearly causing me to give up (I was another who got stuck on EPSET).
    Finished in 14.27
    Thanks to Merlin for the blog and Mara for the workout.

  10. Sadly, I suspect that a great clue like TRAINSPOTTER will never have its first outing in the QC. A setter would be bound to unleash it first in the Big Boy. So when I eventually got it, I assumed that it would be flagged by vinyl as a chestnut, and lo it came to pass.

    Got stuck a bit in DRAWL/DAMAGE/MOSQUITO corner but otherwise a steady enough plod. All done in 09:37 for 1.8K and a Reasonable Day.

    Many thanks Merlin and Mara.


  11. A bit of a struggle and a dead stop with COOL/LISZT until record = list eventually came to mind. COD TRAINSPOTTER. Didn’t seem a puzzle full of chestnuts to me.

  12. Taken nearly two minutes over target by the recalcitrants in the SW – I didn’t suffer as many delays in the SE as some others. Overall an enjoyable puzzle, with a minor eyebrow raise at DRAWL, and my COD BIRTHDAY SUIT. Thanks both.

  13. Spent a minute or two looking at 1ac/d before moving on – I hate missing out on both of those, in case that sets the mood for the rest of the puzzle. Hopped around a bit thereafter and slowly tuned into Mara’s wavelength. Some interesting pdms (Asset for example) along the way, but I was well into the SCC by the time I reached my last three in the SE. Epset didn’t make any sense, but it needed the ‘L’ from a reversed laid (I was getting desperate) to fortuitously prompt Liszt – I’m a bit surprised the editor didn’t insist on a piano hint in the clue to help focus on an individual. Anyway, Cool then followed, which rather put the kibosh on -master for 6d. A re-think produced CoD Trainspotter, but by then I was only just short of the 30min mark. Another tough QC. Invariant

  14. 12 minutes for me avoiding most of the problems cited above.
    MY LOI was MOSQUITO. And I took ages to get LABORATORY.
    Another excellent QC.

  15. All green in 39:12 – slowest for ages. SE corner did for me too. COOL and LISZT took for ever, mostly because S_T seemed bound to be SET, as in radio. MER at drone=DRAWL . FOI LOTUS, LOI COOL, COD TRAINSPOTTER, which appeared almost instantly. If only the same had been true of others, but it was mostly “treacle-wading”! Thanks Merlin and Mara.

  16. Fuzzy head this morning after belated celebrations with the elder daughter, for our joint birthday last week. At least that’s my excuse for a sluggish 13:25. FOI, RUIN, LOI, LISZT. Thanks Mara and Merlin.

  17. Good crossword but a Dame is not a noblewoman any more than a Knight is a nobleman. That are not in the House of Lords which defines a noble individual!?

  18. I struggled with this one at 32 mins today. ASSET was a problem as I would have expected the clue to read ‘dog without lead’ if I need to take a letter off. The way the clue is written as ‘dog needing lead’ implies adding a letter. Definite MER from me. On the other hand, no complaints about drone and drawl. I won’t start drawling on about that one.

    I also struggled with COOL and LISZT. I enjoyed the brilliant ‘trains potter’, my LOI and beaten to COD for me by PIRATES for the clever use of ‘main’.

    Thanks Merlin and Mara.

  19. Dnf…

    18 mins for everything apart from the tricky 17ac and 18dn axis. Eventually got Liszt, after also considering EPSET, but just couldn’t see 17ac and ended up sticking in FOIL.

    Some of the chestnuts were so chestnutty today, that I couldn’t even see them – 1ac “Laboratory” and 2dn “Birthday Suit” in particular. In addition, I spent far too long on trying to remember teachers from Hogwarts until the penny dropped.

    Maybe that clue could be restyled:

    “Obsessive hobbyist is a teacher of ceramics maker/Chelsea football manager?”

    For what it’s worth, I also don’t think Drawl = Drone.

    FOI – 10ac “Soho”
    LOI – dnf
    COD – 21ac “Pirates”

    Thanks as usual!

  20. I found this one tough and only completed it with aids.

    I can’t see how “in need of a lead” indicates removing a letter.


      1. Ah! So it “needed” the first letter, therefore took it away.

        So simple when you think about it 🤣

  21. 9.15 of fun! I really enjoyed this one. I like how Mara can get so much into so few words. No problem with chestnuts – a great clue is a great clue!
    Although I try and follow Jack’s method of not taking too much notice of the surface as I solve, there were several that just jumped straight out at me today, including the two Merlin mentioned at the top. I also really liked NICOTINE (well as a clue, not as a drug – not for the last 35 years anyway!), MOSQUITO, PIRATES, TURN IN and DAMAGE. Actually pretty much the whole thing 😅 7d slowed me down a bit – I have no idea why! My brain was DESERT briefly.
    FOI Gorge LOI Desert COD Trainspotter
    Many thanks Mara for a great crossword and Merlin for a great blog

  22. I found this tough, and didn’t help myself by putting in GRIST at26a, not changed until 12d had to be FLOUNDER. This enabled DRAWL as LOI, which I parsed parsed like Jackkt wothour much thought. LOTUS and NICOTINE took far longer than they should. FOI GORGE, COD TURN IN.. Thanks Mara and Merlin

    1. Ps do all chestnuts start off as GREAT clues? Some do, undoubtedly, but even they are surely liable to deteriorate a little each time they are used. On the origin of the word, I think it Is also used of stale jokes, a usage which probably preceded its use in crosswords. Why chestnuts? maybe because they’re hardened by roasting?

  23. 9.08

    Not come across the TRAINSPOTTER thing so rather enjoyed that.

    Agree with comment about DAME not being a noblewoman. Wondered what bothered me about it at the time but just moved on. The more I think about the worse it gets.

    But lots else to like and thought REGIONAL was very good

    Thanks Merlin and Mara

  24. 5:55 this morning. Initially quick solve until I had to spend time eliminating misunderstandings at 6 d – and my COD – “trainspotter”, where I was convinced the answer ended in “master” and 18 d “Liszt”, where I was equally sure the answer ended in “set”. Once these were resolved, 17 ac and LOI “cool” jumped out.
    Agree with earlier comments about drone and drawl, but entered with a shrug as the saying goes.
    Enjoyable puzzle from Mara and a very interesting and comprehensive blog from Merlin.

  25. 8:40

    Most of this went in quite easily, but came to a halt towards the end, where chestnut-for-some TRAINSPOTTER took a while to materialise, and then some further thought before coming up with COOL and almost immediately LOI LISZT – what else could it be with those checkers?

    Thanks Mara and Merlin

  26. Very much enjoyed this – Mr SR and I are fans of Mara in this and at least one other guise.
    Also really enjoyed your informative and enjoyable blog, Merlin. Agree that it’s nice to “travel” to different places in the crossword (and we’d only just got back from Copacabana – a new one, to me anyway – in Bolivia which was mentioned in the Daily Quiz).
    Also really enjoyed your time/historical date equivalents as always. So good to see those again!

  27. I’m not sure of my time today but it was definitely outside target. I needed a tea break before I saw my LOI TRAINSPOTTER. Having ‘dial’ instead of COOL didn’t help matters. I confess to being a fan of the Harry Potter books and also JK Rowling. My daughter read the first book when she was just 5 years old. I read it after her and was hooked. COD TRAINSPOTTER!

  28. Raced through the top half and slowed in the bottom.
    Last two were Liszt and cool. After discounting maestro, I was even toying with a second asset.
    COD trainspotter.

  29. I submitted my comments some time ago but they don’t seem to have appeared, so I’ll have another go!
    My original comment was regarding TRAINSPOTTING which seems to have attracted a lot of comment about whether it was an ‘old chestnut’. Well I know the answer has appeared before, but I’m pretty sure it was differently clued. As far as I’m concerned it was my COD.
    I thought this was a first rate offering from Mara, neither too hard nor too soft, and I finished in confidence that all was correct and fully parsed. My time of 9.28 was just inside target.

  30. My SLOI and COD held me up for over a minute, and I needed it to nail my LOI, but I still met my target.

    TIME 4:30

  31. 17:37. Held up at the end by having DIAL for 17a (it is LAID backwards, and I wanted to convince myself that a dial could be a type of fan). Only when I eventually spotted 6d did I realise my error, and then took a while to see COOL.


  32. I found this challenging and needed 15 minutes to complete it, with Trainspotter the main delay, and COOL then following as my LOI.

    I also queried Drawl for Drone when completing the puzzle but the wordplay was at least clear.

    Many thanks to Merlin for the blog. Slightly surprised though to see Quito referenced as “the highest capital city” given La Paz in Bolivia is nearly 800 metres higher.

  33. I’m afraid I did not enjoy this for many reasons including those mentioned by posters above. Probably a mood thing as much as anything. Chestnuts are only helpful if you have a really good memory. I am not blessed with one. John M.

  34. Mara is normally one of my more approachable setters, but not today. Mind you, an all-correct 42- minute finish was a whole minute quicker than yesterday, so I mustn’t complain.

    I was very slow to get started – only 5 clues done in the 10 minutes it took to have my first go at all of the clues. However, they provided just enough of a foothold for me to build on and the grid gradually filled up. In the end, I was left with five clues in the SE corner – COOL, LISZT, ASSET, TRAINSPOTTER and PIRATES. They took some time to unpick, partly because I had diaL for COOL, bRaINtwisTER for TRAINSPOTTER and PaRtiES for PIRATES (please don’t ask me why).

    Like a batsman (I can’t yet bring myself to use the term ‘batter’) who is content to reach a century in singles if necessary, I will be quite happy to get back to my recent norm of around 35 minutes at a rate of one minute per day. Let’s hope tomorrow’s setter obliges.

    Many thanks to Mara and Merlin.

  35. DNF
    Failed on LISZT, COOL, GRIND, but TRAINSPOTTER came to mind straight away.
    Oh well, I was not on the wavelength today.
    Thanks vm, Merlin.

  36. DNF. Couldn’t get the big 2D and 6d and several others. Yet managed the last Mara in a good time so just not for me today.
    I’ve just looked back and have alternated between finish and dnf with Mara’s four puzzles this year.

  37. Hmm …. the trouble with too many chestnuts is that those of us who are still relatively new to this haven’t come across most of them, and so are inclined to struggle more than usual when compared to the ‘old hands’.

    I agree with Plett that this was like wading through treacle, although I would dearly love to be able to achieve Plett’s time. I was deep in SCC territory, just under 40 mins.

    I didn’t feel I ever really got going today and solved this in fits and starts. A high spot was getting LISZT without too much trouble, but I found it hard to see what many clues were getting at. Had my usual anagram blindness with NICOTINE and PIRATES (although hats off to the clue for the latter).

    PDM – too many to list

    It’s days like this that make me appreciate the rare occasions when I avoid the SCC.

    Thanks for the very informative blog!😀

  38. Defeated by COOL and LISZT this was my first DNF in a long time but it was going very slowly anyway. I blame the pancakes.

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