Quick Cryptic 96 by Orpheus

Posted on Categories Quick Cryptic
As we begin the week that will see the 100th Quick Cryptic, it is mind-boggling that simply making the puzzle available to punters is proving such an IT conundrum (in other technology news, today marks the 45th anniversary of the first human walking on the moon). There have been at least 20 occasions (principally Mondays) in the life of the Quick Cryptic so far where the link provided on the Times website has not pointed to the correct puzzle, with today being the latest. As has been mentioned in the forum, these persistent IT glitches are doing their part to undermine the whole point of these puzzles, namely to attract new solvers to the world of cryptic crosswords.

Today’s puzzle can be found at: http://feeds.thetimes.co.uk/timescrossword/20140721/219/

This is an unusual grid in that it doesn’t possess half-turn symmetry and is instead symmetrical about the minor diagonal. I must admit that this isn’t something that I normally pay attention to, and hence I can’t swear it hasn’t happened before, but it did jump out at me.

The puzzle itself doesn’t appear to have any pitfalls, other than perhaps 18D, but feel free to ask for any clarification in the comments.

Definitions are underlined.

1 Courteous American train driver, one good at building bridges (5,8)
CIVIL ENGINEERCIVIL (Courteous) + ENGINEER (American train driver)
8 Granny’s first attempt to digest a French report (7)
GUNSHOTG (Granny’s first, i.e. first letter of Granny) + SHOT (attempt), all around (to digest) UN (a French, i.e. the word “a” in French)
9 Fertile spot originally on a small island (5)
OASISO (originally on, i.e. first letter of on) + A + S (small) + IS (island)
10 Stubborn general being conveyed around (12)
INTRANSIGENTGEN (general) with IN TRANSIT (being conveyed) around
12 Eavesdrop, seeing English king carrying a toupee (6)
EARWIGE (English) plus R (king, i.e. Rex) inside (carrying) A WIG (toupee). Note that “carrying” can be used in wordplay to indicate either putting something inside or outside something else, though “wearing” might have produced a better surface here
14 Content of handbag has thief horrified (6)
AGHAST – hidden inside (Content of) handbAG HAS Thief
17 Trouble engulfing Republican family member (7)
BROTHERBOTHER (Trouble) around (engulfing) R (Republican)
19 Elderly person regularly appearing in soiled linen? (5)
OLDIE – alternate letters (regularly appearing) of sOiLeD lInEn. Not, perhaps, the most uplifting of surface readings, though arguably topical given the grim stories emerging from certain nursing homes in recent times
20 Received by the ear, or spoken by the mouth, say (5)
AURAL – homophone (say) of oral (spoken by the mouth)
21 Retired vicar with a partly enclosed portico (7)
VERANDAREV (vicar, i.e. reverend) reversed (Retired) AND (with) A
22 Anguish produced by a girl’s lock of hair (8)
DISTRESSDIS (a girl’s, i.e. belonging to Di) + TRESS (lock of hair)
23 Considered suitable material for a hat (4)
FELT – double definition
1 Barred enclosure requiring four different keys (4)
CAGE – the wordplay is telling you to pick four different letters from the musical keys A, B, C, D, E, F, G, which some might not consider as being particularly helpful. Given that the definition is precise and the surface reading makes pleasing use of a different meaning of key, I don’t think anyone will quibble too vehemently about it though
2 Merchant who’s very new in Bury? (7)
VINTNERV (very) plus N (new) inside INTER (Bury). A vintner sells wine, and Chambers tells me that the shop (s)he sells it from is a vintry
3 Composer‘s husband entertained by tragic king (5)
LEHARH (husband) inside (entertained by) LEAR (tragic king). The composer in this case is Franz Lehar, perhaps best known for his operetta The Merry Widow. Lear is a common crossword king in the main cryptic, where his daughters Regan, Goneril, and (less often) Cordelia can also be encountered
4 Observing what a symphony in F is, say? (6)
NOTING – a quirky bit of wordplay, suggesting that a symphony in F is NOT IN G
5 Support for decreasing activity? (7-5)
IRONING-BOARD – cryptic definition, made clear if you read decreasing as de-creasing, i.e. removing creases
6 Woman one’s embraced by otherwise (5)
ELSIEI (one) inside (embraced by) ELSE (otherwise). Maybe not the first woman’s name to spring to mind, unless you’re a fan of Coronation Street
7 React as intended: some swimmers do (4,2,3,4)
RISE TO THE BAIT – the wordplay alludes to the fact that some fish will come to the surface for bait
11 Important poet carrying round electronic instrument (8)
KEYBOARDKEY (Important) + BARD (poet), around (carrying) O (round)
13 Fitter holding up fashionable breathing aid (7)
INHALERHALER (fitter – think hale and hearty) beneath (holding up) IN (fashionable)
15 An Italian poet moving at a gentle pace (7)
ANDANTEAN + DANTE (Italian poet), for the musical tempo that I also blogged in Quick Cryptic 36
16 Roam in borders of gorgeous spinneys (6)
GROVESROVE (Roam) inside GS (borders of gorgeous, i.e. the outside letters of GorgeouS)
18 Plant Rumpole talked of in East London? (5)
ORRIS – homophone (talked of) of ‘Orace, or how someone from the East End of London would supposedly pronounce Horace, the first name of Rumpole of the Bailey (from the TV series written by John Mortimer). The root of the orris is used in perfumery and smells of violets

40 comments on “Quick Cryptic 96 by Orpheus”

  1. I would endorse your comments about SNAFU Central which I still find an incomprehensible situation.

    Orpheus was responsible last time out for my worst Quickie solving time ever, but today’s offering was straightforward and I completed it in only 8 minutes. I’d agree that 18 could present some problems as both parts of the clue are a little obscure so if you don’t happen know either you could be stuck.

    Edited at 2014-07-20 11:45 pm (UTC)

  2. My main problem with this puzzle was accessing it; I first got #91, empty–I can’t remember if I did it back then. Then, of course, I went to the forum to see what Jackkt had to say. I assume some of us (not me, yet) have tried complaining to the Times? Has anyone received a reply? (I won’t go so far as asking, an apology?) Anyway, just under 5′, with only ORRIS a bit of a problem; I had no idea how to interpret the clue, but with the checkers, there wasn’t much choice. 1d wasn’t much of a problem, but I do dislike this kind of clue in principle.
    1. Kevin, the thread “Disgraceful” in the General forum contains the latest information I’m aware of on the subject. The Times Crossword Editor is posting there as Bannman.
      1. And I follow that thread daily; but as there are people here who haven’t appeared in the forum, I thought I’d ask.
          1. I’m reminded of a scene in Dickens’s “Little Dorritt”, where the hero visits the Circumlocution Office (the CO being the government department that, when Parliament decides that something is to be done, makes sure that it isn’t). Approaching a functionary (this is before Civil Service, so it’s no doubt a younger son of some minor squire), he begins to say, “I want to know…” when the functionary interrupts in shock: “You want to KNOW? You, you, can’t just come in here and say you want to know, you know!”
  3. Well, I found this very tricky, finishing in 16’30” with one wrong (‘orras’ for ORRIS). Done like a kipper by the ‘decreasing’ device and very slow onto the rise to the bait clue. Managed also to put ‘ihnaler’ at first which didn’t help with 17 across.

    I feel with its tricky vocab and cunning clueing this represents a very decent approach to a daily cryptic, so any newer solver who got more than half should not feel too downhearted.

    1. As a ‘newer solver’ who rarely manages to complete a QC getting all of today’s – even though it took me best part of 90 minutes – was encouraging. However, I could only do that by fairly extensive use of both Chambers Dictionary and Thesaurus (on iPad), including resorting to such as entering ‘O?R?S’ to turn up a possible solution for 18d; I assume that’s the equivalent of cheating but I wouldn’t have got it otherwise. What IS downheartening is finding that I couldn’t solve even one of the main Cryptic clues…
      1. Though it’s probably every solver’s aim to be able to complete a puzzle without aids, I would only consider it “cheating” to use aids if the conditions of the puzzle specifically precluded it, e.g. at the Times Crossword Championships (though good luck with getting any of that kind of shenanigans past the beady eyes of the invigilators.) Certainly when I first began to do the Times puzzle, if I reached the point where I was starting to get frustrated then I would use aids as I figured that I would get more enjoyment from making progress with a bit of assistance than if I stoically battled along without help and got more and more depressed. Over time, I needed to use aids less often – I’m sure it will be the same for you.

        Looking at the times on the Crossword Club leaderboard, I would say that today’s main puzzle was harder than average, with 1 across (i.e. the first clue you’re likely to have looked at) causing problems for many solvers. There’s also the nebulous concept of wavelength to consider, where two solvers of generally similar ability can have solving times wildly different for certain puzzles because one of the solvers “gets” the setter’s wavelength but the other doesn’t – it may be that you weren’t on today’s setter’s wavelength. So don’t be deterred!

        Edited at 2014-07-21 08:57 pm (UTC)

      2. To echo mohn, it is not cheating at all. I’m an ‘untidy’ solver who prefers to have a guess and doesn’t stop to parse everything till I finish (and sometimes not even then). However, if I’m doing a puzzle by a named setter who I have learned is likely to have several items of unknown vocab among the target words (eg Don Manley – who I should add is a favourite), then I will cut my losses and cheat on one (or more if they don’t cross) to kick-start the solve.

        If I had a guiding principle for ‘cheating’, it would be whatever is likely to help me remember the item for the next time. Usually – but not always – that means grinding it out for ten minutes or so (perhaps writing out all the alphabetical options if the first letter is missing). But, as mohn also says, it gets easier with practice.

  4. 5 mins. This one felt trickier than some of the other QCs and I got off to a slow start. INTRANSIGENT was my LOI and until I got the final checker from 7dn I’d convinced myself I was looking for an anagram of “general being” with “conveyed around” as the anagrind. 18dn was probably a clue better suited for the main puzzle.
  5. Found it hard today. Took about 40 mins and had to come here to cheat on 18d. Not good at plants at the best of times and had never heard of this one.

    Held up on 2d by the capital B in Bury too and only got 5d due to the cross letters.

  6. Not sure obscure GK like LEHAR and ORRIS really have a place in the QC. I guessed them from wordplay but nearly put in ORRAS.

    Excellent blog mohn2. I particularly like the way you explained related bits of GK and wordplay often found in the main puzzle. That is very helpful for me.

  7. I, too, found this trickier than most QCs, finishing in 7:37 having had trouble finding a starting point at the top (I thgink Elsie was my first in).

    One to highlight for the beginners is 2d where the clue is worded in such a way that even if you’ve figured out that the wordplay elements are N for new, V for very and a word meaning bury, there are two ways to put them together. Is it VN together in bury or V, then N in bury? Where this sort of ambiguity exists my brain invariably tells me that the V and N go together and at times I find it hard to spot the possible alternative.

    Although I don’t normally notice surface readings I enjoyed the handbag story at 14. Maybe the lady had just walked her dog and couldn’t find a bin, or was on her way to the doctor’s with a sample.

    Edited at 2014-07-21 12:00 pm (UTC)

    1. Great point in your second paragraph – I frequently get caught out by that.
  8. Never use the word ‘vintner’, but it always reminds me fondly of a chap I knew who liked to quote from the Rubaiyat: “I often wonder what the vinters buy, one half so precious as the stuff they sell”
  9. Stared blankly at the top half for a few minutes, then everything filled in from the bottom up. 14 minutes, loved decreasing as the clue for ironing.
  10. Thanks for the blog, mohn2

    The unusual symmetry jumped out at me too. Quick Cryptic No 50 was also set on this grid – and No 55 had symmetry
    which worked on the horizontal axis. Skeleton Crosswords sometimes use a variety of symmetry types but I haven’t seen
    this happening before in any other non-specialist daily or Sunday newspaper puzzles.
    Perhaps other solvers may have come across them?


    1. Yes, you’re right about number 50 – there were a couple of comments on there about the symmetry, one of which mentioned it appearing in the Independent. After having a quick root around on fifteensquared.net, it looks like puzzle 7949 by Phi (on 6th April 2012) had this symmetry.
      1. Thanks very much for finding the Independent puzzle. I’ll look it up.
  11. 7 minutes here with an embarrassing blind spot on 7d. By the time I get to these puzzles on NY time the website glitch is usually fixed though not always. After a weekend of NY Times puzzles I got distracted by the literal and went looking for Brunel or someone in 1a – that must be one of the best names of all time.
  12. Not being funny, but for those of us who are genuine novices, seeing obvious experts leave comments saying they solved in 5 minutes is not very encouraging. I really struggled today, but managed to convince myself that I’m not stupid as I have just been offered my usual place in the National Sudoku Championship
    1. There have been previous discussions about mentioning solving times and I think the consensus was in favour of them, for various reasons including keeping true to the site’s name/origins as well as giving solvers a selection of benchmarks that they may wish to measure themselves against. There’s certainly no intention to make beginners feel bad.
  13. Could someone please explain the link between gunshot and report in 8A? Is report a type of gunshot?
    1. A report is an explosive noise. I didn’t think anything of this when I wrote the blog, but looking through all the usual dictionary sources just now I can’t actually see an exact equivalence between a gunshot being a noise or a report being a gunshot (as opposed to just the sound of one), so there may be an element of artistic licence here.
    1. Collins has “a musical instrument, especially an electronic one, played by means of a keyboard”, with Chambers and Oxford saying something similar. If a group was described as having Joe Bloggs on keyboards, then I would assume that Mr Bloggs was playing something electronic rather than, say, a piano or harpsichord – though that may be more a reflection of my musical tastes than actual hard evidence.
  14. Usual Orpheus complicated puzzle. Even looking at the solutions I don’t understand the rationale. Definitely will not bother with Orpheus puzzles anymore. I don’t believe these encourage beginners in fact I am pretty certain it turns people off.
    1. If there are specific clues for which you would like further explanation then feel free to mention them – I will do my best to help. Regardless of the difficulty of the puzzle, if you don’t understand the clues/answers even with this blog then the failure is mine, not Orpheus’s.
      1. Definitely not your problem but mine. I get many of the other crossword setters but never manage to do more than a couple of Orpheus. Since I am the only one who mentions not understanding the solutions your explanations must work for the majority.
  15. I agree with the comment about times. Actually I wonder why anyone who can always do the puzzle in 4-5 minutes bothers. I can do the hardest sudoku in that time and don’t bother anymore as it is not a challenge. But seeing people say the puzzle was hard and they took 4 minutes us a real put down to those that spend hours on them.
    1. You may have noticed that this site is called “Times For The Times”, and as such I would have thought it reasonable to expect contributors to discuss solving times here.

      1. Fair point. I suppose my problem, and it is probably mine, are the people who claim the puzzle was hard etc that say they did it in 4 minutes. It just makes others feel inadequate. Why not just state the time taken without the side comments. And to be honest if I could do it in four minutes I would probably say so.
        1. You do have my sympathies and I share your “problem” to an extent when one of the regulars posting re the main Times Cryptic says almost daily that he was tired and the solve was sluggish but nevertheless usually completes the grid in 6 or 7 minutes. On a very good day I might get home in around 30 but I often go well over the hour.

          I tend to take this as a reminder that I’m not in the top league and never will be and I enjoy each puzzle in my own way. If I ever feel competitive I find another regular whose solving times are more attainable and measure myself against those.

  16. I am a newbie – about a month or so. I got all of these except for orris. Not long ago I would have only got less than half. Stick at it and learn from the people on this blog. T can be done, even Orpheus. Cheers, Saurian.

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