Quick Cryptic no 2655 by Wurm

A very pleasant puzzle from Wurm, who I have always found to be one of the more reliably approachable setters, and a creator of intriguing puzzles which seldom if ever stray too far towards the unfair or obscure.

There is some good and slightly testing GK here; those outside the UK may struggle a bit with the street in 3D and the footballer in 20A, while those lucky enough to be under 50 may not know the revolutionary in 22A.  As I am (a) in the UK and (b) several years past 50, they went in easily enough for me, and my main hold-up and LOI was 7D – I knew the name, vaguely, but not that he was a control freak.

The clock stopped for me at 10:43 – how did everyone else fare?

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

1 Second worker shot (8)
BACKHANDBACK (second, support) + HAND (worker).  Shot as in a tennis shot, not a rifle shot.
5 Where service people eat  dog’s dinner? (4)
MESS – A straightforward DD, the latter meaning being British English slang but hopefully not too unknown to others.

The origin of using the word Mess to mean somewhere to eat is from the Old French word Mes, meaning a dish. When first used in English, Mess meant a portion of food, and Mess Hall, latterly shortened to just Mess, meant the place one went to get a portion of food.  The term has other uses, such as Mess Kit, which for some reason means both the tools one uses to eat a portion of food, and the uniform worn by officers on formal dining occasions.

9 Fine bird with rook bone (5)
FEMUR F (fine) + EMU (bird) + R (rook, as in chess notation).  Your femur is your thigh bone.
10 Distorted expression from serious expert (7)
GRIMACEGRIM (serious) + ACE (expert).  Serious and Grim are not exact synonyms – one never hears of the Serious Reaper, for example – but they are close enough for Wurm’s purposes.
11 Unhappy keeping clever lady (12)
BLUESTOCKINGBLUE (unhappy) + STOCKING (keeping, as in a shop keeping/stocking an item).

Originally an 18th century term denoting a person who attended literary assemblies, one of the hallmarks of which was that some of the men favoured less formal dress (“blue stockings” not the more formal white silk ones).  The encouragement of women in some of these circles led to the association of the term with the involvement of women in the intellectual world, and thence with educated/intelligent women.  Inevitably by the 19th century the term acquired somewhat pejorative overtones (“who do these women think they are, pretending to be educated?”), and by the 20th it was definitely archaic.  But that never stopped a good word from being used in crosswordland.

13 The rest of the MPs? (6)
RECESS – A cryptic definition.  Whereas children have holidays as a break from school, and the rest of us have vacation time or annual leave, the time when the UK House of Commons is not sitting is known as the Recess.  In 2022-23, there were some 140 days of Recess:  nice work (or rather, nice not-work!) if you can get it, though the MPs I know would say the Recess is hardly a time of rest – more a time to catch up on the mass of constituency work they all have.
15 Incredible French one ready in Rio? (6)
UNREALUN (French for “one”) + REAL (“ready” in Rio, ie the unit of currency in Brazil).  There has been a debate in this forum on a number of occasions over whether “ready” as a synonym for money is fair:  in British English the more usual phrase is “readies”, but the general consensus is that the singular also works.
17 Toronto crew moved around Lima airport building (7,5)
CONTROL TOWER – (toronto crew)*, the anagram indicator being “moved”, around L (Lima in the NATO alphabet).
20 In Pwllheli one’s seen female footballer (7)
LIONESS – A hidden, in pwllheLI ONES Seen.  “The Lionesses” is the nickname given to the England Ladies football team.
21 In time the Italian becomes nimble (5)
AGILEAGE (time) with IL (“the” in Italian) inserted into it.
22 Bird with old revolutionary (4)
TITOTIT (a bird) + O (for old).

Josip Broz, commonly known as Tito, was a Yugoslav communist revolutionary who seized power in 1943 and remained president of Yugoslavia till his death in 1980.

23 Light ale brewed round there (8)
ETHEREALEAL (an anagram of ale, with the anagram indicator being “brewed”) with THERE inserted into it.
1 Well-muscled  enthusiast (4)
BUFF – Our second DD; for the second meaning think of eg a film buff.
2 Desert transport arrived at length (5)
CAMELCAME (arrived) + L (length).
3 Needing treatment let’s try here — a medical hub! (6,6)
HARLEY STREET – (lets try here a)*, a straightforward anagram with the indicator being “needing treatment”.  A neat surface, as Harley Street in central London was the smartest address for doctors to aspire to having their practice in, so their clients were presumably “needing treatment”.
4 Deny wife escaping old prison (6)
NEGATE – The construction is NEwGATE, ie Newgate (an old prison in the City of London) with the W, for wife, deleted (ie escaping).
6 Test bomb underneath rising chopper (7)
EXAMINEMINE (bomb) after (ie underneath, as this is a down clue) EXA (axe, ie chopper, reversed, ie rising).

Mines and bombs are not identical: for the military the difference is that a mine is often concealed (eg under the surface of either the ground or the sea) and left until it is triggered by someone or something disturbing it, whereas a bomb is often projected towards the enemy and explodes on impact. But for us non-military types they are close enough to be counted as synonyms.

7 Last of victims leaving corrupt control freak (8)
SVENGALIS (last letter of victimS) + (leaving)*, the anagram indicator being “corrupt”.

My LOI and I needed all the checkers, because while I had heard of Svengali I did not know until I did my research for this blog that he was the villain of the George du Maurier novel Trilby (1894), in which he was an authority figure who exerted undue and usually evil influence over other people.

8 Miserable and is close to tears (12)
DISCONSOLATE – (and is close to)*, with the anagram indicator being “tears”.  A very neat surface, with tears having the meaning “rip up” for the anagram but also suggesting that the miserable soul is crying or weeping, and for that it earns my COD.
12 Two permitted in charmed circle? (8)
BRACELETBRACE (two, a couple) + LET (permitted), with the charmed circle being a charm bracelet, a bracelet which has little charms, often silver, attached to it.
14 Tory type for companion? (7)
CONSORTCON (Tory, ie Conservative) + SORT (type).
16 Suffocating temperature in cupboard (6)
CLOSETCLOSE (suffocating, as in close weather) + T (temperature).
18 Finest in comparative literature (5)
ELITE – Our second hidden, in comparativE LITErature.
19 Went down  hill (4)
FELL – Another fairly straightforward DD to end with.  Wurm must have been tempted to clue the last two words as one, eg “went downhill”, but that would have made the DD too obscure I suspect.

46 comments on “Quick Cryptic no 2655 by Wurm”

  1. This wasn’t a puzzle for my GK. I learnt a lot from the blog today so thank you! There were a number of things I was able to do from previous experience eg, knowing newgate; that a brace is a pair; the word recess and what it has to do with politicians

    Some nho words I got from the wordplay – TITO (sorry the only Tito I know is a Jackson), HARLEY STREET.

    I knew I had to anagram LEAVING after S. but I nho SVENGALI so there was absolute no way in hell I was putting a v after the s!!!

    Also. I didn’t know a fell was a hill so that really made that clue impossible for me.

    Def knew the LIONESSes though. Rivals to our great Matildas.

    Also nho of a BLUESTOCKING.

    Lots of long words today.

    Aside: I tried last Saturdays quick cryptic in the Guardian and found it v v easy and enjoyable

  2. Not very enjoyable, I guess we have to start memorising old prisons now…
    I always think it’s a poor setting when obscure GK is the main source of difficulty, and that was the case here (Svengali, bluestocking, Newgate, etc.), combined with more tenuous than usual definitions (deny for Negate, charmed circle for bracelet).
    I usually like Wurm puzzles but this was not very good. I want a word puzzle not trivia. I know the audience for these is old English people, who know all the GK and don’t understand how anyone couldn’t know any of it, but to me it seems like lazy clueing.

    1. Yes, Newgate is incredibly obscure. It was only in use for 700 years, features in only three or four Dickens novels, and is the site on which the Old Bailey (which no-one’s ever heard of either) stands. Absurd to expect anyone to have heard of it.

  3. Well, this week has been as good as last week was bad, for me at least. I found this to be a very approachable puzzle and well worthy of a QC, coming home all green in around 17 minutes. So, with three sub-20 successes, just 4 pinkies plus 3 did-not-gets over the week I end up with a QC score of 98% – a vast improvement upon last week’s measly 80%. So thank you Wurm for helping to restore a little self belief in this ageing ‘old English person’.
    BACKHAND, SVENGALI and HARLEY STREET really took longer than they should’ve, and I particularly liked BLUESTOCKING and, my COD, NEGATE.
    Now for Parkrun on this beautifully sunny morning, followed by lunch and ice creams on Lymington quay.
    Thanks to Cedric for the blog. Good weekends all.

  4. 11 minutes. Mostly straightforward but ETHERAL as my LOI took some time to unravel as I overcomplicated it and tried to make the whole clue an anagram.

  5. 21:30 … very pleased to finish that as BLUE-STOCKING (NHO) and SVENGALI were staring at me for the better part of 10mins. Fortunately began my alphabet trawl using the bottom row of the keyboard so ZL- wasn’t happening, neither was XL-, CL- didn’t turn up anything, VL- nope and then it BL…

    A successful week’s solving taking 1hr38 with just this and Thursday’s Felix (20:57) taking me into the SCC. Strangely Felix is Quitching as the easiest of the week. And somewhat pleasingly that gives me 20 successful solves in a row. Average time 19:56, median 17:31 – I think my membership is going to be revoked.

    QCpr of 46:31 … meant to be an easy run round with my daughter and for the most part it was. She smashed 40secs off her PB to finish on and around the 25min mark.

  6. I was flying until I was floored by not knowing the currency of Brazil, which only became obvious when I finally cracked the anagrist for SVENGALI. I also wasted time trying to make an anagram of “light ale” until the real anagram jumped out and kicked me.

    TIME 5:31

  7. 15:35 (Fisher and More executed. Tyndale and Coverdales’s translation of the Bible published).

    Held up by the long anagrams, which needed paper and pen. LOI was BLUESTOCKING.

    Thanks Cedric and Wurm

  8. 08:20

    Perhaps a slight uptick in my fortunes – after a slowish start, things picked up – second time through the acrosses, I had nearly completed the bottom half. I was initially puzzled as to why I could not somehow shoehorn TERMINAL into 17a, and probably took a shade longer than usual to unravel the anagram. No problems with BLUESTOCKING which I plucked out of somewhere, nor SVENGALI – I always think of Malcolm McLaren when I hear that word. My final two were the medical hub at 3d and RECESS.

    Thanks Cedric for the breakdown and entertaining extras and Wurm for the puzzle

  9. 6:00. My slowest of a week where each day was slower than the day before. Are my mental faculties on a rapid decline? Held up by trying to solve an anagram of “light ale” at 23A and SVENGALI, which didn’t leap out. I wanted 19D to be the past tense of SKI, but that is SKIED. COD to HARLEY STREET. Thanks Wurm and Cedric.

  10. I found this quite tricky, maybe slightly distracted by the F1. Had a break with about half left to solve and when I came back things seemed to make more sense.
    A couple of ‘educational’ definitions for me today in BLUESTOCKING and SVENGALI.
    Started with CAMEL and finished with BACKHAND in 12.47.
    Thanks to Cedric for a great blog.

  11. Another held up by trying light ale as the anagrist for 23a. BACKHAND was FOI. I found some of this quite tricky. Took an age to see HARLEY STREET and LOI, BLUESTOCKING. 8:38. Thanks Wurm and Cedric.

  12. An enjoyable puzzle though I was fairly slow in solving it. PDMs with SVENGALI, NEWGATE, BUFF, HARLEY STREET. Also slow on the relatively easy BACKHAND.
    LOI BLUESTOCKING required a pause to e.g unstack the dishwasher before the penny dropped. My father was not keen on Further Education in case I turned into a Bluestocking (no danger) and couldn’t get a husband.
    Apart from the above, I also liked GRIMACE, BRACELET, FELL.
    Thanks vm, Cedric.

  13. I didn’t have time to read the blog before I left for parkrun. Having now done so my commendations to Cedric for an excellent walkthrough and detailed explanations 👍

  14. “reliably approachable”? “RELIABLY APPROACHABLE”?? Wurm is a fiend in human form, aptly named Wiggly by Penny of this parish, and the mere sight of his name strikes terror into solvers across the English speaking world.

    Fortunately I couldn’t see his name because I solve on my phone but I struggled all over the grid and wasn’t surprised to come here and find it was His Wiggliness. Lovely, clever, satisfying puzzle. Over target in 09:30 for a Thoroughly Tested Day. Many thanks Wurm and Cedders.


    1. Well, it must be horses for courses – either that or I have a similarly wiggly and warped mind. But Wurm is not even in the top ten of setters I find challenging, and the variance in my times for a Wurm puzzle (for the mathematical, the standard deviation of solving times) is quite low. The first stat gives me “approachable” and the second “reliable” …

      1. Dear Mr S,
        My stats also show that Wurm is a reliable setter …. reliably UNapproachable, that is.

  15. Very slow to see CONTROL TOWER, HARLEY STREET and TITO. Last two in were BLUESTOCKING and SVENGALI. Technical DNF as I lazily looked up the currency for UNREAL. I didn’t know who SVENGALI was – thanks for explaining Cedric – but knew the name (and also the Derren Brown show of the same name). I love QCs with some GK that I either don’t know, or with GK that is on the edge of my awareness and has to be solved from wordplay alone. My feeling is there’s a certain cachet to the Times crosswords that would not exist if they were easily solved by all. I really enjoyed this one. Thanks all, especially Cedric.

  16. It’s Saturday, I solved this while watching yet another of my football tips go down in flames so took the scenic route to get home in 14. Really nice puzzle from Wurm (ok I knew the gk) and great blog from Cedric. TITO’s death was a drawn-out affair and came after he’d had a leg amputated. He was a much-hated dictator and his gradual decline was followed closely around the world. At the newspaper I was working on a wire service report came in saying the end was getting near. A sub-editorial colleague came up with this memorable headline: Tito on last leg.

  17. 31 mins…

    Continuing my poor Saturday form (I still blame having to use my iPad), this took longer than it probably should have.

    Luckily, I didn’t have any issues with the GK, and apart from 11ac “Bluestocking” not really standing out, the majority of answers were recognisable. Like a few above, 23ac “Ethereal” had me scratching for an anagram of “Light Ale”.

    FOI – 2dn “Camel”
    LOI – 11ac “Bluestocking”
    COD – 13ac “Recess”

    Thanks as usual!

  18. 37:54

    So that’s well over an hour for QCPR this week. Slow slow slow!

    Struggled with BUFF and BACKHAND but it was SVENGALI and LOI BLUESTOCKING that really racked up the minutes.

  19. Found this tough but that might be the brewgooder and rosé talking.
    Toyed between bluesticking and bluestocking.

    Done pretty quickly but last few took an age.
    The ones I found tough were: recess, ethereal (COD), svengali, disconsolate, closet, and bluestocking (LOI).

  20. 12.03 A nice puzzle. Several of the clues sent me off in the wrong direction including last two ETHEREAL and CLOSET. Thanks Cedric and Wurm.

  21. Beaten by the rather unkind crossing of BLUESTOCKING and SVENGALI. Thank you for the reliably informative blog!

    1. 17:44. Like a few others above I had quite a struggle unlocking BLUESTOCKING and SVENGALI. EXAMINE was my COD. Thanks, Cedric, for your explanations of MESS, MINE, and BLUESTOCKING.

  22. DNF and it’s all due to whatever ails me, because on seeing the answers it’s clear my parsing team is on strike today. Enjoyed the elusive NEGATE and SVENGALI, glad to see wives and victims escaping prisons and control freaks. I guess my brain went with them because UNREAL and BRACELET just wouldn’t come to mind. HARLEY STREET took forever, though I’ve read enough 19th century British novels to know it. BLUESTOCKING “should” have gone right in. No clever women here today.

    Thanks Wurm and Cedric!

  23. Very enjoyable solve today. Knew the GK and amused to see so much going in to what looked a bit 15×15 to me.
    FOI 5a Mess
    LOI 8d Disconsolate – just the last to look at.
    COD 13a Recess

  24. We solved this is 2 goes. 15 minutes this morning before I left to head up to Rutland Water to compete in big dinghy sailing event! Finished the rest on return with, to be honest, a bit of a biff fest so grateful for Cedric’s amazingly comprehensive blog. Probably around par of 25 for the whole thing.

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the blog and comments and really looking forward to meeting some of you in London in June

    Thanks Wurm and Cedric

  25. DNF.

    I figured SVENGALI fitted, but did not see him as a victim. Also failed on BLUESTOCKING.

    Liked RECESS.

  26. Couldn’t access this QC until today (Sunday). Amused to see I am clearly old, English with GK – also guilty! Annoyed I couldn’t parse UNREAL. Thanks Cedric for excellent blog.

  27. Horribly misdirected on both SVENGALI and BLUESTOCKING. Wanted to take an S out of a word for corrupt to arrive at a control freak and to put a word meaning clever inside ‘blue’ to get a random woman’s name. Went off to do our Sunday Park Run equivalent (22.42 -SB) and found the clock still runnning. So all green in 1:51:25.


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