Sunday Times 4683 by Dean Mayer – Lean ‘n’ Mean…

Something of a tour de force from Dean this week, in my view. Decidedly tricky in places (13a was devious in the extreme, and 15a had me pacing around and growling for several minutes until the penny finally dropped), and the clues were pared down to the bone with not an ounce of fat to be seen anywhere.

For concise, precision clueing (with some wonderful splashes of inventiveness along the way) I reckon this puzzle would take some beating. Amongst a champion field, 12a, 7d, 13a and 26a were all standouts for me in terms of masterly clueing, and I loved the wit of 1a and 17a. It took me an age to complete, but the grapple was mighty enjoyable. Thanks, as ever, to our setter.

Definitions underlined; DD = double definition; anagrams indicated by *(–)

1 It offers confidence when depressed (4,6)
MUTE BUTTON – A witty cryptic to start off with, beautifully crafted to take us off the scent
6 Flatten a mountain (4)
FELL – DD. Some might query “mountain” (which is conventionally .regarded as something over 2,000 feet high) clueing “fell” (which has no associated minimum height that I am aware of, with many being less than 2,000 feet), but it worked fine for me…
10 Awful content taken out of life story (9)
CHRONICLE – CHRONIC (awful) + LifE (‘content’ taken out of life)
11 An investment account one almost sacrificed (5)
ISAAC – ISA (an investment – widely known in the UK as a tax effective investment vehicle but probably less known outside these islands) + AC (account), with the answer referring us to the episode involving Abraham, his son, a bonfire and a test of faith. Fortunately no one got hurt…
12 Deal to trade lenience? (7,8)
ENTENTE CORDIALE – *(TO TRADE LENIENCE) with “deal” doing double duty as both the anagrind and the definition
13 Man, a follower, right to break in (6)
HOMBRE – HOME (in) ‘broken’ by B (‘a follower’ – as in the following letter in alphabetic sequence: brilliant or too clever by half – take your pick, but personally I loved it) + R (right).
15 Block, and flow perfectly (4,4)
DAMN WELL – DAM (block) + N (contracted form of “and” – as in Fish ‘n’ Chips) + WELL (flow). You’re damn well right this one was tough: I was toying with ‘darn well’ for some time, without being able to parse it – and it was probably only the thought that I was blogging this one that forced me to spend an unfeasible amount of additional time seeking an answer that I could truly justify
17 Do a Hillary Clinton” – don’t attend summit (8)
MISSPEAK – Wordplay is MISS (don’t attend) + PEAK (summit), with the (somewhat elliptical) definition referring to The Candidate’s preferred euphemism for a porky
18 Make time for German chancellor (6)
BRANDT – BRAND (make) + T (time) for Willy, a remarkable man whose story is well worth looking at for anyone unfamiliar with him.
21 Play to be ticked off in review? (4,4,2,5)
LOOK BACK IN ANGER – (Relatively) gentle cryptic with ‘ticked off’ giving us the ANGER and ‘review’ giving the LOOK BACK
23 Teacher was giddy one (5)
SWAMI – SWAM (was giddy – as in ‘my head was swimming’) + I (one)
24 In France, what’s dry in cheese block (9)
BRIQUETTE – QUE (“what” in France) + TT (dry) all inside BRIE (cheese)
25 Secretly snatch victory? (4)
PALM – DD, provoking fond memories of our Latin master yelling “Come on boys! Non sine pulvere palma!” as he exhorted the lads in his house to run faster on Sports Day. The past is indeed a foreign country…
26 Fell over gorge, netting a bug (10)
EXASPERATE – EXA (axe reversed – ‘fell over’) + SATE (gorge) with PER inside (netting a – as in “per head”)
1 US subject accepts award for play (7)
MACBETH – MATH (US subject) with CBE included (accepts award)
2 Left one holding a pack of cards (5)
TAROT – TROT (left one) ‘holding’ A
3 Is all of its strength in its hands? (6,8)
BANANA REPUBLIC – Gentle cryptic with play on ‘hand’ being the term for a bunch of bananas (I don’t think there is anything else going on here, but I may have missed some additional subtlety…)
4 One gathering food (6)
TUCKER – DD, the first being a tad cryptic
5 Love another country, devoted to her (3-5)
ONE WOMAN – O (love) + NEW (another) + OMAN (country)
7 English city crippled in battle (2,7)
EL ALAMEIN – E (English) + LA (city) + LAME (crippled) + IN. Another masterly example of concise cluing.
8 Milky resin, blue-green (7)
LACTEAL – LAC (resin) + TEAL (blue-green). Had not come across this word before but it seemed a reasonable bet based on ‘lactate’ etc.
9 The dune raider’s fantastic reward? (6,8)
HIDDEN TREASURE – *(THE DUNE RAIDERS) with “fantastic” as the anagrind
14 Doctor’s heading for failure, primarily (4,2,3)
MOST OF ALL – MOS (doctor’s) TO FALL (heading for failure)
16 Toymaker‘s test case (8)
MATCHBOX – MATCH (test) + BOX (case) – the miniature model cars of my childhood that I would occasionally receive as a reward after a visit to the dentist. This clue might provoke a resurrection of the product brand name debate that sometimes gets an airing here – I’ll sit back, have a beer (probably a Green King IPA) and watch as others get into that one should they so desire…
17 Doormat wiper is out of sorts (7)
MILKSOP – One of my favourite insults – so dismissive – but I struggled somewhat with the exact parsing. I think what we have is MOP (wiper) going around (out of – hmm, not sure) ILKS (sorts). All better offers gratefully received!
19 Somewhat better renewal of earth (7)
TERRENE – Hidden (signposted by ‘somewhat’) in betTER RENEwal. Another word with which I was not familiar, but fortunately it fell into place OK with a couple of cross checkers coupled with the indicator that we were probably looking for a hidden.
20 Flag raised, American star (6)
SIRIUS – IRIS reversed (flag raised) + US (American)
22 Drop of medicine is natural, thanks (5)
GUTTA – GUT (natural – as in ‘gut instinct’) + TA (thanks). Another unknown word for me, but with the wordplay and cross checkers it couldn’t be much else!

18 comments on “Sunday Times 4683 by Dean Mayer – Lean ‘n’ Mean…”

  1. Yes, a big thumbs up from me for this one. Difficult to get an initial toe-hold but then things slowly fell into place, although I couldn’t parse EXASPERATE and I wasn’t quite sure what MUTE BUTTON was being referred to. Just to pick out a few, I liked LOOK BACK IN ANGER, SWAMI (top notch – my COD), TUCKER, MOST OF ALL and MILKSOP (I agree with your parsing). My LOI was BANANA REPUBLIC, despite having cottoned on to the ‘hands’ bit earlier on. Couldn’t find any 9d in the way of a Nina or theme.

    Anyway really good stuff – best of the week (Mon-Sun) for me.

    Thanks to setter and blogger.

  2. Very hard work but with some lengthy write-ins (BANANA REPUBLIC, LOOK BACK IN ANGER) to give me hope along the way. I’ve retired hurt for the moment on today’s offering so can’t summon the energy to go through this one again in detail 7 days after completing it. I need to consolidate my resources in readiness for Round 2.

    Edited at 2016-03-06 07:08 am (UTC)

  3. Absolutely top-class offering from Dean, as good as they get …

    … although I do still feel 1ac lacks a certain something. As a simple cryptic definition, said definition needs to be precise, spot on.. and a mute button does not offer a confidence, it seems to me, it offers the opportunity to make one.

    However I think 17dn works fine: MOP (wiper) is out(side) of ILKS (sorts). I’m OK with out of = outside of, as in “out of town”

    Edited at 2016-03-06 07:53 am (UTC)

    1. The clue says ‘confidence’, not ‘a confidence’. As in ‘in confidence’. Seems fine to me.
      1. How does a mute button produce any such thing as (a) confidence … however you construe it/them? Just turns off the sound. At least in my house.
        1. It turns off the microphone, so you can insult the person on the other end of the line in confidence.

          Edited at 2016-03-06 09:31 am (UTC)

          1. I think I know such things as dump buttons. Mute buttons are on TV & radio sets in my bit of the universe.
            1. In the UK at least the thing on the phone is also known as a mute button. I spend a larger proportion of my life than I would like on conference calls, so it’s extremely familiar to me. As well as offering confidence they can be very useful for pretending you’re not in the pub.

              Edited at 2016-03-06 09:40 am (UTC)

      2. Still can’t see it.. never mind, perhaps it’s just me. Not a big thing when all said and done
        1. In the phrase ‘in confidence’ I read the word ‘confidence’ as synonymous with ‘secrecy’ or ‘confidentiality’, which is exactly what a mute button gives you.
          1. At risk of flogging a dead horse (given comments to date) I thought I should just add my four pennyworth in here.

            Re. jerrywh’s original comment, I personally saw the whole clue as conditional (albeit there is no “if” in there) so I’m struggling to understand the “it offers an opportunity” issue.

            The button provides the potential for secrecy/confidentiality (and I think “confidence” is a reasonable pointer to these concepts for all the reasons Keriothe explains).

            Anyway, not a big deal but I personally thought it was a really good clue.

  4. The club times says 54:04 for this, but to be fair to myself that includes a number of breaks where I had to leave the puzzle alone for a time to tear my hair out and scream silent curses at Dean.
    I wasted ages at the end trying to figure out what was going on with 13ac and 15ac. I had to get there with 15ac to be certain it wasn’t DARN WELL, but I only figured 13ac out post-solve.
    Exquisite torture, quite brilliant.
  5. I am sympathetic. Dean is my favourite setter where the pain is outweighed by the brevity and wit.
    I, too, am punch drunk after today’s. Almost 2 hours with 28a still to do. David McLean is supremely clever and reasonably concise but this is the last time I spend so long on one of his.
  6. Thanks for a great blog Nick, and to all for your comments.

    I’d like to be cheeky and use this opportunity to remind everyone that we have a Sloggers & Betters meeting at the Snow Goose cafe in Macclesfield – evening entertainment on Friday 18th and a full-on affair Saturday 19th (with hog roast).
    It’s a lovely apres-ski themed venue, with the railway station and a Travelodge about 100m away on opposite sides of the road (Sunderland St).

  7. I’m with those who found 1ac unconvincing and BANANA REPUBLIC also is a bit weak. Perhaps CDs are not Mr Mayer’s strong point. The surface of ENTENTE CORDIALE makes unsatisfactory reading but HIDDEN TREASURE and MATCHBOX are perfectly clued, and as usual the good far outweighs the poor. All in all, a very enjoyable solve.
    1. I must say I’m amazed that when you look at a clue like 12ac the predominant thought is that the ‘surface… makes unsatisfactory reading’.
    2. 12 ac I read as an excellent &lit. The entire clue makes a fairly convincing definition of the answer. So: excellent surface.
      Otherwise, beaten by this. Didn’t have (or try to make) the time to finish it, and probably wouldn’t have anyway – 13 ac for instance, with the brilliant “a follower” which went straight through to the keeper.
  8. I fell at the final hurdle (avoided by Nick) popping in ‘darn well’ after 72 very enjoyable minutes. Didn’t understand the MUTE BUTTON clue (thinking only of TV remotes), so the flogged horse may be dead but he served his purpose before shuffling off his mortal internal circuit, or whatever they have. HOMBRE was a gem.

    Thanks to Dean and Nick. (Yes, just got round to it on the long Easter weekend.)

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