Sunday Times 4768 by David McLean – traitors snark

It sometimes gets a little bit quiet round here on Sundays, so I try to liven things up occasionally by stirring up some sort of controversy (however tenuous) to encourage comment and discussion. My intention is never to be snarky, but perhaps I misjudge the tone at times, and last time I tried this it elicited a rather stern response from a visiting commenter. So although there is what I consider a somewhat unfair clue in this puzzle, I am going to tread carefully this week and limit myself to saying that in my view this clue is an unforgiveably disgraceful piece of filth, and both setter and editor should paraded through the streets in chains while the solvers of the world throw rotten vegetables at them, screaming ‘shame, shame’ like a pair of cruciverbal Cersei Lannisters. I don’t like to sit on the fence like this but I fear the consequences of greater frankness.

The clue in question is 9ac: a term that is so commonplace in my experience that I didn’t hesitate in bunging it straight in on first reading. However one of our esteemed bloggers and commenters pointed out – quite correctly – that if you don’t know this word there is absolutely no way on earth you’re going to get it. And then it occurred to me that I don’t think I knew what a PINATA was until maybe ten years ago. They are familiar to me from children’s parties, of which I have attended more than my fair share in recent years, but I don’t remember ever coming across them when I was a child. So I wonder if they aren’t a relatively recent cultural import, like Halloween or pronouncing ‘schedule’ with a hard C. And if this is the case, and you’re not in the habit of attending children’s parties (which can hardly be considered a necessary qualification for crossword solving) you’re quite unlikely to have come across them. Indicating a word like this with a cryptic definition strikes me as perhaps a little bit unfair.

Of course this could just be me, and everyone else has been merrily smashing up paper donkeys to get at the sweets inside since the dawn of time. I can’t wait to find out, so please let me know in the comments below.

But no snarkiness please.

Definitions are underlined, anagrams indicated like (THIS)*.

1 Ace time with one drinking last of this?
ASTI – A, T, I, containing thiS. &Lit. Not known as the finest of wines but there is such a thing as decent ASTI so the surface is feasible.
4 Resident wearing clothes given by social worker
9 Sweet-hearted ass kids give stick to at parties?
10 Country store that might flog neckwear on radio?
THAILAND – or ‘tie-land’, geddit? Remember Tie Rack? It still exists, apparently, which is quite impressive considering no-one seems to wear ties any more.
11 One with great reason to adjust air in cab
12 Durable stocking beginning to ladder, just
13 Bishop in riot waving around union banner
PROHIBITIONIST – (BISHOP IN RIOT)* containing IT, the other, how’s yer father, know what I mean, nudge, wink, say no more, union.
16 As the chap prone to be written off?
20 Having toured Wales, minister to swing to the left?
SWERVE – S(W)ERVE. ‘Minister’ here is a verb. To help with the surface the definition is by example (indicated by question mark), since other directions of swing are available.
22 Ruined fossil in overturned Edwardian dresser
DERELICT – reversal of TED containing RELIC. Not sure I understand TED here. Is it a reference to Teddy Boys?
24 Praise leading lady securing one’s Western repeat fee
RESIDUAL – LAUD(I’S), ER, all reversed.
25 I might’ve flown the 18 setters east of central Reno
ENGELS – GELS (setters) to the right (east) of rENo. 18 is the RED FLAG.
26 Go on a circuit of lengthier travelling around Gulf
GREEN LIGHT – (LENGTHIER)* containing G (Gulf).
27 What can be just as coarse with a capital C?
RUDE – since adding a C at the beginning gives you another word for ‘coarse’.

2 Part of the body that one up might put a foot in?
STIRRUP – part of the ear, of course. AKA ‘stapes’.
3 Paramilitary group I question about foreigner
IRAQI – IRA, reversal of I, Q.
4 Asinine rubbish containing bits of idiotic trivia?
INANITIES – (ASININE)* containing Idiotic Trivia. Another &Lit.
5 A parts problem at centre ruins electronics firm
6 Composer’s filled with ecstasy to see Sandy strip
7 Let no care put off the endurance of misfortune
8 Puzzle certainly not new? Good point!
NONPLUS – NO, N, PLUS. A PLUS is a good point like a minus is a bad one. This word has acquired another meaning of late which is close to the opposite of the longer-established one. This creates opportunities for confusion and, when the leader of the free world (come back Barack, all is forgiven) uses it, endless debate. That’s language folks.
14 If not sensible, mum will go topless at the front
15 Braggart’s admission can make you tense!
IMPERFECT – or as the titular leader of the free world (come back Barack, all is forgiven) might say, ‘I am much more humble than you would understand’.
17 Sheep mean to Spooner — time for resolution?
NEW YEAR – or ‘ewe near’ Spoonerised.
18 One highlighting danger of wine on Blue Peter?
RED FLAG – RED (wine), FLAG. A Blue Peter is a type of flag, the definition by example is again indicated by a question mark.
19 Stewed in hot water might one say?
PICKLED – because if you’re in a pickle you’re in hot water.
21 Question dividing EU: are leavers primarily alike?
EQUAL – E(Q)U, Are, Leavers. The answer to the surface question being of course no, there are numerous mutually incompatible varieties.
23 Time to get both hands around boozy beverage

38 comments on “Sunday Times 4768 by David McLean – traitors snark”

  1. I’ve known of piñatas since childhood, although I’ve never seen one in person, so 9ac went in without a thought; but I suppose it would be hard to get if you didn’t know of them, even with the helpful checkers. And now that I think of it, it never occurred to me that one would find a piñata at a British birthday party. The puzzle doesn’t seem to have left much of an impression on me; my only marginal note was “Lots of ?s”.

    Edited at 2017-10-22 01:03 am (UTC)

    1. You never used to find them at British birthday parties. They are increasingly – although still not very – common.
  2. I live in California, so pinatas (actually piñatas) are common. It was a Mexican tradition originally.
    But when I moved her from the UK in the 1980s, I’d never come across them before. I had no idea they were a thing in Britain and, although the clue was easy for me, I thought that it would be a fairly obscure word. Apparently not. Here they are often not in the shape of an ass any more (which is also the American spelling for arse to add to the fun, I think they have to be donkeys here when they are that shape).

    I used to work closely with Hitachi in the 80s and 90s, but they spun their semiconductor business of to create Renasas (along with Mitsubishi, and then NEC Electronics) so today they are just as much a financial services, power tools and construction equipment as they are electronics.

    The trouble I find with the weekend crosswords is that by the time the next weekend comes around I can barely remember if I had any things I didn’t understand to come here and look at. Sometimes seeing the blog jogs my mind, but not today.

    In 22a, I figured TED was just Edwardian (backwards). It seems a bit of a stretch to call a Teddy boy and “Edwardian dresser”.

  3. I think Edwardian dresser has to be Ted(dy Boy) – so called because their style of clothing resembled the style when Edward VII was top banana. Pretty witty, I think, and a very nice puzzle from D Mc. No mention of Nick Clegg this time, which is always a bonus. 😉
    ~ Nila Palin
    1. Without my careful diplomatic language you might have laid yourself open to accusations of snideness or worse, so let’s just all be grateful you weren’t on blogging duty.
  4. I was in the fortunate position of having watched my grandchildren hammering the stuffing out of a sweet filled cardboard donkey hanging from the porch of our holiday flat in the Hebrides on the occasion of my granddaughter’s 10th birthday, some five years ago, otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what a PINATA was. As has been indicated, there is no route to the answer apart from knowing the answer, so I find the setter guilty as charged. Apart from that I enjoyed the puzzle, which was a bit more difficult than some, as it took me 50:19 to complete, correctly as it happens. I liked THAILAND. Started with IRAQI and ASTI, and finished with PINATA, I think. As mentioned previously, my seven day memory isn’t what it was. Thanks setter and Keriothe, to whom thanks for your restraint.
  5. I was the blogger who got in the first complaint about this clue in last Sunday’s blog where I was constrained by the puzzle still being under-wraps for comment. Perhaps that was just as well as I was spitting blood over it at the time, having spent at least 20 minutes on this clue alone, first trying to solve it and then, having given up and found the answer eventually by resorting to aids, trying to understand it, as not one of the usual sources mentions anything about a donkey or ass.

    Starting in print: COED doesn’t list the word at all. Chambers only uses the word ‘figure’, Collins calls it ‘a decoration’. ODE has ‘figure of an animal’. SOED has ‘decorated container’.

    Going on-line: Here Chambers doesn’t list it at all (!). ODO has ‘figure of an animal’. Collins has ‘decoration’ again and has ‘figure’.

    I found the ‘ass’ connection eventually on Wikipedia where the very long article mentions ‘donkeys’ once only (in its 78th line) and goes on to explain that these days the device is most commonly in the shape of a star, a ball with points or American cartoon characters.

    So what it boils down to is that the cryptic clue is utterly unsolvable unless one happens to know the word, and on top of everything else the mention of an ass makes it a definition by example. Yes, I know it has a question mark at the end but that doesn’t mitigate in my view in this case. I don’t mind being beaten fairly by a clue but this one should never have been allowed through.

    Edited at 2017-10-22 04:54 am (UTC)

    1. Not in ODE either, although it is clearly defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary, but with no mention of donkeys.
  6. Hello Keriothe,yes,9a took me three days to crack having completed the rest of the puzzle.Faced with -i-a-a,l had to guess and then google to see a mock donkey next to a child at some fair,very unfair,CICADA would be a better answer.
  7. 50 minutes with two on the fringe of my knowledge, RESIDUAL which was clear from the cryptic and PINATA which wasn’t. Mrs BW forsook her medium-flying civil service career mentioned yesterday to help out at the local pre-school our children attended. It was originally meant to be for the day but she stayed for 16 years. In despair at 9a, I didn’t sneer but I did flinch. I asked her if ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ could also be called something else. She gave me PINATA. So I’m a DNF. But as we are joined in holy matrimony, we are ‘no more twain but one flesh’, and I’m claiming it. COD, RED FLAG. Thank you K and David.

    Edited at 2017-10-22 06:41 am (UTC)

  8. I’m normally inclined to cut setters (and bloggers!) some slack, and some GK is assumed for the Times and ST cryptics .. but I can see where the critics are coming from with pinata.
    There, fearlessly outspoken or what?
  9. I enjoy David McLean’s puzzles so I kept this and looked at it during the week, each day getting a bit further. I finally gave up with two outstanding: 9a and 25a.
    There was no way for me to get 9a as I have never seen or heard the word Pinata, even after a large number of UK children’s parties in the last 20 years.
    25a I could have got: the word Eagle got in the way and I always forget that a random number is probably referring to a clue.
    Quite a few I couldn’t parse so thanks for the helpful blog as ever. David
    1. Following Boltonwanderer’s example, I asked my wife about Pinata.
      She remembered it had cropped up frequently in episodes of Barney the Dinosaur ( an American children’s TV show shown in the UK) which I watched endlessly in the 1990s. Clearly I was not paying attention.
      Maybe Barney gets Harry off the hook? David
  10. 49:29 slight hold up in the SW but no real problems. An enjoyable puzzle. I must admit I saw the comments last week and wondered which clue we were talking about. Perhaps I’ve just absorbed the word from exposure to lots of American films and TV shows over the years but I didn’t even blink when I saw it just saw the “ass” “kids” and “stick at parties” and solved it straightaway. A bit surprised to hear that others have never come across it. It fell into the category of reasonable GK for me although obviously that’s always a grey area with one man’s GK another’s horrendously unfair obscurity.
  11. Yes, unfair as no wordplay, had never heard of it (in spite of having 4 granddaughters of party age) and found it through a solving aid. Otherwise a nice straightforward puzzle 20 minutes.

    Re imperfect and humble Presidents – reminds me of a Punch cartoon I still have somewhere with the novice facing the Abbott across his large desk, speaking, and the caption “I don’t think there’s very much you can teach me about humility”.

  12. Like many people here, I came looking for enlightenment on 9ac -pinata- and I’ve not been disappointed.
    I join keriothe in not liking it at all and I wonder what is cryptic about it. I’ve not been to a kids party since I was one but, in fact, don’t really remember going to one then, so it meant nothing.
  13. An hour and five for me. FOI 1a ASTI, LOI erm… Damn. I didn’t make a note. I think it was somewhere in the SE, perhaps DERELICT or ENGELS.

    I had no problem filling in 9a PINATA, but now I think of it it is only familiar from The Simpsons, rather than real life. The benefits of a classical education…

  14. I’ve never had children, but got 9a straight away due to it being a regular favourite on You’ve Been Framed (come on, is there anything funnier than watching blind-folded kids whacking each other with a stick?).

    I read 19d as a double definition, with pickled meaning “in hot water” in the sense of “in a pickle” but also “drunk” (aka “stewed”). Maybe I over-complicated it?

    Thanks for the blog, and for your admirable restraint. Pat must be busy this week.

    1. Yes thanks, I think ‘drunk’ is the best equivalence here. I was thinking of some sort of cooking thing, but that doesn’t really work.
  15. There’s a series of video games called Viva Pinata, so it’s not a hard word for anyone reasonably up on modern art and culture. My objection with it really is that it’s a pretty awful clue, what’s clever or funny about it this “cryptic” definition? It’s just a straightforward definition of the thing, with at best a momentary titter over the use of the word “ass”…
  16. What a load of tosh! It seems all you wanted was 28 comments.

    [Quite liked the clue myself, though a King Of Judah would have been preferred.]

    [[Oh, and I’m all for unfairness, especially when it trips up speed-solvers.]]

  17. Which is longer than usual for me for this setter

    A David McLean Sunday is invariably the best crossword of the week, no exception here.

    And the added bonus a week later in the form of a warm cloud of schadenfreude as I read the comments—as someone who frequently encounters stuff I’ve never heard of, I have no sympathy for pinata-ignoramuses

  18. Weighing in late, but I kind of liked the pinata clue. Sweet-hearted indeed. If I were a setter it never would have occurred to me that the word was not commonly known. And look a the bright side: Mr McL probably avoided using Pitaka – one of the books in the Bhuddist equivalent of the Bible and presumably unkown to everyone, including Verlaine – out of deference to our blogger.

    1. My next blog will be very anodine, I promise. Pitaka would be fine by me, as long as the wordplay was clear. I felt the same about PIÑATA while solving but it seems clear from the comments that it’s not that widely known. Ah well, these things are bound to happen.
  19. Commenting late as I was waiting for the Sunday Times letters desk to pass on the pile of piñata letters from incensed solvers of the printed version. But none arrived, nor any emails about it to the address for puzzle feedback, and the number of emailed entries seemed to be about average, with most of the ones I looked at getting that answer right.
  20. We knew pinata but it took us a while to parse it.

    We learned the “rules” of cryptic solving from Fraser Simpson in Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Rule 1. was “There are always two definitions, a straight and a cryptic”.
    We learned early on in our ST solving days that this rule didn’t always apply and before we found this blog we were often at a loss to how the clue worked.

    But once we understood the different rule it was a case of just getting on with it. Pinata is an unfair clue but so what. Life isn’t always fair. I’m amazed by some of the words the Bloggers have never heard of, words I’ve known all my life. It’s all a question of your experience, your interests and what you remember

    There is a real high from getting an answer from the cryptic definition and having to go to the dictionary to see if the word exists. We often extol the fun of this aspect of cryptics to “straight” xword solvers with the warning that it doesn’t apply to the ST.

    P.S. We’ve never had any converts. They all look at us as if we were speaking a different language.

    Thanks to all.

    Janet and Tom, Toronto

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