Sunday Times Cryptic 4823, by Jeff Pearce — It’s easy… too easy(?)*

* My desultory research indicates that the first citation of “It’s quiet… too quiet” may be a line in the film Drums Along the Mohawk (1939).

This was a moderately entertaining and not very difficult puzzle. Six Double Definitions (DD), nothing very convoluted. Some might even find the long anagram to be the hardest clue here, with the quite terse definition. I have no doubt about any of my interpretations and am aware of nothing that I’ve failed to parse.

…Of course, I have felt that way before, so there is still a slight, lingering fear that kevingregg and/or jackkt or another of our estimable solvers will emerge from the shadows where they are lurking to reveal fatal errors in my strategy.

I do (masangra)* like this, and italicize anagrinds in the clue.


 1 12 awkwardly holding cut beast (8)
ANTELOPE — (EATEN)* with LOP, “cut,” inside
 5 Fixed cause of poor reception (6)
10 Cutting ditch with worker (9)
11 Father Brown finally married a temptress (5)
SIREN — SIRE (“father”) + [brow]N. I guess the two parts could be said to be “married” here, but that’s really just for the surface. (We’ll encounter a siren again in my note to the very last clue.)
12 It’s said school for the rich scoffed (5)
EATEN — Sounds like Eton. (At last, a noncontroversial homophone.)
13 Engine put outside a drinking den (3,6)
GIN PALACE — “Gin” as in “cotton gin,” a machine or “engine” + P(A)LACE
14 Athlete on mountain eating a vegetable (6,4)
RUNNER BEAN “Athlete” is RUNNER and then you have BE(A)N
17 Talk idly about rare clothes (4)
19 Dog swallows large piece of tobacco (4)
20 Bug makes 1000 notepads run poorly (4-6)
POND-SKATER — (K [1000] + NOTEPADS + R)*
22 If returning oarsman holds record it shows strength (4-5)
FIRE-POWER — IF<— + R(EP)OWER. Recording artists still put out Extended Play vinyl discs!
24 Little container found in street (5)
26 Henry meeting his rejected wife, which might have made him look red (5)
27 A campanologist might seem familiar (4,1,4)
RING A BELL — The literal meaning of the words of the idiom then defined
28 Tenor requested to be given something to do (6)
29 Having no idea what I want to do after retirement (8)
CLUELESS — DD, one of them (I hope) a joke. I mean, it is a bit of a downer to think that, as implied by the second part, our setter (or is it the editor?) is finding the writing of clues here to be such a chore. When, in 1998, we at The Nation put on a 50th anniversary party for our crossword setter then, the former OSS cryptographer Frank W. Lewis, we learned that his payment for each puzzle had not changed in the previous five decades (he did, of course, immediately get a raise). Yet we had never heard a peep out of him about this. Apparently, his production of our puzzles was primarily a labor of love.


 1 How a race might have started, with all speed (2,3,4,2,1,3)
AT THE DROP OF A HAT — DD. I’m not sure “with all speed” captures my sense of the phrase, which is closer to “suddenly”—or, as the definition offered by Google has it, “Acting readily or on some single signal. In the 19th century it was occasionally the practice in the United States to signal the start of a fight or a race by dropping a hat or sweeping it downward while holding it in the hand.” (Not in England also?) Are the explanation of the idiom and the idiom itself really two definitions?
 2 Care for something special (5)
 3 Pub owner, perhaps, seen distressed by horrible insects (8)
LICENSEE — (seen)* next to LICE, “horrible insects”
 4 Head of Property managed end of housing crash (5)
PRANG — P[roperty] + RAN, “managed” + [housin]G
 6 Navigator takes volunteers to southern isle (6)
TASMAN — The “volunteers” are the T(erritorial) A(rmy), plus S for “southern” and the Isle of MAN
 7 Ruin a garment, beginning to tear in fury? (9)
TERMAGANT — (a garment)* + T[ear]
 8 Edit extremely early Burt Lancaster work (10,5)
 9 The usual flag (8)
15 They’re tiny and barely matter (9)
NEUTRINOS — An amusing Cryptic Definition
16 Diligent student’s grub (8)
18 Get painting from tall building right away! (8)
SKYSCAPE — SKYSC[-r]APE[-r]. The particular sort of non-Ximenean clue (wordplay + definition plus “Get”) of which I am not a great fan.
21 Old head swallows one drug to help rest (6)
23 Official carries note to do with organs (5)
RENAL — RE(N)AL. That is, to do specifically with the kidneys.
25 Ridge discovered by veteran returning after shelling (5)
ARETE — [-n]ARETE[-v]<— From Latin arista, “ear of corn, fish bone, spine.” In the famous chanson “Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète,” Georges Brassens pleads to be buried, when the time comes, on the beach where he spent the best days of his youth, was initiated in the mysteries of love and avalait la première arête, “swallowed the first fishbone,” which is to say, learned that every rose has its thorns:
Auprès d’une sirène, une femme-poisson

J’ai reçu de l’amour la première leçon
Avalait la première arête
(Next to a siren, a mermaid,
I received my first lesson of love,
Swallowed the first fishbone…)

32 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic 4823, by Jeff Pearce — It’s easy… too easy(?)*”

  1. Not the toughest of JP’s puzzles, but I did enjoy it. I smiled at the self-deprecation (I think that’s all it was) of Clueless, and probably wasn’t the only one to wonder whether 15d was an in-joke for Times Crossword Club members.

    – Blorenge

  2. which puts me at 95 on the club leaderboard, but just under 2 Verlaines. Definitely an easy one in any case. I don’t care for cross-referencing clues, but especially when it’s 1ac. With the C, T, and L in at 8d, somehow CANTERBURY TALES leaped out; I parsed the thing later. ARETE is another of the NYT’s vast hoard of chestnuts. I had the same feeling as Blorenge about NEUTRINOS.
  3. 24 minutes, so definitely on the easy side. My discomfort with the CLUELESS clue was occasioned by thinking that if Jeff has a day job, then once retired he’d have more time to set rather than less. On the other hand, if his only job is setting puzzles, then, if he retired from that, he wouldn’t clue less; he wouldn’t be clueing at all.
    1. Well, none is less than some, no? As the Mad Hatter might have pointed out had I not beaten him to it.
  4. For what it’s worth, after due consideration I decided 1dn is best taken as a single definition because if it’s two, then ‘started’ is required in both, i.e. ‘how a race might have started’ and ‘started with all speed. My point being that AT THE DROP OF A HAT doesn’t mean that something is necessarily completed ‘with all speed’ only that it’s started immediately. Of course if one’s not bothered about double usage then one might take it as two. In any case, as an avid admirer of Flanders and Swann, the answer was a write-in for me.

    Edited at 2018-11-11 07:43 am (UTC)

    1. If it”s a single definition, could we say it is cryptic at all, or is this being overly generous? I’m not sure “started” is needed for the second definition, and opted to give the setter the benefit of the doubt.
    2. After more pondering, I have decided that “started” cannot be part of the second definition.
      The verb becomes part of an adjectival phrase when wed to “with all speed.”
      But “at the drop of a hat” is an adverbial propositional phrase.
      Random examples from online:
      These days, people will file lawsuits at the drop of a hat. (Here we find another sense the phrase has taken on, to do something with only the slightest provocation.)
      Dustin was always ready to go fishing at the drop of a hat.
      “At the drop of a hat” attaches itself to a verb, as does “with all speed” (again, not the best synonym, but…). “Started with all speed” already includes a verb and would make that impossible.

  5. ….to suggest that 18D is a little clumsy ? To get to SKYSCAPE you have to remove both “rights”, but the allusion suggests just one.

    I concur with ULACA regarding CLUELESS.

    TIME 6:34

    1. Yes, you’re right! (I’ve amended my notation, where I neglected the first R.) While working, I took this to mean there is no “right” at all in the answer, no matter how many are in the referenced word, but now I wonder if this is quite kosher.

      Edited at 2018-11-11 07:50 am (UTC)

      1. Personally, I’ve fairly often thought the problem was the other way round – i.e. if right is “away”, why should any of the rights in the pre-answer word still be there? That said, I suppose “right away” is a weaker statement than “without right” or similar.

        Edited at 2018-11-11 11:39 am (UTC)

        1. I have a vague memory (lots of them, in fact; vaguer every day) of the judge of the clue competition criticizing my submission for evidently only deleting one of two letters.
          1. Yes, but I get the impression that the judge of the clue competition would disallow or criticise a good half of all the clues in a typical daily cryptic ..

            Edited at 2018-11-11 03:57 pm (UTC)

            1. Er, the judge may sometimes appear to be very tough. But the point of the contest is write the best clue, or at least the one the judge likes most. So when commenting on the other clues, he may feel obliged to give a reason why they didn’t win.
  6. 26 relaxed minutes. I made CLUELESS COD, although I hope this isn’t really Jeff’s hope for retirement. I like to think of our setters getting as much enjoyment from their efforts as we do. Perhaps this was the cry of a man up against the deadline for the submission of his next batch of puzzles. Like others, I suspected 1 down was in effect a single and not double definition, but it worked as I wasn’t sure. In the few months I was based there in the late sixties, I used the East Lancs Road, but in Victorian times 13 across was described as the quickest way out of Manchester. With the younger generation’s rediscovery of gin, perhaps it is again. LOI ARÊTE. Thank you Guy for the apt comparison of first love with a fishbone, and Jeff for the puzzle.

    Edited at 2018-11-11 07:35 am (UTC)

  7. No great difficulty with this puzzle, which took me 29:48. NEUTRINOS and CLUELESS made me smile. I had reservations over SKYSCAPE which only seemed to indicate the removal of 1 R, but shrugged and moved on. BOOKWORM was my LOI and caused a furrowed brow for a few minutes. Thanks Jeff and Guy.
  8. 12:46. I didn’t know Pond Skater, Arete and R=rare.


    My favourite Burt Lancaster film? The Swimmer. Not well known but really clever and thought provoking. Anyone seen it and also like it?

    1. By strange coincidence AV, I watched The Swimmer last night. It was on Talking Pictures TV recently, I had not seen it before, so recorded it. Last night was the most convenient time to sit down and watch it. Very enjoyable and I agree that it was thought provoking. I know it’s 50 years old but… SPOILER ALERT. A seemingly well to do middle-aged, upper middle class man decides to return to his home swimming though the pools in various neighbours’ back gardens. The film begins in glorious sunshine but through these encounters snippets of his past and present circumstances are revealed and it slowly becomes apparent that not everything in his garden is rosy. He ends a broken man in driving wind and rain outside his locked, empty, dilapidated house. I liked the way his slow mental disintegration is matched by the deterioration in the weather and the emptiness of his life is perhaps prefigured by the empty pool he comes across at one house. The film was also notable for an appearance by Joan Rivers who I struggled to recognise, she looks so different pre all the plastic surgeries she had.
    2. Great film. If I recall correctly, I was singing it’s praises here not long ago. Someone said they preferred The Leopard, which I found ponderous and borderline pretentious, as I recall.
  9. As observed, pleasing but not too hard. 26 minutes here, which can’t be more than a few minutes off my PB for a Sunday. And an hour less than I’ve taken for today’s, so far!

    FOI 12a EATEN, LOI 6d TASMAN, who becomes very obvious as an explorer once you come up with him, even if you’d never really considered why Tasmania might be called Tasmania before…

    1. True or not, it has been suggested the name of the smallest Australian state (then colony) was changed from Van Diemans Land, given by Tasman in 1642, to Tasmania because many of the locals didn’t like the homophonic “demon” in the old Dutch name. After the change, someone pointed out the new name was an anagram of “I am Satan”.
  10. I have no indication that Jeff’s retirement is imminent, so “when” could be a long time away. He may be thinking of his former editor Barbara Hall, who retired at 87 and although far from clueless, made it clear that her intentions matched the clue.
  11. All solved very quickly by my standards except for 11ac, which had to be SIREN, but what was ‘married’ doing? It evidently plays absolutely no part in the clue and is only there for the surface. And it’s not very grammatical: the meaning of the clue is ‘Father and Brown finally are married’, but it hardly says that.
    1. The clue says ‘Father Brown finally married a temptress’, a perfectly grammatical sentence meaning that Father Brown finally married a temptress. Cryptically, as Guy says, we have SIRE joined to [or, dare I say, married to] N. No problem that I can see.
  12. 20:42 a nice confidence booster. Same MER as others at “right away” in 18dn being to my mind a clear indication that one R should be removed but not necessarily two. Having said that, I solved the clue without difficulty. Minor hold up putting “offset” at 5ac but soon corrected once 8dn clearly had to be the CT.
  13. 9:35… probably my quickest Jeff puzzle by some distance and lots of fun. I particularly enjoyed CLUELESS. I am told that when people give up their job at an age over 55 it is non-PC to refer to them as “retiring”. I thought “with all speed” for AT A DROP OF A HAT was fine. Pronto Tonto! Intrigued by “My own just-intonation electronic drone octet, LA VIE ONDULATOIRE”. Do tell us more!
    1. The piece was written with the programming app Max (with which one creates and connects graphic objects rather than directly writing code). Conceived as an “ambient” piece that can go on a long time with constant variation, it juxtaposes, in random order but with the exclusion of certain possibilities, various four-note chords in registers two octaves apart that wash over the listener in successive waves. The CD-length recording I put on SoundCloud three years ago…
      …goes through a little over half of the variations, if memory serves. These chords are constructed using some pitches (pitch classes, in technical terms) based on higher primes than those on which standard Western tuning are based (just 2, 3 and 5). This one is rather more mellow, less edgy, than the other two things on my SoundCloud page, which are more microtonal, deploy many more pitches, and yet take place entirely within a narrow band of the harmonic spectrum.
  14. Back after a day in the splendid village of Aldbury.
    I enjoyed this crossword;knew Arete from French-thanks for the reminder of Brassens. Liked NEUTRINOS after I finally twigged it.
    I got stuck on 20a and 18d.
    For 20a I chose M for 1000 and ended up with Pondmaster. This made 18d very hard. I immediately thought of Skyscraper but could not escape Seascape.
    So DNF but good fun.
    COD to Clueless. David
    1. I know Aldbury well if it’s the one in my part of the world some 40 miles north of London. Two good pubs, The Greyhound and The Valiant Trooper. Many a film and TV series has used it as a location.
  15. It is indeed the same one.
    It looks like the village shop has just been prepared for a TV or film appearance. It has become a stationery shop for artists.
    Sadly the need to drive home prevented a visit to either pub. David

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