Sunday Times Cryptic 4985, by Dean Mayer — Our plastic, 19 language

I was watching Saturday Night Live as I worked this (discovered that Billie Eilish’s birthday is the same as mine, the day this will go live in the United States), and the show was a good one, so I wasn’t done very quickly, but the experience wasn’t frustrating at any point. There were a couple definitions that seemed fetched from further down in the lists and the wordplay was quite clever, but none of the clues were very convoluted; it all seemed pretty, as we say here, straightforward. The deadpan surfaces are for the most part entirely plausible phrases, with the most colorful stories adumbrated being the lass arguing with the head of state in 16, the scathing movie criticism in 20 and the heart-wrenching scene of human misery in 6.

I indicate (a ragman’s)* like this, and italicize anagrinds in the clues.

 1 Mark’s son having game with mother (6)
STIGMA — S(on) + TIG, “game,” aka “tag” + MA, “mother”
 5 Some pseudonym as the adopted title? (8)
 9 Departed from our English town (Barking) (2,6,4,2)
NO LONGER WITH US — (our English town)* …has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet their maker, kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible
10 This is only fair (4)
11 Piece written in English — a line of letters (10)
EPISTOLARY — “Piece” is PISTOL and it’s carried concealed in E(nglish) + A, “a” (as again right below) + RY, “line,” railway.
13 After routine work, a nervous condition (6)
CHOREA — CHORE, “routine work” + A …can’t help but bring to mind the Huntington’s chorea that felled the great songwriter and working-class hero Woody Guthrie
14 Such a blow shouldn’t damage German school (8)
GLANCING — G(erman) + LANCING, a school in southern England
16 Girl having row with one Argentinian president (8)
GALTIERI — GAL, “girl” + TIER, “row” + I, “one”
18 Broken leg reduced activity (6)
BUSTLE — BUST, “broken,” colloquially + LE[-g]
20 Silly cuts render film pathetic (10)
TEARJERKER — TEAR(JERK)ER, with JERK, “Silly” inside TEARER, or “rend-er,” with a bit of a French twist in the word order of the definition …I would call a JERK only someone who is deliberately obnoxious, but the first definition in Merriam-Webster is simply “an annoyingly stupid or foolish person,” and Collins says this slang is mainly US and Canadian and means “a person regarded with contempt, esp a stupid or ignorant person”; the entry under American English is “a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person”—which covers “Silly.” But Lexico has only (in both US and UK) “A contemptibly obnoxious person.”
22 Undertaking convict’s last request (4)
TASK — [-convic]T + ASK, “request”
23 A most serene death, using tissue (8,6)
ACHILLES TENDON — A, “A” (third time!) + CHILLEST, “most serene” + END, “death” + ON, “using” (as with drugs) …The sense of the last part of this surface is opaque.
25 Group is live with revolutionary online content (8)
WEBSITES — SET, “group” + IS, “is,” literally + BE, “live” + W(ith) <=“revolutionary”
26 First aid accepted by soldiers? (6)

 2 Redundant old male, in a sense (3,4)
HR is only saying that because new owners are downsizing…
 3 Good novel, their worst author (11)
GHOSTWRITER — G(ood) + (their worst)*
 4 Score using both legs (9)
AGGREGATE — CD …My LOI, which will come as no surprise. I didn’t quite get. See Peter’s comment (the first) below. I discovered that AGGREGATE refers to a certain kind of score in cricket, where “leg” has a specific meaning that I couldn’t quite make jibe with the clue. As I said, “Y’all can make more sense out of this than I will.” And Peter did!
 5 Bringing up a child causes … (7,8)
MORNING SICKNESS — CD, “bringing up” alluding to the regurgitation that is the most obvious sign of the ailment, when “a child” is in the first weeks of its gestation
 6 poor family to be thrown into street (5)
 7 What is acceptable in hotels (3)
HUH — H(U)H, with the British Board of Film Classification’s U(niversal) rating inside two H(otel)s—I hesitated between this and another, informal British sense of U found in Lexico (though not as well as Collins): “(of language or social behaviour) characteristic of or appropriate to the upper social classes”—since “acceptable” and “appropriate” are synonymous enough. But I don’t think our setters or the editor are all that classist.
 8 Too controlled to be a failure (4-3)
ALSO-RAN — ALSO, “Too” + RAN, “controlled”
12 Profanity in group accompanying one — right to be heard (5,6)
LOCUS STANDI — LO(CUSS)TANDI, “Profanity (CUSS) in group (LOT)” + AND, “accompanying” + I, “one” one more time; Latin legalese for the right to be heard in court on a particular matter, or “standing” …It is utterly unfathomable to me how any private citizen in any state (as allowed and even stipulated by the law the US Supreme Court let stand this week) can have standing to sue someone, anyone, who has an abortion in the state of Texas.
15 Took time to go through lily garden (9)
ARBORETUM — ARUM is the “lily,” which encloses BORE, “took” + T(ime)
17 Typical hail storm (7)
AVERAGE — AVE, “hail” + RAGE, “storm”
19 Plastic model turned into invention (7)
LISSOME — LI(MOSS<=“turned”)E, the “model” being Kate, caught up in a LIE, an “invention” …I can only recall ever seeing this word used to describe a person—whereas “Plastic” as applied to a person means something else altogether. But Merriam-Webster has for definition 1a simply “easily flexed” and 1b “LITHE sense 2”… which is virtually the same thing with an added something: “characterized by easy flexibility and grace”—but LITHE definition 1 sounds even more applicable to “plastic”: “easily bent or flexed | lithe steel | a lithe vine”… Go figure. In Collins (for which it seems the word exists only as American English), the first definition of LISSOME is “lithesome or lithe, esp. of body; supple; flexible” (and the second, “nimble”). Lexico (which says that British English has it, but spelled “lissom”) gives but one definition: “(of a person or their body) thin, supple, and graceful.” “Plastic” as a definition was, for me, a bit of a… stretch. But LISSOME appears in synonym lists with “plastic” under the headings limber (flexible), pliant (adaptable), supple (bendable).
21 Charlie featured in story about celebrity (5)
ECLAT — TAL(C)E<=“about”
24 The man’s casual greetings (3)
HIS — “Hi”s

28 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic 4985, by Dean Mayer — Our plastic, 19 language”

  1. 4D is about football rather than cricket. Some cup competitions, especially international ones, have rounds with two games (or “legs”), one at each team’s home ground, and “aggregate” describes the combined score.
  2. 20a doesn’t quite parse for me. Jerk is a noun and silly an adjective, or am I being silly?
    I didn’t know Lancing was a school, or a system of schools, but it fitted so well that it went in.
    1. Tim Rice, the lyricist, went to Lancing School (in Sussex). Not sure if that’s where he met Andrew Lloyd Webber.
      1. No Martin, they met afterwards when LW was briefly at Oxford. He went to Westminster before that and is/was younger than Rice.
  3. …so a good test from ‘Anax’ for me.
    Thanks, Guy, for TEARJERKER but I still have my doubts about ‘jerk’ = silly.
    Similarly thanks to you and to Peter for AGGREGATE. I know the principle that Peter explained but I overthought the clue.
    If I had forgotten that Sunday is when live people walk the earth, LISSOME reminded me.
    NHO LOCUS STANDI but I agree with your point, Guy, about Texas.
    COD: MORNING SICKNESS. A very succinct Dean clue.
    23ac: ACHILLES TENDON was a good clue but is CHILLEST really a word?
    Mentioned in Despatches: MASTHEAD (well hidden) and EPISTOLARY.
    1. Re END: Thanks for the close reading; blog emended.

      Edited at 2021-12-19 02:56 am (UTC)

  4. DNK LANCING, but assumed it must be some sort of school. Barely knew of MOSS (dnk her given name), but luckily didn’t need to. I was rather surprised that I was able to recall GALTIERI; he’ll be a lot more familiar to UK solvers, of course.
    1. Yes, Lancing is a Public School in Sussex. An acquaintance of mine went there, as did Sir Tim Rice.
  5. I’m pretty sure that your alternative parsing is the correct one as U = acceptable (or similar) comes up all the time, whereas U as a film classification is always ‘universal’ or ‘for all’.

    The U and non-U thing has been discussed here many times so the Times or in this case Sunday Times setters are not averse to reference to class – nor should they be in my opinion as, like it or not, it is intrinsic to the British way of life.

    U and non-U are both in Collins, btw.

    Edited at 2021-12-19 06:11 am (UTC)

    1. Funny—when I looked again, there it was!

      Must’ve been sheer wishful thinking.
      Vivement, la société sans classes !

      Edited at 2021-12-19 06:47 am (UTC)

  6. Took damn near the hour. I just about parsed LOCUS STANDI, which I checked afterwards. I was delighted to see the unexpected appearance of the lissome Kate Moss. COD to MORNING SICKNESS , I think, just ahead of ACHILLES TENDON and EPISTOLARY. I used to think I was posh talking about my ARBORETUM, but they seem to have become common-or- garden. A toughish but fair puzzle.Thank you Dean and Guy.
  7. Took me a long time. Last in by a long shot was LOCUS STANDI, which didn’t sound, well, Latin enough to me. Apparently it’s from the genitive of the gerund of sto, stare, steti, statum – thanks OED. As regards your US Supreme Court example, is there an official Latin term for “The law is an ass”?

    This is probably the one and only time I’ll see EPISTOLARY this year, but I liked the clue. Favourites were MORNING SICKNESS and the linked SKINT.

  8. I managed to get to the end of this with LOI the unknown LOCUS STANDI just before 8pm.
    Prior to that WEBSITES. I had a question mark against TEARJERKER but could see nothing else.
    I am revisiting The Sword of Honour trilogy by Evelyn Waugh; he went to Lancing College.
    I enjoyed this.
  9. Disappointed to report major failure this week. FOI 1ac STIGMA, which led me to believe I was off and running. But no, staggered on to complete the top half, but really struggled in the lower half. Blanks on 14, 23, 26ac, and 12d (NHO). Thanks to blogger for explanations and Dean Mayer for the challenge, but it’s back to crossword school for me.
  10. 12:50 but with HAH. I just assumed A must be an abbreviation for ‘acceptable’, U didn’t occur to me. You have to rather put yourself in the mind of a snob to think of it as meaning ‘acceptable’ but I suppose that’s the way Nancy Mitford thought about it.
    Add me to the list of those doubtful about silly=JERK. In the way I have always used the words and have heard them used they are not synonymous. Similarly I’ve never heard someone lithe and elegant described as ‘plastic’.
    Dean is a master of the cryptic definition and MORNING SICKNESS is brilliant.

    Edited at 2021-12-19 10:17 am (UTC)

  11. Ah, no — it’s Sunday. I always forget about that particular rule not applying on the Sabbath, but it was only one of a number of barriers that I encountered in a very tough puzzle.

    I started well enough, and was over half way to finishing after 7 minutes. Alas, there followed an uphill swim through treacle, and I eventually used a word search tool for my LOI. I never did fully parse TEARJERKER.

    TIME 19:51 with a cheat.

  12. I enjoyed this puzzle, with MORNING SICKNESS a highlight, although not, perhaps, if you’re suffering from it! I managed to work out the unknown LOCUS STANDI. TEARJERKER took a while. MASTHEAD was particularly well hidden. 26:42. Thanks Dean and Guy.
  13. Distracted by videos about buzzards enthusiastically proffered by Mrs D. Then the morning run couldn’t be deferred any longer so this was done in bits and pieces (I always do these “on the day” a week in arrears)

    Absolutely loathed MORNING SICKNESS as could make neither head nor tail of it until as my LOI with all the checkers the low denomination coin clanged to the floor. Brilliant (the clue not me …🙂)

    Enjoyed the rest. Thanks Guy and Dean

  14. I found this rather a stiff challenge and went over my allotted 30 minutes. COD to 5dn Morning Sickness! My LOI was 19up Lissome with Kate Moss on the catwalk! WOD 16ac Galtieri.

    Edited at 2021-12-19 12:57 pm (UTC)

  15. Busy day at the Christmas Club, almost forgot to post.
    Just over the hour.

    FOI 1ac STIGMA

    LOI 7dn HUH!



    IKEA Christmas Sale at 25ac WEBSITES! Ugh!

  16. Just over an hour, but DNF — I should have said BUTT over an hour, because that’s what I had for 10ac after having decided “only” could only clue BUT. No idea what the extra T was supposed to be doing and of course, despite some doubts, I didn’t actually try to rethink it. Damn! It’s not as if it was a hard clue.

    Unlike the rest of the puzzle, which I found challenging but very entertaining.

  17. Thanks Dean and guy
    Did this on the early evening of one of the most dead-pan New Year’s Eves that I have ever experienced – maybe it was just Covid-fatigue (not having it, just living through it).
    A typically clever and ‘harder than most’ puzzle by this setter, but there were a couple of clues that just didn’t sit well with me this time – LISSOME (get the vague similarities, but also the differences – human vs non-human), AGGREGATE (love his cd’s, but maybe through ignorance of this meaning, it didn’t push the like button) and TEARJERKER (too many close calls of definition in the component bits).
    All of course was forgiven when the penny dropped with my last one in – MORNING SICKNESS, an absolute belter of a cryptic definition !!

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