Sunday Times Cryptic 5021, by David McLean — lengthy trial

What struck me in particular about this (as ever) challenging and engaging puzzle were the bits of cleverly deceptive wordiness. While there are plenty of carefully camouflaged one-word definitions (and even one that’s just one letter), there are some that consist of several words and blend just as smoothly into the surface. Parts of some clues’ wordplay performed the same sort of trick, going on longer than I at first suspected. (I guess that’s pretty vague, but you’ll see what I mean.)

When Joshua Kosman and Henri Picciotto requested that The Nation each week provide explanations of the clues in their previous puzzle, I didn’t see how all that could fit on the page! But extremely succinct notations were provided that I was indeed (if still just) able to squeeze into the allotted space. My explanations here (in infinite cyberspace) are often more elaborate, but I hope that sometimes not having everything spelled out but only, as it were, a diagram of a clue offers an opportunity to take another stab at fully parsing it—still just a hint, albeit a decisive one, that won’t entirely eliminate the reader’s pleasure in figuring things out for themselves. Fuller elucidation is always available here on demand.

I indicate (G-man Sara)* like this, and italicize anagrinds in the clues.

 1 Can of drink? (4)
BRIG  CD  “Can” in the sense of a jail, “drink” being the sea
 3 Excluded from class, son gets in a temper (3,2,5)
OUT OF SORTS   OUT OF, “Excluded from” + SORT, “class” + S(on)
 9 Type of card dope punched by energy plant (4,5)
REED GRASS   RE(E)D, “Type of card” with E(nergy) poking in + GRASS, “dope”   …I wasted time looking for a four-letter word ending in E to come before GRASS, having already realized that E was not inserted in the word for “dope,” though the wording seems to call for that. Edit: Peter says “type of card dope” is the phrase being punched. As I realized it had to be, for the clue to work, though it was not my first thought, as I said… because I’ve never heard of (a?) “card dope”…
11 With effort, release old period broadcast (5)
EXPEL   EX, “old” + “spell”
12 Sick prisoner with face with florid rash (3-10)
ILL-CONSIDERED   ILL, “Sick” + CON, “prisoner” + SIDE, “face” + RED, “florid”
15 Can sex put back touch of naughtiness? (3)
TIN  IT<=“put back” + N[-aughtiness]
17 The slowing of activity worried Rotarian set (11)
ARRESTATION   (Rotarian set)*   Collins defines this as British English for “the slowing or stopping of the development or progress of something” (emphasis added).   …I wondered!
18 Some might say Bojo’s just cuckoo perhaps (5-6)
RIGHT-WINGER   RIGHT, “just” + WINGER, “cuckoo perhaps”
19 A small hole in a double-lidded organ (3)
EYE   DD   …Edited: Upper and lower lids; not a reference, as I had thought, to a “double eyelid,” a crease that the eyelids of many people of Asian descent do not have, but the much more straightforward explanation. Somehow I was thinking only of the upper fold as a “lid.”
20 They venerated criminal in lengthy trial (5-3,5)
THREE-DAY EVENT   (They venerated)*   Collins says “see eventing,” so let’s: Eventing is “the sport of taking part in equestrian competitions (esp three-day events), usually consisting of three sections: dressage, cross-country riding, and showjumping.”
23 In flipping work, one has very thick skin (5)
HIPPO   HIP, “In” + OP<=“flipping”
24 Rubbish or bin set outside M&S at one time (9)
BRIMSTONE   Old name for sulphur  (or bin set + M)*   Very tricky to start the definition inside the apparent initials of Marks & Spencer.
25 Incorrectly packaged tinned goat’s going off (10)
DETONATING   (tinned goat)*   …At last, a new winner of the Creative Anagrind Prize!
26 Places where drivers go in white Escorts (4)
TEES   Hidden
 1 Briefs: they hinder union, Stone admitted (10)
 2 Just the job for one adult in Delaware (5)
IDEAL   I, 1 + DE(A)L
 4 Mousey do isn’t suave that head of state models (11)
UNASSERTIVE   (isn’t suave)* worn by ER
 5 Old number one banned from politicians’ surgeries (3)
OPS   O(ld) + [-m]PS
 6 New car repairers and small rhubarb producers? (5,8)
SPEAR CARRIERS   (Car repairers)* + S(mall)  When solving this, l assumed that there is an idiomatic use of this phrase that corresponds to the apparent sense (ha) of the definition in the clue—i.e., people who it seems might start a heated quarrel or squabble, a “rhubarb” in North American slang, since they are toting weapons—but, dutifully looking it up, I found that the only definition for SPEAR CARRIER as an idiom in Collins, Lexico, or anywhere else is: one with a walk-on part in a play or movie, or who has a similarly insignificant role in another context. I wondered if the question mark were meant to indicate or justify this… shall we say… imaginative redefinition. Much thanks to Kevin, whose comment—as so often, the first (whew!)—clued me in to the sense of “rhubarb” as “the word British actors mutter to give the effect of background conversation.” So that’s all right, then.
 7 Charge to get papers and Life speedily delivered (5-4)
RAPID-FIRE   RAP, “Charge” + ID, “papers” + FIRE, “Life” (as in full of fire, full of life…)
 8 I mostly promote virtues of fully-honest leader (4)
SELF   SEL[-l], “mostly promote virtues of” + F, “leader” of “fully-honest.” The hyphen is necessary only to make the phrase a single unit.   …I didn’t at first see the purpose of the words “virtues of,” as “promote” seemed sufficient for “sell”; but this is certainly clearer, as well as helping the surface.
10 A conventional sort of farewell for the PM? (4,9)
“Don’t let the door slam your arse on the way out!”
13 Name plan and people will share first bit of news (11)
DESIGNATION   DESIGN, “plan” + NATION, “people”—sharing N[-ews]
14 Perhaps camping on loch takes determined focus (10)
INTENTNESS   IN TENT, “Perhaps camping” + NESS, name of a famous loch, after the eponymous river
16 I’m going to go and crash Trump’s Rotary Club (9)
Can you bring us back some nuclear secrets?
NIGHTSPOT   NIGHT, “I’m going to go and crash” + “Trump’s” “Rotary” as TOPS<=   …Last one parsed!
21 Take off for Love Field at hub staff set up (5)
ELOPE   [fiEld + POLE] <=“set up”
22 Country done with Conservative heading it (4)
CHAD   C(onservative) + HAD, “done”   “Have” and “do” are exactly synonymous in the sense of “to cheat, to swindle.”
24 One possibly hanging in the Cavern Club (3)
BAT   DD   …The famous Cavern Club is, of course, in Liverpool and was a regular venue for the early Beatles.


54 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic 5021, by David McLean — lengthy trial”

  1. SPEAR CARRIERS: ‘rhubarb’ is the word British actors mutter to give the effect of background conversation (I believe in the US it’s ‘avocado’).

    1. Wow, thanks, Kevin.
      And I find that this is in Collins (right below the “quarrel” definition for “rhubarb”).
      I’ll alter the blog now.

  2. I never did work out NIGHTSPOT. DNK THREE-DAY EVENT, NHO Cavern Club, not that it mattered. Liked BRIG, but COD to the clever BRIMSTONE.

  3. Phew! Hard work, but not quite a three day event. I struggled mightily with LOI SELF. Not noticing that fully-honest was hyphenated made the parsing impossible, and the virtues of virtues completely escaped me. In the end I plumped for “I” as the definition, after an alphabet trawl revealed too many possibilities to be helpful. Mr. Sulu of the starship Enterprise?
    Expecting pink squares to spoil an error free month , I was pleasantly surprised to get self-congratulations ( notice the hyphen ). Thanks to Guy for parsing it.
    39:09, with about 9 on self -deception.

  4. 53m 47s
    Firstly, thank you, Guy for a string of explanatory notes. I now understand BRIMSTONE, REED GRASS, EYE, EXPEL and OPS. I can also now see what ‘virtues’ is doing in 8d.
    Gold star in the margin for HIPPO, SPEAR CARRIERS, GOOD AFTERNOON and NIGHTSPOT.
    COD: BRIG and SELF.
    I thought this was an excellent puzzle, one which didn’t lean on knowledge of such matters as literature or Greek and Roman mythology. It was based on excellent wordplay as you indicated in your intro, Guy.
    Thank you.

  5. A 55 minute DNF. I had “bail” for 1a which kind of works, but BRIG is obviously better. From what I can remember, I managed to parse the rest, including BRIMSTONE and at least getting the “British actors” sense for SPEAR CARRIERS.

    I’ve just noticed there is a bit of double duty in the wordplay for TIN. I presume the parsing given is what was intended, but there is also a ‘…touch of naughTINess?’.

    Thanks to Guy and setter

  6. I found this very hard and had trouble parsing as I solved but with only BRIMSTONE unexplained by the time I finished. Nothing unknown here other than OUT OF SORTS with reference to temper, although I knew it with reference to health.

    I think the Cavern Club closed in the early 1970s and the cellars were filled in, but the name was then used by a new club nearby which later became something else and in turn closed. I believe that what stands as the Cavern Club today is in a new development on the original site into which some of the original old bricks have been incorporated. None of which affects the clue of course.

    1. What I find interesting is that there is a statue of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ in Stanley Street in Liverpool, created by Tommy Steele!

      1. Yes, Steele had some success as a sculptor. In addition to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ he had one called ‘Union’ featuring rugby players which is (or was) on display at the Twickenham stadium. There was another called ‘Trinity’ which was to celebrate the redevelopment of Docklands and sited at Bermondsey, Steele’s place of birth. The only one I have seen was ‘Charlie Chaplin’ which stood near the front door of his mansion in Petersham (nr Richmond Hill) and was clearly visible from the top deck of the Nos 65 and 71 buses that passed within a few feet of his garden wall.

  7. I took a look at my entry to see if I was all green (I was). But I had to search by date. The puzzle number is wrong in the title and it should be 5021.

    Isn’t the lower eyelid an eyelid? So all eyes are double-lidded, without worrying about epicanthal folds. My wife is Chinese so I am very familiar with that but I think for this crossword, we all have two eyelids.

    1. Aha. Thanks! And to think that the more obvious explanation was right in front of my eyes!
      Thanks for flagging the number too. That would be almost four years away, at 26 puzzles a year…

  8. LOI OPS. Just could not parse it, but evidently quite straightforward. Thanks for the explanation. Loved the deception in BRIMSTONE – definitely my COD. SPEAR CARRIERS was a close second.

  9. Before a few points of detail, some good news: The site to which the Lexico one currently redirects does seem to have the ODE content now, although haven’t seen a clear statement about the source. Unless you look up a word like “Eccles cake” which only has a British English meaning, you have to remember to choose a “British” option to see it after the US content is displayed, but it is there. I’ve added a similar comment to Jackkt’s 15 August posting about this.

    Onto the detail not already explained by others …

    3A “in a temper” is the definition, rather than just “temper” – “out of sorts” being an adjectival phrase

    9A is an example of a clue using some invisible maths-style brackets – it’s (type of card dope = RED, GRASS) that’s “punched” by E

    11A really needs brackets too – the homophone works best if it’s of “ex spell” as it would very often be pronounced

    16D The explanation should really have “TOP’S”, as “’s” is just indicating S, after Trump=>TOP and before going “rotary”

    1. 3A The underline has been extended. This was a typo.

      9 I really don’t understand what “type of card dope” means as a phrase, but I’ve added your comment above, in an edit. Of course, I had to take it that way to solve the clue, though that was not, as I said, my first thought. “Card dope” is a thing?

      11A I typically indicate homophones just as I did here, with quotation marks around the word that our answer sounds like.

      16D Punctuation can often be ignored in solving, but I’ve added the apostrophe. (Have given up trying to unravel your sentence… maybe after a good night’s sleep…)

      1. I don’t understand why “type of card dope” should need to be a meaningful phrase. “type of card” and “dope” are the things that need to mean something, and it’s the combination of their meanings that needs to have E inserted. The need to consider possibilities like whether “A B containing C” means “A followed by (C in B)” or “C somewhere in (A,B)” is definitely a thing in cryptic solving.

        Punctuation isn’t always important, but as apostrophe+S can mean three different things, I’d advise any solver seeing it to consider the various possibilities.

        1. I’ve seen the kind of arbitrary insertion as in “card dope” before, and ultimately realized this must be what is going on here. But having to (being forced to, as it were—ha) take those words as one unit, as if it were an idiom, made me wonder if perhaps it is (maybe a sport thing). It was a sincere question.

          I doubt if anyone’s comprehension of how the apostrophe functioned in the clue is affected by its being omitted from the rendering of this answer, which does not contain an apostrophe, even implicitly. I am sticking with my original take, that the apostrophe “is” is possessive: “Trump/TOP’s” “Rotary.” It looked odd this morning when I saw it in the answer…

          1. But it’s TOPS that is ‘rotary’, not TOP. Whether the apostrophe is possessive or a contraction of IS (in the wordplay, that is: in the surface reading it’s obviously a possessive) doesn’t matter: either way Trump’s becomes TOP’S so take your pick!

            1. Yes, indeed. The note in the blog has read since a little after I got up as:
              “Trump’s” “Rotary” as TOPS.

              For a moment there, this morning, I was confused, but “Trump’s” is obviously possessive in the surface. I don’t see any reason to make it mean “is” in the cryptic. I don’t even see how that would work.

              I still don’t see anything wrong with my original notation. Oh, well…

            2. Oops… forgot the arrow.
              NIGHT, “I’m going to go and crash” + “Trump’s” “Rotary” as TOPS<=

      2. 9ac doesn’t need the brackets if the Chamber’s spelling is used: reed-grass. Was the missing hyphen a typo by the ST?

    2. Thanks, Peter. Informative as always. Just to clarify if you were referencing my comment about ‘temper’ I fully understood that the definition was ‘in a temper’ (and Guy had that underlined in his blog) but I was just saying that I’d not come across ‘out of sorts’ meaning anything other than in dodgy health, under the weather – that sort of thing. I checked after solving that the clue definition was fine, so the MER I had experienced was down to my own ignorance.

      1. I was only commenting on Guy’s explanation. At the time, only “temper”was underlined.

    3. What’s your basis for saying this is the ODE content? I checked a few definitions while Lexico was still up and the British version in was not the same as Lexico. There’s probably a way of checking but not within my technical capability!

      1. Sorry for late reply. The defs I’ve looked at under British on the site seemed to match the ones in my iPad version of ODE.

        1. Thanks Peter. So perhaps they have changed the British definitions wholesale to the ODE ones. It’s a bit weird that they haven’t been more explicit about exactly what they’ve done and what they plan in future.

  10. My LOI by some measure was BRIG where the surface led me astray. Like others, I found a few hard to parse but overall this was an enjoyable crossword.
    I recognised Love Field , being the second airport at Dallas, Texas.
    And having been to The Cavern fairly recently, the story I got was that much is original but the entrance has changed. It looked just like the 1960s films of The Beatles and is a great place to visit if in Liverpool.

  11. This one was almost completely beyond me. Managed to make sense of only a fifth of it. Just couldn’t figure out what the clues were looking for or how to get there. DNF but kind of chuffed to have at least started. Well done to all who deciphered it all and to Guy for the explanations. Makes perfect sense when it’s all laid out like this. I’m hoping I’ve learned something!

  12. Struggled but got there just under 50 mins

    Thought the dope in REED GRASS was ASS so completely failed to parse it

    Was about to give in with the EXPEL and SELF combo but posited F as the last letter for the latter and Hey Presto

    Even the simple IDEAL caused problems as I wasn’t sure of the abbreviation for Delaware (assumed DA) and couldn’t get the vowels in the right place.

    But much to like as always and thought BRIG was superb when the penny finally dropped

    Thanks all

    1. To be fair, my memory is that most US state names can be abbreviated in at least two ways. Great for xwd setters, but little more than a nuisance for the rest of the world.

  13. Two questions about 5dn: a) Aren’t the politicians MEPs (OK less familiar nowadays after Brexit, but presumably they still exist in Crosswordland)? I can’t see how it parses otherwise: how is ‘number one’ = ‘m’?, and b) How is the apostrophe after ‘politicians’ accounted for? It looks to me as if the definition is to the right of it and the wordplay to the left of it.

    This seems to be a tiny blemish on an otherwise excellent crossword.

    [Very odd: when I clicked on the box at the bottom I was told that there was an error and please retype my message. I thought it had gone, but there it is.]

    1. I can’t see a problem with the punctuation here. Politicians’ => MPS’. The punctuation is only ignored to the extent that you can’t put punctuation in the grid. This is commonplace: see 16dn for instance where the wordplay indicates TOP’S.

  14. Not sure I follow this, Wil. Why would ‘politicians’ need to be MEPs for ‘number one’ to indicate M? M is ‘number one’ in MPs too, isn’t it? And whilst punctuation (in this case the apostrophe) can be relevant sometimes it can also often be ignored (as discussed above re 16dn) .

    1. I was seeing ‘number one’ as ‘me’. I’m not that keen on ‘number one’ to indicate the first letter, but I suppose it’s OK. This sort of thing has the imprimatur of Azed, who once awarded first prize to a clue by Richard Heald for NINE-TO-FIVE : Occupying such positions you’ll see memos from tiresome managers! (i.e. hidden rev. at positions 9 to 5, & lit.).

      Likewise I think clues are tighter when the punctuation doesn’t have to be ignored. We often have ‘s to indicate both has and is, one in WP, one in def, and that’s fine but otherwise it’s possibly something to be avoided. Whether it’s actually unsound I’m not sure.

      1. Thanks for expanding on your pov, Wil. For what it’s worth I had it down as a slightly dodgy clue but accepted it (just about) as explained in my previous and thought I’d wait until Sunday (today) to see if anyone else had misgivings.

  15. 11:57. No major problems with this, and I enjoyed it a lot. I particularly liked ‘can of drink’ and the lift-and-separate in ‘M&S’.

    1. I did, Lou- but in three times your speed! However, was pleased to complete 3/4 of the grid on a Sunday. My big downfall was BRIMSTONE ( which I just couldn’t see) and the ending of INTENTNESS – which seems to me to be an awkward word.

  16. I am trying to identify by number the Sunday Times crossword that appeared in the Weekend Australian 3-4 Sept. The answer to 1 ac was “Match of the Day” and 26 ac was “Harmonisation”. Can anyone assist?

    1. The calendar on these pages comes in handy. You could search each Sunday till you found it, which is what I did for you.
      It is 5020, by Robert Price, blogged by Keriothe.

      1. Thanks Guy, much appreciated. This solution doesn’t come up when I key it in, but I can key in the individual clues to get answers – although doing it that way they don’t explain WHY! You refer to a calendar . . . .where is this?

        Cheers Guy . . . Ray

    2. The Weekend Australian carries the crossword about 2 weeks behind the current Sunday.
      John Murray

  17. You’re welcome, Ray. The calendar is right across from the headline on any blog post, near the top of the page on the right. It’s headed with POSTS BY MONTH, and you can click back to previous months.

  18. I initially biffed RIGHT NUTTER for 18a. I thought that fitted beautifully until I got 13d and had to reconsider. I was a little disappointed to have to change it.

  19. Thanks David and guy
    Thought that this was a cracking puzzle which took just shy of an hour and a half to do last weekend. Was able to get the grid completely filled but wasn’t able to parse SELF (clever when it was explained) nor the NIGHT part of NIGHTSPOT (again when used as the contraction of ‘goodnight’, it all makes sense).
    Smiled at the surface of RIGHT WINGER, thought BRIG was excellent and loved the tricky start to the definition of BRIMSTONE.
    Finished with some shorties – EXPEL (another clever definition and crafty homophone), that SELF and ELOPE (which I nearly forgot to go down and finish with another cleverly disguised definition).

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