Sunday Times Cryptic No 4903 by David McLean — Sneaking suspicions

Well, this one gave me a bit to think about. Although there are a couple clues, right next to each other, whose construction I found unusual (a rather goofy &lit that may cast aspersions on an entire medical specialization; the slippery missing L in the next one), the wordplay here is generally fairly transparent and there is hardly any unusual vocabulary (you don’t hear ARTICULAR every day) in the answers. Ah, but sometimes the hardest part of a clue is locating the definition. In compensation, perhaps, for the ease of the wordplay and, on the best occasions, assuring a silky-smooth surface, a little-used, fairly obscure sense of the sought word is used, perhaps one that is found only in the most complete dictionaries. OK, I don’t think anything here is quite that obscure, really, as much as due to lacunae in my own knowledge.

Most definitions here are also straightforward, and succinct, but there are three anagrinds of more than one word. I could detect no topical references (which is a relief, no?), though there is the temporary apparition of a superannuated US pol.

I indicate (manargas)* like this, and italicize anagrinds in the clues.

ACROSS
 1 Restrain daring writer from Spooner’s lips (4,4)
HOLD BACK — “bold hack”
 5 Bad officer cut down in midst of attack (6)
RANCID — RA(NC[-o])ID
 9 Pet loves being surrounded by light (8)
CANOODLE — CAN(OO)DLE
10 They could be walkers on cold hills (6)
CLIMBS — C(old) + LIMBS, which “could be walkers,” with the definition “place[s] or thing[s] to be climbed” (as Collins has it) given by the example of “hills.”
12 Conclusion about yours truly is correct (5)
EMEND — E(ME)ND
13 Return baton given to English conductor (9)
ELECTRODE — ELECT, “Return” + ROD, “baton” + E(nglish)… “Return” is not a term we use in the US for a (re)election.
14 Sailors with cheek to catch European dressing (7,5)
TARTARE SAUCE — TAR + TAR, “Sailors” + E(uropean) + SAUCE, “cheek”
18 Engineer giving teens a minus mark (8,4)
NEGATIVE SIGN — (giving teens a)*
21 A curt liar gets high using joints (9)
ARTICULAR — (A curt liar)*
23 Line of traffic (5)
TRADE — The two definitions are not too far from each other.
24 Bit of restlessness during sleeping is natural (6)
INBRED — INB(R[-estlessness])ED
25 Head of brewery, always with time for a drink (8)
BEVERAGE — Love what you do! B[-rewery] + EVER, “always” + AGE, “time”
26 Renowned writer, but inexperienced on radio (6)
GREENE — “green”
27 Rise at home and pack in bags last of gear (8)
INCREASE — IN, “at home” + CEASE, “pack in” holding [-gea]R

DOWN
 1 Game Charlie punches artificial American (6)
HOCKEY — HO[C(harlie)]KEY I (a Yank) don’t think of “hokey” as being “artificial” so much as “corny”—or, as Lexico has it (“North American informal”), “Mawkishly sentimental.” However, Lexico also has (not given as specific to the US) “Noticeably contrived,” so we’re cool.
 2 Son must give the slip to thin creditor (6)
LENDER — [-s]LENDER
 3 Acting group in support of vulgar show on TV (9)
BROADCAST — “Acting group,” CAST holding up BROAD, “vulgar”
 4 Celtic lovely when playing as a team (12)
COLLECTIVELY — (Celtic lovely)*
 6 Vote to eject Bob at summit! Dole out! (5)
ALLOT — [-b]ALLOT, “Bob” signaling B. I’ve been trying to find some justification for this abbreviation besides the mere fact that it is an initial. (“At summit” can only refer to the top of this down clue, so there’s no beheading indicator for “Bob.”) That this question was so distracting must be why I didn’t notice till today the sly reference in the surface to a retired American senator.
 7 Mostly potty American leader and tyrant (8)
COMMODUS — COMMOD[-e] + US
 8 Untidy she-devil needs sorting out (8)
DISHEVEL — (she-devil)* “Untidy” could have been the anagrind, but it at least can be taken as a verb, whereas “needs sorting out” is an adjective any way you look at it.
11 Gone off with our nurse? One might do that! (12)
NEUROSURGEON — (Gone + our nurse)* Rather a jocular &lit. (And I bet most of us initially imagined a male doctor and a female nurse, but anything is possible.)
15 Slim, wise man losing pound for looker abroad? (9)
SIGHTSEER — S[-l]IGHT SEER… Normally, parts of a charade clue don’t have to hang together as a phrase when decrypted, but here they must, as the L that comes out of “slight” is said to be lost by the “wise man.” You can sightsee in your own country, too, hence the question mark.
16 Private last to run aboard navy helicopter (8)
SNEAKING — S([-ru]N)EAKING… According to Wikipedia, the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, an American twin-engined anti-submarine helicopter, was the world’s first amphibious helicopter. Sea King is now part of the name of several US and UK helicopter models. This was probably my LOI, and holding me up as much as not knowing the aircraft was the… sneaky definition. Many a merely private person is accused of SNEAKING around, when that’s not the way they see it at all! It’s tricky, too, because SNEAKING isn’t used that much as an adjective—most commonly maybe in the expression in my headline, where it doesn’t mean “private”; Lexico has “(of a feeling) persistent in one’s mind but reluctantly held or not fully recognized.” And the other Lexico definition is “Furtive and contemptible.” But SNEAKING and “private” are found cheek by jowl in some lists of synonyms and “similar” words, so I guess that’s close enough for our purposes.
17 Desk, after a grunt, is easily moved (8)
AGITABLE — A + GI, “grunt” + TABLE, “desk”
19 State prison lawyer in US tours close to Alabama (6)
CANADA — CAN, “prison” + [-alabam]A + DA, “lawyer in US”
20 Respect Queen demanding that soprano leaves (6)
REVERE — Even at her age, she has sensitive ears! R + [-s]EVERE, “demanding“ minus its S
22 Conservative slant with no endorsements (5)
CLEAN — C(onservative) + LEAN, “slant”… The definition gave me pause—and prompted a little research. My first thought was of a politician untainted by any sleazy corporate backing… but that didn’t quite fit. Googling “clean” and “no endorsements” turned up the phrase “All licenses must be clean with no endorsements to rent with us.” Eventually, I learned that an endorsement (in these cases hewing closely to the literal, etymological sense of “something written on the back”) is a clause in an insurance policy detailing an exemption from or change in coverage or (Lexico) “(in the UK) a note on a driving licence recording the penalty points incurred for a driving offence” (Lexico also gives “indorsement” as a US spelling, but that looks odd to me). I guess the latter sense is the most common, and it must be amusing for those to whom such endorsements are possibly even all too familiar to see an American (who, by the way, doesn’t drive) scratching his head over it.

32 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic No 4903 by David McLean — Sneaking suspicions”

  1. ….must have CLEAN licence”. Common British usage, but it doesn’t surprise me to learn of its apparently parochial nature.

    A fairly routine puzzle, brightened by the appearance of that very stable genius at 7D.

    FOI RANCID
    LOI INCREASE
    COD COMMODUS
    TIME 10:58

    1. And I thought there were no topical references! I didn’t want to think about it, obviously.

      CLEAN must be used in a similar way here, but I’d never encountered “endorsements” in that sense.

  2. I also wondered about ‘private’ as a definition for SNEAKING, and that, coupled with my ignorance of the SEA KING, made this my LOI, by a long shot; maybe 10 minutes devoted to it. DNK CLEAN. Liked RANCID.
  3. In 6dn, B for Bob might come from cryptography. There, the convention is that A (Alice) tries to send a message to B (Bob) without E (Eve) being able to eavesdrop!
    1. That’s very interesting, and Bob and Alice seem perfect references for cryptic puzzles, though I’ve never seen either of them used in one before.
  4. 35 minutes. I didn’t know COMMODUS but the cryptic was easy to solve with crossers. A CLEAN driving licence stared straight out at me as a write-in, as did ELECTRODE. I took a while to see SNEAKING, but once I did, I thought of such a feeling, suspicion or fancy that I was happy. I guess that the Atlantic was the reason the other way round that I had to think long and hard having biffed AGITABLE to remember that a grunt could be a GI. LOI was REVERE, as ‘demanding’ didn’t bring in ‘severe’, but the answer was obvious. COD to NEGATIVE SIGN for its surface. Thank you Guy and David.
  5. I was beaten by SNEAKING. I think it may be one of those irregular political verbs—I was having a private meeting with my family; you were sneaking off to Durham; he has been charged under section 6 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020…
  6. In 6dn it is just BALLOT minus “Bob at summit” = B .. so there is indeed a beheading indicator

    Edited at 2020-05-24 07:59 am (UTC)

    1. Must remember not to spend so much time editing my posts. But I’m sure (also) that’s it.
    2. I, obviously, entertained that idea, but “summit” only works for the first letter of a down clue and “Bob” isn’t in the actual Down word at all, only in the wordplay. If that was indeed the idea, “summit” was the wrong choice of word to indicate the first letter of a word. I’m rather taken with the cryptography explanation

      Edited at 2020-05-24 10:15 am (UTC)

  7. Surely Bob “at summit” gives the B. We don’t really need to know that it’s the first letter of the word Ballot that goes, just that the B is ejected. A little bit of lift and separate, methinks. Mind you, I was a bit wary of the idea of ejecting something that isn’t enclosed, but let that pass.
    25 minutes to complete this, and yes, SNEAKING was last in when I remembered the actual helicopter rather than some generic stuff – chopper, whirlybird and such. I have a sneaking feeling I was not the only one, but I’ll keep that private.
    In the UK, there’s a celebration day to be had when the three points for a speed camera violation drops off your driving licence, even more so if you’re in danger of racking up 12 points and a ban. There are now stretches of road in the UK when you can theoretically rack up four violations and 12 points in less than a quarter mile.
    “Return” for elect is common enough in the UK: the person that reads out the election results and declares the winner, usually at stupid o’clock in the morning, is a Returning Officer.
    For a puzzle with so many UK centric devices, there was (were?) a lot of US politics to be had. Best of luck in November guys.
  8. Very pleased to have finished this. FOI HOLD BACK. LOI CLIMBS where I had been toying with Cleats prior to the appearance of Commodus. A friend of mine has an authentic Roman coin and it has the head of Commodus on it; prior to seeing that I’d never heard of him.
    COD for me was SNEAKING. Also had a big question mark about the parsing of REVERE. Finished at 1.52pm, quite early for a Sunday. David
    1. Watch Gladiator .. it is not a bad film. Russell Crowe is a bit wooden, allowable perhaps in a gladiator. Joaquin Phoenix is a suitably evil Commodus but Oliver Reed steals the show ..
  9. Didn’t know COMMODUS but the wordplay was clear. No problems with the CLEAN licence. Took a while to parse REVERE. SNEAKING was my LOI, when I finally remembered the marine helichopper. AGITABLE was a new word for me. Liked NEUROSURGEON. All done in 32:56. Thanks Harry and Guy.
  10. 10a must be one of the worst clues I have ever seen in a Sunday Times crossword. Limbs for walkers is very poor and a climb is not a hill, a hill may be climbed and may have climbs on it.
    1. Isn’t a hill a “climb” when motoring or cycling?
      GTH, NSW, Australia (Two weeks late of course)
  11. DNF. Defeated by SNEAKING. Curious really because after the fact 1) I can see perfectly well how SNEAKING means ‘private’ (in the way Collins defines it as ‘secret’) and 2) I was (vaguely) familiar with the helicopter. Somehow though although I recognised both in the direction B->A my brain just couldn’t come up with either in the direction A->B.
    Nice puzzle though. Count me among those who thought ‘Bob at summit’ was just indicating the first letter of Bob.
    1. So how do you see “summit” as indicating the initial of “Bob”? Isn’t the lower-case “b” just as tall?
      1. Just because it’s a down clue. I agree that it’s odd: more usually you’d expect individual wordplay elements to stand alone, irrespective of whether the clue is an across or down. But there’s no obvious (to me at least) reason why that should necessarily be the case.

        Edited at 2020-05-24 02:10 pm (UTC)

        1. Yes, that’s the answer I expected, and that’s what I blithely assumed when working it the first time. But then I took a second look. “Bob” is not in the grid, so foot and summit, top and bottom, have nothing to do with it. We are, in fact, pointedly told that Bob is not in the answer but to “eject Bob at summit,” which makes no sense unless “Bob” in some sense equals B and you’re already imagining BALLOT in the grid, going down.

          If “Bob” does not equal B, then “summit” is unduly confusing. Right, it cannot signify the first letter save in a Down clue. Was anyone imagining the word BOBALLOT? Ha

          1. Yes you sort of have to imagine BALLOT in the grid, the B of which is part of a BOB which is also, notionally, in the grid. Like I say it’s a bit weird!
            1. Yes, and since “summit” refers to the top of the word in the grid, it cannot also pick out just the first letter of “Bob” for us. It’s up to us to somehow connect “Bob” with the B dropped from the imagined BALLOT. I am aware of no such convention, unless it is the cryptographic one pointed out by our Australian friend brnchn.
              1. ‘Summit’ doesn’t have to refer to the top of the word in the grid. You take the ‘summit’ of the word BOB (having notionally placed it in the grid) and remove that (the letter B) from the word BALLOT. In this reading the clue doesn’t explicitly tell you where to remove the B but there’s only one in BALLOT so it doesn’t need to.

                Edited at 2020-05-24 02:58 pm (UTC)

                1. You just told me the reason “summit” supposedly works to indicate the first letter of “Bob” is because it’s a Down clue. Now you’re saying “summit” has nothing to do with the positioning of B. Those are mutually contradictory statements.
                  1. Summit refers to the ‘top’ of the word BOB, which you have to notionally imagine in the grid with the other elements of the wordplay, so it would be going down because this is a down clue.
                    1. I’ve never heard of a clue with the strange, arbitrary requirement that all elements of wordplay be considered as going in the direction of the answer in the grid, wow.

                      Be that as it may (or mayn’t), I’m giving up trying to make you see my point of view. Take care!

                      1. I see your point of view! And as I’ve said a couple of times I also find it odd, so to that extent I agree with you. I can’t quite work out if I object to it though.
                        And perhaps we’re all missing something and the explanation is something else altogether.
  12. 26:06. I don’t seem to have had too much trouble with this one, though I do recall it took me some time to stop thinking of cats and dogs and get to the correct sense of pet in canoodle. No problem with ‘Bob at summit’ to indicate the B of Bob. A clean driving licence is also a familiar expression.
  13. Second time in a couple of weeks that we’ve had Celtic FC in a clue. And they are lovely when playing as a team.
  14. All was going swimmingly with just 6 left after 12 minutes, but then I got stuck and eventually needed aids to finish. I was sure 7D had to end POTUS. Failed to remember the helicopter so needed help for that too. I’m another with B for Bob at the summit. No ticks on my copy. Maybe I got out of bed the wrong side last Sunday.
  15. Nice puzzle, and relatively mild. I didn’t have any problem with the B – I assumed a loose “B is the head/summit of the word Bob, lose that B from Ballot” instruction and I wasn’t fussed by it. Like keriothe, I merely noted it as unusual for the usually ultra-precise DM. I liked finding Commodus, I never found Sneaking. I also did some wondering as to whether, amongst US servicemen, GI is restricted to army and Grunt to marines; there appears to be that flavour, but it’s not a rigid rule and has more to do with which service had the larger presence in ETO and then in Viet Nam. Thanks, Guy.

    Edited at 2020-05-24 05:23 pm (UTC)

  16. Thanks David and guy

    Enjoyable puzzle with the usual amount of clever charades to be worked out. Thought that a couple of the definitions were cleverly disguised both within the clue itself and by the less usual meaning of the answer. Had no problem taking B as the ‘summit’ of ‘Bob’ and then taking that from [B]ALLOT.
    Was held up for days with the INBRED and SNEAKING crossers, but was eventually able to piece together the former and SEA KING started floating up from the abyss of some deep memory … and finally it was finished.

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