Sunday Times Cryptic No 5011 by Robert Price — Stellar performance

Another fine Bob creation that garners nothing but praise from me. For a time, the surface of 1A seemed rather opaque, which isn’t his style, but that was my own fault. And I was confused about 19, thinking it must hinge on a rare and even dubious definition, which I certainly didn’t expect from M Price, until Keriothe informed me that I had the wrong answer (d’oh!).

“Don’t look to the skies, to the sun or the moon or the stars, all the heavenly bodies, and be led astray, worshipping and serving them,” saith Deuteronomy 4:19. Yes, that’s a Bible verse cited by this confirmed nonbeliever. But—IMHO—here on Earth we must proceed by 12, with no celestial guidance. I won’t be consulting any 13.

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

 1 Boundary by India playing for charity (10)
COMPASSION  COMPASS, “Boundary” + I(ndia) + ON, “playing”  …“Boundary” is a shot that makes contact with the eponymous line on the field in cricket, one of the many sports about which I am utterly ignorant.
 6 Mark’s seldom seen missing church (4)
 9 Small instrument for cutting (5)
SHARP  S(mall) + HARP
10 Unqualified, say, in cacti or bananas (9)
CATEGORIC  EG, “say” inside (cacti or)*
12 At sea a way to plot and exact revenge (4,9)
DEAD RECKONING  DEAD, “exact” + RECKONING, “revenge”
14 Grip the necks of large rum bottles (8)
15 Back roads unevenly filled with mixed oil and tar (6)
SAILOR  RoAdS<=“Back” holds (oil)*
17 Resistance and division ousting Scotland’s first minister (6)
RECTOR  R(esistance) + [-s]ECTOR
19 On piano, for example, a minute piece (8)
PARTICLE  P(iano) + ARTICLE, “for example, a”
21 Soldier cut open by my men in China (5,8)
LANCE CORPORAL  LANCE, “cut open” + COR, “my(!)” + P(OR)AL (CHINA being “pal” via CRS and OR our old standby the “Other Ranks”)
24 Empty talk inspiring fear or laughter (9)
GUFFAWING  GUFF, “Empty talk” + AWING, “inspiring fear”
25 Nymph who finally understood (5)
OREAD  [-wh]O + READ, “understood”
26 Runs happen to be hard to come by (4)
RARE  R(uns) + ARE, “happen to be”
27 Shanties including trendy elements to add flavour (10)
 1 Company launch (4)
CAST  DD  “Company” in the sense of “a group of opera singers, dancers, or actors who work together” (Collins) overlaps the sense of “cast” as “the group of performers to whom parts are assigned; players.”
 2 Died, squeezed by increasingly tight snake (7)
 3 Most important features of a man a gal hoped to change (5,3,5)
“Don’t you remember, I was always your clown / ♬ Why try to change me now?”
ALPHA AND OMEGA  (a man a gal hoped)*  …We had the same answer in this Wednesday’s QC (2157). This is a better clue.
 4 Without doubt getting round the city is fast (8)
 5 Subject to lower temperature, one might dispense brandy (5)
OPTIC  “Subject” is TOPIC, and the T moves down.  …My favorite bartenders don’t use one of these things.
 7 Sociable drink (7)
 8 Surprise danger, high in alpine habitat? (4,6)
ROCK GARDEN  ROCK, “Surprise” + (danger)*, the Alps being just one place where you might not be surprised to find one… EDIT: The lower-case “alpine” actually means a plant by that name (which must be the case here) as well as being an adjective meaning existing in or relating to a mountainous region. See Peter’s comment below about the question mark.
11 Greeting for a dog, not one that’s barking (4,9)
GOOD AFTERNOON  (for a dog, not one)*
13 One may offer a fortune for a house (10)
ASTROLOGER  CD, a “house” in this context being the location in the celestial ecliptic in which the human propensity for pareidolia found a certain image a couple thousand years ago. You can connect the same dots today, but, because of the precession of the equinoxes, those “signs” won’t be in the same astrological houses.
16 Something inclined over a long time to produce storms (8)
RAMPAGES  RAMP, “Something inclined” + AGES, “a long time”
18 Tree provided in tapering shape beginning to regrow (7)
CONIFER  CON(IF)E + R[-egrow]
20 Academy that’s grand removed Northern Irish girl (7)
COLLEEN  COLLE[-g]E  + N(orth)
22 Volunteer’s drop in enthusiasm, mostly ignored (5)
OPINE  Hidden  Synonymous and substitutable with the definition in some contexts—“That is debatable,” she volunteered; “That is debatable,” I opined—although one may of course volunteer a statement of absolute fact as well as mere opinion, or, on the other hand, be constrained to state an opinion.
23 Journeys skipping the first day in Rome (4)


36 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic No 5011 by Robert Price — Stellar performance”

  1. 1a Compassion was probably my favourite. Strangle was a great example of the envelope clue that this setter seems to employ more than others. Dead Reckoning took me ages, first fooled by the ‘at sea’ into looking for an anagram, and then with ??A?… thinking it must be Star-something.
    Brilliant anagram find for the difficult Alpha and Omega, and odd that it turned up twice in a week. I had to write a clue for it last month and ended up having to invoke Hall & Oates. Don’t ask!

  2. Thanks, guy. I liked the barking dog and the snake, and, well, I’ll stop there in the interest of saving ink. I was held up by thinking of S HORN which wasn’t perfect but was close enough to write in.

  3. 15:01 but
    For some reason, perhaps, I put in PASTICHE at 19ac, making a mental note to come back and look at it. And I did come back and look at it, 3 days later; I instantly saw what it should have been, for all the good it did me. Lots of good clues, as always; I especially liked ALPHA & O, STRANGLE, LANCE CORP, MEANDER, & OPTIC.

        1. The aforementioned K, before he—more quickly than you or I—reconsidered.

          1. I, too, had PASTICHE, which unsurprisingly, I thought was peculiar, thinking As Tiche was some alternative spelling of Titchy… Oh, and to add insult to injury, I never saw the hidden OPINE at all…

  4. 49 minutes. V. entertaining and needing some work to solve. Spent a while at the end trying to get the “shacks” sense of ‘Shanties’ out of my head. Fortunately seeing ‘house’ at 13d activated the correct neural circuits for what could have been a difficult cryptic def. I just managed to remember OREAD as a ‘Nymph’. The humble PARTICLE was my favourite.

    Thanks to Robert and Guy. (I’ll confess – I needed to look up “ecliptic” and “pareidolia”.)

  5. A couple of factual points:
    1A: the boundary in cricket is normally a line on the ground, so “touches or goes past”.
    8D: “alpine” just means “relating to high mountains”, or a plant that naturally grow in such areas ( I think the final question mark is there to recognise that most rock gardens in this country are distinctly low altitude, and therefore “habitats” only in the “where they often are” sense that normally applies to people rather than plants or animals.

    Commenting before I make any effort to find out who “Oink” is, I think you’re being a bit harsh about their QC 2157 “Alpha and Omega” clue. It uses a fairly well-worn idea, but the main point of the QCs is surely to show you what the common tricks in cryptic clues are, in versions that are relatively easy to solve. I think many clues that experienced solvers really like might be seen as too hard for the QC.

    1. Further: A boundary in English cricket is also either a hit for ‘four’ or a ‘six’. The recent ‘Bairstow’ Test March at Trent Bridge, Nottingham boasted a world record number.
      However, cricket is absolutely not required to solve this clue!

      FOI 24ac RARE which contains an element of cricket.
      LOI 19ac PARTICLE – never thought of PASTICHE, which would have interested me!
      COD 15ac SAILOR
      WOD 24ac GUFFAWING,

      Time 59 minutes.

      1. The Trent Bridge World Record last week was 249 Boundaries, comprising of 225 ‘fours’ and 24 ‘sixes’.
        The rules of English cricket date from the invention of the first lawn mower c.1824, when a ‘pitch’ could be trimmed down properly. So hardly Byzantine!

    2. Well, I never imagined the boundary line on the field could be anywhere besides on the ground(?!). My explanation was merely a compulsive paraphrase of the definition I had just read, which included the phrase “touches or goes past”—“makes contact with” did not seem wrong because (never having seen a cricket game) I imagine the ball rolling along the ground (it is “bowled,” no?). Oh, well…

      No offense was intended to the QC solvers or setter re ALPHA AND OMEGA. I was comparing the clues quite in abstraction from their respective venues. This was certainly a better clue for Sunday.

      The significance of the lower-case “a” in “alpine” slipped by me. Solving the clue did not require consciously making the subtle distinction between the senses of “habitat” as (Collins) “the natural environment of”/“place that is natural for the life and growth of…” and “the place where a person of thing is usually found.” The clue defines ROCK GARDEN as a “habitat” typically, though not necessarily, found in mountainous areas. It doesn’t address what kind of “habitat” mountainous areas are for a ROCK GARDEN.

      1. “Makes contact with” is wrong for many boundaries. A boundary scoring six runs (cricket equivalent of “home run”, though not as important in scoring) must have its first bounce on or (c. 99 per cent of the time) outside the boundary. A boundary scoring four may be just running on the ground when it reaches the boundary, or may have bounced once or twice inside and be above ground when the boundary is crossed. Apart from bowling being the action of the bowler (think pitcher) rather than the batsman, “bowled” in cricket does not match “bowled” as in tenpin bowling. Underarm bowling that would match tenpin bowling is either an exceptional tactic or explicitly banned – see the famous example at

        I don’t think I made the subtle distinction in solving, but strictly speaking, as indicated by your used of “habitat” in quotes, it’s stretching the meaning involved, and that’s presumably why the QM is there.

        1. The rules of cricket seem byzantine, but if had only realized that the balls bounce…!

          As I said, the definition is the noun “habitat” modified by the adjective “alpine.” I fail to see how any ambiguity about the noun can be implied by the question mark here, as what kind of things a ROCK GARDEN may be the habitat of is not mentioned. The mountainous area is not said here to be the habitat of the ROCK GARDEN.

          1. The kind of things a ROCK GARDEN may be the habitat of is most definitely mentioned, by using the word “alpine”. You’ve confirmed that you don’t think rock gardens have to be in mountainous areas (despite your clue explanation currently saying “the Alps being just one place where you might not be surprised to find one”), so if you don’t think the “alpine” in “alpine habitat” means that kind of plant, why do you think it’s there?

            1. I had been going only by this, the definition for alpine in Collins:
              “of or relating to high mountains.”
              I see now that is also a noun, “a plant that is native or suited to alpine conditions,” which could of course be used attributively.
              And I should have seen that earlier from your link, but I was only temporarily out of bed at 5 a.m. here when I saw your comment and replied.
              I have edited the blog, with reference to your comment.

              1. Well, if it takes 3 comments from someone else to get a point across, maybe it would be wiser to reserve comment until you have enough awakeness/time to get the idea from the first one.

                1. Suggest if you want to criticise a blogger you take it off line rather than for all to see. You may have been the originator of this fine institution but, well, I don’t need to say it do I?

  6. 37m 31s
    The Club site has not yet marked my puzzle but I think I submitted an all-correct entry.
    Thanks, Guy, for SAILOR but I query how SECURELY = ‘fast’.

  7. Just over the half hour. Lovely puzzle. My favourites were ASTROLOGER, SEASONINGS and COD the wonderful ROCK GARDEN. Thank you Robert and Guy.

  8. FOI: CAST.
    58 minutes with two parsed post solve LANCE CORPORAL and my LOI: COLLEEN.

    At 15ac I had TAILOR first which didn’t work then I read the clue with more care and changed it to SAILOR which did.
    Favourite COMPASSION.

  9. This was holiday entertainment as I was in Alnmouth last Sunday; managed to get the paper in the village.
    I started very slowly. FOI was SAILOR. Then I was quite quick until my last two-1a and 1d. I often seem to finish in the NW.
    I got COMPASSION without full parsing and LOI was CAST.

  10. The timer says 28:30 and this blog says I solved it correctly, but strangely enough the Times site doesn’t show a solution yet, although I always submit the competition puzzles a week late to see the pink squares right away (or hopefully, not see them, and that right away). A pleasant puzzle with many good clues, but nothing particularly hard. I liked the involved wordplay of LANCE CORPORAL, but also PARTICLE and STRANGLE once I finally understood the rum wordplay.

  11. 19.50

    Sometimes it feels like we might be in danger of praising this fine setter because he is a regular poster here but it really is difficult to fault these excellent puzzles. Smooth; doable; clear w/p and some fun too

    Liked GUFFAWING in particular

    Thanks Guy and His Robertship

  12. A gentle 15.24 with no errors (unless the club site catches up and shows pink) taking more pleasure than I sometimes do with the Sunday version.
    I’m impressed, Guy, by your citation of Deuteronomy to back up an aversion to ASTROLOGERs. It’s always been mildly embarrassing that that “science” was at least part of the stock in trade of the Magi and inspired their visitation.

    1. Let me guess, you’re a Capricorn with Saturn as your planetary ruler? You earth signs are so predictably cynical.

  13. Thanks Bob and guy
    Took today’s syndicated copy from The Australian to one of my favourite cafes and was able to finish it right on the half hour, the coffee had barely gone cold ! Still it was a pretty solid work out where the streaks of clues going in were confined to short bursts. Had P ARTICLE, but didn’t completely understand the why with it until the ‘a’ was pointed out in the blog.
    Hadn’t seen ALPHA AND OMEGA before – only do the syndicated Times Cryptic (on a much longer lag) and never the Quick Cryptic. Enjoyed untangling the long anagrams and also liked DEAD RECKONING and GUFFAWING.
    Finished in the NW corner with SECURELY (not quite sure why that took so long), COMPASSION (tricky, so I knew why that did) and CAST (when both crossers were there).

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