Sunday Times Cryptic No 5077 by Robert Price — Another Fine Mess

If you found yourself stalled in perplexity at certain points in your transit here, you weren’t alone! I entered a number of answers, not without some trepidation, a good while before all their inner workings became clear—especially a bit of CRS that hasn’t come up, one supposes, for quite some time, and the reference to a sport that is beyond my ken. Chewy, but all quite tasty. Dig in!

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

 1 Benefits, eating nothing but mushrooms (8)
 5 Clear leader for campaign in a desert (6)
ACQUIT   A, “a” + Campaign + QUIT, “desert”
 9 Small pub arranged fine party (4,4)
SINN FEIN   S(mall) + INN, “pub” + (fine)*   …I was a little disappointed with this one, because, in somewhat rarefied French diction, une partie fine is un discret moment de plaisirs sexuels collectifs.
10 Page border split by large word (6)
PLEDGE   P(age) + L(arge) + EDGE, “border”
12 I treat those suffering with pins and needles (13)
14 Nip and tuck (4)
DART   DD, verb and noun (Collins: “a tapered tuck made in dressmaking”)
15 Music producer made good spinning awful discs (10)
DIDGERIDOO   DID, “Made” + G(ood) + DIRE<=“spinning” + OO, “discs”
17 Misery left after war returns (10)
SPOILSPORT   SPOILS, “war returns” precedes PORT, “left”   “Misery” in the informal sense of (Collins) “a person who is habitually depressed”
19 Wit which Hardy has, but not Laurel (4)
NOUS   NO “U”s!   The two names share only two letters.   …I won’t tell you how long it took me to see this! My title is a slight misquote (though the prevalent version) of Laurel’s famous line, but it’s also the exact name of one of the duo’s films.
22 Bring in games after university solicitations (13)
IMPORTUNITIES   IMPORT, “Bring in” + UNI(versity) + TIES, “games”
24 Savage hit during Ali’s first round (6)
ANIMAL   LAM, “hit” + IN, “during” + Ali’s
25 Some may be beaten, say, eg with whisks (3,5)
EGG WHITE   EG, “say” + (eg with)*
26 Health food supplements dislod{ging ko}hlrabi (6)
GINGKO   Hidden
27 Piece of paper cut by inferior paper workers (8)
FRAGMENT   F(RAG)(MEN)T   In these puzzles, “paper” often means the F(inancial) T(imes).
 1 Doctor’s vehicle pinched by abject pervert (10)
BASTARDISE   BAS(TARDIS)E   The “Doctor” is (any of the various avatars of) the central character in the BBC’s Doctor Who, the “vehicle” their time-travel conveyance.   …Another one that had me scratching my head like Stan Laurel! (Eventually remembered… though I’ve never watched that show.)
 2 Fatigue over, monkey around (7)
 3 Piece trimmed from wrong allocation (6)
OFFCUT   OFF, “wrong” + CUT, “allocation”
 4 They keep hands nice and secure on ships (4,8)
NAIL CLIPPERS   NAIL, “secure” + CLIPPERS, “ships”
 6 Stan’s partner’s whine about mine (8)
COLLIERY   C(OLLIE)RY   Where coal is extracted
 7 Taken out by a Parisian of indeterminate age (7)
UNDATED   UN, “a[,] Parisian” + DATED, “Taken out”
 8 Drawn like a bow (4)
11 Hold onto a criminal picked up secretly (6-6)
HUGGER-MUGGER   “Hug a mugger”
13 Untroubled about one wearing Nazi unit’s uniform (10)
Prince Harry?
CONSISTENT   CONTENT, “Untroubled” dons I, “one” flanked by (the) SS, “Nazi unit”
16 Biscuit covering small bowl (8)
FLAPJACK   FLAP, “covering” + JACK, “small bowl”—in the sport of bowling, usually a white one, at which the players aim their own bowls   (We discussed FLAPJACK as a “Biscuit” somewhere in these pages not long enough.)
18 Secure arms to support old belief (7)
OPINION   O(ld)  held up by PINION, “Secure arms”
20 Stone fruit in slices (7)
OLIVINE   OLIV(IN)E   A mineral   …which I’d never heard of
21 Somebody generous with syrup (6)
BIGWIG   BIG, “generous” + WIG, “syrup”—Cockney Rhyming Slang, from “syrup of figs,” a laxative
23 Flipping insect bite! (4)
TANG   GNAT<=“Flipping”


27 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic No 5077 by Robert Price — Another Fine Mess”

  1. The most difficult RP that I can recall – it took more than one sitting, let’s leave it at that! – but I’m glad I persevered as it was so good. Favourites were EGG WHITE, DIDGERIDOO and NOUS, the last of which took me a long time until I had the S.

    I had BITE (tuck as verb / noun) at 14a for a long time, which didn’t help.

    Thanks to setter and Guy for the blog.

  2. 17A: I don’t think a spoilsport is necessarily a depressed person. I think the misery def that counts here is the one that amounts to “a source of misery”.

    1. Oh, sure, anything that causes… misery is a misery. Inarguably.
      But I was looking for a definition referring to a person, as SPOILSPORT invariably does.
      So that’s what I found in Collins for that. doesn’t have anything equivalent though.
      It seemed to follow closely enough. Depressed, and depressing as a result. A “Debbie Downer” (Rachel Dratch), a wet blanket.
      I think the Collins definition for that may be lacking, as the example given seems to express exasperation more than compassion:
      he is such a misery
      Collins lists as synonyms for SPOILSPORT “killjoy, misery [British, informal], wet blanket [informal], damper.”

      1. As far as editing does, I suspect the spoilsport/misery connection was clear enough for me not to be checked in a dictionary. The COBUILD content on the Collins site includes it – COBUILD = “Collins Birmingham University International Language Database”, and has appeared on various Collins dictionary covers, but now seems mainly used for their “COBUILD Advanced Learner’s Dictionary”, so I’m guessing that the online COBUILD content is that book’s current content (my 2014 print copy doesn’t have this def). If I checked and a clue used a meaning in COBUILD but not clearly stated in Collins English Dictionary, I would allow it.

  3. Hard work over 3 sessions so no solving time, but I was pleased to finish without recourse to aids. My two ‘unknowns’ were LANGUR the monkey and GINGKO, both of which have appeared at least a couple of times before (LANGUR only in wordplay) when I claimed each time that I had never heard of them. One of the monkey appearances was actually in my own blog.

  4. I did finish it but not without a struggle. Does anyone else find these far more difficult than Mephiso? Years ago when I attempted Mephistos, I found then they diminished my ability to complete non-barred grid crosswords. I don’t understand that. It’s very annoying.

    1. I wouldn’t say that many ST crosswords are harder than Mephisto, and I need to solve all of both kinds.

      Most of the solving that preceded my eventual success in the Times championship combined weekend barred grid puzzles and regular blocked grid ones. I think I managed to get some skill-strengthening leverage from the barred grid experience, like knowing some tricky words when they came up, and sometimes using the wordplay as a first route to the answer, rather than guessing answers from possible defs and then trying to make sense of the rest.

  5. I gave up on this, which is very rare for me. Just felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with about a third of it unsolved.

    1. Pretty much my case: I gave for the time being Sunday, then forgot about it until today. Doubt that I’d ever have got NOUS.

  6. I took an hour because of 2 mistakes in the NW – spelling acupuncturist acApuncturist (I won‘t make that mistake again!), and for 14ac I had BITE – bite = nip and bite = tuck in the sense of food (tuck shop). So I came to a full stop for about 20 minutes till I realised 2dn had to be LANGUOR. Then finished quite fast.

    1. “bite” means a snack or a bite-sized amount of food, but that’s not quite the same as “tuck” which is food (most often the kind eaten as snacks). If the intended answer had been “bite”, I hope I would have counted that meaning as too vague, or seen “dart” as an alternative that turned out to be more precise.

      As a practical solving point, I’m saying (as I think I did a week or two ago), that 4-letter words so often have 4-letter close relatives that for cryptic def or double def clues, it’s a good idea to write apparently possible answers very lightly initially (“pencil mode” if online) or jot down the possible answer elsewhere, and wait for at least one checking letter.

  7. I wasn’t going to comment because of course I was a DNF again and it’s getting old. But, it’s reassuring to note how tricky everyone else found it, and especially when I see people like Keriothe and Kevin Gregg also being on my side of the finish line. So, thanks to them, and to Guy for the usual very entertaining and instructive post.

  8. I had ‘Nail Coasters’ for 4D which I think does fit the clue. Not as common as Nail Clippers – which I eventually had to change it to, but when has obscurity been a problem!

  9. I can usually solve Robert’s puzzles (eventually), at least in time to submit them. However, this one defeated me after a little over half of it, so reassured to find such major players as Kevin Gregg and Keriothe in the same boat. On checking the blog, I should have got DART, but also thought first of BITE which, at least in the north of England, is synonymous with ‘tuck’, whatever our editor may say, and was unsure enough to leave it blank. However, I was infuriated to discover FLAPJACK described as a biscuit again, which made for an unsolvable clue as it is clearly WRONG, as covered here very recently, as Guy mentions! Whatever… Thought EGG WHITE was excellent once I’d worked it out. Also SINN FEIN, which I nearly didn’t get as I almost discounted ‘sinn’ as not being a word. Generally, though, just too clever for me.

  10. I didn’t make a note of my time, probably long because it was quite difficult. But that’s no criticism. Such surfaces. It seems that almost every time we have a RP puzzle I think that it’s just about the best we have ever had. The NOUS clue struck me at the time as being a bit dodgy since the wordplay led to NOU, but now I think about it it’s fine. The hidden indicator at 26ac looks a bit doubtful to me: probably missing something. I thought that the OLIVINE and BIGWIG clues were magnificent.

  11. Close to two hours. I agree that this was our setter’s hardest ever puzzle. I marked six answers as tough and in the end didn’t know the necessary CRS to be able to parse BIGWIG which went in from the def.

    I was another victim of an initial BITE (as a verb) at 14a which was a major stumbling block until crossers came to the rescue. I also initially mis-parsed 3d with ‘allocation’ as the def and ‘Piece trimmed from wrong’ as (IR)RATION(AL); only trouble (apart from being the ‘wrong’ answer) is that ‘Piece’ should have been in the plural for this to work. I missed the GINGKO hidden and spent too long wedded to the alternative GINKGO spelling. My favourite was the def and misleading surface for NAIL CLIPPERS.

    Thanks to Robert and Guy

  12. DNF and needed your excellent blog for help with NOUS and ANIMAL. Otherwise it was exceptionally slow going but well worth the effort.

  13. I liked Nous, and then Ollie showing up in another clue. I guess we know what vintage movies Robert watches; me too. The not quite &lit spinning discs pointed me to Digger-whatever (I know, it’s not properly disc shaped, but the idea was enough). Mostly, I was glad I had some time this week to start and stop a couple times. Thx guy, thx rp, and thx pb for the usual Sunday “how-the-editor-thinks” input.

  14. Thanks for parsing NOUS. (All I could make of it was ‘no US’ – Hardy being Usan and Laurel English. (Made no sense.)) And BIGWIG. ANIMAL too..

  15. Puzzling to he able to plod through a crossword that defeatsed some of the more impressive posters. DART a guess as the tuck meaning was an DNK. Struggled to get the obvious (with hindsight) ACQUIT, but otherwise a steady solve.

  16. Well, I stayed in the “fine mess”! The defs were too obscured for me to spot, and the vocabulary a bit out of my reach . I managed only a measly (miserly?) few: TANG, DART, PLEDGE (FOI), OPINION, SPOILSPORT, COLLIERY and NOUS. CODs to NOUS , NAIL CLIPPERS and COLLIERY. ( Should have got OLIVINE , as at least I’d heard of it). I fervently hope that RP doesn’t continue to get more complex in his cluing, as I’ll never catch up!

  17. Thanks Robert and guy
    Needed four sittings (and just under two hours) to get through this one and was only able to complete it with numerous uses of a word finder to get an answer, then more time than usual to work out why that would be it ! Even so, still missed the parsing of DIDGERIDOO (couldn’t shake having ‘good’ as part of some anagram fodder) and BIGWIG (didn’t know of the ‘syrup’ rhyming slang).
    It was probably the number of longer criss-crossing the central part of the grid that made it difficult to get some decent traction for the solve.
    Anyway eventually got it filled and all correct, finishing in the SE corner with that BIGWIG, CONSISTENT and OLIVINE the last one in. Phew !!!

  18. This is a great crossword, and the comments on this blog are so informative. I don’t time myself, because I’m too slow and don’t like to rush anyway, but I got there in the end. If one considers OLIVER HARDY and STAN LAUREL, then NOUS also works as NO US.

    I, too, am a big Robert Price fan. After checking I understood all the word play, I went through again, appreciating all the surfaces.

    My comments are a bit late, as I get these syndicated in The Australian.


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