Sunday Times Cryptic No 5087 by David McLean — cutting words

My FOI was ON THE NOSE, and then I worked all the four longest (12-letter) clues (the answers to two of which are remarkably similar). I profited from that flying start and had this all completed within a comfortable timeframe, though two answers stubbornly resisted parsing. I even had to email a friend about one! (I might have figured it out in the week before this appears, but it was really bugging me.) Both relied on a deceptive, and totally legit, use of (un)capitalization. Had to watch my fingers—there are some sharp devices here.

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

 1 Those players who’ve scored might mark? (8)
BEDPOSTS    CD, playing (if only slightly) on “players” and “scored,” and alluding to the notion of notching a BEDPOST after a sexual “conquest”    …I am instinctively repelled by the description of carnal relations in terms of victor and vanquished… though perhaps both partners can score and the conquest be mutual…?
 5 Unit repel charge by half-destroyed sector (6)
PARSEC    RAP<=“repel[led]” + SECtor   …I’m not happy with the subject/verb clash between the first two words. IMHO, it would be better to say “Unit’s charge repelled,” etc.
 9 Issue with one animal brought over by sea (8)
MARITIME   EMIT, “issue” + I, “one” + RAM, “animal” <=“brought over”
10 Religious work interrupted by English national (6)
KOREAN    KOR(E)AN   (The accepted transliteration these days is Quran or Qur’an.)
12 Take action with nurse to get result (5)
ENSUE    E(nrolled) N(urse) + SUE, “Take action”
13 Detest moderate old minister punches (9)
ABOMINATE    AB(O)(MIN)ATE, “moderate” as a verb
14 How one can describe Pinocchio or Dopey (12)
18 Do wrong or evade crafty type? (4,8)
WOOD ENGRAVER    (wrong or evade)*
21 Slow progress in uprising repels resistance (9)
23 Examination of pain in the neck (5)
24 Advantage of entering river-flooded mine (6)
PROFIT    P(R)(OF)IT   …supposing that the R(iver) has come into the PIT before “of” enters
25 Where old man’s SEAT is picked up for crook? (5,3)
BELOW PAR     “Below Pa” is his “seat” (deceptive capitalization to evoke the Spanish automaker)   …This sense of “crook” was new to me.
26 Parrot or full-sized old primates (6)
APEMEN    APE, “Parrot” + MEN, or O(ther) R(anks), “or full-sized”   …I thought something might be wrong with this clue, but keriothe  explained the second part of the wordplay.
27 Python with tongue maybe going after sloth (8)
IDLENESS    IDLE, Eric, of Monty “Python” + NESS, “tongue” of land
 1 Exceptionally big hit by Queen in the 70s (6)
BUMPER    BUMP, “hit” + ER, “Queen in the 70s”   Of course, Elizabeth II was queen from 1952 until her death in 2022! But the band was formed in 1970…
 2 I had to return Spider? Most awful! (6)
DIREST    I’D<=“to return” + REST, “Spider” (support for a cue in billiards or snooker)
 3 Exactly how one might first judge a wine? (2,3,4)
ON THE NOSE    With a cryptic hint
 4 Mating: an idea gone over repeatedly (4,3,5)
TIME AND AGAIN    (Mating: an idea)*   An unusual anagrind! Not a reversal indicator.
 6 I love to visit old fighter in Mayo (5)
AIOLI    A(I)(O)LI   Muhammad ALI, of course, “the Greatest”
 7 Trie{ste ward s}ensibly embraces supervisors (8)
STEWARDS    Hidden
 8 Tory ministers’ debates (8)
CONTENDS    CON, “Tory” + TENDS, “ministers”
11 Hint a nude oaf dances well (12)
FOUNTAINHEAD    (hint a nude oaf)*
15 Conductor chosen for ultimately lyrical work (9)
ELECTRODE    ELECT, “Chosen” + foR + ODE, “lyrical work”
16 Climber training in balmy area (5,3)
SWEET PEA    SWEET, “balmy” + P(hys) E(d), “training” + A(rea)
17 Ball crossed by agile men onto level pitch (8)
MONOTONE   O, “Ball” surrounded by (men onto)*
19 Depression etched into a smiling face? (6)
The “sad clown paradox”?
DIMPLE    CD   …Another incisive clue!
20 Trumpets Lionel and Tony possibly picked up (6)
BLARES    “Blairs”   …I assumed there must be a Blair named Lionel, and I was right. A tap-dancer! Well, OK! So was Tony…
22 Marry one without trace of duplicity (5)
UNITE    UNITE[-d]   …This clue seems to me peculiarly dull. There’s scant difference (basically just a matter of tense) between the word intended and the word cut.

52 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic No 5087 by David McLean — cutting words”

  1. If you take ‘unit’ (5ac) as a collective noun (for troops) I think the singular verb ‘repel’ works okay.

    1. I fully expected this comment. But that isn’t the way one’s ear (or mine, anyway) hears it first, and even seems to require a slight bit of effort to see it that way. Keeping the verb singular would remove all ambiguity.

      1. I read this as a definition followed by an imperative, and I imagine a colon between the two. It’s structurally the same as ‘repel charge by half-destroyed sector [to get] unit’.

      2. If you start the clue with “Unit’s charge repelled”, with the ’s indicating “has” as a juxtaposition indicator, you introduce a different problem, which by my understanding is the reason why this wordplay trick is now banned in Times cryptic crosswords. That problem is that in English as actually spoken and written, ’s indicating “has” is always the “has” that indicates past tense. So “Peter’s made a mistake” is fine for “Peter has made a mistake”, but “Peter has an interesting job as a crossword editor” would never be shortened to “Peter’s an interesting job …”. There is also the question of how many times in non-crossword English “A has B” is used to say that A and B are next to each other.

        I haven’t yet decided to follow the Times decision, as that ’s is very useful to setters, but I’m reluctant to suggest using it in a clue that doesn’t have it.

        1. A bit of nit-picking, if I may: ‘has’ is present tense; ‘Peter has made a mistake’ is in the present tense.

          1. Fair enough up to a point. In a couple of sources (including the Oxford Companion to the English Language), this way of describing events in the past is the “present perfect”, the past perfect being “Peter had”.

            1. I did say ‘nit-picking’, and I meant it: ‘Peter has made a mistake’ clearly refers to an act of Peter in the past (as does ‘Peter had made a mistake’). But ‘has’ is present tense (‘made’ in these examples has no tense).

        2. I meant “Unit’s” to read “Unit is” in the cryptic (where all the rest is instructions for building the word) and as either simply possessive (“Unit’s charge”) or as “Unit has [charge repelled]”—but as past tense it would be better as “repelled charge”—on the surface. (I didn’t know “X’s” for “X has” as a position indicator was banned in weekly Times puzzles, or where that decree was promulgated, but that wasn’t intended anyway.)

  2. I was nervous after pressing ‘submit’, not having parsed 26a,27a and 22d. The idle python, indeed! The full size ‘or’= OR= men also beating me, and a groan seeing how UNITE worked.
    Happy to get a clear round in 26:01.

  3. 28:24 off leaderboard for some reason
    I have a note on my copy, “5ac unit”, which I suppose was a comment about ‘repel’; but I thought as Nigel did: it’s a British xword, after all. ‘The unit are well-trained in jungle warfare’ etc. But like Nigel, I do prefer your version. DNK ‘crook’ (25ac), and didn’t understand why SEAT was in capitals, not knowing the car. I didn’t get ‘full-sized’ in 26ac; very clever.

    1. A bit surprised Kevin that 1ac has passed you by, whereas a simple female word did not.
      Not bothered, just surprised. 1ac did grate with me, where evidently the lady should have but did not.

  4. I thought this week’s was a bit lackluster compared with the previous two. In 1dn it seems to me that “in the 70s” is superfluous. ER has nothing to do with the band surely? Perhaps it’s there to confuse?
    26a I rank as COD, but the definition part is surely “full-size old primates”. I’m referring to the fact that only “old primates” is underlined.

    1. The “full-size” part is only part of the wordplay: instructions to capitalize both letters in “or.”
      APEMEN are “old primates” in some vague evolutionary period (it’s not a technical term).

      And I thought that’s what I said about ER, the band, and the decade.

      1. Ok I didn’t pick up your intended comment on ER.

        I accept full-size means capitalise “or”. I don’t think it’s necessary and actually weakens the clue. I remove COD.

        1. MEN (or some such) can indicate OR, for “Other Ranks,” in the grid, because all letters in the grid are capped.
          But “or” in a clue it can’t mean “Other Ranks” (and hence, as here, MEN) unless it is capped, or you are instructed, as here, to mentally cap it.

        2. In crossword convention ‘or’ cannot indicate ‘other ranks’ because the abbreviation is always capitalised. So an indication that ‘or’ should be capitalised is required.
          Conversely OR could indicate just the word ‘or’ because in some contexts (newspaper headlines, for instance) any word might be written in capitals.

          1. Interesting. I took or = OR as a valid piece of deception and didn’t think twice about the need for full-size, which neatly fitted with the definition. You live and learn. Is this just a Times cryptic convention? Does it extend to Mephisto?

    2. I would attach “of course” to “in the 70s” being there to confuse. This is a cryptic crossword, in which the whole point is to disguise the true meaning of words or phrases in the clue. There may be setters who would not allow themselves to deceive solvers in this way, but that’s their choice. I doubt very much that there is a crossword editor for a British paper who would insist that a def cannot include words that are not essential but don’t make the definition inaccurate.

      1. I would agree with you Peter, but I am beginning to feel a little beleaguered. There seem to be so many out there, who cannot stand a single unnecessary word!
        (nb. I count 8 unnecessary words in the above. Or more, if you disagree 🙂

  5. Exactly one hour for this tricky puzzle, but I enjoyed it so did not resent spending more time on it than usual.

    The ‘crook / BELOW PAR’ meaning rang a faint bell and some of the sources I checked later suggest it’s Australian / NZ in origin, but I think may date from olden times in England.

    I wasn’t sure about ‘tongue / NESS’ but in Collins I found tongue defined as ‘promontory’ which I am happy to accept as a valid synonym for the headland that is a ness.

    I never closed my account at Live Journal although I don’t use it, but yesterday I received notification that it is 18 years since Peter B first set up business there on 2 December 2005. TfTT was to follow the next year. Congrats on the anniversary, Peter, and many thanks for all the years of pleasure your project has given to me and hundreds of others over all that time.

    1. I’ve only ever heard that meaning of ‘crook’ from Australians and New Zealanders, but I thought it was familiar enough over here, at least to anyone who’s watched Paul Hogan or Barry Humphries in their various roles.
      And many thanks to Peter Biddlecombe, without whose creation I would almost certainly have given up attempting crosswords some years ago, confused, discouraged and alone!

      1. Wouldn’t that be ‘crooked’? I can’t find any evidence at all for this (OED makes no mention of it), and it seems unlikely considering it’s an Australian/NZ usage.

        1. I agree on the OED content making it unlikely, but there is certainly far more Aussie rhyming slang than US rhyming slang. It seems that CRS started in the 19th century, and I’m pretty sure Cockneys would have been a higher proportion of Aussie immigrants then (and later) than US ones.

          1. Fair point. However it seems extremely unlikely that a rhyming slang origin – Australian or not – would be missed entirely by all the usual dictionaries.

    2. Thanks for the reminder and the kind words in the replies. For what it’s worth, although the LiveJournal account used in 2005 was a personal one, the heading at the top was “Times for the Times” from the start ( , with my initial idea being that my time for each puzzle would be some indication of relative difficulty.

      The main reasons for starting it were one online forum being spoiled by someone seen as a troll, and seeing a blog about the NY Times crossword and thinking that cryptic crosswords provided more to talk about for each clue. I started with comments on only a few clues each day, and gradually increased the coverage as the audience grew. That meant it was taking too much time, so the swap to a team version was made.

  6. I don’t have any notes for this one – possibly because I found it a bit of a chore that was largely unrewarded by PDMs as the answer struggled into being. LOI, BEDPOSTS, I thought in poor taste, to be honest – I think we’ve gone beyond ‘Confessions of a Window Cleaner’ in the 21st century – as a woman I’m ‘Not Amused’.
    UNITE was quite as unimpressive after explanation as it was before. However, APEMAN, now I’ve had it parsed for me, is excellent and I was amused by IDLENESS. Many thanks, David and Guy.

  7. Oh dear, I did so badly on this. Only three answers, 3d, 11d, 14ac. Just couldn’t pick up on McLean’s thinking or even figure out which end of the clues were which. And seeing the answers now, I see why; usually it’ll be a *slaps forehead* “of course!” moment, but here, not so much. Just not my way of thinking. Oh well, onward. Thanks to blogger for explaining.

  8. I did wonder about the taste aspect of 1A, but a search of the online Times and ST content confirmed fairly frequent use of “bed post” in this context in the rest of the paper, and decided to go with it. The number of emails to the feedback email address about it is currently zero.

    1. Perhaps I’d better send one in, then. In civilised households, the only additional use for a bedpost is as a place to stick your chewing gum overnight. Notches thereon are for cads, bounders and lotharios.

      1. Is marking bedpost a thing? I must have led a sheltered life as the concept is totally new to me. A DNF because of that.

        1. Marking something is not a new thing. Listen on Youtube to Flanders and Swann’s Have Some Madeira, M’Dear, from the early 1960s.

  9. DNF had an unparseable BADMOUTH for 1a. Slight cringe at the correct answer.
    Was foxed by 27a IDLENESS as had forgot that Eric IDLE was a python.
    Minor issue ER came to the throne on the death of her father on 6 Feb 1952. The king is dead, long live the queen.

  10. Same as AndyF (re 1ac) in 40 minutes. TRIAL took a long time as for some reason I didn’t see that as a DD and was looking for something else.

    Ive been enjoying this blog for much less time than others but enjoy it enormously, so thanks Peter

  11. Thank you Guy (and keriothe) for the explanation of “or full-sized” in APEMEN – I didn’t pick up on any of that!

  12. Thanks David and guy
    Actually found this one pretty tough going, working on and off for a good deal of today to nut it out … and with a fair bit of referential help required into the bargain. Taking till around the half way mark to get the long answers was probably the main cause for the hard slog.
    Thought that the long anagrams were very clever when I finally got them and the cd’s were also good (not as put off by 1a as others here – have seen worse).
    Finished in the SE corner with TRIAL (taking longer than needed to see the double definition) then after a break of a couple of hours saw the trick with BELOW PAR with DIMPLE falling out straight after.

  13. This one not to my taste: not only because of 1a, but also the extremely hard to find definitions (“those” in 1a again), resulting in my entering answers without parsing much of the time ! But it was a slow grind- far from David’s usually fun offerings. Can’t say I had a COD here.

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