Sunday Times Cryptic No 5053 by Robert Price — measuring up

Another top-notch creation from Bob, with a wide range of clue types hidden under deceptively unperturbed surfaces.

No problems, though I had to set this aside overnight before finishing. The next time I looked at it, the answer to 7 leaped out at me, before I reread or even thought about the definition (hmm…). Then, in quick succession, I solved three clues that each required the insertion of one letter in another word (5A, 5D, 22D), one of them aptly crossing 10A, a phrase that fit the moment.

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

 1 Bush and Biden primarily talk rubbish (7)
Well, it’s part of the job…
BRAMBLE   B[-iden] + RAMBLE, “talk rubbish”
 5 Quick to grab a knife (7)
 9 Unqualified position (3)
LAY   DD   …I saw the two definitions as adjective and verb—not adjective and noun, as the surface would have it—but LAY can also be a noun meaning “position”; Collins has “the way or position in which something is situated or arranged,” as in “the LAY of the land.”
10 Where does the rent go exactly? (2,3,6)
TO THE LETTER  Cryptically literal hint
11 Ways to stop strikers lifting equipment (5,3,6)
BLOCK AND TACKLE   Hinting with terms from soccer
13 Performers ready to model with painter’s backing (8)
ARTISTES   SET, “ready” + SIT, “model” + R(oyal) A(cademy), “painter” <= all “backing”
15 Fly from places in Tenerife on vacation (6)
TSETSE   T(SETS, “places”)E   Here “on vacation” has that special sense exclusive to cryptic crosswords!
17 Wine sent back when eating pub grub (6)
DINNER   RED <=“sent back” swallowing INN, “pub”
18 Voice raised loudly leads to another long row (8)
FALSETTO   F, “loudly” + A(nother) + L(ong) + SET TO, “row”
20 Physical tests run on battery by Siemens (7,7)
ASSAULT COURSES   COURSE, “run” + ASSAULT, “battery” + S, symbol for “Siemens”: the unit of electric conductance, electric susceptance, and electric admittance in the International System of Units    …About time that I was reminded of the latter detail
23 Cut, it’s turned into waste for spreading over fields (4,7)
CROP DUSTING   CROP, “Cut” + DUNG, “waste” with (ITS)*<=“turned” inside
24 Companion’s left cold and sick (3)
ILL   [-ch]ILL   CH = “Companion of Honour,” a member of the eponymous order, one of yer quaint monarchical traditions
25 Like a season’s condensation being aired (7)
SUMMERY   “summary”
26 They’ve all taken off on holiday (7)
NUDISTS   CD,  by virtue of the unusual word order to say “taken all off”
 1 Charge execs for advertising spaces (10)
BILLBOARDS   BILL, “Charge” + BOARDS, “execs”
 2 Battered, yon trimaran opts for this (3,4,2,1,5)
ANY PORT IN A STORM   (yon trimaran opts)*   &lit
 3 Tackle a second-rate spinning and dyeing process (5)
BATIK   KIT, “Tackle” + A + B, “second-rate” <=all “spinning”
 4 Continued writing, not starting over (8)
EXTENDED   [-t]EXT, “writing, not started” + ENDED, “over”
 5 Box in which earth is found (6)
 6 Duties include turning up on trains (9)
EXERCISES   EX(RE<=“turning up”)CISES
 7 One’s bust one’s hips (5,10)
VITAL STATISTICS   CD, playing on “bust”   Such as you’d find on Playboy’s “Playmate Data Sheet” about the centerfold model   This informal sense of the term is variously tagged as “old-fashioned” (Collins), “facetious” (Collins and and “sometimes offensive” (Merriam-Webster).
 8 Unusual, partly fo{r a re}ason (4)
RARE   Hidden
12 Fish smell, so one reordered (5,5)
LEMON SOLES   (smell so one)*   …If I were to lodge one quibble about this puzzle, it would regard the plural of convenience that ends both the last Across answer and this one, where it especially stands out because it is unusual to thus forcibly pluralize the name of a fish, which can already serve as a plural sans the S.
14 Leave desk after arranging to go off (9)
SKEDADDLE   (desk)* + ADDLE, “go off”
16 Authorise punishment (8)
SANCTION   DD   …We also have today a form of CLEAVE, another word that can mean two opposite things, though that plays no role here.
19 Quite bad as an illustration (3,3)
I[’]LL SAY   ILL, “bad” + SAY, “as an illustration”
21 Top plucked from rose quickly pressed (5)
22 Expert serves cold drink, rotating bottles (4)
ACES   C(old) contained in SEA<=“rotating”


24 comments on “Sunday Times Cryptic No 5053 by Robert Price — measuring up”

  1. The surfaces are brilliant. Unfortunately I ignore them when solving, and only get to savour them fully in the warm retrospective glow of an error free completion. 1a, 2d and 7d are particularly outstanding . Thank you setter and blogger.

  2. 22:32
    DNK siemens, and it was only because we had ASSAULT COURSE a while back that I could biff it here. I also biffed VITAL STATS, not knowing the old-fashioned, sometimes offensive meaning. Lots of lovely, well-constructed clues, with brilliant surfaces as Corymbia says; I particularly liked EXERCISES (‘turning up on’), BATIK, SKEDADDLE, and ILL SAY.

  3. Very enjoyable, no problems with this week’s. I agree with the quibble over the 12ac plural. Our language is inconsistent: we don’t usually have fields with cow, but we do have seas with fish, on the other hand lion and elephant roam Africa as well as lions and elephants..

  4. The resident lexicographer on Countdown (she works for Oxford Dictionaries or whatever they are now) allows plurals of certain fish and other consumables on the basis that if they are offered on restaurant menus customers and staff alike may well refer to an order for e.g. ‘two lemon soles’. In that case it’s the name of the dish that’s being pluralised rather than the fish itself.

    I’ve no idea why the plural at 26ac would be regarded as a ‘plural of convenience’ and cause for comment.

    I completed this puzzle in 29 minutes, just within my target time, which after the trials of the previous two Sundays was very welcome.

    1. Ah, well, the resto staff, sure… Ordering, you’d say something like, “We’ll both have the lemon sole.” (And they’d be referring to two orders for fish, not two fish.)

      The origin of the name is not what you might expect (Wikipedia): « The fish is not a true sole, nor does it have the taste of lemon. The English name probably comes from the French name: limande or sole limande. The French term limande may come from the French word lime, meaning “file” (a tool used to smooth metal, wood, etc.), possibly referring to the texture of the fish’s skin. Some other authors suggest that “limande” may also come from the French word limon (which means “silt”). »

      So not only do they not taste like lemon (which was too much to hope), but they’re not even lemon-colored!

      1. I think fish (or fishes) have been pluralised with s from time to time, all the way from Henry I’s surfeit of lampreys to Monty Python’s hovercraft full of eels. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tin of “sardine” or “pilchard”.

        1. I’m sorry Peter. You’re being delightfully provocative today. I have seen a tin of salmon, and a tin of tuna. OK, that’s just me being silly. I would happily consume a plate of whitebait as a starter, but I would be a bit concerned if it came as half an order of two whitebaits

        2. Well, that’s why I didn’t say “never,” only “unusual”—it is admittedly less unusual for some fish and in some circumstances.

  5. Vital statistics: if you look them up on wikipedia, you’re redirected to bust/waist/hip measurements, which are used for clothing. My wife’s assessment is “a bit 1970s” rather than “offensive”, and web searches for the phrase plus “offensive” found nothing to confirm the “offensive” idea.

    1. hmm If Mrs B sees vital statistics as bit 1970s she is not thinking of the system of clothing sizes at that time, more their use in, say, Miss World and other beauty contests and glamour pics like the Sun’s page 3 or Guy’s playmate of the month. Summarizing someone as a set of numbers – I’d be something like 44-36-42 – seems a bit reductive. I am surprised a search didn’t throw up any offensive connotations

        1. Does the fact that it can be used in an offensive comment make a word or phrase “sometimes offensive”? I don’t think so.

          1. The fact that the phrase is sometimes (context is everything) found to be offensive must be what prompted the lexicographers at Merriam-Webster to affix to it the tag “sometimes offensive,” as I reported.

            1. I think the offensiveness that matters in a word puzzle is best based on offensiveness identified by dictionaries published in the country where it’s published. I discovered a few months ago that the NY Times Spelling Bee puzzle (their equivalent of Polygon in the Times and ST) allowed “poof” as an answer, but in the two American dictionaries on the Collins website, the definitely offensive meaning is not recorded in one of them and is British English in the other. In other rulings they’ve made about allowable words, ones that are only or mostly British English are nearly always ruled out, so ruling out British offensiveness seems consistent. In web searches, it was easier to discover that this was its 9th appearance as an answer than that any solvers of those puzzles were offended by it.

              1. Yes, I only saw that in the American source (as far as dictionaries are concerned).
                I am curious about the previous clues for VITAL STATISTICS, which seemed a new term to some—that is, how often it was defined in the informal sense used here, rather than the first dictionary definition.

                1. If you search for “vital statistics” plus “Times for the Times”, “Fifteensquared” or “Big Dave Telegraph”, you can see all the times it has been used in blogged UK cryptics. In short, too many for a quick answer.

  6. I didn’t understand Siemens (another of those pesky scientific references – bring back the birds and plants!), though luckily it was biffable, and failed to parse 4D EXTENDED, though it’s straightforward enough now it’s explained. I found the puzzle fairly tricky, but was helped by getting my COD, ANY PORT IN A STORM pretty quickly. I also liked TSETSE, which I might have had trouble spelling, but for the helpful clueing. Good workout, thanks to Guy and Robert.

  7. I really liked this crossword, which I thought concise, elegant and inventive; and was unable to think of any criticisms at all .. had to come here, to find some!
    Lemon sole is really just a fishmonger’s term for several different species, including dabs and a species of actual sole.. I would be perfectly happy to have two soles (and do, in a different context) 🙂
    I am pretty sure “vital statistics” is a term I have never used; not even in the 1970s..

  8. You have the crossword number wrong. It should be 5053 not 5253. If you search for that number on the website it gives you a random Sunday Times Crossword from ages ago, for some reason.

    I loved this crossword. It took me an hour and ten minutes, so I struggled a little. But the clues are so wonderfully worded.

  9. Started off not too badly with TO THE LETTER and ANY PORT IN A STORM quickly in, but struggled with BRAMBLE as I was after the wrong definition. Slowed down as I haltingly progressed, with only TSETSE and DINNER falling fast. After a wee break (sometimes crucial to solving!) BATIK was obvious and thereafter BLOCK AND TACKLE. Lower half of the puzzle much slower, with only SKEDADDLE, DINNER and NUDISTS being ‘write-in’s’. Had to come here for assistance to move on. Why I threw in FATAL ATTRACTION for 7d is beyond me – but maybe I was mixing up my memories of p3 girls with their effects…? Not my finest hour, but enjoyable never-the-less.

  10. Thanks Robert and guy
    Did most of this in the airport and on a plane back from the Sunshine Coast on the weekend. Finished all but I’LL SAY after just under the hour and a half, before picking up a book for the rest of the trip.
    Didn’t get the parsing right for FALSETTO (had F and SET in ALTO, sort of worked but didn’t really – obvious when the right parsing was shown here). Lots of interesting clues and finished with CREATE, ASSAULT COURSES and that I’LL SAY the last one in.

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