Times 24028 – eat up or take away?

Solving time : 14 minutes – on the fast side for me, so I suspect there will be some very slick times out there. I was held up in the hippy corner by two unfamiliar words that eventually came from wordplay. It appeared to me there were rather a lot of letter subtraction clues in here, and some pretty nice long anagrams. And away we go…

1 BACK(=champion),STRAIGHT(=clear). Wasn’t sure if this was the racecourse or the tie, took the checking H from 6d to see this
9 (d)OWNER: the first of our subtractions today
10 E(as)TERN,ALLY: and the second
12 ESTATE: double definition
13 NUTRIENT: NUT, then I in RENT, got from definition before I saw wordplay
15 BOLERO: OLE(=approval) in BRO. A dance, a relentless piece of music and a horrific 80’s movie
17 AD(=newspaper iterm),JUST(in Chambers – “quite, absolutely, indeed”): Not the usage of JUST that I am used to, but it works
20 RAN,KLE(=ELK backwards): Doe, a deer, a gnu or elk
21 STOCKPO(r)T: subtraction number 3
25 ANNU(a)L: The second article (take your pick if the first is AN or A), and fourth subtraction
26 STOVEPIPE HAT: (AT,PET,SHOP,IVE), fun little anagram
1 BLOUSON: LOUS(y) in BON(=NOB<=). New word to me, and relieved to find that it means a loose outer garment gathered into a waistband
3 SYRIA: (AIRY,S)<= – I liked this reversal
4 (t)RIES,LING: more subtraction
5 IDEA: hidden in hIDE-And-seek
8 ZYDECO: booZY, then EC in DO, got this from the definition before sorting out the wordplay
16 LAST-GASP: nice construction here – ST,GAS(=talk) in LAP
19 NOTELET: TELETHON without the H reversed
23 CRAMP: RAM in CP (from PicniC reversed)
25 KIE(l),V: Kiel being a German port

44 comments on “Times 24028 – eat up or take away?”

  1. 8:30 – yippee. An easier crossword but extremely enjoyable. I especially liked 21a STOCKPORT – nice surreal image – and, of course, the nudge nudge wink wink 14d INSOLVENT. Q-0, E-9, D-5
  2. Well I shall feel like giving up if everyone else found this as easy as George and Sotira did. I thought it was the most difficult for some time and I got as far as 26a before solving my first clue.

    After 30 minutes I had 14 answers (exactly half the number of clues) and it took me another 40 minutes to fill in the rest having used the dictionary once to check ZYDECO existed.

    Throughout my ordeal I was at least able to console myself by thinking that the trickiest puzzle of the week was probably now out of the way and I might get something a bit easier tomorrow when it’s my turn to write the blog. But then I came here…

    QED: 0-5-8.5

  3. Like jack, I suffered – 17:27. I’m not nearly hip enough to know about zydeco, and for 1A, saw BACK easily enough from checkers, but then took a wasteful mental diversion to {Ascot = type of stove}, trying to find something like ‘back burner’ and not having any of 3/4/5 at the time. I don’t think this was influenced by 26A. 22, 21 and 16 were my last few – didn’t see the answer from -A-T -A-P, so had to spend a couple of minutes looking at the 3rd letter possibilities for each one.
  4. 64 mins. Very enjoyable. ZYDECO and BOLERO were last in but at least I’d heard of ZYDECO having spent plenty of time in NO. Kicked myself after spending a long time on the saucy 14D INSOLVENT – I guess my mind was on the wrong kind of bust. BLOUSON and ABRADE I had to deduce. CoD – LAST GASP.
  5. This was not a doddle for me either (20 mins+). Never heard of ZYDECO, and don’t want to , thank you. I reasoned “couple at end of boozy party” would be orGY, and the city would be something like RENO, giving a possible GYRENO as the answer. The rest was straighforward enough, but still time consuming. How fast do you have to write to finish in less than 15 mins?
    1. Speed of writing to finish under 15: Cheeky answer: 14:59 minus however long it takes you to think of the answers! I did today’s puzzle on a web-site printout, so I used the blank grid in today’s paper to rewrite the answers, trying be quick but legible. I stopped the clock at 1:50. Under competition conditions, I check the grid for spelling mistakes and any illegible letters. Doing this, I tweaked three letters as a result (I was being very fussy), and this process took 30 seconds – so 2:20 overall. I must write faster sometimes as I’ve claimed about 2:37 for a Sunday Times puzzle. This is with lots of experience including competitive experience, but my guess is that anyone can complete a grid in four or five minutes without too much trouble. So I wouldn’t worry too much about writing speed. Possible ideas for speeding things up (assuming you want to, and with no knowledge of your experience or current methods):

      • if you solve all the acrosses before looking at the downs, start using an order of solving that lets you take advantage of checking letters sooner
      • when you get an answer, read the next clue before or while you write it in, so that you write and solve at the same time – (once you’ve go the knack of doing some writing without looking)
      • look at checking letters before you read a clue
      • watch out for Times xwd clichés: there’s a bigger set than for some papers, but they do exist – possible candidates for today are: have/has = own/owns, as in “One who has” = OWNER, ‘going around’ or similar as anag. indicator (though this one might be a reversal indicator too).

      How to eliminate GYRENO as an answer without looking anything up: I may be proved wrong tomorrow, but sticking my neck out, I don’t think Times setters ever require you to convert a word treated by things like ‘Couple at end of’ to a synonym. It would make things too hard, as the party could also be a pub craWL, beVY (more pertinently here), or various other things. Your GYRENO idea also leaves the word ‘crossing’ unaccounted for, which is a weakness in any clue analysis. Finally, if the answer is an obscure one like ZYDECO, most setters feel obliged to make the wordplay straightforward, so you should consider ‘crossword cliché’ options – {party=DO} and {city=EC} in this case.

  6. Well done Sotira – took me 12 mins and I was very pleased with that, as I thought it was relatively tough. Never heard of Zydeco – had to look it up afterwards as it seemd so unlikely, even given the cryptic indication.
  7. Apologies for calling this an “easier crossword”. I should have said “easier if you knew what Zydeco was” (I think I knew it from the movie The Big Easy and from listening to the late John Peel).

    In answer to anon’s question – “How fast do you have to write to finish in less than 15 mins?” – I’m not sure about less than 15 minutes, but for the super-fast times such as Anax’ recent dip under the 4 minute barrier, the answer is…. this fast! –

    1. Some while ago, in response to a contributor’s declaration of a time close to 3 minutes, I made the flippant remark that I wouldn’t be able to fill a grid with random letters in that time. The truth is it’s deceptive; if we say an average crossword grid has 160 letter cells, entering one letter per second (quite feasible) would take about 2m 30sec. Allow for clue reading time – again, this can be a deceptively rapid process – and a case of being completely in tune with the setter, then chances of finishing in less than 5 minutes are actually pretty good even allowing for the occasional brief pause.

      However, all the conditions have to be right. The brain has to be free of early morning wooliness and I must admit there have been times when I’ve tried to solve when I shouldn’t, simply because I’m not sufficiently alert. The ability to quickly tune in to the setter is important – which, just as a logical aside, doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be an easy crossword. I’ve been defeated (or badly slowed down) by easy puzzles because I’ve been fooled into looking beyond what sometimes appears too good to be true.

      1. It’s an interesting business, that’s for sure. I know my fastest times seem to come when I’m not trying too hard (as today) which no doubt means I’d be hopeless at Cheltenham.
      2. One condition for a really fast time: you solve at least eight of the first ten clues you look at, including 1A, on first look, without any written workings like writing anagram fodder in jumbled order. You then carry the resulting confidence into the rest of the puzzle.

        However: folklore about sub-5 solutions can give a false impression. Anyone who can beat 15 minutes most of the time (with mistakes restricted to a couple a month) is a very good solver and should have a go at the championship. Looking up old results in my sad bunny files: in 6 of the 8 Times finals I’ve competed in, finishing the puzzles in 10 minutes was good enough for at least a podium finish, and in the last two it would have been enough to win. In the days when it was done one puzzle at a time, I never beat 5 minutes in 72 puzzles under comp conditions, though I did beat 6 a few times.

  8. I suffered two long interruptions whilst doing this one so don’t have a time to report. I found quite a bit of it very straightforward, particularly the righthand side including guessing ZYDECO from the completely fair wordplay. I was disappointed that 26A made no reference to Brunel, that famous sporter of a battered STOVEPIPE HAT. My last to go in was 1D where I wasn’t certain of the word and took far too long to see “lous(y)”, yet another subtraction! My favourite is 24A for reasons I’m going to leave you to guess.
  9. 10.30 for this one, continuing my run of very similar times. I vaguely recognised the word ZYDECO after assembling it from the wordplay. At 14d I initially got IMPRUDENT into my head, one of those answers that you know is wrong but is just right enough to be a nuisance.

    I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to finish a puzzle in fewer than 4 minutes, because I don’t have the knack of being able to write in an answer correctly while looking ahead at another clue. I’ve almost invariably made mistakes when I’ve tried to do this.

  10. So much for pontification…

    Just before I left Australia, around 95, adding Zydeco elements to your music was a very hip thing, so it was a word that had stuck in my head. Back Straight was left empty for a while, but the S from Syria (easy to get with –r-a) and the H from 6, coupled with “Clearly” made it most likely to be Back Straight, which finished off 4 down. With Bolero in there as well (although clued as a dance, dance styles have their complementary music styles), music fans had an advantage.

    I don’t solve by doing all the acrosses and all the downs, I network my way across the crossword. I tried going for speed a few times by doing as many acrosses as I could and then downs, but found I wasn’t enjoying the puzzle as much. I also solved this at a pretty good “brain time” for me (started 7:39pm, finished 7:53pm), just before dinner and relatively sober.

    The setter and I must have been on the same wavelength, and that happens sometimes… my first recorded PB (Peter Beater).

  11. All my spouting above about the feasibility of very fast fills prompted me to tackle this as if it was a Championship Final puzzle, so it was a case of whacking answers in (without full parsing of clues if necessary) then stopping the watch on completion.

    The result? The truth is I encountered a few struggles with this one, most problems being in the NW. Several clues needed a few readings before I got any sense of what was going on, but as soon as I had a sniff of the answer in it went. So this was by no means easy, but I managed to finish in 5:30.

    Of course it completely ruined my enjoyment, so I’ll go back now and have a proper read of the clues I didn’t work out, but on first impression 20 is the main COD contender. Tentative evaluation:

    Q-0 E-6 D-6 COD 20

    1. “whacking answers in”? That’s not really the way it’s done. I’ll probably say this again before the Championships, but it’s worth being pretty careful to understand the wordplay, especially with short answers. Last year, the second prelim had this clue, which I’ll show with checking letters.

      Pale attempt to extend strike (6) _I_K_T

      Think about it for a while, then click and drag your mouse pointer from here to the bottom right corner of this comment.

      The right answer is the double def PICKET – ‘pale’ and ‘picket’ are both ‘wooden stick or slat, used in a fence’, and picket (vb.) is ‘attempt to extend (industrial) strike’. But several solvers, apparently including about 10 of the first 25 to finish, saw the cricket version of ‘strike’ and the fact that WICKET fitted the slot. (13 of the first 25 to finish had a mistake, and some must have had a different one). So I’d guess that about 6 of those missed a final place because they didn’t take the time required to consider which of PICKET, TICKET, WICKET (and maybe RICKET and WISKET for those who know the full content of Chambers) was the right answer.
      Conversely, some ‘slow but sure’ solvers did make the final because they were sure.


      Edited at 2008-09-25 04:22 pm (UTC)

      1. I must be better than I thought!

        In all honesty I saw both possibilities and quickly discounted WICKET, and this clue is a perfect example of seeing an answer without being 100% on parsing. Pale = picket, easy enough, and there’s a simple-to-spot link for strike = picket. It’s only when you go back and take another look that you appreciate the full second def, as “strike” on its own isn’t quite right.

        1. If you can quickly discount WICKET under pressure, there’s no problem here. But under pressure, there’s a good chance that somewhere in the 90 clues, you’ll find one that you can misunderstand if you rush it.
  12. I was due a disaster and I thought this was going to be it. Fortunately the bottom half came to my aid and I ended up finishing in just under 15 minutes, the first five of which were handicapped by simultaneous soup shovelling. Another beauty, this one, my favourite clue being “run out of town”. Never heard of ZYDECO but the rest of the clue made it gettable, so no complaints.
    Write answers in while reading the next clue? My answers would be all over the place!
    1. I exaggerate a bit: what really happens is that you write just two or three letters while reading the next clue, then write the rest while thinking about it. Id you solve it before writing answer no. 1., you read another clue – but trying to remember more than 2 or 3 answers at once is too tricky for me these days.
  13. I didn’t find this terribly hard, but I took longer to finish it than any of the other puzzles this week, with longer pauses between solving clues. I was left at the end with 1ac,1d, 8d and 13. I was slow to see 1ac because I assumed the answer was a very specific feature of Ascot race track; once I saw STRAIGHT everything else fell within the next minute. ZYDECO meant nothing, but the wordplay was straightforward. I particularly liked 17d and 22.
  14. 27:50 so certainly a little harder than average for me.

    Last one in was 17ac as I was looking for something meaning “newspaper article” inside something meaning “every way”. Also took too long over cramp as CHAMP was visible in picniC HAMPer but luckily virtual Peter B stopped me writing it in: “filling” could have made it a container but that left two words unaccounted for and champ doesn’t mean stuff.

    I though Estate was a poor CD.

    Q-0, E-5, D-6, COD none.

  15. I tried for a while to write one answer while reading the next clue, and mostly it resembled my dart playing (I kept missing the board). Don’t believe everything you hear about women and multi-tasking.
    Completely unrelated, an interesting Times blog from a few days ago about disappearing words. –
    link to blog
    – I was wondering how many of the words on the ‘endangered’ list at the bottom have made an appearance in recent crosswords (Times and others). I think ‘mansuetude’ and ‘muliebrity’ might have cropped up. Any others?
    1. Nice find, sotira… agrestic was used as a definition in a recent Mephisto. Olid has popped up a few times, none recently. Abstergent was the source of a lively debate when it appeared in a Times crossword.
      1. I’d forgotten the abstergent debate. Collins can’t possibly drop a word that’s featured twice this year on these pages. You may just have saved a word, chaps.
        1. googly search of “abstergent times_xwd_times glheard”. It would be nice if we had truly searchable archives of this blog (Ilan?), words that get a lot of discussion turn up in searches, but words that only appeared once or twice don’t show up.
          1. Or feed this into Google blog search:

            abstergent blogurl:http://community.livejournal.com/times_xwd_times

            But that’s not perfect, as MAR(I)NER in an explanation isn’t found by searching for ‘mariner’.

            Unless we include a ‘plain’ version of all the answer words, I think searching will always be rather hit and miss. In theory, the Times archive could let you search for puzzle numbers by answer words, but I can’t see that happening.

    2. We’ve definitely had abstergent recently. If I could be bothered I’d hunt down that day’s blog and post a link. But I can’t so I shan’t.

      I don’t recognise the two you’ve recalled. Maybe they were in a Mephisto?

    1. OLID is such a familiar crosswordy word I’d be stunned if a crossword ed rejected it, either as an answer or within wordplay.

      But if it happens… crikey, what a way of feeling old when words you know no longer appear in dictionaries.

  16. Regards to all. I’m one who felt today’s fell on the easier side. I was interrupted often and for extended times, though, so I guess the overall time for me was in the range of 15 minutes. Over here, ZYDECO as Cajun music is immediately recognized, so an advantage for US folks there. Never heard of BLOUSON or NOTELET however. My only real holdup was guessing whether 1D’s Toff was a nob, a nab, or a nib; happily, I stabbed the right one. See you tomorrow.
  17. Kevin,

    I’m pretty sure that nob for toff or similar comes up fairly often so watch out for it again. It’s a contraction of nobleman or nobility and refers to someone wealthy, influential or of aristocratic stock. If you’re in the UK I’d be wary of calling someone a nob to their face however as they’re more likely to think you’re calling them a knob, which is a different kettle of piranha altogether.

    1. Thanks kindly Penfold. In the corner of my mind I recall the term ‘his nibs’ being some kind of English expression also, and I don’t know what that means either. Also, my translation problem involved equating the ‘nob’/’nib’ to a ‘toff’, another uncommon word over here. Thanks for assisting. Regards to you.
      1. ‘nib’ = the same as ‘nob’, though in Chambers only. ‘his nibs’ = ‘a mock title for an important or self-important person’ (only listed in Chambers, but fairly common usage). And (in Chambers at least), ‘his nabs’ means the same thing, and ‘nab’ is the same as nib or nob. So your consideration of three alternatives was more sensible than it seemed to those of us thinking “It’s ‘nob’ of course!”
  18. For me this was rather at the harder end of the spectrum (though that could be because it was a bad day at work and I ended up finishing it in bed).

    I thought “Chinaman” – as applied to a person – was now considered derogatory and spent ages working on the basis that it could only refer to the cricket delivery. I know it is in the dictionary -which ultimately is all that matters – but I was a bit surprised the setter used it with that meaning.

    1. Collins and COD (old editions at least) have “archaic or derogatory”. Must admit that I’d never thought of it as derogatory.
  19. Nice variation in vocab in this one – including a previously unknown form of Cajun Music.

    There are 6 “easies”:

    11a Possible to order a lobster to be cooked? (8)
    SORTABLE. Anagram of (a lobster).

    18a State support (8)

    24a Hedonistic existence of unusually active old characters (5,4)
    DOLCE VITA. Anagram of (active old).

    2d Recent jog with uncle going around ugly high-rise area (8,6)
    CONCRETE JUNGLE. Anagram of (recent jog uncle).

    6d Workers getting glum extremely easily (5,4)

    17d Scrape with a nail point (6)
    A BRAD E

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