Times 26,102

Posted on Categories Daily Cryptic
I’ve never complained about it, but my alternate Tuesdays are normally pretty run-of-the-mill, and I can’t remember the last time I had a puzzle which really stood out for any reason, good or bad. Not any more…(or at least I hope so – if I find that nobody else had to wrestle with this one for an unexpectedly long time, I’m going to feel a bit foolish). Anyway, for the record, this became the first puzzle for ages to take me past not just the half-hour, but the 40 minute mark; and while I noted and appreciated some cracking individual clues during the solving process, a puzzle of this difficulty always runs the risk of losing its charm as you struggle towards the finish line with a puzzle to solve and a blog to write! The fact that it was a pangram (in fact, a supercharged one, with some extra Js and Zs and Xs and Qs for good measure) didn’t seem to help as I finally forced the NW corner into submission.

After a break from the process, I think I’ve concluded this is one of those puzzles which is so tough that even if/when you manage to complete it, you end up regarding it with admiration rather than love. So, compliments to the setter, possibly through gritted teeth, and congratulations to anyone who finished in any sort of time at all. As always on blogging days, I tried to be in a position to show all my working before submitting, but some of the parsing is going to have to be posthumous. Onward, then, and let’s see if I was alone in the struggle.

1 BOOK CLUB – BOOK(=”engage”), CLUB(=”striker”). A gathering to discuss works, possibly recommended by Richard & Judy.
5 MYSELF – reverse hidden in wafFLE SYMbolic.
10 LOTTO – The second auction item would be LOT TWO, take out the W{ith} to get the game. At first I thought it was a homophone, which would have meant I’d been pronouncing it wrong for several decades, but it isn’t.
11 CHEQUERED – “up and down” as in a chequered career, and the chequered flag which marks the end of a motor race.
12 FACE SAVER – something that saves your face would guard your standing; FACE(“brave”) then SAVE(“but”), R{uns}.
13 USHER – US (and not them) with HER.
14 ON A ROLL – these days film tends to be digital, of course, rather than arriving on reels of celluloid, whether in your domestic camera or at the cinema (at some point the game of charades is going to have to be updated, though I’m not sure how you mime a film arriving by a fibre-optic cable).
16 NUTJOB – N.U.T. (National Union of Teachers), JOB(=”work”).
18 HOLD UP – the rarely-spotted quadruple definition, I think.
20 BEER MAT – (T{h}E,AMBER). If that’s the first use of a lift-and-separate of “amber fluid” to indicate the anagram, it’s nicely done. Obviously pretty good even if it’s not the first use, but you know what I mean.
22 COYPU – i.e. a COY “POOH”.
23 ZINC OXIDE – Z(“the ultimate character”) (EXCON1ID)*.
25 BRONZE AGE – [ON in (ZEBRA)*]. G{ool}E.
26 IRENA – ARENA with the front changing to 1.
27 XYSTER – X,Y (the plural of axis, not axe) + STER{n}. Worked out from wordplay only – it’s a surgical instrument for scraping bones, hence “sterilised rubber”.
28 QUAGMIRE – the A.G.M. is the yearly gathering, inserted into a QUIRE of paper, which are the leaves. Very elegantly clued.
1 BULLFROG – I twigged early that the definition was going to be a jumping animal, but, without checkers, couldn’t get away from some sort of ROO. Anyway, the last bit is [R{emaining} in FOG], so I guess that means BULL=”stuff”, which I can (more or less) justify by one of those three-point turns in the thesaurus if you think of both meaning “nonsense”.
2 OPTIC – double def., the measuring system for dispensing your shot of choice in a pub, and “of sight”.
3 CROSSWORD PUZZLE – the two variables (Z,Z) go inside (PROCESSWOULDR{un})*, and the craftily simple definition is “this”. A modern classic, this clue, I reckon.
4 UNCIVIL – double def., “short” as in rude, and military as the opposite of civil.
6 YOU MUST BE JOKING – put the girl JO in to “YOU MUST BE (Martin Luther) KING”.
7 EARTHWORM – an endless TH{e} inside EARWORM gives the traditional fisherman’s bait. For those unfamiliar with the modern concept, an earworm (from the German “ohrwurm”) is that song that you catch on the radio as you go to work and then can’t get out of your head for the rest of the day. The good news is that the way to get rid of one is to engage in moderate mental exercise such as a crossword.
8 FEDORA – FED O.R. A{pparently}. I wonder if this was written after Jeremy Clarkson didn’t get his steak dinner?
9 HEN RUN – H.E.= His Excellency= “ambassador”, N{ea}R U.N. I can’t claim to have known the Andalusian chicken, but it didn’t require too much of a leap of faith to believe in its possible existence.
15 ANONYMOUS – (SOMANYONU{niversity})*.
17 STEERAGE – S{ingular}; TEE RAGE; it’s only a theoretical concept invented for crossword purposes, of course, but anyone who’s ever swung a golf club (and plenty who haven’t) should be able to relate to the idea. If there can be road rage (in the car), and trolley rage (at the supermarket), why not TEE RAGE for those driving off at the first hole?
19 POZNAN – P{iano}, OZ NAN. I knew this from the sporting celebration which has been adopted by Manchester City fans.
20 BANDEAU – BAN “DOUGH”. A bandeau is a strip of cloth, so can be any simple garment, including a hairband.
21 ICEBOX – I.E. with C{old} inside, BOX(=”punch”) &lit.
24 ICENI – E,N are today’s bridge players, inside ICI, the former Imperial Chemical Industries, once Britain’s largest company, since sold and broken up, hence “of old”. The “people once” were famously the tribe of Boudicca in the East of Roman Britain.

58 comments on “Times 26,102”

  1. I also found this difficult and eventually only finished it because I was determined not to be beaten rather than because I was enjoying the experience. It’s clever but somehow unrewarding.

    Great blog Tim because this is difficult to explain clearly and also solved under the pressure of blogging

    I don’t think 6D really works and I derived XYSTER from wordplay.

  2. I have to say that I did enjoy this – free of the pressure of having to publish my solution! From an initial glance I thought “I know none of these” but stuck with it. After an hour’s struggle I was ready to consult this blog but I was too early and had to resort to other aids. I’m guessing that pangram means involving all the letters of the alphabet? Always enjoy these more. Knowing from this site that there’s a lunch today for the setters, and in light of 3dn, I wondered whether this was a deliberate challenge to the guests? Thanks for the blog.
    1. You are correct about the pangram. Like many others, I rarely spot them until it’s too late to be of any practical help.

      And I had forgotten about the gathering today: I suspect you may be right, and one setter will arrive with a grin which is even more evil than usual…

  3. … because I’d never heard of a XYSTER, and had lost the will to even attempt the tricky wordplay by the time I reached for the crossword solver…

    The NW corner took me (well) over the hour mark, with a couple biffed: UNCIVIL, OPTIC and also HEN RUN and QUAGMIRE. Don’t really see how the Martin LK one works… Also, could you please explain the FOUR defs of HOLD UP? Dnk POZNAN, and don’t think I’ve come across ‘courses’ as an anagrind (15dn)?

    Many thanks for explanations this morning, Tim. Must admit I quite enjoyed this one…

    Ah… just seen your reply to Olivia re HOLD UP (on edit)

    Edited at 2015-05-19 10:19 am (UTC)

    1. “You must be joking!” = “I don’t believe it!” = “Never!”

      with Jo being the girl who goes inside the charade type “Hello, you must be Imaginary Crossword Solver”, “That’s right, and you must be King”.

      1. Ok, thanks, now at least I get the fact that ‘JO’ (girl) is inserted into (opening) the statement YOU MUST BE KING. Still seems very odd to me. I think I’ll come back to it later and see if it makes more sense…
  4. Great puzzle, which took me about 45 minutes but I didn’t get XYSTER despite actually knowing the word. If I remember correctly at the age of about 11 or 12 I came across it when browsing X words in the dictionary. Sadly I have no particular excuse for this action.
  5. I was shocked to find the setter had forgotten the second V in an otherwise double pangram. My hour plus time is a product of a) a 20 minute interruption right at the start, before my inner brain had anything to work on, and b) this being a stinker. With the odd words and letters, I wondered if it had escaped from the Club Monthly maximum security facility. Sort of enjoyable, in a SM kind of way.
  6. 21:11 for me. I thought I’d tackle today’s puzzle before heading off for the George this afternoon, in case people were discussing it there; and I suspect that was a good move since a) it will almost certainly come up as a topic of conversation, and b) I’d probably have been even slower if I tackled it late in the evening – though as I can see a faint gleam of light at the end of the house-moving tunnel, I had a rather better night last night.

    The one clue I’m not too keen on is 27ac, perhaps because I’ve known the meaning of XYSTER for as long as I can remember (probably from a Ximenes or Listener puzzle of 50+ years ago), and I don’t equate “rubber” with “scraper”. Nor, for that matter, do I equate STERn with “cross”. Apart from that, I thought this was tough bit fair, and I raise my hat to the setter for some wonderfully ingenious clues, a few of which I only fully understood when going over then after I’d clicked on “Submit”. Or actually when I came to read your blog entry, Tim, as I had 18ac down as a triple definition, and I think you could well be right that it’s quadruple. Sterling work on your part.

  7. A heavy cold and high degree of difficulty combined to make this a struggle for me. So not much fun, but agree with Tim that 3dn was a masterpiece.

    Thanks setter and blogger.

  8. Not sorry to dodge this one for Tuesday blogging though no doubt I would have risen to the challenge if cornered. It was still a DNF without aids though, as I needed to look up 27ac as my LOI. Maybe I’d have appreciated it a bit more had I needed to work out all the wordplay.

    “Child’s game” at 10ac is justified by at least one of the usual sources but I don’t really understand why. It’s bingo or housey-housey as beloved by many an adult who historically have halls and clubs in which to play it, and now it’s also the name of the principal Lottery game operated by Camelot.

  9. Down to earth with a bump for me today – I’d like to say that receiving a phone call in the middle and the occasional interruptions by a toddler were what did me in, but to be honest I was getting nowhere anyway and started to resort to aids just to ensure finishing inside the hour.

    Spent an age staring blankly at clues that probably weren’t that hard: something CLUB, BAN-something, something-SAVER. I wanted 1D to be WALLAROO quite hard, and 24D to be INCAS, but there was no way of making any of that nonsense happen through will alone. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow! Thanks for parsing 3D, which I didn’t, and which does indeed turn out to be an amazing clue.

    Phew. What I clearly need in the very near future is *beer*.

  10. After 55 mins I lost the will to solve and used aids for my LOI, XYSTER. I would have taken a chance on the wordplay but like Tony Sever I wasn’t happy with STER(N) as a synonym of CROSS. This would have been much better as a Prize puzzle IMHO.
    1. I can’t find any support for cross/stern in the dictionaries, but it may be there somewhere. I have to say though that faced with a five-letter word meaning cross fitting the pattern S-E– ‘stern’ was the only word that could fit, and since it is very much in the same ballpark, in it went.
      1. The other problem I had with trying to think of a word that means “cross” with the checkers S?E?? is that cross can mean so many different things. For all I knew it could have been the name of a crossbred animal I had never come across before, and that was considering just one of the other meanings of cross. I decided for my sanity’s sake that it was easier to look in my Chambers for words that begin with XYS… To then find that the clue had a cryptic definition as well, which as Tony Sever said wasn’t strictly accurate, just compounded my annoyance with it.
        1. Scrape to rub via abrade seems close enough to me, given that synonyms by their nature deal with likeness rather than identity. I too considered other senses of ‘cross’ – the time had to go somewhere! – but I think the misdirection inherent in that is all a legitimate part of the setter’s trade.
          1. But surely an instrument for scraping bones feels very different from an instrument for rubbing bones!?
  11. Superb crossword. Took me over an hour, by the time I had looked up ‘xyster’ and plonked ‘nut job’ in because i couldn’t think of anything else. Favourite clues were 1d, 2d and 7d, but all were pretty brilliant!
    P.S. I have tried to register on Live Journal but no success. I have tried changing my username and password so many times now that I can’t remember what the last ones I tried were! I have been ‘temporarily banned’ so many times that it is probably permanent now. So I will just sign myself off (uncryptedly) as Nikki!
  12. Thanks for the blog Tim – this was a brute although I did sort of get with the programme after a first read-through in total disbelief. Yes, score this one for the setter. I could only see the ROB part of 18a when solving, but you’ve prompted me to spot the LET SHOW and the GO ON bits, but I can’t see the fourth definition for the life of me. And I was never going to parse 2d, so thanks for that. We’ve had ICI a few times lately.

    I think STEERAGE is a very good way to describe the way one feels when cooped up behind someone who keeps their seat lowered the whole way across the Atlantic in “World Traveler” class. Actually it looks as if I did ok clocking in at 27.6 and still on p1 of the club board. That wouldn’t have been the case if I’d drawn blogging duty.

    1. I was thinking of “let” as the noun familiar to those of us who hold UK passports (for those who don’t, they announce that the Queen wishes the bearer to travel “without let or hindrance”, which is nice of her), and so just “show” on its own. One of those readings which is largely immaterial in the end, I think.
  13. A real toughie, which I was able to finish only with resort to aids. Even then full parsing of quite a few clues continued to elude me — LOTTO, FACE-SAVER, HOLD UP, YOU MUST BE JOKING, EARTHWORM. Many thanks to Tim for explaining them in his first-class blog.
  14. I thought this was a brilliant puzzle, even if I didn’t get much change out of two hours. It was a moment to savour when I finally cottoned on to what kind of “axes” we’re beibg referred to and stitched together the final piece of wordplay.

    My notes are in the office, but I remember I thought FACE-SAVER was a stroke of genius, especially for one living in a place where the action is practised and pandered to assiduously. The quad was pretty awesome too.

    Bravo, setter, and thanks for resolving the MLK clue for me, Tim. I can see nothing wrong with that one either.

  15. DNF for me. I was convinced that the annual stuff at 28a meant the answer started PA (per annum). And that 20d was BANTENA (ban “tenner”). I was sure IRENA was right but couldn’t understand why. It turns out that there aren’t any words that fit PA and the checkers so not surprising I couldn’t think of one. But some clever stuff here. I had BULLFROG when I first read the clue but I didn’t think bull=stuff so I waited on the first half until I had the checkers. It still seems dubious to me.
  16. Count me as another who took ages (over an hour), had to resort to aids for 1dn and 16a to get going again after coming to a complete halt. Although the wordplay to 16 was easy enough, I’m familiar with NUTCASE and NUTTER but not NUTJOB. I’ve never heard of EARWORM or the first definition of OPTIC (neither in my Chambers), so threw question marks against the clues and pressed on. The one clue that didn’t give me trouble was XYSTER, though I wasn’t keen on cross as a definition of stern.
    I admired some of the clues on the way, but it was too much of an uphill struggle to be enjoyable.

    Congratulations on the superb blog

  17. My times for completion have been tumbling from a regular DNF, top sub-60 to, sub-40s with a PB of sub-20. Every so often one comes along that puts me in my place.

    Resorted to aids for both xyster (I was seriously questioning “icebox” for a time in confusion), and I was nowhere near “quagmire” , for which I am guessing “quire” is one of those things you either know or you don’t – I was on a hiding to nothing trying to make an anagram of HASGOTIN* – Shagtion anyone??

    Really liked “optic” and agree that 3dn is a classic, which for a clue of such distinction is a shame I BIFD

    Had Bullfrog in from the start but I am another who doesn’t understand stuff=bull

  18. I enjoyed this, but as with everyone else, it took ages – two sessions of at least 40 minutes. After the first ten minutes I had only ‘coypu’, ‘bronze age’ and ‘optic’ and knew it was going to be tough. Finished eventually with the bullfrog. I thought 6dn was a great clue, but I’m obviously in the minority.
  19. An excellent puzzle, that had me scratching my head for a long time. I was reluctant to submit at the end as I was sure that I must have missed the second V somewhere. 7 & 17 were probably my favourites.
      1. I’m well, thanks Olivia. I don’t get much time for crosswords any more. I tend to spend my lunchtimes out running or at the gym these days. But I did the Great Manchester Run just over a week ago, and now I’ve developed a niggling nerve injury so I’m resting it for a couple of weeks to let it heal.
  20. Delighted to have finished this one – albeit off and on for 8 elapsed hours.
    It’s a puzzle with a lot of satisfying clues but also an equal number of unsatisfying ones too (6d & 27a come to mind). So quite a mixed bag.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if the inspiration for 8d was the recent letter pages of the Times which has conducted a correspondence on the difference between a fedora and a trilby, who invented them and who made them popular.
  21. I stared at this for a full 10 minutes before putting anything in. From then on it was a slow grind but I got there in the end. I was quite relieved to find that a lot of people seemed to have problems, so my time of 53 minutes wasn’t all that bad. My hold up was the SE corner. I expected 20d to be BAR???? (barette?), then once ZINC was in place I toyed with BANDANA but couldn’t make the cryptic work. And without the U of BANDEAU I had no hope with 28a. I’m glad I knew XYSTER – a very peculiar word. Whew!
  22. 50 minutes, but with a fail on XYSTER. I’m all for challenging puzzles but for my money this was a bit too much of a good thing on a weekday.
    Edit: I have been extremely busy today so I wrote this comment in a bit of a hurry. A more realistic version of my comment would be ‘too much of a good thing on a day when I am extremely busy’, which is a bit unfair on the setter. This puzzle is a tour de force. I didn’t get XYSTER but there is nothing unfair about it. It’s just very hard.
    Jimbo said he ‘only finished because he was determined not to be beaten’. If such an experienced solver can say that, and yet still finish, isn’t that something?
    Bravo setter, and apologies for the grumpiness.

    Edited at 2015-05-19 10:41 pm (UTC)

  23. What a splendid puzzle. I have no problem with cross as stern (a teacher often looking one while half-pretending the other) or the scraping/rubbing instrument, though maybe in the latter case a kind of sandpapered effect may be incorrect. Where are you, thud’n’blunder? And while 6 is unusual, it does laugh at itself in the clue’s final word. If only it had been a double pangram with another v. Have been trying to fit one in but failed. Do such puzzles exist? Congratulations setter for the best for a long time. 12 possibly the neatest but it all shows what’s possible. Favourite 16 for professional reasons.
    On edit: have found quite a simple extra v: 26 Ivana (as in Trump) and 24 Iraqi. 3 has taken over as neatest (and favourite). If there’s such a thing as ephemeral art the Times puzzles pretty well define it I’d say, and this redefines the standard.

    Edited at 2015-05-19 05:19 pm (UTC)

    1. I remember from a few years ago a blocked puzzle in 1Across magazine set by Mr Magoo, which I think was one short of a triple pangram and also had a quotation zig-zagging down the main diagonal! Annoyingly I can’t find a copy of it now, although another one of his I did find from 2007 had a Z-shape of Z’s across the top row, down the R-L diagonal and across the bottom row.
  24. Came home tired and with headache after a partly sleepless night and over-long round of golf, to find this stinker… only glad it wasn’t blog day. Resorted to Tim’s fine blog after about an hour, about 3/4 finished, and half asleep; but I doubt if I’d have finished it without aids on a good day. Not happy with NUTJOB, the STERN idea or IRENA – I’ve met numerous Irenes but never an Irena outside of Eastern Europe.
  25. A stunning puzzle, that seemed to me to be several shades up in difficulty than the norm. A bit beyond an hour to fill in everything, but I came here expecting that I’d have one or more wrong, because not all were parsed. Surprisingly, they’re all correct. While I agree with Andy that maybe this is more a prize puzzle, and that overall the workout was far more than I expect, there were a several flashes of very clever wordplay that made the whole thing worth doing. LOI was HEN RUN, where, like many, I expect, I had no previous idea of the chicken. The CROSSWORD PUZZLE clue is something of a triumph. Overall, I’m humbled by the setter, (which, if it happened regularly, might drive off the solvers). Regards to all.
  26. 1. Driving around all day in pouring rain in the South of France 2. Attempting to solve in two sessions, the second of which was after much quaffing of wine. 3. Ignorance. Result a DNF with about a fifth remaining before finally consulting the esteemed blog. However I think I would have struggled to finish this under any circumstances.
  27. You’re having a laugh! This is not a word by any stretch of the imagination. Possibly two words at best. By who and how is this ‘word’ ever used? She gave him a nutjob; being called a nutjob is a hate crime; this clue was set by a nutjob.
    1. A valid view, but the convention here is that if a word is in one of the major dictionaries then it is fair game for the setter. Chambers has NUTJOB as a crazy person.
    2. The OED agrees with you that it’s two words, but both Chambers and Collins have it as one so the setter is vindicated. It first appeared around 40 years ago, apparently.
    3. It’s a word in quite common use, not with bawdy connotations, to mean complete (and possibly persistent) idiot etc. I dare say you can think of a sentence with it in.
  28. No reliable time but certainly well over 30 minutes.

    I have to say I thought this was an absolute cracker. I can’t remember ticking so many clues as potential COD candidates before. Thanks to the setter and well done Tim for making sense of it all (although I’m struggling to see the hold up/go on link).

    1. I was puzzled by this as well: I saw the first three definitions but didn’t put it in until well after I had all the checkers. I’m still puzzled by it but on the basis of the rest of the puzzle I am assuming this is me rather than the setter.
      [And I have amended my slightly grumpy comment above because now that I have got over not finishing it I agree that this was an absolute cracker]
  29. It’s taken me all evening but as a new graduate from the QC I’m really pleased to have got there in the end. Had to use aids for 27ac and needed the blog for parsing quite a few, but still feels good. Invariant
  30. Brilliant puzzle – I can’t remember what my first one in was, but it was in the bottom half! Still, I built from there and got into the swing of it eventually, finishing in a shade over 20 minutes. I noticed the double-pangram attempt quite early, and was surprised at the end that there was only one V. I can’t understand those who said they didn’t enjoy this though – it was just outstanding! Puzzle of the year so far for me.
  31. sorry to be late posting but I have only just looked at the blog to find the answers to this extremely difficult daily puzzle. I practiced as a surgeon for thirty years plus and never once came across this word in practise or in surgical instrument catalogues . It is an obsolete word which only cruciiverbalists would know from previous experience of ‘toughies’. Just thought I would let the regulars know. I think it unfair in a daily puzzle.
    Barry J.
    1. Hi Barry. I didn’t know the word but that happens all the time: as far as I’m concerned nothing is off limits as long as the wordplay is sufficiently clear to construct the answer. I think that’s the case here, even if the construction is difficult.
  32. The fourth definition ‘go on’ references the ‘withstand difficulty’ (endurance) sense: ‘She held up through very difficult times’.
  33. for some weeks as I found it rather dispiriting to always be way behind some of you who can evidently write at speeds I can only dream of – I am happy if I come in under the half-hour, delighted if under 20 minutes and ecstatic at c10. I did want to see though results on this one as I really think words like nutjob and xyster are questionable even if “fair”. So my time of 62 minutes was not that bad but fun it was not. I can only start the puzzle in the evening – perhaps the secret is to do it first thing when fresh? The blog still does not recognize me so I sign myself as simply c m-w again.
  34. for some weeks as I found it rather dispiriting to always be way behind some of you who can evidently write at speeds I can only dream of – I am happy if I come in under the half-hour, delighted if under 20 minutes and ecstatic at c10. I did want to see though results on this one as I really think words like nutjob and xyster are questionable even if “fair”. So my time of 62 minutes was not that bad but fun it was not. I can only start the puzzle in the evening – perhaps the secret is to do it first thing when fresh? The blog still does not recognize me so I sign myself as simply c m-w again.

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