Times 26,615: ★

What a pleasure and privilege to be blogging this superb anniversary-or-thereabouts puzzle, one of the best and hardest to have fallen to me in ages; and it even comes with a Nina, or should I say Davina? And the hand of nemesis was certainly at work, because yesterday was the evening I thought to myself “it’s been ages since I got absolutely hammered in the pub on a blog night and tackled a puzzle with the world doing cartwheels around my head during the wee small hours, how hard is tonight’s likely to be anyway, let’s give that another try”. As a result me versus this puzzle strongly resembled the final scene of Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”, or at the very least “Young Guns 2”: my struggling braincells were hopelessly outgunned, my final time, very close to the half-hour, a sad epitaph.

But as I say I thought this was a spectacular crossword, with more splendid clues than I have time to properly eulogize. I remember being (woozily) struck by some of the very cleverly concealed definition parts at e.g. 10ac and 23ac, and the brilliant splicings of definition and wordplay at e.g. 12ac and 2dn. I’ll say 23ac was my COD, but do let me know yours in the comments. And I hope you’ll join me in a big round of applause for the setter. (Oh dear, if I liked it this much you’re probably all going to have hated it again, aren’t you?)

On to the Nina, which by its nature I’ll be amazed if I haven’t missed parts of. 1ac obviously, plus I see 6ac on 10ac, 9ac (if reduplicated), 21ac 23ac, and 25ac. 11ac is highly thematic and many other solutions seem like they could be relevant too. Alright then, you clever people, how much have I missed?


1 Like beefcake — and fish is just fine! (5-4)
HUNKY-DORY – HUNKY [like beefcake] + DORY [fish]
6 Prisoner’s fresh charge briefly withdrawn (5)
LIFER – REFIL{l} reversed [fresh charge “briefly”, “withdrawn”]
9 Initially breezy wind is about to rise (5)
REBEL – B{reezy} which REEL [wind] is about
10 Key adversely affects stuffing pipe down bog (4,5)
SALT MARSH – ALT MARS [key | adversely affects] “stuffing” SH [pipe down!]
11 Fascination of Welsh county for us (7)
GLAMOUR – GLAM OUR [Welsh country (Glamorgan) | of us]
12 Puts down poorly fawn in middle of mosses (7)
SCRAWLS – CRAWL [fawn] in {mo}SS{es}
13 Speak, perhaps, fast? No — feels wrong! (7,7)
EXPRESS ONESELF – EXPRESS [fast] + (NO FEELS*) [“wrong”]
17 French photographer barristers once upset (7-7)
21 One outdoing clubs in bidding for playing field (7)
DIAMOND – double def
23 Champers around breakfast time? Then start on sherry (7)
CANINES – CA NINE [around | breakfast time?] + S{herry}
25 Frenchman who wrote material accompanying information film (4,5)
JEAN GENET – JEAN [material] accompanying GEN E.T. [information | film]
26 Fought to be heard alongside a gong? (5)
AWARD – homophone of WARRED [fought “to be heard”] alongside A
27 Stick — at the wicket? (5)
BATON – and also BAT ON [stick at the wicket]
28 Chapter penned by left-leaning fool’s getting slated (9)
SCHEDULED – CH [chapter] “penned by” reverse of DELUDE’S [“left-leaning” fool’s]


1 I’m starting hours before matches (4,4)
HERE GOES – H ERE GOES [hours | before | matches]
2 First rate cake from South African region once (5)
NUBIA – A1 BUN reversed [first rate | cake “from South”]
3 Most likely to run or set if mixed? (9)
YELLOWEST – YELLOW [or (heraldic sense)] + (SET*) [“mixed”]
4 Old strongholds coming across small and inferior (2,5)
OF SORTS – O FORTS [old | strongholds] “coming across” S [small]
5 Old leader getting drunk in style (7)
YELTSIN – (IN STYLE*) [“drunk”]
6 Primate, one that went from Berlin to Paris (5)
LEMUR – LE MUR – THE WALL is “one that went from Berlin”, to Paris/a Parisian.
7 Food supplies taken when leaving (9)
FAREWELLS – FARE WELLS [food | supplies]
8 Not thinking about what constitutes a make-over (6)
REHASH – RASH [not thinking] about EH [what?]
14 Join in centre of tailpiece was positioned separately (4,1,4)
PLAY A PART – {tail}P{iece} + LAY APART [was positioned | separately]
15 Pilot, losing heart, pulled up and back (9)
STERNWARD – ST{e}ER [pilot “losing heart”] + DRAWN reversed [pulled “up”]
16 Unbalanced indeed, and so …. (3-5)
ONE-SIDED – (INDEED + SO*) [“unbalanced”], &lit
18 Start of transmission postponed until after grand finales (7)
ENDINGS – {S->}ENDING, with its start postponed until after the G [grand]
19 Times with snag: unwanted net gains (2-5)
BY-CATCH – BY [times] with CATCH [snag]
20 Casual work function recalled radio presenter before she died (3,3)
ODD JOB – DO reversed [function “recalled”] + DJ [radio presenter] before OB [she died]
22 Instrument with keyboard and mouthpiece (5)
ORGAN – double def
24 Isabella, intermittently, would show him up (5)
NIALL – hidden reversed in {isabe}LLA IN{termittently}

72 comments on “Times 26,615: ★”

  1. Once I got a start (and it was a full 10 minutes before I wrote in my first answer) I made quite steady progress on this and surprised myself by completing it just within an hour and without resorting to aids. Unknowns were the photographer, BY-CATCH and STERNWARD. Biffed LEMUR which I’m still not sure I fully understand. I don’t know anything about the NINA if there is one. Perhaps someone could be more specific on the detail later when everybody’s finished talking around the subject?

    Edited at 2017-01-06 08:36 am (UTC)

    1. You may be puzzled for different reasons, but I struggled with this on the basis that the wall was in Berlin, but of course it ‘went from’ Berlin in the sense that it isn’t there any more.
  2. 24:39 … this may be my favourite Times crossword. Abundant thanks to the setter.

    And a great blog, Verlaine (with a perfect ‘title’). I was flummoxed by the parsing of LEMUR, but I love it now it’s explained.

    HUNKY-DORY was among my last in, but was the first Bowie album I bought so it started me looking. Even the nina is exceptional — the Life on Mars arrangement in the NE is just beautiful.


  3. 35 minutes and loved it. I wondered about EXPRESS YOURSELF as part of the Nina but I cannot pin it down in my memory. I don’t care so long as the next Nina is not one of the other two recent and obvious candidates. 2d the best of a great crop. Thanks to setter and V.
  4. Should we spell out the Bowie nina for posterity?

    Hunky Dory – album
    Life on Mars – song, in the top-right
    Rebel, Rebel – song
    Diamond Dogs – album, song (diamond canines)
    Jean Jeanie – song (Jean Genet)

    more tenuously …
    Her(eg)oes – song in 1d
    And a bit of a Space ODDity … but that’s pushing it

    1. and 11a – the 1982 Bowie calendar was entitled Glamour (after the art work for Scary Monsters and Super Creeps).
    2. Can’t believe I didn’t spot 1dn – I was even looking for HEROES!

      There are lots of a-a-a-a-anagrams, which are quite like ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

      1. let’s file that one under “more tenuous”!

        btw, that black star looks incredibly cool in the tab at the top of my browser

      1. Popular music began
        In nineteen sixty-three
        (which was rather late for me) –
        Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
        And the Beatles’ first LP.
  5. Wow! Would never have got the nina, thanks for explaining… that’s so cool!

    HUNKY DORY was my FOI on first read, but things went slowly downhill from there… ended finally in 43mins, but with one wrong… couldn’t lift and separate ‘puts down’ from ‘poorly’, and was looking for the present tense of ‘strewn’, so I put down (nicely, in type) ‘strowes’, which looks (and is) completely wrong!

    Others that went in unparsed: LEMUR, ENDINGS, REHASH, and dnks: JEAN GENET (despite, to my shame, my French degree…), BY-CATCH, SCHEDULED (=slated).

    Thanks, V, for sorting it all out!

  6. Well Sotira said it, and I agree. Possibly the best puzzle I can remember. And that was before the Nina was pointed out!

    Initially impenetrable at first, as there were so many clues where it was difficult to identify the definition. But there was nothing too obscure (once you had the anagrist and the checkers for the photographer). Well, maybe NUBIA, but that just required looking through the rather brilliant lift-and-separate.

    Just a joy to solve, and superbly blogged.

  7. 16m. A really top-notch puzzle. I missed the Nina completely, but then I’ve always had a total David Bowie blind spot. I’ve made attempts to understand what the appeal is, including forcing myself to listen to 1ac from beginning to end, but to no avail.
    1. I reckon you’d be more of a Low man. Or possibly the industrial/drum-n-bass stylings of Earthling. (Okay, possibly not.)
      1. Perhaps I’ll try one of those, but at this point I suspect the conclusion that I just don’t like Bowie may be irreversible.
        1. I don’t actually personally hold him in godlike esteem (though I definitely know plenty of people that do) but he’s gone in so many different directions over the years that I’d think it quite unlikely that anyone (who doesn’t just like classical) couldn’t find at least one thing by him that they liked…
          1. The central problem I have with Bowie is that he couldn’t sing. I quite like some of the songs, but can’t help wishing someone else were singing them. I have friends who struggle not to punch me when I say this (so of course I say it at every opportunity).

            Edited at 2017-01-06 11:03 am (UTC)

            1. Aha. I think “not actually being able to sing very well” is probably the common thread linking all my favourite singers! Though oddly I’ve never been a big Dylan fan.
                    1. Yeah, I do like a bit of Conor Oberst, though lean towards the early (Bright Eyes) albums. More of the usual suspects: Jarvis Cocker, Stephin Merritt, anything punk or postpunk, Leonard Cohen as already mentioned…
  8. Agreed that this was a great puzzle. I was very pleased with finishing it and then my pleasure was furthered by verlaine meeting my hopes of an appropriate blog title. I must admit though that I’d completely missed the Nina, HUNKY DORY being the only reference I picked up on.
  9. Did the mathematician thing here, didn’t spot the nina, but finding out there was one got it in a glance unaided – thanks v. Was privileged to see David at Lewisham Odeon in 1973, at his penultimate Ziggy gig.

    Really excellent clues throughout, pleased to have completed in 45′.

    Incidentally, it would have been his 70th birthday this Sunday.

    Edited at 2017-01-06 10:09 am (UTC)

  10. Agree with all above – a high class puzzle with a top class blog. Did not see the nina but I would not have done even if someone had whispered Bowie in my ear. COD 23ac. Thanks setter and V
    (PS 35 mins on the dot, so almost a Verlaine!)

    Edited at 2017-01-06 12:16 pm (UTC)

  11. Very satisfying puzzle to solve – excellent work by the setter. Brilliant cryptics and clever well hidden definitions. First rate.

    The nina is lost on me as I know nothing of Bowie

    1. I think he must have been the Inventor of the knife. Is it pronounced to rhyme with cow ee or throw ee?
      1. You will probably not be surprised to hear that the inventor of the knife, at least in the US, is pronounced neither way – it’s boo – (w)ee
        1. Pedants corner – I don’t think Jim Bowie invented the knife. I think he made it famous by using it. No idea how David pronounced his stage name.
          1. Logic would be on you side DJ, although I think it is is under real debate. American children are definitively taught that Bowie specified the very first one, and it is almost certainly true that he specified the build of a unique family of knives – which might have been inspired by an earlier design.
  12. Had I gotten 1ac HUNKY DORY a bit earlier I would have not taken just on the hour on this absolutely splendid puzzle.

    I completed the bottom half in around 18 minutes with FOI CARTIER BRESSON and SOI JEAN GENET. But then I crawled. I thought the Nina, if there was one, might be French. I totally missed the Bowie links.
    I was deceived and somehow thought 12ac was going to be LICHENS. It wasn’t.

    LOI was 1dn HERE GOES!

    COD to 5dn YELTSIN – tres amusant. WOD STERNWARD

    I look forward to Garcia and the Grateful Dead as a Nina.

    Edited at 2017-01-06 10:21 am (UTC)

  13. Glad that I struggled on with this one after my hour was finished with several in the NE corner still to get. Finally came in at about an hour and ten, having completely failed to spot any NINAing at all, so thanks for the revelation! Excellent stuff.

    Given the comments here, I think I was lucky to finish at all, let alone that quickly. It seems I had more than my usual share of the requisite GK, biffing CARTIER-BRESSON as my FOI, and currently being halfway through Our Lady of the Flowers

  14. It’s only fair that you youngsters weaned on Bowie had your own puzzle after us superannuated rockers and folkies have bored you rigid day in, day out. I didn’t associate any of Sotira’s Nina with Bowie. I don’t think that’s the only reason why I struggled, although it would have helped if HUNKY-DORY had been first and not late in. I’ve got the standard attitude of my generation to glam rock and had one of the characters in the novel say, when forced by younger wife to listen to a Yes album, that he’d rather listen to bloody Mantovani. CARTIER-BRESSON was first in, as the only French photographer I’d heard of, with JEAN GENET in next from the cryptic. The delicious Cockerham SALT MARSH lamb made that just about soluble. LOI SCRAWLS after FAREWELLS. But took well over my allotted hour and will have to give the Killer Deadly Sudoku a miss today.

    Edited at 2017-01-06 10:33 am (UTC)

    1. Giving up the Killer deadly Sudoku is not the Nat Lofthouse way methink! I was once mobbed in NY when I was mistaken for something out Yes who were also staying at the Carlyle. Horrible!
      1. I need pictures of you (at the time) and Yes so we can compare and contrast!

        The closest I ever got to that kind of rock’n’roll glamour was being mistaken for a member of Art Brut, and mobbed by precisely one very drunk young woman.

        1. Back in the sixties, I was once mobbed by a screaming host of young girls at Euston as I got off the train carrying a heavy suitcase, down for a job interview. At least that’s what it seemed like until I turned and saw walking behind me a cool, shaggy-haired young man travelling light, without even a jacket, nonchalantly putting in a large pair of cufflinks. Yes, those girls preferred Georgie Best.
          1. I once came into London on the same flight from Dublin as Seamus Heaney: it was a BIT like that…
  15. Amidst all the Bowie stuff, the clue for YELTSIN is absolutely top notch: a perfectly good cryptic but working in a tidy little potted history
  16. 36 min, with 17ac FOI and 12ac last, as NE corner was resistant till I found there wasn’t an anagram of ‘fawn’ there.
    Knowing little of Bowie (a generation too young for me) meant that when the forum referred to a nina, I couldn’t see anything – nor see any common feature of the solutions mentioned by Verlaine – so thanks to all for clarification.
  17. A terrific puzzle which I enjoyed the more for knowing and seeing nothing of Bowie therein. (Though I’ve got to admit, now I’m told, Life on Mars is clever. Though even that as a title tells of the fuzzy adolescent mindset that’s simply swamped popular culture and usurped the general thinking process on art up to the point where a Nobel Prize is awarded.) 1 dn. and 8 dn. my favourites, with a nod to ‘or’ in 3 dn. Just over the hour but worth it. Many thanks setter.
    1. I think his. Bobship has won so many admirers from the beats, poets, novelists, literary and rock critics, heavy metal etc etc that nobody needs to defend him. I’d have given him the Nobel for each of the above categories, plus one for theology.
  18. Great crossword and (as always) blog. The Nina is simply brilliant and completely passed me by. 5dn was indeed a good clue, but given the theme, I am mildly surprised that it wasn’t clued as something like ‘President needs the penultimate letter in “Let’s Dance” ‘
  19. Now it’s pointed out, the NINA is really good, but it passed me by as I struggled for 62 minutes with a classy set of clues. It is indeed a work of art, up there with Major Tom among the stars. My FOI was NUBIA, which I thought was brilliant, and set the tone for the rest of the puzzle. NHO the photographer, the writer or BY CATCH, but all gettable from wordplay. I didn’t get the parsing of 6d, but it is very clever. My LOI was DIAMOND, after finally seeing the construction of 28a and 18d. Thanks setter and V for a most entertaining puzzle and blog.

    Edited at 2017-01-06 01:30 pm (UTC)

  20. You can agree or disagree with Christopher Ricks but ‘fuzzy adolescent mindset’ is going a bit far.
    1. Well I love several of Dylan’s songs, but I can’t say the level of insight in the protest etc. etc. creates that much of an inner world, by which one’s own is illuminated. It’s a wild and brilliant gathering of not very much, and I’m happy with that – as a song.
      1. Well like I say you can agree or disagree, and I have no particularly strong view either way, but if someone like Ricks thinks that Dylan is ‘the greatest living user of the English language’ then it’s a view that deserves to be taken seriously.
        1. Hmm I’m unconvinced: Ricks has spent a long time extolling Bob’s vitrtues so is not likely to backtrack now and of course had a vested interest as the Nobel award is a great opportunity to sell some of his books on Bob isn’t it? I’m reminded of Coleridge’s belief in William Bowles as a great poet and voice but at least Coleridge was a poet rather than a critic.
          1. Again, you can agree or disagree (or be unconvinced), but the view of someone as eminent as Ricks (albeit a mere critic) is not the product of a ‘fuzzy adolescent mindset’.
  21. There was rain at the cricket, so I did this and completely missed the Nina, but it is a good one. My 14:23 is holding up pretty well on the club timer. BY-CATCH from wordplay and LEMUR with fingers crossed.
  22. 60m DNF with half a dozen undone, including the photographer. I could see it was an anagram but as a foreign word it was quite unguessable for me; also NHO of by-catch. Even those I’d guessed such as LEMUR I’d no idea how to parse. Never noticed the NINA; evidently very clever but I’m with Joekobi in thinking David (and Bob for that matter) far too highly rated for their modest talents. But then why would they care – they made the money and I didn’t!
  23. 6d was my favourite but I take Verlaine’s point about 23ac, especially as I tend ti think of CHOMP i.s.o. Champ.
    TST of 1hr53m 45s with lots of time outs but I’m still in the Club’s Top 100 with a posted time of over 5 hours!
    Lovely puzzle.
    Just seen what Verlaine was on about with Life “on” Mars! Clever

    Edited at 2017-01-06 04:14 pm (UTC)

  24. I thought this was very good, and my only disappointment is coming here and finding that the Australian Magoo has shaved an hour off his recorded time. Anyway, I was very happy with my 56 minutes, especially since I’d never heard of the French snapper, hardly heard of the French scribbler and always found David Bowie a bit of a drag. I mean, no one knew how to pronounce his name, so he can’t have been that famous.

    Incidentally, I sympathise with Grestyman re the foreign word being clued by an anagram (Keriothe may agree or indeed disagree), but here I was helped by knowing Cartier as a brand I can’t afford and Robert Bresson as the director of some rather good films, including A Man Escaped and Diary of a Country Priest.

    Good to see Cockerham, where I lived for a year, get a mention in dispatches.

    Thanks to D Jones and M Marcus.

    1. I certainly sympathise, but it didn’t occur to me at the time because CARTIER BRESSON is someone I just happen to have heard of so incredibly well-known.
  25. A very good puzzle, though I’m not as over the moon about it as some. I of course completely missed the theme, and Life on Mars is particularly clever. Had Major Tom appeared I might have seen it. My French isn’t good enough to have parsed LEMUR so it was biffed. LOI was DIAMOND. YELTSIN quite a great clue. Regards.
  26. 30 mins, and I’m glad I didn’t take my Friday knock because I’d probably still be solving. I agree that it was a superb puzzle. I didn’t get a single answer on my first read through, but then saw HUNKY DORY when I went back to the start. STERNWARD was eventually my LOI after the SCHEDULED/BY-CATCH crossers.

    As far as Bowie is concerned I have always really liked Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, and Heroes is one of my favourite songs, but I can take or leave most of the rest of his work. Oh, and I’ll take issue with everyone who reckons it’s a nina – surely it’s a theme.

  27. It took me an hour and a half, but it was well worth every minute, and I’m proud to have finished it correctly (when else have I completed a puzzle in only 3 verlaines?). Lots of subtle clues with well-concealed wordplay, but the only one I couldn’t work out for myself in the end was LIFER, my LOI after FAREWELL, which provided the F. I finally decided you must take the core of B(RIEFL)Y and rearrange those letters (“fresh charge”, but I didn’t quite know what to do with “withdrawn”).

    My COD would be NUBIA (for the “from South …”), but I also rather enjoyed the “pipe down” in SALT MARSH and the phrasing of the definition for SCRAWLS, with many other superb clues as well. The nina escaped me entirely before I read sotira’s post, but then I was not a David Bowie fan. But it is amazing, especially LIFE on MARS. Thank you setter and thank you V for your blog.

    Edited at 2017-01-06 11:23 pm (UTC)

  28. 15:48 for me, taking ages to find the setter’s wavelength (yet again) and missing some easy wins early on as a result, but tuning in to it eventually and enjoying this puzzle immensely.

    I’d absolutely no idea about the Nina. In fact (like kevin_from_ny) only a mention of Major Tom might have given me an inkling that something was up. Popular music is a closed book to me for the most part, though with odd exceptions, such as The Mamas and the Papas.

    1. Funnily enough I’ve just been listening to The Mamas and the Papas about 10 minutes ago! I liked this puzzle, but didn’t find it too hard, certainly under 15 mins. I knew HUNKY DORY as a Bowie album (I think it’s the only vinyl one of his I owned back in the day), but didn’t cotton onto it as a Nina giveaway as it’s a Times puzzle. If it had been in the Guardian I’d have been looking harder. We have a special place for Nina-bearing puzzles in the Memories section, so I’ll add this one to it.
  29. I almost gave up on this since midnight had arrived and I’d already given it a good hour, off and on. I had all the bottom half in place but nothing above 13ac apart from OF SORTS (and LEMUR, kind of, though I couldn’t quite see how the clue worked). But then I read the intro to the blog, had a good chuckle about 21/23/25ac and was inspired to carry on. So, thanks!

Comments are closed.