Times 26661 – a fine example of the art, and a plant.

Posted on Categories Daily Cryptic
Maybe I was just in a better mood, but I thought this was a smashing puzzle, with wit, misleading definitions and all kinds of smart wordplay. Medium difficulty, perfect for a blog day, it took me a gentle 25 minutes plus time afterwards to look up 11a, where I was enlightened about plants and shrubs and the origin of this one in particular.

1 APOLLO – A, POLL for a measure of support, if not always accurate; O for over; D space program.
5 SNAPSHOT – SNAPS for sounds angry, HOT for heated; D picture.
9 STRADDLE – TR = half of tree, goes inside SADDLE = lumber, as in ‘I was lumbered with the washing-up’; D get across.
10 LIMPID – a LIMP can cause a problem with progressing, ID for passport; D clear.
11 POINSETTIA – POINT for debating issue, insert SET = plant, add IA being AI = fine, reversed; D shrub. I was initially confused here because the green and red jobs which populate our house before Christmas I thought were plants, not shrubs, but I have learnt that the original Euphorbia pulcherrima is a Mexican tree or shrub, imported first into the USA in 1825 by one Robert Poinsett, and downscaled into the domesticated variety.
13 RIND – ‘GRIND’ would be hard work, remove the first; D outer layer.
14 CLOD – COLD = freezing, reverse the inner letters; D earth, lump of.
15 TIME SWITCH – I almost LOL when I twigged this one. A witch at The Times would perhaps be a ‘spelling expert’. D one only works certain hours.
18 PROVENANCE – PROVENCE being a historic French region – the first Roman one outside the Alps, hence Provincia Romana – insert A N(ew), D source. Go down a ladder if you nearly spelt it provanence, which still fits the checkers.
20 MINK – M and K being shorthand for thousand, insert IN for popular; D fur.
21 FRAY – Double definition.
23 AUDIT TRAIL – DITT(O) for ‘mostly, the same’, inside a ‘case’ of AU for gold, RAIL for bar, D record of transactions.
25 RING UP – RING for band, UP for ended, as in ‘the game is up’; D call.
26 IROQUOIS – IRO(N) = a lot of iron, metal; QUOI(T)S for hoops abandoned by T the first of These; D native Americans.
28 SOBRIETY – BRIE (cheese) swallowed by SOT (drunk, last letter of chardonnaY, D semi &lit, ‘not an example of this’.
29 TRYING – the bell sounds TING, insert RY for railway; D hearing.

2 POT-BOILER – OP = work, ‘elevated’ = PO, TOILER for hard worker, insert B for book; D one (a book) of lesser quality.
3 LEARNED – Insert one of the ‘three R’s’ into LEANED = inclined; D erudite.
4 ODD – Hidden word in GO(OD D)ISPLAY, D rum.
5 SWEET – WE = our side, inside SET = group; D charming.
6 A CLEAN SHEET – A sort of double definition, where a sheet is like a blanket and a clean sheet is said to occur when a football team completes a match without the opponents scoring a goal.
7 SAMURAI – Insert A RUM A (a curious article) into IS, then reverse all; D foreign warrior.
8 ONION – A NO-NO is a topic to be avoided; reverse and insert I for one; D source of tears.
12 EATING APPLE – EA = each, TINGLE = frisson, insert A PP (very soft); D fruit.
16 MAN – MANY would be lots of people, reduction = remove the Y; D staff, as verb.
17 CONDITION – CON = study, DON = academic, insert IT, I; D state. Nice misdirection to look for states starting with CON or DEN.
19 VOYAGER – V(ery) O(ld), A inside (GREY)*; D traveller.
20 MERCURY – Insert CU into MERRY (on way to being hammered, perhaps); D metal.
22 RHINO – R(un) H(ard), ON I reversed; D large animal.
24 DAISY – IS visible in DAY; D flower. Not a river, for once.
27 OUT – A BOUT is a boxing match, not first = drop the B; D &lit.

69 comments on “Times 26661 – a fine example of the art, and a plant.”

  1. … the difficulty over the course of the week so far. But not by a lot.
    Had this done within the 30m, inc. making a coffee. Fairly impressed by the “state” misdirection at 17dn.
    And there will be one I know who is not so impressed by the self-reference at 15ac. I loved the pun but.
  2. Defeated by 11a and 26a. For 26a I had iro_u_is but couldn’t think of quoits and didn’t know the Iroquois.

    For 11a I’m not sure how it is possible to learn all these plant/shrubs!

    Lots of nice clues: 23a, 12d, but COD to 20d for merry = on the way to being smashed.

    Edited at 2017-03-01 07:26 am (UTC)

  3. I was sure that ‘spelling’=casting spells, but that didn’t help me much until I got some checkers, and even then I was slow on the uptake. But my main problem was 6d, since I didn’t know the football term, and wanted ‘clean sweep’. Wondered about saddle=lumber, but it had to be, so I didn’t wonder much.
  4. Took 45 minutes to get all but the last two – 11ac and 26ac – which took a further half an hour. 11 hampered by my inability to spell it.. I thought it was PON… not POIN… until I belatedly looked it up. Still don’t know why AI=fine. Very pleased with self for finally getting 26 without cheating. Also baffled why CON=study in 17.

    Loved 15ac for the misleading surface read, my COD. Also liked 24ac flower being an actual flower.


    1. A1(A-one condition)tip-top – fine and dandy. Not AI that’s a Chinese maid or auntie.
      1. Ah, thank you both. Never come across CON before, but now that you explain AI vague bells are ringing somewhere in the older memory banks.

        Live and learn.

  5. I was out and about this morning picking up a prescription and Japanese lunch and became bored with today’s 15×15. Perhaps because I had carelessly mis-spelt 26ac IROQUOIS and subsequently put ILL for 27dn (on the BILL tonight).

    I did not LOL when I twigged 15ac TIME SWITCH!Pathetic.

    All in all one to forget.

  6. 10 minutes Monday, 30 minutes yesterday and 20 minutes today. I liked “merry” but COD to the “gold bar”.
  7. About 30 minutes. I didn’t like the look of 11 with not just a ‘plant’, but also a ‘shrub’ – neither being my strong points and I have no idea what the difference is – in the clue but I eventually managed to get it as my last in. Didn’t twig to 15 or to 20d, both of which were v. good. A highlight was IROQUOIS, one of the words I always go through on my list whenever the clue for ‘native American’ appears but I’d never struck gold till today. Not sure that A CLEAN SHEET quite worked, but otherwise an enjoyable and not too taxing solve.

    Thank you to setter and blogger

  8. 8:09 … hm, under 10 minutes 3 days running (Shome mishtake, shurely?). This can’t last.

    I share your enthusiasm for this one, Pip. The Times Witch is a lovely idea. I’d read her column.

    1. Aren’t there enough columnists of both genders on the editorial pages who qualify for Times Witch already?
      1. Gosh, with your comment and Jerry’s below we seem to have opened Pandora’s proverbial can of worms here! All I’ll say is that I used to head straight for the columns section of The Times but these days I usually just scan the titles and bylines before moving swiftly on.
  9. I enjoyed this but it wasn’t hard.

    Pip I don’t think The Times is claiming expertise .. the witch is the spelling expert, the “here” indicates that she is with The Times. She could be a rubbish columnist, in which case she would fit right in 🙂

    I tend to see sheets and blankets as different, rather than alike. Still, an easily solvable clue..

  10. Flying again today <16, following <10 and <17. Saw poinsettias growing wild in Fuertenventura recently. Liked A CLEAN SHEET but still a bit dubious about the wordplay. Thanks pip and setter.

    Edited at 2017-03-01 08:52 am (UTC)

  11. 6dn delayed me because I’d never heard the soccer term and to me the only thing blankets and sheets have in common is that they can be placed on a bed. Historically one is made from wool and the other from cotton and they serve different functions. Also CLEAN doesn’t appear to have any relevance in the first part of the clue. 39 minutes.

    Edited at 2017-03-01 09:05 am (UTC)

  12. Agree with Jack and others, a blanket and a sheet are rather different. And shouldn’t it be a newly laundered blanket to cover CLEAN? Poor clue in my view.

    Enjoyed the rest of it. POINSETTIA one to learn guys, you’ll surely meet it again!

  13. Sub ten minutes again! I looked at the second hand of my watch as well today and it was 9 minutes 48 seconds with TIME SWITCH LOI. And this included some small hesitation over FRAY which I dismissed as I knew I was going well. What’s going right? Well we do have a POINSETTIA in the conservatory which has lasted thee Christmases. PROVENANCE is one of my favourite words as I mistakenly think it makes me sound intellectual. AUDIT TRAIL was something the infernal auditor was always banging on about. COD definitely TIME SWITCH with its alternative meaning. Double, double toil and trouble.
  14. A 38-minute CLEAN SHEET for me, with thankfully no unknowns. I’ve known more about POINSETTIAs since “bract” came up here last year some time—those big red flowers are in fact not flowers; the flower’s a tiny bit in the middle surrounded by the large and colourful bracts.

    FOI 1a, enjoyed IROQUOIS though I was too dense to see exactly how the IRON bit of it worked at the time. LOI TIME SWITCH. I’m still having problems spotting the self-referential ones even though I’m doing the Grauniad puzzle quite often these days…

    Thanks to setter and blogger.

  15. I agree, which is why I politely wrote ‘a sort of double definition’ hopefully implying I was sceptical. The football reference is OK but if I’d written this clue for Sotira’s Xmas job I’d expect it to be sent back for revision!
    1. Right on Pip. I think that’s one of the best ways to judge a clue – how would you feel if you had submitted it as your work?
    2. .. with one of my (usually) very polite notes saying “I wonder if this couldn’t be even better …..”
    3. I was going to offer “Letting nothing in, see the canal flowing.” – but not if it has to pass the Sotira test.
  16. …of steady progress. One of those puzzles where the application of acquired technique brought its due reward.

    Edited at 2017-03-01 10:20 am (UTC)

  17. 19.41, nothing too bewildering. I rather like 6 dn.; that’s what the answer as a whole is, the comparison with an actual blanket being something that folds it into the clue so to speak. A place should remain for a touch of whimsy to go with the mercilessly literal. As for the Times columnists, with a few honourable exceptions there’s been a sad decline in standard, in some cases shocking.
    1. Agreed, one of my favourites for years (mentioning no names) appears to have gone quite loopy in recent months.
  18. For those (like me) who don’t normally solve the Guardian …

    Don’t think this has been mentioned before (apologies if it has). I just stumbled upon Alan Connor’s article about the tie-in between the Guardian Cryptic and the BBC2 series Inside No.9

    This may be a first — a planned multimedia crossword ‘experience’. Not something for every day but it’s rather fun. I’ve solved the puzzle and plan to watch the show later on the iPlayer.

    If you don’t know, Inside No.9 is Steve Pemberton’s series of darkly comic short stories. I hadn’t even realised season 3 had started. Last night’s episode was The Riddle of The Sphinx and yesterday’s Guardian Cryptic was set by Sphinx, a.k.a Steve Pemberton, with a number of references to the episode in nina/theme form.

    Link to the puzzle: https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/cryptic/27132#21-down

    Alan Connor’s article (contains puzzle spoilers): https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/crossword-blog/2017/feb/28/riddle-of-the-sphinx-guardian-cryptic-crossword-inside-no-9

    The show can be found on the BBC iPlayer (UK only, unless you’re creative)

    Edited at 2017-03-01 10:46 am (UTC)

    1. i can’t access the program here in the US but I did enjoy the puzzle. Today’s by Picaroon is good too and someone told me he has been known to turn up at the Times championships. Cross-training with the Guardian has certainly sharpened my game although this week you galloped in ahead of me with time to spare!
      1. indeed you can access it Olivia .. I use hotspot shield but other sites are available.. google vpn
    2. Ooh… thanks for this, Sarah! I watched the program last night, am a fan of the series, but didn’t realise the Guardian link! Is the Steve Pemberton (who writes Inside No 9) the same as the crossword setter? Funny, as I sometimes do the G crossie too, but didn’t yesterday… and didn’t realise there was a setter called Sphinx! Doh!
      1. From what Alan’s article says, it seems this is Pemberton’s first crossword — maybe his only one — and Sphinx was created for the occasion .
        1. Yes, I’ve just read that. Very impressive! Don’t think I’d have spotted the ninas in it… never do!
  19. No accurate time, as done in two parts with a distance between them (work rudely interrupted!)

    This is very contrived, but was how I tried to parse A CLEAN SHEET, which gave me the same cause for concern as other commentators above. I wondered if a blanket could be described as A LEAN (as in thin) SHEET, but actually, a sheet is like a thin blanket, so on reflection, that doesn’t work. The C would come from ‘like’ as in circa. Forgive my ramblings, but I think the comments above and my muddled thinking in an effort to satisfactorily parse it all indicate that it isn’t a very good clue.

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

  20. We had three space programs today – Apollo, Mercury and Voyager – so a sort of themelet. I certainly dithered over the CLEAN SHEET for the same reasons as others. 16.07
  21. 23’41, so another ‘easy’ one for me too. A couple of minutes at the end umming and aahing over A CLEAN SHEET. Doesn’t seem to work for me, but then, I’m probably missing something.

  22. I managed to stroll though this one in 23:45, so another relatively easy one. I did enjoy TIME SWITCH(my LOI) and AUDIT TRAIL. My FOI was ODD. I thought 6d was a bit loose, but had no qualms about writing it in. Another enjoyable puzzle. Thanks setter and Pip.
  23. Another good puzzle that wasn’t particularly taxing – including a shrub that even I’ve heard of, and an exotic word (IROQUOIS) very fairly clued. Bang on 7m for me.
  24. 9:51 for me. I quite enjoyed some of the clever use of language, like lumber for straddle disguised in the woody surface reading and component of basic education for R.
  25. Aside from biffing Iroquois, another easy one in 20:24. Is there a change in policy here at head office? I guess not and tomorrow’s will be a devilish one. I watched the programme last night, not being aware of the dark theme of the programmes, so the gruesome connection between cryptic crosswords and horror was a bit of an eye-opener. I thought some of the clues were a bit dodgy…
    1. Certainly the example clue used by the professor in the programme was dodgy by Times standards. It had an anagrind placed in the midst of its fodder: I TEACH [wild] CREATURE and “without hospital” indicating the removal of A&E from same. Full clue: I teach wild creature without hospital building (12)

      This wasn’t part of the set crossword so it’s not a spoiler.

  26. Wrote in “PAR” for 27d instead of “OUT”
    SPAR for boxing match less the initial S gives PAR (equal, i.e. not first; primus inter pares).
    Was eventually saved by getting IROQUOIS.
  27. First failure if the week as I didn’t know the Americans despite the checkers. Another term to remember, like the shrub. I thought the apple was a bit generic as I kept trying Easter and Empire and then couldnt remember if a potato counted as a fruit (anyone? – can’t bother searching!). COD Time Switch which is brilliant. Wish my hopeless team Notlob could do a 6d. Thanks all
    1. I think spuds are vegetables. Those two words sum up pretty well how our attack and midfield looked last night, at least on the YouTube highlights. The defence looked to be more tree-like.
  28. A little under 10m here. The Times still has a couple of decent columnists, but there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind who the 15ac is.
  29. If we do have a little game here, then the ODD MAN OUT is VOYAGER, as it was unmanned. Or Mercury, because Voyager and Apollo were two of the greatest human achievements. Both Voyagers are still operating, and will do until one of them collides with a probe from a machine civilisation and eventually meets the USS Enterprise.

    Edited at 2017-03-01 02:46 pm (UTC)

  30. ……. in the same clue! Needless to say it was my last one in, despite the fact that I can actually recognise a poinsettia – it’s the red Christmassy thingy which pet owners should avoid ( poisonous, apparently ) particularly if your pet tends ( like mine ) towards the omnivorous.

    Time: all correct in about 50 minutes.

    Thank you to setter and blogger.

    1. I assume your pet is a dog. Mine are cats, which tend to stop well short of poisoning themselves. Even eating whiskas is a bit of a stretch for them.
      In their defence, dogs have a digestion so utterly bombproof (perhaps for this reason?) that they can survive eating virtually anything.. I’m quite surprised that poinsettias can breach their defences
      1. Wiki says Poinsettia is only mildly toxic, unlike many Euphorbias. Not sure about animals though. Our dog isn’t interested although he eats grass and chipped bark. Perhaps that’s why there are so many dead donkeys lying around in Mexico.
      2. The ones to watch out for with cats are lilies. Apparently even a little bit of lily pollen falling into a food bowl can be lethal

    2. My dog Danny will try anything, anywhere,anytime.

      We had two visits to the vet last week after he ate something disgusting on a walk.

      As you rightly point out, cats are far too intelligent for that.

      Regards, Dave.

      1. Dave – it is so rewarding to hear about your Danny and his deplorably, scatalogical escapades. We simply can’t wait to enjoy more! Will you be publishing?

        Edited at 2017-03-01 11:01 pm (UTC)

        1. No, Horryd, it would be far too embarrassing to admit,in public, my deplorable incompetence in the art of dog-training.

          My only excuse is that he is a rescue dog and therefore had six years to consolidate his egregious behaviour before we acquired him.

          Cute little specimen, though.

          Regards, Dave.

  31. Second finish in three days represents a marked improvement since stumbling upon this blog a week or so back. From first (odd) to last (onion) my progress was smooth (under an hour total time) with longest spent on ‘time switch’ which evinced more of an eye-roll than a laugh. I thought the clue for ‘mercury’ was cute. That’s all the good news, the bad is I have yet more time this evening for the Saturday Jumbo which is stubbornly refusing to yield. Thanks to all. T.
  32. Another relatively quick one, somewhere around 15 minutes. My LOI strangely enough was MAN. I guess I just skipped it as I wandered through the puzzle, so had to fill it in at the end, and happily I saw the shortened ‘many’ because MEN looked likely too. Regards.
  33. 24 minutes for me, with a good six or seven of that spent failing to see TIME SWITCH and not believing that CLEAN SHEET made any sense. Fortunately, when I eventually got the former it made the latter unevitable (or inavoidable).

    My times this week have all been fairly fast (for me). This can only mean that either (a) I have grown another brain cell or (b) it’s been a fairly gentle week so far. I suspect (b) is the right answer.

    1. Considering the remoteness of the possibility that we have grown an extra brain cell each, at the same time, independently, I tend to agree with hypothesis (b)

      Edited at 2017-03-01 08:55 pm (UTC)

  34. I wasn’t quite sure of MAN either, so I put it in last. About 38 minutes to solve this (which means it was easy — otherwise I would take over an hour). I enjoyed the Times witch, too. She would improve the Times no end. By the way, I saw the CLEAN SHEET as being equivalent to a blanket, since you would hardly want to display a dirty sheet on your bed to visitors to your bedroom, would you? But a CLEAN SHEET might do, especially on very hot summer days (I see I am rambling).

    Edited at 2017-03-01 07:24 pm (UTC)

  35. 14 mins. This was my latest solve for many a moon after an extremely long and arduous day so I was pleasantly surprised it didn’t take me a lot longer. I enjoyed this puzzle so my thanks go to the setter. CONDITION was my LOI after the excellent TIME SWITCH.

    When I was reading the comments I was surprised I had to get to Olivia before the APOLLO/MERCURY/VOYAGER themelet was mentioned.

    1. Dear Andy – you always start out telling us how tired your were, how long and arduous your day was and then bang in a time we’d all mostly die for!

      We are all of us tired, except for Jason and maagoo, it simply goes with out saying!

      Pleasantly surprise yourself further and go to bed earlier!!
      and have a quick read about ‘karoshi’.

      We will all will reap the benefits.

      Edited at 2017-03-01 11:11 pm (UTC)

  36. Late to the game today, didn’t get to the puzzle last night so did it during breaks at work. Fun puzzle, though I had a bit of luck from living in the land of POINSETTIAS and IROQUOIS, both of which were write-ins. Last in was the clever TIME SWITCH

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