Times 26,783: My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels

This meticulously clued seems to have been fully worthy of its Friday slot – 8 hours in only 5 results have been under the 20 minute mark (almost 14 for me) and the Crossword SNITCH is reporting a hardness of 151 (went up from 141 in the time it took to write this preamble!), not quite unprecedented but certainly well up there. A combination of the definition parts being quite difficult to locate with some real attention being required to tease out the wordplay will do that, but even things that probably were alchemically more difficult here, e.g. the fact that it took me three passes through the grid to find an anagram of OR MEDAL, or that I had V__ and still could’t see 23ac for the longest time. I think 11ac was my FOI (maybe my only one in on the first pass of across clues!) and 29ac my last.

I really liked this anyway, and what I liked most about it was that it passed my hard-to-articulate Timesiness test: the slight archaism in things like POOH-POOHS and OLD BEAN, and gloriously quirky phrases like SIT-UP-AND-BEG, PRIESTS HOLE, MOCK SUN… the richness of our language is well and truly on display. Bit of Latin, bit of German, bit of Cockney, it’s all there. Top marks to the setter, and it’s hard to pick a COD: I liked 16dn for “did show behind” though perhaps the surface ends up on the convoluted side… I actually really like 14dn for “rings and knocks”, and it’s such a good word, perhaps I’ll just go with that. I’m expecting a wide variety of nominations today though: over to you!

1 Hurry on by to see holiday apartment (9)
TIMESHARE – HARE [hurry] on TIMES [by]
6 Shop less, arguably, after going around stores (5)
GRASS – hidden reversed in {le}SS ARG{uably}
9 Fat Hilary maybe briefly rocking scale (7)
RICHTER – RICH [fat] + TER{m} [Hilary maybe, “briefly”]
10 Arab I transported across Bible Land (7)
BAVARIA – (ARAB I*) [“transported”] across AV [Bible]
11 Used to be clean after wiping hard (3)
WAS – WAS{h} [clean, “after wiping” H{ard}]
12 Where father hid pistols? Here, possibly (7,4)
14 Grilled bread and roast at first attempt (6)
PANINI – PAN [roast] + IN I (= IN ONE) [at first attempt]
15 Number swarming around English holiday island (8)
TENERIFE – TEN RIFE [number | swarming] around E [English]
17 Competition needs reserve, it’s readily understood (4,4)
OPEN BOOK – OPEN [competition] needs BOOK [reserve]
19 A record is entertaining, getting top marks (6)
ALPHAS – A LP HAS [a | record | is entertaining]
22 Old man with kid: top in grand and thrilling sport (11)
PARAGLIDING – PA RAG LID IN G [old man (with) kid | top | in | grand]
23 Verse I felt that shows promise (3)
VOW – V OW [verse | I felt that!]
25 Familiar address used by head (3,4)
OLD BEAN – OLD [used] by BEAN [head]
27 Following on, batting to open the day (7)
RETINUE – RE [on] + IN [batting] “to open” TUE [the day]
28 A poem regularly reflecting on mostly sad state of islands (5)
SAMOA – reverse A {p}O{e}M on SA{d}
29 Not one boy attending Ladies College (9)
DISUNITED – TED [boy] attending DIS UNI [Ladies | College]
1 Called out thanks to cast (5)
THREW – homophone of THROUGH [“called out” thanks to]
2 Bright spot in practice tests international body (4,3)
MOCK SUN – MOCKS UN [practice tests | international body]
3 Sort of bike offering exercise, with appeal (3-2-3-3)
SIT-UP-AND-BEG – SIT-UP AND BEG [exercise | with | appeal]
4 A hand put round brother, cowering? (6)
AFRAID – A AID [a | hand] put round FR [brother]
5 In relief, the writer turned, told what to do? (8)
EMBOSSED – reverse ME [the writer “turned”] + BOSSED [told what to do]
6 Sir’s ultimately condescending — and sort of light (3)
GUV – {condescendin}G + UV [sort of light]
7 Men arriving in time to fool one: that’s known in advance (1,6)
A PRIORI – OR [men] “arriving in” APR I = (April 1st) [time to fool] + I [one]
8 Forged letters written out in bold (9)
SHAMELESS – SHAM [forged] + EL ESS [two letters “written out”]
13 Quiet pressman not having enough to explain (4,5,2)
SHED LIGHT ON – SH ED [quiet | pressman] + LIGHT ON [not having enough]
14 Upset, small twin rings and knocks (4-5)
POOH-POOHS – reverse S HOOP HOOP [small | twin rings]
16 Did show behind curtains Italian backed and directed (8)
MOTIONED – MOONED [did show behind] “curtains” IT reversed [Italian “backed”]
18 Title or medal for wrestling (7)
EARLDOM – (OR MEDAL*) [“for wrestling”]
20 Deprived person of sanctuary with books (4-3)
HAVE-NOT – HAVEN OT [sanctuary (with) books]
21 Threads of story remain incomplete (6)
FIBRES – FIB RES{t} [story | remain, “incomplete”]
24 One involved in joint exercise (5)
WIELD – I [one] “involved in” WELD [joint]
26 Girl’s welcome from the floor (3)
EVA – upside-down AVE [welcome “from the floor”]

64 comments on “Times 26,783: My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels”

  1. Yes, great stuff. A bit too great for me. I couldn’t crack POOH POOHS (where I was convinced I must have something wrong because surely nothing would fit), DISUNITED or, for some reason, FIBRES. I gave it half an hour then hoisted the white flag.

    Among many fine clues, RICHTER made me smile and GRASS is ever so good.

  2. Cracker of a puzzle. Loved MOTIONED and POOH-POOHS, didn’t fully parse RICHTER, but I’ll go along with Sotira and give COD to GRASS.

    Thanks setter and V.

    1. Am I right in thinking this has been a cracker of a week for your times? What was your Galspray Golf score?
      1. Shhh, the handicapper might be listening. 12 under par as it happens, and while today’s was by far the slowest of the week I felt that it was my best round, given the conditions.

        Which makes me think that I should look at a way of incorporating the SNITCH rating into the scoring model.

        1. OK, we’ll assume the handicapper is not listening.

          The 12-under aligns with your impressive Personal NITCH scores (64, 79, 60, 69 and 113) and well ahead of the overall NITCH in every case (85, 97, 84, 107 and 147). Well done, indeed!

            1. Thanks for the question. The time I compare against is the six-month rolling average of your error-free solving times. [For full disclosure, I do remove your best and worst times on each day-of-week in the six-months. This is to remove outlying results which sometimes happen.]

              It will update automatically each month (or, in fact, on the Monday following the last Friday in each month).

              If you look at the “Show” button against each month of the “Trends” page, you’ll see the results for all the solvers I use in that month. I’m still trying to think of a good way to show the individual solver trends, in response to your earlier feedback. At the moment you can see your results by clicking on all the Show buttons and looking at the list, but that’s a bit clunky.

                1. Will do – I like that idea and would be happy to have some help from others.
              1. Another possible tweak to the index is the absolute number of correct entries within the reference solvers. If only 45 got through unscathed, compared to an average of say 70, that’s another Mohs scale factor
                1. A very good thought, thanks. Especially since there were 15 entries from reference solvers that had errors on this crossword. Adding them to the 46 would have brought the number back up over 60, which is where it normally sits.

                  I’ll try to add the list of entries with errors to the data for each crossword. It would then give a separate indication of hardness.

                  I’m not sure how I could add it to the index, which is strictly a ratio of times taken. The Crossword Club has the concept of penalty points for errors; this seemed a bit arbitrary for me in formulating an index.

                  Thanks again for the suggestion.

                  1. Can I add my appreciation for the SNITCH? Great work and quite fascinating! I like your logic behind it. One suggestion for dealing with outliers – how about using the Median rather than Mean of the reference solvers times? I find my average time gets wrecked by the ones I get stuck on.
                    1. Thanks, J, for your comments and I’m glad you like the SNITCH. Thanks also for the suggestion on the outliers. My main reason for exclusion of the top and bottom results is that these might not reflect real solving times – e.g. someone re-entered their data quickly after a glitch or there was some big delay due to a club site fault (which has been reported occasionally in the blog).

                      If, on the other hand, you get stuck (as I often do), does this not reflect on the degree of difficulty of the puzzle? Would it be right to exclude these results for reference solvers?

                      Thanks again for your comments.

                      1. Hi,
                        Great to see your SNITCH site has survived the upheaval of the crossword club upgrade. Keep up the good work. Alas I remain a predominantly pen and paper man, but I would love to be awarded the accolade of being one of your refernce solvers. Maybe I’ll get to love the online option soon.
                        Meanwhile, I thought I’d follow up on our conversation. I think your calculations are fine and your use of a cohort of refernce solvers is an excellent approach. My previous comment, though, was based on a thought about the probability distribution of solving times. I track my own solving times of both the 15×15 and Quick cryptic. I have also recently (thanks to you) added tracking my personal SNITCH value, which confirms I am slowly improving on the 15×15. But in my tracking I capture not only my average solving time on a monthly basis (about 24:30 over the last 6 months) but my median time for the month. For the last 2 years I have found this much more consistent… for the QC between 5:54 and 6:58, whereas my mean times vary much more. My conclusion is that the distribution of solving times does not follow a standard distribution, but is maybe more like a Poisson distribution. There must a least be some offset – e.g. a minimum time to read and write in the answers instantly must take, e.g. 3 minutes, so you can’t get any faster than that, but the only limit to how long it might take (assuming successful completion) is the solver’s patience. Which makes me wonder what the statistical profile of your reference cohorts solving times looks like… I probably should plot my own before teasing you with that challenge, but I couldn’t resist. lol.
                        1. Hi johninterred, thanks so much for your very considered comments. On the couple of issues you’ve raised:

                          (a) I really like your thought on using something other than a normal distribution. After some thought over the last couple of days, I’m sure it would be more accurate than a simple average. Was there some reason you chose a Poisson distribution? In my (very!) brief research since reading your comment, I wondered whether a log-normal distribution would fit better? I’d be happy to share the data from the solvers – do you have an email you could send me on a private LJ communication to talk further on this?

                          (b) I’d love to find a way to include your results in the reference solvers going forward. I’m thinking that I’d allow login for certain users to the SNITCH site and manual entry of results. I could perhaps upload some of your history from a file, if you’re able to get it to me.

                          Thanks again for the great comments. I’m now wishing I wasn’t so busy at work. Let’s talk further.

  3. This was ‘The Daily Beast’! My time was off any scale but I did finally crack it before 10.00am.

    The West was far easier than the East, the Far East being the most inscrutible


    DNP 6ac GRASS nor 16dn MOTIONED – doh!

    COD 14dn POOH-POOHS (essential to open up the West.)


    Like a work-out in the gymnasium!

  4. Thanks V for DISUNITED: I had absolutely no idea how that worked, and by then I was already over 40 minutes so parsing was a luxury I wouldn’t afford. I’m still on p2 with 42.22, so I reckon this merits tough, though like Keriothe (with less than half my time) I did feel I was making heavy weather of some stuff that looked simple once solved.
    PRIEST(S) HOLE(S) held me up because I forgot to look at the numeration, and always knew it as a priest hole anyway, so pluralised it on the grounds that you’d be stupid not to have more than one.
    I’m half inclined to give COD to VOW, because I can’t otherwise explain why it was nearly my last in, and had VI? for most of the solving time. Bur there were loads of contenders. I think I’ll do the TLS for a warm down.
  5. Top stuff. I’m pleased with managing to finish in about half an hour now I see this is a 151 on the Snitch scale. I had to tease out the answers today, not least my penultimate entry THREW where I’d read it as ‘called out thanks’/’to cast’ for some time thus not understanding why it could be throw or threw. For that reason I think I’ll give it my COD. LOI was RICHTER.
  6. First-rate puzzle, notable for smooth and ingenious surface reads and devious parsing, which took me around 1 hr. I too liked all the clues cited in previous comments, and found MOTIONED particularly chuckle-worthy (no doubt it appealed to the smutty sense of humour of my inner schoolboy!)

    Thanks to Verlaine for the (as ever) excellent blog and for explaining the “through” = “thanks to” element in the parsing of THREW.

    1. The THROUGH homophone only occurred to me post-parse I have to say! Before then I was wondering if “throwing” to the audience might be a bit like a “shout-out”… yeah, don’t know what I was thinking really. But T_R_W plus an obvious past-tensey definition left little room for putting in a wrong answer.

      Edited at 2017-07-21 08:22 am (UTC)

      1. But the definition isn’t necessarily past tense, so maybe you dodged a bullet there.
  7. 19:12, which is good enough for 5th place on the leaderboard at the moment, so this must have been tough. I had the distinct feeling while solving that I was just making ridiculously heavy weather of some straightforward clues, but it seems they were actually more devious than I realised.
    Good stuff, thanks setter and v.
  8. When after the first pass I only had the 3-letter words entered (and one of those proved wrong) I thought it was going to be one of those days. And approaching the 45 minute mark I usually think that there are better things to do with my life. However this was one of those puzzles that merits the extra time and effort to fathom its mysteries. So it was with total respect to the setter that I put the last one in just past the hour. My only quibble is with 29a: boy = TED? Just not worthy of the rest of the clueing.
  9. A bit over an hour. Overnight oats eaten and bowl washed before this was put to bed. Some well hidden definitions and witty wordplay. For some reason Fibres took forever. ‘Lie’res? Can that be a sort of thread? Doh! Many contenders for COD. I put forward a shout for Retinue. One blot on the copybook – the clunky use of random Lady/boy in 29ac.
    Thanks brilliant setter and erudite V.
    1. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to struggle with FIBRES. Maybe one of those that you needed to see at first glance.
      1. I think I thought of both LIE and FIB pretty early on as possibilities, but sadly neither LIESTA or FIBSTA looked promising, so I had to leave it and come back later…
  10. Held up for ever in the NW and SE but made it in the end (taking over an hour) never thinking for a moment that it would beat me. I had also given myself a temporary problem in the NE having ignored the enumeration for 12 and written in PRIESTHOLES.

    Never did finish parsing 8dn where the best I came up with was SHAM (forged), E-LESS (letters written out). The intended ‘written out’ letters never occurred to me, but having one each of two alternative spellings is particularly devious – ‘el’ with ‘es’ or ‘ell’ with ‘ess’ being more logical but not meeting the needs of the clue of course. Good puzzle.

  11. Yes, I hovered between THROW and THREW for quite a while, not helped by initially mistakenly taking “to cast” rather than “cast” as the def, in which case THROW would have fitted the bill. I did eventually spot the THROUGH homophone, which left little doubt that THREW was required, but I still couldn’t see what “through” had to do with “thanks to”. Simple, really, once it’s been explained!

    Edited at 2017-07-21 09:13 am (UTC)

  12. Walked quickly between showers to the local shop early today to acquire a paper. FOI therefore TIMESHARE. Worth the effort as I was bang on wavelength and did this in 18 minutes. beating the first two posters, both heroes of mine. Snitch at 149 too. Wowee! It won’t last. Back home on Monday, I’ll be taking the hour again. As we’re off out in a few minutes to Bolton, I recklessly filled in biffs and uncertainties like THREW, MOTIONED, PANINI and OLD BEAN, last seen in Billy Bunter I think. So I got lucky. LOI DISUNITED. CODs GUV and SIT UP AND BEG, as my Mum called her bike. Thank you V and setter.
    1. Very well done on a hard puzzle.

      There must be something to doing crosswords in a more relaxed setting. I’ve been on leave this week and, although nowhere near times of other solvers, I managed to finish all 5 without error and within a couple of hours.

      As you say, it won’t last, as I’m back to work next week 🙁

      1. By contrast I solve worse when I’m on leave. I find the controlled conditions of the commute help me focus.
  13. Back to earth with a bump and beaten ultimately by 14d. Saw ‘twin rings’ just as OO and could not get past it. Not helped by having no confidence in parsing PANINI. A 6th hole at Birkdale level of a puzzle.
  14. Very nice. Grass was a very good hidden, but lots of nice ones to choose from in a pretty tough Friday puzzle.

    Thanks both.

  15. After filling half of it in 12 mins, I was left staring at various clues, with the occasional eureka moment keeping me going. Eventually way over the hour mark. COD VOW – that hurt!
  16. After labouring for 64:29, I THREW it all away with a biffed THROW for 1d. All that effort teasing out the really difficult answers and one silly error. The air around me turned blue. A beast of a puzzle rightly reserved as a Friday offering. The NW and SE were mainly blank as I worked my way though, and each new clue solved became a cause for celebration. NHO MOCK SUN but it gave me 1a at last. FOI was BAVARIA and LOI FIBRES after LIESTA and LIERES were discounted. VOW and WIELD took forever to see. Missed the Hilary=term bit of 9a. Di’s Uni with Ted brought a sigh of relief as it eventually yielded. Bravo setter and great blog V.

    Edited at 2017-07-21 12:19 pm (UTC)

    1. I avoided that error and fell for the other one. Life, John, for us hackers – life….
  17. Tricky and deft. 34.48 with last five trying to parse motioned, even though saw mooned. The simple trouncing the would-be complex may be the top weapon in the Times armoury. Is that really a bike? – joekobi
  18. An hour, but came up short on FIBRES, where I went for ‘lieres’. Mmm.

    A warning to anyone who us thinking of meeting the V in NYC. My liver is still recovering.

    1. I’m on the NYC meet organisational mailing list and there seem to be a lot of voices piping up in favour of places that serve “the hard stuff”… maybe I’ll have met my match this time around!
      1. Well, look on the bright side – it should perk that mangy thing on your shoulder up a bit.
  19. But for THROW instead of THREW I would have been in League One on the Club’s daily leaderboard and that would have been a rare event in any case. Got to FIBRE in the ned but first there were lies, damn’d lies and lieres. Did like DISUNITED. 1hr 4m 24s
  20. Actual time about 35 min, but technical DNF as needed aid for 15ac, as unable to think of anywhere to fit checkers.
    Anyhow, didn’t submit as Virgin went down just as I’d finished, so had to retype everything before I could do so. (Club timer said 4hr+)
  21. would someone be able to put the snitch website in links or some such. thx.
    1. Not without being blocked out as spam.
      Try: xwdsnitch dot herokuapp dot com

      Beaten today – failed on TENERIFE where “holiday” threw me, PANINI where “grilled” threw me. Couldn’t get POOH-POOHs with an alphabet trawl, but no first P.

  22. After a disjointed 14 mins on the commute this morning I only had a handful of answers. FOI 6ac. 47 mins at lunchtime nailed down most of the rest but I still needed another minute after work to get 16dn and with it my LOI 25ac. A very tricky puzzle that was a real pleasure to solve. DNK mock sun or the type of bike in 3dn so had to trust the wordplay for both. 8dn entered without parsing the “el” and “ess” bit. 7dn always makes me think of St Anselm’s elegant, ontological argument for the existence of God, studying that in school was where I first heard the term. I don’t know about a COD: retinue, pooh-poohs, motioned, vow – too many to choose. Verlaine, I think you articulate very well in your account of why this passes your inarticulable Timesiness test why this was such a pleasure to solve. Thanks to both setter and blogger.
  23. 23:25 for me. I thought I recognised the setter, and somehow managed to convince myself that this was going to be a really difficult puzzle. However, looking back over the clues afterwards, it actually wasn’t that difficult after all (apart from the vocalophobe’s nightmare at 15ac). I didn’t help matters by somehow managing to bung in DETINUE at 27ac, but basically I failed to find the setter’s wavelength and I’m not quite sure why.
  24. This may be a furphy, but I thought the brother in 4dn was FRA, inside AID. Isn’t FR more likely to be father than brother?

    Overall I found this very hard – particularly 1dn and the whole SE corner. Glad I wasn’t alone!

    1. I parsed it as you did, and Chambers has FRA as brother or friar. I assumed when solving it stood for friar, so brother in that sense rather than a sibling, but I don’t know whether that’s the official explanation.

      Edited at 2017-07-21 10:39 pm (UTC)

  25. Having seen the SNITCH (thanks Starstruck!) I braced myself for a long haul this morning and was relieved to complete correctly without aids in 48:29. Thanks for the parsing, V – I eventually threw in 1d without understanding the homonym and couldn’t work out MOTIONED at all, not twigging ‘show behind’ didn’t mean something after something else. Only MOCK SUN was new to me. SE corner consumed the most time, FIBRES, WIELD and DISUNITED requiring much perspiration. But satisfying and much good clueing. 14d my favourite. Thanks setter and blogger.
  26. Agreed, “mooned” was ingenious. But since when can “motioned” be fairly clued by “directed”? Would you accepted “shouted [at him]” or “telephoned [him]” as fair answers? The Times’s setters are getting ever looser and looser in their use of English
    1. I was thinking “I motioned him to sit down” passed the substitution test, but I agree it might be a bit on the looser end of things…
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