Times 28,331: The Mombles of Mimbledon Common Are We

Well this was good wasn’t it! Friday hard and a real masterclass in constructing seamless surfaces out of cryptic parts. Some very entertaining moments: I always like the incongruity of an -EST clue like 2dn, “for now” cluing ANTIPAST is great, and I loved the SECRET ARIES (obviously one should keep one’s star sign under one’s hat unless one is the best sign, i.e. Libra). But wait, there’s more! 23dn is insane genius with its three companions, all the anagrinds are a cut above the norm, and 19dn is about as good a surface as I can remember. 18dn may or may not feel true to this puzzle’s compiler, but I can assure you, sir, you’re making it look easier than ever. Thanks for a corker!

Definitions underlined in italics, (ABC)* indicating anagram of ABC, {} deletions and [] other indicators.

1 Month’s work’s involved in unknown film (9)
OCTOPUSSY – OCT’S [month’s] that OPUS [work] is involved in + Y [unknown]
6 Subject that’s closed, still? (5)
TOPIC – TO [closed] + PIC [still]
9 Senseless not to finish, chap figured? (7)
NUMERIC – NUM{b} + ERIC. As in “using figures”
10 This report from auditor’s going all the way to the top? (5-2)
WRITE-UP – homophone of RIGHT UP
11 One used to spell in Greece: West Ham’s star Italian? (5)
PIERO -PI [one used to spell = letter in Greece] + ‘ERO [Cockney hero]
12 Close to nine, dawn raid put off from earlier time (9)
14 Court oddly leading to nick (3)
CUT – C{o}U{r}T
15 Empty fireplaces getting in the way (11)
17 Being near failure involves I hesitate to say punishment (11)
MISERLINESS – MISS involves ER [I hesitate to say] + LINES. Near as in stingy
19 Gym with place to sit (3)
PEW – P.E. + W(ith)
20 Hors d’oeuvres for now, it’s implied? There’s nothing to follow (9)
ANTIPASTO -if you are FOR (pro) NOW, you are implicitly ANTI PAST; plus O [nothing]
22 Superior rating given to second rate books (5)
ABBOT – A.B. [able bodied seaman = sailor = rating] given to B [good but not as good as A] + O(ld) T(estament)
24 An American serving Dutch painter with dexterity (7)
AGILELY – A G.I. [general infantryman = American serving] + Peter LELY, 1618-80, born in Germany and died in Covent Garden after a career in England, but still Dutch apparently
26 Moor and lake to west, by border county (7)
LEITRIM – TIE [moor] + L(ake) written from east to west, + RIM
27 Soused with short hose (5)
28 One in fifteen in Society voting in Great Britain approve (9)
SPRINGBOK – S(ociety) + P(roportional) R(epresentation) + IN + G(reat) B(ritain) + OK. One of fifteen in a rugby team
1 Confess to have finished (3,2)
OWN UP – OWN [to have] + UP [finished]
2 You do office jobs the old-fashioned way? Rather a blow (7)
TEMPEST – “thou art a temp? thou temp-est, sirrah?”
3 Traveller turns up — sometime later an artiste (9)
4 Senior officials, one tight-lipped about April 1 birthday? (11)
SECRETARIES – if you are born on April 1 you are an Aries, if you are tight-lipped about it you might be a SECRET ARIES
5 Deviate from route northwards (3)
YAW – WAY written from south to north
6 One having shot janitor finally enters bank (5)
TRIER – {janito}R enters TIER
7 Bang on about one’s spruce clothes (endlessly) (7)
PRECISE – C [about] + I’S [one’s], clothed by PREE{n}
8 Getting by with dated tool (6,3)
COPING SAW – COPING [getting by] with SAW [dated, as in went out with]
13 Worked with energy: appropriate for the type of job (5-6)
WHITE-COLLAR – (WITH*) + E(nergy) + COLLAR [appropriate, as a verb]
14 One struggling to go through: nearly all at stake (9)
COMBATANT – COMB [to go through] + AT ANT{e}
16 Development stage not normally launched into (9)
18 My job is getting harder! (7)
SETTING – double def
19 Scoff at local boxer devouring book with massage (3,4)
PUB GRUB – PUG devouring B(ook), + RUB. PUG here is not actually a boxer dog (thought you’d be forgiven for simply assuming that they were “close enough”), it’s actually a slang term for a fighter, short for pugilist… you learn something new every puzzle!
21 Tuck into apple: a treat! (5)
PLEAT – hidden in {ap}PLE A T{reat}
23 At least three Queen’s companions in Siberian city (5)
TOMSK – a Tom is the companion of a Queen [= female cat], and a K is the companion of a Queen [= chess piece]. If we have toms plural and and K, there must be at least 2+1 = 3 companions. Very clever!
25 Studies after missing start of course (3)
YES – {e}YES

78 comments on “Times 28,331: The Mombles of Mimbledon Common Are We”

  1. “Chestnuts” seems a bit harsh – every device in the cryptic arsenal was an eye-opening innovation once, and now is standard issue for every setter. These particular devices, like “in prime positions” or arguably Spoonerism clues, have the advantage of only appearing in puzzles quite sporadically, so they don’t feel completely business-as-usual when they turn up.

      1. As it is the astrological opposite/complement to Libra, I guess I shall agree. (I’ve always got along well with Aries folk.)

  2. I believe there was a cunning attempt to initially deceive at 11ac with PIERO – as indeed PAOLO di Canio was until recently West Ham’s star Italian player.

    LOI 22ac ABBOTT – with Ikea shelving for the books
    WOD 23dn TOMSK

    37 minutes for what I considered to be a good Friday

      1. I saw the PI and had the O, so couldn’t get Pirlo out of my brain – an Italian star indeed, but both alive and way too sports specific to be plausible.

        1. Pirlo and Luka Modric are the players I always wanted to emulate but alas……

    1. I’m happily ignorant on the subject of football but suspected something of the sort before the penny dropped.

    2. Recently ? It’s been 20 years since Signor Di Canio donned the claret and blue !

        1. I don’t mind my beard turning white, but the way that time has started to compress such that a couple of decades now passes in the way a summer month used to, is quite intolerable.

  3. Great puzzle, finished within a very smart time. Only unknown was the (NHO pre-Times) painter Lely being Dutch, isn’t he always clues as English? Forgot to look closely at combatant, so hadn’t parsed it, but everything else was clear. Particularly liked “launched” as an anagram indicator. Paolo was my first knee-jerk reaction for Piero, but he’s a bit modern, played at West Ham around the turn of the millenium. Also still alive. Was expecting it to be an unknown ancient Greek witch – we don’t often have Italian names.
    COD pub grub for the surface and parsing.

    Edit: coming back, it seems I was lucky: right on the wavelength, not held up by recalcitrant crossing words, and with (almost) all of the GK – even that Piero is a common enough name, but more common when augmented to e.g. Giampiero or Pierpaolo

  4. 46 minutes with 11 not fully solved as I’m not particularly familiar with PIERO as a name and in wordplay I’d though of PI but then assumed I was looking for something to do with West Ham FC of which I know nothing. Other than that lapse it was all very enjoyable and I liked the three queens. SPRINGBOK was pretty clever too. COPING SAW was known only from previous puzzles but securely remembered.

    It was handy that late yesterday I had explained to someone in the QC blog that ‘near’ equates with being miserly. Of course I knew it already but it was my first thought on reading 17ac today and I was able to crack that one without any delay.

    1. “Near” is the kind of word I shall always associate with my dear departed grandfather (who first set me on the path of being a Times solver of course). For him “nearest and dearest” would have meant “stingiest and most expensive”.

  5. DNF
    I had everything but PIERO done in 25′, but after wasting 5 more I threw in the towel. I had the PI, after TEMPEST put paid to PHI, but since I know nothing about West Ham other than that it’s a team of some sort, I couldn’t make any sense of the clue. Biffed TOMSK and SPRINGBOK. The TEMPEST-style clue should be given a rest (as, I might add, ‘French art’; but I digress), as should ANTIPASTO.

    1. Bit cruel that West Ham is in the East End of London… an American solver could certainly have trouble working out that that is an Eastenders speech pattern indicator!

  6. 50 minutes here, slowed right down at the end by a hastily-put-in NUMBRED (no, I’ve no idea how I did that, either) at 9a which made 4d S_D_E_A_I_S quite hard to fill in, especially if you have no idea which month goes with which star sign…

  7. TOMSK is a Womble, and YES
    Only one of that cast wears a dress
    How new Wombles appear
    Was never made clear
    Madame Cholet’s quite busy, I’d guess

  8. 43 minutes and quite proud to have finished at all. Loved SECRETARIES once I saw it. Nervously put in PIERO without fully parsing. All in all a fun start to the month.

  9. As Kevin. Just PIERO left after 30 minutes (which I would never have got). Faced early on with P—-. I could only think of POGBA which is wrong on so many levels.

    1. Most United fans will tell you that Pogba was generally wrong on every level !

      1. Most football fans will tell you Pogba’s been one of the best in the world for the past 10 or 15 years, but completely mishandled by incompetent managers and administrators at Manchester United.

  10. Feel like I’ve just been through a meat-grinder …this seemed well beyond my capabilities until – to my amazement – it didn’t.

    WRITE-UP got me underway, and I made slow progress around the periphery of the puzzle up to about 56m with plenty remaining to do, fully intending to give up at the hour mark. Then MISERLINESS led to a flurry of solutions, changing the complexion entirely to a possible completion. A few biffs including TOMSK very early on, finishing sequence was: PUB GRUB, LEITRIM (NHO), and finally char 4 of PIERO. Never figured out the “West Ham” = dropped h device, so the final blank was just a least-unlikely-candidate choice.

    Absolutely amazed to get the result on this one – but I think I need to go for a lie down. Thanks V and setter.

  11. 16:03

    Excellent puzzle, just right for a Friday, thank you setter (and V). I enjoyed the variety of cryptic devices (including, for the record, -EST and ANTI-). SPRINGBOK was my only biff.

    I’d be interested to know what Magoo and a couple of other fast solvers tripped up on to get one error.

  12. 16:54. Lovely stuff. I failed to parse TOMSK, so thanks for that – very clever. We’ve had -EST like that recently, but it is still fun. LOI the unremembered LEITRIM. I liked SECRET ARIES, the simple OWN UP and the bank robber surface. Thanks V and setter.

  13. 41 minutes with LOI PIERO, having gone through every West Ham player I could think of. I couldn’t remember any of those we beat in the 1923 final, but I could name the Bolton team, and the horse (Billie). I think in the end I parsed everything, but only after heroic assumptions on the way. Down with gastropubs, bring back PUB GRUB , my COD. Tough but enjoyable. Thank you V and setter.

    1. PUB GRUB should be left strictly to a decent Lancashire Hotpot – but then you know that.

      1. Lancashire hotpot is never seen on a pub menu here in East Anglia, but I cook it at home and it is eagerly devoured by the family when I do. Proper comfort food.

  14. 16:01, of which at least five on my last in, MISERLINESS. I just had no idea what was going on, until eventually I considered that ‘failure’ might be MISS, and constructed it from there.
    Great puzzle, not as hard (apart from 17ac) as I thought it was going to be after getting only three or four from my first pass through the acrosses. I didn’t understand TOMSK, so thanks v for explaining that, and I don’t remember coming across LEITRIM before (no doubt I said that last time it came up too).

  15. I need a Nero
    Pushed to 26.45 puzzling over PIERO, like most solvers, it seems. In the end, put in out of desperation, not thinking of the dropped H and wondering what ham went west to produce ERO.
    Had a similar struggle with NUMERIC, wondering who spelt ERAL like that until the surprisingly not-lowly SECRETARIES turned up.
    I guess one day the compilers will have worked their merry educating way through all the Irish counties: today LEITRIM was added to my list, since Antrim was too short.
    Clever and entertaining stuff, though, TOMSK, SPRINGBOK and ANTIPASTO being favourites.

  16. 29:51
    Another fine puzzle in what has been a very good week. Dithered over PIERO because I knew that Alessandro Del Piero had never played for West Ham. Nice to be reminded of “lovely Leitrim where the Shannon waters flow”.

    COD – a tie between SECRETARIES and ANTIPASTO.

    Thanks to Verlaine and the setter

  17. 89m 38s
    That was proper ‘ard and I didn’t really enjoy it. For one thing SPRINGBOK was very obscure IMHO.
    My chief complaint is that Pugs are not Boxers. They have similar characteristics but the two are different as far as I’m aware.
    LOI was PIERO. As I’ve said to Meldrew, my first thought was PAOLO (Di Canio) . I never did parse the clue but PIERO is an Italian name I know well from art as in PIERO della Francesca.
    Thank you Verlaine for TEMPEST (I think we may have had something similar recently), PIERO, ANTIPASTO and TOMSK. I couldn’t properly parse any of those.

    1. Every time PUG is clued as BOXER someone complains about the dog, when it’s actually PUG as in PUGILIST 🙂


      1. In that case I’m today’s ‘someone’. I’m sure I won’t be the last.

      2. PS….In that case, part II, Verlaine should have explained that. I thought that’s what this blog was for.

        1. It is a bit of a chestnut, so V probably thought it unnecessary to expand his explanation.

            1. I just looked it up and discovered the pug-ilist meaning for the first time! I will add this helpful gloss to the top of the blog.

              1. Gosh! I’m genuinely surprised to find that our esteemed V has been surprised!
                I think I MAY possibly have come across it once before but ‘chestnut’? As that nice General de Gaulle once said: ‘NON’!

  18. 14:16, so not the toughest (by comparison to the monsters we occasionally get on a Friday, obviously, these things are relative) but one of those very quirky puzzles, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And yes, nice to see LEITRIM getting a mention. If you play the Irish counties quiz on Sporcle, only Carlow and Longford get remembered less, such is the fate of those “ones in the middle”.

    1. At least there’s a Lord Longford to help bring the county to mind. I just looked up Lord Leitrim and apparently he was a bit of a rotter.

  19. NHO PIERO as a name and couldn’t get my head around the wordplay. Although I considered an aspirate removal for West Ham, I couldn’t see how it might work and finally just bunged in PREGO as it was an Italian word. Was under 30 minutes until that one. 31:37 WOE. Thanks setter and V. Still don’t like PI as “one used for spelling in Greek.”

  20. Unlike yesterday’s struggle I really enjoyed this battle with the setter. I’m wobbly on my Irish counties and Siberian cities so those took a while but for once the short clues (YAW, PEW, CUT, YES) were gettable and helpful. I’d just been re-reading John Mortimer’s mystery Summer’s Lease where a small painting by the Renaissance artist PIERO Della Francesca is part of the plot so the name came to mind quickly (after I thankfully rid my brain of football) although the parsing did not. I was confused by “former”=”sometime later” in 3d but the answer was obvious. SECRETARIES was terrific. 24.12

    1. Olivia, Did you ever see the TV adaptation of Summer’s Lease starring John Gielgud amongst others? I can thoroughly recommend it if you get the chance. It had a great piece of theme music too called Carmina Valles by Nigel Hess including some amazing trumpet work .

      1. Yes I did see it Jackkt and you’re right it’s very good. It had Leslie Phillips (of the long ago Navy Lark) too. I think we’ve got it somewhere among our DVD collection but I’m still unpacking boxes from storage.

      2. I saw it back in the 1990s. I remember one of the stars was Susan Fleetwood, sister of Mick Fleetwood of ….Mac fame.
        It remains on my bucket list to follow the Piero della Francesca Trail.

  21. Loved this one, especially TOMSK and PUB GRUB. Fortunately knew my Irish counties having resided there for a long time, and that LELY was a Dutch painter. SPRINGBOK was a good one to construct too. MY LOI and doubtful one was PIERO as I thought ‘one used to spell…’ was about more than just a letter (PI) and didn’t think of ‘ERO; ages trying to fit PIETA for it. 45 minutes with 11a iffy. Thanks V for explaining PRECISE which I biffed.

  22. DNF; missed 7d PRECISE, which was poor as I had considered it but didn’t think of pree(n).
    Failed to parse quite a lot; TOMSK, COMBATANT, but did get Piero and agiLELY the artist, but forgot Leitrim was a county. So reasonably happy for a DNF.

  23. 29 mins. After a very blank start, I finally got going in the NE, and it turned out to be quite doable. Several misdirections (including April 1 = A) and bad guesses (NUMERAL) later, I finished with an unparsed PIERO or PIETO ( is that a name?). That left me with POETISE which seemed very dodgy (do poets bang on?), and I finally crossed the winning line.

  24. As everyone has observed, this was remarkably difficult and in my 91 minutes I entered several with a shrug, finally giving up on PIERO. The only real criticism I have hasn’t so far as I can see been mentioned, which suggests that perhaps I’m making a fuss about nothing: 27ac: Soused with short hose: what is ‘with’ doing? The only way I can make the clue work is to suppose that it is a link-word, and that’s something I thought you never saw in The Times. Possibly somehow s = short and the clue in a circuitous way is saying ‘the answer is soused, and if you put tight with s you get tights’, but I doubt that.

    1. Wil, I think perhaps you are expecting too much of Times setters as although the ideal clue would have no unnecessary words this is very hard to achieve day after day, year after year and is rarely achieved even throughout a single puzzle. In my view there’s little wrong with a link-word that doesn’t distract from the wordplay but gives meaning to the surface, and that’s what I’d say we have here. My particular bugbear these days is the floating ‘a’, especially at the start of a clue that really serves no purpose at all and I’m afraid their frequency is increasing.

      1. Well you may be right Jack, but in my opinion it’s OK to ask a lot of Times setters. After all they are the setters at the very top of the tree and we expect high standards from them. I was recently reading a book about the use of English which basically was saying that anything goes: it’s simply a matter of how people express themselves. Yet the writer showed that he was just like the pedantic grammarians who(m?) he had criticised in this book by saying that certain things were good style and certain other things bad style (in which case it isn’t true that anything goes). I’d say that this clue was written in a bad style rather than being wrong.

        As to whether I’m being unnecessarily fussy, as V’s comment below implies, I don’t know. I’m not sure that ‘with’ and ‘and’ are equivalents here.

    2. If it was “Soused and short hose”, it’d be fine, right? I don’t think “with” for “and” is a long way away from that.

  25. 60 minutes. Tough stuff with not everything parsed including TEMPEST and COMBATANT. NHO the Irish ‘county’ before; the one I remember from a previous puzzle somewhere is “Laois” so now at least I know two.

    Favourite was TOMSK which would have done TOM Lehrer proud:”I have a friend in Minsk…”.

  26. “But he’s nobody’s ‘ero” (with apologies to Rush, who don’t drop their aitches, being Canadians).

    I did a fair bit of biffing here, and must thank V for his explanations (including my COD and my LOI). My SNITCH rating and position made me a very happy chappie.

    FOI TOPIC (should have seen OCTOPUSSY)
    LOI PIERO (with fingers crossed)
    COD ANTIPASTO (bruschetta anyone ?)
    TIME 11:07

  27. 44:44

    Enjoyed most of it, but somewhat underwhelmed with the convolution that was PIERO – really?

    Failed also to parse MISERLINESS, and wouldn’t know a COPING SAW if it and other saws appeared in a police line-up, but they have appeared here before.

    TOMSK – another convolution – got as far as queen = cat = TOM

    1. I am liking the PIERO clue more and more now I’ve seen that, if you know the ins and outs of football, it seems to conjure up all sorts of fond memories of Italian West Ham players of yesteryear.

  28. A tough but enjoyable one today- particularly enjoyed TOMSK. Didn’t share other commenters’ reservations about PI in PIERO.

  29. Putting pisan for 11 across cost me at least 10 minutes of extra head scratching because It gave me the wrong checkers for 2 and 3 down. My rationale was pi followed by san, which seemed a plausible way of writing how a cockney might pronounce “sun”, ie West Ham’s star. Given that Pisan is less obscure than piero I’m surprised that no one else seems to have fallen into the trap.

  30. 29.39 and enjoyed every moment. Some nice bits of whimsy- pub grub, Tomsk and Piero. And all capable of solution without needing to guess.
    Thx setter and blogger.

  31. DNF since I eventually gave up on PIERO and put in PIEZO since it fitted. Time was approximately the Western Isles to Greenland since I was on the plane from Germany to California. I thought about PIERO but wasn’t sure it was a word, and somehow it has escaped me that West Ham is in Cockney country (I thought it was Hammersmith in the West of London, not the East). Everything else went in steadily if slowly, with many penny-drop-moments. LEITRIM was another one worked out from the wordplay but unsure it was correct, but I’d heard of ANTRIM so it seemed there might be other -TRIMs too. At 20A, when I saw “hors d’oeuvres” ending in O I just wrote in ANTIPASTO and never bothered trying to work out how the rest of the clue worked, so I missed the whole pro-present, anti-past thing. No problem with any of the rest of the general knowledge like SPRINGBOKS.

    1. Yer ‘Ammers – Alf Garnet’s team ‘forever blowin’ bubbles!’ Now moved from ‘The Boleyn Road’ (Upton Park) to the London Stadium, the new White City, so no longer Cockney!

      Hammersmith is a football dessert in the middle of the Fulham, QPR and the newly revived Brentford, triangle.⚽️

        1. Not quite these are ‘olive balls’!
          The ‘dessert’ was courtesy of our old friend! Mr. iPad auto-word corrector.

          John, I thought ‘in-line’ images were to be discouraged!?

          Maybe I could put up some of the new ‘banner’ designs that I proffered and you so liked so much at one time?

  32. Failed on this one after 55 minutes, the last 10 of which were spent staring blankly at 17ac MISERLINESS and 4dn SECRETARIES. Both quite gettable and I’m now kicking myself as you always do when you solve clues that were so much tougher!

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