Times 28931 – the lunatic, the lover, and the poet

52:17 WOE

Disappointed to find a pink square after my efforts to get this difficult but entertaining puzzle solved. I had NW (except the 1s) and SE more or less completed in a normal-for-me time, but struggled to break in to the other quarters. I returned to it later with more focus to see the long central answers (14ac was prescient, given recent UK squabbling news), and make a guess at the poet in 1ac. I was fairly confident leaving only 20ac to parse for the blog, but it turns out I’d shortened the wrong word in 1dn – drat.

Definitions underlined.

1 Girl wearing long mac unsettled poor poet (10)
MCGONAGALL – GAL (girl) contained by an anagram of (unsettled) LONG MAC. William, a notoriously bad Scottish poet. A fair definition: I do not profess to any skills in literary criticism, but even I winced a little reading some of his works upon looking him up.
6 Either of two OT books briefly withdrawn before end of religious service (4)
MASS – SAMuel (1 or 2, one of two OT books) made short (briefly) and reversed (withdrawn), before last letter of religiouS.
9 Somewhat cracks tile in dwelling place (7)
HABITAT -A BIT (somewhat) contained by (cracks) HAT (tile).
10 Tower made of alloy, last bit secured by drill (7)
STEEPLE – STEEL (alloy) with the last letter only inside (secured by) PE (physical education, drill).
12 Samurai warrior ultimately in on swapping places (5)
RONIN – last letter of warrioR, the IN and ON in reverse order.
13 Result of heavy fall, maybe sort to involve present doctor (9)
SNOWDRIFT – SIFT (sort) containing NOW (present) and DR (doctor).
14 Perhaps time spent working with arms race to maintain (8,7)
NATIONAL SERVICE – NATIONAL (of the Grand variety, (horse) race) + SERVICE (maintain). Eyebrows back in their usual positions, please.
17 Friendly rowing mate, geek, mainly after spring loop that holds right bit (8,7)
SPARRING PARTNER – NERd (geek) mainly, after SPA (spring) + RING (loop) containing R (right) + PART (bit). Argue/row, not the boating kind.
20 Moderates final section around enclosure’s borders (9)
PALLIATES – TAIL (final) + LAP (section, of a race) all reversed (around), then the borders of Enclosure’S. A guess for me.
21 Bones one small animal from the rear (5)
TARSI – I (one) + S (small) + RAT (animal) all reversed.
23 Graceful fish east of cove (7)
GENTEEL -EEL (fish) after GENT (cove).
24 Bringing in rein, nag falters (7)
EARNING – anagram of REIN NAG.
25 Naked poke, no good (4)
NUDE – NUDgE (poke) except the ‘g’ (good).
26 Tiny amplifier Nigeria had developed (7,3)
1 Eastern princesses I see rushed into short film (9)
MAHARANIS – AHA (I see) + RAN (rushed), contained by all-but-the-last of MISt (film). I’m sure I’ve made this mistake here before, but I had MAHARANaS, thinking perhaps that ‘mask’ could be film.
2 African republic against holding up talk (5)
GABON – ON (against) beneath GAB (talk).
3 Never reprehensible solvers’ magazine now defunct (3,2,4,4)
NOT ON YOUR LIFE – NOT ON (reprehensible) + YOUR (solvers’) + LIFE (magazine now defunct).
4 Possibly become jolly having acquired rounds each (2,2,3)
GO TO SEA – GOT (acquired) + OS (rounds) + EA (each).
5 Boy into minor sets of exercises (7)
LESSONS – SON (boy) contained by LESS (minor).
7 Cold-blooded type, foreign character divides churchless environment (9)
AMPHIBIAN – PHI (foreign character) contained by AMBIANce (environment missing its ‘CE’ (church). I hadn’t noticed at the time of solving, but I would have spelled it ‘ambience’, these being acceptable alternative spellings, according to Chambers.
8 King enters rising river for sport (5)
SKEET – K (king) in a reversal of TEES (river). Clay pigeon shooting.
11 Newton, under tree, catches Herbert going off seniors at Trinity? (5,8)
ELDER BRETHREN – N (Newton) under ELDER (tree), containing an anagram of (going off) HERBERT.
15 Rigid impression surfacing about new head of Royal Mail (9)
TRAMLINED – DENT (impression) reversed (surfacing), containing an anagram of (new) Royal + MAIL.
16 Sneakily picked up things from kit that’s unopened and apparently locked? (9)
EARWIGGED – gEAR (kit) without its opening letter, then WIGGED (appearing to have hair, apparently locked?).
18 Wood, eg, one in North American story (7)
NATALIE – I (one) contained by NA (North American) + TALE (story). An American actress.
19 French biologist beyond regret when back-tracking (7)
PASTEUR – PAST (beyond) + reversal of RUE (regret).
20 Infidel quietly once more abandoning island (5)
PAGAN – P (quietly) + AGAiN (once more) except the ‘i’ (island).
22 Dip inside Opera Italia (5)
RAITA – hidden in opeRA ITAlia.

68 comments on “Times 28931 – the lunatic, the lover, and the poet”

  1. 58 minutes.

    I knew the poet at 1ac on first reading of the clue but sadly couldn’t remember how to spell him. Every version I came up with had 9 letters rather than 10 so there was a problem and I had to wait for checkers to help me out. That lost me 5+ minutes overall. Despite that, I had all but six clues solved as the half-hour approached and I thought I was on course for a reasonable time (for me). But then I hit a wall with 6ac, 7dn, 8dn and 10ac missing in the NE quarter, and 15dn and 20ac missing in the SW and I took another 28 minutes to sort them out.

    NHO SKEET which has never appeared as an answer before but a search of the archive reveals that in 2021 it appeared in a QC anagram clue where it provided some of the anagrist.

    ‘Rigid / TRAMLINED’ was very hard and not immediately convincing but I assembled it eventually from wordplay with assistance from checkers.

    My LOI as the hour approached was PALLIATE which has appeared only twice before in the regular Times puzzles, defined on both occasions as ‘relieve’. Evidently I found that easier than today’s definition because I would have associated it with pain relief and palliative treatment.

  2. A fast time for me, all the threes 33:33, but WOE. Spoiled by a misspelled MCGONEGALL. A/E problems too with the spelling of ambi[?]nce for 7dn, but no doubts about spelling the answer, AMPHIBIAN, so in it went. I had to rely on the wordplay for MAHARANIS and ELDER BRETHREN but both were pretty clear. I liked NATALIE

  3. 16.59, with a good chunk spent on TRAMLINED and PALLIATES at the end. I did wonder about AMPHIBIEN, but figured it was more likely there was an alternative spelling of ambience!

    I struggled with PALLIATES partly because I was looking for EE (enclosure’s borders), before I thought of a word that fitted that I could just about parse, which then let me get TRAMLINED.

    I think the parsing for PALLIATES is TAIL reversed inside PALE’S (a pale being a section of an enclosure – it’s apparently a wooden strip that forms part of a fence).

    Thanks setter & William.

    1. Me too re PALLIATES – with different definitions: TAIL reversed with PALE’S around – the Pale being the enclosure/ditch around Dublin, hence the phrase ‘beyond the pale’.

      1. Yes, in-flight I wondered if there was some sort of ‘beyond the pale’/’pale of settlement’ connection, although wasn’t very certain of either. I do prefer ‘final section’ for TAIL to just ‘final’.

    2. Your version has to be correct, otherwise the use of the possessive apostrophe ‘s’ in enclosure’s is wrong for ‘borders’.

  4. Failed miserably after thinking this was going to be pretty straightforward. Missed National Service completely along with palliates, mass and tramlined.
    I think there’s a bit of an extra reference to Natalie in 18d – ‘one in North American story’ could also refer to her role in West Side Story.
    Thanks setter and William.

  5. LOI TRAMLINED, which I couldn’t quite believe at first.
    It is absolutely necessary to add the qualifier “poor” (or some equivalent) when referring to McGonagall as a “poet.” Apparently, he was quite oblivious to the audience’s reception of his truly execrable efforts, a poetic Florence Foster Jenkins, as it were.
    Amoeba has the parsing of PALLIATES right. (“Enclosure’s borders” would mean E and E, if taken that way, not E and S.)
    Maybe there should be a contest for the first setter to come up with a clue for HABITAT that doesn’t use “A BIT” in it. (That’s three in how many weeks?)

  6. 53 mins, really held up at the end by TRAMLINED/PALLIATES/NATALIE, the last two of which eventually went in unparsed (I might’ve figured out NATALIE had I not been fixed on “LIE” being the “story”.)

  7. 14:40
    Getting gradually more demanding throughout the week, but fair enough.
    Spent a while trying to remember how to spell MCGONAGALL; recognised RONIN from the De Niro film, and NATIONAL SERVICE from the week’s headlines.

  8. About 70 minutes. Hard but I really enjoyed it. I put in SPARRING PARTNER but had no idea it was right until it finally hit me that row was pronounced like cow. The whole parsing immediately fell out. NHO EARWIGGED as eavesdropped but guessed it was and parsed it. Knew MASS was correct but had no idea of parsing. Liked MCGONAGALL and SNOWDRIFT, the latter having a very clever definition.
    Had a good chuckle over first two words of 25A particularly looking at Chambers alternatives to poke.

  9. Incredibly, all correct in38 minutes, despite two total biffs in PALLIATES and TRAMLINED and with fingers crossed for the unknown RONIN. I also didn’t know of the ELDER BRETHREN, and assumed they were old dons rather than upmarket lighthouse keepers. I can’t give COD to NATIONAL SERVICE, which I thought and hoped we’d seen the back of, so let’s give it to MCGONAGALL. Pity he’s not still around to write a poem commemorating it. A tricky puzzle.Thank you William and setter.

  10. 40.41 but with a typo, BRETHRRN. Last in was MASS as my familiarity with the OT has lapsed.

  11. 41 minutes. I found most of this OK, but there were some Fridayish elements and one new word in RONIN. I needed the anagram fodder and most of the crossers for the correct spelling of MCGONAGALL. I didn’t parse NATIONAL SERVICE correctly and like others it seems, found PALLIATES and the odd-looking TRAMLINED difficult; it’s in Chambers in the ‘rigid’ sense but not Collins and the ODE only refers to the “inflexible” sense of the noun. I wondered about the alternative spelling for “ambience” but entered AMPHIBIAN for the same reasons as Amoeba.

    Overall, pleased to see no pink squares.

  12. 24:00. I struggled with PALLIATES and TRAMLINED at the end taking ages to hypothesise and then parse both. I didn’t know who the ELDER BRETHREN were so looked them up here post-solve. Thanks William and setter.

  13. I’ve been in London for a very long wedding celebration and a combination of not having the time to do a crossword and an excess of the dreaded booze have left my feeble brain in a right old state. All of which is my excuse for not finishing this devil after 65 mins.

    Never heard of the poet and despite seeing the anagram, still couldn’t work it out. PALLIATES, TRAMLINED & NATALIE also beat me.

    A toughie.

    Thanks William and setter.

  14. I’m assuming the ‘rigid’ meaning of TRAMLINED is a metaphorical one that I’ve NHO? Rather obscure.
    Finished just short of the hour. Found this both very easy and very hard, and overall not a lot of fun.

  15. 25 mins.
    No real dramas. A couple of slightly unsettling across clues and a few shaky surface readings.
    Thanks, w.

  16. Great puzzle today. Knew MCGONAGALL straight away then spent a long time constructing the correct spelling. Knew SKEET only from Catch-22. Knew RONIN from Shogun – a samurai who did not have a liege lord.

    NATIONAL SERVICE was a gimme (gimmick?) – and we have five more weeks of this (while across the pond they have five more months).

    21’40”, thanks william and setter.

  17. Yesterday I commented on the many fluid clues presenting a miniature story. Can’t do that today, with so many clues consisting of word salads with little evident surface meaning: step forward 17ac, but guilty on all 34 28 counts
    I’m as clueless spelling MCGONAGALL as he was a poetry (which will be remembered for a very long time) but eventually got it sorted.
    RONIN surprised me: I thought it was a proper name.
    Curiously, I found myself thinking towards the end that the clues were much simpler than they appeared: the last five across clues are almost Quickie standard. The whole thing still took me 21.28, longest of the week.

  18. 41:44

    A few meh answers here which I didn’t know the definitions of and had to guess, though at least the words were recognisable. But, a ton of unparsed stuff too!

    MASS – from definition only – had no idea which OT books.
    RONIN – NHO but followed the wordplay
    PALLIATES – didn’t know the definition of, but parsed as per blogger
    GENTEEL – wasn’t sure that this actually meant Graceful
    MAHARANIS – failed to parse in flight, bunged in from four checkers
    TRAMLINED – NHO the definition, but followed the wordplay
    GO TO SEA – Only parsed the EA part
    ELDER BRETHREN – NHO but very parsable
    AMPHIBIAN – got as far as PHI. Wouldn’t have equated Ambiance and Environment
    SKEET – wasn’t sure it was a sport without ‘shooting’ added on the end
    EARWIGGED – had no idea what was going on here. Bifd.

    Thanks William for unravelling

  19. 15:56. I found most of this tricky in an enjoyable way, but it was a bit spoiled by what I thought were a couple of unsatisfactory clues at the end. TRAMLINED is a word that isn’t recognised even by the OED, and the definition picks one single word from the definition in the only dictionary that has it, the ever-eccentric Chambers. I’d have reconsidered. PALLLIATES seemed the obvious answer but the wordplay is almost wilfully impenetrable, difficult mostly because of the use of the archaic PALES.
    By contrast I liked MCGONAGALL and MAHARANIS, difficult words to spell with confidence but the wordplay was crystal clear.

  20. I didn’t much enjoy this, and ended up biffing about a third of it. NHO my LOI, though it makes sense.

    COD SNOWDRIFT (once I parsed it later)
    TIME 9:32

  21. William Topaz McGonagall a bad poet? Not on my watch! He could make anything rhyme and even sometimes scan. My favourite is “As this is her first jubilee year, and will be her last I sadly fear”, referring to Queen Victoria.
    A bit of a car crash for me, as I bunged in REPTILIAN unparsed. I knew it was PALLIATES, but NHO TRAMLINED. Tomorrow is another day.

  22. 31:30
    The unknown poet, PALLIATES and TRAMLINED held me up for the last 5 to 10 minutes, not helped by getting in a mess when solving the relative gimme NATALIE. Note to self, not all TALES are LIES.

    Otherwise I felt on-message and most of the answers rang at least faint bells.

    Thanks to both.

  23. I found this reasonably fair for the most part and finished in just under 30′. MCGONAGALL I knew but like others needed crossers to tie down the spelling. I had REPTILIAN as an unparsed write-in, which then took a while to talk myself out of as “MASS” seemed a bit too obvious. RONIN I knew from the Jean Reno film and its link to the samurai. TRAMLINED =”rigid” I didn’t know, I usually equate it to “straight” …from golf I suppose. Spent time on GENTEEL because I got east/west mixed up..doh..so initially looked for something beginning with “gar….”. LOI PALLIATES which I’d never heard used as a word but made sense. Thanks William and setter.

  24. 22:28 – but quite tough with the unknown SKEET and the repeated rescrabble-izing of MCGONAGALL, until LESSONS pointed the way.

    McGonagall is an interesting character and I am not sure he wasn’t in on the joke, like some prototype Henry Root. I stumbled on some of his long out-of-print books years ago, including his autobiography. The account of his debut stage appearance in Macbeth is one of the funniest things I have ever read. Apparently there was a vogue for deliberately bad poetry at around the time Mcgonagall was writing, much of it characterised by the sort of comic bathos that he is famed for. It was a surprisingly lucrative business.

  25. DNF in SW, hazarded 25a BARgE rather than NUDgE, so that mucked it up entirely. Never solved my issue so all the downs not solved and a lot of the acrosses.
    Got to go now without having read blog; will come back in a couple of hours.
    On edit: jolly good lunch with the lads, our other halves have lady’s lunches. My wife died in 2017 but the lads still tolerate me.
    Have heard of but have forgot Natalie Wood; I was sure there was an African hardwood with an unpronounceable name hidden in there somewhere, and was fixated on the story being a LIE.
    Was working backwards on AMPHIBIAN; answer looked OK but I was trying to ADD a church, not take one away. Doh, chalk 1 to setter.
    Nowhere near on TRAMLINED. I am surprised it exists; added to Cheating Machine.
    No clue about PALLIATES. Slightly odd word, arcane clueing, but OK of course.
    Recognised RONIN immediately from Shogun (James Clavell).

  26. I came in at 24:36 and didn’t find this tooooo hard
    I was held up in the SW by having put BAR(G)E and it took me a while to catch this error, when I finally realised 20dn had to be PAGAN. Then I got TRAMLINED and LOI PALLIATES which I only know from palliative.
    Like apparently many I remembered MCGONAGALL only phonetically and needed all the crossers and the anagram to be sure of the spelling.
    Thanks setter and blogger

  27. Many of the same problems as have already been mentioned. My error with MCGONiGALL wasn’t shown up by the checkers. William’s parsing for PALLIATES seems OK to me, so long as you can accept the nounal indicator. If it was the other one, then shouldn’t it be either ‘… enclosure borders’ or ‘enclosure’s bordering’? I can’t see how ‘enclosure’s borders’ puts pale round tail(rev.), because surely there would have to be some indication that ‘pale’ had been split (and again one has a nounal indicator). A struggle, 69 minutes. Much that was good, but 17ac indeed has a dreadful surface.

    1. It needs to be “enclosure’s borders” as the possessive S gives you the S at the end of PALLIATES. In that reading there is an elided ‘that/which’ before “[section of] enclosure’s”, but that’s not unheard of either in crosswordland nor regular language.

      1. Indeed and you have to consider [enclosure’s] as a single unit of wordplay, which therefore takes the singular ‘borders’. Quite counterintuitive…

      2. PS I think your parsing has to be right because for me [enclosure’s borders] necessarily indicates EE, not ES.

          1. I don’t think so. ‘Enclosure border’ isn’t, for me, a valid indication of EE because – grammatically – you need an indication that it is the border of ‘enclosure’. This is akin to the usual objection to ‘first name’ as an indication for N (which you do see in certain other puzzles).

              1. If ‘enclosures border’ can indicate ‘border of enclosures’ then logically we ought to allow ‘always beginning’ to indicate A or ‘dead end’ to indicate D, or ‘middle class’ to indicate A. You don’t tend to see these things in the Times crossword, presumably because some sort of indicator that it’s the beginning/end/middle/border of something is considered necessary.

            1. Heavens! “Enclosures border” (NOT enclosure border) IS a valid indication of ES, because it is the border of enclosures.
              I didn’t understand the rest, but

                    1. In the cryptic reading one *may* — depending on diverse contexts — ignore the punctuation, so it’s simply “ENCLOSURE[‘]S borders” = “PALE[‘]S forms a border”.

  28. Two goes needed.

    Wasn’t sure about PALLIATES, and I’m inclined to go with Ameoba’s parsing; didn’t know SKEET; knew the Book of Samuel but forgot there are two of them, so I was wondering which other OT book starts with SAM; didn’t parse STEEPLE; like others, had to wait for checkers to be sure of the spelling of MCGONAGALL; had to take RONIN on trust; biffed SPARRING PARTNER once I had the P and R at the start and end of the second word; thought of TRAMLINED early-ish, but held off on it as I couldn’t parse it for a long time; vaguely remembered MAHARANIS from before.

    Thanks setter and blogger.

    FOI Gabon
    LOI Palliates
    COD Hearing aid

  29. Got nowhere in the top half, so descended to the SE where TARSI led to a filled corner in fairly rapid time. I had to rely on wordplay for RONIN, SKEET and the ELDER BRETHREN. I knew the poet, but the spelling took checkers and pen and paper to work out. TRAMLINED took an age to work out, but allowed me to get POI, PALLIATES, which I parsed as William did. Got me there anyway. That left -A-S at 6a where I decided Samuel had to be the books. 29:36. Thanks setter and William.

  30. 11.44. A time which put me considerably higher up the leaderboard than I’m used to. Now feeling dizzy and expecting a nosebleed. I found this pretty straightforward though a few like palliates and amphibian were biffed and then parsed to justify.

  31. DNF

    I had REPTIILIAN – a silly mistake
    and couldn’t get TRAMLINED which was very hard to take.

    Thanks to William and the setter, and apologies to W. McGonagall

  32. Hello everyone – this is my first real post. I have been coming to this site for ages when I finish to compare my performance with all you professionals and have reached the point that I feel ready to join in the fun!
    I was delighted to finish today (about 75 minutes fitted around various chores) as on first run through there was nothing that shouted out at me.
    NHO the poet – though will now be investigating as he sounds a hoot.
    I arrived at palliates through the same parsing as our blogger
    Tramlined was my LOI
    Biffed mass.
    My kind of crossword as it was a rewarding challenge.

    1. Welcome indeed. Hope you like McGonagall. The Tay Bridge disaster is, from memory, enlivening.

  33. DNF

    Things to do, so rather gave up peering at the same last two as many others (though like “new Head of Royal Mail” now I get it). Each to their own but some of the wordplay was quite long/impenetrable, leading me to just try to treat it as a concise which isn’t ideal.

    Thanks nonetheless to the setter and of course William

  34. Gave up on the hour with TRAMLINED, PALLIATES and EARWIGGED unsolved. Very happy with that for a Friday. SKEET and RONIN were new to me, and I didn’t know hat = tile or that ‘surfacing’ might be a reversal indicator. Many thanks for the blog.

  35. Used to have McGonagall diners when I was in Round Table; start with pudding and work backwards. Lord knows why. Anyway 35 mins mostly spent on Elder because cannot see it as other than a bush. Local Pub, now sadly closed, The Elderberry Bush.

  36. Sadly I assumed that TIME magazine was no more! Otherwise, all pretty straightforward till the last 2, TRAMLINED and PALLIATES held me up for ages.

  37. Gave up after 60 minutes through exhaustion, with one clue unsolved – 12 ac – as I had no idea what I was looking for. Apart from that I was delayed for a long time in the SW, having initially been a barger rather than a nudger in 25ac, and having struggled with the impenetrable clueing of 20ac and 15dn. Looked in vain for the ubiquitous IDE in 23ac until the EEL swam into view. Certainly not my finest hour. The elder in my garden must be the best part of 20 feet high – I certainly wish it were a bush and not a tree.
    LOI – n/a
    Thanks to william and other contributors.

  38. DNF

    Pleased to read that some of the most illustrious solvers had some dissatisfaction with TRAMLINED, which prevented me from completing an otherwise excellent puzzle.

    Not troubling the scorers much this week.

    Thanks all.

  39. 42.11. Missed the chance to attempt the puzzle on Friday so started in bed last night after being at a party. Not a good choice, the crossword not the party. Gave up after 15 mins bamboozled over the spelling of McGonagall and confined to two reliable solves.
    Woke refreshed this morning and got it finished.
    Struggled for a long time over reptilian as opposed to amphibian but having sorted that, mass was my LOI.

    Thoroughly enjoyed this and perhaps( but probably not) learned the lesson to attempt the crossword when stone cold sober.

  40. Done Sunday. This was tough. Snitch at 113 seems low to me. Like any others, I was stuck at the end on TRAMLINED and PALLIATES. 47’24”


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *