Times Cryptic No 28961 — …and the rockets’ red glare…

100 minutes for this very hard puzzle! Sunburnt and tired from a day at the beach (it was Independence Day here in the US), I pushed myself to finish this puzzle far beyond what seemed reasonable.

Though I do like a good challenge, I am sad to say I didn’t really enjoy this puzzle. For most clues, I followed the wordplay indications dutifully, got an answer that I’d never heard of before, confirmed in Chambers that this combination of letters was an actual word, then repeated the process. Not quite sure how to articulate it, but there’s a very different feeling when you work through the wordplay and you just know the answer has to be right. I never quite got that feeling from this puzzle, but that’s just me on this day. Hope you enjoyed it!

1 A great deal of rubbish in skip (4)
3 Definitively voluble performers perhaps run separate schedules out of line (3,7)

Not sure how we get ‘definitively’ and ‘perhaps’ in the same definition, but there you have it.

9 Played harmonica without working tongue (7)
AMHARIC – anagram of HARMONICA – ON (working)
11 Tough stuff that may indicate a problem for setter? (4,3)
HARD PAD – HARD (tough) PAD (stuff, as in a bra)

Chambers has, Once considered to be a neurotropic virus disease of dogs, now recognized as a symptom of distemper, causing hardness of the pads of the feet. Did not know it.

12 Very tired, pleasure-seeking soon enough (3,2,4,4)
ALL IN GOOD TIME – ALL IN (very tired) GOODTIME (pleasure-seeking)
14 Recruit selection from US Pro Golf (5)
SPROG – hidden in US PRO GOLF
15 Before taking vitamin, endlessly gnaws into part of joint (9)
ANKLEBONE – before B-ONE (vitamin B1), {r}ANKLE{s} (endlessly gnaws into)

My last in, and I couldn’t parse it for the life of me until writing the blog.

17 Division of land troops occupying everything — too much (9)
ALLOTMENT – MEN in ALL + OTT (too much, over the top)
19 Screen pulled back is hiding loo, for the most part (5)
SHOJI – IS reversed around JOH{n}
21 Means to regain past job? Cut down unction about head of Personnel (13)
REAPPOINTMENT – REAP (cut down) OINTMENT (unction) around P{ersonnel}
24 Government security agency almost charges Treasury scientist (7)
CHEMIST – MI{5} (government security agency almost) in (charges) CHEST (treasury)
25 Hear a rule detected by auditors (7)
ARRAIGN – homophone of A REIGN
26 President that is backing both sides in election held by group of incompetents (10)
EISENHOWER – I.E. reversed + E{lectio}N in SHOWER (group of incompetents)

Definitely did not know SHOWER = “a disparaging term applied to any particular group of people one disapproves of”.

27 Party from England touring Europe’s leaders (4)
1 Crazed assailant punched by hard marine (10)
THALASSIAN – anagram of ASSAILANT around H
2 An inspirational helper? (7)
INHALER – cryptic definition
4 Maybe naval duty stirred up carnage around House (9)
ANCHORAGE – anagram of CARNAGE around HO

‘Duty’ as in ‘tax’.

5 Bill throttles the most acidic little pest (5)
APHID – AD around PH 1 (the most acidic)
6 Traitor gave terrorist bombs (13)

I probably could have shaved 40 minutes off my time if I could have gotten this anagram sooner.

7 Chief form of wrestling before crowds (7)
SUPREMO – SUMO with PRE (before) inside

“X, Y crowds” for “Y in X” is not something that makes a lot of sense to me. This one held me up.

8 Possibly left / Man Utd? (4)
SIDE – double definition by example
10 Fresh discussion on denial surrounding old note (13)
RENEGOTIATION – RE (on) NEGATION around O (old) TI (note)
13 Opposition point of view supports rent rise (10)
RESISTANCE – STANCE (point of view) under anagram of (rent) RISE

This took me far longer than it should have.

16 Vigil after cat caught bird (9)
KITTIWAKE – WAKE (vigil) after homophone (caught) of KITTY

I should have biffed this bird, if I could have remembered it.

18 Favours central character in pan-Slav broadcast? (7)
LARGESS – homophone (broadcast) LARGE ‘S’ (central character in pan-Slav)
20 Townie struggles over English socialist disciple (7)
OWENITE – anagram of TOWNIE + E (English)

A follower, I take it, of either Robert or David Owen.

22 Write up part of Bible first for primate (5)
POTTO – reversal of OT (part of Bible) TOP (first)

This took me far, far too long. I just never suspected POTTO was a word.

23 Summit meeting’s principle bores expert (4)
ACME – first letter of MEETING in ACE (expert)

I would have said ‘principal’ but apparently ‘principle’ can also mean “source, root, origin”.

73 comments on “Times Cryptic No 28961 — …and the rockets’ red glare…”

  1. I dropped off in the middle of doing this, so no time, but it took me probably an hour or more; in retrospect I don’t see why I was so long. But then I don’t know why I dropped off. Really a DNF, as I didn’t know HARD PAD and discovered it looking up HARD PAN. FETE took me an embarrassingly long time to get, and SHOJI, given that I actually have some. ‘Shower’ came up here a while back, and someone cited this example from Terry-Thomas.

  2. Largess was last in, entered without conviction as I couldn’t parse it. Now that Jeremy has performed that task, I can appreciate its elegance and it’s my COD. Thank you, blogger and setter.
    Held up by TERGIVERSATOR ( really? , but the only likely arrangement once the checkers were in). Parsed my way to SHOJI without ever having heard of it. KITTIWAKE I initially spelled wrongly, thinking it would have a Y in the middle, like the Kittyhawk aircraft of WW2, which delayed my reappointment at 21a.

  3. Well, I did enjoy this—THALASSIAN! (which will ring a bell for any fan of Ulysses), TERGIVERSATOR! Bravo! I’ve only seen the latter lately used by the second definition—despite my having had recourse to a wordfinder to fill in POI HARD P_D (I knew it had to do with dogs, though) and the equally unknown LOI SHOJI.

    But I did not enjoy putting in ARRAIGN for “hear”—an arraignment is where one is simply charged, not yet tried or heard. It can mean “accuse”—which, again, does not mean “hear.” Not even Chambers (!) justifies this. I got ARRAIGN from the wordplay early on, but didn’t want to believe it!

    The (WWII general) EISENHOWER was one of our finest presidents, certainly ranking high among Republicans! He uttered the famous warning about the encroaching power of the “military-industrial complex.” I Like Ike.

    “Perhaps” is not necessary in the RAP ARTISTS clue—seems an anagrind that wandered into a charade—and is needed least of all as part of the definition.

    1. I meant to object to ARRAIGN; at least it was easy to get. I don’t know about ‘one of our finest’, but Eisenhower sure stands out from the Republicans who have followed. (I remember a joke about Ike: he’s on the golf course, and his press secretary is asking the foursome ahead, “Do you mind if we play through? War has been declared.”)

  4. I can’t remember a 15×15 puzzle I gave up on with 6 or 7 answers missing scattered across all quarters of the grid, but by the time I had resorted to aids a couple of times only to find the answers were obscure words that not only did I not know but they had not appeared before, I’d had enough of it and lost the will to continue. Those who enjoy tackling Mephisto puzzles and monthly specials are used to this sort of thing, but it’s not for me.

    1. What were the obscurities? Thalassian, I imagine; I’m sure we’ve had tergiversate or -tion. Shoji? OK, just because it’s a gimme for me doesn’t make it a gimme; I remember being surprised at how many people didn’t know ‘tatami’, so I won’t be surprised at ‘shoji’. But that seems to be it, so far as I can see.

      1. I’d say HARD PAD was obscure. I guessed wrongly with HARD PUD. TERGIVERSATOR also defeated me as a word I didn’t know and was unable to construct, although I had all the crossers. I don’t think the grid was full of obscurities but I did find it hard-going, having often to tease out answers from thickets of rather baroque clueing. Overall I liked it but can see why some may have considered it on the wrong side of frustrating.

        1. Oddly enough, HARD PAD was my first one in about 10 minutes into the proceedings. I remember hearing of it in my childhood when I acquired my dislike of dogs.

      2. TERGIVERSATOR has never appeared before today. TERGIVERSATE has appeared three times, most recently in 2017 defined as ‘hedge’ and in 2010 defined as ‘avoid issue’. On both these occasions the clue was Ikea-style giving solvers a chance to construct it from wordplay. The third time was in 2015 set as an anagram and defined as ‘change sides’ which I suppose might be described as traitorous in some circumstances, but it was 9 years ago so I was unlikely to remember it anyway.

        AMHARIC has appeared only in a Jumbo 4 years ago clued as a hidden word.

        SHOJI and THALASSIAN have never appeared before.

        I might add LARGESS without a second E which was a new spelling for me and according to some sources is in Americanism.

        Other clues used loose or obtuse synonyms in wordplay if not in the actual answer.

      3. And largess is an Americanism. Largesse, here in the UK.
        I knew tergiversator but it is still a hard anagram to unravel; I knew thalassian only because France is keen on thalassotherapy .. never heard the term in the UK. Dnk shoji. Amharic, hard pad, Owenite, not everyday words either … this was a wilfully awkward crossword imo.

        1. Along with objecting to ARRAIGN, I’d meant to remark on the to me odd spelling of LARGESS; never seen it without its final E. I haven’t looked carefully, but I think I’m the only one here who knew of SHOJI; as, as I said, I damn well should have, since I have a room with shoji, as well as tatami and fusuma.

          1. Arraign shows up in the full OED as
            “To try, judge. Obsolete. rare.”
            (obsolete and rare are italicised, there is a quotation from 1623)

    2. I can only agree with you. If I feel like doing a Mephisto I will pull one out and use aids to solve it, but for a “general-knowledge” cryptic this is definitely way too hard. And I even almost finished it, with only one mistake.

  5. Around 90 minutes. Very hard with so many answers with no parsing several with uncertain definitions. Didn’t enjoy it much since many words I am familiar with without knowing what they meant. 6D I cannot even pronounce.

  6. 22.50, but with an incorrect guess for LOI SHOJI. I vaguely recalled the game of SHOGI, but couldn’t remember what it meant – disappointed I didn’t think of JOHN for loo!
    Started well with THALASSIAN, dredged up from the Anabasis of Xenophon (which we did at school) and thalassaemia (which we did at medical school).

  7. I enjoyed this much more than yesterday’s, but was still undone by yet another ambiguous clue for a rare word, not being a classicist. Hmph.

  8. Over rough and smooth she trips along,
    And never looks behind;
    And sings a solitary song
    That whistles in the wind.
    (Lucy Gray, Wordsworth)

    After 35 mins mid-brekker, I had the long traitor anagram to guess and the NHO, ungettable Screen. So I gave up. Good decision.
    Ta setter and PJ

  9. Well, you did a lot better than me, Jeremy. All over the shop on this one, resorting to aids to finish, and never able to parse ANKLEBONE.

    So thanks for persevering from one grateful punter!

  10. DNF. One too many unknowns for me I used a wordfinder to get my LOI SHOJI after getting the rest in 21 minutes. DNK what THALASSIAN meant or that SPORG could mean a recruit, NHO AMHARIC, DNK who Robert Owen was, that a POTTO was a type of loris or that HARD PAD was a canine affliction. Too much obscurity fora daily 15×15 IMO, so I didn’t enjoy it much. Thanks setter and Jeremy.

  11. If anyone fancies a last-minute mini-reunion tomorrow, I’ll be down the The Fox and Pheasant in Chelsea for a bite to eat from 12.30 onwards. Address 1 Billing Rd, SW10 9UJ. Nearest underground Fulham Broadway.

    1. Sorry not to be there. From memory this was an excellent pub -used to be the local of Ian Lavender -Private Pike in Dad’s Army.

  12. No real time to offer as I have done this while catching up on the election results. I was a DNF anyway with SHOJI totally unknown and ungettable. I remember being worried as a very young boy about hard pad, posh name distemper, when a young pup came into my life in 1949. It was a big fear then. We needn’t have, he lived as my best pal until 1965. COD to EISENHOWER, not President for a couple more years. A bit too hard and a bit too obscure. Well done Jeremy and thank you setter.

  13. 63m dead….as was I after completing this.
    Well done Jeremy! That was a toughie!
    The only person I can recall using the word TERGIVERSATE was Boris Johnson during his first Prime Minister’s Question Time.
    The clue that annoyed me was FETE. I figured it had to be that but embarrassingly, to echo Kevin G, I didn’t twig it till I came here.

  14. Little satisfaction in this with the same NHOs as many others leaving me resorting to aids several times without any resulting aha moments – just grim shrugs at yet another obscurity with a tortuous clue. A rather joyless DNF in the end. Looking on the bright side, I now know half a dozen new words that I will never need to use… thanks and well done Jeremy for decoding this monster.

  15. Couldn’t do this, five or six missing, those talked about above. I put this down to election tiredness, but maybe it was just too hard.

    Thanks jeremy and setter.

  16. 31:42 with lots of biffing and dictionary checking.

    Didn’t really enjoy this. Too many answers were meet with a shrug and an ” I suppose so”.

    Thanks to Jeremy , the setter, and Kevin Gregg for the Terry Thomas clip

  17. I battered this into submission on a wing and a prayer, and didn’t enjoy it one little bit. My sympathies to Jeremy, since blogging it must have been a real chore.

    TIME 12:45

  18. Mean and wilfully obscure, this one. I wouldn’t have minded it as part of a MCS (would need to be even meaner and obscurer) but on the morning after, and having to come to terms with the fact that my new MP is a the Pub Bore with a face like a melting waxwork, this was not a pleasant interlude.
    I think I’ve come across TERGIVERSATE before, and Greek (and a sadly prevalent condition among young Afro-Caribbean males in Hackney) helped with THALASSIAN, but my Japanese (and Mephisto experience) let me down on a guessed SHOJI. KITTIWAKE and ANKLEBONE (B one, honestly, when is it ever spelt out?) I couldn’t parse (thanks PJ, and well done!) and struggled with SUPREMO – “before” is not that helpful for PRE. As for RAP ARTIST: Chambers has it, but when is that ever used instead of rapper.
    Looking forward to the Listener this afternoon, when I expect to have to wrestle with all sorts of obscurity and tricksiness, but this was a bit much.

  19. Hi, recently someone posted a joke, based on the Cole Porter song, “let’s call the whole thing cloth (off) “ in response to a clue, and for the life of me I can’t remember the lead in. Anyone help? Cheers Steve.

  20. DNF after 45 minutes on the train to the S. coast. Failed to find SHOJI, POTTO, and LARGESS, which I do not recall ever seeing spelt in this truncated form. Agree with Guy du Sable about ARRAIGN, and with those who found this puzzle a bit of a chore.

  21. Very hard yet again it seemed. The tough words weren’t clued simply and even with all the checkers words like THALASSIAN and TERG… were impossible without aids, which I used freely and without regrets by the end of my 69 minutes. Like others not happy with ARRAIGN, and the screen utterly defeated me.

    HARD PAD no problem because our dog suffered from this when I was a boy.

    Have we been told what the position is now regarding the editor of this puzzle? We go on meeting these puzzles, which were presumably in the pipeline, but they will run out.

  22. As Z says, ‘mean and wilfully obscure’. Hard for all the wrong reasons, just wilfully obscure and obtuse. Not a fan.

  23. Please can someone help me with SHOJI? I don’t understand how “SCREEN” is “IS”.

    Probably a stupid question (I am a beginner) – if so, sorry!

    1. Screen is the definition (Japanese window/door screen). The S and I at the start and end of the word are “pulled back is” from the clue.

  24. DNF

    Especially annoying as, having correctly guessed all the (to me) obscurities and loose definitions, I finally only had 1a and 2d left to do. Worn down by the pain and tedium, I saw SCHOLAR would fit and in it went with TOSH.
    So close….

    MAWO indeed.

    Thanks all.

  25. 34.35 with LOI the unknown shoji. Guessed that and trip. Apart from those two able to work out the rest reasonably quickly. A good end to the week. Thx setter and blogger.

  26. I found yesterday’s much harder, though as usual, it didn’t seem so hard after it was done.

  27. This wasn’t a puzzle best tackled the morning after staying up to about 4am watching the election results come in. After my usual hour I was left with perhaps half a dozen left.

    I set it aside and just polished it off over lunch in about an extra twenty minutes, which I wasn’t expecting. The extra shot in the latte might’ve helped.

    Things I was glad of: TERGIVERSATOR or a similarly-rooted word having come up before, and having read some history of the Smaragdum Thalasses temple of the Golden Dawn in New Zealand. Things I was less aware of: AMHARIC, HARD PAD, that meaning of SPROG, SHOJI, and LARGESS-without-the-E.

    Having managed to finish I think I have to accept that it was all fair, if on the murderously firm side…

  28. DNF

    I could have cheated at the end (after about an hour) with at least three NHOs and plenty of unparsed, but what’s the point when there is so much that can’t be justified:

    HARD PAD – to be honest, I might have heard of this more than twenty years ago when I had dogs, but completely forgotten – entered from three checkers with little possibility that it could be much else.
    SPROG = recruit?
    SHOJI – I’ve never heard of it and though I saw the trick with IS, had no idea what to stuff it with
    THALASSIAN – would have guessed it might be a part of Greece, but no idea what it meant – worked out as the most likely arrangement of unches between the checkers
    POTTO – probably heard of it before but couldn’t parse even with all checkers in place
    OWENITE – I thought David Owen was still alive but even so, would have been surprised if he had enough followers for them to be called such. NHO Robert Owen seems somewhat obscure?

    LARGESS – bunged in from checkers without understanding the wordplay
    RENEGOTIATION – unparsed in flight
    ANKLEBONE – got the {r}ANKLE{s} bit but not the vitamin part
    CHEMIST – no idea what was going on here, but seemed obvious from checkers

    While I enjoyed the chewier challenge, it was somewhat unsatisfactory to (not) finish with so much unknown.

    Thanks Jeremy

  29. Two goes needed.

    – Had to trust that a HARD PAD is a problem for dogs
    – Don’t recall coming across all in= very tired before in ALL IN GOOD TIME
    – Had absolutely no idea how ANKLEBONE worked
    – Fortunately don’t know exactly what ARRAIGN means legally so didn’t worry about it – ignorance can be helpful!
    – NHO THALASSIAN but it was the most likely-looking option
    – Not familiar with the traitor meaning of TERGIVERSATOR
    – More used to seeing LARGESS with an E at the end
    – Didn’t know which Owen is being referred to in OWENITE

    Really tough. Thanks plusjeremy and setter.

    FOI Sprog
    LOI Largess
    COD Kittiwake

  30. Yet another example of a crossword puzzle that should never have been passed by the Times
    crossword editor. At least four ridiculously rare words (LARGESS especially should never have been allowed through). All that us solvers want is a good fair cryptic puzzle. This wasn’t it.

  31. This I found very hard (DNF). I thought it rather American in tone, what with “john” for loo and the American spelling of “largesse”.

  32. Classic curates egg, except that in this case the rotten bits were randomly dotted around. I do prefer to be able to work out the NHO’s from the cryptics, but that wasn’t the case with TERGIVERSATOR. I’d also not come across the American spelling of LARGESS.

  33. Pretty pleased to get 2/3 rds done in 40 mins or so. And my FOI was THALASSIAN, O-Level Greek comes to the rescue.

    But that TERVISAGATIR thing, sheesh.

  34. LOI 15a but failed to parse it. ANKLEBONE is in my Collins but not Chambers. A typical Friday Toughie.

  35. Apart from ARRAIGN, which is plain wrong and LARGESS which my SOED gives as Middle English alternative, I thought there was less to complain about than would appear from the comments above.
    Like others I am of a generation of child dog lovers that knew of and feared HARD PAD .
    Assuming the repeated use of “wilful” translates less pejoratively as “intentional” and an obscurity is merely something one doesn’t know perhaps we should cut the setter a bit of slack.
    We’ll all be better for a night’s sleep.
    Thanks everyone

    1. I totally agree, Sir. I often think there’s a lot of misplaced intellectual arrogance on this board. “It’s too obscure!” [tr. “I’m ignorant”]. “It’s obtuse!” [tr. “I’m obtuse”]

      1. Not necessarily disagreeing with your point, but I would suggest “a little” rather than “a lot”.

        Sure we’re a crabby bunch today, but as far as internet communities go I think this one ranks very low on the intellectual arrogance scale.

  36. Funnily enough tergiversator was used in a Times editorial not that long ago, specifically about Boris Johnson.

    Not in the traitor sense, but in refusing to give a straight answer. I had to look it up then, which is why I knew it now.

  37. DNF. I thought of LARGESS but dismissed it because of the missing E, and not catching on to the large S. I was thinking PENTO might be an animal until CHEMIST ruled it out. No less likely than POTTO, and the OT is the part of the bible that comes first.

  38. More like a ‘LARGE L’ for me this week. Great challenge but DNF with TERGI whatsis an THALASSIAN giving me no end of grief

  39. Breezed through this in a mere 85 minutes.

    Could some kind person explain to me why ‘Maybe naval duty’ = ‘anchorage’?

    1. I got ANCHORAGE from the wordplay, but didn’t understand “naval duty” either. The comment in the blog – ‘Duty’ as in ‘tax’ – gave me the PDM. It’s a payment. Presumably, anchorage for a boat is like parking for a car: it’s what you pay to leave your vehicle there.

      DNF like so many others, with the same thoughts, in more than an hour. Many thanks for the blog and thanks too to the setter, I think, because I enjoyed a lot of this, until I ran into the sand

  40. DNF bigtime.
    Didn’t like:
    11a Hard Pad as two words. It would be fine if 7 letters as in Wiktionary as “hardpad”, but then the wordplay would be rather hostile.
    1d Thalassian – “dated” turtle.
    2d Inhaler was a gimme but didn’t convince me at all, so didn’t put it in.
    8d Side DDef, but not at all convincing.
    20d Owenite? Pardon? Socialist? Abstruse?
    Did like clever use of MI5 in 24a CHEMIST.
    19a Shoji was a good clue, but perhaps over-clever. I do know of it, but I didn’t find it. Thought there were too many letters; never thought of using either IS or JOHn.
    As usual missed 27a first-letter clue, FETE.

  41. I would not have got through this if I hadn’t looked quite a few words up along the way to verify that I wouldn’t be wasting time on incorrect crossers. Thanks, jeremy.

  42. 1:52:27 and hooray, today only one mistake! (PUTTO instead of POTTO). I’m quite proud of having got through all the rest, but what in the world was the setter thinking of? No one seems to have liked this much.

  43. Even by the increasingly poor Times’ standards, this was an absolutely appalling crossword.

  44. 21:04

    Hard but very enjoyable. None of the words in this puzzle is badly clued or “unfair”, as so many commentators seem to think. That’s two Fridays running with excellent end-of-week tests. Let’s hope it sets a trend. I think the biffers should maybe just sit out Fridays: it doesn’t seem to be very good for their blood pressure!

    1. I do think people are being a bit harsh, but I don’t think everyone is compelled to like every puzzle, either. I didn’t care for this one, even though I do like a stiff challenge. It’s just taste, and I would like to repeat that I didn’t find any fault with the puzzle.

      1. I agree with you Jeremy, it’s just the presumptuous equivalence of “difficult” with “unfair” that I do not understand. Surely the reason we all do these wonderful cryptics is because we enjoy being challenged!

        1. Yes, and in fact I prefer these setters to try something ambitious and difficult and “swing for the fences”. I do like to get a good time on a puzzle, but I wouldn’t be happy if every puzzle was straight down the middle.

  45. First ones straight in, all easily spottable … AMHARIC, THALASSIAN and TERGIVERSATOR. Struggled with SHOJI as more familiar spelling is SHOGI, and just didn’t twig, so it was last one in. Enjoyable and challenging puzzle. About 45 mins.

    Note that TERGIVERSATION is an anagram of REINVESTIGATOR and INTERROGATIVES, all familiar to logologists!

  46. Having tried my hand at setting 15 by 15 cryptics, and having a never-to-be-repeated experience of publication in the office Christmas newsletter, I do have some idea of what it is like to create a grid where alternatives to an awkwardly chosen word are elusive. ‘Awkward’ either because of limitations imposed by the intersecting letters or because a nifty bit of parsing verges on the arcane but is too precious to be abandoned.

    At the time I shared some of the negative feelings others had about this puzzle but have come round to accepting that it is fine for my limits to be tested from time to time.

    According to my Chambers Crossword Completer there are only three options for S-O-I, none of which are particularly enticing to me. So which of TERGIVERSATOR, RESISTANCE and OWENITE would I have jettisoned?

    This was intended as a comment on what plusjeremy posted and I had hoped I had selected “Reply”…


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