Times Quick Cryptic No 2499 by Pedro

Lots of deceptive trickery to enjoy in today’s Quick Cryptic from Pedro. There are plenty of places where you can be led up the garden path, as I was a couple of times with, for example, an answer that fits the clue but not the checkers for 8A. That one held up the NW corner. COD to 13A for the excellent surface, but there are many others too. LOI was the devious 25A. All finished in 5:51, which is nearly a minute over target, so I think some might find this rather Fridayish and be less than ecstatic.  But I thought it was great stuff. Thank-you Pedro!

Fortnightly Weekend Quick Cryptic. This time it is Sawbill’s turn to provide the extra weekend entertainment. You can find the crossword here. If you are interested in trying our previous offerings you can find an index to all 87 here.

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

1 Team’s backed favourite dodge (8)
SIDESTEPSIDE’S (team’s), PET (favourite) reversed -> TEP.
6 Unhappy, having to import new grains (4)
SANDN (new) in SAD (unhappy). Not grist to the mill but what you find on a nice beach.
8 Encourage reduction in gush? (4)
SPUR – All but last letter of SPUR{t} (gush). I was held up by entering the perfectly reasonable {s}URGE as the answer initially. Anyone else for that?
9 Coppers pursuing former partner in money business (8)
EXCHANGE – Yes. I fell for it, looking for a name for policemen. No it’s not that sort of copper… EX (former partner) CHANGE (coppers). They’re not needed in change much these days as prices tend to be a multiple of 5p.
10 Canal, say — unpleasantly raw and wet indeed (8)
WATERWAY – (raw wet)* [unpleasantly] AY (indeed).
12 Fine to abandon wind instrument and stringed instrument (4)
LUTE – {f}LUTE (wind instrument) without the F (fine).
13 Opening of concerto by aspiring, but not good, composer (6)
CHOPIN – First letter of C{oncerto}, HOPIN{g} (aspiring) without the G (good). Nice surface and my Clue Of the Day.
15 Seduce bloke, casting off initial reserve (6)
ENTICE – Easily biffed from the checkers but harder to parse. {g}ENT (bloke) without its first letter ICE (reserve). I wasted some time trying to make this ENTRAP.
17 Decline initially for everyone (4)
FALL – First letter of F{or} ALL (everyone).
19 Feature of engagement ring some gent waved about (8)
GEMSTONE – (some gent)* [waved about].
21 Company guy brought in excellent award (8)
ACCOLADECO (company) LAD (guy), in ACE (excellent)
23 Lean against brass instrument that’s overturned (4)
ABUT – TUBA (brass instrument) reversed -> ABUT.
24 Hold off, for example, seizing time (4)
STAYT (time) in SAY (for example)
25 Waste soldiers, bringing in northern soldiers, after reflection (8)
SQUANDER – My LOI with the U prompting the “where there’s a U look for a Q” rule of thumb. Second day in a row for that, so maybe you will all remember it in future. N (northern) in SQUAD, RE (royal engineers; more soldiers) reversed -> ER. Deceptive punctuation!
2 Disparage the writer’s excellent example (7)
IMPEACHI’M (the writer is) PEACH (excellent example). The second most common meaning of the word after the American meaning.
3 Eastern European country coming up strange (5)
EERIEE (Eastern), EIRE (European country) [coming up] -> ERIE. Sneaky Pedro. You need to separate Eastern European.
4 Youngster’s cropped top (3)
TEETEE{n} (youngster) without the last letter. TEE aka T-SHIRT
5 Painful day engaged in arrangement of hair for elephant? (9)
PACHYDERMACHY (painful) D (day), in PERM (arrangement of hair).
6 Has unusual amount to pay up for vegetable (7)
SHALLOT – (Has)* [unusual], TOLL (amount to pay) [up] -> LLOT.
7 Dark period close to end of plot (5)
NIGHTNIGH (close to) [end of] {plo}T
11 Swigs ale freely, clutching new drink container (9)
WINEGLASSN (new) in (swigs ale)* [freely]. An unusual container to drink beer from, although some stronger Belgian beers can be served in a glass similar to a wineglass. I’ll be trying my latest brew, a Belgian Tripel this weekend, although it probably needs a few more weeks bottle conditioning… but probably not in a wineglass.
14 Severely criticise medicine or remedy, ultimately (7)
PILLORYPILL (medicine) OR , last letter of remedY.
16 Swallow everything in ice-cream (7)
CONSUMESUM (everything) in CONE (ice-cream). Not ALL in the middle but Chambers has “The total, whole” and “The aggregate, whole amount” for the first two meanings of SUM, so I guess everything=sum is OK.
18 A person from eg Kelso racecourse (5)
ASCOTA SCOT (person from e.g. Kelso). Yes Kelso has a racecourse.
20 Prepare for succession (5)
TRAIN – Double definition, of which the second may not be so familiar.
22 One unable to fly, being stuck in the mud (3)
EMU – Hidden in thE MUd. Nice surface.

134 comments on “Times Quick Cryptic No 2499 by Pedro”

  1. I tried ENTRAP, too, and only entered ENTICE because there was no choice; I was never able to parse it. Biffed PACHYDERM, never bothered to parse; biffed SQUANDER, parsed post-submission. NHO KELSO, so had to assume it was in Scotland. 7:24.

  2. 16:20. I thought URGE(surge) was the answer too before I saw SPUR(spurt). I also wondered if Kelso was maybe a famous AGENT. PACHYDERM was overall
    favourite. I also enjoyed AY for indeed, ICE for reserve, CHANGE for coppers and SAND for grains.

  3. Quite the QC challenge from Pedro, very enjoyable but much of it not easy. 15.39 for me, with the NW (where else?) holding things up with SIDESTEP, IMPEACH and EERIE. Ta John for explaining ENTICE and reminding me yet again that ay = indeed. Another URGE here, liked SQUANDER, EXCHANGE and PACHYDERM. Wondered for a while if Kelso had anything to do with Epsom…

  4. Surely PLUG also works at 8ac, as in plug a hole or to advertise?
    I’m starting to think the increase in difficulty of QCs is a deliberate editorial decision, and this puzzles feels like another aimed at experienced solvers wanting a faster puzzle, rather than at newer solvers wanting a more approachable puzzle.
    Kelso is apparently the 192nd most populous locale in Scotland… I don’t understand what would be lost in this clue if a more well-known Scottish place were used? I suppose I will have to memorise the top 200 Scottish places in order to continue completing the QC. How many will I have to learn to complete the 15×15?!

    1. I have introduced a couple of people to the world of The Times crossword by starting here in the QC and they both appreciated the range of difficulty because it allowed them to see their progress. When they started being able to complete the harder QCs they felt confident enough to start trying the easier main ones.

    2. Hmm. I don’t see how PLUG works for 8A. It fits the definition, but what about the wordplay? As for Kelso…. It is not a random Scottish town. As I mentioned in the blog Kelso has a racecourse, which means the clue surface makes sense. In fact there are only 4 other racecourses in Scotland – Ayr, Perth, Musselburgh and Hamilton Park. To those who follow the gee-gees, Kelso is well-known.

      1. My line of thinking was that if you plug a hole, you would reduce the amount gushing out of that hole.

          1. Glad I didn’t think of PLUG. I did, however, think of BACK – “encourage”, obviously, and I thought it also worked for “reduction in gush?” as a whimsical reference to water backing up/a back eddy. I was curiously wedded to this idea and my reluctance to abandon it cost me some anguish in the NW!

        1. I don’t think it really fits the def that well: if I plug a product, I’m not encouraging it. And a plug isn’t a reduction, it’s a reducer

    3. Assuming you’d only need to know those with racecourse, then Ayr, Hamilton, Musselburgh, and Perth.

    4. I personally don’t think there is any editorial decision to make the QC harder – just a lack of control.

      I assume the setters are freelance and the Editor receives what they receive.

      If there is nothing offensive or culturally problematic in there, they probably just accept what is sent to them.

      When you employ outsiders, you don’t have time to be changing their work. And while you might decide to not renew or accept further submissions from that setter, it then leaves you scrabbling around to find someone new. In most corporate jobs, you don’t upset the apple cart until things are really problematic.

      There are a whole bunch of other puzzles in The Times which the Puzzles Editor is responsible for, and the QC is just one small part of them. We’ve occasionally seen things misprinted or misclued or the site inaccessible, so they have to get that sorted.

      Beyond that think of all the standard office timesinks that take up their time like meetings, online training courses, appraisals as well as making sure the contractors get paid etc, etc.

      I think all the Editor can do is feedback and say “Please rethink these, they are getting too hard” but I’m not sure they’ll do much more. As I say, getting rid of setters or even redoing their work just creates more work for the Editor themself.

    5. What would be lost is the surface because as John points out Kelso has a racecourse. I feel it is a wonderfully thought out clue, an example of the setters’ art.

  5. 15 minutes rounds off a complete week of missed 10 minute targets but I have no complaints about the puzzle.

    I’ve felt for a while that aiming for 10 minutes has been affecting my enjoyment of the QC and appreciation of the clues so I have decided that I shall now allow up to 15 minutes to count as a successful day and that will be my new aim. My timings have always included parsing unless otherwise stated.

    1. I haven’t commented for a long time on this site but I remain very grateful to all contributors for helping me achieve my current level of incompetence. I cannot however stand idly by and watch Jack lower his standards. It has been a brutal week and not one to set aspirations by.

    2. Jack, I must say that I really do sympathise. I was ahead of you in lowering my target from 10+/- mins to 15 mins quite a long time ago. I can’t be comfortable in dropping my bar further and have decided to remove it (see below).
      With best wishes, John.

      1. Thanks for the above comments. I see my decision more as a change of attitude than a lowering of standards. I just plan to enjoy the ride a bit more rather than rushing to achieve a self-imposed target that was plucked arbitrarily out of the air 9+ years ago.

        1. Couldn’t agree more. I have enjoyed these puzzles so much more since I stopped timing my ‘performance’. I try and finish as many as I can, regardless of the time taken, but am not unduly put out if I can’t. It’s not a competition, it’s just a bit of fun.

  6. Loved CHOPIN and ASCOT. COD to the simple EMU. Thanks to Pedro and John.

    I hope that you enjoy my Weekend QC. Please let me know.

    1. 7:45 on the weekender- very much enjoyed ripping through it. Couple of laughs down in the SW notably for 21D.

      You should apply to write QCs because to my mind that was about the standard I’d like to see. (Just be prepared to get blasted over here if you start to go beyond the remit!)

      1. L-P, you should be able to access all the previous of these puzzles on johninterred’s website. Well worth the time and effort!

        1. Thanks CO – I’ve done most of them since about #50. Last one took me around 27mins, previous about 16. Today was a record for here or there.

          How about yourself? Have you done this weekend’s?

          1. No, haven’t got to it yet. Such a busy life. I never time these but usually can get through all the clues eventually. I really enjoy them ( wish they were every week) and there’s always some very entertaining clues.

            1. Unfortunately I have too much free time on my hands – there is only so much running and exercise one’s body will allow. So crosswords fill it!

              The crossword.info version has a prominent timer – it’s not just that I’m thoroughly competitive (with myself) about these things 🤣

    2. Enjoyed that very much, thank you! COD to the lion and tiger, what an excellent surface

  7. Took a while over SIDESTEP and IMPEACH in the NW before puzzling over SQUANDER where it took me too long to turn to Q before the U – should have learned from yesterday. I only know PACHYDERM from the line in the elephants’ song in the Jungle Book “we’re a crackerjack brigade on a pachyderm parade”. Hummed that the rest of the way to finish all green in 19.

  8. I enjoyed this QC a lot. A steady solve, while avoiding the traps , for 14:21 which surprised me because I thought it felt at the harder end of the QC scale for me.

  9. Excellent puzzle to round off the week and one of those solves where it felt tricky but all the answers seemed to come quickly – the elusive wavelength??
    After trying hard to get PERM into 1a yesterday(?) it was nice to see it actually appear today and therefore gets my COD.
    Main troubles were with SQUANDER where the ‘u rule’ provided the key and with the parsing of EXCHANGE, ENTICE.
    Finished in 7.24
    Thanks to John

  10. I’m obviously out of step and was certainly off-wavelength today. Pedro’s clever tricks rounded off a series of very unsatisfying ‘Q’Cs for me.
    I am not going to list the difficulties this one threw up for me. Well done all those who finished it correctly and in reasonable times.
    I tried to make my point about my (and other’s) perceived increased difficulty of QCs earlier and stand by what I said. I think whoever checks the QC before publication needs to take a break and re-calibrate.
    These days, I just don’t seem to get enough pleasure from my morning QC to keep it a regular part of my day. I will jump ship to another puzzle.
    Thanks for all the excellent discussions and interactions I have enjoyed on this blog over many years (and for almost 2500 mainly excellent puzzles). I will miss you all. John M.

    1. You will be missed. Your entries have always been valuable. Drop by occasionally and tell us if you find that perfect puzzle that is not too hard but not too easy. Good luck.

        1. Coincidentally, I commented on Wednesdays’s 15×15 that it was right in my goldilocks zone.

    2. When choosing another puzzle, you should evaluate its bloggers as well. Doing a puzzle without bloggers is like playing a round of golf by yourself. No-one to commiserate, discuss, or moan with.

    3. That’s sad – you can’t be slower than me and I’m still hanging in there. I too will miss you – I haven’t forgotten our first exchange, about Smetana et al. Warmest wishes and hope to see you again.

    4. I hope you’ll hang around Blighter (John).

      I don’t think there is another cryptic puzzle that occupies the same space as this one. Though I don’t & won’t buy the Telegraph. The Quiptic and Everyman on the Guardian site are much more variable, and they’re only weekly.

    5. This is desperately sad news, and I hope you will reconsider. As a fellow snowflake, we should stick together, not melt away 😉

    6. Very dear Blighter,
      I finished my attempt at today’s puzzle about an hour ago and, given how the QC has changed recently, was planning to write the same words as you. However, a second cup of coffee and some biscuits, some sunshine outside, a gig to go to this evening and the prospect of an enjoyable weekend ahead has mellowed my feelings somewhat. So despite my better judgement, I will be back on Monday – full of innocence and hope – and I really hope you will be here as well.
      Have a good weekend, Mr (and Mrs) Random

      P.S. Mrs Random has asked me to let you know that she achieved (if that’s the right word) her worst ever result with Izetti’s offering of last week. Despite slogging away at it for more than an hour, she was forced to give up with 9 (yes, nine!) clues unsolved. That’s the Mrs R who routinely escapes the SCC, thereby snaffling the family point. I didn’t report her anguish at the time, partly because she was feeling too bruised by the experience and partly because I was too busy polishing the family point.

    7. John, I’m hoping that you are just taking a leave of absence and will come back to us. We’ll miss you too.

    8. Good luck in find something else that suits. I still think the Times QCs are the best.

      1. … although the fortnightly weekend challenges run them a close second, of course.

        1. You are too kind. By the way, it is a constant battle for us to keep them from being too difficult, so we have empathy and admiration for the Times QC setters who do so day after day. Our production process includes the three amigos challenging each other to meet a standard and I think you will find. Sawbill’s latest is quite middle-of-the-road in terms of difficulty. Pedro, out compiler today, is, I think, one of the best of the Times QC compilers but also one of the trickier. He also compiles as Phi in the Independent regularly on a Friday and I enjoy his puzzles there when I have the time to tackle them.

    9. I have just returned from a day out with friends (but with no phone until a replacement arrives on Monday). I was surprised but honoured to receive your responses.
      Thank you all for your very kind comments. The situation recently has made me think about my use of time. I will still look at the QC but not with quite the same urgency. I will certainly disengage the timer on my Times Crossword app and just do it for fun.
      I will check the blog of course (I have always enjoyed the comments and banter) but I won’t put my oar in unless I have something significant to say (for a change!).
      I admire the quality of the crosswords from many setters and am grateful to them. I have finished all the last 2499 QCs and, in most cases, in respectable times. However, I will simply enjoy my future crossword solving (here and in other organs) as a contest between me and the setter and will try not feel any sense of shame if I do not manage it by a set target time. Who knows, I may even improve!
      Best wishes to you all. So long and thanks for all the fish. John M.

      1. Disengage the timer… but of course. It is an unfortunate legacy of the origins of this site that there is such an emphasis on solving times. You don’t see any of that on fifteensquared. I look forward to seeing more contributions from you here in future. Thanks, John.

      2. Hurrah! It’s great to hear that you will still do battle and share your thoughts from time to time. I will read with interest when you do and hope the disengagement of the timer increases your enjoyment of this wonderful, but infuriating pastime.

        Actually, I have decided to do the same as you, but only after my 1,000th QC. I am on 870 at present, so that will be in about six months from now. Before then, I have two goals:
        1) to get my overall median, which includes DNFs, since I started down below 40 minutes (it’s 41 at the moment), and
        2) to get and then keep my moving 4-months mean, eexcluding DNFs, down below 30 minutes. I had achieved this target, albeit fleetingly, but the past couple of weeks have rather put the kibosh on that and it’s now gone back up to 37 minutes.

        I feel I can tough it out for six months more and will then breathe a hefty sigh of relief as I conveniently forget to look at my watch each time I start a QC.

        Best wishes from the Randoms.

        1. Thanks to you both for your kind post and good luck with achieving your goals.
          Best wishes, John.

  11. Unlike others, I found this very approachable and enjoyable. My LOI (where I momentarily tried to justify “tot”) was the only Down clue left after the first pass, and at the moment I’m 3rd on the leaderboard (but it’s still early and a lot of the regular heavy hitters aren’t here yet).

    I must thank John for parsing SQUANDER which I biffed – what would I do without him?

    COD PACHYDERM (parsed afterwards)
    TIME 4:32

  12. Another of my insomniac solves, so no specific time but definitely in the SCC for breakfast. Thanks to yesterdays reminder of U-Q, the LOI eventually went in, just after the IMPEACH/SPUR gap. Liked the elephant and the composer.
    Did get some sleep afterwards so maybe it helped…

  13. Coughed (literally and figuratively) my way through this, finding success eventually which was a measure of relief in an otherwise sleepless night. Who remembers coughs and colds that predate Covid. Will settle for another slug of Benylin and a throat lozenge instead of my usual coffee and croissant in the club. I’d hate to pass this onto fellow solvers.
    Thanks John and Pedro

    1. Commiserations – we have been there. Take a large slug of liquid Night Nurse – promise you will sleep! Best lozenge is Halls cherry flavour (if you can find them).

  14. 18:27 (1827 first friction match goes on sale)
    A slow one, held up by PIG at 22d, which no doubt was a purposeful misdirection by Pedro, as there were lots of way to hide EMU in a hidden, and his choice of “stuck in the mud” was designed to trap, as it pairs with “unable to fly”.


  15. 14:35
    Fast apart from the NW corner. I was looking for a team ending in TEP, starting with a reversed dodge, and took ages to read it the right way round. IMPEACH and SPUR were my LTI.

    Thanks John and Pedro

  16. I got TEE for 4d (cropped TEEN) but fail to see how tee means top – unless it means Tee-shirt.

    1. Sorry. I should have explained. Yes. Tee is another term for a T-shirt. Blog updated.

  17. For a while my slightly befuddled brain flipped into thinking this was Big Brother, and I was musing that it wasn’t too desperately difficult “for a Friday”, but challenging enough. PILLORY was what held me up most: couldn’t get to the synonym for “severely criticise”.

    1. Z, so from your comment yesterday it seems that our junior schools were some 200 miles apart. It’s a small world though, as I now live in St Albans and my wife taught at Margaret Wix. Not when you were there though!

      1. The world is a weirder place than we can imagine! Best wishes to your wife and thanks for (undoubtedly!) keeping up the standards!

        1. Re weirdness
          I picked up on Monday a 40+ year old, 2 previous owner, Land Rover 90 canvas back pickup for my son. It is ‘pristine’ (not a word usually associated with 40 yr old Landys) and came with a large folder containing its original purchase invoice, Manual and every bill and repair invoice (many!) from new.
          Included was a note from the immediate past owner urging the new owner to treat ‘him’ with care and attention, with the remark that he has always had a name. To my surprise, it is my unusual middle name. I was taken aback. I guess it was just meant to be, but weird

  18. Thank you, Pedro – a lovely puzzle full of good and enjoyable clues – finished it! FOI ABUT, COD to CHOPIN because I enjoyed the surface, LOI (NHO but it had to be) PACHYDERM.
    Missed the parsing of SPUR{t}, so thank you, John – also (as you foresaw) of ENTICE (though I got {g}ENT – must remember reserve = ICE). I’m really surprised WINEGLASS is deemed to be one word – I agree the dictionary has it thus, but don’t like!

    1. At least it gives you another opportunity to add to the merry banter and discussion in the blog, eh?

  19. Challenging but fun. As I said above in the “plug” discussion, I put “back” at 8a and really thought it was right, so my NW was in a right old fankle until I abandoned it. SPUR was my LOI, unsurprisingly.

    Some first class trickery from Pedro today and I’m pretty sure I blundered into most of his traps along the way. EXCHANGE, for example, took ages because I was sure that the “coppers” were going to be CUS or possibly CID, thus giving EXCUS… or EXCID …. A real groan when I got the PDM!

    All done in 13:10 for 1.8K and an Effortful Day.

    Many thanks Pedro and John.


  20. Well, excluding weeks with a DNF, where I bung 20 mins into my records. This was the third hardest week of the year for me at 41.72 minutes, or 8.3 minutes per puzzle. That’s 25% over my average for the year. However, to balance that out, just three short weeks ago, was the easiest week of the year so far, 26.5 mins for the week, or 5.3 minutes per puzzle, 21% under my average for the year. A quick look at the weekly averages says there are 21 weeks at or less than my daily median, and 17 at more than my daily median. Week 1 ended with a median of 6.85. Now, with a much larger data set, it’s 6.68 mins. It varies between 6.6 and 6.75 minutes as the difficulty ebbs and flows. That seems a pretty consistent level of setting to me.

    I was an URGE, which made the top left harder than it should have been. Lots to like in the puzzle though. Maybe PACHYDERM was COD.


      1. Woof. Nope, tax is my job in between walks, it must be a hangover from also being an accountant.

  21. I was another who confidently put URGE in which led to a few head scratching moments in the clues down department. My LOI was the shortest answer TEE, where my inability to parse it was due to me being unable to move away from the golfing connection.
    Talking of which reminds me of a rather posh corporate golf day I was invited to where they had a photographer to take pictures of every participant playing their tee shot at the first hole. The pictures were then displayed on a board at the end of the day. Looking at the complete board of pictures later on, it turned out I was standing next to the photographer. He said that he was particularly pleased with that one pointing to my photograph! Thinking he was admiring my magnificent swing and follow through, I was immediately deflated when he said “I always like it when I manage to capture the tee somersaulting through the air”!
    Back to todays crossword, my time of 12.17 means that I have missed my 10 minute target every day this week. My weekly total was 65.07 giving me a daily average of 13.01, which I’m pretty sure is my slowest average since I’ve been recording my times.

  22. 7.21. So well outside my five minute target, but a few seconds inside KG’s time, who, unknown to him, is my ambitious benchmark/par, and as any golfer will tell you, par is a proper challenge.
    I wonder if many of you have marked somebody else as a time you would hope to compete with?
    COD to Chopin for the lovely surface.

  23. Completed eventually after a tussle with 2d and 8a. IMPEACH penny dropped while I was making toast. Was then SPURred on to finish.

    Liked many once I solved them: e.g. ACCOLADE, ABUT, ENTICE, EMU, CHOPIN, PILLORY.
    Lots of biffs today, so needed blog, thanks John.

  24. 17:47
    Under 20mins, so delighted.
    Biffed CONSUME and ENTICE, so thanks for explaining them John.
    Guessed TEE from TEEN{N} but still don’t understand why its ‘TOP’ – something to do with golf?
    Parsed IMPEACH – I new this as to ‘charge’, not ‘disparage’, so surprised its the second most common meaning.
    COD: 25ac SQUANDER
    LOI: 20ac TRAIN
    A big thanks to John and thanks Pedro

      1. Thanks L-Plates, blindingly obvious now you’ve pointed it out and now feeling the need to stand in a corner with a cone shaped hat on – d’oh 😁

  25. 1hr08min48. You know you’re in trouble when you can’t parse how to choose between the four options of tee/the/tie/toe. As Thomas ‘Hollywood’ Henderson said “Bradshaw is so dumb, he couldn’t spell CAT if you spotted him the C and the T”.

    Definitely a bif-then-parse puzzle. At 25mins, all I had left were my last seven! By 40mins that was down to ENTICE, CONSUME and SQUANDER. I had written down all the versions of soldier I could think of OR/TA/GI/MEN/PARA with RE occurring to me later. Even put down the naval AB/TAR/SALT just in case but couldn’t see what to do. When CONSUME finally went in at 1hr07, I went for a brute force alphabet trawl – only half the alphabet will fit that S-U opening 🙄 After doing A, I decided, after yesterday’s discussion of Q before U, to jump straight to the unlikely SQU- possibility …

    First four puzzles of the week took me 20-25mins each for a 1hr30 total. This one took me almost as long. Looking back through my records, Pedro has averaged 42+ mins this year. Fastest solve 22mins which is about my average.

    I can certainly understand the frustrations of those saying these are too hard. As I stated yesterday I feel I have to give myself a clear hour before starting. I started at 9:30am, so it’s lucky my day was free until noon!

    Have a good weekend everybody 👍

    1. I know you like your stats, and after pulling my Q3 numbers together I’ve noticed my completion rate has dropped to 69% for the year to date. I’m still averaging both mean and median around 19 mins for actual completions for the year, but for the first time my Q3 only results went slightly above 20 mins.

      Harder or just not as good. Who knows? 🤷‍♂️

      1. Similar story here …
        – Q1 47/65 (72%)
        – Q2 46/65 (71%)
        – Q3 40/65 (62%)

        Aug was my disaster 13-8 … five of my fastest times ever in 8-12min range but overall avg. around 30mins.

        Sept was 23-24min median, as is the median for this week.

        I’m still working through the Book of QCs #1 and it very apparent from reading the old blogs that the “Are these getting harder?” complaint has always existed!

  26. Though I completed this one I really didn’t enjoy it at all. I found some of the clues involved too many working parts, making solving a little more complicated than it needed to be.

    Needed the cat’s help with a couple of clues.

  27. 11:13
    Going well until squander, train, and LOI consume which needed a break and an alpha trawl.
    COD Chopin.

  28. Bit of a slog, with a few too many ‘reverse this, drop that’ type clues, but completed around the 30 min mark via the Urge and Entrap blunders – good job Plug didn’t come to mind. Accolade was another hold up, as lad for guy is not the most obvious (couldn’t we have had ‘boy’ in the clue?) Blighter’s pending departure from these ranks is a sad measure of how things have changed. Invariant

      1. Pedro probably gets away with it via phrases like ‘Jack the lad’, but it’s little things like this that don’t help newcomers to the game.

  29. 16 mins…

    Have to admit, I was crossing my fingers with “Pachyderm”, which feels like one of those words I should know but don’t. Luckily, I managed to fathom the parsing and come up with something that seemed half plausible.

    Quite a few good clues, including 9ac “Exchange” and 21ac “Accolade”, but my favourite has to go to 13ac “Chopin” which brought a small chuckle.

    FOI – 6ac “Sand”
    LOI – 5dn “Pachyderm”
    COD – 13ac “Chopin”

    Thanks as usual!

  30. Another tricky one which took me over my target. Struggled to get moving after EERIE and SPUR. Hopped around the grid and eventually saw what was going on with LOI, TEE. 11:26. Thanks Pedro and John.

  31. Hard but enjoyable and finished in under an hour.
    The ‘U and Q’ rule proved to be very helpful after yesterday.
    Quite a few semibifs such as 1a where I’d see Sides for Team’s then spot Sidestep for Dodge and then parse Pet for favourite backwards.
    Thanks for the blog.

  32. Greetings from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (and before you ask, no I haven’t found that lonesome pine – yet.)
    I’m butting in only to commiserate with those who feel that the difficulty in here seems to have ramped up. Despite coming in all green today (around 30 minutes) I’ve had a bad week of it overall and concur with, among others, Blighter whose contributions I’ve always valued.
    Two things I do to increase enjoyment, as well as to convince myself I’m not losing my marbles, is to really not worry about the time (this morning for instance I trotted down 5 floors mid-puzzle at the behest of Mrs ITTT, who was still in her curlers, to fetch her coffee from the hotel lobby). So Target – what Target? Second I pay £3.99 per month to get the wide array daily DT puzzles, the 15×15 being normally very doable.
    Today we drive ourselves across the Shenandoah National Park in search of black bears. The rangers have warned me to be careful as the bears have been known to maim and kill, and then tried to sell me some anti-bear aerosol spray.
    No worries, I quipped, for if Mrs ITTT is walking ahead of me I have nothing to fear!

  33. 75 minutes to cap off an absurdly difficult fortnight. Last week’s total was 3 hrs 50 mins, which was my longest since way back when I was a nipper (in crosswording experience). My total time this week was 4 hrs 45 mins and one of those was a DNF. Nuff said!

    I feel very sad that Blighter has decided to stop doing the QC. He has been very encouraging to me in my efforts to get to grips with this game, so I fervently hope we see him again soon.

    Thanks to Pedro and John.

  34. 8:29

    Not sure what happened there but with three to jump, the Crossword Club page seemed to give up the ghost. I could type a character in but not move to a different square without the previous character vanishing completely. Reloaded Edge browser, restarted laptop but same happened again. So had to finish the job on my ‘phone.

    Not much to report – minorly held up at the end by SQUANDER where again I failed to apply the dictum ‘if U then Q’ quickly.

    Thanks Pedro and John

    1. I’ve found (on Firefox) that clearing cache before going to the club site works.

  35. I too confidently put in URGE at 8a which delayed my solving in the NW. I had to skip over 1a and then started a clockwise solve from SAND. When I did make the correction at the end of the solve and put in IMPEACH and EERIE I wondered why the clock was still ticking. Eventually I realised I hadn’t solved TEE. 10:45

  36. I seem to have that same problem as Mike Harper being unable to solve on Club site. I assume it’s to do with clearing out buildup of junk in my device but haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

  37. 10.36

    Another URGE and it was so obviously right I struggled to unblock the NW.

    Blighter – please don’t go. Everyone much prefers the SCC comments to the regular sub 10 minuters. I certainly prefer reading what you’ve written to my ramblings.

    But I do get that if these are taking longer and becoming harder it must be a bit dispiriting

    Anyway you’ll be missed

  38. Another who started with urge until EERIE made this impossible. Also failed to parse TEE – didn’t think of T-shirt, even with ‘cropped’ in the clue. Biffed then parsed ACCOLADE. Would not have thought of guy=lad otherwise. Failed to parse ENTICE but made sense so in it went. Really interested to hear of the more common meaning of IMPEACH. Many thanks for the blog John and thanks too to Pedro. Particularly liked CHOPIN.

    1. From ODE..
      (especially in the US) charge (the holder of a public office) with misconduct: the governor served only one year before being impeached and convicted for fiscal fraud.
      …and also of presidents current and ex!

      1. Sorry, on re-reading your blog I see it is the second most common meaning (disparage = impeach) that was new to me. Thank you though. Yes, primary meaning decidedly topical!

  39. Felt difficult to me and I needed John’s explanations (thank you!) to parse four of the answers, which is very unusual. On the other hand I finished it in 22:02, which is quickish for me.

  40. 3/4 done which nowadays I regard as a win. Well done to those who completed it was a very difficult week

  41. 13.54 today. 125 minutes for the week. The best day in my worst week since records began (which was only in March). The covid is definitely on the wane. EXCHANGE, WATERWAY, ENTICE and PACHYDERM were biffed. IMPEACH and SPUR were the last two in. An enjoyable puzzle. Thanks to John and Pedro.

  42. A regular lurker here. I have found this week difficult but it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment. Indeed I always feel slightly cheated if I don’t struggle a bit. I normally take c20 minutes. Today was 19.

    1. Do come out from your hiding place from time to time. We will be interested to read what you have to say.

  43. Another one I struggled with to round off a week to forget. Total solving time for the week over 2 hours and 29 minutes today. Stopped after 23 minutes with the 2dn/8ac and 15ac/16dn crossings left. Came back after an hour and polished them off ina a further 6 minutes. For a change I didn’t fall into any of the traps – I was just generally slow throughout. Good crossword though – roll on next week!

    FOI – 6ac SAND
    LOI – 8ac SPUR
    COD – too many wonderful surfaces to mention, although I think CHOPIN probably takes the crown. WOD – definitely PACHYDERM

    Thanks to Pedro and to John for parsing the many that I biffed.

  44. Completed the puzzle but with some help and particularly from the crossers. We hope for an easier week next, but we really enjoy the comments with our gin and tonic, if not the puzzle. Thanks to all.

  45. Oof. 27:57 here, with aids needed. I was SO sure that the non-flyer was a PIG and that stopped me from getting both 21 and 25 until I’d looked through the list of words that match _C_O_A_P (total that match in Chambers: 0). At that point I grudgingly returned to the clue and had the a-ha moment when I spotted the hidden. That gets my COD, for being so infuriatingly deceptive.

    Thanks to Pedro and John.

  46. Are they getting harder? Not from my stats. Here are my 6 month rolling averages (yes I do calculate them!) for the QC..
    Mar 16 – 6:43
    Sep 16 – 6:40
    Mar 17 – 6:35
    Sep 17 – 6:32
    Mar 18 – 6:59
    Sep 18 – 6:17
    Mar 19 – 5:55
    Sep 19 – 5:53
    Mar 20 – 5:33
    Sep 20 – 5:02
    Mar 21 – 5:20
    Sep 21 – 5:15
    Mar 22 – 5:40
    Sep 22 – 5:34
    Mar 23 – 5:23
    Sep 23 – 5:19
    Yes I was probably still improving in 2016/17/18/19, I think, but based on my 15×15 times I’m getting slower now rather than quicker.
    Of the last 10 weeks this week’s total (26:40) is only the 4th slowest and last week’s was 21:40 (my quickest), so I’ve not found the last fortnight harder any previous fortnight in the last few months.
    Make of that what you will. But I don’t believe that, on the whole, the QCs are getting significantly harder.

    1. Appreciate your perspective JohnI.

      Looking back at the early blogs, the “are these getting harder?” question always seems to have existed. No-one ever complains “Why are these getting easier?”.

      There’s little doubt the last few days have been especially hard and recency bias is part of the problem.

      1. Thank you for the stats John. I think the issue is that hardness affects different people in different ways – the function is certainly not linear, and what for one level of solver is barely noticeable is for another a significant step up.

        Consider skiing and the step up from red to black run. An ace will barely notice, a moderate skier will find they go much more slowly, and a novice may be wiped out.

        In general, I don’t disagree that the overall level is not much changed. But the last two days have been very much harder than the average QC. I did complete both, in about twice my average time and with about half my usual enjoyment. Nor was I alone – the comments here suggest a lot of people have struggled more than usual over the last two days, and a good number have said in this forum that they did not enjoy the experience much.

        Unlike some posters, I think that does matter and that the Editor ought to reflect on it. The QC is in the paper to provide entertainment; regardless of what the setters think, if it is not doing so, and even more so if a longstanding member of our community is considering leaving us, then the QCs in question have failed. And both yesterday’s and today’s fall into that category for me.


        1. Thank-you everyone for the considered and thoughtful contributions to this matter. It is only 2 weeks to the Times Crossword Championship which I will be attending and I know I will be well down among the also-rans, but I’m hoping to meet up with Richard Rogan, our crossword editor, and will raise your concerns with him.

          1. Good luck at the TCC Mr I and thank-you for everything you have done and continue to do for us. Clearly, it is up to RR how he pitches the QC, but it would be really nice to know if/that he keeps half an eye on the mood and musings of the masses here.

    2. An expert like you will find most QCs easy, John. I don’t time myself so it’s hard to say, but for instance people like L plates and Some Random Chap have been taking much longer than usual recently and even Doofers said he needed aids today.
      (I gave up black runs 20 years ago, and gradually slid down to blues and greens. Now given up skiing. Am hoping to do the opposite with QCs)

  47. 10/26. For me, it doesn’t really matter if they’re getting harder, I just want to complete one a month!

  48. I struggled with this. Part I put down to flu-jab reaction (or similar, but not Covid) and part to always finding Pedro a challenge. Looking back I can’t really blame Pedro as the answers now look pretty straightforward, but it was not fun at the time. I’m in the ‘they’re getting harder’ camp. I will miss Blighter’s contributions… ‘tho mine have been fewer as my opportunity to solve seems to be getting later and later again sometimes to the point of winding down before putting lights out!

  49. Yes, I found this hard but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of staring at a few clues on and off during the day and then getting that Eureka moment when you go back and suddenly get it! It’s the same pleasure I used to get from Maths problems and am trying to get from my new found attempts at the Deadly Killer Sudokus.

    Hence the late post, but I am so pleased I got there today without giving up! The only snag is it’s late in the day for absorbing everyone’s interesting comments.

    So thanks everyone, Pedro and John

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