January 15th, 2018

New RCA
  • vinyl1

Times 26935

Time: 47 Minutes
Music: Mahler, Symphony #9, Levine/Philadelphia Orchestra

When I started at 1 across, I thought this was going to be very easy indeed.   I did go at blazing speed for a while, only to get thoroughly stuck with 2/3 of the puzzle complete.   This was in part due to a wrong answer - I found 'minimal' a very convincing answer for 18 down, fitting both the cryptic and the definition perfectly, but unfortunately it was quite wrong, as I discovered when I saw 'extractor fan'.   The other problem was the use of words that while not obscure, are not often used- 'patchily', ethnical'?   Most people would say 'patchy' and 'ethnic', and let it go at that.   I also have some serious doubts about my LOI, which I will get to in due couurse.

Overall, I would be  inclined to rate this as an easy-to-moderate puzzle, with just one or two possible quibbles.   If I had been the editor, I probably would have sent several clues back for revision or replacement.



Across
1 Wild, like a kangaroo? (7,3)
HOPPING MAD - Double definition, one jocular.
7 Sunscreen and singlet I put on (4)
TOPI - TOP + I, where you need to know what kind of hat a 'topi' is.
9 Proper to fix name of race (8)
ETHNICAL - ETH(N)ICAL.
10 For unruly lot, hard to get into subject of parable (6)
SHOWER - S(H)OWER.   This was my LOI.   The cryptic works well enough, but I don't see how a 'shower' can be an 'unreuly lot' - a shower of invective?   A shower of missiles?   Either I am not seeing something, or the clue has gotten garbled.   Comments invited.  My ignorance of 50s UK slang got me into difficulties here, but the usage is fully explicated in the comments below.
11 Olympic sportsman who joins panels? (6)
FENCER - double definition, although fences do not necessarily involve panels, and you have to do more than join them or your fence will fall over.
13 A grass mutates like this into a weed (8)
SARGASSO - anagram of A GRASS + SO.
14 Posh accent that gets Parliament going! (6,6)
QUEENS SPEECH - douible definition - you can't get more posh than ER herself!
17 One no longer keen on farm machinery that does away with steam (9,3)
EXTRACTOR FAN - Double definition, one, 'EX TRACTOR FAN', jocular.
20 Girl, cold, losing pounds in odd places (8)
PATCHILY - PAT + CHI[l]LY.   A random girl, and neither C nor ICY makes this a little difficult, especially since 'in odd places' suggests either an anagram or every other letter.
21 Sailor comprehending what ocean is, turning dial (6)
SPEEDO - O(DEEP)S, all backwards, with our old friend the Ordinary Seaman.   The thing next to the tacho, and not the abbreviated bathing suit.
22 Drop off tin with leak (6)
SNOOZE - SN + OOZE, perfectly simple, and I still couldn't get it for a very long time.
23 Back in the morning, queuing at this station? (8)
MAINLINE - AM backwards + IN LINE.   Not a branch line, presumably, although this term probably has different meanings in various countries.
25 A very short book (4)
AMOS - A MOS[t], book of the Bible, of coruse.
26 Unavoidable shortly to do favour for a politician (10)
OBLIGATORY - OBLIG[e] A TORY.


Down
2 Trying to escape joining in a marathon? (2,3,3)
ON THE RUN - Double definition, and a very simple one.
3 Hurt as I dropped vessel (3)
PAN - PA[i]N
4 Improved new freezer (5)
NICER - N + ICER.
5 Effete type weaving silk into unruly hair (7)
MILKSOP - M(anagram of SILK)OP
6 Confuse with combination of noise and dirt (9)
DISORIENT - Anagram of NOISE, DIRT.
7 Hard worker on heroin a danger on computer (6,5)
TROJAN HORSE - TROJAN + HORSE in different slang senses.
8 Under pressure, let out imploring word (6)
PLEASE - P + LEASE.
12 Bright guy means to lift in a couple of hundred pieces of fuel (6,5)
CLEVER CLOGS - C(LEVER)C + LOGS, a UK-centric slang phrase that vaguely rang a bell over here.
15 Start blazing row, full of feminine emotion (3,4,2)
SET FIRE TO - SET (F IRE) TO
16 One with a tale to tell finished interrupting queen (8)
PARDONER - PARDON + E.R, although you are more likely to say 'pardon' when you start interrupting Correct parsing is actually PAR(DONE)R, as first pointed out by Lou Weed.
18 Very poor baby, small, uncovered (7)
ABYSMAL - hidden in [b]ABY SMAL[l].
19 Chap grabs glass that girl’s left: I’m not sure there’s much wine in it (6)
MAGNUM - MA(G[lass]N + UM, a rather busy clue that most solvers will just biff.
21 Confess about part finally in police operation (5)
STING - S([par]T)ING.
24 Random allocation of large amount (3)
LOT - double definition, and another easy one.
Astarte1

QC 1005 by Grumpy

A mine of double definitions today, a couple of them very pleasing to the crossword-solving senses (whatever they are) as described below. I found this of medium difficulty (if I give you a scale of between 6 and 15 minutes for my normal solve on a QC this one came out at just over 10) and so was more challenging to me than my previous two encounters. FOI (as it should be) was 1A and LOI I believe was 3D. COD was probably the double D at 22A, slightly pipping the other neat one at 17A for the way in which the definition manages to turn the surface on its head.

So many thanks to Grumpy (love the tag, reminds me of the wife and me) for a witty and elegant 10 minutes.

In my last blog I said I had another comment to make about thanking the setter which I said I would postpone until now. This was because at the time the Christmas Turkey had not been blogged and was under embargo and my comment involves reference to it. And the comment is that all these excellent setters deserve all the thanks that we can give, particularly having seen how difficult most of us find the composition of even a single cryptic clue, let alone a whole cryptic puzzle, quick or otherwise.

My first time helping stuff the turkey was a couple of years ago. Sotira very patiently took me through about 3 or 4 email iterations of my very simple clue of a 3-letter word before finally declaring it up to scratch. I was a little embarrassed at my slowness of wit, but this year was relieved to see that I cannot have been the only one with similar problems, as she very sensibly declared that she was going to be a ruthless editor because she didn't have time to conduct 32 sets of email negotiations! As it is, my offering this year was accepted in its sense although its actual wording was slightly edited for reasons I might describe as 'handwriting'. So I was pleased with that. But then after getting through that filter, we were all subjected to the clinical gaze of the blogger - and very few of us came out unscathed (myself included).

When I first picked up The Times crossword with serious intent many years ago I was in a summer job as a student. I didn't have a clue (sorry - NPI) how to tackle it. I just picked it up one day in my lunch hour and thought I would read it through because I liked puzzles. Although I had never tried a cryptic crossword, I had heard of its fame as a tough nut to crack and thought I would try and see what it was all about. I read the clues one after the other and then surveyed the still-blank grid. I read them again. Still no glimmer of light. In this manner the whole lunch hour passed and I quietly admitted that this probably wasn't really my game.

But the barb had lodged and the poison had worked its magic, and I kept on picking up the puzzle and reading it. At this stage I don't think I was even thinking in terms of 'definition' and 'cryptic'. I guess I was really just reading the surface and hoping that would mysteriously guide me to the answer. But somehow, one of the answers eventually presented itself, and then one or two more. And then I started getting the hang of it and after a couple of weeks I was patting myself on the back for managing to get about half way through.

The point being, there was no QC in those days, and I think I have therefore always looked at it through the wrong end of the telescope. As a seasoned Daily Cryptic solver, I never had it as something to cut my teeth on, and so my experience of it has always been as an 'easier version' or 'warm-up' to the main puzzle. But since starting this blog I have realised what an important innovation it has been for the novice; if it had been around in my day I certainly would not have had so many fruitless lunch hours.

But as another enthusiast very wisely told me in circumstances which I may relate in a future blog: "If they want to **** you, they can **** you." To paraphrase, if 'they' wanted to, these wizards could just turn the heat up a notch and have me barbecued as easily over a 13 x 13 grid as over a 15 x 15 one. We are like children playing Chess with our Dads - they always let us win. Except my Dad never did, and I never did with my children either, except that it wasn't too long before they started to win anyway and... oh dear, maybe this wasn't the best analogy. But I suppose the point is that our enjoyment of these delightful daily linguistic excursions depends entirely on the razor-sharp judgment of the setters - make 'em hard, but let the poor saps get there in the end.

Definitions are underlined in italics, and cryptic parts are explained just as I see them.

Across
1 Plant in the shade (5)
LILAC - double definition.
4 Unlooked-for line forming part of church (7)
CHANCEL - CHANCE (unlooked-for) + L (line).
8 Plunge in river cut short after one minute (7)
IMMERSE - MERSE (river, in this case Mersey, cut short) after I (one) + M (minute).
9 Engineers left in charge for survivor (5)
RELIC - RE ([Royal] Engineers) + L (left) IC (in charge).
10 Hit tunes as recollected by fan (10)
ENTHUSIAST - anagram of HIT TUNES AS. The anagrind is 'recollected' (as in 'collected again' rather than the surface intention of  'remembered', although come to think of it etymologically they are pretty close as to 're-member' literally means to put togther again).
14 Expert bearing weight right away (2,4)
AT ONCE - the expert (ACE) is 'bearing' a TON (weight).
15 Islander, famous at last, with a grouse (6)
SAMOAN - S (famouS at last) + A + MOAN (grouse).
17 Feel grateful for increase in value (10)
APPRECIATE - a neat double definition.
20 Swear nothing is taken from path (5)
CURSE - take O (nothing) away from COURSE (path) and you have...
22 Seeing less impressive performance (7)
BLINDER - another neat double definition which manages to turn the surface on its head. If you see less you are BLINDER, which is also an impressive performance, as in "Messi/Ronaldo/Best or [insert your favourite footballer] played an absolute BLINDER!"
23 Wise king on his own one day? (7)
SOLOMON - SOLO (on his own) + MONday gives the famous biblical wise king.
24 One in Germany, say, brought back spirit (5)
GENIE - my limited German tells me that 'one' is EIN, and my limited Latin tells me that 'say' is Exempli Gratia. Put 'em together and turn 'em round.
Down
1 Put down face up (4)
LAID - DIAL (face) when put 'up' in a down clue.
2 Branch grasped by climber (4)
LIMB - contained in cLIMBer
3 Very bad article in French account of past events (9)
CHRONICLE - CHRONIC (very bad, as in CHRONIC pain) + LE (even in these gender equalised days this is the more common French definite article found in crossword land).
4 Controls, we hear, for some Europeans (6)
CZECHS - checks (controls) sounds like those European CZECHS. Which reminds me of that other homophone ensrhined in the name of a band I think I once saw called The Bouncing Czechs...
5 You can't live without this song (3)
AIR - double definition, one cryptic. Unless of course you happen to be an anaerobe.
6 Apple brandy and soda served up after Calvin’s dropped in (8)
CALVADOS - CALV ('CALVIN' dropping the 'IN') plus SODA reversed, ie 'served up' in a down clue (although might also be an acceptable anagrind in an across clue?). I am quite familiar with this French apple brandy as it is a favourite tipple of my Father-in-Law, for whom I created an Apple and Calvados Soufflé with Caramel Calvados Sauce on the occasion of his last birthday.
7 Finding piece of wood to entertain pet at home (8)
LOCATING - a LOG is a piece of wood. Put in a CAT (a type of pet, although not in my house) and make it 'at home' (IN) and you have your definition.
11 Get cracking with fish that's quite unexpected (9)
STARTLING - oh those useful slippery crossword fish - GAR, IDE, CARP etc... but in this case LING. Get cracking (START) with it and out pops another definition before your very eyes.
12 Five hundred gather with copper in capital (8)
DAMASCUS - one of those useful Roman numerals D (five hundred) + AMASS (gather) with CU (copper, element number 29 in the Periodic Table) 'in' it gives the capital of Syria.
13 Type of punishment for NCO (8)
CORPORAL - the sort of punishment I used to say 'never did me any harm' at school (and also in fact thought did me some good), but which in the modern consciousness has come to be seen as barbaric. And I do agree, even though I look back on those days with fondness. And of course it always hurt the master more than it hurt me (and in modern psychological terms perhaps there is an ironic sense in which that was true. Discuss amongst yourselves.). Of course a CORPORAL is also an NCO in the army so this is a double definition, the first one being slightly cryptic.
16 Ape an old historian (6)
GIBBON - another double definition, with a reference to the author of 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. I believe he presented a first edition copy as a gift to the Duke of Wellington on one occasion. The Duke picked it up, turned it over disdainfully and said something like "Ah, another big, thick book, eh Gibbon? Always scribble, scribble, scribble?' Again, reminds me of my schooldays. Wellington I am sure must have been the 'good-at-games' bully and all-round great chap, while poor old Gibbon would have been the swot working away conscientiously in the corner and coming top of the class to general ridicule. Ah those sunlit days!
18 Original garden for PM (4)
EDEN - cor! Wot a lot of double definitions!
19 Lake that sounds spooky (4)
ERIE - oops, nearly another double definition but not quite (narrowly missed it by an 'E'). A homophone instead. The great lake sounds like EERIE (spooky).
21 Wood required by barrel makers (3)
ELM - hidden in barrEL Makers.