March 9th, 2020


QC 1565 by Teazel

I think this coronavirus thing isn't just physically infecting loads of people worldwide. In my house it also seems to be infecting our very thought processes. As I was sitting down to write this for instance I reached into the fridge to get a beer and when I looked at the label I could have sworn it said "Corona - la virus mas fina". I blinked and got my lenses into focus and realised that it actually said "Corona - la cerveza mas fina". Then my wife came in and started talking about "this Coriolanus virus...", starting me off on a train of thought that had the bard acting as 16th century prophet of modern day epidemics as well as predating Freud and gender fluidity and setting up Hamlet as our model for the conflicted 21st century male. Then came the news that my wife had come into the room to deliver - that the first person to have succumbed fatally to this virus in this country was in fact the mother of her sister's neighbour - and it all felt suddenly quite a lot closer to home.

But so what. There's a blog to do. And I am very pleased to be meeting Teazel, my oldest adversary, to whom many thanks for an entertaining puzzle to start the week.

And here I have to own up a bit. I do think this was a very straightforward puzzle, although in real time it took me quite a bit longer than usual because before reaching into that fridge to get that beer I had finished off a bottle of Laphroaig and I wasn't really thinking or seeing straight.

So, as far as I can remember, my FOI was the obvious anagram at 1A. LOI was 23A which was the one that I held back on longest because I thought it had to be more complicated than it was. And for my COD I think I have to go with 7D because of its topicality and humour even though in construction it is but a humble anagram.

Definitions are underlined and everything else is explained just as I see it in the simplest language I can manage.

1 Nan told wimp off for hoax with skull (8,3)
PILTDOWN MAN - straight anagram ('off') of NAN TOLD WIMP.
8 Vital part of German city church (7)
ESSENCE - ESSEN (German city) + CE (Church of England).
9 Endure repulsive piece he painted (5)
DURER - hidden word: enDURE Repulsive 'piece'.
10 Without a second thought, had fun too excitedly (3,2,4)
OUT OF HAND - straight anagram ('excitedly') of HAD FUN TOO.
12 Tree, or its remains? (3)
ASH - cryptic definition referring to what you might get if you cremated the tree.
13 Seize greeting card (6)
HIJACK - HI (greeting) + JACK (card).
15 Call for quiet, keeping debate calm (6)
SMOOTH - SH (call for quiet) 'keeping' MOOT (debate).
17 Ladder, or short part of one (3)
RUN - a part of a ladder is a RUNg, and if this is shortened you get the answer. The definition here is referring of course to a run or ladder in a pair of tights or a stocking.
18 Girl is in sight, with potential to be cut up (9)
DIVISIBLE - DI (girl) + VISIBLE (in sight).
20 Great success, putting chapter into back story (5)
ECLAT - ELAT (TALE (story) backwards) with C (chapter) inserted.
22 Little Kenneth died, Saturday or Sunday (7)
WEEKEND - WEE (little) + KEN (Kenneth) + D (died).
23 Child looking for this game (4-3-4)
HIDE-AND-SEEK - I think this is just a simple cryptic definition, as in a game of hide and seek a child would indeed be looking (for other children).
1 Suggest one wears mail (5)
POSIT - I (one) 'wearing' POST (mail).
2 Looking miserable, having been confronted for ages (4-5)
LONG-FACED - LONG (for ages) + FACED (confronted).
3 One introducing music reading out two letters (6)
DEEJAY - hardly a clue at all really, given that a 'DEEJAY' is often simply referred to as a DJ anyway. But for the record if you 'read it out' it sounds like those two letters.
4 We had married (3)
WED - WE'D (we had).
5 Am actor changing musical direction (7)
MARCATO - straight definition ('changing') of AM ACTOR. Marcato is a musical direction written on a score to indicate that certain notes or chords are to be accented.
6 Prime minister protects Tyneside town (5,7)
NORTH SHIELDS - NORTH (Prime Minister 1770-1782) + SHIELDS (protects).
7 March of Helen? Wrong — of Welshmen (3,2,7)
MEN OF HARLECH - strange clue this as the definition is split as indicated above. The answer is an anagram ('wrong') of MARCH OF HELEN. Thankfully renditions were muted on Saturday (but don't tell my mother-in-law I said that).
11 Block a view of Syrian city (9)
DAMASCENE - DAM (block) + A + SCENE (view).
14 Sounded like Christmas bells? (7)
JINGLED - vaguely cryptic definition as in "Jingle bells, jingle bells...".
16 Admitted a vendor initially unpaid (6)
AVOWED - A + V (Vendor 'initially') + OWED (unpaid).
19 Holiday snap (5)
BREAK - double defeinition.
21 Drink is golfer’s support, they say (3)
TEA - sounds like ('they say') TEE, the support often used for a golf ball when teeing off.
  • vinyl1

Times 27607 - "Sea-borderers, disjoin'd by Neptune's might.....

Time: 31 minutes
Music: Pictures at an Exhibition, Leibowitz/RPO

This puzzle was not as easy as I first supposed, primarily because of various obscure usages that I will have to research for the blog.  I had most of it down inside of fifteen minutes, but in the end I was really slowed down by not being able to get anything in the northeast corner.  Evenentually, I broke through with 'Isle of Man' and 'plotters', allowing me to finish without too much further ado.  Even the chestnut clues were very well-disguised, and I would not be surprised if you encountered unexpected difficulties or blind spots.

As many of you are aware, Jim Biggin has been forced by health issues to discontinue his blogging duties.   He is one of our oldest bloggers, having joined Times For The Times shortly after it was founded, and having been continuously involved for the past dozen years or so.   He was a daily-puzzle blogger for many years, splitting the Tuesday spot with Topical Tim; in later years, he has been the alternate Mephisto blogger, partnering with George Heard.   We will all miss him, and we hope that he will at least be able to continue to comment in the blogs when he feels up to it.

I have taken over the Mephisto spot on alternate Sundays, and next Sunday will be my first blog.   I have become rather obsessed with solving Mephisto without reference books, but you can be sure I will do whatever is necessary to finish the puzzle and explain all the clues.  I would like to encourage some our better solvers to tackle Mephisto, and I will be writing more elaborate and discursive blogs in an attempt to get some additional people interested in these intriguing puzzles.

1 Dictator’s honest sound (6)
STRAIT - Sounds like STRAIGHT, but 'sound' is NOT the homophone indicator, but the definition.   This certainly threw me off in my analysis of the clue.
4 Accessible university in East End district (7)
POPULAR - POP(U)LAR.    Poplar is a metropolitan borough that I had never heard of, but the answer is obvious enough once you have the crossing letters.
9 Defeated king flees, revealed as gay? (5)
10 Location of a film one’s shot (4,2,3)
ISLE OF MAN - anagram of A FILM ONE'S.
11 Unruly teens seen in a state (9)
12 Currently Democrat’s moving to the right. Such a creep! (5)
TOADY - TODAY with the D moved to the right.   A well-disguised chestnut.
13 A rebellious vicar’s protest (4)
AVER - A + REV backwards, where 'protest' has an obscure dictionary meaning.
14 Conked out clutching bottle? That’s sad (10)
DISPIRITED - DI(SPIRIT)ED, as in 'the engine died'.
18 Right lad, likely somehow to become a Lothario (10)
20 Godfather chopping tail off fowl (4)
CAPO - CAPO[n], an obvious chestnut, but the only one.
23 Note about keeping quiet is revealed (5)
BLOWN - B(LOW)N, where 'note' = N.B. = nota bene, and a secondary meaning of 'blown' is used - enough to confuse anyone!
24 Director put to death with intravenous injection (9)
EXECUTIVE - EXECUT(I.V.)E.   A 'director' and an 'executive' are roughly equivalent in many cases, but not all.   I am a director of a tax district, but not an executive, since my only duty is to vote 'aye'.
25 Winemaker’s found with stolen ammunition (9)
26 Sign bishop invested in currency once (5)
27 Hero’s boyfriend died in comparatively poor surroundings (7)
LEANDER - LEAN(D)ER, where the trick is to find the literal.
28 Regularly defends having clock outside running fast (6)
SPEEDY - SP([d]E[f]E[n]D[s])Y.   I would like to see why  'clock' = 'spy', which it evidently does.
1 Unexpectedly autumn leads to deficit (9)
SHORTFALL -  SHORT FALL, as in 'caught short' - very clever!
2 Followers of desperate mutineer, miles away (7)
RETINUE - anagram of [m]UTINEER.
3 How one may sin? Exactly (6)
INDEED - IN DEEDj, or in word, perhaps.
4 Heartthrob perhaps turning up at university (5)
PULSE - UP turned + LSE, the London School of Economics.
5 Young wizard’s handling spell, ultimately intriguing people (8)
PLOTTERS - P([spel]L)OTTER'S, one I should have seen more quickly.
6 Attack a doctor in city street (7)
LAMBAST - L. (A MB) A. + ST.  I would have preferred an attack on an MBA.
7 Sexy clothing for Rosy? (5)
RANDY - R AND Y, another misleading clue, where 'rosy' is not the literal.
8 Who’ll eat these slops? (8)
15 Penny envies hosts (8)
16 Marry odd European, eccentric creature (9)
17 Gang member’s boss going under cover (8)
SKINHEAD - SKIN + HEAD, in entirely different senses.
19 Scene in play about Greek maiden (7)
DIORAMA - D(IO)RAMA, a clue which is on the verge of becoming a chestnut.
21 Is one intelligent and good-natured? (7)
22 Stop running up and down (4,2)
PULL UP - A palindrome, as indicated.
23 Roll made by first two in bakery on rising (5)
BAGEL - BA[kery] + LEG rising.
24 Article inspired by Her Majesty’s knockout drops? (5)
ETHER - E(THE)R, a rather loose literal.   The whole clue might allude to Queen Victoria's use of anaethetics in childbirth.