January 7th, 2021

Times Quick Cryptic No 1783 by Wurm

Well, we made it into 2021.  Let me be one of the last to wish you all a happier 2021.  Thanks to Wurm for this relatively gentle crossword, which though gentle, is quite sophisticated, and demands some degree of General Knowledge.  I solved it in 11 minutes, which is a fast time for me, and I hope that you all achieved a similarly satisfactory result.

The following is optional reading, and not related to this puzzle specifically:

Lockdown has found me reflecting on the nature of these QCs and other cryptic puzzles, and I have been wondering if the satisfaction index from solving can be attributed to any definable characteristics of the puzzle. I’m still thinking this through, but I think that the QCs generally have a number of dimensions, some of which are OBJECTIVE (or measurable) and others of which are SUBJECTIVE (or not easily measurable).

OBJECTIVE dimensions include the following:

  • DENSITY – Which I define as the number of black squares in the grid of 169 squares of a QC.  For example, today’s grid has 48 black squares to give a density of 28%.  This is quite low compared to the straw poll I took of the last few puzzles I blogged, which ranged from 48 to 56 black squares (28% to 33% density).

  • BREVITY – By which I mean the word-count for all of the clues.  Today the number of words used to clue all of the answers is 128, or 5.3 per clue.  Again, compared to the same straw poll, this is quite low – the range in the poll was 128 to 190 words in the clues, or a range from 5.3 to 7.3 per clue.

  • SPEED - my times range from a little below 10 minutes to around 25 minutes.  I am rarely quicker or slower than that range, and I target between 10 and 15 minutes per completion.

  • FIRST LETTER CHECKER - The presence of answers in the first row or column will automatically provide a number of first-letter-checkers, and this type of grid seems to be favoured over grids that lack them.  I suspect that, with a little thought, the grid types could be measurable for this attribute.

  • As far as objective measures go, I think I prefer low density, concisely clued puzzles, with a high index of first-letter-checkers, but I do like a workout, so I am not disheartened when my time is beyond my target range.  Whilst SPEED is measurable, it is also very personal from solver to solver.  My understanding is that the measurement of SPEED was the original objective of these blogs.  It's what I often refer to as the Rotterometer - an objective measure of speed for this particular solver, or x Kevins, a relative measure of speed compared to a regular contributor to the blogs.

SUBJECTIVE dimensions, by their nature, are much more difficult to define, but we often hear words such as the following in bloggers’ comments.  I don’t think these are measurable as such, but they matter:

  • Wit or humour

  • General Knowledge – maybe a GKI or Index could be definable as an objective dimension, although one solver’s General Knowledge can be another’s jargon or mystery.

  • Approachability – is this just a euphemism for easiness?

  • Themes and Ninas – these are almost universally admired and appreciated, and generally add to the satisfaction index, particularly when spotted.

I’d be interested in others’ thoughts if you have any, but maybe not on this blog – feel free to send me a message if you want to add to any debate on the above.  If there is interest, I'll collate and publish any thoughts, perhaps in a seperate blog.

Now back to Wurm's puzzle.

Across

Stickler for niceties hurt in physical training (13)
PERFECTIONIST – This is an anagram (hurt) of [FOR NICETIES] inside PT (physical training).
8  Large ears reshaped in surgical beam (5)
LASER – Another anagram (reshaped), this time of [L{arge} EARS].  LASERs are concentrated beams of light, often used to cut flesh in surgical procedures, but with a much wider range of uses than that.
9  On piano in group to admire (7)
RESPECT – RE (on, regarding) and P{iano} inside SECT (group).
10  Get wheels in middle for train (7)
CORTEGE – GET (wheels = reversed) to give TEG inside CORE (middle).  A CORTEGE is a ‘train’ of attendants, a retinue.
11  Second story is boring (5)
STALE – S{econd} and TALE (story).  At first I wondered about the equivalence of STALE and BORING, but either can, at a stretch, mean tedious, so I’ll let it pass.
13 Boat from Oxford University set off (9)
OUTRIGGER – O{xford} U{niversity} and TRIGGER (set off).  An OUTRIGGER can be a boat with projecting rowlocks, or a canoe with a projecting spar supported on a float.  The first is used by crews in the University boat race, the second by the many indigenous tribes that appeared in the films we watched as young boys.  To me, OU is more readily interpreted as Open University, being a graduate of that institution, rather than the other place.
17  Arterial route in Australia or Tasmania (5)
AORTA – Hidden answer in [australi}A OR TA{smania}.
19  Draw attention from cuts in English energy (7)
ECLIPSE – CLIPS (cuts) hidden inside E{nglish} and E{nergy}.
20  Shark vessel circles swirling fog (7)
DOGFISH – DISH (vessel) surrounds (circles) an anagram (swirling) of [FOG].  DOGFISH is a generic name for small shark of various kinds.
22  Stove at home once more (5)
AGAIN – AGA (stove) and IN (at home).  After a tradename appeared last week, here we have another in AGA, from the original Swedish manufacturers.
23  Teaches ceramics class for geeks (13)
TRAINSPOTTERS – TRAINS (teaches) and POTTERS (ceramics class).  A GEEK is someone who is obsessively enthusiastic especially about computers, but many would argue that TRAINSPOTTERS are at least GEEKish.

Down

Football team in China excellent (6)
PALACE – PAL (china, cockney rhyming slang, china plate, mate) and ACE (excellent), referring, of course, to Crystal Palace Football Club.
Lake and river rose catastrophically (9)
RESERVOIR – Anagram (catastrophically) of [RIVER ROSE].
Sincere answer Hemingway accepts? (7)
EARNEST – ERNEST (Ernest Miller Hemingway, the American writer) ‘accepting’ A{nswer}.
4  We help in their shambolic call to vote (5-4,4)
THREE-LINE WHIP – Anagram (shambolic) of [WE HELP IN THEIR].  In parliament, a THREE-LINE WHIP is a call for members to be in their places ready for a vote or division.
5  Nothing unaltered in desert haven (5)
OASIS – O (nothing) and AS IS (unaltered).
6 Diamonds set evenly in circlet (3)
ICE – Alternate / even letters in {c}I{r}C{l}E{t}.
7  Non-drinker in row causes giggle (6)
TITTER – TT (tee-total or non-drinker) inside TIER (row).  ‘Oooh no, missus, TITTER ye not’ as Frankie Howerd used to say.
12  Say A380 flying near a Pole (9)
AEROPLANE – Anagram (flying) of [NEAR A POLE].  A380 is a reference to an Airbus wide-bodied AEROPLANE, not many of which are currently flying.
14  Brave man to vex six-footer (7)
GALLANT – GALL (to vex) and ANT (six-footer, an insect).  A GALLANT is a dashing, debonair young man.
15  Robber also cutting dash (6)
BANDIT – AND (also) ‘cutting’ (inside) BIT (dash, as in a bit of / dash of salt).
16  Slip catch turned game (6)
TENNIS – SIN (slip) and NET (catch) all reversed (turned).
18  Foreign article contains untruth (5)
ALIEN – AN (indefinite article) with LIE (untruth) inside (containing).
21  State purpose briefly (3)
GOA – GOA{l} (purpose) briefly = drop the last letter.  GOA is a state on the SW coast of India.

Times 27,869: Now I Really Want A Waterproof Unitard

It's early enough that I can say it without much fear of correction, best puzzle of the year so far, with not a single lacklustre clue and many, many candidates for COD. My time ticked well over the 10 minute mark, mostly because I was wondering if 27ac could be RAT IN by false analogy to DOB IN (see blog title for cryptic reasoning). 9ac also took a while to fall, due to the unfamiliar term and the clever lift-and-separation required to make sense of the clue.

I loved loved loved 6ac, the gorgeous surface of 16ac, the late (post-solve) PDM of 3dn, the reverse cryptic, and of course the Oxford and classics reference. A puzzle made for me really, so I'll forgive it for having the gall to namecheck one of my Club Leaderboard archrivals. Brilliant stuff, and my highest commendations to the setter. I hope today (and not yesterday, Washington DC-side) is 2021 kicking off as it means to go on!

ACROSS
1 Such easy puzzles, containing hint of Latin and ancient Greek (9)
AESCHYLUS - (SUCH EASY*) "containing" L{atin}. "Puzzles" is the anagram indicator, and the ancient Greek is the man responsible for such dramatic works as The Oresteia.

6 City lack passion going forward, oddly? The very opposite (5)
OSAKA - {l}A{c}K {p}A{s}S{i}O{n}, but only the *even* letters, and going *backward*

9 When speaking, pop four pounds in (7)
BEETLES - homophone of BEATLES [pop four]. Apparently a beetle is a mallet or a pestle; one assumes it can be a verb as well

10 One old book? After set of newer ones, frankly (2,5)
IN TRUTH - I + RUTH [old (Testament) book] following NT [set of newer (books than the OT)]

11 Public officer’s glowing comment on periodical? (10)
MAGISTRATE - "1ST RATE!" on MAG

12 Left-wingers on Brexit revolting in one go (4)
BRIO - take the leftmost characters of B{rexit} R{evolting} I{n} O{ne} to find a word for "pep" or "go"

14 Prestige: it follows aristocrat around, mostly (5)
KUDOS - reversed SO DUK{e} [it follows | aristocrat]

15 Aftereffect of hair perm (5,4)
SHOCK WAVE - SHOCK [hair] + WAVE [perm]

16 Lockkeeper catching something cold and black in a net (5,4)
ALICE BAND - ICE B [something cold (and) black] in A + LAND [net]. "Lock" as in "of hair"

18 Chap having German vote for Eurovision entry reduced (5)
JASON - JA [German vote in favour] + SON{g}

20 A practice test taken orally with no control? (4)
AMOK - homophone of A MOCK

21 Tackle crow that’s damaged timepiece (5,5)
WATER CLOCK - (TACKLE CROW*)

25 Calling up first female, agreeing to replace the last (7)
EVOKING - take EVE, the first female, and replace her last letter with OK'ING [agreeing]

26 Excursionist runs in upsetting agent (7)
TRIPPER - R in TIPPER [agent of upsetting]

27 Shop returned waterproof coat missing (3,2)
RAT ON - reverse all of NO TAR [waterproof coat missing]

28 Ruling about reactionary in court not to our liking! (9)
REPUGNANT - REGNANT [ruling] about reversed UP [before the beak]

DOWN
1 Crust removed from half loaf that could take some cutting? (5)
ALBUM - {h}AL{f} + BUM [loaf]. As a former music industry insider I well remember talk of "cutting an album"

2 Annoyed as cricketer made move on runners (7)
SLEDGED - double def. As a non-sportsball-fan it took me a while to rule out DRAGGED

3 Relative in MI6? (4-6)
HALF-SISTER - because MI6 is the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS)

4 One wouldn’t succeed the Spanish queen (5)
LOSER - LOS E.R.

5 Exceptional quality it had soon deteriorating (9)
SAINTHOOD - (IT HAD SOON*)

6 One sworn to at home hides (4)
OATH - hidden in {t)O AT H{ome}

7 Pools appearing out of the blue, with breeze getting up (7)
AQUARIA - AQUA [blue] + reversed AIR

8 A quiet moment spare in museum (9)
ASHMOLEAN - A SH MO LEAN. The main museum in top British university town, Oxford

13 Crime at a high level, with Kentucky judge dismissing cases (10)
SKYJACKING - KY J "cased" by SACKING [dismissing]

14 Marsupial black at the tail, with nothing in the way of stomach (5,4)
KOALA BEAR - {blac}K, + O [nothing] À LA [in the way of] BEAR [stomach]

15 Fury after tax is raised for port (9)
STAVANGER - ANGER after reversed VAT'S

17 Few taking this could make weight correct (4,3)
IRON OUT - reverse cryptic: if you take Fe [iron] out of FEW, you are left with W [weight]

19 Weapons exploded, one in a pod (4,3)
SNOW PEA - (WEAPONS*)

22 Europeans on vacation head for bar (5)
ESTOP - E{uropean}S + TOP [head]

23 Ace in race vehicle getting measure of Americans (5)
KARAT - A in KART

24 Carnivore after meat joint gets stomach upset (4)
LION - L{O<->I}N