Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 24672 / Rufus

Posted by mhl on April 13th, 2009


As usual, an excellent puzzle from Rufus – there are some particularly satisfying cryptic definitions here.

9. OPENER Double definition
10. PROP PRO = “for” + P[arty]
11. BROOMSTICK A brilliant cryptic definition
12. ATHENE HEN = “female” in ATË
14. INNUENDO (UNION)* around END = “wind up”
15. GIRAFFE Cryptic definition; its food is “superior” in the sense of being higher up
17. GOLIATH Cryptic definition; David brought Goliath down with a rock from a sling
20. CAST-IRON CAST = “players” + IRON = “club”
22. CASTLE Double definition
24. STOP S = “second” + TOP = “best”
25. TATTOO Double definition; “beating” is from the definition that Chamber gives as “a beat of a drum or other signal calling soldiers to quarters” (from which we get the Military Tattoo, presumably)
26. STREAMER A tricky split word: SHIP = “steamer” around [pie]R
1. LIBRETTI Cryptic definition: a libretto isn’t just the words of an opera, but also the book of them
2. HELP HE = “man” + LP = “record”
3. STABLE Double definition; “Fast” as in “tied down”
4. COMMANDO COMMAND = “to order” + O = “duck”
6. FENCED A nice cryptic definition: “foil” as in the sport of fencing
13. ELASTICITY Cryptic definition
18. TALK OVER Double definition
21. APEMAN NAME + PA reversed
22. CHEERS Double definition
24. SCAN SC = “Science” + AN = “article”

42 Responses to “Guardian 24672 / Rufus”

  1. Ian says:

    I was surprised to see a Rufus puzzle with a moderately clever and challenging clue (7A). The rest was a waste of time, but at least not much time. Does anyone else miss having a propoer cryptic almost every Monday? I’ve complained to the editor, but was told that (astonishingly) Rufus is the second most popular setter, after Araucaria.

  2. Eileen says:

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Rufus is one of the most popular setters. Week after week, he comes up with puzzles which are constantly described as ‘a gentle start to the week’ and much appreciated by those who are perhaps new to cryptics or still feeling frazzled after battling with an ‘obscure’ Saturday prize puzzle. I think I’m well-known as an Araucaria fan, exasperating though he can so often be, but I also greatly admire the elegance and wit of Rufus, although I know he produces too many cryptic clues for some people’s tastes.

    This puzzle didn’t take too long, it’s true, but it was far from being a waste of time. As mhl says, there were some very satisfying clues, several of them [eg 11 and 24ac, 13dn] beautifully succinct, and some great surfaces [eg 14, 17, 23ac and 5, 6 and 16 dn.]

    Thanks, mhl, for a great blog. Happy Easter, all!

  3. mhl says:

    Ian: the question of whether the Guardian’s policy of having an easier crossword on Monday is a good one has been discussed here a number of times. You’re certainly not alone, but it seems in the past as if the majority of commenters here would disagree and appreciate that first day of the week is a bit easier. And, as Eileen says, it’s no surprise that his clues are so widely enjoyed by solvers.

    Personally, I often find that Rufus’s puzzles are just as difficult (and as fun) as the other days of the week, but I’m told that’s atypical. :)

    Eileen: likewise, Happy Easter!

  4. Fletch says:

    Cryptic definition clues I assume you mean, Eileen.

  5. Eileen says:

    Thanks, Fletch: yes, of course.

  6. Monica M says:

    Happy Easter All,

    I’m a big fan of Rufus, as he was one of the setters which allowed me to fathom puzzles as a self-taught solver … of course until I discovered this site.

    Also as a worker without access to dictionaties etc on the train, it is a pleasure to be able to solve a puzzle without assistance, which is part of his charm.

    Lots of smiles for me in this offering.

  7. Paul B says:

    I certainly smiled at one of the responses to mhl’s excellent blog, but I’m not going to say which one.

    Personally I might have struggled on my Australian bus or train with matches named for the ‘Roman goddess of the hearth and its fire’, but then, this could have been Rufus’ nod to the fact that today is a Bank Holiday Monday (in UK at least), ‘pon which we *could* have expected a very difficult puzzle indeed. I was disappointed in that respect, but at least I’ve a couple of Easter Eggs in the fridge awaiting their destiny.

    As to the difficulty of Monday puzzles in the Grundaia* – and elsewhere – I’m sure most people find Rufus’ offerings on the easy side. There are other easy names on the G, whereof the quality isn’t always up to the mark. I think other rags such as The Items* either operate or have operated a Progressive Difficulty System (‘PDS’) to some level of success. I’m not in favour of it really – a good puzzle is a good puzzle is a good puzzle, regardless of how hard/’Ximenean’/’Libertarian’ it is.

  8. Monica M says:

    Hi Paul,

    Had I been on the train today, I’d have saved ATE up for when I got home to check meaning, but I still would have reached the answer. With some of the other setters, that is jsut not possible for me.

    Fortunately, it is a public holiday here as well … back to the grind tomorrow.

  9. Arthur says:

    I rather like Rufus puzzles, and this one was fun and clever (if you consider that 1dn is basically a straight definition, it’s very hard to put in without a few checking letters). I agree that they’re a bit easier than later in the week, but I’d say harder than Roger Squires Monday output in the Telegraph. I like the Guardian’s mix of difficulties and it’s quite nice to know that Monday will be easy, Saturday (and usually Wednesday) hard, and the others in between. My only issue would be that on Sunday, the Everyman is the easiest of the lot (and AZED is beyond me at the minute) so you end up with two easys in a row.

  10. liz says:

    I enjoy Rufus puzzles because they are often elegant and witty, even when they are ‘easy’. There’s an art to that, I think.

    Arthur — I agree that 1dn is hardly cryptic at all and this was the least satisfactory clue for me. But I liked 11ac and 13dn.

  11. mhl says:

    Arthur: I see what you mean, but there’s a big difference in style between Rufus and the Everyman, so they often end up as a good contrast, I think. It’s a shame that no one is blogging the Everyman any more – I would offer to do so if I had more time at the moment…

    Paul B: assuming that’s a hint, we’ll be looking out for the Easter Eggs :)

  12. Paul B says:

    Even higher in cholesterol than real eggs, they tell me MHL.

    Arthur: I agree with you about the G mix, but every paper has that. I think. In the past there have been efforts to create an increase in difficulty day-on-day, so you’d start easy on Mon, and have searing torture on Sat. What I’m not sure about is whether this was ever a success, and whether it’s still being pursued as an ideal.

  13. Arthur says:

    Paul B. I think the general rule seems to be either you have named setters and varying difficulties (Guardian, Independent and FT) or anonymous setters and a pretty constant difficulty level (Telegraph – easy, Times – hard).

    Naming setters also allows a more personal style since solvers can ignore a crossword if they don’t like that setter (or get into the right mindset). This is actually slightly more complex since the Telegraph don’t have names setters, but each day of the week is associated with one person so it is possible to “know” the setter there too.

    As to increasing difficulty levels day-on-day, I’m not sure if some of the papers are trying to do it now, but I’m pretty sure that the Guardian isn’t. Paul is regarded by many (including Hugh Stephenson) as the hardest living Guardian setter and yet he most commonly appears on Wednesday. I think the only rules are easy Monday, hard Saturday.

    Sorry if that was all stuff you already knew…

  14. Arthur says:

    Mhl – I’d like an Everyman blog too as I love the cosiness of that crossword. Do you know why they stopped (i.e no demand or did the blogger have no time?)? I wouldn’t mind having a go if the demand was there. Does anyone know when it would have to be done by (I assume not before Thursday)

  15. mhl says:

    For Everyman posts, they would have to appear after the last possible post on the next Saturday.

    There’s some discussion of why the Everyman posts stopped here:

    … and there were a couple more posts in the Everyman category from Colin Blackburn after that:

    This is a bit off-topic, though, so it might be best to ask anything further in the “Fifteensquared Feedback” thread.

  16. Paul B says:

    Well, certainly some papers have a nameless setter policy, but the difficulty level at The Times varies quite a bit (as any visit to their Penguin series books illustrates), and as far as I know they were at one point quite into difficulty ramping. (The Telegraph is always, it seems to me, an absolute pushover, with the so-called Toughie much the same apart from some outrageous latitude in the re-naming of commonplace SI parts, and use of indication.)

    The anonymity of their compilers is something of a moot point too, with certain among them going as far as signing their grids – I suppose that is what you might call a personal touch! There was a somewhat notorious Farewell inscribed in one fellow’s grid too, but I couldn’t possibly mention it without risking the wrath of our friendly local moderator.

  17. Andrew Kitching says:

    Having only started doing cryptics less than 6 months ago, I would say ‘Everyman’ and ‘Rufus’ (who I think occasionally sets for ‘Everyman’ when Alan Scott is unavailable) are needed. Not all of us have the brain the size of a planet which can do a difficult Guradian, Independent or Times i less than 10 minutes.

    If I have a criticism of ‘Everyman’ it is that there are too many Ancient History or Shakespeare characters in it. What is needed for beginners is a fairly straightforward ‘Ximenean’ crossword, so that you get used to building words from component parts.

    One more thing: the step up to AZED is huge. The Observer needs someone like Don Manley to set a tough, but fair cryptic as a stepping stone to barred crosswords.

    Anyone suggest where I go after ‘Everyman’?

  18. smutchin says:

    I enjoyed this as much as I always enjoy Rufus. He may not be the hardest setter but he’s always great fun. And as Paul B said, there are other equally easy setters who lack his verve.

    I don’t often look at the Everyman but usually enjoy it when I do. Quite a different style to Rufus – a lot more strictly Ximenean as far as I can tell, but not lacking in wit or elegance.

    Just because a crossword is easy, that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time.

  19. smutchin says:

    Arthur, if you’re interested in blogging the Everyman, I wouldn’t mind sharing the burden by doing it on alternate weeks. I don’t know if demand for it would be huge but I certainly think it would be worth doing – for all the reasons mentioned in the comments on the page Paul B linked to.

    (Chatmeister – apologies for off-topicness. I would post this in chat but I don’t know that Arthur would see it.)

  20. smutchin says:

    Andrew K – have you tried the FT? Some very well-crafted and accessible puzzles going on over there, and you can get them online for free too.

  21. Andrew K says:

    Thanks. I’ll try the FT

  22. Ian says:

    Just got home to see that my morning post garnered quite a bit of support for Rufus. I take the point that a gentle start to the week is appreciated, and indeed I like mild curry sometimes — but if I order a mild curry and get porridge instead, I am disappointed. In my view, Rufus is so far out of the general level of difficulty of the average Guardian setter that he doesn’t belong here. As others have noted, he uses many cryptic definitions, but too many (e.g., 1D today) aren’t even remotely cryptic.

    To those beginners who need a very gentle slope to learn on, there’s always the Everyman, Telegraph (on which I cut my teeth) or Evening Standard (though the quality is poor). For those who are used to something harder, though, it’s a bit much to expect us to go two whole days with nothing worth doing. (I stopped doing the Everyman ages ago and have to fill my Sundays with the Genius and Private Eye.)

    When nappy-changing duties forced my to cut back to one crossword a day, I dropped the Times because the Guardian seemed more challenging. I think I’ll switch back.

  23. mhl says:

    Andrew Kitching: I think the best next step is just to pick a daily crossword and try each puzzle religiously every day for half an hour (or whatever you can afford) and make sure that you check here [1] to work out why you missed particular answers. The feedback step is very important, and I think I only started significantly improving my solving once I had that.

    If you particularly like the Everyman’s scrupulous application of the rules, I’d probably suggest The Independent, which is consistently fair, albeit sometimes very tough.

    [1] Or wherever appropriate: Times for the Times, Big Dave’s Crossword Blog, etc.

  24. Paul B says:

    Andrew Kitching says ‘what is needed for beginners is a fairly straightforward Ximenean crossword so that you get used to building words from component parts’. What!? I hope for his sake that he is not under the impression that *only* ‘Ximenean’ compilers build clues using A + B = C.

    If there is some kind of fear about The Libertarians (starting post-watershed this Autumn on Channel 5 – contains mild peril, swearing and drinking) presenting clues in such a way so as to befuddle purely on the grounds of fairness, I think this needs to be corrected before AK proceeds along the road to consummate solverhood.

    It should be remembered that (a) Ximenes proclaimed himself the antidote to the kind of jungly, impenetrable (even by machete) nonsense perpetrated by Torquemada rather than anything else in particular, (b) that he died several centuries ago in 1971, since which time popular blocked crossword compiling (esp. via the likes of Araucaria, bete noir of so-called Xims everywhere) has developed out of tougher puzzles and come a very long way indeed, and (c) ‘Libertarian’ is a term cooked up by ‘Ximeneans’ to describe someone who doesn’t receive an invite to The Listener Dinner.

    Being ‘Ximenean’ has come to mean being fair grammatically so that both your surface and cryptic reading work hand-in-hand to produce something tidy, but you’re as likely to find beautifully crafted/ absolutely execrable offerings in either camp – including, unfortunately for the post-Xims, poor old Azed, who currently features almost as many howlers as The Gua-nadir.

    But good luck to AK, who at some point will have to be 47.

  25. gav says:

    I like Rufus – it might be too easy for you guys but for someone like me – three weeks experience I’m still very much finding my feet.

    Did the Everyman yesterday but it took me until lunchtime today to get 1a and 1 down. Obvious in the end but I still lack the necessary experience.

    If folk were happy to blog the Everyman – you might find it’ll help learners like me.

    Great blog by the way – if I had the ability to assist I would help. Maybe in a few months time :-)

  26. Eileen says:

    Gav: no, Rufus is not ‘too easy’. Please see my [and others’] earlier comments. Lovely to have you join us. Please stick at it.

    Having sifted through all the off-topic stuff, I think that Ian’s objections to Rufus have been well and truly refuted [sic], on a number of grounds.

    To be absolutely honest, having been at a loose end on a Bank Holiday, I might have preferred a rather more lengthy solve but, as several people have said, ease of solution does not necessarily mean lack of quality in cluing or satisfaction in solving. It could well be that the holiday gives an opportunity for people who have never tried a cryptic to give it a go. And the Guardian’s practice is to pose the big Bank Holiday puzzle on the Saturday – and I hope everyone enjoyed Araucaria’s challenge. I certainly did.

  27. gav says:

    I’m afraid that Araucaria on Saturday left me struggling.

    I did three or four clues but didn’t really understand the ‘take the ending off the across clues’ – I instead had a go at another Rufus from a few weeks ago and me and pal knocked it off between us in an hour or so. Two heads certainly better than one.

    Thanks for your kind encouragement Eileen. I will certainly persist and hopefully improve. However the advantage of being ‘a bit crap’ is that the eureka moments of ‘of course that’s the bloomin’ answer’ are quite regular and hence quite enjoyable when you finally get them.


  28. Eileen says:

    Gav – at risk of going off-topic – if you’ve really been solving for only three weeks, I admire you for attempting an Araucaria Bank Holiday puzzle! But, if you’ve time during the week, and friends to help, it’s well worth sticking at. I think the down clues are rather easier than usual and, if you concentrate on them, they can give you a lead into the ‘across’ theme.

  29. dagnabit says:

    Thank you for the blog, mhl. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who sees Rufus as a challenge sometimes – it took me what felt like ages to finish the upper right corner and the entire bottom half. Perhaps it’s that I’m at work today, unlike many of you, and my brain often fails me on Mondays.

    Paul B, thank you for explaining VESTA, whose meaning still eluded me after completing the grid.

    I enjoyed reading the discussion of the different styles of crosswords and levels of difficulty in the UK papers – thank you all for the edifying comments. I cut my cryptic teeth almost three decades ago on the barred crosswords in Harper’s Magazine and the Atlantic Monthly, then jumped to the weekly blocked cryptic in The Nation. Online, I first discovered the Irish Times cryptic and then the Guardian, which fast became my favorite – though not enough to pay for it when it became subscription-only. :) During that dark interim I bided my time by making my way slowly through two Araucaria books.

    I hope those of you who had a bank holiday today had a pleasant day!

  30. Stiofain says:

    I am firmly in the Rufus fan camp for his wit and tight clues and though he can be slated for being a quick solve for the more experienced why is that a problem?
    I first got into doing cryptics when working backstage in theatre 20 years ago where there is a lot of hanging around and the guardian xword is a popular pastime.
    At the time a more experienced solver and Rufus fan described him as being like a drug dealer who gives away free samples to get the customer hooked on the heavy stuff.

  31. liz says:

    re 24. Paul — You have made me LOL several times today, which is no mean feat! Here’s to entertainment value in puzzles and all else.

  32. Fletch says:

    Chatmeister must be away, or most of this off-topic stuff would’ve been dumped in the Chatroom.

  33. Derek Lazenby says:

    I just had my first 3 days back on the preserved railway I volunteer on so I haven’t had time to give today’s offering a go. But I have absolutely no sympathy for experts who expect a “daily puzzle” to be compiled just for them. Sorry, but experts are by definition a minority. They should have the humility to recognise their talent is unusual and not expect a puzzle which is intended to be for general consumption to be satisfying to them. Get a specialist book if you want expert puzzles, don’t expect daily puzzles to pander to the smallest of small minorities. That is just elitism of the worst kind. And sorry if that seems harsh, but I can’t think of any other way to say it. So let me demonstrate that I understand the frustration of the expert by way of providing balance….

    I am an expert in the field of real time computer programming. I have to constantly remember my place in the grand scheme of things. And that is that things are not run for my benefit, they are run for the less talented majority. I learnt to live with that, and I can’t see why others can’t do the same in other fields of endevour. I feel it keenly in my own area, things would be so much better if it was geared to my ability, but it isn’t, that is just the way it is, I live with it and don’t bitch about it.

  34. Andrew K says:

    There are a lot of Everyman fans who would appreciate a regular blog I think.

  35. Ian says:

    Derek, I too spent the day on a Preserved Railway (the Bluebird), so perhaps we have more in common than meets the eye, but I never said I expected expert puzzles to be crafted especially for me. My point is just that Rufus seems to be on a different scale of magnitude from the rest of the Guardian setters. I am perfectly happy with the general level of difficulty, which is why I settled on the Guardian in the first place. Having done so, though, I am persistently dissapointed with the nearly-regular appearance of Rufus on Monday with what seems to me, by comparison to the rest of the week, cringingly easy and too often not even cryptic. Easy crosswords have their place in the world, but why should it be in the midst of a bunch of other crosswords that are much more clever?

  36. Derek Lazenby says:

    Ok, point taken. Ya should see how many times people get my points wrong! But somebody has got hook in the less talented otherwise the Guardian would lose them to other papers. There has to be a carrot to suck ’em in.

  37. liz says:

    Derek — I agree re the carrot. Recently I’ve been teaching my daughter to do cryptics — she’s a Guardian reader like me — and the confidence she’s gained on the nursery slopes has helped her with the harder puzzles. I wouldn’t say ‘less talented’ though — surely it’s simply a question of practice. What I find interesting is the things my daughter spots easily and I don’t and vice versa.

  38. Al Streatfield says:

    I agree with Ian’s opening comment. Ironically Rufus’s penchant for cryptic definitions (or, in the case of LIBRETTI, virtually non-cryptic definitions) make solving the puzzle more difficult than it should be for something that is called a “gentle start to the week”. Although I thought LIBRETTI was the answer I didn’t feel confident about putting it in because I couldn’t see how it was cryptic…

  39. Paul B says:

    Not sure what ‘other papers’ the Graun would lose its Rufus fans to, but thanks for the lecture. I think it was mentioned elsewhere that there are quite a few easy Graun compilers, not all as hot on the quality control (although it’s not strictly their responsibility!) as Squiresy. Maybe Ian’s just suffering from having got good – he now has to pick his day to solve the G, or get his cortex twisted in The Indy. Like today’s Indy, for example (Cortez was twisted too, but that’s another story).

    Personally I still think easy can be good, just as the use of really obvious SI and indication can be good. It just tends not to be, that’s all.

  40. mhl says:

    Paul B: I meant to ask before – what do you mean by SI? I was guessing “subsidiary [something]”…

  41. Barnaby Page says:

    Al – I think the crypticness (crypticism? crypticality?) in 1d comes from the double meaning of “books”, as in (a) “reserves tickets” and (b) the specialist music-theatre meaning of “book” – to quote Wikipedia, “book can refer to the dialogue and lyrics together, which are sometimes referred to (as in opera) as the libretto”.

  42. C.G. Rishikesh says:

    On the request for a blog on Everyman crossword: Please see #129ff. in Chat Room: General Crossword Discussion.

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