Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 24,849 / Crucible

Posted by Andrew on November 5th, 2009


At first I thought Crucible was a new setter, but I see he (?) has appeared a few times, most recently in September this year. Not surprisingly, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot provide a theme; despite half-expecting this I took a while to get 19dn, from which the linked clues followed easily, and generally this was not at all hard.
dd = double definition
* = anagram
< = reverse

10. JAZZMEN A ZZ ME in JN (Jordan’s “arms” or outer letters)
11. PHYLA Hidden in geograPHY LAbs. Phyla come below Kingdoms and above Classes in the Linnaean taxonomy of living things.
12. ON MESSAGE SS in GAME* in ONE. As politicians are sometimes said to be..
17. THUNDER SHEET TH(e) + UNDERSHEET. I presume the undersheet (surprisingly not in Chambers) is for children who wet their beds (so it’s “padding for childish outpourings”. I don’t know if King Lear was particularly known for that, though thundersheets are definitely needed for the famous mad scene – “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!”. “Under sheet” appears a couple of times in the last scene of the play, after Lear’s death.
20. TENOR CLEF RiCe in (ONE LEFT)*. The tenor clef is sometimes used in music for cello and trombone, among others.
22. DRAMA ARMADA* less its last A
23. SLEIGHT S(kilfu)L EIGHT (as in rowing)
25. SUSSEX gUeStS in SEX, with a cheeky but clever indication of the, um, insertion. An “old county” because it’s split into East and West Sussex for local government purposes.
2. EVELYN A very easy dd, referring to Evelyn Waugh and John Evelyn respectively.
4. GUNPOWDER PLOT (WOULDN’T GO + PREP)*. I don’t think the clue satisfactorily indicates that PREP is part of the anagram, but the surface reading is good.
8. NON-METAL NO (nitric oxide) + N(itrogen) + MET A L. I’m not a chemist, but surely “such elements” are “non-metallic” or “non-metals”; and it’s a pity the word metal is used in the previous clue. (I’m wrong: according to Chambers “non-metal” can be used as an adjective.)
10. JAMES THE FIRST dd, just about – James I was the target of the Gunpowder Plot, and was also James VI of Scotland.
18. PAPIST PI in PAST. Pi (or pie, or pye) is “type confusedly mixed”.
19. FAWKES F + K (unfortunat)E in WAS*, &lit. A cleverly devious clue for the thematic plotter.

39 Responses to “Guardian 24,849 / Crucible”

  1. Bryan says:

    Many thanks, Andrew, this was a toughie and I failed to get 17a THUNDER SHEET – whatever that is – although I had considered it as a possibility. I also failed with 16d QUINTETS.

    I’d never heard of 11a PHYLA but this was easy.

    I thought 10a JAZZMEN was good but I don’t recall any jazzman called Miller. Surely not Glenn? He was decidedly Swing.

    As for 25a I live in East Sussex which still exists as a postal address, so it’s hardly an ‘old county’. My initial thoughts centred on WESSEX.

  2. IanN14 says:

    I liked this one.
    Never heard of Sage or Phyla, but easily found.
    Liked 4d., 25ac. and 10ac. Bryan, I think Glenn Miller counts.
    I noticed that the setter had made this (deliberately, I presume) pangrammatic…

  3. Andrew says:

    Bryan – I agree that it might be dubious to call Glenn Miller a jazzman, but it was a nicely misleading reference to comedy due of Armstrong and Miller (as I meant to mention in the blog, but forgot). Google reveals a few jazzmen called Miller, but probably too obscure to be what was intended here.

    A thundersheet is a flexible sheet of metal used to create theatrical sound effects.

  4. IanN14 says:

    Andrew, Bryan, I know Wiki can be unreliable at times, but I don’t think there’s too much to argue with here.

  5. Bryan says:

    Thanks, IanN14, for the link in which Glenn is quoted as saying “I don’t want a jazz band”.

    My case rests.

  6. smutchin says:

    Whether Glenn Miller is a jazzman or not, it’s a lovely clue – the Armstrong & Miller reference is cleverly misleading, but the whole surface works very nicely to conjure up an amusing image.

    Didn’t fully understand the clues for 17a or 24a. Thanks for the clarifications, Andrew, though I’m still not entirely clear why “man on board” is “knight”. But I still managed to complete this with time to spare on the train this morning, despite never having heard of “TRADESCANTIA” or “POPLIN” – both were eminently gettable from their clues, as was generally the case today.

  7. Andrew says:

    Smutchin, the knight is a MAN on the chessBOARD.

  8. IanN14 says:

    I refer the jury to the link in comment No.2…

    (I don’t expect he’d want to be remembered as the pilot who went missing over the Channel, but…).

  9. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog, Andrew. The wordplay eluded me in a couple of places but I found this really enjoyable. I especially liked 10ac and 25ac.

    Had THUNDER STORM for a while until I corrected it.

  10. Chunter says:

    19dn: Can’t remember seeing F for ‘function’ before. (In maths functions are often denoted by ‘f’.)

  11. Ian says:

    The Armstrong & Miller clue represents some of the best misdirection I’ve seen for a long while.

    A mix of the straightforward and three or four fiendishly devillish clues. esp. 17ac and 16dn. Nevertheless, very enjoyable and topical.

  12. cholecyst says:

    IanN14 : Re pangrammatic. I have just checked and of course you are right – it can’t be a coincidence. Well spotted!

  13. smutchin says:

    Andrew #7: Doh! Of course. Thanks. Should have remembered that.

  14. Kathryn's Dad says:

    I’ve finally understood the wordplay in 25ac after some considerable headscratching. I think I need to get out more.

    Very enjoyable puzzle, a bit of a stretch for me even with the fairly obvious November 5th clues.

  15. Gareth Rees says:

    Bryan #1: SUSSEX as an administrative county was abolished by the Local Government Act 1888, so I think “old county” is fine. It may be current in other senses of “county” (postal county, ceremonial county), but we only need one sense to justify a crossword clue.

  16. Trench Adviser says:

    I liked this, but…

    Nitric oxide isn’t an element.

    I don’t understand what PI means in 18d. Any explanation would be gratefully received.

  17. Gareth Rees says:

    Nitric oxide isn’t a chemical element, but the word “element” has other meanings. Chambers has (among other senses) “an ingredient” so the clue seems fine to me.

    Chambers again: “pie, pi n. type confusedly mixed: a mixed state: confusion.” It’s hard to find actual uses of the word, but here’s one from The Design Manual by David Whitbread: “There have always been dingbat fonts. They haven’t always been called that, because it’s the American word used to describe a font of symbols. Europeans used to call them pi fonts (after the mathematical symbol pi—?), symbol fonts or fleurons (or in England, printer’s flowers).”

    Chambers gives a different etymology to that given by Whitbread: “Origin obscure; perhaps connected with pie? [the food dish] or pie² [a book of rules for determining the Church office for the day]”.

  18. Gareth Rees says:

    [Those ? marks were supposed to be π and ⁴ respectively.]

  19. Trench Adviser says:

    Thanks for that. I think I understand after having done a little more research. It is mixed up letters i.e. type in printing? A technical piece of jargon from the printing industry?

  20. Chunter says:

    Trench Adviser: yes – see

  21. Gareth Rees says:

    The OED has clearer definitions than Chambers:

    1. Printing. A mass of type in confusion or mingled indiscriminately, such as results from the accidental breaking up of a form of type.

    2. A jumble, a mess; a state of confusion. Now rare.

    It gives the etymology “Origin uncertain; probably transferred use of PIE n.² [the food dish], with reference to its miscellaneous contents. Compare French pâté mass of confused type (1690).”

  22. Dave Ellison says:

    My last one was 19d; why is it so difficult to fill in the blanks: _A_I_T? I thought at first in must be something in HIST, but that didn’t work. The only other I could think of was SADIST, but clearly not right.

    Did no one else notice the Weatherwatch article above the crossword? I usually read that before starting, but, of course, I didn’t today! It contained two answers and a strong hint for 19d.

    There is an obituary of Frank Blakesley, who was JANUS, on p39 of today’s Guardian

  23. Dave Ellison says:

    18d I mean, not 19d

  24. Andrew says:

    The obituary Dave mentions is also available online.

  25. muck says:

    Excellent puzzle from Crucible. I did finish it unaided before checking out Andrew’s blog, but wasn’t clear about the wordplay for 18dn PAPIST or 19dn FAWKES. So thanks everyone!

    #22 Dave Ellison. I didn’t notice until later either, the Weatherwatch article, immediately above in the paper version.

  26. Crucible says:

    Thanks for all your comments. Last time (9/9/9) I had to eat humble pi, having broken the Roman numeral rules. This time I seem to have got away relatively unscathed. Calling Miller a jazzman was, I admit, chancing my arm a bit, but the pairing was irresistible. The pangram was a weak alternative for my failure to work in some more thematic elements. Enjoy yourselves tonight. We had our festivities last weekend, on the 31st.

  27. Paul B says:

    But … but … but just because Glenn says ‘I don’t want a jazz band’ doesn’t mean he isn’t a jazzman. Or that he didn’t have a jazz band (what else was it, one wonders). Swing is jazz, isn’t it? Y’know, as in trad, swing, bop, modern, fusion?

    Anyway, what a good puzzle. At least two fine offerings then, for jolly old, proto-revolutionary old Nov 5.

  28. John says:

    Forgive my evident thickness, but where’s the pangram?

  29. Gareth Rees says:

    The grid is pangrammatic: each letter of the alphabet appears at least once.

  30. Bryan says:

    Many thanks for dropping in, Crucible, and for a very enjoyable puzzle.

    I seem to recall that you also dropped in on the occasion of your last puzzle.

    More of the same, please.

  31. Jacq says:

    More Crucible please.

  32. Sil van den Hoek says:

    I remember me saying “Crucible’s got style, but I am not sure if I like that style”
    (in my post re his September rendering).

    Well, I am damned sure now.
    This was one of the best crosswords I solved recently.
    Nothing too hard, everything completely fair, very clever constructions, beautiful surfaces – what more could you want?

    More than 30 posts so far, and none of them has anything to say about mistakes, dubious indicators etc.

    10ac is so brilliant that All That Jazz about Glenn Miller is a complete waste of time.
    And what a fantastic insertion indicator in SUSSEX.
    Brought a smile on my face, just like the ZZ of 10ac.
    Very smooth anagrinds in 3dn and 7dn.
    Great clueing of the THINK part of 24ac.
    Fine surfaces in, for example, 13 ac (the use of “plant”) and 16dn.
    Plus two very good &lits.

    Some say: more, please!

    Yes, please!

    Today, Crucible has entered my Top 10 of favourite setters.
    With a bullet.

  33. brr says:

    Janus was my first introduction to the Guardian crossword many moons ago, so it was sad to hear the news today. I started doing cryptics again after a very long hiatus, but was Janus the Rufus of his day?

  34. Alex says:

    An excellent puzzle, with some great clues. As others have commented, 10ac is great. It was one of the last we filled in. While the topical misdirection wasn’t too difficult to spot, getting to the answer was a challenge.

    Had no idea what Sage had to do with Gateshead in 1ac, but the correct answer was fairly clear.

    As noted in comment #32, Crucible definitely has style and the puzzle had a distinctive feel to it. Very enjoyable.

  35. liz says:

    brr — Janus was also one of my routes in to the Guardian crossword years ago and I seem to remember that his puzzles often appeared on a Monday, like those by Rufus.

    Sil — I quite agree about today’s puzzle! It was a treat, and I look forward to more. My daughter, who is learning how to do cryptics, got quite a few today and was thrilled. Some of the time she didn’t see the wordplay — which also reminds me that the wit and pleasure I got from Araucaria puzzles in the early days (almost never seeing the wordplay) encouraged me to keep trying.

  36. Frugilegus says:

    Not overwhelmingly tough – finished this over a return tube journey which I can’t always do. But very enjoyable and satisfying: when I didn’t understand all the bits of the clue (e.g. Sage in 1ac) I could still work them out – then go away and learn some new things afterwards. And being forced to chuckle out loud on public transport is a good sign too.

  37. muck says:

    Crucible, if you were 7d for your 9/9/9 puzzle, I hope it wasn’t me.

  38. Glenn Hackney says:

    I loved the Armstrong and Miller clue which came to me when I fitted the “z” but it was marvellously mis-directingcting.

    I think that swing is jazz in as much as punk or electric-folk are forms of rock music, but then I would say that!

  39. PaulK says:

    I struggled to get going on this one when it came in the Guardian Weekly for the week 13-19 November. Then I read the small print that said that it was first published on 5 November and the penny dropped! I was then able to finish the puzzle, a rare event for me, although I had to come here to get full explanations for 1a, 18 & 24. The clever word play and many nice surfaces were delightful. I hope the Guardian Weekly will select more crosswords by Crucible.

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