Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 24865 – Gordius

Posted by Uncle Yap on November 24th, 2009

Uncle Yap.

dd = double definition
cd = cryptic definition
rev = reversed or reversal
ins = insertion
cha = charade
ha = hidden answer
*(fodder) = anagram

I have previously touched on the tendency of some compilers to be unmindful of their puzzles reaching an international audience and the need NOT to be parochial. My enjoyment of today’s puzzle was somewhat marred by two clues with obscure places (12A & 17D) which I am sure most Britons will have difficulty identifying with.  Otherwise, it was a delightful puzzle with many different devices to tickle one’s grey cells.

1 PAGODA PA & GOD (neat switch from Godfather) + A
4 SCOWLS Ins of COW (ruminant)  + L (left) in SS (on board)
9 MONEY FOR OLD ROPE *(of poor led + MONEY & R) I appear to be a tad dense this morning … am I parsing this right? P/S Thanks to Dr Ivan Reid, the parsing should be as follows : MONEY FOR (price of) + OLD ROPE *(poor led)
10 SEPTIC Presumably September the first (start of school year?) + C (circa or about)
11 HOMEBREW *(whom beer)
12 CRAYFORD Cha of CRAY (fish) FORD (car) for an obscure place somewhere in the London Borough of Bexley whose connection with Watling Street is even more tenuous and going back to Roman times in Britain. According to Farlex Free Dictionary, “Crayford is the probable site of a Roman station on Watling Street.” Wonder how this narrowly parochial clue got pass the crossword editor.
14 LENITY Cha of LEN (boy) IT + Y (variable), a noun derived from lenient. Most of us will use the more familiar leniency
15 REVAMP Cha of REV (reverend or vicar) AMP (ampere or current)
18 PROPHESY *(prays + hope minus a)
21 AIRBORNE *(Robin ear)
22 SATIRE SA (rev of as) TIRE (weary)
24 RECOVER THE ASHES *(see over the crash)
25 TOSS-UP TO + rev of PUSS (cat)
26 PETROL The essence of Sarcozy’s movement? (6) I stared long and hard but the wordplay continues to escape me. I also wonder whether this is the French President alluded to but Guardian usually spells his name Sarkozy. P/S Thanks to Eileen, “essence” is the French word for petrol; hence something that fuels French President Sarkozy’s movement on French roads … still doesn’t explain how and why his name has been misspelt in the clue

1 PIONEER Ins of ONE in PIER (support)
2 GHENT Ins of H (horse) in GENT (fellow) Allusion to “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” by Robert Browning (1812–89)
3 DE FACTO *(two faced minus w) nicely indicated by W(with) OUT
5 CALOMEL *(all come) for a chemical compound, mercurous chloride, used in medicine as a purgative.
6 WORKBENCH *(when Brock)
7 SAPIENT Ins of A PI (one religious or pious) in SENT
8 ORCHID Ins of CH (church) in O (nothing) RID (free)
13 YEARBOOKS Cha of YEAR (long time) BOOKS (orders)
16 EXIGENT Ins of GEN (information) in EXIT (get out)
17 PARVENU Ins of VEN (Venerable archdeacon)  in PAR ( a village and fishing port situated about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) east of St Austell, on the south coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom) + U (classy) Again, I wonder how the name of an obscure village is allowed by the crossword editor when PAR can be so easily (and more fairly) clued as level, standard, norm, usual, …, average or mean (Chambers Thesaurus)
18 PRETTY Ins of R (Roger) in PETTY (no big deal)
19 OBSCENE OB (died) SCENE (spot)
20 SURREAL SURREY minus Y + A L (line)
23 TASER *(tears)

49 Responses to “Guardian 24865 – Gordius”

  1. sidey says:

    Good morning Uncle Yap. I often disagree with your comments about parochiality, I must agree with your comments in this case. The majority of Watling Street isn’t even in Kent. ‘Cray’ seems to be an Antipodean abbreviation for the non-fish crayfish. And presumably ‘van’ refers to the almost ubiquitous Ford Transit van. A van could be a Transit, and they’re made by Ford. Surely a ‘clue to a clue’? On the whole a dreadful clue.
    As for Par, well really…
    And 9a, price = money? I can’t find that as a synonym. ‘of poor led’ is nine letters so not an anagram of ‘for old rope’.
    Then we have ‘recover the ashes’. Has anyone ever used this is a non-cricketing context?
    A truly ghastly effort.
    Sorry for the negativity. I’m off Graun crosswords now and won’t comment further.

  2. Eileen says:

    Thank you, Uncle Yap.

    Re 26ac: ‘essence’ is French for PETROL and therefore presumably involved in Sarkozy’s ‘movement’

    Hi Sidey

    I agree with all you say, especially about 9ac [price = money and the dreadful non-anagram] but I’ve never professed to be a Gordius fan!

    PAR, I think, is rather more forgivable than CRAYFORD: although only a village, it is a holiday resort and therefore reasonably well-known.

    But, speaking of parochiality, schools here regularly start in August!

  3. David says:

    Thanks Uncle Yap – especially for the obscure places! I’d never heard of either of them.

    I read 9a as Price of = money for, and old rope = anagram of poor led.

  4. Ian says:

    Thanks Uncle Yap for the fulsome blogging this morning!

    An excellent effort from Gordius today and one that had me using a gazetteer of the UK looking for Cornish villages, where Watling Street went from/to. Not too diffilculy as Crayford turned up quickly. Par I know from my times at Fowey and its surroundings for my annual Spring visit to the Daphne Du Maurier festival.

    Good to see another literary reference via 2dn and also the humour of 23dn.

  5. Bryan says:

    Many thanks, Uncle Yap.

    I agree with all your comments but I really enjoyed this, having correctly guessed GHENT, PARVENU, CRAYFORD and LENITY without fully knowing how the clues worked. Although PETROL was the last one I got, I liked it a lot.

    Of course, FORD is not only a van; and is PROPHESY really an oracle? (I was looking for a Greek goddess.)

    However, I can forgive anything in the pursuit of pleasure.

  6. Eileen says:

    Thanks, David, that does make sense: my apologies to Gordius.

  7. walruss says:

    A truly awful puzzle, even if is has been trumped by the cock-up in today’s FT. I think the best way to sum this one up is to say ‘unprofessional’. Why to Guardian puzzles vary so much in quality, especially in the ‘clue technique’? It is a mystery to me.

  8. Bryan says:

    Walruss (@7)

    Could it be because they have different Setters?

  9. Chunter says:

    26ac: ‘Sarcozy’s movement’ is, I assume, a reference to the UMP. Does that help?

  10. walruss says:

    Well yes, Bryan, but I think you must know what I mean. Other papers have different setters too, but there’s a ‘quality control’ that covers all their puzzles. Think of The Times or The Independent. Is it too much to expect this from The Guardian.

  11. IanN14 says:

    I have to agree with the complaints here.
    “Cray” = “fish”? (I thought this was a particularly poor clue for so many reasons).
    Never heard of Par (and I was born in the south-west).
    “Rev” used twice…
    And anyone else not happy with “the” being in both wordplay and its anagram in 24ac.?
    Just one word in his defence; sorry Eileen, I have to disagree, my kids have always gone back to school in September (although never the 1st)…

  12. walruss says:

    And the French President is Sarkosy. Sarcozy is wrong.

  13. IanN14 says:

    …sorry, got mixed up with Revs and Vens.
    But, yeah, why is Sarkozy misspelled?

  14. liz says:

    Thanks, Uncle Yap. Finished this, but only with recourse to the check button in the top left corner. I’ve never heard of Crayford, Par or the Browning poem, which didn’t help.

    Have to agree with most of the comments here. I can’t remember Sept 1 ever being the start of the school year and I don’t like ‘cray’ for fish.

    I quite liked 11ac and the surface of 21ac, but on the whole I’m not a huge fan of this setter.

  15. IanN14 says:

    Perhaps the school thing is simply that a year does start at the beginning of September, when considering childrens’ birth dates?…

  16. rrc says:

    Answers went in quite happily but unfortunately I too need the check button for 2, 12, and 26

  17. Ian says:


    Correct IanN14!

  18. harry says:

    Am assuming sarcozy in 26is a reference to to “essence” being french for petrol. I know its a bit contrived, but…
    Also, in Scotland, the school year starts in mid-August.

    Let’s hope for better tomorrow.

  19. mhl says:

    Thanks for the post, Uncle Yap – I thought this was quite fun, though I sympathise about CRAYFORD, which was quite opaque to me as well. I also had trouble in the top left because of DE FACTO: I liked the “without” for “no W” too, but was I the only one who thinks of DE FACTO as a synonym for “actual” rather than “actually”? I was trying to make something like IN FACT fit. I thought the breakdown of YEARBOOKS was bit predictable.

    I think PARVENU was fine, for what it’s worth, since it was quite guessable from “upstart”, and figuring out that “classy” would then come at the end. VEN was new to me though.

    As usual, I think some of the reactions to this puzzle (e.g. “truly awful”) are very over-the-top. I’m led to believe that in papers without named setters (well, The Times, anyway) the editor takes a much more active rôle in making the style consistent, and one of the reasons that The Guardian has its quirky-but-fun reputation is that you can get used to the different styles and characters of setters. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t edit it differently were I in that privileged position, but I don’t think this kind of puzzle merits such damning comments.

  20. Ed H says:

    The paper has an international audience but is London-published, so is it not a little harsh to criticise English place-name references, even the slightly more obscure ones?

    If we take out anything but completely obvious English geographic references (anything over than the major cities?) should we also take out more obscure English literary and Church of England references (both of which appeared in today’s puzzle largely without comment or complaint).

  21. Tom_I says:

    I’m not really tuned in to Gordius (yet), but finished this without too much trouble, apart from CRAYFORD.

    Bryan @5, I think the definition ‘oracle’ in 18a is the verb meaning ‘to utter as an oracle’, hence to PROPHESY.

  22. mike says:

    The school year calendar in England has always traditionally started at the beginning of September and to the best of my knowledge still does.

  23. Eileen says:

    Thank you, harry, for endorsing both my points at comment 2!

    IanN14, I should have been more specific: by ‘here’, I meant in my county of Leicestershire – and I knew that was the case in Scotland, too. I think your later point, about admission dates, is probably what we should be thinking of. [Personally, I spent a minute or two wondering why ‘epti = year’, having thought of ‘start of school’ as S! :-( ]

    Tom, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw your comment re ‘oracle’ as a verb – but, alas, I find Chambers [alone!] gives that very definition. [O tempora… ]

  24. mhl says:

    Eileen: I’m beginning to think that surprising parts of speech are something of a Gordius speciality – I think that most of the times I’ve mentioned a supposed error of that kind recently they’ve turned out to be supported by one dictionary or another :)

  25. Chunter says:

    26ac: I didn’t know ‘essence’ is the French for ‘petrol’, which is why I was looking around for something more convoluted.

    Ed H: Although the paper has an international readership those who buy the paper edition are in the UK. Online readers get it free. It’s hardly, surprising, therefore, that many of the clues are aimed at solvers with a good knowledge of British life and culture. I for one wouldn’t be interested in solving puzzles aimed at an ‘international’ audience, even if Araucaria, Paul and the others were willing to set them.

  26. Bryan says:

    Many thanks, Tom_I, you have put my mind to rest re Oracle.

    Regarding Ven, my best friend’s dad was an Archdeacon otherwise I would never have known.

  27. harry says:

    Sorry for missing your comments.
    Nice to know I’m in such exalted company

  28. Eileen says:

    Hi harry

    I wasn’t being sarcastic – it was good to get some support! :-)

  29. sidey says:

    If I were to make another post Eileen, I’d agree with you too. Rotten day for puzzles, the Indy is unfathomable and the Times better but still hard. I might have a crack at a few Listeners for some relaxation.

  30. Eileen says:

    Hi mhl #24

    I know what you mean – but it’s going to take a very long time for me to recover from learning that ‘oracle’ is now a verb!

    However, re DE FACTO: you have to hand it to Gordius here – the literal and primary [though, naturally, not in Chambers!] is adverbial.

  31. Ed H says:

    Chunter: I think we’re in agreement here?

    I view complaints about parochialism as pretty much unwarranted. My point (perhaps made too abstrusely) was that if a complaint about parochialism is to stand up for place names it must also stand up for clues with literary and establishment religion references – but none of those complaining about place names seemed to have a problem with literary and religion references in today’s puzzle.

  32. walruss says:

    Many a true word spoken in jest. Was my ‘truly awful’ really too strong, with things like ‘without’? But I would still like to defend the right of crosswords to feature Britishisms when they are British-focuseed puzzles. The qualities, if that is the right word for today, are all justified in assuming a Brit savvy audience, except the FT, which sells so widely overseas.

  33. liz says:

    I don’t think it’s so much to do with parochialism as obscurity. For what it’s worth, I found the reference to the Browning poem obscure for a weekday puzzle, but then that just might be because I don’t know the poem.

  34. Uncle Yap says:

    Nobody is arguing about Britishism in British papers… we expect that. What I mean by parochialism is the use of obscure British name/place/facts. Today, many Britons here admitted ignorance about Par and Crayford … how about Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore or Kevin Rudd of Canberra … they will have no clue

    Please note my amendments to the original blog (in bold above after P/S)

  35. Dave Ellison says:

    Well, along with mhl, I am putting in a strong defence for G. today (unlike last time’s).

    “The” in the clue and answer: I am not keen on it, but other worthies such as Auracaria and Paul do it (without comment from bloggers usually).

    Obscure names: other worthies such as Auracaria and Paul do it (without much comment from bloggers usually). I enjoyed looking up Watling Street and leaning a bit more abou it. Thought for a while it might be Holyhead.

    Has no one else not heard of the other Frenchman, Piers Sarcozy? If you google Sarcozy you will see G. is not the only one to misspell the name Sarkozy.

    10 ac I read the “about” as doing double duty: school starts about Sep 1; and C, of course.

  36. Ed H says:

    Uncle Yap, isn’t this about perspective though? These things are always ‘fair’ when you know the answer!

    I’m British and thought Par entirely fair in 17d but could only link Ghent to 2d’s “good news” via Google (and that’s with A-Level English Lit). On your example, I would have no problem with Rudd featuring in a clue (mentioned on Radio 4’s Today programme this week, for us Brits) but wouldn’t get Lee Kuan Yew in a month of Sundays. (For what it’s worth, the Aussies in my office all got ‘Par’ – it’s the train interchange for getting to Newquay for the surfing.)

    What you pick up as an ‘obscure’ British (or international) fact I get without hesitation; what you let pass without comment (presumably as a ‘fair’ British reference) is meaningless for me without a search engine. Is what’s ‘obscure’ just whatever is outside our ken?

  37. Bryan says:

    Personally, I prefer to do the puzzles on a hard copy whilst having my breakfast. Consequently, I am loathe to use any aids so today I got lucky despite the obscurities.

    I do prefer those that are more challenging even when I am unable to complete.

    So, Gordius, please continue to do your own thing.

  38. Paul B says:

    I think Messrs Lee Yuan Kew and Kevin Rudd are going to have to take it squarely on the chin – at least in a general sense – where so-called Britishisms are concerned as, like others, I would hate to see our best crosswords go Global. Yuk.

    OTOH it’s pretty obscure to my way of thinking to clue Par as the village in a national puzzle: I really think people (in the locale known as Britain) should have a half-decent chance of knowing the SI refs if they happen not to reside near St. Austell.

  39. Tom Hutton says:

    I’ve given up largely on reading the blog here unless I need explication of obscure clueing and also because I often seemed to be the only one complaining. (I even got ticked off by Eileen once.)
    I enjoyed this but had to look up Crayford on my road map and I didn’t even bother with Par since the answer was obvious.

    My chief complaint is about 2 down. Many people of my age will have been made to read Browning at school but it cannot encourage a younger audience to enjoy crosswords if the references are so outdated.

    There’s a nice parody somewhere which goes something like: I galloped, we galloped, they galloped, we have galloped, they were galloping etc etc)

  40. alanjc says:

    One of those days when reading the analysis was far more enjoyable than ‘doing’ it but did learn CALOMEL. Has the look of a good scrabble word.

  41. Eileen says:

    Hi again mhl

    Slightly off-topic [but rapidly becoming less so!]: thanks for your post in the Chat Room general crossword discussion on the crosswords that have generated the most comments / controversy.

    Next time you’re at a loose end [!], how about a gazeteer of places immortalised [à la Adlestrop] by an appearance in a Guardian crossword? Remember Pluckley almost a year ago? [No prizes for guessing who the setter was! :-)]

    And again re PAR [and Uncle Yap’s alternative suggestions for cluing it]: 13ac in the FT puzzle today: ‘Scratch society in Cowley plant [3,7]’!

    Tom Hutton – I’ve no recollection of having ‘ticked you off’ [sincere apologies]. I’m relieved to see that you are, in fact, still contributing!

  42. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Not even two weeks ago (Nov 13th) there was a lot of fuss about Gordius’ previous rendering. In one of the last posts I stated: “Some crosswords are extraordinary (like the recent renderings of Brendan and Crucible), some are ordinary (like this one).
    But then so what, burn down the setter??”

    It looks like I could repeat it today, after tweaking it a little bit.
    Apart from the fact that this crossword was much better.

    All this talking about Britishism is Much Ado About Nothing.
    I guessed CLAYFORD from its construction, finding out later that I was right – Hurrah! In 17d PARVENU was quite obviously the right solution, after which I deduced that Par must be a village in Cornwall. Learned something today – Hurrah!!
    I am not cynical, but I’m with Tom Hutton (#39) who says: “and I didn’t even bother with Par since the answer was obvious”.
    OTOH (learned this abbreviation today from Paul B, thx!) I didn’t like Chunter’s remarks (#25) that he “for one wouldn’t be interested in solving puzzles aimed at an ‘international’ audience, even if Araucaria, Paul and the others were willing to set them”. Why not try to learn a bit more about the world outside the UK?

    To start with Gordius and/or the Guardian editor …
    Unbelievable, this Sarkozy blunder.

    But let’s face it, there were some splendid clues as well.
    I really liked 21ac, because when flying you cán have trouble with your ears.
    And the nice surface of 19d.
    The link between “crash” and “the ashes” is very satisfying for the setter – but perhaps solvers don’t look at a clue like that (but I do).
    Just like the come-dancing combination in 5d – very nice.

    Paraphrasing Bryan (#5), I agree with a lot of your comments but I really enjoyed it.
    And if one doesn’t agree with that, well, tomorrow’s another day!

  43. Alex says:

    A significant divergence of opinion today! It is always interesting to see what others find obscure. Par was the first cornish village I thought of and ven seemed straightforward, but I had no idea on 2d. Similarly I could have stared at the anagram for 5d for the rest of my life and been none the wiser. But that’s all part of the fun! I enjoyed today’s puzzle, and the debate it generated.

  44. Paul (not Paul) says:

    This was a particularly poor Gordius.

    But, I know its him and I know when to give up. There were half a dozen really crap clues today, 12 ac being pityful.

    Bit its Gordius and I’ve learnt not to sweat over him.

  45. Paul B says:

    Well, sorry to labour once again the point I’m always labouring, but you ought to be able to solve a daily puzzle, even a difficult one, from what you know. You shouldn’t really need to look anything up, or make guesses (especially as to SI elements – the odd tricky entry in a themed puzz? Well, fair enough).

  46. Sil van den Hoek says:

    This time, Paul, I think I don’t agree with you.
    What you know is probably not what I know.

    And I really have no problems with guessing or filling in what’s most likely (once or twice), to discover afterwards that it was right (or wrong, of course). You’re never too old to learn something (… what a boring platitude, indeed, but even so …)

  47. Sylvia says:

    24865 – 12a

    Couple of days late in trying this crossword, but completed all correctly except for having ‘army road’ instead of Crayford! (I knew it was a roman road and thought this must be the answer.

  48. sandra says:

    I am late with this, so maybe no-one to resd it, but was shocked that there was so much negativity re Gordius. Not my favourite, often somewhat obscure but I always learn something. Heaven forbid that the guardian crossword should conform to someone’s idea of uniformity. having said that – thanks to all, especially Uncle Yap, for your insights – I had par and lenity from the wordplay/checking letters but now i understand.

  49. maarvarq says:

    The Canberra Times in Australia seems to publish these 2 weeks late, but anyway… I did find the combination of an obscure British place name (Par) and an obscure ecclesiastical term (Ven) in the same clue to be a bit excessive, not to mention being expected to know the French word for “essence”.

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