Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,002 / Chifonie

Posted by Eileen on May 5th, 2010


This is a fairly typical Chifonie puzzle, largely made up of charades and straightforward insertions. There is one clue that I particularly liked and, I’m afraid, one that, however good the rest of the puzzle might have been, would have ruined it for me, pedant that I am.


7 LIBELLED: BELL [inventor] in LIED [song]:Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922) – scientist, inventor, engineer  and innovator, credited with inventing the first practical telephone.
9   THE BAN [curse]: there were two ancient cities called Thebes, one in Greece and one in Egypt.
10 LESS: [b]LESS: after so many years of teaching the distinction between less and fewer – and quantity/amount and number – and deploring ’10 items or less’ signs at supermarket check-outs, it really hurt to have to type this ‘explanation’! I approached Chambers with trepidation and was gratified to find ‘less: in smaller quantity, not number’ – but then, immediately after, ‘fewer [arch. and inf.]’  [O Tempora! … ] Collins [my slightly older version] has ‘less should not be confused with fewer. Less refers strictly only to quantity and not to number; fewer means smaller in number’. I do hope the up-to-date version has not succumbed!
11  TUMBLEDOWN: ‘UMBLED [‘umiliated] in TOWN [urban area]
12 BISTRO: ST [saint, ‘holy man’] in biro [writer]
14  STARTING: ART [pictures] in STING [swindle]
15  SNOOKER: cryptic definition. This is not one of my areas of interest or expertise but Wikipedia explains that snooker is played ‘using a cue and snooker balls: one white cue ball, 15 red balls worth one point each, and six balls of different colours yellow (2 points), green (3), brown (4), blue (5), pink (6) and black (7).’
17  REDOUBT: RE [touching] + DOUBT [uncertainty]
20  CASHMERE: CASH [money] + MERE [nothing more]
22  MAGGOT: A G[ood] + GO [shot] in MT [Montana]
23  DEFAMATORY: reversal of FED  [G-man] + AMATORY
24  MENU: MEN [fellows] + U[niversity]
25  STARVE: R[evolutionary] in STAVE
26 PHEASANT: H[ard] in PEASANT [rustic]


1   LIBERIAN: B[orn] in anagram of AIRLINE
2   ZEUS: reversal of SUEZ:  I’ve seen this several times before!
BLOTTO: B[ook] + LOTTO [game]: blotto – ‘helplessly drunk’.
4   STILLAGE: STILL [motionless] + AGE [time]: a new word for me – ‘a frame or stand for keeping things off the ground, such as casks in a brewery’.
5   HEADSTRONG: anagram of THE GODS RAN – nice surface
6   DARWIN: W[omen’s] I[institute] [‘organised women’ – nice!] in DARN [repair]
8   DEMISE: DEMI [half] + S[outh] E[ast] [Home Counties]
13  TOOTH FAIRY: anagram of HIT OF A TORY and cryptic definition: a lovely story-telling clue – my favourite by a mile.
16  ELEVATED: E[nglish] V[ictory] in ELATED [happy]
18  BROWNING: BR[anch] + OWNING [admitting]: Robert Browning, English poet [ 1812 – 1889]
19  RECOUP: R[oyal] E[ngineers] [soldiers] + COUP [exploit]
21  ALERTS: anagram of SLATER
22  MAYHEM : MAY [plant] + HEM [border]
24  MASS: M.A’S [graduate’s] + S[ierra] [NATO phonetic alphabet]

55 Responses to “Guardian 25,002 / Chifonie”

  1. Bryan says:

    Many thanks, Eileen, but – unlike you – I consider a truly wonderful puzzle. In fact, the best for over 81 years.

    There were no obscure or purely foreign words, saints or the names of merely minor sportsmen.

    Well done, Chifonie, you have set a new standard of excellence and you deserve at least a knighthood.

    Please see the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, coming soon.

  2. molonglo says:

    Thanks Eileen. An enjoyable puzzle, the more so for the inspired celebration in 15a of a new champion from Down Under. Apart from that, 13d as you say was splendid.

  3. Ian says:

    Thanks Eileen and Chifonie.

    A little less taxing than the Orlando of yesterday but still a decent workout.

    Nice use of the word ‘Champers’ to ref. a set of denticles to set up the anagram for ‘Tooth Fairy’. As usual a high percentage of smartly written containers and charades, the best of the former being the excellent ‘Tumbledown’.


  4. Dawn says:

    After a discouraging start where I didn’t get many on the first pass through it turned out well and I really enjoyed completing this one.

  5. tupu says:

    Thanks Eileen. Mostly humdrum but 13d really clever and amusing. I was initially thrown by 22d which I thought must be ‘margin’ until I got 23.
    Re ‘fewer’ and ‘less': I was once ticked off by a colleague for ‘getting this wrong’. I was annoyed [because he is perfectly capable of ‘between you and I’ which really grates on my ear] and I remember going to the OD and finding that if it is a mistake it is a very old one, as I recall first recorded in Alfred the Great’s translation of Boethius! Many other languages manage perfectly well without this nicety and of course ‘more’ is the standard opposite of both. I think it is true though (again from memory) that ‘less’ is an old comparative form of ‘little’ or one of its cognates, and I do tend to avoid the ‘error’ these days. I would add a friendly smiley here if I knew how!

  6. Eileen says:

    Thanks, tupu.

    So Alfred was as good at grammar as he was at cooking! :-)

    [Click on ‘Announcements’ under ‘Categories’on the left hand side of this page and scroll down to ‘Emoticons’, which Gaufrid kindly supplied a while ago.]

  7. tupu says:

    :) Thanks Eileen 😀

  8. Richard says:

    Thanaks, Eileen.

    Too many uses of short letter abbreviations, I thought, such as book=b in 3, university=u in 24ac, Sierra=s in 24d, Branch = BR in 18.
    Not sure about curse = ban in 9.
    13 made me groan when I got it.
    15 is more like a smart Alec question in a pub quiz than a cryptic crossword clue.
    Touching = RE in 17 – Shouldn’t it be ‘Touching upon’?
    22dn – I thought Mayhem means chaos rather than destruction and I didn’t get plant = may.
    G-man = fed annoys me every time I see it because it is an old cliche to regular solvers and hopelessly obscure to anyone else!

  9. cholecyst says:

    Richard – May = hawthorn, presumably now in bloom in the south of UK, but not yet here in NE.
    Eileen, As soon as I saw the clue and guessed its answer, knew what we would be in for! But the fewer said the better.

  10. Eileen says:

    Hi Richard

    I had the same thoughts about MAYHEM but Collins gives ‘any violent distruction or confusion’

    Touching: Collins: ‘prep. on the subject of; relating to'; Chambers: ‘prep. concerning’.

    Cholecyst – oh dear, sorry, I’m too long in the tooth to stop now! :-(

  11. Dave Ellison says:

    Thanks Eileen for the blog which gave me the answer to 15a; I had INTONER.

    I agree with you with 10a – where is the Guardian style editor today?

    Also thank’s for the emoticons – I had just been typing such as : ) and : ( (without the spaces), which get converted to the icons when you Preview or Submit

  12. Dave Ellison says:

    PS I refrained from putting in LESS until the end, because I thought it couldn’t possible be correct, so I was held up in that corner.

  13. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Comprehensive blog as always, Eileen, thank you. Not quite knighthood territory, but certainly a pleasant solve with for me only two or three tricky clues. I liked TOOTHFAIRY as well, but I suppose even for a comparative newcomer like me there were some well-worn solutions (ZEUS, PHEASANT). However, to follow up Richard’s comment at no. 8, hopelessly obscure only becomes an old cliche when you’ve solved it a few times!

    To borrow a political cliche, I’m shoulder to shoulder with you, Eileen, on the distinction between ‘fewer’ and ‘less’. I fancy it’s a losing battle, though, because when I correct Kathryn (a very literate undergraduate actually) on this, the reply is ‘Dad, get a life’. Or something to that effect.

    So don’t get me going on uninterested and disinterested, puhleese, otherwise I’ll get no work done today.

  14. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog, Eileen. I can appreciate your dismay at FEWER/LESS but that battle seems to be well and truly lost. What really gets my inner pedant going these days are train announcements :-)

    I loved the surface of 13dn! And I also liked WI for ‘organised women’. But I thought ‘ban’ was loose for ‘curse’ and ditto ‘mayhem’ for ‘destruction’. Still, very enjoyable.

  15. Eileen says:

    Hi Kathryn’s Dad

    “So don’t get me going on uninterested and disinterested, puhleese, otherwise I’ll get no work done today.”

    You could have taken those words right out of my mouth! I think that example and tupu’s ‘between you and I’ must be chief among my other bêtes noires. But, as you [almost] say, ‘Let’s not go there!’! 😉

  16. rrc says:

    The increasing use of single letters in clues is something I find irritating, and cannot regard those as good clues hence bless I was not over impressed.

  17. Eileen says:

    tupu, liz, Dave Ellison, Kathryn’s Dad

    It needn’t be a losing battle:


    ‘Every little helps’ – and there’s a mention for King Alfred, too!

  18. tupu says:

    Hi Kathryn’s dad. :) Lest I appear excessively libertarian, I should perhaps confess to other ‘pedantries’. I prefer ‘different from’ to ‘different to’, and ‘he didn’t like my going’ to ‘…me going’.
    The distinction between ‘disinterested’ and ‘uninterested’ is much more serious as is ‘refute’ = ‘deny’ since they genuinely are potentially misleading and confusing.

  19. Andrew says:

    For a contrasting view on “8 items or less”, see this from the Language Log blog, which, among other discussion of the less/fewer distinction, strongly defends “..or less” as the only natural way to express the idea. It doesn’t mean “8 items or a smaller number”, but “8 items or a smaller amount of shopping”.

  20. cholecyst says:

    I vowed not to get drawn into this less/fewer business and I won’t. Except to ask: can any of m’ learned friends think of an example where the use of “less” for “fewer” makes any difference to the sense of what is being expressed?

  21. Val says:

    Thanks, Eileen, for the great blog.

    I’m another of the less, we happy less, who cannot bear the loss of distinction between “less” and “fewer” and left out 10ac even after getting the crossing letters because I couldn’t accept that that was what it was. Anyone else feel a little burst of irritation each time they’re in Starbucks to see the “Less Napkins – Less Waste” or whatever the slogan is on all their napkins these days (I never get past the first two words)?

    I’m not sure I see why ban = curse. Surely they’re not the same thing at all?
    And is SE synonymous with home counties? London, for example, is very much in the SE but not a home county.

  22. Eileen says:

    Hi Val [and Richard and liz]

    I wasn’t keen on ban = curse, either, but remembered that, a couple of weeks ago, ANATHEMA was clued as ‘ban’ in an Independent puzzle and I looked it up then. Chambers has ‘Anathema: a solemn curse or denunciation involving excommunication’, which combines the two ideas. I found this morning that both Chambers and Collins give ban = curse [but it’s ‘archaic’ in the latter].

    I’m afraid I didn’t really think about SE – another of those crossword clichés, of which there are, as has been said, several here!

    Thanks for that, Andrew – a valid point and an interesting article.

  23. Daniel Miller says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable with some witty moments.

    Particularly enjoyed the Snooker c(l)ue – “pot” (as in remove (from the table)) the L perhaps?!!!

    Tooth Fairy: Tremendous surface – maybe it’s been used before but the implied relationship between Tory and Champers (suggesting Champagne) was apposite – I look forward to seeing a Liberal sprinkling of appropriate clues tomorrow – I intend to play Guardian Election Crossword Bingo tomorrow with a likely use of “liberal” “spin” “cross” “cons” and “labour” suggesting anagrams – perhaps an odd first past the post, Cameron, Brown, Clegg (or “Nick”) – potentially the use of Cables, Darlings….

    I could go on – Blotto made me laugh too! Well done Chifonie.

  24. Bryan says:

    Cholecyst @20

    As the most erudite of your learned friends, here’s an example where the use of “less” for “fewer” makes a big difference to the sense of what is being expressed:

    I’ll pay £100,000 for a good night out but preferably less.

  25. Gnome says:

    Unlike Kathryn’s Dad, my daughter would never suggest I “Get a life”. That would defer her inheritance.

  26. JimboNWUK says:

    Never mind the “less v fewer” debate, “Bored OF” instead of “Bored WITH” drives me CRAZY! It’s *everywhere* including so-called factual programmes on the telly. Argh!

  27. IanN14 says:

    Oh, Jimbo,
    NOW you’re talking, innit.

  28. Tokyo Colin says:

    Bryan #24. I am afraid I don’t see how that sentence illustrates the distinction. What would it mean if “less” was replaced with “fewer”? I was expecting something like:

    Now who’ll give me $1,000 for these 5 fine hereford heifers? Or shall we start with less/fewer?

    (Sorry for the currency conversion, no pound symbol on my keybard…)

    Oh, and I enjoyed the crossword immensely, except for THAT clue.

  29. Eileen says:

    Hi Tokyo Colin

    I can see no problem here: it would be ‘less’ because $1,000 is seen as a quantity / amount of money, surely, not a number of dollars?

  30. sidey says:

    Never mind less/few, what about infer/imply?

  31. walruss says:

    I don’t see how that one works either! I do like your ‘keybard’ though Colin. Is it what Shakespeare used to finish off his plays?

  32. liz says:

    Thanks for the link @17 Eileen!

  33. xanthoma says:

    Kathryn’s Dad @13

    Try this sentence on Kathryn: “In 2009 fewer intelligent students gained university places”. Substitute “less” for “fewer”, and then say it doesn’t matter.

  34. Derek Lazenby says:

    Yes very pleasant. The only thing I find confusing is how a self confessed pedant could leave us in suspense like that? Was it ruined or not? Or was there a “were it not for…” that got missed out? You still there Eileen? 😀

    Re £ and other special characters. If you are using Windows then (in XP) Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Character Map is the answer. Select a font with your desired character (£ is in the default system font) double click on it, then click the Copy button, then exit the map and paste the character(s). Other versions of Windows may hide this elsewhere, but it should be obvious. I don’t know what Apple do, but I presume they do something. Also, common characters such as £ and the euro symbol have keyboard shortcuts, but I can never remember them, sorry.

  35. JimboNWUK says:

    Re TokyoColin@28:

    “Now who’ll give me $1,000 for these 5 fine hereford heifers? Or shall we start with less/fewer?”

    If you said “shall we start with less” I’d expect to start with less than $1000 bid whereas if you said “shall we start with fewer” I’d expect 1-4 heifers….

    Any road up, how come “flammable” and “inflammable” both mean the same thing but [something]able and in[something]able for most other things mean the opposite??

  36. Eileen says:

    Derek, the blogger is still here for as long as there are comments coming in!

    I was trying to be tactful in the preamble: I have said several times in the past that Chifonie is not in my top half dozen or so but there have been comments lately about our expressing preferences! I’ve often also said that it’s a good job we’re all different. I’m glad that so many people enjoyed today’s puzzle: at the same time, I know there are a number who don’t like my particular favourites. We’re very fortunate that, by and large, we’re all catered for! :-)


    Thanks – I think that will do nicely!

    Re flammable / inflammable: I wondered about this for years as a child, until I learned that the prefix ‘in’ has two uses: to mean ‘not’ and to have ‘an intensive or causative function’ [Collins]. Isn’t English a wonderful language?

  37. cholecyst says:

    xanthoma. #33. Yes that’s a pretty good example of where one word cannot be substituted for the other.

  38. Eileen says:

    Yes, sorry, xanthoma – I missed that: nice one! :-)

  39. tupu says:

    Hi JimboNWUK

    Your heifers example is a nice one, though the question is whether ‘less’ can usually stand safely for ‘fewer’ rather than vice versa. It seems quite unlikely (thinking of the context of such a statement) that there could ever be any ambiguity, and certainly not one that could not easily be circumvented. Also, as I mentioned, we have no trouble with ‘more’ for ‘mucher’ and ‘manier’.
    That said, on a different tack, can I also genuinely say thank you for ‘any road up’. As someone who grew up in M/c but left long ago, I have often thought of that expression and wondered if I was misremembering it, since it doesn’t seem to be known in the south-east. It really is very warm and reassuring to encounter it again by chance in this way. So thanks once again.

  40. Brian Harris says:

    Maybe I’m in a minority, but I’m quite happy with “less” as a synonym for “fewer”. In the vast majority of cases, they can be used interchangeably. Language evolves, and this is one example where precision in choice of vocabulary rarely hampers meaning. So I agree with Kathryn. Many of us use words every day whose meaning has shifted considerably in the last few centuries. There has to be a point where we give up correcting people. Disinterested / uninterested is a good example. I know the difference, but when used incorrectly the meaning is almost always clear from the context. And we have ‘impartial’ or ‘neutral’ and various other synonyms to use instead.

    Anyway, good crossword. Loved 13 down too.

  41. Eileen says:

    Hi Brian

    Reading through the comments, I don’t at all think you’re in a minority.

    Of course I agree that language evolves [I’m a linguist!] and welcome neologisms as readily as the next person but I just think it’s a pity when evolution means impoverishment, rather than enrichment, as in the example you mention – the blurring of the distinction between uninterested and disinterested: do you foresee a time when Councillors, when asked to declare an interest, would simply talk about their hobbies?

    English is a fantastically rich language, having so many different roots, and gives us so many [not quite] synonyms. I just think it would be such a pity if these nuances were lost.

    There was a long-running radio programme ‘My word’, that I loved and listened to as long as it was on. It was a quiz programme and had questions based on the very things we have been discussing today: the difference between uninterested and disinterested, refute and deny, etc – but very light-hearted, with outrageously funny contributions by Frank Muir and Denis Norden. For examples, see!

    It was always introduced as ‘a programme about words, with people whose business is words’.

    To get back to the puzzle: my point is that crossword setters are ‘people whose business is words’ and so I expect them to have the same interest in and respect for their use as I have!

  42. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Thanks for everyone’s input for Kathryn, both linguistic and behavioural – I’ll report back on both fronts. Interesting discussion! We’ll be moving on to split infinitives next …

    Any road up, I’m off to watch the footie.

  43. muck says:

    Yes, language evolves.
    But the distinctions
    between FEWER and LESS and
    are too important to lose!

  44. muck says:

    Split infinitives are another matter
    They grate on my ear, but are now part of the language

  45. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Okay, since everyone’s in combative mood tonight and we’ve all long since lost interest in what was in fact a good crossword, I’ll just say: the rule against split infinitives is an invention of 18th century grammarians who were obsessed with Latin structure and tried to impose it on English. So if you want to to confidently split an infinitive, like I’ve just done, go right ahead.

    Back to the footie now.

  46. Davy says:

    Thanks Eileen,

    I enjoyed this puzzle despite your reservations and found it quite difficult to get into. I missed out on five answers but how I failed to get ZEUS is a mystery. Perhaps my crossword ability is less than I think.

    Just out of interest, I found the following on the internet.

    Fewer vs Less

    The words fewer and less are commonly confused in English, or rather, less is used while fewer tends to fall by the wayside. You’ll be less confused and make fewer mistakes after reading through this lesson.


    Fewer is used with countable nouns: people, animals, chairs, shoes.

    You know fewer people than I do.

    There should be fewer books on the table.

    I have fewer ideas than everyone else.

    Fewer of us show up each year.


    Less is used for uncountable, usually abstract nouns: money, happiness, snow, idealism.

    I hope less snow falls this year.

    We need more money and less debt.

    I have less computer savvy than you.

    You should spend less of your time complaining.

    Less is also used with adjectives and adverbs:

    I’m less happy than I used to be.

    He runs less quickly than you.


    Less is the more common word, there’s no doubt about it. But many speakers seem to use it all the time, even in the relatively fewer constructions that need fewer. Just remember that if the noun can be preceded by a number (one person, three dogs, six of us, nineteen problems), it should be modified with fewer. Otherwise, less is best.

    From the above, it would seem that fewer can be substituted by less and make reasonable sense whereas substituting fewer for less, makes no sense at all.

  47. Eileen says:

    Thanks, Davy.

    That’s more or less what I used to [try to] teach!

    Less weight / fewer pounds/kilos
    Less foliage / fewer leaves
    Less paper / fewer pages
    Less area / fewer hectares
    Less furniture / fewer chairs/tables
    Less food / fewer sandwiches etc… etc…

    i.e. as you say,
    abstract / singular nouns: less
    plural [‘countable’] nouns: fewer.

    No problem.

    But then [tongue in cheek!] I always used to wait for someone to say [as in your example: “Less is used for uncountable, usually abstract nouns: money, happiness, snow, idealism.”] “But you can count money!”!

    Who’d be a teacher? :-)

    I’m sorry if this foible of mine has taken up a disproportionate amount of space on today’s blog. Perhaps it just means that there wasn’t much else to say about this puzzle and / or that people have enjoyed it and had few [other] complaints.

    It’s nearly time for bed. It’s going to be a long night tomorrow!

  48. Paul B says:

    Fewer posts on grammar. To in any way split the infinitive I find unforgivable.

  49. Michael B says:

    @ Eileen. Why, what´s happening tomoorow/tonight?

  50. Michael B says:

    @ Eileen. Why, what´s happening tomorow/tonight?

  51. Bryan says:

    Michael B @ 49 & 50

    Why, what´s happening tomorow/tonight?

    Posts are becoming less fewer; in fact they are being duplicated.

    Posts are becoming less fewer; in fact they are being duplicated.

    I thought everyone knew that.

    I thought everyone knew that.



  52. Daniel Miller says:

    You can’t count money but you can count coins :)

  53. crosser says:

    For once I agree with JimboNWUK :-) about bored OF @ 26.
    Something that intrigues me – but I’m venturing away from vocabulary into syntax now – is usage of this type: “If I’d HAVE known, I wouldn’t have done it.” Can anyone explain that?

  54. Eileen says:

    Hi crosser

    This one takes me back even further, to Latin teaching days and Unfulfilled / Impossible conditions. The English Department said they relied on us to teach English grammar!

    I’m presuming that you mean that what intrigues you is why people include the superfluous / incorrect ‘have’ – and I agree with you. And with you and [unusually :-)] Jimbo re ‘bored of’.

  55. Coffee says:

    Agreed, 10A set my teeth on edge. Countable/uncountable, it’s not that hard!
    My local shop advises me to “Use less plastic bags”….
    And don’t get me started on “different than”.
    Think I finished this one faster than any other, had I been as pedantic about timing as grammar, I could say for sure. Loved the Tooth Fairy.

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