Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25171 / Arachne

Posted by mhl on November 18th, 2010


I found this quite a tricky solve, with some intricate wordplay – looking back at the clues, though, I’m not sure it should have caused me so many problems. I’ll put this down to skillfully crafted surface readings – a good puzzle, I think…

1. TOM-TOM [a]TOM + a[TOM] = “Two bits won’t start”
4. TSETSE ToSuEz = “to Suez regularly”, and “do” is an abbreviation for “ditto”; the definition is “fly”
10. BOSNIA BOS’N = “Petty Officer” + A1 = “First Class” reversed (“Retd”)
11. BRAINBOX In crosswords, BRA is often “supporter”, so BRA IN BOX might be a “concealed supporter”
12. PERMEATE (AMPETER)* + E = “east”
14. HAULED [s]HAU[n] = “Shaun stripped” + LED = “went ahead”; quite an amusing surface reading
15. USENET US = “American” + (TEEN)*; although the clue is simply constructed, I think this is likely to be obscure to many, except perhaps those who used to use rec.puzzles.crosswords…
18. AROMATIC A RAT around O = “old” + M = “spymaster” then CI[a] reversed
21. NUMEROUS NUMERO = “In short, it’s no” (№ is an abbreviation for “numero”) + US = “country”
22. EFF OFF “4 thus gives us our” – “four” with F off gives “our”
24. UNSOPHISTICATED (I SIT CHOP)* in UNSATED; “marginalised” is the somewhat unusual (but sound, I think) indicator for inclusion
25. KNAVES Hidden reversed in “vandaliSE VAN, Kindly”
1. TWOSOME OWT = “Anything northern” reversed + SOME = “a certain”; I think the “a” is superfluous here, and breaks the cryptic readingI take it back
2. MELON LO = “Look” with MEN = “chaps” around the outside
3. OKINAWA OK = “good” + IN = “Home” + AWA[y] = ‘”Away” ultimately isn’t’
5. SPINACH Nicely hidden in “waSP IN A CHeese”
6. TARANTULA (AUTRALAN T)*; the anagram fodder is from “Australian” with T (“team’s leader”) without “is”
7. EARLOBE E = “Drug” + EBOLA reversed around [vi]R[us] = “virus essentially saved”
8. UNABLE U = “Third of blue” + NAB = “collar” + L[abour forc]E = “labour force disheartened”
16. SPUTNIK KIN = “family” + TUPS = “has sex” (only used of sheep, I think); the tricky definition is “Soviet revolutionary” – Sputnik revolved around the earth…
17. TROCHEE THEE = “You once” around ROC = “mythical creature”; the definition is “foot” as in a metrical foot – a trochee is “DA-dum”
18. ASSIST [b]ASSIST = “top guitar player”; “top” is an instruction, as in “to top”
19. ONE-TIME O = “love” + NEE = “born female” with TIM = “male” inside
20. INFLECT L = “Student” in INFECT = “poison”; I like the definition “to put an end to it”, but the cryptic reading is a bit awkward – it has to be read “[with] student swallowed, poison”
23. FLAKE FLAK = “Hostility” + E = “English”

40 Responses to “Guardian 25171 / Arachne”

  1. Bryan says:

    Many thanks mhl

    I found the top half OK but several clues in the bottom eluded me and, now having seen your analyses, I am pleased that I soon called it a day.

    22a is decidedly rude; SPUTNIK and TROCHEE are obscure and, alas, I fear I am now suffering from Arachnophobia.

  2. NeilW says:

    Thanks, mhl.

    I thought this was a great puzzle. As Bryan says, the bottom half was decidedly harder but well worth the effort!

  3. Rishi says:

    The crossword is essentially a game between two – the setter and the solver. In this context, 22a is decidedly rude. Especially as it is in the imperative tense, does the setter request the solver to abandon it and do whatever.
    I am surprised that a puzzle in a publication that has a crossword editor has allowed it.

  4. mhl says:

    Rishi: I think the Guardian has always been a bit more rude than the other broadsheets, and personally I think that “eff off” is very tame – I think I’ve barely ever heard it used except as a joke. (If someone using the phrase wanted to cause offence, they’d hardly bother to edit the first word.) Also, I think that seeing the answer as directed at the solver is a real stretch!

    The phrase reminds me of the character Julius in “The Thick of It”, who, in contrast to almost every other character, very rarely swears. There’s one point where after an extraordinary betrayal by Malcolm Tucker he furiously demands, “[Would you] like to tell me just what the eff word is going on?” Even when in a such rage he can’t quite bring himself to swear out loud… :)

  5. Uncle Yap says:

    I share Rishi’s reservation about the pc’ness of 22. Surely it was easy enough to change the word to EFFORT, 26 to YEMENI and 20D to ISRAELI.

    However, there were a few splendid definitions like coral island (3D) Leaves (4D) spinner (5D) Soviet revolutionary family (16D)

    Thank you mhl for the excellent blog

  6. Matt says:

    Have no problem with 22, made me smile. I have more problem with 15 (Usenet) as it seems painfully obscure. Is it a website – can any website be allowed now? I sometimes do a jigsaw or two on “Zylom” so is that now a valid word? The cluing was fair so I guessed it, but really!

    Actually found this really hard and had to come here for the parsing of some answers I got from the definitions. Can’t believe how long it took me to see Spinach!!

    Thanks mhl for filling in my parsing gaps.

  7. rrc says:

    I didnt enjoy this and eventually gave up with two to do. I found the clueing very convoluting, with definitions unclear. Having said that few very few smiles or ah ah moments.

  8. mhl says:

    Matt: Usenet is a distinct system which predates the web :) That said, there are several websites that present the newsgroups from Usenet and allow you to post – most notably Google Groups nowadays…

  9. ben says:

    I thought it very fine. How many like me were stuck with set off for 22 or actually set out originally. I thought sputnik was equally clever and (b)assist and numerous defeated me under time pressure. An excellent challenge

  10. Kathryn's Dad says:

    To borrow from 1dn, there’s nowt wrong with this, lass. Thank you, Arachne, for a puzzle that I found hard, but really, really enjoyed.

    From her previous crosswords (and her Quiptics, where she’s a regular setter) I know that she can be a bit risqué, but for me that just added to the smiles today. EFF OFF is priceless (chill out, peeps, it’s a euphemism) and revolutionary sex using TUPS is also brilliant (especially for those from Derbyshire – Google the Derby Tup if you’re that interested).

    TSETSE and TOM-TOM were also ones I liked.

    Super blog, mhl – I did need your help to understand a couple of the more convoluted clues.

  11. Peter Owen says:

    Has nobody noticed that in 8 down U is not “Third of blue” but “Quarter of blue”?

  12. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Peter, I think it’s that U is the third letter of blue, so it worked for me.

  13. Stella says:

    Thanks, mhl, for filling in the gaps in my parsing.

    I agree with Kathryn’s Dad – I enjoyed this, despite the difficulty, and the cluing is perfectly fair, with some lovely surfaces, like the image evoked at 9ac :)

    Omitting the ‘a’ in 1d would have required the plural ‘groups’, which doesn’t work.

  14. JohnR says:

    Thanks, mhl – your help was definitely needed!

    But what an excellent and amusing crossword – exceptional even by Arachne’s high standards.

    22ac is particularly elegant – I’m surprised that others disagree.

  15. Peter Owen says:

    You’re quite right, Kathryn’s Dad. It was obvious once you pointed it out.

  16. Robi says:

    Thanks mhl for the explanations. In 8a, doesn’t ‘concealed supporter’ refer to a cricket box, worn (or concealed) under trousers?

  17. tupu says:

    Thanks mhl for an excellent blog. And thanks Arachne.

    I finished it evench and seem to have understood it all, which is something.

    22a is ruder than I expected but it is very clever and it is in Chambers (as is Usernet with an exactly fitting meaning).

    I enjoyed the struggle with several other clues – esp. the parsing of 24 and 8.
    Other good ones were 1a, 4a, 10a, 3d, and 16d.

    I agree with Stella re 1d which I read as in ‘Some (a certain) person has been eating my porridge (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)’ but I would also agree that ‘a certain’ in this context more clearly implies knowledge of the miscreant’s identity.

    This took me longer than I like for a weekday puzzle and I nearly gave up. It would have been excellent for a Saturday. But in retirement I suppose I can ask like the Downton Abbey dowager ‘What is a weekend?’. And I did in fact have a working day yesterday confusing the minds of some young students! :)

  18. crikey says:

    Thanks mhl. I think that the ‘a’ in 1d is necessary. SOMEthing refers to A certain thing. As Stella says above (comment 13), it’s needed for the surface to be grammatical. However, I think it’s also needed for the correct definition of SOME. One might hear David Beckham being hailed as “some player” by his peers, referring to his special ability – hence “A certain player”.

    I hope that makes sense!

    Good (and tricky) one today for me. Is Arachne normally such a test?

  19. Matt says:

    Thanks mhl. I’m still not convinced about Usenet being OK to me, but I’m happy if the majority think it is so. As I’ve said in the past, if the crossword was limited to my general knowledge, it would be a poor show (and completely devoid of shakespeare / music (pre 1985) /poetry / nautical / historical references).

    Actually, if “iTunes” or “Google” were to appear as an answer one day I’d have no problem with it, so I think my point about Usenet is a bit weak in retrospect, particularly as it seems to be a more general term.

  20. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog mhl. I found this a real challenge especially the lower half of the puzzle, and needed your explanations to see the wordplay in quite a few instances. Despite the struggle, I thought this was a really good puzzle, particularly for the surfaces. I liked 5dn a lot and 24ac, too.

    It was only the check button that saved me from getting stuck with SET OFF at 22ac. Once I saw the wordplay, I thought this was funny and clever.

    16dn brought back memories of my uncle pointing out a tiny star in the sky and explaining that it was Sputnik. I was about four at the time.

  21. tupu says:

    For ‘Usernet’ please read ‘Usenet’ @17.

  22. Tom Hutton says:

    I would be happy to be called eccentric but not happy to be called flaky. I thought this crossword was flaky (20dn in particular). As someone else said of something else, it was vulgar without being funny.

  23. tupu says:

    Hi mhl

    re 16d ‘tup’. OED gives ‘ 1. a. trans. Of the ram: To copulate with (the ewe); also transf. (coarse slang), of a man: to copulate with (a woman).
    Nice of it to clarify the slang meaning!

  24. mhl says:

    Tom Hutton: if you’re making a subtle allusion which I’m going to ruin by overexplication, I apologise – Paul B (I think) mentioned some time ago that “funny, without being vulgar” was a review of crossword favourite Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s Hamlet. Wikipedia actually has a slightly different version taken from his obituary in the Manchester Guardian:

    The Times thought his Hamlet a “notable success”, but not everyone agreed: W.S. Gilbert said of it, “I never saw anything so funny in my life, and yet it was not in the least vulgar.”

    A wonderful review :)

  25. FumbleFingers says:

    Thanks mhl

    Like ben @9, I started with SET OFF/OUT for 22a, on account of 4a TSETSE. Which looked so good at the time I even suspected a typesetting error when things started to unravel later. But I got there in the end.

    Overall I thought this was an excellent puzzle, if somewhat tricky in parts. Very enjoyable struggle.

  26. mhl says:

    Stella, tupu, crikey: I was only meaning that it was problematic in the cryptic reading – obviously it’s necessary in the surface. However, you’ve convinced me that the cryptic reading is fine, so I’ve relented and crossed out that bit of commentary.

    tupu: I puzzled over “evench” until I realised it must be in a family with “totes”, “whatevs” and Bert Wooster’s “fit for human consumpsh” :)

  27. Dave Ellison says:

    I am not convinced I enjoyed this. Thanks mhl, needed you for the bottom right.

    20d I don’t mind having to ignore punctuation in clues (like the odd ,), but to have to add it and the occasional word (with) seems a bit much. We could take this to an extreme and have just blanks for every clue!

  28. tupu says:

    Hi mhl
    :) Sorry about ‘evench’. My fingers just ran out of steam at that point!

    re ‘tups’ in 16d @23, I was partly responding to your comment about sheep in the blog, but it was the way OED specified so carefully who (or what) partners who (or what) that particularly caught my eye. I had a no doubt unrealistic vision of some old-fashioned donnish compiler suddenly worrying ‘Oh dear! perhaps I ought to make that clear!’ and adding the final bracketed phrase.

  29. Carrots says:

    After eventually filling in the top half, the bottom was largely bare when I gave up. Piles of old rocks at Ephesus did get in the way, but I can hardly use sightseeing as an excuse. After such a miserable performance I begin to wonder if I`m in the right arena. Is there a 15-squared site for babies?

  30. Rishi says:


    I enjoyed reading your #23 and #28.

    It was in Shakespeare that I first and last came across ‘tup’ (e.g., “An old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” – Othello)

  31. James G says:

    excellent blog. Thanks.
    re 24, the anag indicator is “nuts”, and “marginalised” surely means placed at the margins (ie the ends)
    Great xword. 4, 11, 22 brilliant!

  32. John says:

    Most of these were solved after crossing letters were in, or else by thinking of possible answers when definitions were identified. In other words, solved backwards. I much prefer to solve from the fodder.
    Overall I think this has been a case of the setter concentrating too hard on clever surfaces at the expense of challenging cluing.
    E.g. what’s “numero” doing in an English crossword? I would defy anyone to solve that without crossing letters. And INFLECT is only solvable when its neighbours are in, since the wordplay is plain wrong.

  33. Median says:

    Carrots @29, if you managed the top half of today’s puzzle you’re doing OK. Believe me and several others here – it was a particularly tough one, with the bottom being harder than the top.

  34. tupu says:

    Hi Rishi @30
    Thanks. The quote nicely brings out the metaphorical link from animal to human behaviour without any of the confusion that the dictionary compiler seems anxious to avoid.

    Hi John @32
    :) While ultimately one prefers a balance, it does seem a little odd to complain strongly about making use of words crossing in a crossword. Would you prefer a simple list? Surely shared letters in crossing answers are an intrinsic part of the game.

    Re numero :- as the clue suggests, ‘no’ is regularly used in English and is an abbreviation of ‘numero’. OED gives several examples of the use of ‘numero’ itself dating from mid 17th-century to the present.

  35. mhl says:

    tupu: I wasn’t criticizing! (My uses of “whatevs” et al are alarmingly losing their irony…) Thanks to you and Rishi for the additional “tupping” references as well.

  36. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Yes, this was hard ánd extremely satisfying.
    We think it’s a real tour de force to incorporate all these clever constructions into so many great and sometimes wacky Paulian surfaces.

    And what a pity of 20d.
    Although the definition is very nice, the “Student swallowed poison” bit we qualified as wrong – yes, I know, one can justify it as you do, mhl [and thank you once more for your exemplary blog], but we don’t want to see it like that.

    22ac? My PinC wasn’t pleased, but I couldn’t be bothered.
    No problem with ‘numero’ either, in fact it’s a very clever clue.

    We needed the blog to fully understand 24ac (UNSOPHISTICATED). It was our first word in the South, but – now we see the parsing – it’s all a bit too contrived to our taste.
    In another one that we found without knowing why (KNAVES), we missed the hidden reversal completely [probably due to the break between lines in the PDF version].
    And we didn’t think of ‘Do’='Ditto’.

    Two days ago I had, for some reason, a discussion via email with rightback, in which he pointed out that a containment indicator in the past tense is not accepted by everyone in Crosswordland.
    In 17d Arachne used “held”, which may an example of this.
    BTW, the creature [ROC] in this clue is, I think, a lot more obscure than USENET (15ac). But what’s obscure, isn’t it all about what you’re familiar with in the end?
    I think, as long as the construction is crystal clear and the answer gettable, it’s OK. Why not say to yourself: I’ve learnt something today?

    All in all, forgiving her 20d, a magnificent crossword by our Spider Woman, worth of a Saturday Prize Puzzle.
    Perhaps, some might say [some did, actually], this is something that I recently (at another occasion) called “a setter’s crossword”, but I don’t agree.
    Hard, fair, 99% precise, witty – very very good.

  37. tupu says:

    Yes, despite it’s attractive surface, 20d was a minor blemish in this wonderful arachneid tapestry. I am reminded how the spider is a well known ‘trickster’ figure in folklore. Coincidentally, given the answer, it’s only complexly ‘inflected’ languages like Latin or Finnish that are less dependent on word order as a major semantic indicator. As Chomsky long since pointed out, ‘John plays golf’ and ‘golf plays John’ are radically different in English. If we had inflected nominative and accusative cases, it would or could be different.

  38. Gerry says:

    I also was almost stuck with ‘set off’, am glad I finished with some reservations about answers like ‘usenet’. Got some without understanding, like ‘assist’.

  39. Jim says:

    Felt sure 22ac was “set off”. This caused a considerable delay in complating the crossword.

  40. Sylvia says:

    I thought ‘unsophisticated’ was an anagram of ‘i sit chop nuts’ and n (‘and’ marginalised)but there was an extra e!

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