Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,285 / Puck

Posted by mhl on April 1st, 2011


A characteristically inventive and intricate puzzle from Puck, with lots of very nice clues. This puzzle has one of those themes which is more like a chain of associations running through the clues – very satisfying to solve.

With 32 clues, this was quite tough work to blog but I was helped along by listening to a series of classic TV theme tunes, prompted by 13d :)

1. SAFETY PIN (YIP FASTEN)* – YIP is from “zip not that unknown”, i.e. Y instead of Z – both are conventional names for “unknowns” in equations; Definition: “another fastener”
6. COBOL COOL = “Relaxed” around B = “bit of bad”; Definition: “language” – a programming language in this case
9. EERIE [p]EER = “Topless look” + IE = “that is”; Definition: “weird”
10. LUSITANIA An &lit: An anagram of IT L USA = “It left USA” and N[earing] I[reland] A[ll]; Definition: the whole clue
11. SWAN HUNTER Double definition: “Hull builders on Tyneside”, referring to the ship-building company, and “one searching for a pen?” referring to “pen” meaning a female swan
12. COBH COB = “[SWAN]” + H = “[HUNTER]’s first”; Definition: “[TITANIC]’s last [PORT] now” – the Titanic’s last port before sinking was Queenstown, which is now called COBH
14. STELLAR ELL = “measure” in STAR = “newspaper”; Definition: “Excellent”
15. TORPEDO E = “lower-class” + DO = “party” after (PORT)*; Definition: “Wreck”
17. TITANIC (CAN IT IT)*; Definition: “Very big”
19. IGNOBLE EL BON = “The good bilingual” + GI = “soldier”, all reversed; Definition: “base”
20. SUNK Hidden in “seaS UNKind”; Definition: “as were the [LUSITANIA] and [TITANIC] — by [TORPEDO] and [ICEBERG]
22. QUEENSTOWN QUEENS’ TOWN = “gay community?”; Definition: “Former name for [COBH]”
25. EXPLOSIVE EXPLETIVE = “Swear word” with OS (Ordinary Seaman) = “sailor” instead of ET = “alien”; Definition: “as mine is”, referring to explosive land mines or sea mines
26. ABACK Another nice &list: Hidden reversed in “blacK CAB, After”
27. KRAIT K = “King” + [cob]RA = “cobra’s no horse” + IT; Definition: “a snake” – I should have got this more easily, since the Krait was one of the many types of spaceship named after snakes in Elite, a classic computer game of my childhood
28. RIGIDNESS (R + DESIGN IS)*; Definition: “Lack of bend”
1. SPECS A nice double definition: “What builders get from designer” and “glasses”
2. FIRMAMENT FIRM = “decided on” + AMEN = “the last word” + [broadcas]T; Definition: “Sky” – strange that FIRMAMENT has two more-or-less opposite meanings: “foundation” and “the sky and heavens”
3. TOE THE LINE ETHEL = “Female” + I = “setter” in TONE = “mood”; Definition: “to conform”
4. PILSNER P[ort] = “Heading for [PORT]” + (LINER’S)*; Definition: “drink”
5. NOSIEST NO SIEST[a] = “lack of short nap?”; Definition: “Most inquisitive”
6. CATO [tos]CA + TO[sca] = “part of Tosca, repeatedly”; Definition: “Censor” – the Roman statesman was known as “Cato the Censor” apparently
7. BINGO BIN = “discard” + G = “key” + O = “ring”; Definition: “Game”
8. LOATHSOME (MOTEL HAS)* around O = “nothing”; Definition: “Detestable”
13. GRANDSTAND GRAND = “Magnificent” + STAND = “support”; Definition: “long-running TV show” (with an excellent theme tune  :))
14. SO TO SPEAK SO = “Note” (in the Solfège) + T = “time” + OS = “bone” + PEAK = “highest point”; Definition: “as it were”
16. EMBROCATE (TOE CARE)* around MB = “Doctor”; Definition: “Apply lotion to”
18. COURIER Double definition: “One taking messages” and “newspaper”
19. ICEBERG GREBE = “Diver” + C = “caught” + I = “one” all reversed; Definition: “something to eat” (as in ICEBERG lettuce)
21. NAPPA Hidden in “goatskiN, APPArently”; Definition: “Leather”
23. NUKES ([SUNK])* with E = “English” in the middle; Definition: “bombs”
24. PORT The extreme letters in “Parliament” are either P OR T; Definition: “What’s left” (as in “port” and “starboard”)

54 Responses to “Guardian 25,285 / Puck”

  1. Shirley says:

    Thanks Mhl we thought this was the best of the week – just the right amount of difficulty and some lovely clues.
    9A we thought this might be Leer not Peer.
    Also there is a typo in 19A should be IgnobLE

  2. Bryan says:

    Many thanks mhl, this was very enjoyable.

    I failed to get 13a COBH which, although perfectly fair, was new to me.

    Otherwise this was a Double Disaster – as Craig Revel Horwood might say – in a perfectly acceptable way.

    Many thanks Puck!

  3. NeilW says:

    Thanks, mhl.

    I really like Puck and this certainly didn’t disappoint. I had to do a bit of research to fathom COBH but that in itself was very worthwhile. Interestingly, the survivors and victims of the LUSITANIA were brought to COBH and apparently there is an associated graveyard there as well.

  4. David says:

    Thanks, mhl.
    I read 1a slightly differently: ‘another’ referring to another unknown – to give y, rather than another fastener. Both work, though.

  5. duncan says:

    not entirely happy with “cobol” (an acronym) & “specs” (an abbreviation in either use) but otherwise a rather more pleasant cruise than one or two of the solutions enjoyed. didn’t know 12ac- simply didn’t know it. & that’s another nice thing about doing these crosswords- now I do know it.


  6. mhl says:

    Shirley: thanks, I’ve corrected that typo – I must have been thinking of the “Ig Nobel Prize” :)

  7. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Thank you, mhl.

    I thought this was a delightful puzzle, just about the right level of difficulty as Shirley says. The theme wandered hither and thither, helping you on occasions but without getting in the way of completion, and there were no real obscurities (except perhaps KRAIT) that were forced by the thematic content.

    There were many good clues, but SWAN HUNTER is going to be my favourite today. From mhl’s link, it seems that it’s included because it constructed the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors. But our Dad worked building and mending ships for forty-odd years at one of the yards in the Swan Hunter group on the River Tyne, so that was a nice personal link for me today.

  8. Phil says:

    A return to form after yesterday’s setting up to a point and Wednesday’s treble dickcisseling! I liked Swan Hunter and explosive once the latter was explained to me here!

  9. Martin H says:

    I usually enjoy Puck, but it seems I wasn’t on his wavelength today. My fault probably, but there were some weak definitions: ‘something to eat’ for ‘iceberg'; ‘long-running TV show’ for ‘grandstand'; ‘what builders get from designer’ for ‘specs'; ‘queen’ for ‘gay’ (queen implies effeminacy, which is no more a necessary characteristic of being gay than ostentatious virility is of being straight).

    I don’t get how 12 works. the definition is clear, but how does ’11’s first’ get COB + H? ‘Swan’ is COB, that’s fine; where does the H come from? ‘Hunter’ presumably, but how is it signalled. If we are to take ‘first’ as applying to both parts, it should be ’11’s firsts’ – whole of first part and first letter of second part. But of course that makes a lousy surface.

    E for ‘lower class’ is not reliable. the ACORN profile, for instance gives class E as ‘educated urbanites’, and has grades going well down the alphabet. In any case it is a grade within a classification system and therefore doesn’t express the system itself. If it means anything at all it means ‘lower’ not ‘lower class’.

    CATO and PORT were well conceived.

  10. Eileen says:

    Many thanks, mhl.

    I agree with Shirley and Kathryn’s Dad about the level of difficulty – especially as I was expecting something more fiendish from Puck, on April 1st.

    Martin H, I spent several minutes not seeing 12ac but it’s beautifully simple really: it’s what it says on the tin: ‘Swan [cob] Hunter’s first [H]. I’d never heard of the place but I thought it was a lovely clue, once i saw it!

  11. Geoff says:

    Thanks mhl.

    Hugely enjoyable offering from Puck, with a nicely layered theme that didn’t overpower the variety and inventiveness of the puzzle.

    COBH was my last entry, having forgotten that it was linked to 22a, which I had solved much earlier from the wordplay. I have a tendency to do this, unfortunately. Must try harder!

    My favourite clues were 11a, which is both clever and funny (I liked the use of ‘Tyneside’, which in crosswords almost always indicates the letters NE, and here is misleadingly literal!) and 10a, which is a beautiful &lit. I knew the word KRAIT (wasn’t Conan Doyle’s ‘Speckled Band’ one of these?) but NAPPA was a new one for me, though obvious from the crossing letters.

    I approached this puzzle with some trepidation, expecting something rather more unusual for 1 April. Many years ago (late 70s?) Araucaria produced a crossword for this date with the preamble – ‘the answers have nothing in common but the 1st of April’. It transpired that all of the crossing letters were A; the puzzle was full of words like PANAMA CANAL and BANANA SALAD.

    Couldn’t parse 1a – thanks for the help, here.

  12. Michael says:

    12 ac. Surely it’s swan plus 17’s last 24 – which was Cobh.

  13. Martin H says:

    Thanks Eileen; OK, I see what you mean – yes, it ought to be very good, but it doesn’t feel that way (yet). Clearly, I’ve still got wavelength problems.

  14. Michael says:

    Sorry, I’m a bit slow! I read it as “11 and 17’s first” also 17’s last 24.

  15. tupu says:

    Thanks mhl and puck

    An enjoyable puzzle. I had to check Cobh via Queenstown and failed to parse it properly. Eileen probably has it but I’m not quite convinced about the surface. It is in County Cork where I understand Puck lives.

    I enjoyed 11a(!) and also 25a (though I checked os in the dictionary after solving), 8d (a less obvious anagram for me at least) and 24d.

    I wondered if today was an anniversary but the Titanic sailed on 12 April 1912 and sank on the 15th (almost 99 years ago).

  16. tupu says:

    ps In fact it is the centenary today of the opening of the Thompson Dry Dock in Belfast where the ship was dry-docked before its voyage.

  17. Robi says:

    Thanks Puck and mhl for explaining one or two. I didn’t get PORT even after solving it (via TORPEDO first.) I loved EXPLOSIVE once you had explained it.

    MartinH @9; according to this source the lowest classification in this system equates to ‘e.’

    I did like EL BON GI 😀 . I was waiting for some April 1st twist as in today’s Guardian editorial but in keeping with the theme, I found this:
    Monday, April 1st 1912. It was a crisp, cool morning, the day that the new White Star Liner RMS Titanic would make her trials and later the trip from Belfast to Southampton.

  18. Stella Heath says:

    Thanks mhl.

    I agree with others that this was, like Baby Bear’s porridge, just right, although I too was expecting something a little bit fiendish from Puck, given the date.

    I got 12ac. quite early on, having twigged on to the theme and visited Wiki for a list of shipwrecks. It turned out I didn’t need it, as there were only two and they are (in)famous :). Still, it led me not only to the aforementioned, but also to 22ac.

    Just as well, as I’d put in ‘Nationwide’ for 13d, taking ‘magnificent support’ metaphorically.

  19. tupu says:

    pps cf.

  20. mhl says:

    Robi: thanks for the link about the socio-economic class categories – I failed to find anything like that when I was writing the post. What I’d really like is a online quiz that tells me which one of these categories I’m in :) I’m always surprised when they mention these categories on the news, since they mean nothing useful to the overwhelming majority of viewers, I’m sure…

  21. mhl says:

    Oh, and I might mention a couple of stupid mistakes I made by not bothering to parse the cryptic part before entering the answer: EUPHEMISM instead of EXPLOSIVE and MASTERMIND instead of GRANDSTAND…

  22. liz says:

    Thanks, mhl. I agree with you (and others) about the chain of associations — nice to see the links pop up as the puzzle unravelled. Failed with 12ac, though :-(

    Enjoyable puzzle, with lots of clever trickery.

  23. Ian says:

    Thanks to mhl for the excellent blog and of course to Puck for a crossword of sparkle and wit.

    Some wonderful wordplay, pace 25ac for EXPLOSIVE, 14ac STELLAR and 19dn ICEBERG. Great piece of misdirection there with the latter.

    Bravo Puck!

  24. Martin H says:

    Hi Robi @ 17. The other system I mentioned is at

    ‘Lower class’ only relates to E in one system, and even there is described as the ‘old’ classification; and so is not reliable in a clue.

  25. tupu says:

    I am sorry to have been flogging an apparently dead horse but I am surprised that the following facts seem to have been of no interest whatsoever to other participants.
    1. Cobh is very close to Cork where Puck lives.
    2. It was the last port of call for the Titanic before leaving for the US.
    3. There is a 100th anniversary exhibition in Belfast (started yesterday) to mark the Titanic’s building in the Thompson Dry Dock and its launching from there.
    4. The dry dock was opened 100 years ago today for work on the Titanic and its sister ship.
    5. Both Cobh and Belfast are taking part in a broader centenary remembrance of the bulding, launching and loss of the ship.

  26. RCWhiting says:

    Quite straightforward and enjoyable.
    Thanks to Eileen and Martin (re:12ac) but I still do not get it.
    17’s last 24 now = Titanic’s last port now, which is a straightforward definition for COBH.
    How can “11’s first” give Cob+H?

  27. Robi says:

    MartinH @24; thanks for the link – I didn’t know things could get that complicated. In your link, they still provide the nrs social grade definitions (uk), ending in ‘e.’ The author surmises that NRS grade and annual earnings were:
    A – £50k and over
    B – £35-50k
    C1 – £25-35k
    C2 – £15-25k
    D – £7-15k
    E – £5-7k

    tupu @25; our previous comments crossed. Yes, I think you have found the right anniversary; the one that I mentioned was only 99 years. And yes, it is very interesting. :)

  28. mhl says:

    tupu: those connections were fascinating, I thought – I wouldn’t take lack of direct replies as a lack of interest! (Personally I try not to reply unless I have something new to add, although sadly that may not be apparent :))

  29. Robi says:

    P.S. Re tupu’s comments, the following link gives some more information:

  30. mhl says:

    RCWhiting: I really don’t understand how 12a is causing so much confusion – the subsidiary part is “11’s first”, which if you expand 11 turns into “Swan Hunter’s first” – this is just COB = “Swan” followed by H = “Hunter’s first”. The definition part is “TITANIC’s last PORT now”, as you say.

  31. Median says:

    Good puzzle, even though I failed to get COBH and CATO. My background proved to be a disadvantage with 18: Having lived in Hobart and Leicester, my first solution for “One taking messages for newspaper” was MERCURY.

  32. Eileen says:

    Hi Median


    Eileen [Leicester]

  33. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks mhl, I can now see a little more clearly.
    I have found previously that a cross-reference to only part of another solution is indicated. Here it is not.
    ie 11 is Swan Hunter not Swan.

  34. Stella Heath says:

    Hi tupu, and thanks for the explanations. I had a feeling the anniversary was coming up, though like Robi, I was thinking of the wrong one.

    I didn’t know Puck lived in Cork, or the Irish connections of the Titanic (apart from being its last port of call).

    Something in the excellent interweaving of the theme in today’s puzzle made me suspect something was afoot – once I’d got over the disppointment of the absence of pranks :) -, and you have now clarified that impression.

    Well done indeed, Mr. Puck!

  35. Robi says:

    BTW, as well as SWAN=pen as given in the blog, there were also these pens made by Swan, in case anyone remembers.

  36. Wolfie says:

    I enjoyed this quirky offering from Puck. Thanks to mhl for parsing 25ac for me. By the way, nappa leather may be made from kidskin, so 21d could be read as an &lit as well as a hidden answer.

  37. stiofain says:

    Tupu I found your investigative work very interesting especially that the dry dock opened today. I did this excellent puzzle online late last night and went to bed angry with the crossword editor for not saving it for a Titanic anniversary like his failing to print Pasquales bird puzzle on the appropriate date and recent printing of prize standard puzzles midweek and vice-versa but your information has tempered my attitude.

    As for Cobh this is not, as widely accepted, a word in the Irish language (for cove, it was originally The Cove of Cork ) but a completely made up word coined to Gaelicise the name after Irish Independence much in the same manner as the English had Anglicised many place names generations before.

    Its a lovely spot dominated by the Cathedral that has the largest set of bells in these islands and was the last glimpse of Ireland seen by millions of emigrants fleeing “An Gorta Mor” or The Great Famine and the many deportees on the coffin ships to Van Diemans Land and there are many memorials in the area.

  38. cholecyst says:

    I enjoyed this – tricky but do-able without getting headache. Kathryn’s Dad: Unfortunately Swan Hunter’s went bust a couple of years ago. The familiar cranes which dominated the Wallsend skyline were sold and dismantled. The site is now being used to DISMANTLE oil exploration platforms.

  39. Chas says:

    I am one of those not satisfied by the parsing of 12a: it looks as though ‘first’ is doing double duty. Once to indicate the first word of 11a and once to indicate the first letter of the second word!

    As a separate matter i liked 12a and 14d.

  40. tupu says:

    Many thanks stiofain for the further touching information.

  41. michael says:

    I am now convinced that there is a typo in 12 across!

    Just suppose the clue was “10’s first and 17’s last 24 now”

    This would resolve perfectly, ?

  42. Pelham Barton says:

    I think 28ac works more simply and naturally as R = “river” + (DESIGN IS)*: there is no need to bring the abbreviation inside the anagram, although it is not wrong to do so.

  43. Thomas99 says:

    michael (41)
    No. It would wreck a fine clue.

    Swan Hunter’s first.
    Swan. Hunter’s first.
    Cob. H.

    It’s perfect.

  44. RCWhiting says:

    But Thomas, in your second line you have assumed that 11 refers to Swan when it actually refers to Swan Hunter.
    Or there is no ‘first’ to indicate ‘h’.
    If you allow the first to operate twice (which I do not) then it would be Swan S ie Cobs.

  45. nmsindy says:

    An American tourist landing at COBH from a liner once described it as COB H. A phrase that went into the folklore and would be understood and recognized by most people in that area of the country now.

  46. Eileen says:

    Hi RCWhiting

    I really do hesitate to prolong this [I think this is one of those where either you see it or you don’t and it’s been expressed in practically every way possible by those who do.]

    If the clue had been ‘Swan Hunter’s first, etc…’, which is, virtually, what it is, as mhl suggested @30, surely you would have arrived at COBH?

    I’m going out now. :-)

  47. Peter says:

    Thanks to mhl for the blog, and Puck for an absolute joy of a xword! Quite a few real beauties in it.

    Re 11ac: I agree with Eileen (46) and Thomas (43) on their parsing, and that it is a perfect clue. But I think I can also see why RCWhiting is troubled. In the language of algebra, programming, or grammer, there’s a change of bracketing/parsing:

    “9’s first” suggests “(Swan Hunter)’s first”, while the cryptic reading groups it as “Swan (Hunter’s first)”.

    Compare how in 1d, the surface suggests “What builder gets from (designer glasses)”, but the cryptic reading requires parsing it as “(What builder gets from designer); glasses”. Discarding groupings from the surface reading like this often troubles newcomers, but I think we’d all agree it’s quite kosher.

    Doing the same thing to a reference is much less usual, but it seems quite reasonable to me — indeed, quite ingeniously elegant!

  48. Martin H says:

    Thanks Eileen and others – 12a is actually very good. The interesting thing is why some of us found/find it so hard to accept. I suggest it has something to do with the use of the word ‘last’ as well as ‘first’ in the clue; as apparently complementary words – and in the absence of any further material other than the number references – they feel as if they ought to be treated in the same way – standard trap, but this time very effective.

  49. RCWhiting says:

    Sorry Eileen,one last try (?!)
    “If the clue had been ‘Swan Hunter’s first, etc…’, which is, virtually, what it is”
    But it isn’t. It is 11 and 11’s first is ‘swan’
    It is very common when cross referring to a two word solution to refer to the first or second (or last)if only one part is required.
    This leaves no ‘first’ to indicate H(unter).

  50. RCWhiting says:

    a) I don’t expect you to agree with me !
    b) I quite liked the clue but still think it is seriously flawed.

  51. tupu says:

    Hi Martin
    I have felt uneasy about this without any link to the first/last juxtaposition.

    Eileen says the clue is VIRTUALLY Swan Hunter’s first, but it is nonetheless not quite that.

    Peter seems to me to give the clearest picture of what is going on. The clue seems more like (Swan + Hunter)’s first as he points out. But it can be read as Swan + Hunter + ‘s + first, and one can then rejoin them in crosswordland as Swan + Hunter’s first (just about).

    I still don’t feel it is a ‘perfect clue’ however and some other wording with a decent surface would, if possible, have been preferable IMHO.

  52. taxi phil says:

    Quite simply the most enjoyable puzzle of the year so far. Enigmatist please note !

  53. RCWhiting says:

    …….like 11’s double first……maybe?

  54. Martin H says:

    Hi tupu – I find Eileen’s/Thomas99’s/mhl’s reading coherent, and so I say it’s valid. ’11’s first’ could equally have been S or SWAN, but they weren’t what Puck intended. There are often two or more possible coherent readings of a part of a clue. This one is unusual because the intended reading is conceptually so different from the alternatives, rather like those optical illusions – ie where you see either the old crone or the young girl, but it’s difficult to comprehend the two images at the same time.

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