Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian Prize 25,292 / Bonxie

Posted by Eileen on April 16th, 2011


If I wanted to give a title to this puzzle, I think I’d simply borrow one of Shakespeare’s. :-)

Not so long ago, Bonxie gave us a puzzle where every across clue and some down ones began with ‘left’. It very soon became clear that the theme for this one was ‘nothing’, in many of its guises – and none used twice – which is no mean feat.

I remembered saying, the last time I blogged a Bonxie puzzle, that they don’t come up often enough. This prompted me to do some research and I found that, of the ten puzzles of his to appear in the last twelve months, this is the fifth one I’ve blogged, which I find quite remarkable – but I’m not complaining!

I found this puzzle rather tough to get into.The bottom half proved easier, then I worked my way up the left hand side and finished up in the top right corner, which proved the toughest, possibly because of the ‘creative’ wordplay of 4ac, which took some seeing, and the clever misdirection of 4dn, which made me ignore that clue for longer than I need have. All in all, an enjoyable and entertaining challenge – many thanks, Bonxie!


1 Spies return old clubs (6)
SNOOPS: reversal of SPOONS [old golf clubs]: this wasn’t, frankly, the best start: I dislike this ambiguous kind of clue, where it isn’t clear which word has to be reversed. I, as often, initially made the wrong choice!

4 Sarcastic voice wrong, a little childish (7)
CYNICAL: CYN ICAL: homophone [voice] of SIN [wrong] and ‘ickle’ [childish ‘little’]: a really groan-worthy clue and one of the last to go in. It took me a while to accept cynical as sarcastic – and then more time to unravel the parsing: a non-word homophone of a non-word[?] – even Araucaria might jib at that! But, in the end, I’d enjoyed the puzzle so much, I just had to laugh!

9 Troops are sick aboard large vessel (9)
ARTILLERY: ILL [sick] in ARTERY [large vessel]

10 Bit of atmosphere created by Times – nothing in Mirror (5)
XENON: X [times] + reversal [in mirror] of NONE [nothing]: I liked the surface of this one.

11 Whip has nothing to say (5)
KNOUT: according to Chambers, a homophone [‘to say’] of ‘nowt’ [nothing]: a new word for me: ‘a whip formerly used as an instrument of  punishment in Russia’

12 Detailed review of 90s’ verse (9)
INTENSIVE: anagram of NINETIES + V[erse]: ‘detailed’ usually indicates a need to take off the last letter but here it’s the definition – nicely misleading

13 Fire unspecified number entering river topless (7)
ENTHUSE: NTH [unspecified number – as in ‘to the nth degree’] in [m]EUSE [topless river]: I spent too long trying to make something with ‘[o]use’, the much more common crossword river, but, of course, ‘entering’ didn’t make sense – good misdirection, for me, at least.

15 Untidy person puts nothing in tin (6)
SLOVEN: LOVE [nothing] in SN [chemical symbol for tin]

17 Sleep but refuse to remove hat (3,3

19 Motorman scrutinised books (7)
AUDITED: AUDI [motor] + TED [man]

22 Abbreviates A, B, C … and starts translation (9)
This looked more complicated than it turned out to be. I liked it.

24 Racketeer has nothing left (5)
NADAL: NADA [nothing] +L[eft]: a neat clue, since both ‘nada’ and the world no.1 ‘racketeer’ [nice one!] Rafael Nadal are Spanish: a runner-up for my favourite clue

26,18 Nothing can top blue plant that produces truffles, say (5,7)
SWEET FACTORY: SWEET FA [nothing] + C [‘can top’] + TORY [blue]: a lovely construction and surface – another runner-up!

27 Suddenly voting her out (9)

28 Nothing yellow or blue (7)
NAUGHTY: NAUGHT [nothing] + Y[ellow]: I couldn’t find this abbreviation in Collins or Chambers but Google turned up a number of instances.

29 Dictate a request (6)
DEMAND: This is the clue I’m least happy with. I can see it only as an intended double definition but the two are much too close for me, unless I’m missing something.


1 Hobble with explorer, having lost a lot of weight (7)
SHACKLE: the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton,  minus ton [a lot of weight]

2 Old hat with diamonds? Nothing better! (5)
OUTDO: OUT [‘old hat’] + D[diamonds] + O [nothing]: another nice ‘lift and separate clue’, as in 26,18, with ‘better’ as a verb

3 Executive committee force majority to embrace back massage [9]
POLITBURO: POLI [majority of POLIce {force}] + BUR [reversal of RUB [‘back massage’ – nice!] in TO. This took longer than it should have, owing to having an initial N, as a result of having entered [justifiably, I think]  SPOONS at 1ac!

4 Wolves’ leading striker has modest potential income at first (7)
COYOTES: COY [modest] + OTE [potential income] + S [leading striker]: OTE is an abbreviation of On-Target Earnings – ‘referring to the salary a salesperson should be able to achieve’ – Collins. The coyote is also known as the American jackal or prairie wolf. A very cleverly misleading surface, which makes this my favourite clue, I think. When I saw what I thought was the definition, I thought I hadn’t a hope of seeing it – Billy Wright’s the only Wolves footballer I know of!

5 Nothing working for this old bugger! (5)
NIXON: NIX [nothing] + ON [working]: a reference to the Watergate scandal
Superb surface and strong contender for favourite clue

6 Australia has many virtues (9)
CONTINENT: double definition but I’m not so happy with the surface of this one [‘having’ rather than ‘has’?] – and shouldn’t a definition by example have a ‘say’ or a question mark?

7 Singer from the South scoring very convincing win (6)
LINNET: reversal [from the South] of TEN NIL, which would be a very convincing win. This is another runner-up for favourite clue.

8 Consider eating nothing, if confused (6)
SENILE: SEE [consider] around [‘eating’] NIL [nothing].

14 Intended collection for Middle Eastern philosopher (9)
TROUSSEAU: T [middle letter of Eastern] + ROUSSEAU [philosopher]: I liked the ‘intended’ [I haven’t heard that use of the word for years] collection.

16 Decree when 1 must enter 9 (9]
ORDINANCE: I in ORDNANCE [artillery – answer to 9ac]

19 A mainly serious novelist (6)
AUSTER: I think it must be this author : AUSTER[e]: naturally, at least for me,  it was ‘Austen’ that leapt to mind but I could find no way of parsing it, then found this author, of whom I’m afraid I’d never heard.

20 Made weaker when swollen heart transplanted (7)
DILUTED: DILATED [swollen] with the middle letter [heart] changed

21 Fruit with stems on (6)
DAMSON: DAMS [stems] + ON

23 A sick gag (5]
RETCH: cryptic definition, I think, depending on the double definition of ‘gag’.

25 Setter gets up before noon on principle (5)
DOGMA: DOG [setter – as in 6dn, a question mark or ‘say’ might be expected here, I think] + reversal of AM [before noon]

35 Responses to “Guardian Prize 25,292 / Bonxie”

  1. Biggles A says:

    There were some good clues here, I liked 4a, 24, 26 – even if it is a bit risqué – 5 and 8 and I wondered if there might be an immodest double meaning in 25. But the abbreviation in 4d is too obscure, I can’t see that CONTINENT in 6 is synonymous with MANY VIRTUES and in 29 there is a difference between REQUEST and DEMAND.

    I thought 7 might be L= 50 in the net which would have been a convincing victory all right but doesn’t account for the SOUTH. The crossing letters in 19 convinced me it had to be AUSTEN and had me wondering for a while before I found out about AUSTER.

    Rather like the curate’s egg I thought.

  2. Bryan says:

    Many thanks Eileen

    Four in the NE corner eluded me because, even though I favoured CYNICAL and CONTINENT, I couldn’t make them work.

    Worse, even after checking the Annotated Solution, I remained bewildered.

    Thank goodness for Fifteensquared and your own brilliance.

  3. tupu says:

    Thanks Eileen for an excellent blog and Bonxie for a brilliant puzzle

    :) I very much like your brilliant silent motto. It would not have been a spoiler – only a fine enhancement!

    The story of Odysseus puzzling the Cyclops Polyphemus by telling him his name was ‘no-one’ came to mind while solving.

    My only parsing error was with enthuse. I read it wrongly as ‘-enth’ in [O]use (decapitated after insertion).

    I very much agree with your assessment of the clues (both the real ticklers and teasers and the slightly dismal 25a).

    I also liked the cheekiness of Sweet Factory.

    Like others I played with Austen and then thought it must be Auster and found him with a considerable list of works to boot.

  4. Dad'sLad says:

    Thanks Eileen,

    Your blog was particularly welcome today as I had struggled to understand some of these. Unusually for me I gave up on the paper version last Sat and didn’t return to it until this morning when the check facility was there to confirm several guesses. Like you I had to work from the bottom up. Although I was reasonably confident it was SNOOPS, the NW was my last corner. I agree with your reservations about DEMAND, CONTINENT and DOGMA although I quite liked the latter. Paul AUSTER presented no problems as I have read his ‘New York Trilogy’ although it didn’t particularly inspire me to read anything else he’s written – too conceptual and contrived for me.

    Lots of contenders for COTD with NIXON and LINNET top of my list. I’m off to see my team in the Scottish Cup semi final today and would settle for IINNET providing of course its OINNET for our opponents….

  5. bamberger says:

    Usually do the FT but last Saturday it was yet another Cinephile. Struggled with this and failed on 13a & 19d. Meuse and Auster were unknowns. Interesting to try another setter. Superb blog -I do like it when the clues are included.

  6. Davy says:

    Thanks Eileen for a great blog and to Bonxie for what turned out to be a great puzzle. It was tough going but the clues were all gettable. I only got three clues on the Saturday but I persevered and was just two short on the Monday. Unfortunately I had one wrong so the puzzle became unfinishable as I’d put NONEL for the NADAL clue. Knowing the correct answer I saw 20d immediately which I should have done anyway. Must try harder next time.

  7. chas says:

    Thanks for the blog Eileen.

    I found my order of solving was similar to yours with one difference: the NE corner defeated me completely.
    Maybe if I had spotted the ‘nothing’ theme I might have done better.

    My favourite clue was 28.

  8. Geoff says:

    Thanks and brava, Eileen.

    I found this puzzle very difficult, but managed to get there in the end. Theme was entertaining, and made for some splendid clues – I especially liked ‘SWEET FA’ and ‘NOWT’ (latter familiar to a Northerner like me). Some of the definitions are a bit wobbly: I don’t like ‘sarcastic’ = CYNICAL or ‘wolves’ = COYOTES.

    The NE corner was the last to be completed. I didn’t spot that ‘from the South’ in 7d was a reversal indicator, and mis-parsed the answer as L (ie 50) IN NET – also likely to be a convincing win!

    I had no great problem with 19d as Paul AUSTER is one of my favourite novelists; I’d strongly recommend “New York Trilogy’ for any first timers to this author.

  9. Robi says:

    I really enjoyed this puzzle, although, of course, I put Austen in thinking that it was most of austere and ‘n’ must be an obscure abbreviation for novelist (y=yellow etc.)

    Thanks Eileen for a great blog, indeed Much Ado About Nothing – I got a little misled with truffles, thinking of the buried sort, so toyed with ScEnT FACTORY before seeing the ‘sweet fa’ part. I eventually parsed COYOTES although OTE is not exactly an acronym that is in daily use (at least around here.) I was surprised that NADA was in the dictionary as I only knew it as a Spanish word. I loved the clue for CYNICAL, and cynical=sarcastic is in the Chambers crossword dictionary. I also liked NODOFF; makes a change from MADOFF with the money.

    Let’s have some more of Bonxie!

  10. Stella Heath says:

    Thanks for a great blog, Eileen.

    I managed the left hand side between Saturday and Monday, then gave up till this morning, when the rest revealed itself via NIXON and XENON, though I didn’t know ‘nix’=’nothing’ – is it Latin?

    My parsings of 12ac and 7d were the same as tupu’s@3, but yours are obviously better.

    I hadn’t heard of Mr. Auster, either, but checked him up in Wiki before entering him – one of my few encroachments on the Eastern front last week :)

    In retrospect, this was a very worthy Prize puzzle, and I shall look forward to another by Bonxie.

  11. tupu says:

    Hi Stella

    :) nice to get a mention but I think you have the wrong person! My parsing of 12a and 7d were the same as Eileen’s. Did you mean 13a?

    I believe ‘nix’ is a corruption of German ‘nichts’ or the Dutch equivalent.

  12. Eileen says:

    Hi Stella

    Nix is, indeed, Latin – but it means ‘snow’. :-)

    The only time I’ve heard it meaning ‘nothing’ is in this song:

  13. tupu says:

    Hi Stella
    Re nix, Chambers confirms.

  14. tupu says:

    Hi Stella and Eileen

    Further re nix. The OED sees it coming into English from German ‘nichts’ as also the Dutch term ‘niks’. An early alternate spelling was ‘nicks’. The first literary mention is late 18th Century (I’m aurprised it’s that old) and it has a pretty continuous history since then.

    I am often surprised by the age of usages. The terms mob (from mobile vulgus) dates back to 1711 and mobocracy, which I came across a few years ago and thought was modern, dates back to 1754.

  15. liz says:

    Thanks for a great blog, Eileen. And thanks to Bonxie for a real toughie! I would never have finished this without recourse to aids of various descriptions and, as it was, it took me a lot longer than other Prize crosswords, notably today’s.

    I wrongly parsed 13ac as ENTH(O)USE, and hadn’t heard of OTE, so didn’t see the wordplay there either. Otherwise, I was just pleased to finish!

    I very much liked SWEET FA in 26, 18, and agree that 29ac was perhaps the weakest one here. I’m familiar with Paul Auster’s work — his wife Siri Hustvedt is also a writer and a very good one — which stopped me from putting AUSTEN at 19dn, which was my first inclination.

    All very ingenious and it would be great to have more from this setter.

  16. Eileen says:

    Hi tupu

    Thanks for the research – that all makes very good sense. It’s always sounded American to me – but that’s probably because of the song.

  17. rrc says:

    I hated this – it seemed that the most obscure definitions of words were used in the formation of the clues and without on line aids much of this would have remained empty Having missed a paul and an araucaria the previous two weeks because of holidays this was a real let down.

  18. Stella Heath says:

    Hi tupu, you’re right of course, I did mean 13ac, and as for 7d, I should have looked back at the posts – it was Biggles who coincided with my thoughts.

    Re ‘nix’, I do remember it from an Austrian book I studied in A-level German, and thoroughly enjoyed, though I can’t remember the title now. It made Austrian German sound so much softer to my ears. All I can remember is a conversation on a bus involving a music student, and his interlocutor saying “Now I see how Beethoven could have been deaf!”, or words to that effect. Very revealing, since I didn’t know he was, and the student’s explanation was effective for me, too.

  19. Julian Wilson says:

    Thanks for the blog Eileen; I was pleased that you found difficulties with some that tripped me up completely. I share in all your reservations, and, grudgingly, now I know the answers, some of your praise. But I made a rod for my own back by getting “Graves” instead of “Auster”(which sort of works if you don’t mind the “s” not being directly indicated) despite being more familiar with the work of the New Yorker than that of the Majorcan.

  20. Eileen says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

    I’m glad most people seem to have enjoyed it – and, rrc, I hope you’re better pleased with today’s offering. :-)

    Thanks, Bryan and Dad’sLad for remnding me about the annotated solution, which I didn’t know about for ages and still keep forgetting: as you can see, my blog was scheduled for publishing well before it was available. I don’t know who is responsible for it – Mr Stephenson or the setter – but it was gratifying [but also rather disappointing] to see that my dodgy ‘double definition’ parsing for 29ac is all that there was. And good to see that Paul Auster was, indeed, the author.Thanks, Geoff and Liz, for the recommendation – I feel ashamed that I hadn’t heard of him!

    Hi Julian Wilson – and welcome! Apologies if you’ve posted before, but I didn’t recognise your name. On my first quick read through, before making any entries, my first intuitive thought, too, for 19dn was GRAVES – but it very soon became clear that it wasn’t!

    It’s also good to see that it was the same corner that perplexed most other solvers!

  21. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Much to my surprise (and to my relief) there have hardly been unfavourable posts so far. To be honest, I expected a lot more opinions similar to that of rrc@17.

    It took us two long sessions to champion this crossword (without aides!).
    After the first session on Saturday the grid was still 75% empty, and we were thinking of throwing in the towel.
    Like in previous Bonxies it was a struggle to find a balance between finding clues, their cleverness and the time involved.
    In addition to last Monday’s Rufus, we gave it another go and it was very satisfying to get there in the end.
    Albeit with two mistakes (19d, ánd 11ac where we entered KNOTT – I knew a Dutch word for ‘whip’ (knoet) which we subsequently anglified – should have checked Chambers afterwards).

    Our verdict: an excellent puzzle, very difficult, rewarding.
    But also one that we wouldn’t want to have every single Saturday.
    Some of you say ‘more please’, but in my perception Bonxie’s compact and thoughtful way of cluing is not part of a mass production process. Every now and then a Bonxie, fine, but I’m not completely on this setter’s wavelength (even if I admire his unmistakeable craftsmanship).

    After so many protests against the recent Enigmatist (which was seen as extremely clever, hard and for some undoable) and after many unfavourable reactions to this week’s Pasquale, I cannot believe that all those solvers found this Bonxie easy-peasy and/or as satisfying as we did.
    But then, the ones that sent in a post so far surely belong to the die-hards on 15^2 [which is no dismissive remark towards the many others, I haste to say].
    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to start a campaign against this Bonxie crossword – far from that! – I’m just a bit surprised about the positiveness when compared to the two crosswords I mentioned above.

    Eileen, you did a great job blogging this!
    Our favourites were probably the simple but oh so smooth 27ac (OVERNIGHT) and the splendid 22ac (ABSTRACTS) – well, it is only a tip of the iceberg.

    The blog made clear where we went wrong in the parsing of ENTHUSE (13ac). We got rid of the Ouse idea at an early stage, but saw “unspecified number” as just N (which I think is in fact better than N-TH, as that is an adjective – although thinking of Harry the n-th, it may work as the number itself). Meanwhile the cultural barbarian in me thought the river might be ‘Methuse’ (after Methusaleh) ….. :)

    As a foreigner it is fun to follow this discussion about non-English words creeping into the English language. I think the English speaking world is, understandably, mainly just focused on its own language, while for example on mainland Europe (esp in Germany, Holland, Belgium and probably Denmark too) people are working with their native language plús English.

    So no problems with ‘nix’ or ‘nada’.
    In Holland a well-known phrase is “nix, nada, niente” [buy one, get two free :)] for the brilliant title of today’s blog.

    Fine puzzle, fine blog.
    Thank you Bonxie, thank you Eileen.

  22. Eileen says:

    Hi Sil

    It’s ironical that, after a fairly long silence, we crossed!

    I, too, was surprised at the few adverse comments – particularly re 29ac, which I thought was awful, but didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment.

    I’m interested in your KNOTT idea for 11ac and am sure that it will get tupu going, if he’s still around!

    Re 13ac: I’m skating on very thin ice here, since your’e the mathematician and I’m decidedly not! I did hesitate between N and Nth but then decided that Nth is a[n ordinal] number. ?

  23. Stella Heath says:

    Hi Sil, I rarely reply to your blogs as they’re so thoroughly thought through, but I enjoyed this one so much I just have to say, “spot on”

  24. tupu says:

    Hi Sil
    Just looked in and found your post and Eileen’s.

    Re knout – the original word is apparently Russian but it sounds possible that your Dutch word has been similarly borrowed. It has had various transliterations in English and knout itself is apparently a French spelling. It is a word I happened to have come across somewhere along the way. And of course it fits with the theme!

    I did not find this puzzle all that hard to solve despite failing to parse 13 properly. I think the theme helped quite a lot beyond 11a – it was dealt with in a witty way that helped to keep one smiling as one went along.

    I think it is very hard to overvalue ‘wit’ in a puzzle. I am not arguing that precision of cluing isn’t also very important (and this one seems to me well clued). But wit is like the seasoning that turns solid food into a culinary experience and there is good measure of it here.

  25. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Tupu, I think Bonxie is a very clever setter of puzzles of which at least the recent ones are quite heavyweight in my opinion.
    He has a compact, concise way of cluing – generally very precise.
    There is an amount ‘wit’ in this puzzle too, indeed.
    But my ‘problem’ with Bonxie puzzles is that they are hard to get going.
    And in that process I am more focused on finding as many solutions as possible than on appreciating the surfaces and/or the ‘witty’ layers.
    Which I then do enjoy afterwards or whenever the pace of solving is such that a successful solve comes within reach.

    I find Bonxie perhaps the hardest of the current Guardian setters, but that may be purely a personal thing.
    I don’t jump for joy seeing this setter’s name, but are more or less prepared to accept a stiff challenge. That ‘newspaper’ Saturday crossword a while ago had the same effect on me as this one [also 75% empty in the first hour or so (which may put one off)] as had the ‘Left’ puzzle which I initially experienced as rather impenetrable because of all these ‘Left’s embedded in very short clues.

    However, despite some minor complaints (as pointed out by Eileen) I enjoyed this puzzle very much as I did the others eventually. But not right from the start, though. Bonxie calls for perseverance in order to reward the solver.
    As I said in my Pasquale post, not sure whether the average Guardian solver wants to do that little extra step to get there in the end.
    I/We do (and apparently most other posters today, too).

  26. Ian says:

    Thanks for an outstanding job Eileen. Your comprehensive annotations are a real tour de force.

    I would like to congratulate Bonxie for providing us with a classic crossword puzzle. Definitely a case of something about nothing.

    Top marks for stretching the theme its limit. A rewarding solve were it not for the fact that I erred with 19 dn by inserting AUSTEN and leaning it there. Very poor on my part.

    Many commendable clues on display. Surely none better than NIXON. LINNET & NADAL also top drawer.

    Solving time 1 hr 48 m with one error.


    I couldn’t see Cynical having inserted it into the grid. Many thanks for the explanation

  27. tupu says:

    Bonxie has apparently been setting for the Guardian since 2004. We have had one puzzle each month this year, and there were eight last year.

  28. Biggles A says:

    I’m a bit surprised that nobody has educated me on the relevance of CONTINENT to MANY VIRTUES.

    I have to confess that the theme had eluded me but I now acknowledge the “wit” involved. Thanks tupu. I wonder why ZERO wasn’t worked in there somewhere.

    It was churlish of me not to express my appreciation Eileen, I apologise.

  29. NeilW says:

    Hi Biggles A

    At the time, CONTINENT concerned me too but Chambers gave, under “adjective”, meaning 4: Virtuous. It seemed fair enough to me…

  30. Eileen says:

    Hi Biggles

    And I apologise for not addressing your query.

    As I indicated, I wasn’t entirely happy with this clue, because the grammar seems wrong. I think your unease is perhaps with the ‘many’ virtues. Collins gives ‘exercising self-restraint’, and, I suppose, thus avoiding a number of vices, ergo having many virtues!

  31. tupu says:

    Further re knout

    Nowt is of course a variant of nought (when pronounced as in drought as opposed to as in fought).

    I am reminded of the well known ‘Tyke’ injunction ‘If tha’ ever does owt for nowt, allus make sure tha does it for tha sen’.

  32. Biggles A says:

    Thanks NeilW and Eileen. I knew the OED has CHASTE as a synonym but I wasn’t sure just how many virtues, if any, that might encompass. Still a bit doubtful I think.

  33. NeilW says:

    Hi Biggles A – I don’t suppose you’ll revisit this, but imagine the phrase, “He is a virtuous man.” I don’t think one would understand this to mean, “He has a single virtue” but rather that he has quite a few, from which one may arrive, reasonably, at “many”.

    Eileen, I can’t quite understand your objection to the grammar. Surely, using the phrase above, the virtuous man… has many virtues?

    Sorry – just filling time between the F1 race and the Liverpool game!

  34. Eileen says:

    Hi NeilW

    I don’t want to labour this [and it seems you don’t, either. :-) ].

    Certainly your phrase works but, as I suggested in the blog, ‘virtuous’ means ‘having [not has] many virtues’. ‘Has many virtues’ = ‘IS virtuous’.

    But let’s leave it there, shall we? No one else seemed to mind!

  35. Biggles A says:

    Thanks again NeilW. I did revisit and appreciate your patience with me but I think Eileen’s advice is sound.

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