Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian Prize 25,310 / Crucible

Posted by Eileen on May 7th, 2011


When I opened my paper and saw the name of one of my favourite setters on the puzzle, my heart leapt – only to plummet a few minutes later, before I had even looked at it, when the sports news on the radio reminded me of the goings-on at the other Crucible and I remembered the previous two themed prize puzzles [24,999 and 24,379] by this setter at exactly this time of year!

However, to my relief, it soon became obvious that the theme was not snooker this time, although the “Special instructions: Solutions to 22 clues contain at least one 14, which is unclued” did seem a bit daunting to begin with.
After the first run through the clues, I’d solved about half of them, without spotting any connection between them but, returning to 14ac, I had O?L ?P???, which could really only be OIL SPILL, indicating that 22 solutions contained the letters O I L, which indeed they did.

Since all the ‘theme’ clues were completely free-standing, this was a puzzle which could easily be solved without any reference to the apparently key clue at 14ac. Nice one, Crucible!  – some really witty surfaces and wordplay providing  enjoyable solving. Many thanks for a rather different themed puzzle!


1 Did her Hollywood swansong lack gravity? (6)
GLORIA: SWANSON[g]: Gloria Swanson was an American film actress [1899 – 1983] best known for ‘Sunset Boulevard’ [1950]

5 Spin doctor to officer: “It’s how you must behave” (8)
PROTOCOL: P[ublic] R[elations] O[fficer] [spin doctor] + TO + COL[onel] [officer]

9 Kebabs in villa regularly seen in this country, so I gathered (8)
SOUVLAKI: SO I round [gathered]  ViLlA [alternate letters of ‘villa’] in UK [this country]

10 Nymphet laughing out loud initially at sex with adult (6)
LOLITA: LOL initial letters of [Laugh{ing} Out Loud, used in text messaging] + IT [sex] + A[dult]

11 Drunken pig hit female printer (12)
LITHOGRAPHER: this looked for all the world like an anagram of ‘pig hit female’ but it’s a charade: LIT [drunken] + HOG [pig] + RAP [hit] + HER [female]

13 French novelist’s first item for sale? (4)
LOTI: LOT 1 [first item for sale in an auction]: I hadn’t heard of him before but Pierre Loti is the pseudonym of Julien Viaud [1850 – 1923), a French novelist and naval officer.

14 (3,5)
OIL SPILL: this became obvious from the crossing letters and gives the clue to – or, rather, the confirmation of – 22 answers containing the letters O I L. [Perhaps that should be  OIL SPILL , since ‘spill’ implies an anagram.]

17 Elite member’s old cigar crushed in left hand (8)
OLIGARCH: O [old] + anagram of CIGAR in L[eft] H[and]

18 Where lots idly dived outside originally? (4)
LIDO: initial letters of Lots Idly Dived Outside – & lit, as a lido is an open-air swimming pool

20 Middleman takes look into writhing erotic turn (12)
INTERLOCUTOR: LO [look] inside anagram of EROTIC TURN: I’m not ever so keen on the definition here.

23 Pinched passage in society feature (6)
STRAIT: S [society] + TRAIT [feature]

24 Peer’s joint backs on to ground (8)
LORDSHIP: LORDS [cricket ground] + HIP [joint]: we’d usually expect ‘backs on to’ to indicate a reversal

25 In a 3 way, oddly collecting debts for second daughter (8)
ODIOUSLY: IOUS [debts] replacing the second D [daughter] in ODDLY: 3dn is REVOLTING, hence ‘in a 3 way’

26 Wound sound back after beginning to listen (6)
LESION: reversal of NOISE after L[isten]


2 Hero picked up zilch after winning Oscar (4)
LION: O [Oscar in NATO phonetic alphabet] in reversal of NIL [zilch]

3 Rebel activity to do with potential rise or fall in government (9)
REVOLTING: RE [to do with] + VOLT [potential rise or fall] + IN + G[overnment]

4 One used to be suppressing occasionally dirty lies in store (6)
AWAITS: A WAS [one used to be] around [suppressing] IT [alternate letters of ‘dirty]: I’m not sure I really like ‘occasionally’ here.

5 Calmly repaired nearly loose chip in bottle, extremely luckily (15)
PHILOSOPHICALLY: anagram of LOOS[e] CHIP in PHIAL [bottle] + LY [first and last letters of ‘luckily’]: the instructions did say, ‘at least one’!

6 Even jovial doctor’s sick; there’s a big bit in it (3,5)
OIL DRILL: OIL [even letters of ‘jovial’] + DR [doctor] + ILL [sick]

7 It’s not much work wrapping 41 flowers (5)
OXLIP: OP [not much work] round [wrapping] XLI [41]: I thought the surface was a bit odd here: OP is half of ‘opus’, so could just as easily have been ‘quite a lot’ – and, in any case, ‘op’ in crosswords usually means ‘work’, by itself. Also, why the plural, ‘flowers’? My only thought was that there are, apparently, several flowers called OXLIP.  [When I came back to this clue and looked at the crossing letters O?L?P, before looking back at the clue, the first word that sprang to mind was ‘orlop’, which I know only from crosswords, where I’ve seen it many times, most recently in last week’s Everyman.]

8 Declining pounds illicitly banked? (2,3,5)
ON THE SLIDE: L [pounds] in ON THE SIDE [illicitly] – great surface and wordplay!

12 Spread fertiliser in plot Daniel cultivated (10)
POLLINATED: anagram of PLOT DANIEL – another nice surface

15 Growth in Shropshire’s recession concentrates minds (9)
POLARISES: RISE [growth] in reversal of SALOP [former name of Shropshire]

16 Wee obstacles settled during working hours (8)
UROLITHS: LIT [settled] in anagram [working] of HOURS: brilliant surface and wordplay! I hadn’t actually come across this word but worked it out from the derivation [lithos, Greek stone, cf monolith, neolithic, etc]: ‘a calculus in the urinary tract’, hence ‘wee obstacles’ – this has to be my favourite clue.

19 Pulling up unopened broccoli heads, say, yields waxy stuff (6)
STEROL: reversal of [f]LORETS [broccoli heads]: again, I didn’t know this word but the wordplay is excellent

21 Time to muse (5)
ERATO: ERA [time] + TO: the Muse of lyric and love poetry

22 Radio listener picked up missile launch site (4)
SILO: hidden reversal in radiO LIStener: the first four words of the clue might well suggest a homophone, so this was nicely misleading for a moment or two.

23 Responses to “Guardian Prize 25,310 / Crucible”

  1. caretman says:

    When I first started solving this, I didn’t notice the instruction about 14 ac. So I blithely went off solving the puzzle and ran into 14 ac. I figured, “Ah, the solution will probably be something akin to ‘Haven’t a clue’, but I need some crossing letters.” I kept solving and getting no closer to figuring 14 ac out. I don’t know how long I had been at it when I finally noticed the instructions and figuratively slapped my forehead. So as you say, Eileen, it was eminently solvable without reference to the theme clue, and I am testimony to that.

    I agree there were some excellent clues. I loved UROLITHS, ‘wee obstacles’ in both meanings of the word ‘wee.’ And I liked POLLINATED with its accurate but misleading definition. And, like you, on 11 ac I spent a while trying to get it as an anagram. I’m sure Crucible chose subsequent words with a total of 12 letters to entice us down that road. An excellent, fun puzzle. Thanks, Crucible, and thanks Eileen for the blog.

  2. Biggles A says:

    Thanks Eileen, you have explained everything so well that there is not much that anyone will be able to add or to question. My process was very similar to your own and I found the theme to be confirmatory rather than indicative. 16 was my last and the word was unknown to me; I did wonder if it could have been a standing stone which served as an aiming point!

  3. molonglo says:

    Thanks Eileen for a thorughly good blog. I gave up on 16d, guessing what the wee obstacles were and not wanting to go looking for them. I had a few other irritations of my own – some shared with you – including the ‘after’ in 1d, the plural in 7d, the ‘backs on’ in 24a, the convolution in 25a, ‘middleman’ as definition for 20a and the parsing of 4d which was beyond me. Despite all that it was a pleasant treasure hunt, before and after finding 14 across.

  4. Mystogre says:

    I also found 11a difficult because I was looking for that anagram too. In the end it turned out to be the only thing it could be, but I had to work out the parsing after I had the answer.

    But, I enjoyed the challenge and thanks for your explanations. I particularly enjoyed 20a and 26a.

  5. Bryan says:

    Many thanks Eileen for a great analysis and a delightful presentation.

    I’m quite used to getting crucified by Crucible and this puzzle was no exception – never having heard of either LOTI (I still can’t believe that there is such a word) and UROLITHS (wherever did he drag that up from?).

    Luckily today we have a very enjoyable Paul here in the Grauniad and a yet-to-be-examined Mudd in the FT.

    Mr H must really be coining it in!

  6. Eileen says:

    Good morning all

    I’m off out for a day in Hereford, so I shan’t be responding to any complaints, queries, etc until this evening.

  7. Robi says:

    I really enjoyed this puzzle. Nice idea and clever cluing.

    Thanks Eileen for a good blog. Not sure I understand the objection to the plural in 7; it could hardly read 41 flower – I thought it was an interesting clue. According to Wikipaedia the oxlip was voted the county flower of Suffolk in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.

    Wee obstacles for UROLITHS was brilliant. Maybe I can help Eileen with 19 by saying that cholesterol is one of the most familiar STEROLs. Nice surface for LIDO and LOLITA.

  8. Martin H says:

    Hi Robi: ‘Not sure I understand the objection to the plural in 7; it could hardly read 41 flower.’ The objection is that a plural definition is given for a singular solution. If the surface won’t work, the setter should surely find another one, shouldn’t he?

    Overall a very rewarding crossword though, with an exemplary commentary from Eileen, indicating its few weaknesses, notably ‘middleman’ for ‘interlocutor’. Some excellent clues, but odd that OIL SPILL was included among the solutions which contained it. Although of course it did. Hmmm.

  9. Davy says:

    Thanks Eileen,

    I thought this was hard work but got there in the end. I did enjoy it though and thought LITHOGRAPHER was an excellent charade; enjoyed the humour of LOLITA; and was impressed with the invention of LESION. Just a couple of minor quibbles. I considered LION=hero in 2d to be rather vague but the wordplay was excellent. GLORIA (1a) didn’t seem to have a proper definition although the answer was obvious enough.
    Thanks to Crucible for an interesting puzzle.

  10. chas says:

    Thanks to Eileen for the blog.

    I had never heard of LOTI: until I got 3d I was trying to make ZOLA fit in somehow!

    My favourite was 6d

  11. Stella Heath says:

    Thanks Eileen. I gave up on this with three to go, not understanding 1ac, and with doubts about 19d, which turned out to be what I’d expected.

    Re 7d, I think the form could be plural, speaking poetically, as happens with animal names.

    According to Wiki, 16d affects pets rather than people – an ingenious clue.

    Thanks to Crucible for an enjoyable puzzle which was frustrating not to finish – evidently others did, so no fault of yours :)

  12. Crucible says:

    Thanks and buenas tardes Stella. I was about to suggest a field full of oxlip as a possible example, but you’ve expressed it nicely. Burchfield/Fowler confines these collective plurals to animals, as you suggest, and there are flowers where it just doesn’t work. No one would say a vase of tulip/daffodil, but might allow a forest of oak/rhododendron etc.

  13. Stella Heath says:

    Thanks for the confirmation, Crucible. Nice of you to pop in.

  14. PeterO says:

    I wonder if if would be acceptable to omit ‘initially’ in 7D, perhaps changing ‘laughing’ to ‘laughs’. I think the texting term is now so well established as not to need the extra guidance, and the surface would be smoother.

  15. muck says:

    Thanks Eileen for the blog & its beautiful presentation.
    13ac LOTI and 16dn UROLITHS were both new to me, but fair and obvious.
    7dn OXLIP was obvious too, but I shared others’ doubts about plural ‘flowers’ in the clue.

  16. Eileen says:

    Thanks Stella @11 [ I really should have seen that] and Crucible @12 [thanks for dropping in] for confirmation.

  17. Handel says:

    Average difficulty we felt. Wee obstacles was DOD! Thanks Eileen and Crucible.

  18. Martin H says:

    Oxlips again. You allow ‘a forest of oak’ because you already have the collective noun ‘forest’, giving you specifically trees in the plural. Is there such a word for a population of flowers? ‘Field’ clearly won’t do, circumscribing as it does any number of things besides flowers, from sheep to magnetism. Stella says it might be poetic, but the collective plurals of sheep, fish etc are simply standard English.

  19. Jan says:

    Great Blog, Eileen, thanks – I was defeated by LOTI, otherwise I agree with the favourites.

    Martin @18, how about meadows of oxlip? :)

  20. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Yes, Jan @19, Eileen said it all.
    And, while we had never heard of this artist, LOTI didn’t defeat us.
    It hád to contain O, I and L.
    It was in fact the only clue where the ‘theme’ really mattered.

  21. Martin H says:

    Hi Jan – ok, I concede – banks of oxlip too, so Stella’s poetics work as well.

  22. Martin H says:

    …..been ruminating about these damned plants all day – some trees, some herbs, not oxlips – I recant.

  23. rrc says:

    probably the worst crossword I have seen in the paper since ive being doing the crossword. The theme is so contrived so to call it a link I think is stretching it completely to have a link as the letters o i l appearing soomewhere in a word is I think utterly ridiculous. Sorry but I hated this crossword.

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