Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,409 / Enigmatist

Posted by Eileen on August 24th, 2011


Well, this was a surprise for a Wednesday – especially as I was convinced we were due for a Gordius – but I’m certainly not complaining! It was quite a tough work-out but there were some very satisfying moments when various pennies dropped. There might be some eyebrows raised at ‘parochial’ sayings / references but there were, as always, some really excellent clues. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Many thanks, Enigmatist, for a really satisfying puzzle.


1   SMASH HIT: MASH [pulp] in anagram [newly remixed] of THIS: [I couldn’t help thinking Paul might have clued this rather differently. 😉 ]
5,24  OCTANE RATING: anagram [school] of NOT A CATERING: Petrol’s octane rating is a measurement of the fuel’s ability to resist engine knocking. Great clue!
9   OF COURSE: OF[f] COURSE [lost]
10,26  IMMUNE SYSTEM: anagram [dodgy] of TUM MY NEMESIS: there doesn’t seem to be a definition here but I think it can be seen as an & lit
12  POINTILLISM: this caused some head-scratching: IN TILL I [presumably ‘leaving home at one’] in [acquired by] POM [‘Southern Englishman’ – cheeky!] Edit: stupid error: [thanks, molonglo] it’s not ‘Southern Englishman’ – I’d overlooked the S
15  ODEON: ODE [lines] + ON [about]
17  COLLECTOR: COL [pass] LECTOR [reader]
18  GREENROOM: reversal of NE’ER [never] in GROOM [married man]
19  TARAP: A [one] in TRAP [mouth]: I’d never heard of this – but then neither had Chambers, Collins, SOED or even Wikipedia, it seems, except as ‘a village and Union Council situated on the bank of river Sawan’ but I did eventually find this fruit . To be fair, it had to be that or ‘tirap’ and the hunt for that was completely unproductive!
20  PUERTO RICAN: anagram of UP TO ERIC RAN – and what a lovely surface!
25  BEHEMOTH: EH [what?] + reversal [pinned back] of ME in BOTH [the two]
27  ASCENDER: sounds like A SENDER [a man in Post Office?]: in typography, an ascender is ‘the portion of a minuscule letter in a Latin-derived alphabet that extends above the mean line of a font’


1   SNOWPLOUGH: NOW [presently] P[arking] in SLOUGH [ Berkshire town]: Slough might be known to people outside the UK from Betjeman’s poem  which begins, ‘Come. friendly bombs, and fall on Slough’ – but perhaps that’s even more parochial.
2   ARCHIMEDES: CHIMED [agreed] in [to interrupt] ARES [Greek Olympian – god of war] – superb surface! [‘Principled’ from Archimedes’ principle that ‘any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid’.]
3   HAUNT: more head-scratching! It’s ‘frequent’ as a verb, which is the first hurdle, then A [tip – first letter – of adviser] in HUNT: Collins gives ‘in the hunt’ as ‘having a chance of success’. I really liked this – once I got it!
4,11 IT’S BLACK OVER WILL’S MOTHER’S: M[ass] in an anagram of TO CBS TV SHOW SERIAL KILLER – how wonderful is that! This was my second entry, signalled by my first [13dn] but I really couldn’t believe it – I thought Enigmatist was a Southerner! Admittedly, round these parts it’s ‘Bill’s mother’s’ but still I’m pretty sure it’s a Midlands expression, which will no doubt put the cat among the pigeons – but I absolutely loved it!
6   CAMEMBERT: CAT [whip] around [arrests] MEMBER [MP]
7   ABUT: A [American] BUT [objection]
8   EPEE: hidden in lifE PEErs
13  STORMCLOUD: anagram of SLUR DOT COM – I like it!
14  DROP ANCHOR: DR [medicine man] + OR [other ranks – soldiers] around [besieging] PANCHO [Villa]
16  NINEPENCE: cryptic definition, referring to the saying ‘right as ninepence’. There are various explanations of this but, apparently, according to Brewer, this is a corruption of ‘nice/right as nine-pins’. ‘Nine-pins’ is a game (skittles) in which the nine ‘men’ are set up with precise exactitude in three rows’.
21  REEVE: RE [about] EVE [first lady] – another nice surface, referring to the Reeve who was one of Chaucer’s pilgrims and therefore had a tale to tell.
22  EROS: reversal [heading for the top] of SORE [tender];  an old favourite reversal but this is a particularly good version of it.
23  IT IS: the suffix  ‘itis’ as in ‘appendicitis’ indicates an inflammatory condition

50 Responses to “Guardian 25,409 / Enigmatist”

  1. NeilW says:

    Thanks, Eileen.

    Wow – this would have been perfect for a Saturday!

    Thanks for explaining HAUNT – after Araucaria’s Horse Opera recently, I thought a Horse AUNT, as in Agony Aunt, might be some sort of slang for a racing tipster… doh!

  2. molonglo says:

    Thanks Eileen. Pom is just an Englishman, in 12a – the S is after the in-till-. This was a struggle, with the two sayings unheard of – 16d and the long one. When I got 4d I googled it and got the whole thing: “it’s a bit black over Bill’s mother’s”. Far out. I did like the anagrams in 5,24 and 10,26 – and learned a couple of of other things in 18a and 27a. Finished it, too, with only that one cheat, and one error “Tirap”.

  3. Bryan says:

    Many thanks Eileen for your superb analysis, as always.

    I usually struggle with Enigmatist and today’s was no exeception. Indeed, this was the worst Crossie that I can remember in my 50 years as a puzzler.

    I’ve never heard of the saying ‘It’s Black, etc…’ and, in my book, this is the ultimate in obscurity – to date.

    I suppose that, after yesterday’s Lord Mayor’s Show, we were due for some 1 across without the potatoes?

  4. Conrad Cork says:

    Never heard 4,11 either despite having been born in Birmingham. Guessed ‘It’s black over’ and then dried up. (Unlike the weather forecast in the clue.)

    I’m not complaining though, Enigmatist, honest.

  5. Eileen says:

    Thanks, molonglo – corrected now.

  6. Andrew says:

    Shame – I think Southern Englishman for POM would have been rather good :)

    Thanks Eileen for the blog, and Enigmatist for a tough but satisfying puzzle.

  7. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Well, I managed an Enigmatist. Either he’s getting easier or I’m getting better (the former, I fancy). Did I need a flirt online? Natch. But I did get IT’S BLACK OVER WILL’S MOTHER’S. To give the cat a boot up its jacksy and get Columba airborne, I will say that I’ve only ever heard this expression when fielding at slip as the dark clouds come over the horizon and you realise that you’ll be making a retreat to the pavilion sometime soon. But this is a soft southerner’s version: the true expression is IT’S A BIT BLACK OVER BILL’S MUM’S (HOUSE)*.

    * means optional rather than an anagram.

  8. Median says:

    Nope – gave up on this one. The big anagram was unreasonable, I thought. I’ve lived in the Midlands for over 40 years and have an ear for local sayings, but I’m another who has never heard IT’S BLACK OVER… Maybe – Kathryn’s Dad @7 – that’s because I’m not a cricketer.

  9. crypticsue says:

    I enjoyed this one but I had heard the expression in 4/11 before which helped a lot. Thanks to Enigmatist and well done Eileen for sorting it all out.

  10. rrc says:

    Here’s another Midlander whose never heard of 4 11!

  11. Kate's dad says:

    Many thanks for the explanations of some of the more intrictae clues. I suspect this separated the experts from the amateurs.

    One thought: in 17ac I had thougt it liturgical, as one who reads (reader) the collect. Maybe too much imagination!

  12. sppaul says:

    Really enjoyable – thanks Enigmatist and Eileen although I had to cheat online for 12 ac.

    I was an adopted Midlander for a while but never heard of Bill or his mum. However I got it late on from the anagram letters. You know that lovely feeling when you type something strange into google and it pops up!

  13. Eileen says:

    You’re absolutely right, Kate’s Dad [this is confusing – if you’re going to be posting regularly I shan’t be able to abbreviate Kathryn’s Dad to K’s D!] – and s/he reads [the scripture, usually] from a lectern. 😉

  14. David W says:

    Many thanks for the explanations of the answers I was able to guess but couldn’t entirely connect with the clues!

    I don’t care for Enigmatist. Too many redundant words (eg “new” or “remixed” would have sufficed in 1a) and too many private references (eg 4,11).

  15. MikeC says:

    Thanks Eileen and Enigmatist. There were some clues I really liked here but I had no idea of the long anagram, and couldn’t explain some of the others. K’s D (senior!) – I don’t think this was by any stretch an easier puzzle – give yourself a pat on the back!!

  16. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog, Eileen. I got the lefthand side out before the right, struggled a bit and ended up cheating at 7dn. I always find Enigmatist pretty tricky and not knowing the saying at 4, 11 didn’t help on this occasion! I liked 6dn and 23dn made me smile.

  17. Geoff says:

    Brava, Eileen.

    I found this a real challenge – far more difficult than any of the recent Prize puzzles (especially last Saturday’s which, in the paper, was a repeat of the previous day’s…) Much fun and a lot of good clues, nevertheless.

    I couldn’t parse 3d or 12a, although HAUNT and POINTILLISM seemed likely, and as they intersect this was a problem. 4,11 was completely new to me, and unlike some regional expressions it is not really self-explanatory – Google was necessary here, and I had not been helped by thinking for a long time that 13d (clever clue!) had to be E-(something).

    Google was also required, of course, to confirm TARAP, which is the only thing in the puzzle that I would really quibble about, since it is not in any of the usual dictionaries, or even Wikipedia, where is is listed instead under Marang. Even ‘marang’ isn’t in Chambers or the SOED! I have no objection to unfamiliar words in crosswords – it’s good to extend one’s vocab – but this is taking obscurity a wee bit far. It looks very much as though Enigmatist painted himself into a corner here, with the lovely clues all around 19a.

  18. Tom Hutton says:

    I thought there was some overly tortuous cluing spoiling some really smart work here. Is a man in a post office a sender? I thought he was a deliverer. I think 12ac is a mess, ugly to read for a weekday crossword and another clue where no one will have worked in till 1 before putting the answer in. Anyway as they say round here, I’m off for some tarap and chips before it gets too blue over my aunty Lillian’s back doorstep.

  19. caretman says:

    Thanks, Eileen, for explaining all those clues I couldn’t parse.

    I feel chuffed that I actually figured out the 4/11d from a handful of crossing letters, word lengths, and making hypotheses about letters that would appear together (the C and K in BLACK, the T and H in MOTHERS), and then finding that the expression I had created actually existed. I’m with those who had never heard it before (nor the NINEPENCE saying). But I did get it all in the end.

    With regard to TARAP, when I figured it out it seemed so obscure and a more common word (THRIP) was available to fit the crossing letters I thought there might be a nina in the unchecked letters, but if so it eluded me.

    There were several excellent clues and misleading definitions in the bunch–5/24a, 2d, 13d. This was definitely a challenging workout from Enigmatist!

  20. PeterO says:

    Thanks to Enigmatist for a tough workout, and to Eileen for the explanation of the wordplays that I missed – 4D in particular. I needed a few online aids, which produced a peripheral bonus: while checking TARAP I came across Mera Dil Tarap Raha Hai by Qari Rizwan. There are two versions by this singer on YouTube; this one is accompanied by a still (for all its 7-plus minutes) of the Al-Masjid al-Nabawi mosque in Medina. The other has a more interesting montage, but the recording has an echo which tends to hide the wonderful ornamentation.

  21. Jack Aubrey says:

    Great fun! I’m afraid I can’t be doing with the whinginging pointillists on this one. Did it in the Pleasance Dome (for the rest of the year aka the Students’ Union at Edinburgh Uni) over a latte after Ahmed Ali Khan had done blistering stuff on the sarod. Errr, is this beginning to look like an Araucaria anagram???……

  22. tupu says:

    Thanks Eileen for a very good blog of a very testing puzzle.

    One reason it seemed hard was that many of the crossing points seemed to be ‘e’s.

    I guessed and googled tarap from the word play. I don’t remember the saying but for once crossing letters (plus the answer to 13d) helped. I thought that most of the clues except 3d were well constructed even if the resultant answers were surprising.

    I liked 17d, 3d (only for the misleading ‘frequent’ but see below), 6d (I took MP too literally at first), 7d, 13d, and 14d.

    I read ‘haunt’ differently. I saw ‘aunt’ as advisor (as in ‘agony aunt’) and ‘h’ as ‘hot’ as in ‘hot tip’ i.e. one with a chgance of success.
    I think Eileen must be right but don’t like it too much either. Neither ‘with’ nor ‘offering’ as an anagram or insertion marker for the letters seems satisfactory and ‘hunt’ even with the question mark seems a step too far to me.

  23. Eileen says:

    Hi tupu

    That’s an interesting take on 3dn – but I’m sticking to my version. 😉

    As I said, ‘having [= with] a chance of success’ is the verbatim Collins definition of ‘in [the] hunt’ – and there’s your insertion indicator! [‘Offering’ is inviting you to take the first letter of ‘adviser’.]

  24. Derek Lazenby says:

    Just pretending for a moment that 10, 26 did have a one word definition, then there were too many immune system clues for me.

  25. Wolfie says:

    Thanks Eileen for the excellent blog, which I needed for the parsing of ‘pointillism’, which I entered blind on the basis of definition and crossing letters.

    I always get a kick from completing an Enigmatist, and did so today despite the obscurities. I am with caretman@19; ‘thrip’ was the only word I could think of to fit 19ac and it is a pity that Enigmatist did not use it instead of ‘tarap’ – an obscurity too far in my opinion, though I was able eventually to enter it from the wordplay and confirm its identity as a Borneo fruit courtesy of Google.

  26. Shirley says:

    6D sorry to be picky but Camembert is not in Normandy – it is a cheese which is produced in Normandy in a town called Vimoutiers – not that this held us up too much as the whole puzzle was far too difficult.
    I just can’t understand the editor’s reasoning in not putting a puzzle like this as a prize – it would have been ideal for this forthcoming bank holiday weekend!

  27. Giovanna says:

    Thanks, Enigmatist for your good mid-week challenge and Eileen for her usual super blog.

    I didn’t know the expression at 4,11 but managed to work it out from the crossing letters. What a joy to learn such a new and excellent saying! This is what makes English so enjoyable. Please keep them coming.


  28. Norman L in France says:

    Camembert does seem to be in Normandy, in the Orne département, although it’s only a village. Agree that it would have been a decent Prize.

  29. tupu says:

    Hi Eileen

    Thanks. As I said, I think you are probably right. But I still don’t like the clue (apart from the clever misdirection). The expression ‘in the hunt’ still has a definite article unaccounted for in the answer. Engimatist is elsewhere much more exact than this in his cluing, and to need to find the exact reference in Collins (even though it is a known phrase) seems OTT, but there we are.

  30. gm4hqf says:

    Thanks Eileen

    Struggled with this Enigmatist offering. In my opinion too many over convoluted clues with solutions I have never heard of.

    Not my cup of tea I’m afraid

  31. Harters says:

    Thanks Eileen,

    Although I know Enigmatist crosswords are tough, I expected to be able to do a decent proportion of this after a handful of clues in the SW corner fell in quick succession at the start. I thought there were some witty clues and particularly enjoyed 23dn and 5,24ac, but unfortunately I found the puzzle a bit frustrating on the whole, with “Tarap” and “It’s Black..” being completely new to me.

  32. Kathryn's Dad says:

    One of the things I find fascinating about cryptics is that what’s familiar to one person is completely unknown to another. I’ve known IT’S A BIT BLACK … for as long as I can remember, but up until today had never see the WILL’S MOTHER variation. I’ve heard it in Derbyshire, but I’m not sure it’s that regional; for those that follow Test Cricket, then David Lloyd – a Lancastrian – has certainly used it on commentary when bad weather’s approaching. Goodness knows where it comes from.

    And Eileen: sorry, I forgot my manners this morning and didn’t thank you for your blog.

  33. caretman says:

    As a follow-up to my comment @19 suggesting ‘thrip’ as a more common word that fit 19a, I now see that ‘thrip’ is a variant spelling of ‘thrips’ which is noun with identical singular and plural. I suspect ‘thrip’ is thus a back formation from people who knew the plural form and inferred the singular form, a trap I fell into. Not that ‘thrip’ shouldn’t be allowed since I find it in dictionaries, just a new bit of knowledge I’ve gained today.

  34. Wolfie says:

    You are right about ‘thrips’ caretman – I had assumed, as you did, that ‘thrip’ is the singular of ‘thrips’. I take some comfort from the fact that the OED gives two other meanings for ‘thrip': as a noun meaning threepence, and a verb meaning to snap the fingers!

  35. kloot says:

    Well, since moving to Derbyshire, I have heard everything from “It’s a bit black over Bill’s Mother’s” to “It’s a bit grim over Bill’s Mother’s.”

  36. FranTom Menace says:

    We found this very tough today! Neither of us (a Yorkshireman and a Dorset girl both living in Coventry) have heard “It’s black over…” and we were left with eight or ten empties before giving up and consulting Eileen’s excellent post.

    Hoping for something of this standard to keep us entertained over the bank holiday when we’ll have more time (and hopefully a sunny beer garden to sit in as we solve!).

  37. riccardo says:

    I have heard two people use “It’s a bit black over Bill’s Mum’s” that I can recall – David Lloyd on cricket coverage as above, and my late step-grandfather, who was from Kent. Maybe it isn’t a midland peculiarity?

  38. superkiwigirl says:

    Many thanks for your usual fine blog, Eileen. I came here needing the parsings of several clues.

    This was the first time that I’ve attempted a puzzle by Enigmatist, and I now understand why this setter has such a formidable reputation. I may have been hoping for a gentle after dinner solve but this was anything but (if it “came out” eventually, it was only with recourse to the check button several times, so doesn’t qualify as a success on my part).

    Like many of those above, I’d never heard the expression “Its black over …” but curiously this was one of the easier solutions I thought because of the likely letter combinations (I was a bit disappointed to find that “it’s Black over Cilla …” didn’t work though as I tried the anagram).

    There were lots of clever clues, with favorites including IMMUNE SYSTEM and OCTANE RATING.

    Many thanks too, Enigmatist, for setting such an entertaining challenge.

  39. Ann Kittenplan says:

    Crikey that was hard. Too hard maybe? I like a challenge but reverted to all sorts of resources I never use to finish this. Thanks Eileen and Enigmatist(?)

  40. PeeDee says:

    Hats off to Eileen today! Well done.

    Had never heard of ‘its black over…’ nor ‘right as nine-pence’ nor ‘ascender’ nor ‘Reeve’. Guessed the answers but didn’t know why, so thanks Eileen.

  41. Engineerb says:

    I’ve been doing the Guardian for about 5 years now & Enigmatist is still the only setter that I really cannot warm to. Just when I think that I may be softening toward shim he does something like this: a puzzle where a key entry depends on a saying that I (as a foreigner) had never heard of & that didn’t seem to make any sense when I tried to work it out. I parsed out the anagram – but the correct answer made no more sense to me than the myriad of incorrect ones that also contained 5 valid words. I have to admit that I gave up in disgust (it was a shame because I loved the “Drop Anchor” clue)

  42. James Droy says:

    Thank you Eileen but I despair; trying this on four long bus trips and over coffee waiting for said busses to turn up spending more than ninepence but not knowing that should be ‘right’, aware that Camembert is not somewhere but something, so I didn’t put it in however well it fitted same with ‘haunt’ seemed the answer but confusing my a from “with a” rather than tip of adviser. I doubt William’s blessed mother has heard that expression and to top it off with Tarap, a double bonus word that nobody has ever heard of and is not in the dictionary.
    Much of the clueing seems clumsy even when explained: other ranks is commoner over in another place (the Times), as is one for ‘a’ instead of ‘i’. I suppose the Guardian is more class conscious and finds it somewhat repellent that officer casualties are more important (after all, they are people like us) that those of the other ranks.
    I don’t mind complex anagrams, obscure words or phrases or the occasional clumsy befuddled sentence but a fulmination of flummoxers like this takes the…
    All that said I usually find Enigmatist a doddle, so perhaps this is my c’uppance.

  43. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    That’s what I call a cryptic cossword.
    Although I had been out all day it took me well into the night to finish – actually I didn’t write in ‘tarap’ because, unlike Eileen I couldn’t find a reference to it anywhere. The same excellent lady also unravelled a few that I had got but still puzzled me. B(W)ill’s mother was an unknown to me.
    A very good day for The G.’s solvers, well done all.

  44. jetdoc says:

    Eileen, the original clue for 1a was ‘Bestselling single hardly covering Pulp in glory!’ but it underwent editorial bowdlerisation, unfortunately.

  45. Eileen says:


    Many thanks, jetdoc. 😉

  46. GHD says:


    I think for 27ac you have to read ‘a man in Post Office’ with office meaning holding the job of eg

    “The term and office of a rector are called a rectorate”

    So someone charged with the job of post(ing) could rightly be called ‘a s(c)ender’


  47. Eileen says:

    Thanks, Graham, but I think you’re perhaps reading too much into this.

    A man in a Post Office [building] might be sending a letter / parcel – and therefore be a sender – or he could be doing something else, hence Enigmatist’s [not my] question mark. I wasn’t querying the clue / solution.

  48. GHD says:

    Hi Eileen,

    Yes, sorry I was reading the question mark as yours and forgetting that it was in the original clue :-)


  49. Eileen says:

    No problem, Graham – thanks for the response. :-)

  50. Huw Powell says:

    Had this lying around 1/3 finished and took it out of the pile yesterday and started working hard on it. The long anagram came very slowly, since I had never heard of the phrase, but once I had a “guess” worked out, the internet proved it correct. Had a couple I couldn’t explain, thanks Eileen, and putting in AHEM confidently at 7 prevented figuring out 10/26.

    It was still nice to manage to almost finish what had been impenetrable for some time.

    Nice puzzle, Enigmatist!

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