Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,445 – Puck

Posted by manehi on October 5th, 2011


I only have a slight knowledge of the theme and twigged it late leaving me struggling with some of the across clues, several of which I guessed from the wordplay and had to confirm with Google.

7 FOUR SIXES make 24. OURS=Guardian’s inside FIXES=difficulties.
8 MADAM Can refer to a quarrelsome girl. Palindromic, so “whichever way you look at it”.
9 AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS [wiki article]. A thematic book I’d heard of but didn’t recall until I got the wordplay. (di[p] b[lue] tits saw worm)*
13,27 THE THIRD POLICEMAN [wiki article] – I’d read this and got it and the theme after staring at the anagram (crime hot hint pedal)*. “work” is the definition, “Sort out” the anagram indicator. A couple of the policemen in this are unusually obsessed with bicycles, leading to a rather nice sub-theme.
17,24 THE POOR MOUTH [wiki article]. “Contents of spoon and cup” => [s]POO[n] [c]U[p], both inserted into THERMOTH = “flathk” (“Thermos” and “flask” with a lisp)
20 HARD LIFE [wiki article]. (Rile[y] had f[un])* Put in HARD TIME at first.
22 BIDETS (bedsit)*
25,14 THE DALKEY ARCHIVE [wiki article] ([p]edal thievery hack)* Edit thanks to Andreas61
26,12 FLANN O’BRIEN An Irish novelist born a century ago today [wiki article]. FLANN sounds like “flan”=tart + O[ld] B[oy] + RIEN=”Nowt French”
1 HOT TUB =Bath. HO[use?] + rev(BUTT)
2 BROWNISH Like Brown or like brown.
3 XIAMEN City in China. XI=team + AMEN=”last word”
4 PEEWITS Or lapwings. (pie stew)*
5 PARISH PARIS + H[ospital]
6 PANDER TO PANDER sounds like “panda”=”Asian creature” + T[w]O = “extremely 2″
11 LECH Hidden inside bicycLE CHains. Chuckled when I came back to this after getting 13,27.
15 READ ONLY =”sort of memory”. (Nearly)* around D[itt]O=same
16 VEIL =Cover. rev(LIE=”story” + V=”5″ in Roman numerals)
18 PEDALLER =cyclist. PEELER is the old policeman, which then has its second E[nglish] replaced with DAL[i]
19 RESHOOT (Horse)* + (to)*
21 DOTING TIN=element inside DOG
22 BADDIE BAD=off + D[ay] + IE=”that is”.
23 TOERAG (GREAT O=love)*

43 Responses to “Guardian 25,445 – Puck”

  1. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all.
    ‘Old boy and French nothing’ O’Brien and although I am no fan of Flann it was just a matter of writing in some book titles. In spite of the preamble these were all defined by ‘book’ or ‘novel’ and successfully ruined this puzzle for me.
    Just as well Azed produced a beast which I am still finishing off on a Wednesday!

  2. gm4hqf says:

    Thanks manehi

    I think that if you didn’t manage to get Flann O’Brien it would be very difficult to solve this puzzle. Luckily I got it and then Googled his list of novels which made it a bit easier.

    Not sure if I am a lover of this type of puzzle. Also noticed I entered PEDALIER for 27d. Oh well!

  3. Gervase says:

    Thanks, manehi.

    I enjoyed this crossword a lot. Fortunately I was familiar with the author, having read several of his novels, and the clue for 26,12 was pretty straightforward so I was quickly into the theme.

    The bicycle subtheme is cleverly employed; nice reference to THE THIRD POLICEMAN, as manehi has pointed out.

    However, I couldn’t recall THE POOR MOUTH, so this took a bit longer – I tried various combinations of letters with ‘flathk’ to form anagram fodder until I had all of the crossing letters and spotted ‘thermoth’.

    7a is beautifully misleading – a great clue.

    Time for a drink? ‘A pint of plain is your only man’. Dylan Thomas famously said of ‘AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS': ‘This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl’.

  4. gm4hqf says:

    I agree with Gervase@3 about 7a. My last in after looking at MOUTH for ages to no avail.

  5. John Appleton says:

    Never heard of this chap, hence my struggle with it.

  6. tupu says:

    Thanks manehi and Puck

    A real teaser as I had to work out both author and his works from the clues.
    I must admit this left me feeling quite pleased when all checked correctly.

    The clues, as the above implies, were excellent. I particularly liked 7a, 8a (for its simple gentle relief!), 20a, 1d, 18d, 22d. I felt particularly pleased to work out 7a and 17,24.

    He sounds like an author I should read. :) I’m not surprised after all that to find that Flann O’Brien was a pseudonym though not quite an anagram of the author’s real name!

  7. crypticsue says:

    I am not sure a crossword where you get a name from the wordplay and then have to Google all the works to complete quite a few clues counts as cryptic in my book. Very hard work. Thanks to Manehi for sorting it all out.

  8. molonglo says:

    Thanks manehi. Nearly managed it without help, eventually dredging up 9,10 from memoryand recalling O’Brien but not Flann. Worked out allthe unfamiliar books except the missing bit from the 25, 14 anagram, not helped by factoring in the S from ‘hack’s.’. Not too happy with DAL= bike part tip; preferred DAL=brief surrealist in 18d which was my early entry into the whole thing. Still, it was fun, so tks Puck.

  9. Andreas61 says:

    Having found this solver tricky in the past I approached this one with trepidation, but since I am a fan of the author it quickly turned into a fill-in exercise. However, this is no reason to grumble if there is so much clever cluing to admire – by the way, doesn’t 25 14 need the hack in the anagram? (And the centenary would have passed me by without this crossword!) So thanks Puck, I think you’ve converted me to your ways. Now I’m off to help James Joyce darn some socks!

  10. DavidW says:

    I agree with crypticsue. The puzzle is very “clever” – but not in a good way.

  11. Dave Ellison says:

    I, too, thought this was a disappointing solve. Having got 1d (my first one in) then OBRIEN followed soon; Edna it clearly wasn’t. I managed THE THIRD POLICEMAN from the fodder, but, as no others came to mind, the Crystal encyclopedia helped with all the other titles. I have never heard of FLANN or his works, so this was not an exciting Xword.

    XIAMEN I toyed with, but didn’t check – this is, surely, obscure enough to warrant a “Chinese” nudge somewhere, but it would have ruined the surface of the clue. Consequently I missed the best clue, 7a.

    Thanks, manehi, for this.

  12. chas says:

    Thanks to manehi for the blog.

    I am one of those who have never heard of Flann Obrien so I had hard work to identify his works – thank heaven for google :)

    A pattern I noticed here is new to me: several clues (7a, 6d and 16d) contained numbers that appeared to be references to other clues – but were not! Sneaky misdirection!

  13. Strawberry Flann says:

    To make this more of a challenge I used yesterday’s grid and looked at the clues in the mirror whilst standing on my head! Luckily my father was the second policeman!

  14. PeterO says:


    Thank you for the blog; it is one that I am happy did not come my way! Your analysis of 25/14 works, but would seem to lay Puck open to the charge of committing a derived anagram. This may be avoided by parsing the clue,in my notation, as:

    An envelope (‘involved in'; note that ‘involved’ here does not indicate an anagram) of [p]edal (‘tip off: bike part’) in an anagram (‘rewritten’) of ‘thievery hack’.

    Mononglo @8 – does that make you any happier with the clue?

    My entry to the theme was the anagram for 13/27. As I had not come across the novel or its author, I certainly needed a little online help from Wikipedia. If a crossword induces someone to explore an unfamiliar author (and I will), and in the process challenges with plenty of deviousness, in my book it is doing a good job.

    So thank you Puck.

  15. amulk says:

    I really do not see the point of a crossword like this. I am sure it would be great in a specialist literary magazine, but what is it doing in a general circulation newspaper? There was a similar one last week where I managed to finish with a good deal of guesswork as the definitions were reasonably straightforward, but I was not so lucky today and had to google the works of Mr. O’Brien. The clues referring to Mr. O’Obrien and his work were pretty straightforward if not downright clumsy so held no real pleasure for me. I wonder how people would feel if half the puzzle were given over to similarly obscure and specialist terms from engineering or organic chemistry (about which I know nothing either, so I am talking my own book). I am sure we would have howls of protest and terms like “nerdish” would be bandied about. Well there are literary nerds too.

  16. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Thank you, manehi. I’m a bit ambivalent about crosswords like this. If you know it, you know it; if you don’t, you’ve got some long anagrams to sort out knowing only that a book title is the answer. And when the book is AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, well …

    The gateway clue was clear, fair play; and I had heard of the author, but wasn’t familiar with his works. So when the anagrams wouldn’t fall, I went into cba mode and looked online. Which is not as much fun as solving it yourself.

    So not really one for me today, but some seem to have liked it.

  17. Stella Heath says:

    Thanks Manehi and Puck.

    I was unfamiliar with the author, but was able to work out his name and the titles from the wordplay, which is an indication of the solidity of the clues.

    I only turned to Wiki once I’d finished, to confirm and find out more, so well done, Puck.

  18. apiarist says:

    Way beyond me this one but not Google, so I managed, somewhat guilt ridden, to finish it.

  19. Jack Aubrey says:

    Many thanks Puck and manehi. Great puzzle on a very worthy theme and a very clear blog.

    A very (very) long time ago in my amdram past I had the good fortune to have parts in the first productions of dramatisations of At Swim and The Third Policeman. I ‘ve been an enthusiast ever since so it was a very quick solve. Today’s post swim latte lasted longer than the crossword. But there was nevertheless a lot to enjoy. Turning “peeler” into “pedaller” was inspired. (It eventually becomes “pedallee” through the inexhorable workings of atomic theory, of course….)

    Those here who haven’t read the two great novels (the others aren’t in the same league) have a treat in store. You’ll never again hear the question “Is it about a bicycle?” without a shiver down the spine….

  20. Median says:

    I’m with those who found this puzzle disappointing, but then I’m usually with those who dislike bias towards literary knowledge. I got THE THIRD POLICEMAN from the anagram fodder, then Googled it to get the author and other titles. After that, it was pretty easy to finish. :(

  21. Gervase says:

    Complaints about this puzzle were all depressingly predictable. I wonder how representative of the general set of Guardian crossword solvers are those who post here regularly?

    For what it’s worth (see amulk @15) I’m an organic chemist, so I would love to see a crossword with a chemical theme. But I do read books as well, so Flann O’Brien, and at least two of his very clever and funny novels, were very familiar to me.

  22. snigger says:

    For those familiar with the works of Flann O’Brien, “At Swim Two Birds” was solveable by the letter count alone. The cryptic element was superfluous.Probably true for the others.

    And even having resolved the wordplay, resorting to google to confirm what seems to be nonsense takes something away from the solving.

    But as with all of these themed puzzles, I touch my forlock to the compiler. And to those who solved it without help from google.

  23. Derek Lazenby says:

    I’m with apiarist. Just to show how famous this guy is (not), it took 4 attempts at creating a search string before I found a suitable anniversary. Then you just compare the list in Wikipedia to the enumerations.

  24. RCWhiting says:

    “For what it’s worth (see amulk @15) I’m an organic chemist, so I would love to see a crossword with a chemical theme. But I do read books as well”
    Of course you do, and so do I. As I said the other day, scientists should be able to cope with a few books.
    My complaint here was that if you were just vaguely familiar with FO (as I am) the whole puzzle was ridiculously easy.

  25. Brendan (not that one) says:

    I too find this type of crossword a little “un cryptic”.

    I’d heard of the author and read The Third Policeman but had to Google the others.

    Obviously the other contributors have greater skill than I have as I fail to see how I could ever have derived them from the wordplay. Especially 9 across!!! Never in a month of Wednesdays.

  26. Will Mc says:

    I’m a great fan of Flann O’Brien and it was good to see his centenary marked, but that spoiled the crossword for me in a way. As soon as I saw the preamble I knew it was about Mr Ó Nualláin and just filled out the grid by matching the clue lengths to the titles of his novels.

  27. Tim says:

    RCW says it was “ridulously easy”. No Guardian crossword is that. The theme was heavily clued by the “OB” from old boy. For those of us who revel in these books is was a very pleasant way to celebrate the master’s birthday. For those who had to look up the titles it detracted from the normal roundedness of the puzzle – your consolation is that you have the much reading pleasure and laughter to look forward to. What are waiting for? Get reading.

  28. jmshaw says:

    I was overjoyed to discover it was Miles-crossword was a piece of piss once I knew it was him but I’ve been smiling all day. If you haven’t read him you are fortunate indeed

  29. FranTom Menace says:

    Well, having only known 9,10, we did surprisingly well on this. The only one we had to look up was The Dalkey Archive and managed to deduce all the others. Thanks Puck and Manehi.

    Couldn’t agree more with Tim @27 – They’re only easy if you know the answers. I know I could plonk a Rufus in front of my work colleagues and they’d stare at it for ten minutes, scratching their heads.

    I imagine that a crossword with footballers or soap opera characters as a theme might fox some people. I don’t think it’d be fair to complain about how terribly difficult and unsolvable a puzzle like this was simply because you don’t know the theme. In the same way there’s little to gain from complaining that the theme or clues in a crossword are too easy, unless you feel the need to express how incredibly clever you are!

  30. apiarist says:

    I know quite a few of you enjoyed Puck’s offering today but crosswords of this type always make me think of a pub quiz. The difficulty of a particular question cannot be qualified. You either know the answer or you don’t but it is a level playing field.

  31. stiofain says:

    Those complaining about not knowing the author should instead be rejoicing at being introduced to his genius and look forward to some joyful reading.
    This reminded me of the Flann/Miles daily newspaper column where he describes getting the first edition of the Times as they came into the train station at midnight then sitting up all night to do it in pencil and erasing it so he could fill it in publicly in double quick time in ink on the morning commute and sneer at the inferior intellect of his fellow travellers.

  32. FranTom Menace says:

    Good story, Stiofain, I love it! There’ll always be those who noisily put their pens down with an hour to go in an exam and proceed to sigh and look around restlessly and publicly, and some will continue to do so into adulthood.

  33. sidey says:

    This chap’s centenary doesn’t seem to be widely known let alone celebrated, none of the usual On This Day websites list it. There’s not a lot that is more tedious than the soccer themes that turn up elsewhere but this beats it by several leagues.

  34. Wolfie says:

    Thanks Puck – I enjoyed this ‘tribute crossword’ very much, as an admirer of the work of Brian O’Nolan under all of his pseudonyms. Even though I was able to write in the book titles from the word-counts there was much enjoyment to be had from the inventive clueing – 17,24 had me foxed for ages and I laughed out loud when I finally worked it out.

    The variety of styles, themes and levels of difficulty that I encounter in the Guardian cryptics is one of the reasons why I continue to enjoy them so much, so I find myself perplexed by some of the comments on this blog. Themed crosswords might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you can’t enjoy them when they come along, why not put them down and do something else instead? Perhaps read some Flann O’Brien – you will be in for a treat…

    Thanks Manehi for the blog.

  35. jmshaw says:

    Perhaps you would care to explain your desire to proclaim your ignorance in such a spectacular way. I found it difficult to reply without expressing myself with four letter words!

  36. Wolfie says:

    Sidey @33 – there was a nice tribute to FOB’s centenary in last Saturday’s Guardian:

  37. jmshaw says:

    Well said Wolfie.

  38. RCWhiting says:

    Well,after compulsory obeisance to the compiler, we now have required obeisance to the theme subject!
    Many years ago my close friend,a devoted Flann fan tried to persuade me to join him.
    When I showed little interest he bought me a copy of The Third Policeman. I gave it a real try and I am sure he is a genius but it was not for me. I am not impressed by Irish drollery.

  39. stiofain says:

    @Sidey There was also a pull-out supplement tribute in the Irish Times
    Brian/Flann/Myles centenary
    try some of the Cruiskeen Lawn columns and investigate his work on the establishment of “ladies Conveniences” in central Dublin.
    @RCW Then you are impressed by the drollery of other nationalities?

  40. Sil van den Hoek says:

    Well, we are down to the theme ‘theme’ again.
    Indeed, what RCW says @1 is just as it is.
    When you’re familiar with it – in this case, a writer – this crossword is not really a challenge.
    But when you’re not, this was certainly hard work. For that reason, for us it was.
    We tackled the puzzle, as always, far away from any form of resources. And not having any knowledge of the writer, we were pleased to find out that we eventually made only one mistake. We wrote ‘The poor South’ instead of ‘The poor Mouth’ – unable to explain why, even though we were suspicious re the potential naughtiness of ‘flathk’.

    The fact that the solutions are (mostly) gettable without googling is certainly a plus for this crossword.
    And, of course, it is very nice of Puck to put Flann O’Brien into the spotlight.

    But what about the cluing as such?
    We thought, it was typical Puck.
    A bit too elaborate at times, at the expense of the surface reading.
    However, always fair and precise.
    And with perhaps 7ac as the Winner of the Day [as it was for some others].

    That said, in our opinion, this crossword contained just a tad too many cross-references (I admit, to things that we didn’t know) to make it fully satisfying (to us).

    So in the end, well, I don’t know.
    What I do know though is that we were extremely pleased to fill every single square (even if our S at 24ac should have been an M).
    That wás satisfying.

    Thanks Puck.
    And manehi for blogging!

  41. Mike says:

    Hated it – I was on a train, tired, with no artificial aids, and as it turns out unlikely to get very far due to my ignorance of Flann. No happier having read this excellent blog.
    I’m trained as a Physicist and also read books but always get annoyed when literary ignorance is sneered at yet scientific cluelessness is often a badge of pride. Illogical Captain………………………….

  42. sidey says:

    jmshaw, quite how was I proclaiming my ignorance? I was simple stating one fact, namely that most of the usual websites that mark anniversaries do not have this one. And an opinion that I find this sort of puzzle tedious. I made no comment on the literary merit of the chap concerned.

    I hope that makes things clearer for you.

  43. Huw Powell says:

    Hats off to any who solved this unaided! I surprised myself by at least managing to figure out “what” to research (ignoring the obvious, Oct 5 1911). I got lucky with PEDALLER, which led to POLICEMAN and some anagram-busting. So what if I then was able to use wikipedia to fill in two quick title and two possibilities for the author’s name? It was still fun.

    Thanks for the blog, manehi, and the nice puzzle, Puck!

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