Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,472 / Araucaria

Posted by mhl on November 12th, 2011


This was a typically enjoyable prize crossword from Araucaria. We struggled with this for a while before guessing the theme, after which everything went very fast, apart from some troubles working out the parsing of a few clues.

The rubric says All the pieces are of a kind from the same hand, and it turns out that every occurence of “piece” in the clues refers to an opera by Richard Wagner. The only slight difficulty here is that some are in their German form (e.g. TRISTAN UND ISOLDE) and some are in variously accurate English versions (e.g. MASTERSINGERS rather than Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg).

1. BUFF-TIP BUFF = “Expert” + TIP = “dump”; Definition: “moth”
5. SCRAPER SCRAP = “Fight” + ER = “the Queen”; Definition: “violinist?” – an important question mark there 😉
9. ARYAN A + RYAN = “[FLYING] operator” (referring to Tony Ryan of Ryanair); Definition: “Nazi catchword”
10. LOHENGRIN The first of the themed clues: LO = “see” + HEN = “bird” + GRIN = “smile”; Definition: “Piece”
11. MANCHESTER MANCHE = “channel (English, not English)” (the French for the English Channel) is “La Manche” + (REST)*; Definition: “City”
12. KIEV I’m not sure about this, but I think “of 10’s bird?” refers to the HEN in LOHENGRIN, and Chicken Kiev is a classic dish – that seems very weak, though, so I suspect I’m missing something; Definition: “City” Thanks to Wolfie for suggesting another explanation for this one: Lohengrin’s bird was a swan, and one of the rivers in Kiev is the Lybid, which literally means “swan”
14. UNIMPORTANT I think bilingual here indicates that the words in the construction might be either French or English: UN = “a” (in French) + IMP = “fiend” (in English) + OR = “gold” (in French) + TANT = “so much” (in French); Definition: “No matter”
18. BRUCELLOSIS Sounds like “Bruce ‘ello sis” or “Forsyth greeting relative?”; Definition: “Complaint”
21. TUCK Double definition: “Franciscan” (as in Friar Tuck) and “food”
22. THE DEAD SEA Sounds like “The Dead See!” = “There’s heavenly vision, we hear”; Definition: “saline solution” – the Dead Sea is famous for having such high salt content that you can effortlessly float in it
25. IMMINENCE I’M = “Setter’s” + MINE = “his” + [o]NCE = “love removed from once”; Definition: “threatening state”
26. UNLIT (UNTIL)*; Definition: “In the dark”
28. MID-YEAR Sounds like “M’dear” referring to the disturbing lyrics of Flanders and Swann‘s song “Have some Madeira, M’Dear”; Definition: “after a term and a half?” – you can hear the song on YouTube
1. BRAHMS If you change the end of BRAHMS you can get Brahma; Definition: “Composer”
2,17. FLYING DUTCHMAN KLM is a Dutch airline; Definition: “Piece” (another themed clue)
3. TANNHAUSER HAUS = “Property in Berlin” in TANNER = “retained by 6d” (a tanner was another name for sixpence); Definition: “piece”
4. POLIS Double definition: “City” (as in “metropolis”, “megalopolis”) and “coppers in Scotland” – in Glasgow, in particular, “polis” (with the emphasis on the first syllable) is often used to refer to the police
5. SCHWEPPES (SPECS)* = “Novel spectacles” around H = “hard” + PEW = “hard seat” reversed; Definition: “associate of Cadbury” – Schweppes and Cadbury merged to form Cadbury-Schweppes
6. RING Double definition: “Pieces” (a themed clue, referring to Wagner’s Ring Cycle) and “of bull, perhaps” referring to bullrings, in which bullfights occur
7. PARSIFAL PARSI = “Zoroastrian” + FAL = “river”; Definition: “piece”
8. RENOVATE (OVER[e]ATEN)*; Definition: “Restore”
13,19. TRISTAN UND ISOLDE A nice anagram: (TO SUNDERLAND IS IT)*; Definition: “Piece”
15. IDLE HANDS I + HELD reversed + ANDS = “joiners”; Definition: “the devil’s work force?” – nice definition
16. ABSTAINS AB = “Sailor” + STAINS = “blemishes”; Definition: “doesn’t indulge”
20,27. MASTERSINGERS M = “thousand” + ASTERS = “flowers” + IN + GERS = “a department”; Definition: “Piece”
23. DREAM DAM = “mother” (an animal’s mother) around RE = “king of Italy” – “Re” is “King” in Italian; Definition: “Fancy”
24. KNEE E’EN = “Even” + K = “a king” all reversed; Definition: “a bender”

30 Responses to “Guardian 25,472 / Araucaria”

  1. grandpuzzler says:

    Thanks Araucaria and mhl. I parsed 10ac as you did. Maybe there is more to it. Didn’t understand 4d so thanks for the explanation. Must learn to speak Scotch. Does it help to drink it?


  2. Biggles A says:

    Thanks mhl,

    I came to the same conclusion on 12 but don’t like it much either. In 22 we have to assume that all dead are in heaven which is a nice thought but rather optimistic. I thought 28 stretched the homophone rather too far and suppose the reference is to a three term academic year.

    Otherwise, sure, it was typically enjoyable.

  3. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    It was quite enjoyable but much too straightforward for a prize puzzle.
    Little did we know that the ensuing week would deliver four real challenges.
    Has it ever been officially stated that the Saturday prize puzzle is intended to be the most difficult because recent examples have hardly lived up to that promise.

  4. Coffee says:

    I got 12 before 10 – how many cities of 4 letters end in V? 10 was a long time coming because I was still thinking of chickens/chick etc. KLM was a LOL moment & after that it was the domino effect & I lost interest. I never went back to finish it, so thanks for this- I do like 22, which I hadn’t got to.
    Have to agree with RCWhiting, some of the recent prizes have been less challenging than weekday ones, but are we just assuming that if it’s a Prize, it should be more challenging? Would be interested to know if there’s an official line on this.

  5. molonglo says:

    Thanks mhl. It helps to be unhinged for this setter – so (5d) SCEPS is good for ‘Novel spectacles’ and (14a) You-think-French-for three-bits-out-of-four when the clueing is ‘so much is bilingual.’ Thus deranged I, a classical musical innocent, knocked this over in 45 mins without aids. Lots to like, including the Kiev hen (12a) and the heavenly dead (22d).

  6. stumped says:

    Solved this more readily than Araucaria’s offering on Friday. That said, it’s still very pleasing for a comparative novice to complete a so-called “prize” puzzle. Other novices may feel the same and enter the prize drawing and be encouraged to persevere during the week etc. The more experienced amongst you do have plenty of other fodder at the weekend.

    Favourite clue 18a.

  7. crosser says:

    Thanks mhl. I thought 1d was a bit unfair – “….if he changes ends” – because of the plural I was looking for a change at both ends. Otherwise, once I’d understood the meaning of “piece” in the instructions, this went quite quickly.

  8. cholecyst says:

    Thanks MHL. Solving this was a bitter-sweet experience since I love Araucaria but hate Wagner (his music that is).

    4dn. Here in the NE of Old England we also use the POLIS word and it can also mean an individual police officer.

  9. tupu says:

    Thanks mhl and Araucaria

    Enjoyable puzzle though I must confess I hate Wagner the other way round (cf. cholecyst @8).

    Lots of fun e.g. brucellosis and the dead sea. Also liked Tuck, Tristan etc., and knee.

    I didn’t remember the Flanders and Swann reference but the answer was plain enough and I took it to be a ‘weak’ homophone (which it is in the song.

    I had to check Gers.

    I suppose 1d might be either Brahms or Brahma though I plumped for the the first.

  10. Robi says:

    Enjoyable enough puzzle once the theme was revealed and Google told me which operas he wrote.

    Thanks, mhl for a good blog. I thought BRUCELLOSIS was a LOL moment. We endlessly debate homophones, but m’dear does not really sound like MID-YEAR, I think in anyone’s dialect (unless you’re drunk.) Nevertheless, we understood what the reverend meant. I didn’t get the chicken Kiev reference as I thought it must be in the opera somewhere.

  11. mhl says:

    Thanks to everyone for the comments so far. We also had to use The Araucaria Shrug at several points here, in particular for SPECS / “novel spectacles”, but I’ve mostly given up on documenting these liberties in blog posts. I think GERS is the only department of France I could confidently name – another strange example of how crosswords have strongly biased my general knowledge to short words…

  12. Davy says:

    Thanks mhl,

    I thought at first that I wouldn’t get very far with this Wagner-themed puzzle but it turned out to be quite accessible. I got LOHENGRIN immediately just from ‘smile’ in the clue but didn’t know it was a Wagner piece. The last one in was POLIS which took ages to get. The word POLIS as well as being a combining form is also defined as ‘an ancient Greek city-state’, so it fits the clue even better.

    Favourite clues were THE DEAD SEA (superb), TANNHAUSER and IDLE HANDS (excellent).

    I might be wrong but I thought that ARYAN was maybe a dig at Wagner’s political beliefs. Nice one Arry.

  13. tupu says:

    Hi Davy

    Me too re ‘aryan’.

  14. chas says:

    Thanks to mhl for the blog.

    I was struggling until I came to 2d. As soon as I saw that I got the theme – then things went smoothly after that.

  15. dunsscotus says:

    Thanks, mhl. Re Biggles A @2, I’ve always assumed a compiler can help herself to a relationship weaker than necessity (or absolute synonymy, if there is such a thing). I.e. it suffices to know that SOME dead people are in heaven – we don’t need them all. The rev. might point out that since the Church has canonised some saints, he is farly sure that heaven is not empty.

    Old Glasweigan saying: if ye drink heavy beer the polis canna lift ye.

    Nice puzzle – not difficult. So, having just finished the Prize Puzzle for the 12th, I too am wondering what has happened to the old expectation that the puzzles would get harder as the week progressed.

  16. Wolfie says:

    Thanks for the blog MHL and to Araucaria for an entertaining puzzle.

    I think 12ac is a reference to the Swan river (in Ukrainian ‘Lybid’) which runs through the city of Kiev and (according to Wikipedia) ‘has played an important role in shaping Kiev’s urban landscape’.

    Amazing what you learn doing cryptic crosswords

  17. dunsscotus says:

    Hi Wolfie. But where does ‘Lohengrin’ (10) go in your swan theory?

    Forgot to may: my favourite moment is the inclusion of Brahms in a Wagnerian crossword. Notoriously, one is meant to support either one or the other, so sneaking Johannes in is a lovely touch.

  18. Wolfie says:

    Hi dunsscotus:

    Lohengrin’s bird is the swan, which figures largely in the opera, making its first appearance towing a barge!

    I remember my grandfather being dragged unwillingly by my grandmother to see Lohengrin. He escaped to the bar at the first interval and ever afterwards moaned about being taken to see ‘an opera about a bloody swan’.

  19. r_c_a_d says:

    Thanks mhl.

    I resorted to Wikipedia immediately on spotting Tristan und Isolde since I knew it was an opera by Wagner… whom I am less than keen on in both senses.

    Otherwise a doable puzzle. Had to check here for the parsing of KNEE since I’m not familiar with e’en and spent ages wondering how “out” in the clue meant to remove the V.

  20. Stella Heath says:

    Thanks mhl and Araucaria.

    First in Lohengrin, which led me straight to the “pieces”, though my last in was 20,27 – I just couldn’t see it grr! I think I was expecting that one in German, for some reason.

    BTW dunsscotus, Lohengrin is the Swan King of German legend. And thanks for the Glaswegian saying 😆

  21. Thomas99 says:

    Yes, I enjoyed seeing Brahms in the “wrong” setting too. I wondered if the wording of the clue was deliberately stoking the famous Wagner-Brahms rivalry (mainly between the fans of course) – it looked at first as if Wagner might be the god (he’s the one who writes about them after all) and then who should pop out but…? I thought maybe “changing ends” might also obliquely refer to the two camps – you can’t get from Wagner to Brahms without crossing the floor, as it were.

    For what it’s worth, I also saw the kiev clue just as hen = chicken, leading to chicken kiev. But then I’d never heard of the river…

  22. Roger says:

    Thanks mhl. In 5d I took PEW to be just ‘seat’ otherwise ‘hard’ is working overtime (not a problem of course, just an observation).

    I agree with crosser (7) re 1d but I guess it could be something like:
    Composer (Brahms) would be a god (Brahma) if he (Brahms) changes [the] end ‘S’ (to ‘A’)

    Have heard (and used) the expression Have some Madeira, m’dear! (not in the poem’s context, I hasten to add) but had no idea where it came from. I do now. Thanks Araucaria for filling yet another gap in my education !

  23. dunsscotus says:

    Thanks for the Lohengrin info: the availability of ‘hen’ character-wise and the reference to legend makes this an even more interesting clue. Super.

  24. mhl says:

    I’ve updated the post with Wolfie’s explanation of Kiev – thanks.

  25. Gervase says:

    Thanks, mhl.

    Pretty straightforward, certainly in comparison to this week’s puzzles.

    I went for the ‘Chicken KIEV’ explanation, too.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve little time for either Wagner or BRAHMS…

  26. pangapilot says:

    I can’t see that anyone’s responded to mhl’s description “disturbing” for the lyrics of M’deira M’dear. I’ve always found it a very cleverly constructed song (with multiple objects like “put out the cat, the wine, his cigar and the lamps” and “made no reply, up her mind and a dash for the door” and other witticisms). But I do wonder what chance such a song, making fun from date rape, would have these days. Michael Flanders covered their tracks to some extent by introducing the number as Edwardian, thus giving it period permissiveness.

  27. RCWhiting says:

    “Lybid???” Who eats ‘swan Kiev’?

  28. Wolfie says:

    I see the annotated solution on the Guardian website supports the chicken Kiev explanation. I still think my swan river is a better explanation though!

    By the way, who provides the annotated solutions? Do we assume they are published with the authority of the setter? Or are they no more than the crossword editor’s opinion of the setter’s intention?

  29. Wolfie says:


    Who eats ‘hen Kiev’?

  30. Stella Heath says:

    I quite agree, Wolfie, I prefer your explanation. “Lybid” is a lovely word IMO.

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