Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,543 / Gordius

Posted by Eileen on January 27th, 2012


The usual mixture of some good and some rather weaker clues from Gordius.

Regular readers know that he is not among my favourite setters, not least for his cluing of ‘terminal cancer’ some years ago. I’m afraid he’s done it again for me at 26ac. I realise many may disagree with me: words in a crossword are just
that – words – and should not carry any emotive content but, on the previous occasion, I objected to the inclusion of the word ‘terminal’ and today I was shocked by the trivialisation of the wording of the clue. We all have our sensibilities: others have commented on clues referring to mental illness and may take exception to 14 ac. I’m just sorry that this puzzle fell to me to blog: I may well not have done it justice.


1   CENOTAPH: anagram [to build] of NOT CHEAP
5   THEMED: THE MED: Tripoli is the name of two towns [in Libya and Lebanon] on the Mediterranean
9   UPSTAIRS: anagram [oddly] of PUTS + AIRS [pretensions]
10  MAILER: MAIL [letters] + ER [the Queen] and a reference, presumably, to the American novelist, Norman Mailer,[1923-2007]
12  BALLS: double definition, referring to Ed Balls, current Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
13  AESTHETIC: anagram of EACH TEST I [one]
14  GOVERNMENTAL: GOVE [Michael, current Secretary of State for Education] + RN [Royal Navy, senior service] + MENTAL [dotty]
18  SHORTSTAFFED: SHORT [brief] + reversal [turn] of FATS [Waller {1904-1943} – jazz pianist / singer / composer] + F [loud] + ED [Balls – 12ac]
21  THUMBNAIL: cryptic definition
23  NOISE: sounds like [sound of] [Alfred] Noyes [1880-1958] poet, best known for ‘The Highwayman’
25  SKELETON: I can’t really see the construction of this clue: it’s [Red] SKELTON [1913-97 – American comedian] round E[nglish] but the clue appears to be the wrong way round.
26  CANCER: cryptic definition, referring to the Tropic of Cancer.
My objection to this clue is the use of the word ‘ailment’, which I’ve always thought of as a relatively slight indisposition. This is corroborated by Chambers [‘indisposition; disease, esp if not very serious’] and Collins, [simply ‘a slight but often persistent illness’]. I would have had no problem with ‘tropical disease’, which is surely a more common expression, anyway?
27  POLYGLOT: POLY [old college] + GOT [learned] round L [student]


1   CHUBBY: C[aroline] + HUBBY [partner]; I’m not sure what ‘a man’ is doing
2   NESTLE: double definition
3   TRANSPORT: T [model] + RAN [raced] + SPORT [practise athletics? – well, at least the ellipsis has some point]
4   PERMANENT WAY: PER MAN [for each chap] + anagram [variable] of WENT +  A Y [a variable]
6   HEATH: hidden in tHE ATHenaeum: I wonder how many others spotted the rather more obvious – to me – Prime Minister [Lord] North before the more recent one, Ted?
7   MILITATE: reversal [turning up] of [Jacques] TATI [1907-82] – French actor] in MILE [distance]
8   DIRECTLY: DIRECT [order] + L[ad]Y [heartless lady]
11  AS ANY FULE KNO: nothing to do with The Wind in the Willows or Adrian Mole but one of the sayings of Nigel Molesworth  and a reference to the first line of ‘Pride and Prejudice': ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’
15  ETERNALLY: anagram [scruffy] of ENTER + ALLY [friend]
16  ESOTERIC: anagram of  COTERIES
17  SOLUTION: double / cryptic definition
19  PISTOL: anagram of SPOILT and a play on the double definition of ‘arm’
20  RENNET: reversal [returned] of TENNER [note]
22  BRIDE: BE [live] around RID [free]: I will make no comment on the surface of this clue!

48 Responses to “Guardian 25,543 / Gordius”

  1. Rich says:

    Thanks Eileen and Gordius.

    Typo at 13A it should be aesthetic.

    I can’t see 25A either – perhaps Gordius might drop by and enlighten us?

  2. Eileen says:

    Thank you, Rich – corrected now.

  3. Thomas99 says:

    Thanks Eileen and Gordius for a crossword that I enjoyed but left me a little bemused on several counts:

    11d was fun but I can’t see anyway that Mole can mean or indicate Molesworth. I don’t think it’s even ever shortened in the books, and certainly not habitually.

    25a seems syntactically bizarre but I think it would work with the insertion of “it”, to refer back to English (E), then the definition would have to be simply “in the closet”, which could do with a “?”:
    Red not English, but may it be hidden in the closet?

    Both of these seemed like straightforward mistakes to me but I could be missing something.

    By the way in 6d “seen in the Carlton” isn’t just padding/misdirection – it was where Heath would often have been seen, the main Tory “gentleman’s club” in London, sometimes thought to be the organisation that really runs the country.

  4. NeilW says:

    Thanks Eileen.

    Agree with all your reservations plus I dislike clues that rely on the names of current politicians who are probably “gone tomorrow” so the crossword will hardly stand the test of time. (Might be a good thing, though!)

    I believe the Carlton Club was disbanded a few years ago, Thomas99 so “ran the country” might be more correct.

    By the way, Eileen, you’ve left the A out of 4.

  5. Thomas99 says:

    It wasn’t, actually. See its website (

    “The Carlton Club was founded in 1832 and continues today in a beautiful Georgian clubhouse in the exclusive St James’s area of London.

    “Today, it not only serves as a home for its Members, but also an attractive and exclusive venue for lunches, dinners, receptions, meetings and conferences – and a perfect setting for weddings, both the ceremony and the reception.”

    It’s the one with the blue door on St James’s Street.

    You seem to have invented whatever is the opposite of a conspiracy theory.

  6. Ian W. says:

    I don’t see the double/cryptic element of 17a. If “solution” is associated with tyres, it’s news to me.

  7. apple granny says:

    We enjoyed this and found it quite easy. For the first time ever, we went onto the site to find Eileen hadn’t yet posted!
    We had to test, at 6d whether it was North or Heath. And we also disagreed between us whether to enter “noise” or “Noyes” (I won!)
    We liked lots of them – 1ac and 14ac in particular. Also 21ac.

  8. apple granny says:

    We thought the “solution” (17d) was the old fashioned tube of glue we used to use for punctures.

  9. NeilW says:

    Used to be known when I was a boy as “rubber SOLUTION.”

    You’re right, Thomas99. I was thinking of the Primrose Club, I think…

  10. Eileen says:

    Thanks, Neil – corrected now.

    That’s how I read ‘solution’, apple granny. Apologies for the lateness: I spent longer working out how to word the preamble than writing the rest of the blog. ;-)

  11. Conrad Cork says:

    Adrian Mole was originally called Nigel Mole (indeed the first radio version has that title) but Sue Townsend told me the publishers thought it was too close to Molesworth and so she changed the forename.

    IMO 14 down involves a straightforward goof by Gordius – but the sort of thing that an editor should have picked up.

  12. tupu says:

    Thanks Eileen and Gordius

    A bit of a disappointment after some better showings from this setter.

    Frank Muir once mused ‘I was pondering over a problem while mending a puncture on my bicycle when the solution hit me in the eye.’

    I had to hunt out the Molesworth and was puzzled by the abbreviation which had me searching in The Wind in the Wilows.

    25a is a bit weird.

    A few too many names for my taste, but 18a was quite good.

    I suppose Gordius may feel that he is too old to worry, but 14a and 26a do seem a little insensitive even for one carrying 80 years of baggage. At least there is a barb in 14a – and the minister does seem a bit ‘odd’ to me at least.

  13. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog, Eileen. (And sorry for being absent of late — pressure of work!)

    I agree with you on this. 26ac was my first one in and I immediately thought ‘not again’, remembering your objection the last time.

    NORTH occurred to me before HEATH. And ‘Mole’ doesn’t seem a very fair abbreviation of Molesworth.

    Thomas99 @3– Your version of 25ac would make better sense. I remember Red Skelton, just — but he is surely more obscure than other names here!

  14. Thomas99 says:

    Thanks, but I see I actually put the “it” in the wrong place!
    I see the version above works in its way but I actually meant to write:

    Red not English, but it may be hidden in the closet?

    That’s what I honestly think Gordius might have written (probably without the question mark, which spoils the surface a bit). In which case it’s just a typo.

  15. Gervase says:

    Thanks, Eileen.

    Commiserations on having to do this one, for all the obvious reasons.

    This took me longer than the previous two days’ puzzles, though I cannot really explain why. Some nice clues (I liked 1d, 22d, 27a), some wobbly. ESOTERIC = *(COTERIES) is a tired old device. “Mole’ in 11d is plain wrong, although the clue would have been transparent if ‘Molesworth’ had been used (as it stood, this one took me a while, looking for a suitable three-letter word ending in O).

    Three ministers amount to the nearest thing to a theme that we are ever likely to see in a Gorgeous puzzle. And none of them men of the cloth, unlike the setter.

  16. Paul B says:

    Absolutely awful, mistake-ridden stuff, and crosswords featuring serious illnesses that some readers might be suffering from are wrong, bad and utterly insensitive. And after the last time, it cannot be that the GCE is unaware of the general distaste for such inclusions.

    On the other hand it might just be another error: perhaps CONCUR was the intended word?

  17. chas says:

    Thanks to Eileen for the blog.

    I started with NORTH for 6d. When I eventually solved 5a I looked again at 6d and saw HEATH :(

    I eventually put SKELETON for 25a having vague memories of somebody called Red Skelton – but I could not parse it.

  18. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    This was going badly,writing in solutions with hardly a thought.
    Then I ground to a halt in the SE corner.
    Two reasons: I fell for the old homophone trick and entered Noyes confidently as one of my early entries; and to make things worse I just could not see 11 d.
    With ‘fule’ and ‘kno’ (both unorthodox words) and ‘mole’ for Molesworth this did seem a little unfair,but I got it eventually, so no real complaints.
    Talking of complaints,I find it very difficult to agree with others (although I might feel a little sympathy) about ‘cancer’.
    Words are just words and after all some cancers are very trivial ailments: I recently had one removed from my face without the slightest reduction in my handsomeness (?).

  19. Mr. Jim says:

    Argh—really struggled with this one. Had skeleton next to the clue, but didn’t dare write it in as that would give K_O for the end of 11d.

    23a seems to be the wrong way round, too. [sound of sound] poet makes sense, but [sound of][sound poet] has to make Noyes a sound poet. Is he?

    Thanks to Eileen for explaining the many, many clues I could not make head nor tail of. This just seemed far too lax for my taste.

  20. chas says:

    To Mr. Jim
    I read 23 as sound (definition) of [sound poet]. If you put Noyes as the poet then [sound poet] gives noise which matches the definition.

  21. togo says:

    Thanks Eileen. Tend to agree with your feelings about this one. Mole, and the entirely ambiguous but not exactly entertainingly misdirectional North/Heath and Noyes/Noise not great. Ailment not good – pace RCW: it would have been so easy to say ‘tropical disease’.

    25ac: “Red not English, but may be hidden in the closet” does, I think, just work: if Skeleton is without (an) ‘English’ it is Skelton – ie Red’, so “it’s red (if) not English’ – but it (skeleton) may be hidden etc. Very clunky though, given the less than fascinating surface…..

  22. crypticsue says:

    I agree with everything Eileen said especailly with regard to 26a – to describe this as an ‘ailment’ is dreadful.

  23. Robi says:

    I thought this was largely OK, cept I dinno KNO ANY FULE.

    Thanks, Eileen for help with STAFFED; I forgot old Fats Waller. I took CHUBBY=’a man of substance’ in 1d. 25 was a bit strange, although I took it as something like: Red, [when] not English {but} may be hidden in the closet.’

    I understand your reservations about the clue for 26, but ailment seems to be used as a synonym for disease and illness. I took a long time to realise that 19 was an anagram.

  24. vynbos says:

    A few of you are being a bit overly vigorous in your criticism of the setter’s efforts.
    I agree that ‘Tropical Disease’ would have been a far better clue, and there are mistakes and missteps in a number of the other clues, but it is very easy for a dozen people to collectively come up with a better version of (almost) every clue ever set.
    I don’t think we should be so quick to turn ‘cancer’ into a taboo word. And to accuse the setter of being distasteful and insensitive is showing the very lack of goodwill that you are attributing to him.

  25. apiarist says:

    This took me ages today as I had originally put “pantheon” for 1ac and then “North” in at 6dn !

  26. otter says:

    Thanks for the blog, Eileen. I am another baffled by Skeleton, and by Mole. Can only think the omitted part of the Austen quotation refers to a man’s worth (‘in possession of a good fortune’) so in this case to ‘Mole’s worth’. Perhaps I’m being too generous.

    I’m trying to think whether I enjoyed any of the clues. Perhaps the couple of sort-of &lits such as ESOTERIC.

  27. otter says:

    Oh, as to CHUBBY (although I didn’t much care for it), I think HUBBY = ‘partner, a man’ and the definition is ‘of substance’. This makes more sense to me.

  28. Eileen says:

    vynbos @ 24

    “I don’t think we should be so quick to turn ‘cancer’ into a taboo word.”

    I made it quite clear that it was not the word I was objecting to – that would be foolish – but the word that was used to clue it.

  29. Bertandjoyce says:

    We’re with you Eileen on your comments. There seemed to be a number of weak clues as well and for once we went to your blog to finish it rather than persevering. Guessed it was Molesworth despite the inaccurate reference but couldn’t be bothered to google to find out and had no crossing letter from 25a.

  30. Derek Lazenby says:

    Durr? Look children it’s like this. For the benefit of those who don’t know what a probability distribution curve looks like please have a quick butchas at the pretty blue curve on the right, near the top of

    OK. Got that in mind? Now, as ever, take the vertical axis as probability and the horizontal axis as time. Now, you see the dark blue bit? Imagine the left side is at 3 years, the peak is at 4 and the right side is 5. Got that? Good.

    Now label the graph “Time to 1st relapse of Multiple Myeloma from onset having had additional high dose chemotherapy”.

    Now realise I am just approaching the 3 year mark. You understand what that means?

    OK, right.

    Well I don’t give a tinker’s cuss about 26ac or any other previous clue. Other people’s pointless sensitivities are far more bothersome. It’s a fact of life. Get used to it. After all, it’s not you that’ll be doing the painful dying.

  31. Matt.vantage says:

    Hi Eileen thanks very much for the blog. As a medical student I suppose I am somewhat desensitised to medical terminology, but I would say that cancer can indeed be an ailment. Skin cancers are not the only highly treatable and non-life-threatening forms- there are plenty more benign tumours, such as polyps in the gut. Anyway, I understand that the C word is often highly emotive.

  32. rrc says:

    26a actually caused me to smile when the penny dropped. 1 thought it quite clever construction and did note the question mark. Neither do I like the suggestions of censorship on the use of certain words. Sorry but I do not share those views.

  33. Dave Ellison says:

    I agree with rrc here; 26a made me smile a little too, as I thought the emphasis was on the Tropic of Cancer. I didn’t give a first thought to any implications of “ailment”, if indeed there are any.

    However, I am not keen on this usage of “mental” – is it in the Guardian’s frowned upon list?

    I am a North man, too, so failed on that corner.

    At 18a I initially thought it began STAFF, so that delayed me for a while.

    A very reasonable Xword on the whole.

  34. RCWhiting says:

    In my youth all my female relatives would never more than mouth the word cancer. It must have been awful for sufferers to know their ailment was considered so evilly mystic, by their friends, as to not be able to even say the word.
    Thank goodness we are now more civilised and caring: CANCER, CANCER.

  35. morpheus says:

    Nulle points from me I’m afraid. How the heck is one supposed to get 11D if one is not intimately acquainted with this Molesworth chap?

  36. Admin says:

    RCW @ 34
    You are entitled to your opinion but I think your comment is intended to be inflammatory and against the ethos of this forum. Please be more circumspect with your comments in future.

  37. Derek Lazenby says:

    Admin, I thought he was just agreeing with me at 30, as everyone else was too neshy to comment.

    There is nothing worse to a sufferer than non-sufferers having sensitivities. This thing is going to kill me, and sooner rather than later. I have to get used the idea, why then are other people so totally uncaring that they refuse to face it too? How heartless can you get? To hell with non-suffer’s sensibilities, what about the victims?

    So I would like to thank RCW for saying exactly the right thing, I really appreciate it.

  38. Paul B says:

    I agree that it is good that we are perhaps ‘more civilised and caring’ (if that is indeed the case – you could have fooled me), and that cancer is less ‘evilly mystic’ (if that is indeed the case). But I think that all here, including Derek, would agree that not everyone is as comfortable with a frightening diagnosis as he is.

    So in Crosswordland, to avoid upset amongst those who might be doing crosswords etc precisely to escape such thoughts of mortality, we don’t trot it out. Simples. Nor do we wind it up with asinine remarks, like some Internet troll (who in my view should have been banned from these boards months ago).

  39. RCWhiting says:

    “Regular readers know that he is not among my favourite setters, not least for his cluing of ‘terminal cancer’ some years ago. I’m afraid he’s done it again for me at 26ac. I realise many may disagree with me: words in a crossword are just
    that – words – and should not carry any emotive content but, on the previous occasion, I objected to the inclusion of the word ‘terminal’ and today I was shocked by the trivialisation of the wording of the clue. We all have our sensibilities: others have commented on clues referring to mental illness and may take exception to 14 ac. I’m just sorry that this puzzle fell to me to blog: I may well not have done it justice.”
    Is this the “trotting out” you are referring to?

  40. William says:

    Derek @30. I don’t know what to say that might help – hopeless in that regard, I’m afraid. Just thinking about you and wishing you strength at this time. Keep on blogging while you can, I always enjoy your contributions.

  41. Eileen says:

    I deliberately kept out of yesterday’s discussion, apart from my comment 28, which I should like to emphasise, and I don’t really like revisiting the previous day’s blog but just a word to put the record straight and I hope it won’t prolong the discussion.

    I don’t think there are many of us who have not had fairly close-hand experience of cancer, in one way or another, and I’m sure, Derek, that you are aware that it’s not only those who have the disease who are the ‘sufferers’. I’m not one of those like RCW’s squeamish female relatives who are afraid to say the word. It was an important part of my vocabulary during the two years between my husband’s diagnosis and his death.

    A couple of years ago, I promised not to comment on dodgy ‘homophones’ any more and I’ve stuck to that – although other people still mention me in connection with them! I promise now never again to mention why G is my least favourite setter. :-)

  42. Derek Lazenby says:

    38B Paul B, mortality affects us all, cancer or not. Surprisingly, that is not the real problem. The real problem is the loneliness and isolation that comes from the feeling you are treading a path that those around you are not on. The only way to alleviate that is to do precisely the opposite of what you suggest. Talking is the only cure for that. So non-victims, please stop thinking you are doing anybody a favour by keeping quiet. My fellow victims, please start talking, it really does help, I promise.

    Comfortable with the diagnosis? Had to laugh mate, that never happens. Thanks for raising a smile though!

    William @ 40, well thanks but don’t worry, nobody ever does know what to say, but getting the awkward first words out of the way makes anything that follows easier for people.

    Eileen, sorry to hear that obviously, and yes I know it’s not easy being around it, but bottling it all up doesn’t help, it’s easier out than in. I learnt that about ten years ago when I finally started to come to terms with bad things that I went through as a kid. What finally laid the ghosts to rest was talking about it. So, I learnt that lesson. Talk, it’s good, and infinitely preferable to not.

  43. Eileen says:

    Hi Derek

    Let me say just once more that there is no suggestion anywhere in my comments on yesterday’s puzzle that we shouldn’t mention cancer. I specifically said that I would have had no objection whatsoever to it being clued as ‘tropical disease’ – in fact, that’s not a bad clue. It was the trivialisation of it that upset me and I would have thought you’d agree on that.

    Perhaps it’s our different understanding of the word ‘ailment’ that’s the problem? I’ve never thought of it as a straight synonym for ‘illness’ – it has a whiff of hypochondria for me – and, as I said, Chambers [I know, I know :-)] bears me out and Collins even more so, giving a *slight* illness as the only definition.

    May I add to William’s good wishes to you – and, as he says, keep on commenting!

  44. Derek Lazenby says:

    It never occurred to me to be bothered! If there was any intent to trivialise, that would be a different matter, but here one assumes the intent is just to misdirect a solver of cryptic clues.

    And thank you.

    BTW all, just because I haven’t been posting every day doesn’t mean I ain’t here. Somedays I have nothing to add, and others I was so defeated that comment would fill War and Peace! However, on other days a good battle does cheer me up. Pity some people take that seriously.

  45. Paul B says:

    Yes, well, fine, but we are not talking about whether or not discussing illness in a general way is beneficial (which is where this conversation has been derailed): we are talking about appropriate content of crossword puzzles, and that is an entirely different thing.

  46. Derek Lazenby says:

    If you read more carefully you will find the subject is still there.

    But for the sake of clarity, and as one who is actually qualified to comment, there is no issue here. The clue above is fine because

    1. these are just words, look at this way, regardless of what you call my cancer, it will still kill me, so what difference does it make what it is called, an ailment, a condition, a disease, or whatever, the result will be the same whatever words are used, so how are mere words even relevant?

    2. I can’t believe there was a deliberate attempt to be hurtful in that clue, just a setter being marginally misleading in his choice of words

    And this whole thing is being discussed because people are artificially sensitive about real life in all its warts and all glory. This is not surprising when much of it is hidden from view for the sake of the squeamish. It’s much the same reason as why most meat eaters can’t even contemplate the abattoir, let alone witness it’s workings. People are totally out of touch with the realities of life and (quick, look away now) death, which is a greivous failing of modern society.

  47. Paul B says:

    Disagree entirely, even having been to your own website (some time ago, AAMOF), where you were quite within your rights to inform me and others of the situation in which you find yourself. Why? Because it was my decision to go there.

    And so regardless of your own acceptance, and regardless of anyone’s acceptance, that ‘mortality affects us all’, which clearly it does, the forum for discussion of same is not, I would argue, a crossword puzzle. In other words, neither you nor anyone else has the right to shove it down people’s throats just because you’re personally okay (or as okay as you can be) with it.

    Here we have a compiler and an editor who have decided arbitrarily that both TERMINAL CANCER and CANCER (plus some other tasteless stuff which fortunately I’ve failed to remember) are jolly okay for inclusion. I think those decisions actually take a massive liberty, in assuming that everyone, affected or not, is like you, Derek, and can handle it, or at least doesn’t care about being reminded of it.

    Of course, in reality The Grauniad team can’t possibly know that, for which reason the words should have been edited out.

  48. Matt says:

    As always, I’m late to the party.

    I have neither had cancer, nor lost anybody close to me as a result of it. Were that not the case I might feel differently.

    However, as it stands, I think it’s important that crossword setters are allowed to err on the side of insensitivity. We come across AIDs, HIV, CAR-CRASH and so on frequently enough, even LYNCHING and SWASTIKA, if I remember correctly. I can well imagine a number of solvers having unhappy associations with any of these words, yet I don’t know that we should criticise a setter for using them as a result.

    Similarly one doesn’t have to look for long, even within the same newspaper, for instances of these words being used flippantly (or at least without the gravitas that some might deem appropriate). I do not think we should censure a crossword-setter for being no less coy than his colleagues in the comment / lifestyle sections with the vocabulary he/she uses (unless of course we are willing to take those colleagues in our sights).

    The argument against, as far as I can tell, seems to rest in large part upon the assumption that the crossword is too trivial or frivolous a forum for such words. Although crosswords are at one level mere word-games, I think most of us here would agree that there is also something of the art-form about them, and that words are not necessarily trivialised by their inclusion.

    Anyway, I’m blathering on, but I think I’m just going along with my Mill-esque hunch that any claimed right to not be offended establishes dangerous boundaries.

    Yours, with respect,

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