Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,595 – Brendan

Posted by Andrew on March 28th, 2012


I don’t think I’ve blogged a Brendan puzzle for a while, so it was a delight to get this one, with lots of references to …

Macbeth, which is one of the Shakespeare plays I am most familiar with, having done it for O-level nearly 43 years ago (good grief, how did that happen?). Perhaps some of the answers came too early once I’d seen the theme: anyone less familiar with the play might have found it trickier, but the quotations used are mostly so familiar that parts of them have become standard expressions.

1. SCOTTISH C[lubs] in SOTTISH. SCOTTISH is usually to preferred to “Scotch” nowadays except when describing whisky or mist
5. SPOOKY O OK in SPY, and reference to the appearance of the murdered Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s feast
12. RETAINING FEE Cryptic definition – a retaining fee is paid to a lawyer to act in a case, hence “brief engagement”
15. TALE Homophone of “tail” (=follow), and reference to the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy: “It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.”
18. NEW ZEALAND N E W (three compass points or quarters) + ZEAL + AND (as well)
19. PLAY P[arty] + LAY (not like a clergyman or minister), definition “act”
21. BLOOD-STAINED Cryptic definition – reference to Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene (also used in several other clues) in which she finds herself unable to clean the blood from her hands
24. IDIOT Reference to the same quotation as in 15ac, and IDIOT=crazy
25. DUNSINANE DUNS (horses) + INANE(empty). Dunsinane is Macbeth’s castle
26. DUNCAN “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” as Lady M says of the murdered King Duncan in the sleepwalking scene
1. SPOT More from the sleepwalking scene: “Out, damn’d spot”, and Spot is (or was) a common name for a dog
2. OMEN O[ver] + MEN, and the moving branches that the men use to disguise themselves is an omen (foretold by the witches) when “Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane”
3. THANES Hidden in WITH AN ESTATE, and there are a number of Thanes in Macbeth
4. SOMNAMBULATED Meaning “sleepwalked”, so “walked out”, and Lady M did in the sleepwalking scene
7. OUT OF STYLE A Style is an engraving tool (cf French “stylo” = pen), so if it was lacking you’d be OUT OF STYLE
8. YESTERDAYS YES + STRAYED* – “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.”, again from “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”
10. DON’T MENTION IT Macbeth is superstitiously referred to as “The Scottish Play”, and actors are supposed not to mention it.
13. STONE-BLIND (BLONDE ISN’T)* I’d never seen this usage (cf “stone deaf”) but it’s an easy clue
14. SLOW MOTION From “Tomorrow…” again: “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,/To the last syllable of recorded time”, and parts of a football match etc might be replayed in slow motion.
17. VENDETTA END (extreme) in VET (check) + TA (Territorial Army, reserves)
20. HEWING HE + WING (player on the periphery of the field)
22. HAGS [ni]G[ht] in HAS (entertains, as in entertains an idea) – referring to the three witches in Macbeth
23. NEWT The witches’ recipe includes eye [singular] of newt, so it would be partly blinded; and a drunk person is “pissed as a newt”.

43 Responses to “Guardian 25,595 – Brendan”

  1. grandpuzzler says:

    Thanks Brendan and Andrew. Struggled with this one as I’ve not read Macbeth. Got through it with ample use of the check button. Last in was OMEN because I didn’t know that O was an abbreviation for over.


  2. nusquam says:

    Thanks to the setter for a puzzle which I enjoyed. Thanks to the blogger too, since I needed your explanation for 23d – not the ‘pissed’ part, but I failed to think of the Macbeth reference.

    Like grandpuzzler I had trouble with 2dn; in fact, I cheated on it in the end.

    My feeling for 7dn is that construing the two cryptic parts of the clue together would produce ‘out of styleS’ not ‘out of style’. Better to leave them separate: ‘totally lacking’ = ‘out of’, and ‘engraving tool’ = ‘style’. One could add ‘Latin stilus’ to ‘French “stylo”, since it was the instrument used to scratch letters on a wax tablet.

  3. NeilW says:

    Thanks, Andrew. I hate to be negative but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this as much as I normally do Brendan’s puzzles. It reminded me of an exam paper rather than a crossword. I prefer to have Brendan’s themes in stealth mode rather than be hit in the face, repeatedly. (Sorry, Brendan.)

    I agree with nusquam’s parsing of 7.

  4. molonglo says:

    Thanks Andrew. I was happy with this despite never having studied the play. That made the task actually more enjoyable and as you say so much is household stuff that it was doable in good time without references. Favourite was the last newt clue.

  5. gm4hqf says:

    Thanks Andrew and Brendan

    Started feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy this one but warmed to the theme. Well over 50 years since I read Macbeth so dementia hasn’t set in yet!

    By the way, I have never heard 13d STONE BLIND used either.

  6. rrc says:

    Not struck on this crossword, maybe its the Shakespeare connection kicking in

    Andrews blog I find is much easier to understand with answer and clue than some of blogs recently where trying to find the explanation is visually quite difficult

  7. Gervase says:

    Thanks, Andrew.

    I did enjoy this puzzle; I was amused that Brendan litters it with references to ‘Macbeth’ without ever using the title, except in thespian fashion as the SCOTTISH PLAY. Fortunately, this is one of the best known plays; I’m very glad he didn’t choose ‘Troilus and Cressida’ or ‘King John’.

    I’m also with nusquam on the parsing of 7d.

    Nevertheless, my favourite clues were non-Shakespearian: 18a, with its clever double use of ‘three-quarters’ (legitimised with ‘so to speak’) and 13d with its dumb blonde reference (am I the only one to have come across STONE BLIND before? Can’t remember the context, though).

  8. Coffee says:

    Not familiar with STONE BLIND either… I think this is the quickest solve I’ve ever done but then this is my field… some of these seemed barely cryptic. Anyway, enjoyed it & will move in to the FT.

  9. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    The ‘themists’ final triumph!
    This was NOT a cryptic crossword. It was an Eng.Lit. examination question.
    My first in was ‘thanes’.I know only two WS plays well and Macbeth is one so ‘thanes’ was a Cawdor of a hint.
    Please no more.

  10. Le Petomane says:

    Is Brendan going soft? This was easier than Rufus at his easiest. “Stone Blind” a new one on me, too.

  11. Median says:

    Nope, I’m another of those who didn’t like this. It’s a particularly striking example of the kind of puzzle I’ve grumbled about several times: one which presumes knowledge of literature. I’m sure a crossword requiring the equivalent amount of knowledge of science, technology, engineering or maths would be rejected by the editor.

  12. John Appleton says:

    Didn’t quite finish, though I enjoyed it as I’m very familiar with the play – but it did feel a bit of a specialist theme. I think in these sorts of crosswords, the cryptic defs (such as 21a) shouldn’t be used – the solver should at least have the chance of being able to solve via the wordplay and checking letters. I’ve been able to do that many times with themes that I’ve been unfamiliar with.

  13. Robi says:

    I suppose one has to look at this from the setter’s point of view. No doubt more interesting to start with a theme and try to fit in as many references as possible. One has to admire Brendan for the art of doing this. However, although I’ve seen the play, I haven’t read it, so some of the quotes were lost on me.

    Thanks, Andrew for revealing all, particularly tomorrow etc. I haven’t heard of STONE-BLIND, either, although it is in Chambers. Grandpuzzler @1; o=over is another dastardly cricket abbreviation. Nice NEW ZEALAND clue, I thought.

  14. Gervase says:

    Median @11: As a scientist myself, I share your disappointment at the lack of science in the quality cryptics. But what would be ‘an equivalent amount of knowledge of science’ be to this? It is not based on the whole field of literature – full of technical terms from linguistics and lit crit – but a single play. An analogous science crossword would have to be littered with quotations from Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’. That certainly would give rise to complaints!

    This puzzle is rather like Tramp’s ‘Fawlty Towers’ example of a little while back – based on an entertainment. The big difference is that Tramp’s clues were (as I recall) solvable without a knowledge of the theme. As John Appleton pointed out, it would have been fairer if Brendan had avoided cryptic definitions which refer directly to the play.

  15. liz says:

    Thanks for the blog, Andrew. I wouldn’t say I disliked this puzzle, but it didn’t seem as much fun as usual. Sorry, Brendan! I know the play well, so it was mostly quite easy. I wondered whether there was more going on with the wordplay in some places (21ac, for example, and 26ac), but apparently not, so I have some sympathy for those who didn’t find the puzzle cryptic enough overall.

    OMEN and NEWT caused me the most trouble and were the last in.

  16. RobbieJM says:

    Though, like many others, I studied the play for O-level and have remained familiar with and fond of it, I agree with RCWhiting @ 9: not a puzzle, but a test.
    On the other hand, I’d humbly point out to Median @ 11 that the amount of solvers here and in the other place who’ve said how familiar they are with the play, rather justifies Brendan’s use and the editor’s approving it, does it not? Solvers would appear as a tribe to be literary rather than scientifically oriented, I think. :)

  17. Alfrom says:

    Didn’t like this one at all as it required good knowledge of such a narrow subject.

    I’m with Median on this – it would be refreshing to have a crossword focussed on some aspect of technology, etc.

  18. Mitz says:

    Thanks Brendan and Andrew.

    Whilst I agree to an extent with RCW and some others that much of this was more of a Macbeth general knowledge quiz and in places barely cryptic, I still enjoyed it. ‘Duncan’ especially made me smile, as did ‘newt’ and away from the theme ‘retaining fee’ was very neat and ‘New Zealand’ had a good surface.

    I’m a little surprised that no-one has yet quibbled with ‘yesterdays’ being an indirect anagram, but more so with the number of comments referring to how long it has been since the play was “read” – surely one goes to see a play, rather than read it! Last year’s production of Macbeth at the Globe was one of the better ones that I’ve seen – very visceral.

    Anyway, in summary: pretty easy (about 20 minutes) and understandably not to everyone’s taste but still, for me, good fun.

  19. chas says:

    Thanks to Andrew for the blog – you explained a couple that I had failed to parse.

    In my case it is about 50 years since I studied this play at school so there were some aspects that I had totally forgotten :(

    I got the theme through 3d: there is only one place in my memory where THANES occur. Once I had the theme I then sought a place where I could put Burnham [Wood] but I could not find one.

  20. Dave Ellison says:

    As a mathematician/scientist, I enjoyed this and found the theme fine. I have not studied the play, but I have picked up sufficient to get almost all the answers (without the use of the internet): from school (had to learn the Tomorrow speech, though I thought it was from Hamlet!); I know Birnam and Cawdor through orienteering there; and surely other references (spot, Scottish Play, don’t mention it etc) are generally well known.

    However, I don’t think I could quote anything from Principia (was “on shoulders of giants” in it?), so no crossword based on that, please. It is hard to think of something scientific that would be usable: maybe “A brief history of time” as many people purportedly have read that!

    Failed on just 2d and 23d. I wouldn’t say the Xword was easy, however.

    Thanks Andrew and Brendan.

  21. Andrew says:

    Mitz, I don’t think YESTERDAYS is an indirect anagram: it’s YES (indeed) + anag of STRAYED.

  22. Mitz says:

    Andrew – you’re right of course. Couldn’t see the Birnam for the trees.

  23. Wolfie says:

    Well, I enjoyed it! Though I was educated as a scientist I have always had a keen interest in literature, which does help with cryptics.

    Gervase @14 – given that Newton wrote his ‘Principia’ in Latin there might well be complaints about using it as a theme for an English-language crossword…

    Thanks Andrew for your blog.

  24. Thomas99 says:

    I agree that claiming equivalence between Principia Mathematica and Macbeth is somewhat unscientific. Hawking/modern physics in general would be a good theme, though I imagine it has been done. Personally I gave up on A Brief History of Time when I guessed the ending.

  25. tupu says:

    Thanks Andrew and Brendan

    I enjoyed this but I can understand the criticisms above. My own knowledge of the play is ‘middling’ so I had to dredge my memory quite hard to get the answers to several clues without looking up the text. At the same time, I was conscious of the contrast with Orlando’s and Puck’s puzzles this week. Orlando’s was full of what I called ‘letter play’ with instructions for constructing the answers buried in neat surfaces. Puck’s, as I experienced yesterday, was enjoyably solvable despite the theme going past me. I was helped in this one by recalling an anagram of ‘thane’ in Picaroon’s recent puzzle and by memories of an earlier mention of ‘the Scottish play’ by Brummie (Feb 2nd I discover).

    As Gervase says, some of the off-theme clues were good – I found 20d particularly hard to figure out though I got it after a more thematic entertaining of ‘hexing’. I also liked the Rufusian 12a and 6d, while within the theme I ticked 10d and 23d (a lovely clue).

  26. Derek Lazenby says:

    No complaints about this one. I managed to get stuck on two of the 4 letter ones, but that was my fault for not seeing the obvious.

    As one who has previously moaned about lack of science in these things, I feel particularly qualifed to point out to those of short memories who think the editor would never allow it, that it is only a few months since we actually did have a heavily scientific puzzle. I may be wrong, but I think it was the spider lady wasn’t it?

  27. Andrew says:

    Derek – indeed it was.

  28. Kayoz says:

    I had a lot of trouble with this one. Not having studied Macbeth at school did not help of course. I went to quite a few schools (9 schools in 12 yrs) so I did ‘A Midsummer-Night’s Dream’and ‘Hamlet’, among bits of Othello and King Lear. Not much of it stuck of course. Something about Malvolio loving himself!

    I got it out but had to google a few things, and needed the excellent explanations from Andrew for a couple, thank you.

    I do the crossword in the printed form, so I don’t use any of the online aids.

    First one in was STONE-BLIND. I hadn’t heard of it either but after toying with Blind-tones I went with it. I got a few more but then had trouble. I gave it to my partner and he got quite a few (obviously he went to the same ‘Hamlet’ school as a lot of you.

    I liked 12a RETAINING FEE, and ABOMINATED. Love that word.

    Had not heard of DUNSINANE but got it by the clueing – nice.
    Partner groaned when he got BLOODSTAINED.

    Thanks Brendan for your ingenuity. Sadly for me, it isn’t my cup of tea.

  29. Kayoz says:

    Re crossword’s Macbeth theme: Since I wrote the above, I remembered that I have a 1980 reprint of a book called ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’. I think I got it a while ago from a garage (junk they didn’t want) sale.

    It is a beautifully made book and I suppose I could have looked up the answers in there. But Macbeth goes from page 859 to 889. Small print, funny language. Too hard!

  30. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Hmm, interesting comments. I’m in the middle on this one – my background’s in science but I just about knew enough of the references to complete it, although I was defeated by NEWT (shouldn’t have been, though, because the witches’ bit around the cauldron is probably one of the best known bits of the play).

    So I quite enjoyed teasing it out once I’d twigged what it was all about, although I can understand it wouldn’t have been everybody’s cup of tea.

    Thanks to setter and blogger.

  31. Derek P says:

    I like themed puzzles, and this was a good test of my memory. However I can understand some of the criticism, in particular regarding the use of cryptic definitions relying on knowledge of the play.

  32. David W says:

    Having enjoyed Monday’s offering I’m with the critics again on this one. 21 and 24 can perhaps be guessed from the crossing letters, and from knowing the play, but how can they be solved from the information given in the clues?

  33. Giovanna says:

    Thanks Brendan – I loved it!! Just my cup of tea and thanks, Andrew. You obviously enjoyed it too.

    The Scottish Play is much quoted and parts of it should be familiar to many people – if only subliminally.

    I enjoy the scientific crossword for a change but for me, this is a good week. Shakespeare has always been my favourite writer post- Arthur Ransome!

    Keep them coming, Brendan!

    Giovanna x

  34. William says:

    Thanks Andrew. I’m in the ‘not-too-keen’ camp on this one. Brendan is among my favourite setters but I had a nasty feeling about this from the outset. My gut told me that the short down clues were all linked to the theme but, being a poor old scientist, I just knew I’d struggle. Got there only with a lot of external aids and that’s not my preferred way of solving crosswords.

  35. Chris says:

    I’m a big fan of both themed crosswords and, in particular, themed crosswords by Brendan. However, this one, sad to say, didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

    If you were well acquainted with Macbeth, then this puzzle was almost trivially easy – as others have said, more like a general knowledge crossword. If you aren’t well acquainted with it then it’s virtually unsolvable without recourse to research, which isn’t much good if you’re on the train or just looking for a quick lunch time break.

    A good themed crossword should be more or less solvable even if you don’t know much about the theme (there should at least be solid cryptic pointers, if nothing else), while at the same time offering deeper rewards for those who are familiar with the theme.

    In this regard, this one just didn’t quite cut it, unfortunately – although having said that, it was nonetheless a Brendan crossword and therefore inevitably had its pleasures.

  36. AlexHackney says:

    Just back to solving after a few months – a bit rusty so the last few haven’t really sparked. Don’t know the play that well but this was a lot of fun. Thanks Brendan. ‘ictus’ was a new word to me – but guessed it from ‘deictic’ etc.

  37. AlexCrewe says:

    Just finished the puzzle which I greatly enjoyed.

    Macbeth is the most familiar of WS plays so I am surprised at the amount of hostility to its use as a theme. As to the lack of mathematical themes, did we not very recently have a “T” based puzzle that none seems to remember?

  38. Martin P says:

    Did all but three even though I’ve never seen or read the confounded play.

    I’m with Carol Vorderman.

  39. Tony Pay says:

    If I’m ignorant of — or, in this case, rusty on — the theme of a crossword, I tend to think of it as an opportunity to discover or rediscover some knowledge I might not otherwise have considered. (I sort of feel I should know SOMETHING about EVERYTHING — even though I don’t!-)

  40. Brendan (not that one) says:

    I agree with previous posters.

    Not very cryptic and very unBrendanlike.

    I particularly disliked 2d.

  41. mark says:

    As others have said, not a cryptic crossword.
    Lazy by the setter. I shall avoid in future

  42. Dolores Tadpole says:

    To Gervase@7, if you’re still puzzling over where you came across “stone-blind”, maybe it was Blind Love by Tom Waits?

  43. Huw Powell says:

    Loved this. Spent hours on it. Left with lots of pencil and a few blanks.

    Thanks for the blog, Andrew, and the delightfully ghastly themed puzzle, Brendan.

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