Never knowingly undersolved.

Independent 7979 / Phi

Posted by duncanshiell on May 11th, 2012


This was a puzzle that made me think I would struggle.




The theme is not one of my strong points, but it was probably the most obscure example that I solved first.  When I was a young lad on a school exchange trip in the early 1960s, the family I stayed with in Cologne took me to see a version of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS.  Until today, I thought the opera was by Mozart!  

I think almost all the other operas are fairly well known.  I have an eclectic mix of books in my crossword reference library.  The New Penguin Opera Guide (2000 version) came in very handy when doing some more research.  It is usally the composers who get the greatest credit for operas, but there are one or more librettists for each opera and often the libretto is based on an original book or play.   I discovered also that there are three distinct versions of TURANDOT and two of
ARIADNE AUF NAXOS.  For those who are interested, the information is as follows

Clue Opera Composer Librettist(s) Source

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), completed by Franco Alfano

Franz Danzi (1763-1826)

Ferrucio Busoni (1866-1924)

Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni



Carlo Gozzi (play)

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Georg Benda (1722-1795)

Hugo von Hoffmanstahl

Johanne Christian Brandes

12a ELEKTRA Richard Strauss Hugo von Hoffmanstahl Sophocles
15a TOSCA Giacomo Puccini Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica Victorian Sardou (play)
20a LA BOHÈME Giacomo Puccini Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica Henry Murger and Théodore Barrière (play)
25a FIDELIO Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Joseph Sonnleithner and Georg Friedrich Treitschke Jean Nicholas Bouilly and Pierre Gaveuax (opera)
26a HANSEL AND GRETEL Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) Adelheid Wette The Brothers Grimm
27a SALOME Richard Strauss Richard Strauss Hedwig Lachmann’s translation of Oscar Wilde (tragedy)

There were some excellent clues in this crossword – the A TO M construct in 5 across appealed to me and 11 across (ASSAULT) had a smooth surface. I also enjoyed the direction to remove the second EIN from EINSTEIN.

A general knowledge of Geography helped with ANAHEIM as a solution and SION as a component part.  

As a Scot, the POLIS in 17 down came quite readily.

When solving this I got ARIADNE AUF NAXOS before the theme word, OPERA, although it then followed almost instantly.

An enjoyable puzzle that didn’t need a degree level knowledge of operas.

No. Clue Wordplay Entry
1 18’s performer securing a spot (8)

(TURN [a performer’s act or the performer] containing [securing] A) + DOT (spot)


TURANDOT (opera [18 across].  The best known version of TURANDOT is by Giacomo Puccini, but the New Penguin Opera Guide tells me there are two others by Franz Danzi and Ferrucio Busoni)
5 Thirteen letters, I see covering nuclear issues? (6) A TO M (there are thriteen letters in the alphabet from A TO M inclusive) + I + C (see [the letter C])

ATOMIC (relating to atoms; obtained by means of atomic fission; covering nuclear issues)

10 18, anxious and perturbed with a fear (7,3,5) Anagram of (perturbed) ANXIOUS AND A FEAR ARIADNE AUF NAXOS (opera [18 across]. In this case the best known version is by Richard Strauss, with a second version by Georg Benda)
11 Jewish leader intervening in a street attack (7)

SAUL (circa 1079 BC – 1007 BC, SAUL was the first king of the united Kingdom of Israel; Jewish leader) contained in (intervening in) (A + ST [street])


ASSAULT (attack)
12 18’s keel fashioned with revolutionary skill (7)

Anagram of (fashioned) KEEL + (ART [skill] reversed [revolutionary])


ELEKTRA (opera [18 across] by Richard Strauss)
13 Servant, in actuality, reverted to hesitation (8)

FACT (truth; reality; in actuality) + TO reversed (reverted) + UM (used by speakers when momentarily hesitating or in doubt; hesitation)


FACTOTUM (person employed to do all kinds of work for another; servant)
15 18, proportionately reduced, after ditching the French (5) TO SCALE (in proportion corresponding to actual dimensions; proportionately reduced) excluding (after ditching) LE (version of ‘the’ in French used in front of masculine objects) TOSCA (opera [18 across] by Puccini)
18 Time to get away from best period for art form (5) TOP (best) excluding (to get away from) T (time) + ERA (period [of time]) OPERA (art form)
20 18 – Labour man entering House, ignoring leader (2,6)

LAB (Labour) + (HE [the male; man] contained in [entering] [HOME {house} excluding {ignoring} the H {first letter; leader}])


LA BOHEME (opera [18 across] by Puccini)
23 One’s refusals about transactions obtaining office equipment (2-5)

(I [one] + NAYS [refusals]) containing (about) TR (transactions)


IN-TRAYS (office equipment)
25 18’s dog biting priest (7)

FIDO (said by some sources to be the name of Abraham Lincoln’s dog; other sources attribute the name to an Italian dog of intense loyalty to its master in life and death.  Commonly used to refer to a dog in a general sense.  Doesn’t seem to feature in any dictionary as a name for a dog or breed of dog.  Bradfords list it in a table simply headed ‘dogs’) containing (biting) ELI (High Priest of Shiloh, the crossword world’s favourite priest)


FIDELIO (opera [18 across] by Beethoven.  FIDELIO is Beethoven’s only opera)
26 18 endangers with lethal rocks (6,3,6) Anagram of (rocks) ENDANGERS and LETHAL HANSEL AND GRETEL (opera [18 across] by Engelbert Humperdinck [the older one, not Arnold George Dorsey, aka Engelbert Humperdinck, singing the British entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest])
27 18 – not all (though almost all involved) (6)

ALL excluding the final letter (almost) L contained in (involved) SOME (not all)


SALOME (opera [18 across] by Richard Strauss)
28 Compact water source, new with equipment around (4-4)

WELL (water source) + (KIT [equipment] containing [around] N [new])


WELL-KNIT (compact)
1 Container of leaves sailor used to jam rickety gate (3,3)

AB (able seaman; sailor) contained in (used to jam) anagram of (rickety) GATE


TEA-BAG (a container of [tea] leaves)
2 Restore scientist who’s overlooked repeated characters in lecture (9)

EINSTEIN (reference Albert EINSTEIN, scientist) excluding the second occurrence of (overlooked repeated characters) EIN contained in (in) RATE (scold; lecture)


REINSTATE (restore)
3 Agreement unachievable about book, almost certainly (2,5)

NOD (gesture of assent; agreement) + (OUT [debarred; not to be considered; unachievable] containing [about] B [book])


NO DOUBT (surely; almost certainly)
4 Recovered from onset of tonsilitis, that’s clear (5) OVER (recovered from) + T (first letter of [onset of] TONSILITIS) OVERT (public; not concealed; clear)
6 New info amongst rubbish proves to be mostly irrelevant item (7)

(N [new] + GEN [information; info]) contained in (amongst) TAT (tawdry or shoddy articles; rubbish)


TANGENT (reference ‘at a TANGENT‘ [in a divergent train of thought or action which is usually mostly irrelevant to the issue at hand])
7 Cause trouble with German about soccer team (3,2)

MIT (German for ‘with’) containing (about) XI (Roman numerals for 11, the number of players in a soccer team)


MIX IT (cause trouble)

8 Caught a trespasser on board expressing sound of pain? He’ll soon be this! (8)

C (caught [notation in cricket scoring]) + A + STOWAWAY (person who hides in a ship to get a passage; trespasser on board) excluding (expressing [dispatch [?], emit [?]) OW (expression of pain)

CASTAWAY (a person shipwrecked in a desolate or isolated place; an outcast; what a STOWAWAY may become if the ship is wrecked or the ships crew take a dislike to the STOWAWAY and expel him/her from the ship)

9 Fairy quite losing it, lifting curse around head of monster (5,3)

QUITE excluding (losing) IT + (BANE [curse] containing [around] M [first letter of {head of} MONSTER] all reversed [lifting; down clue])


QUEEN MAB (a fairy referred to in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet)
14 Long Island enthralled by Dutch explorer’s charm (8)

(L [long] + I [island]) contained in (enthralled by) TASMAN (reference Abel TASMAN [1603-1659], Dutch explorer.  He discovered Van Diemen’s Land, later renamed Tasmania)


TALISMAN (amulet or charm)
16 Fool politician allowed in Swiss town (9)

(MP [Member of Parliament; politician] + LET [allowed]) contained in (in) SION (town in Switzerland, in the Rhone Valley)


17 Scottish copper – he’s exhibiting refined attitudes (8) POLIS (in Scotland the police are often referred to as ‘the polis’ where ‘PO‘ is pronounced as in the River Po in Italy and ‘LIS‘ is pronounced as the first three letters of list) + HES POLISHES (refinement of manner; refined attitudes)
19 Californian city – there’s a North American edge about one (7)

A + NA (North American) + (HEM [edge] containing I [one])


ANAHEIM (city in Orange County, California)
21 German article probing cure attributable to ivy (7)

DER (one the German words for ‘the’ [definite article]) contained in (probing) HEAL (cure)


HEDERAL (realting to the Ivy genus; attributable to ivy))
22 Mouth allowed in drinking vessel (6) GOB (mouth [slang]) + LET (allowed) GOBLET (large drinking cup/vessel)
24 Using key, filling slit on a lock (5) Hidden word in (filling) SLIT ON A LOCK TONAL (according to [musical] key )
25 Compromise, say, mostly worthless on reflection (5) (EG [for example] + DUFF [worthless] excluding the last letter [mostly] F) all reversed (on relection) FUDGE (distort; evade; not sure this is quite the same as compromise which is more about reaching an agreement through negotiation)

19 Responses to “Independent 7979 / Phi”

  1. flashling says:

    Ugh I hate operas at the best of times… (actually all the time) I’ve heard of the rest but 10a, completely unguessable for me, to horrendously misquote a good train ride spoilt.

    Thanks anyway Duncan and just hope Phi does something else next time.

    Bah humbug grumble :-)

  2. Wanderer says:

    By contrast to flashling I loved this one. Slight delay with SIMPLETON, after getting GOBLET, mainly because I wasn’t expected ‘allowed’ = LET twice in the same crossword.

    On the question mark at 8d concerning ‘expressing’ and emit, I saw it as in ‘to express milk’ which works fine for me.

    Many thanks to Duncan and Phi.

  3. nmsindy says:

    I’m afraid I can’t agree with you, flashling, on this (comment #1). I’ll have to admit I’ve never seen an opera in my life and, as far as classical music is concerned, personally prefer symphonies and other instrumental works.

    Nonetheless, I’ve learned a lot of the names of operas from doing crosswords over the years. The only one I’d not heard of was 10A and I was able to get it from the wordplay as my last answer when I’d all the crossing letters. Then confirmed it in my Opera reference book (purchased purely because of puzzles).

    Fair, precise, clueing made this a quicker than usual Indy solve. Favourite clues, TEA BAG, NO DOUBT, TOSCA.

    Thanks, Phi, and Duncan for another excellent blog.

  4. Lenny says:

    This was a lot of fun and the theme made a nice change from footballers and rock music. No problems with Ariadne Auf Naxos although, as Flashling suggests, if you have not heard of it you would be unlikely to get it from the anagram. Unknowns for me were Sion, Anaheim and Hederal but they were all gettable.

    There are a few other musical references. Figaro is a Factotum in the Barber of Seville. Atomic brought to mind John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic. Perhaps Phi couldn’t fit in the first word. The Queen Mab scherzo is included in Berlioz’s dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet.

  5. duncanshiell says:

    I’m not surprised to learn that there are additional operatic references in the grid. My knowledge struggles to bring up the names of just a few operas. Once we get to arias and the background of characters I am lost. Like nmsindy I only purchased a operatic reference book for crossword puzzles.

    I do better with the footballers and rock music, but I recognise that crosswords are a wonderful way of broadening knowledge.

  6. flashling says:

    Well… I studied music before Uni, play instruments and love classical music but not operas, can’t explain without exceeding the blog limits/patience of readers. OK it was cleverly put together – but just the theme hit on a pet hate of mine, we’re all allowed one aren’t we?

    OK I loathe Morris dancing and mime artists too but that is something else.

    So what’s the worst theme you can think of? Strictly Sunderland players’ Wives and Girlfriends on ice without talent, but who have lots of antiques in the attic to flog. Sorry that’s the tele at the moment.

  7. Dormouse says:

    Well, I’m something of an opera fan – been to two this week and just spent a small fortune on next season at ENO – so now real difficulties here. Finished it in fairly quick time for me. Actually seen all the opera listed here many times. (Well, only the Puccini for 1ac, but I do have the Busoni on my iPod. There’s also a version by Weber – Hindemith used some of the themes in his symphonic metamorphosis – but that’s more a play with music, I believe.)

    Curious that 10ac the title is in German, but 26ac is in English. Had to stop and think which version to enter for 26.

  8. Thomas99 says:

    Re 10a and 26a, I expect it’s mainly because of the crossing letters, and there’s no requirement to be consistent after all, but at the time I sort of justified it by thinking that in Ariadne the opera-within-an-opera is probably still called “Ariadne auf Naxos” even in an English version, so the title of the whole piece could stay the same too. I did see it in English once at the ENO but can’t remember what they called it. (They used to go their own way a bit on titles anyway – remember “Figaro’s Wedding”?

  9. Pelham Barton says:

    Thanks Phi for an enjoyable crossword and Duncan for your usual excellent blog.

    Thomas @8: Certainly the choice at 26ac is forced by the crossing letter, but the ambiguous letter at 10ac is unchecked. I suspect the choice was made to allow the anagram. Note the more important point that the use of anagrams in each case made the answer unambiguous.

  10. Dormouse says:

    Fairly sure ENO called it Ariadne on Naxos but it’s been a few years since they’ve done it.

    Usually with long anagrams I don’t have to check off all the letters once the answer becomes obvious. This time I guessed the answer from the word lengths even before realising it was an anagram. I then had to work out why and then seeing which of the two possible answers it was.

    There’s a P.D.Q. Bach opera called Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice.

  11. Klingsor says:

    Needless to say this one was right up my street! Nice one Phi, thank you. (Shame there was no Wagner though…)

  12. Kathryn's Dad says:

    I didn’t mind the theme, although I’ve never been to an opera in my life. I knew all of them except ARIADNE, where even when I had most of the crossers I had to resort to a wordsearch (which somewhat surprisingly, gave the answer). Like others, I got an opera before I got the gateway clue – HANSEL AND GRETEL is a pretty clear anagram.

    All clearly and entertainingly clued by Phi as always; thanks to him for the puzzle and Duncan for the full blog.

  13. Phi says:

    Well, there’s another Turandot by Havergal Brian and another La Boheme (to the same libretto) by Leoncavallo of I Pagliacci fame. A auf N gave part of its name to the most popular classical music album company, and none of the titles is exactly a rarity in opera houses.

    I spent ages trying to get UND into the grid without setting off a chain reaction that wiped one or more other references. In the end, AND seemed the lesser offence.

    Didn’t intend Doctor Atomic but rewatched it the other week (stunning aria at end of Act One). Any opera where someone sings ‘icosahedron’ is bound to pique my interest (and I now know of two – anyone up for guessing the other?)

  14. Dormouse says:

    Please sir, I know. It’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Michael Nyman.

    And I forgot the Brian and the Leoncavallo. Just bought a CD of music from the former a couple of months ago and did see the latter about 10 years ago.

  15. Bertandjoyce says:

    Not being opera afficionados, we expected to struggle but suprisingly it turned out we had heard of them all apart from 10ac which was gettable once we had the crossing letters.

    We’ve only seen one opera (in Prague) which convinced us that people bursting into song in a play is not our scene! Not sprisingly, we don’t like musicals either – don’t even like Tommy despite being fans of the Who.

    By the way ….. Does anyone know any Doctor Doctor jokes about operas?

    Thanks Phi and Duncan.

  16. Wil Ransome says:

    I agree with Klingsor. But lamented the lack of Mozart rather than of Wagner.

    Surely they’re usually called A auf N & H and G? I can’t remember it ever being called H und G.

  17. Phi says:

    That makes three icosahedra then – I was thinking of Kepler by Philip Glass. And I’ve seen the Nyman (and read the Sacks) so I should have known… (Always a peril – and also a pleasure – of throwing out such challenges is that there might just be another one.)

    Those who know me will know I’m no great fan of Mozart, while I’ve just sat through the latest Met Opera Ring cycle in local cinemas (stunning theatre, whatever you may think of opera otherwise), which may explain a reluctance to add Wagner to the mix.

  18. hounddog says:

    Very true about the risk, Phi. I was once in a sports quiz where a question started ‘name the only player who…’ and one table immediately called out in unison ‘do you want both of them?’.

    Good puzzle even for a total opera non-buff like myself.

  19. Dormouse says:

    Only now having checked the libretto, the spelling “eikosihedron” is used, which I then checked and is the spelling in Sacks.

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