Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian Prize No 25,658 by Paul

Posted by bridgesong on June 16th, 2012


No editorial mistakes this week, with a themed puzzle which was, I felt, below Paul’s usual very high standards.  The theme was plays by Alan Ayckbourn, and while this offered a wide choice, it proved possible to guess the themed answers fairly quickly from the enumeration and the crossing letters.  I didn’t have to resort to Google for a list of the plays.  Some of the clues to the plays were more than usually cryptic, without this being indicated (perhaps to increase the difficulty).

Crosses behind old English city (6)

X, FORD after O(ld).

Tree where laid-back snake bitten by half-cut monkey (6)

BOA(rev) in BAB(oon).

Alcoholic drink improved, less teetotal (4)


10 Socialist leader, des­pite amazing success initially, unfortun­ately resigns (5,5)

S(ocialist), *(DESPITE A(mazing) S(uccess)).  “Unfortunately” is the anagram indicator.

11,16down 13’s simian pri or leading princi? (6,7)

priMATES and princiPALS.  Isn’t it tautologous to speak of a leading principal?

See 15

13 Writer taking you back in play — that’s service! (9)

*(YOU BACK), RN.  By coincidence, there was a review of an Ayckbourn play (The Norman Conquests – not featured in the puzzle) on the previous page of the paper.

15,12 Howard, perhaps, mild — if eccentric — cleric (4,8)

*(MILD IF), RECTOR.  Presumably referring to Ron Howard.

16 Sweet sucker (4)

Double definition.

17 Familiar bore, oddly kind and personal (4,5)

WELL, KN(odd letters in KiNd), OWN.

See 5

22 Second corner knocked over ending in space, head back (2,4)

MO(ment), HOG(all rev) (spac)E.  The last one in for me.

24 Act of containing people not starting with Roger (10)

(m)EN CASEMENT.  By another coincidence, Roger Casement also featured in today’s Guardian (p 10 of the Review section).

See 19

26 Figure out old East/West divide? (6)

SUSS, EX.  A rather loose definition.

See 5

Spend too much where in France, admitting something to do with money, ultimately (7)

VERB (“something to do with”) in OU (French for “where”), (mone)Y.  Not the most elegant surface.

See 7

Short bone under Italian dish (7)

RI(b), SOTTO (Italian for “under” – as in sotto voce).  The pick of the clues, for me.

5,27,21 13’s praise and long runs? (6,6,8)

*(PRAISE LONG RUNS).  ABSURD is not directly clued.

Bovine to eat etc, mashed with one fork (9)


7,2 13’s boredom? (7,5)

*BOREDOM.  Again, one word of the play’s title is unclued.

Warm bottom among three rated wobbly (6-7)


14 Shop over which bird weed (9)

KNOT, GRASS.  A knot is a type of bird, apparently (well, it was new to me anyway).

See 11

18 Heading for aggro between supporters, one succeeds (7)

A(ggro) in LEG, TEE.  I don’t think that you succeed to a legacy (as opposed to a title).

19,25 13’s Brashein? (5,2,4)

SHE in BRAIN.   So far as I can tell, Brashein is an invented word with no Ayckbourn connection.

20 Top of shaft (6)

Double definition.

23 Rotten thing, swimmer’s heart not in dip (5)

(swi)M(mer) removed from HUM(m)US.

25 Responses to “Guardian Prize No 25,658 by Paul”

  1. Biggles A says:

    Thanks bridgesong.Never having heard of Ayckbourn (he doesn’t feature in the Guardian A-Z of authors either) or his works and having picked off the few low hanging fruit, I ground to a halt on this one and began to wonder if I was going to make it. 19, 25 eventually unlocked the door but, unlike you, I had to let Google do the rest of the theme for me. Even so, I struggled with the last few though once I had the answers they didn’t seem that difficult after all. I have my doubts about ‘warm’ = ‘tender hearted’ but enjoyed the &lit character of 7 and 9. I liked 26 too.

    A good test and it was satisfying to complete it.

  2. PeterO says:

    Thanks Bridgesong for the blog. I also found the puzzle more satisfying than I suspect you did,

    Maybe this was your intention, but both 5,27,21 and 7,2 are “reverse” clues, in that the answers contain anagrinds (ABSURD, FARCE) and fodder, with the anagram presented in the clue.

    11,16 I think reads better as priMATE and princiPAL (with the plural FRIENDS coming from the two examples). Certainly leading principal is tautologous (as is simian primate),but that is beside the point; Paul is presenting you with a pair of definitions, and the partial words that they define.

  3. NeilW says:

    Thanks, Bridgesong. I agree completely with PeterO’s comments – for me these clues were the highlights of an excellent and quite testing puzzle. While I agree that, once you’d cracked it, the theme helped a lot but, still, “filling in the gaps” took a fair bit of effort.

    If I had any criticism at all, it would be of the one or two very loose definitions but, hey, it’s a prize!

  4. David W says:

    Not as difficult as yesterday’s Paul, and not as satisfying.

    Crossing letters gave me a guess of “absent friends”, and google then gave me Ayckbourn – who I missed previously because I was looking for a general writer, not a playwright. More google gave me the other titles. I suppose the “reverse clues” are quite clever in their way, but I am old-fashioned and like clues to lead to the solution, not from it.

  5. Davy says:

    Thanks bridgesong,

    I found this a great struggle until I had a breakthrough with WOMAN IN MIND. I only got four clues on the Saturday
    and didn’t return to it till Wednesday evening but finally got there. I enjoyed the puzzle very much and knew all the
    plays bar WOMAN IN MIND. Yes Paul, you certainly made my one remaining brain cell flicker dangerously. A couple of
    excellent surfaces that I think worthy of mention are OXFORD and SUSSEX. Once again, thanks for the fun Paul.

  6. Wolfie says:

    Thanks Bridgesong.

    I solved this fairly quickly, being a fan of Ayckbourn’s work, but did not enjoy it much. Some ugly surface readings I thought. And since when has it been permissible to use invented words in clues (19,25 – BRASHEIN?) What next – anagrams of invented words? Thumbs-down for this puzzle from me, though it seems mine is a minority view.

  7. tupu says:

    Thanks Bridgesong and Paul

    Enjoyable and pretty straight forward, though I had to work out the theme etc with only vague memories of 5d and 11a to go on once I’d guessed the author.

    Despite the ‘plethora’ I particularly liked 11a,16

  8. Robi says:

    Not as satisfying as yesterday’s puzzle, but still entertaining.

    Thanks bridgesong; like PeterO @2, I enjoyed the ‘reverse’ clues. I, too, didn’t know knot as a bird and hadn’t come across hog=corner.

    I’m surprised that Biggles A @1 hadn’t heard of Alan Ayckbourn – see interesting article here; he is one of the most prolific and famous playwrights around. I don’t know about the Guardian A to Z of authors, but is there a separate list for playwrights?

  9. r_c_a_d says:

    WOMAN IN MIND would have been funnier as “13s bra she in?”. I agree that made up words are unfair.

    For themed clues I always think the enumeration gives away too much. I wonder if anyone has tried getting 10? past an editor in place of 5,5 (and running the words together in the grid, obviously).

    I thought ABSENT FRIENDS was a great clue. Couldn’t quite parse GO HOME though, and didn’t get FLEECE.

  10. Thomas99 says:

    Thanks for the blog. I heartily agree with PeterO (@2) on the themed clues – “Absurd” and “Farce” are the reverse anagrinds. To treat them as unclued is surely to remove the entire cryptic basis of the clues and you’re left moving letters around for no reason. And the point about the tautologies in 11,16 is important too – if you didn’t have words describing “primate” and “principal” next to “pri” and “princi” you wouldn’t have a clue. The cryptic reading is that the “friends” have to be absent to get from something “leading” to “princi” and so on. Paul was obviously making all the themed clues unconventional but solvable – it’s true to say that in a sense they are “more than usually cryptic” but wrong to imply that there’s anything wrong with them. I’m tempted to exclude “brashein” from this, but that would of course implicitly condemn the famous and much admired “Gegs” (scrambled eggs) clue too. Also, unlike “gegs” it has a definition (“13’s”) as well as the wordplay.

    By the way Ayckbourn, I was told a few years ago, the most performed playwright in England, beating Shakespeare by some distance. Hence the familiarity of the titles even to people like me who haven’t seen or read any of them! I suppose hey must crop up in the listings or reviews pages somewhere practically every day.

  11. bridgesong says:

    Thanks all for your comments: I think PeterO @2 is right about 11,16. I also saw the anagrinds in the two clues which were incomplete but didn’t think it worth mentioning; as DavidW@4 says, it’s not much help to get part of the clue after you’ve solved it. I also found yesterday’s Paul puzzle much harder than this prize one.

  12. Dave Ellison says:

    I must admit I like clues such as “Gegs” and “Brashein”; I think there is a definition – it is in the answer! However, brain and mind are not really synonyms.

    I failed on 20d, put off by the “of” which is only there for the surface, so not a good clue in my view.

  13. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    When I see this compiler’s name I am always concerned; he must be almost unique in his ability to set puzles which range from near excellent to abysmal.
    Fortunately this one and yesterday’s were near the top of the scale so maybe things are looking up.
    This theme was very familiar, I think I have seen every Ayckbourn play including a dedicated holiday in Scarborough.
    Since most have been seen on major TV channels with leading actors, pace The Guardian list, he is very well-known.
    I enjoyed 7,2d, 18d, 20d, 11ac,16d, 16ac and 1d. I didn’t parse ‘risotto’.
    No complaints about clues which are ‘very cryptic’, that’s what we are here for. I have complained often enough about clues which are not cryptic at all!

  14. RCWhiting says:

    I forgot to say that I agree with Wolfie about ‘brashein’.
    I am generaly in favour of unorthodox clues but this invention of a word because it leads to a ‘clever’ cryptic seems to open a door too wide.

  15. Wolfie says:

    I enjoyed GEGS too – but the distinction between this and BASHEIN is that GEG is a valid (if obscure) word.

  16. Wolfie says:

    I meant GEGS – the plural of GEG

  17. rhotician says:

    All four of the plays are attempts at what might be termed a “reversal”. Personally I like these. Bedroom Farce and Absurd Person Singular both work well enough.

    Woman in Mind, as Wolfie and RCW point out, does not. “bedroom farce” in a clue can legitimately indicate “boredom” as the solution. “Brashein” cannot be a legitimate solution to any clue.

    Interesting that Brashein has a capital B. If Google had come up with this as a proper name it would have been OK. I’ve tried to repair Woman in Mind by way of including ‘she’ or a girl’s name in a synonym for ‘mind’ to yield a legitimate word, phrase or proper name. Perhaps some one can help out.

    Absent Friends is even worse than Woman in mind. ‘pri’ and ‘princi’? Come on! The whole thing is beyond repair.

  18. matt says:

    re: “brashein”

    I can appreciate the point that others (Wolfie, RCW) make, but I don’t mind dingbat clues of this kind once in a blue moon.

    Another example would be “edoverth” (for THUNDERED) as clued by the revered reverend, not so long ago.

    Otherwise, the theme left me stumped. Like the Alan Plater bank holiday special, my ignorance of the thematic source sent me running to google as soon as I got one of them (the brashein clue, ironically). From there, it was straightforward, but without Wikipedia I would have got nowhere.

  19. smokeythebandit says:

    re “brashein”

    the convention of using invented words has been around a long time, I remember as a novice solver back in the early seventies being completely stumped by “Astany Portorm? (3,4,2,1,5)”.

  20. NeilW says:

    Any port in a storm! Like it! :) Paul tries his little inventions on a regular basis and I, for one, am all for them.

  21. Thomas99 says:

    matt,NeilW and smokeythebandit –
    Yes, thanks for pointing those out. I certainly don’t see why Paul necessarily has to obey a rule that is clearly not well established and doesn’t serve any evident purpose. Brashein being a real word, for instance, would make the clue a bit harder, but so what? As rhotician (17) says, it would also mean it could hypothetically be the solution to a clue, but so what? You can’t say a clue has to be a certain type of clue and then complain when it isn’t. A clue just has to work and to criticise it you surely have to indicate why it doesn’t.

  22. RCWhiting says:

    Those with views opposing wolfie and me have made a strong case with some interesting examples.
    Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced.
    Very subjectively, I would say that treating ‘thundered’ as ‘th under ed’ is both clever and admirable; treating ‘woman in mind’ as ‘brashein’ is neither.

  23. rompad says:

    Extraneous word – where does “that’s” fit into the analysis of 13?

  24. bridgesong says:

    Rompad @23: it’s just there to enhance the surface reading, I think.

    On the broader debate I align myself with RCW@22. A pity that Paul himself hasn’t dropped in to let us have his reaction to the various comments. I am glad however to have helped spark a debate.

  25. engineerb says:

    I know that I’m late to this blog. I did this crossword on a completely internet-free holiday & without any knowledge of Ayckbourn’s plays. I found it great fun & completely fair; the implied anagrinds were particularly good.

    I’m actually glad that I did this away from the internet – otherwise I would have been tempted to ‘reverse google’ after I solved ‘Woman in Mind’ & would have missed out on a much more satisfying solve.

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