Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian 25,723 / Shed

Posted by Bertandjoyce on August 24th, 2012


It’s ‘musical chairs’ today amongst some of the 225 bloggers. This is our first Guardian blog although we complete the puzzle most days over coffee or lunch. Having read the blog yesterday we wondered whether it would be Shed today and did think about staying up late to ensure the blog was completed on schedule but we were too tired!

As it turned out, Joyce woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep so started the solve on her own for a change – hope crypticsue is reading this as she once asked us how we solved crosswords! Four hours later Joyce still couldn’t sleep and Bert woke up to help parse the last few clues.

Thanks Shed –  it was a really good puzzle with some very clever and devious constructions. 16d was new to us and although we’d heard of 20d we didn’t know the full story. What a puzzle for our first Guardian outing.

1   Musicians providing accompaniment to muck?
BRASS A play on the saying – Where there’s muck there’s BRASS = musicians
4   See 10
8   Artist adopting mongrel pup or green bird
EMPEROR PENGUIN EMIN (as in the artist Tracey Emin) around or ‘adopting’ an anagram of PUP OR GREEN (anagrind is mongrel) = bird
10,4   Furious or thirsty as a result of 24?
SPITTING FEATHERS If you literally had 24ac you would definitely be SPITTING FEATHERS = thirsty or angry. We’d never come across the use of this phrase to indicate thirst and as it wasn’t in Chambers it needed a google search to check the origins of the phrase.
11   On your bike with a tungsten stiletto, maybe?
AWHEEL A + W (tungsten) + HEEL (as in stiletto heels) = on your bike
12   Trace second woman smuggling one part of Bible
SCINTILLA S + CILLA around or ‘smuggling’ I (one) + NT (New Testament) = trace. Thanks to  JPRidge @1 for the correction and for reading the blog so carefully!
15   Hat put on head of Canadian subject
TOPIC TOPI (hat) + C (head or first letter of Canadian) = subject
17   Called on electronic spectrum
RANGE RANG (called) on E (electronic) = spectrum
18   Season to compete with leader coming last in Q&A session
INTERVIEW WINTER + VIE with initial letter or ‘leader’ coming last = Q&A session
19   Light reading facilitator
KINDLE KINDLE (light as in a fire) = reading facilitator as in e-reader
21   Game keeping female paragon neither up nor down
HALF MAST HALMA (game) around or ‘keeping’ F (female) + ST (paragon, as in saint) = neither up or down
24   Glum economist (post-8) reconstructing trade union home
DOWN IN THE MOUTH DOW (economist Charles Dow) + NINTH (post-8!!) + anagram of TU (trade union) and HOME = glum. The parsing of this one took some while until the penny suddenly dropped.
25   Happened to be killed in battle
BEFALLEN BE + FALLEN (killed in battle) = happened to
26   Dull but costly recipe included
DREAR DEAR around or ‘including’ R (recipe) = dull
1   Event proves Spooner’s anxious and penniless?
BREASTSTROKE If Spooner was anxious and penniless he may be STRESSED and BROKE = event
2   Topless African securing watering hole for newt, perhaps
AMPHIBIAN (n)AMIBIAN (African ‘topless’ or with initial letter removed) around or ‘securing’ PH (Public House or watering hole) = a newt is a type if amphibian
3   Seaman’s afterthought about mackerel-catcher?
SPRAT TAR (seaman) + PS (afterthought) reversed or ‘about’ = you could ‘use a sprat to catch a mackerel’ as the saying goes. Thanks PeterO for noticing the superfluous apostrophe in the original blog. We are both avid ‘apostrophe watchers’ but we were definitely half asleep (or awake) when we were typing up the blog!
4   Remote 2 introducing female to male singer? Not exactly
FARINELLI FAR (remote) + II (two) around or ‘introducing’ NELL (female) = Italian castrato singer apparently one of the greatest singers in the history of opera (according to wikipedia). It’s surprising what you learn from solving cryptic crosswords! Nothing whatsoever to do with amphibians.
5   Help to get a flutter?
ABET A + BET (flutter) = help
6   Outweigh hot art’s turning point
HIGH WATER Anagram of WEIGH H (hot) and ART (anagrind is ‘out’) = turning point. Another one of those clues that we looked at for a while before we could fully parse it. There will no doubt be some people who don’t like ‘out’ being combined with part of the anagram but we like a bit of deviousness – it keeps the grey matter alive.
7   Erect or flatten, reportedly
RAISE Sounds like RAZE (flatten) = erect
9   Unenthusiastic worker, one nabbing philosopher reversing direction
CLOCKWATCHER CATCHER (one nabbing) around or ‘nabbing’ LOCK(e) (philosopher) with  E changed to W  (change of direction) = unenthusiastic worker. Nabbing is serving two purposes here but if you are a catcher you hope to catch something! Very devious.
13   Writer’s material impounded by consort returning to camp
TREBLINKA INK (writer’s material) inside or ‘imported by’ ALBERT (consort) reversed or ‘returning’ = camp. Spent a while trying to fit pen inside this one until there were some more crossing letters!
14   Air Force’s target — Eastern ruler’s lambskin?
ASTRAKHAN ASTRA (the motto for the Royal Air Force is ‘per ardua ad astra’ which means through adversity to the stars) + KHAN (Eastern ruler) = lambskin. Thank goodness Bert did Latin and was in the ATC at school!
16   Peculiarly peculiar time for origami, say
PLICATURE Anagram of PECULIAR + T (time) anagrind is peculiarly = origami involves paper folding. Never heard of it but it had to be an anagram!
20   Lachrymose character getting gong first in return
NIOBE OBE (gong) with IN returned and going first = Greek mythological character who was punished by the gods and continually wept when she was turned to stone
22   Celebrated like Beethoven upholding Mozart’s first
FAMED DEAF (like Beethoven!) reversed or ‘up’ around or ‘holding’ M (first letter of Mozart) = celebrated. Another clever clue where the answer is obvious but ‘upholding’ is used here to indicate two instructions in one word.
23   Kind of blue, having got a very low score
ANIL A + NIL (low score) = kind of blue


48 Responses to “Guardian 25,723 / Shed”

  1. JPRidge says:

    Thanks to Shed and Bert & Joyce. Needed blog for some of the parsings (esp. 2d where I had nuBIAN and was trying to get AMPHI to work as a watering hole).

    BTW for 12a we need I (one) NT (part of Bible) to get to SCINTILLA.

  2. Bertandjoyce says:

    Thanks JPRidge – we’ve amended the blog accordingly.

  3. harhop says:

    Particular thanks to Bert and Joyce for putting the clues.If you’d missed as many parsings as I did it made the process of enlightenment much easier! Hope you get some sleep tonight

  4. molonglo says:

    Welcome and thanks B&J for an excellent blog. And Shed for a puzzle I liked a lot, especially the TREBLINKA clue and the one after it. Took under an hour but I’d never heard of the 4d singer, got his fourth letter wrong and couldn’t parse it anyway. For 21a I assumed game=halt i.e lame, and shrugged the paragon bit.

  5. PeterO says:


    Here’s another one who couldn’t sleep – it’s 2:30 here. Thank you for volunteering to stand in; I think you had much the more difficult job, and produced an splendid blog of a clever crossword.

    Bert might dredge up the Latin plicare, even if its English derivative is uncommon (not so “complicated”, of course).
    A couple of typos – in 12A you are missing the first I – that is, I NT (‘one part of Bible’); and in 3D the apostrophe S in TAR’S is superfluous – this comes up occasionally, where the possessive is replaced by an adjectival use of the noun.

    If you have any thoughts on 1A in the FT, please let me know!

  6. Bertandjoyce says:

    Thanks PeterO – not sure where you are but we noticed that you had already completed your part of the musical chair scenario. Thought you may have decided to stay up late!

  7. malc95 says:

    24 – I liked the idea of a glum economist (shades of Carlyle – the “dismal science”), & I guess the down came from a penguin!

    Thanks to Shed for a fine crossie & congrats to B&J on their first blog.

  8. NeilW says:

    Thanks, Bertandjoyce and welcome to the grauniad. Quite a baptism of fire!

    I’m afraid I was in molonglo’s camp on game = HALT and finally gave up on how MAS was indicated by paragon! On the other hand, I don’t share his enthusiasm for 13dn, which I’m not sure deserves such an off-hand definition. Personal taste, I suppose.

  9. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Well, welcome to the other side, you two …

    We don’t see Shed that often in the Guardian, so not having done lots of his puzzles, I sometimes struggle to get on his wavelength; but this one came together pretty well this morning. That said, I needed your explanations for a few – I would never have parsed HALF MAST in a month of Sundays.

    I thought SCINTILLA and TREBLINKA were cleverly put together, and SPITTING FEATHERS was funny.

    Anyone else confidently slap in DUCK for 23dn? No, thought not …

    Thanks to Shed, and B&J on their Grauniad dayboo.

  10. Eileen says:

    Thanks, B and J, for a great blog. It’s always dodgy to agree to a swap but I think you were lucky. I’m so glad we were right in our surmise yesterday – I think a Shed puzzle was overdue.

    I thoroughly enjoyed both the solving and the parsing – lots of ‘aha’ moments – but I was beaten by 24ac, so special thanks for that.

    I thought we were in for a mini-theme of sayings: ‘where there’s muck there’s brass'; ‘a sprat to catch a mackerel'; ‘down in the mouth’ but I don’t think there’s enough to justify calling it that.

    I can never see / think of Niobe without adding ‘all tears’, from the famous Hamlet quotation:

    ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!—
    A little month, or ere those shoes were old
    With which she followed my poor father’s body,
    Like Niobe, all tears.’

    Too many ‘favourite’ clues to mention but I do like ‘lift and separate’ clues [which is, I think, the only aspect of crosswords where I disagree with Andrew ;-) ], so 6dn would be among them and, although not a great fan of Spoonerisms, I thought 1dn was a nice one.

    Many thanks for an entertaining puzzle, Shed – and please come back soon!

  11. malc95 says:

    K’s D @9.

    23d – Have you seen 24d in Indy today?

  12. Kathryn's Dad says:

    Hi malc

    I fancy that might be a bit of a spoiler, but the answer is yes …

  13. Gervase says:

    Thanks B&j – lucky to get this one as a first Guardian blog.

    Splendid puzzle with a nice mixture of easy clues (to be able to get a purchase) and trickier ones (to make the experience more rewarding).

    PLICATURE was a new one on me, but etymologically fairly obvious. I couldn’t parse 24ac, but the fit with 10,4 was enough to confirm it. Last in was NIOBE; the penultimate being BEFALLEN because I was trying to parse it as FALL (‘be killed’) in BEEN (which didn’t work as ‘battle’!) until I saw the error of my ways.

    Lots of favourites – special mention to 1dn, 4dn, 13dn, 14dn.

  14. muffin says:

    “Spitting feathers”
    I think the usage might be regional. I was brought up in Devon and had only heard the “very thirsty” meaning. I caused no little confusion when I used the expression in this sense after I moved up north – it was understood in the “very angry” sense! I think the angry sense refers to the little flecks of spittle around the mouth that can form when speaking angrily.

  15. Bertandjoyce says:

    Hi Muffin@12. The link we provided adds a bit more to it than that with ‘thirsty’ going back further in time. It seems to derive from ‘spitting white’ and appears as such in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2. There is even a brewery called Spitting Feathers.

    Spitting feathers meaning angry doesn’t seem to make an appearance until the 1970s. It is thought to derive from ‘spitting blood’.

    As we said…… it’s surprising what you learn from solving cryptic crosswords!

  16. Bertandjoyce says:

    Sorry – Muffin@14 not @12. I think I need to have some sleep!!

  17. NeilW says:

    Muffin @14, in the regional vein, my Liverpudlian grandmother’s expression for being thirsty was that she “couldn’t spit sixpence.” :)

  18. Gervase says:

    muffin @14: As Bertandjoyce’s link suggests, the ‘angry’ meaning of SPITTING FEATHERS is more recent and not necessarily regional – it probably arose as a sort of idiomatic malapropism. I’m a Liverpudlian, like NeilW’s grandmother, and as a child I was very familiar with the ‘thirsty’ connotation.

  19. Rorschach says:

    I’m sure I’ve seen SPITTING FEATHERS/DOWN IN THE MOUTH conjunction before? Or am I just having a deja vous?

  20. tupu says:

    Thanks B and J and Shed

    A fine puzzle (worthy of a Saturday slot) which took some time to crack. Had to check Farinelli after working it out from word play and also double meaning of spitting feathers.

    I assumed that Dow in 24a was an economist but missed the Jones connection and half wondered if he might be a one time star tutorial student of mine.

    Lots of ticks inc. 8a, 11a, 18a, 1d, 2d, 9d, 14d.

  21. Gervase says:

    NIOBE is most familiar to scientists (chemists, at any rate) as the eponym of the element niobium. Niobium was ‘discovered’ several times, and was first given the name ‘columbium’, as it had been isolated from a mineral sample from the USA. For several decades there was confusion between this element and tantalum, which is below it in the periodic table, and therefore chemically similar. Eventually the name niobium was settled upon by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry; this name arises not because its compounds are lachrymatory, but because Niobe was the daughter of Tantalus.

  22. Bertandjoyce says:

    Tupu@20 In the middle of the night Joyce was googling ‘economist downin….’ to see what economists came up. It wasn’t until she lay in bed trying to get back to sleep that she suddenly thought that there may be an anagram of NINE somewhere in the clue. Looking at the clue again all was revealed and the rest…… is history. She did mean to include a hyperlink to the Dow Jones index but she forgot!

  23. Eileen says:

    Rorschach @19

    I had the same thought but didn’t have time to look earlier – I’ve been getting my loft insulated!

    The only puzzle I can find containing both phrases is this one: which seems rather longer ago than I expected [although that’s no real surprise!] There’s no mention in the blog of a cross-reference, although there surely was one. Perhaps the setter might tell us? ;-)

  24. Miche says:

    Thanks, B & J.

    TREBLINKA and ASTRAKHAN last in for me. Both very fine clues.

    4d: Is “not exactly” part of the definition – suggesting that Farinelli was “not exactly” a male singer? Testicles or no testicles, he certainly was male.

  25. muffin says:

    Thanks for the answers about “spitting feathers”. I hadn’t realised that the blue highlight in the (excellent) blog was a link!

  26. crypticsue says:

    A tricky puzzle – thanks to B&J for explaining it all. My first thought on finishing was ‘what a lot of big words for a Friday’. Thanks to Shed too – I remain slightly disappointed in that you were mentioned in yesterday’s puzzle but no mention of ‘mum’ in yours.

  27. Bertandjoyce says:

    We thought about adding a reference to yesterday’s enjoyable puzzle but then decided against it. On a personal note – we may be very proud to have our son follow in our footsteps but our son is not so keen about being reminded how similar he is to us. Perhaps Shed feels the same!

  28. Col says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this one. My regular solving mate and I just managed to complete it in our alloted lunch break! Last in was Treblinka. Had to come on here to check the explananations for a couple we hadn’t fully worked out… eg 9d
    Thanks to Google for 4d.

  29. rowland says:

    I too had the sense of deja vu with this one, but to discover that the ‘first time around’ was five years ago is a surprise. I think this one has some pretty strange words in it to be honest, and that made it difficult, rather than the clue-ing, which was very good.

    Many thanks to Shed and B&J for a very nice blog.

  30. tupu says:

    HI Rowland et al

    Re ‘strange words’. I don’t know why but I seemed to find 9-letter words harder to deal with than the more usual 8(?).

  31. John Appleton says:

    Had to google to get Astrakhan, and an hour or two later, it pops up in a book I’m reading. Shame I couldn’t have ordered my day the other way around.

  32. Chris says:

    I was convinced 2 referred to a Gambian, and struggled desperately to work out why PHI was a watering hole.

    This one outfoxed me I’m afraid. Came close but no cigar, and my lack of knowledge of Latin, the Air Force and lambskins pretty much guaranteed my failure.

  33. RCWhiting says:

    Thanks all
    A reasonable challenge and therefore much better than yesterday’s.
    I worked throuh quitesteadily andenjoyably but was held up at the end.
    This was due to 9-letter solutions ending in vowels which should have been easy but weren’t for me.
    I liked the 10,4 link to 24ac (first in).
    Last was Treblinka.
    I did waste a bit of time playing with various (mis) spellings of ‘smidgeon’ at 12ac.
    Does anyone else find it ironical that an artist who frequently uses script which is ungrammatical and misspelled has become a regular in the crossword compiler’s toolkit?

  34. Bertandjoyce says:

    Joyce thought it was Zambian or Gambian until Bert woke up and pointed out the error of her ways! She hadn’t even noticed that there was an extra letter as well as PH.

  35. William says:

    Thank you Bert & Joyce and welcome to the dark side. A fine blog for your first.

    I don’t wish you sleepless nights but at least this one served a purpose!

    Gervase @ Lovely little gem of knowledge that I didn’t have, thank you. Seen this?

    Never knew HALMA was Chinese Chequers but as K’s Dad might say, “You learn a lot of interesting stuff in crosswords, doncha?”

  36. gm4hqf says:

    Thanks for the blog. Great puzzle from Shed but FARINELLI was my nemesis. Never heard of him.

  37. WBE says:

    The composer Hugh Moreland in Anthony Powell’s The Kindly Ones is described as sitting “for hours without speaking, nursing a large tabby cat called Farinelli.”

  38. Trailman says:

    Phew, just got there after an afternoon of trying (interrupted by preparing lentil rissoles, this week’s vegetarian contribution). Not helped by never having come across ‘spitting feathers’, which therefore came after ‘down in the mouth’.
    Kept on checking whether, for 20d, the biblical Naomi was lachrymose: she was, a bit, but clearly not as much as Niobe, and since eventually I smoked out the rationale for befallen, in she went with relief.

  39. Gervase says:

    WBE @37: Presumably the cat was called Farinelli because he was a tom that had been ‘seen to’.

    Miche @24: You are, of course, quite right that Farinelli was most definitely male, despite lacking some bits. ‘Not entirely’ would have been better phrasing than ‘Not exactly’!

  40. RCWhiting says:

    If ‘outweigh'(6d) is devious, then please can we have much more deviousness (the definition of cryptic!).
    Every time I see this device,or similar, I mentally commend the setter for a bit of original thinking.

  41. Paul B says:


  42. don says:

    I was told by a friend who did his National Service in the RAF that the motto for the Royal Air Force, ‘per ardua ad astra’, means “after work we go to pictures” – all RAF camp cinemas being calld The Astra.

  43. Dave Ellison says:

    RCWhiting@33 Yes, I toyed with variations on “smidgen” and “smittchen” for a while.

    I remember seeing an excellent clue for DOWN IN THE MOUTH in the 1960s in the Grauniad along the lines of “dejected youth after first shave” – but much more subtly put; does anyone else recall it or who the setter was (perhaps setters were not identified then?)

  44. Daniel Miller says:

    Plicature – (Im)plicature – very neat for a crossword clue – perhaps as some form of play on words?

  45. Andrew says:

    Dave E: DOWN IN THE MOUTH was one of the answers in the sample Everyman-type puzzle in “Ximenes on the art of the crossword.” From memory, the clue was “What the clumsy young shaver’s got? Disheartened.”

    (thanks to Shed and to Bertandjoyce)

  46. Jemster says:

    What a stinker of a Shed! Really gripped me,enough to post.

    Absolutely great blog by Joyce and Bert. Good job!

  47. Dave Ellison says:

    Thanks, Andrew@45; your memory is clearly better than mine. I found it in Ximenes p92, where he is discussing composing the clues to a specimen Everyman. It was: “What clumsy young shaver’s got? Low-spirited.”

  48. Tees says:

    I retaliation to 23: I had

    1/13 Not happy on demo with hunt sabotaged (4,2,3,5)

    15/16 Thirsty pint with gas-fitter and she’s off (8,8)


    10/17 Union’s little chat leading to 1/13 Across or 15/16 Down? (6,4)

    so there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a somewhat similar thought-process going on.

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