Mark Goodliffe’s Times Crossword Championship Experience

This narrative is pretty close to the thought processes involved during the final of The Times Crossword Championship 2008. The puzzles are currently available at http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/pdfs/crossword08.pdf . What are missing are many re-reads of many of the clues (all given just once here obviously) as well as many re-checks of the grids as they were filling to analyse possibilities. It should also be said that some of the ‘thoughts’ are expanded versions of the instant conclusions being drawn.

Mark Goodliffe

“…You may start”

Click on the stopwatch, and straight to the start of puzzle 2 (no real reason, but it’s possible No 1 will be made the easiest, and that could be a useful break while solving a harder one).

Puzzle 2

1ac Officer needs energy to stay on top of things (4) Probably a 3-letter officer plus E, I’m not good on the military, COL? No. Move on.

2dn Naval administrator takes quick look through sound (5) More military, probably a homophone for ‘takes a quick look’ – glimpses, glances, it’s not coming, move on.

10ac New semi, price not fixed (9) Looks like an anagram…

Oh wait, that last one is coming – yes it’s a famous ‘naval administrator’ isn’t it, “peeps” = PEPYS.

Gives me a P in this anagram, must begin IMP-, not fixed … IMPRECISE. The P in 1ac could give … COPE for the definition: ‘officer’ = COP, that’s nice, never seen it before.

1dn Leader of community may interpret book, if Hebraic (5,5) C and I in the grid, which is good because the letter count and letters of ‘if Hebraic’ are making me think CHIEF RABBI, which is appropriate. Fill it in and understand the rest while writing.

4dn Thinking Greek child’s left in a lift (9) 3rd letter is an I, nothing’s coming. Sort of clue that’ll benefit from more checking, move on.

12ac Sole neighbour’s evidence of powerful online connection? (7) F-S to begin with, feels like FASTNET from the shipping forecast, but check the rest: amusing broadband joke.

9dn Founder of new colony on wing (6) -E-N–, EL for ‘wing’? No. Move on, should have tried the long one first anyway.

15ac Once more straighten out what’s unnatural (7,3,5) There’s a standard phrase that fits that letter pattern beginning with A, is it ACROSS THE BOARD? No. “What’s unnatural”? AGAINST THE GRAIN? Yes, looks like there’s some anagram fodder there. Must be right even though there seem to be some O’s provided. Only recheck if the crossing goes wrong.

9dn again, PENNON fits, and it’s a wing, but other things might fit too. Ah, William Penn plus an undisguised ON – cheeky. Try the other long one next.

18ac Black bird of muted colour to alight around start of evening in Alpine area (7,8) Long clue, must be lots of wordplay, beginning with ‘black’ = B in the grid, but without knowing the area at once, no time to deconstruct now.

Move back to 4dn, ARISTOTLE would fit and is Greek, don’t really get it but not many words would fit.

5dn What happens in the middle of our life-span, traditionally (5) No idea, the middle of our is U, of lifespan FESP, meaningless. Move on.

16dn A welcome opening for people in concert (9) ‘People’ ought to be MEN, so probably ends in -MENT. Begins with an A, ADORNMENT? No, has to mean ‘(in) concert’ – AGREEMENT? Ah yes, ‘welcome’ = GREET.

18ac B-R—E for the first 7 doesn’t ring any bells – a bit worrying.

26ac Easy to understand Cambridge college making English central (5) Isn’t ORIEL a 5-letter college? Doesn’t have E in the middle, though. ‘Easy to understand’? Could be CLEAR, literally. Yes, CLARE’s a college and you make the E central.

25dn Mark or Cliff’s brief fright (4) Only halfway through the clue it must be SCAR. Wait, read the rest and make sure, this is the final and I probably won’t do any more checking at the end. Yes, SCAR(e), wordplay and two definitions, unusual.

28ac Going back, soldiers capture revolutionary city, executing leader (10) Lots of wordplay at the end, must begin RET- but not necessarily RETRO-. Try and get more help.



19dn Skill in telepathy? Nothing that makes paper (7) ESP, probably. ESPARTO fits, but it’s a grass. I suppose that could make paper, and there’s ‘nothing’ = O. In it goes.

28ac looks good for RETRO- now. RETROGRADE?

21ac Clear reputation of tyrant? (6) -E-P–. Must know this, come on, there’s not many ‘tyrant’ synonyms. But it could be an actual tyrant. ‘Clear’ = NET? No. Think about the tyrant – DESPOT of course. Must be right, but how does it work? Better check, think, think. DE-SPOT, aha, doh. Finally I get a letter towards the bottom right.

22dn Interfere damagingly – after power cut, it’s less dangerous (5) Nothing coming again, ‘power cut’ must be ‘minus P’. Think about ‘interfere damagingly’ – HAMPER, no, TAMPER, minus P = TAMER. Yes.

RETROGRADE looks better and better, where’s there a city in that? All of the middle backwards (revolutionary) perhaps? DARGO- something, no the other way round feels better – PETROGRAD! With its ‘leader’ ‘executed’. Great spot by the compiler, I’ve never seen that similarity before.

17dn Boots may be worn through – put in a bin for recycling (9) Ends in D, so probably defined by ‘put in a bin for recycling’. Begins with H – no idea. Move on.

27ac Girl worth tiny fraction of dollar? (9) Some sort of CENT, or dime or nickel? Begins with M, MILLICENT’s a girl, start filling it in, ah yes MILLI-CENT, that’s quite funny.

14dn Tiny blonde is explosive author (4,6) An N in 2nd, could be an anagram as ‘tiny blonde’ is 10 letters, but not a promising collection. INDY, INTO, no, we need a name. Think slowly, INES, ENOS, ENID – ENID BLYTON, not the author I was expecting! Pleased with getting that anagram, it feels difficult.

29ac Tart’s thigh cut (4) FLAN for ‘tart’? Yes, FLAN(k), nice to stumble on that instantly.

24dn Read out letters that may be charming (5) –E-L ‘charming’ always means magic etc – SPELL? Yes, double definition.

23ac Excitement of drinking lots of beer with no head (7) ‘Beer’ is almost always ALE, and this ends in L, but nothing occurs to me. Move on.

20dn How Macbeth described wood in speech for recruit (6) Birnam Wood? Doesn’t fit. Think: “till Birnam wood come to high Dunsinane”? Nothing there, I don’t think I know any other Macbeth speeches about wood. Move on.

Quick think again about 17dn and 18ac – no. Top right then.

6dn Comic character needs good colouring (7) Ends in G, must be, er, TANNING? Start to fill it in. No wait? TANNIN isn’t comic- another synonym, DYEING and HUEING aren’t long enough (if words) – think. TINTING – could be but is ‘Tintin’ a comic character? Of course he is!

3ac Server’s wiped one place to sit at – it’s all wet underneath (5,5) T at the beginning of the second part – ‘table’ is somewhere to sit – WATER TABLE? Yes, it’s ‘all wet underneath’, I suppose.

8dn Clubbers’ pill: basis of life for a girl (4) Begins with E, which is a clubbers’ pill. ECSTASY? No. Is ‘basis of life’ L? No. Move on.

11ac From granny, long yarn (5) NYLON, simple hidden. Easiest clue so far.

A girl at 8dn could be, er, EDNA. Why? Ah, DNA, nice.

7dn Endless dark molten rock covers area where the Russians once attacked us (9) The checking allows BALACLAVA, and LAVA’s in the clue. Fill it in without worrying. Could it the variant spelling with a K? Not in the Times crossword. And checking will reveal if necessary.

13ac Little guy embraces wife, the jerk (6) ‘Little guy’ could be TICH, or maybe TITCH is more normal for this sort of puzzle. Around W, equals TWITCH. Yes, that’s ‘the jerk’.

5dn I’ve looked at before, still don’t get the wordplay, but ‘what’s happening’ could be EVENT. But why? Other words would fit E-E-T, work it out. (s)EVENT(y) pops into my head, that’s good, I get the clue now, things are going well.

But I still can’t think of anything for 18ac and I’ve tried the bottom right corner. Work at them, or try another puzzle and come back? The latter.

Puzzle 3

1ac Close this works daily? Not if this is used (5-5) Very vague definition, could be something to do with NIGHT for either meaning of ‘close’? Don’t waste time, move on.



1dn Hooters as one leaves sounds (5) 5-letter ‘hooters’ could be NOSES – yes, sounds are noises. NIGHT looks good to begin 1ac, but leave it again.

10ac Queen perhaps to name liquor shop (7) Begins with S, so could be SHEBEEN, and there’s a BEE there. OK, Queen = SHE-BEE.

12ac Starts naval attack without shell from torpedoes (4,5) No easy crosswordese there, wait ‘shell from torpedoes’ could be TS? SETS- could mean ‘starts’. What preposition? SETS ABOUT? Something to do with U-BOAT? No, ‘attack’ = BOUT, looks like it works.

2dn Non-resident served in pub? (5,4) Probably starts G-E-T, ah yes, GUEST BEER, the old ‘served’ pun.

3dn Start of noted elocution exercise that ends in plain rhyme (3,4,2,5) Not HOW NOW BROWN COW – something else from My Fair Lady? Yes, THE RAIN IN SPAIN fits, and it all ‘rhymes’ with ‘plain’.

14ac Long-necked female keeps touching groom (5) A PEN is a female swan. PAEAN, PAEON or PREEN would fit – PEN around RE = PREEN. ‘Groom’ as a verb, nice clue.

17ac Very suspicious about one on a charge returning (9) Can’t fit anything obvious with the R and N, move on.

14dn Nonentity, after just defeat, to make high-pitched protest (9) Begins with P, nothing occurs. Would be good to get as four words begin off this. No, move on.

21ac Dickensian villain stuffing pound into crack (5) Ends in P, I’m not great at Dickens characters (there are so many) – there was a raven that ended in P, but only 4 letters, I think. An L in it? Bingo – QUILP, with ‘crack’ = QUIP! Good work – handy that it’s from one of the two Dickens books I’ve read. That’s a good solve, and the Q must help with 14dn.

Gotta be, gotta be … PIPSQUEAK = ‘nonentity’ and there’s the ‘high-pitched’ squeak.

27ac Gesture of love may be represented in sex finally (4) Beginning with K, this looks like KISS, yes, it’s the X.

22dn Articles needed for links and chains (5) I—S Lots of possible words, IRONS? Not sure why, move on.

25ac Expert, keeping it neat, returned foreign collection (7) E—I– ‘Collection’ makes me think of the words EROTICA and EXOTICA that fit. ‘Foreign’ suggests EXOTICA more (unless there’s some Times euphemising), I can’t immediately see the wordplay, I’ll risk EXOTICA, even though it won’t be proved finally later.

22dn should be IRONS, now though ICONS (and indeed IDOLS) would fit, I can see. ‘Links and chains’? Golf links could give … IRONS, of course. And chains are made of iron, no they’re IRONS too. Duh.

18dn Amazingly well represented electorate might get this charge (7) Not much crosswordese here, except maybe ION = ‘charge’, though that’s not strictly true, I’m told. Move on. After another quick look at 17ac, to another section.

4dn Battery component once tossed in skip (3,4) What fits with the N and O? RUN DOWN? No, move on.

5dn Advice given by experienced writer (4,3) TIP in there somewhere? Don’t know, now I’ve got to start on something totally unchecked or go back to clues I’ve tried, bother. Try the long one as the other was easy.

9dn Cooked snack: old Len had to give everyone helping (3,5,2,4) Well, ‘everyone helping (3,5,2,4)’ immediately looks like ALL HANDS ON DECK, clearly similar to some anagram fodder near the beginning.

13ac Linesman nodding easily influenced ref (5) Feels like HOMER, why? ‘Even Homer nods’, and a linesman could be a poet. And the rest is another definition – glorious clue.

7dn Hand round second item from songbook (5) PSALM, would this have been as easy without the M? Hard to know.

6ac Does like seconds of pairs of lampreys! (4) The second pair of ‘lampreys’ is MP? The final check would help.

11ac Send-off by air (7) A cryptic definition, presumably, –L-A–, is there a valedictory anthem? VALE, VALETE? Could be the wrong idea entirely.

8dn Advertising agent employing the blue pencil? (9) Nothing helpful here, some sort of pun, I’m not getting enough checking in this corner.

15ac Maybe smoking spot hard to find in expensive bar (6,3) Grr, no purchase here. Better persevere with this puzzle, otherwise I’ll have three unfinished. Let’s try for a big answer in the bottom right.

28ac Quietly following contract with artist covering film (6-4) The K in 6th place, and the ‘covering film’ is telling me something: SHRINK-WRAP! ‘Contract’ is SHRINK, go for it, despite the odd letters that must end the downs. The H ends that 18dn – IMPEACH would fit and means ‘charge’ in a way. A bit too wild a guess for now.



24dn Bar changes to plastic bottles (5) ESTOP – nice to get an easy hidden (this one definitely wouldn’t have been as easy without the P, I’ve struggled with ‘bottles’ and ‘houses’ before) to confirm SHRINK-WRAP.

26ac This gel manoeuvred craft by hand (7) Anagram – must be, wait, SLEIGHT. Yes.

16dn Superb combination of buzzer and bell? (9) Ends in G-R, so RINGER or DINGER? Yes, HUMDINGER, that all works.

20ac Old country woman succeeding in fifties after all (5) SUMER’s an old country. SUM could be ‘all’, ER = ‘woman succeeding in fifties’? Ah the Queen, very neat. Not sure why I’ve come up here again, probably because the top corner is irritating me. Go back to the bottom.

23ac Measured steps to feed balance with loan organised (9) An anagram of ‘loan’ in it, clearly, probably a dance, yes, there’s something that ends in NAISE. How to spell POLONAISE, it’s the French for Polish isn’t it? LONA in POISE, that works and feels right. Write it carefully.

19dn Look into swimsuit that’s a bit short for large figures (7) COLOSSI fits, and means ‘large figures’. The wordplay doesn’t use LOSS, so it’s LO in COSSI(e).

Now what for 17ac P-R-N—C? ‘A charge returning’ could give ION backwards, which appears in PARANOIAC. It fits the definition, I’m confident it’s a correct spelling and the only 9-letter adjective from PARANOIA, in it goes (it later turns out this ‘wordplay’ is a total fluke – it’s C 1 ON A RAP backwards).

IMPEACH must be right now at 18dn, never mind the wordplay again.

Back to 1ac: after NIGH, an anagram of ‘this’? NIGHT SHIFT would mean ‘daily’ equals FT. Yes.

4dn begins with H now. It must have an anagram of ‘once’ in it – HEN CO–? HEN COOP defined as ‘battery component’, OK. PIPING HOT would fit (and allow TIP to end 5dn) at 15ac, find a definition: ‘maybe smoking’, good enough.

Still not sure what sort of TIP at 5dn.

Back to 6ac: every second in ‘lampreys’ gives APES, which could mean ‘does like’, very clever.

8dn S—R-T-R to do with advertising – SIGNWRITER’s too long, so … SKYWRITER (‘the blue’ could refer to the sky).

I still think 11ac is a sort of song – think, think – LULLABY? Oh yes, very clever, ‘send off’ to sleep!

So FELT TIP at 5dn, not FULL TIP, of course ‘experienced’ = FELT. That’s one puzzle completed at least. Off to:

Puzzle 1

1ac Month before Cicero for one becomes painter (9) Some sort of month to begin with, at least twelve possibilities, there’ll only be one or two if I can get a letter.

1dn Supposed to get up around five, these women can be difficult (5) What’s useful there? The ‘five’ of course, could be V, that would have to be central; ‘difficult women’: DIVAS – yes, SAID equals ‘supposed’.

So the month in 1ac is DEC, and the ‘painter; is a DECORATOR, making Cicero an ORATOR. Fine.

9ac Outspoken in investing half of cash in small book (5) VOL for small book, er, VOCAL for the definition, that’ll do.

2dn Where time is regularly represented as flying? (6,5) Cryptic definition, something to do with time. Not sure what.

3dn Kindred commie burying dead (7) RED, so RELATED? Yes, LATE is ‘dead’.

11ac Minor charge for minor charged? (5,5,5) SHORT SHARP SHOCK. An instant 15-letter answer, that helps.

2dn begins with a 6-letter word C-C-O-. COCOON? No. CYCLON? Rubbish.

4dn Brave with this weapon, queen a dove but … (8) Odd clue, not sure what to think about there, even with a T and H.

5dn Look with concern (6) Almost too obviously REGARD, but the two R’s prove it.

10ac Instability of gasometer supplying large shop (9) The G makes me think anagram of ‘gasometer’. Yes, MEGASTORE.

So now 4dn probably doesn’t have a consonant in 4th place … TOMAHAWK, of course.



6dn Treated without respect around university and no longer employed (7) MISUSED would fit with the S’s … no, DISUSED is better.

8dn I provide food across river for one going leisurely over it? (3-6) The E and K must mean ICE-SKATER, which is defined. Don’t worry about the wordplay.

6ac Knight excellent oil producer (5) Some sort of oil palm? No, knight must begin with D, so … DUB and DUBAI. Subtle definition there.

7dn Speak boldly to goose, reserve finally abandoned? (3) BOO, the definition’s a massive giveaway. So much so that I’d better check the rest in case of traps. BOO(k), OK.

14ac A verse to break depression is coming (6) The D in 2nd suggest ODE for ‘verse’ but the ‘coming’ suggests ADVENT. That’s better.

12dn In the wrong gear, so reversed in confusion over daughter (11) O-E- suggests OVER-, and OVERDRESSED will fit and has more than one ‘daughter’ in. Yes, the rest’s an anagram. Good start into the bottom of this grid.

18ac Son embraced by love, or a target for spitters? (8) Yes, there’s some sort of 8-letter word for a spitting vessel, er, SPITTOON? No it has to end in -DOR like a thermidor, or the cigar-box word, think, think, do I know another word for this? CUSPIDOR? Yes, CUPID is ‘love’, bullseye – good solve.

25ac Passageway accessing chancels, I assume, from the right (5) ‘Passageway’ with S in the middle must be AISLE, yes, a reverse hidden.

19dn Forced apart, other ranks kept in proportion (3,4) Given a P and A, this must be PRO RATA for the definition, and has OR in.

22dn Root for Garbo, perhaps (5) Well she was a hermit, an actress – and a SWEDE.

21ac Nowadays, Alcatraz will be ruthless (4,2,9) Hmm, other words for ‘ruthless’ end in –E-S like MERCILESS but I’ve got an O in the grid. Leave it for now. In fact try and approach it from the left side…

13ac Withdraw claim, having completed mountaineering expedition? (4,4) Must end in DOWN, COME DOWN would satisfy that punning wordplay, fill it in. Though it could be something else, I suppose, as I write. If it is COME, 13dn begins with C…

13dn Evidence of early development found by supporter in Roman city (4,5) That’s a subtle definition for something like MILK TEETH, is there a Roman city ending in TH? BATH? BABY TEETH! That would have, er, BY TEE in it, yes.

So it’s not COME DOWN, it’s BACK DOWN which is better for both parts of 13ac. Ugly crossings-out in the grid now, but make sure the judges can read what I intend to submit.

16ac Black, camp, thick and spotty (6) ‘Thick and spotty’? Could that be BLOBBY? Yes. A lobby’s a camp.

17dn Something in contention, gathering wood – for this? (7) Begins with B, the whole clue suggests a campfire or something. Don’t know.

23ac A Latin dish of fish, not started, a Spanish painter sent back (9) A Dali sent back would be ILADA, so … ENCHILADA (leaves (t)ENCH).

24dn Wheels can all rotate, for starters (3) CAR. Very obvious, given the C (though quite neat).

26ac It’s addictive, gambling on it (5) HORSE is an association with gambling – and of course means heroin. Now 17dn must be BONFIRE. 21ac isn’t leaping out yet annoyingly.

20dn Possibly asparagus, vegetable finally packed in boxes (6) Just got an A in 4th, but ‘boxes’ could be SPARS, so SPEARS. That’s good for asparagus.

27ac Having lost head, requested to go off – so do so! (9) Given all the checking, SKEDADDLE suggests itself, and works as (a)SKED plus ADDLE.

15dn To hack off limb perhaps causes ultimate damage (8) MUTILATE. Is that just ridiculously easy because of the checking? Probably not.

21ac is now obviously TAKE NO PRISONERS (that should have been obvious throughout).

2dn ends in CLOCK, so (also obvious in hindsight) CUCKOO CLOCK. Feels like some wasted time there, but at least we’re done in this puzzle. A quick look through the answers on the left where the crossings-out occur, and I have scribbled long answers late on. They all look right now. So back to:

Puzzle 2

4 answers to go.



18ac just keeps shouting BURMESE but how can that be Alpine? I can see ‘alight’ = LAND from the clue for the finish; I’m beginning to think I can’t know this answer, which is a worry.

Check 4dn’s answer – yes there’s a TOT in it and ARISTOTLE was a ‘thinking Greek’. ARISE around the outside.

23ac has ‘excitement’ and ends in S-L. AROUSAL of course, which is normally clued as (c)AROUSAL – and is again here.

So –O-I- at 20dn could mean ROOKIE for ‘recruit’ – Macbeth could have said ‘rookie wood’ (or ‘rooky wood’) but it’s not ringing any loud bells. It feels right for the definition, though, I’ll put it in, and if it fits the last checking, it’ll be right.

17dn ‘Boots may be’… HOBNAILED, I suppose? That’s got an ‘a bin’ anagram in it, it must be right.

So B-R-E-E -B-R-A-D for 18ac to finish. OBERLAND sounds good for the Alps, think about these bits of wordplay: ‘Black’, ‘bird’ (or ‘blackbird’, e.g. RAVEN, OUSEL), ‘of muted colour’ (or ‘bird of muted colour’ perhaps), ‘to alight’ (must be LAND), ‘start of evening’ (must be E). OBER? How about SOBER? Yes, SOBER LAND around E. So I need a bird that’s -R-E, beginning with a vowel. ORLE, ARLE, URGE, go through the possibilities. ERNE! ERNE of course. Check the wordplay again: B ERNE S(E)OBER LAND. It must be. It must be, mustn’t it? Fill it in.

I haven’t seen anyone handing in answers yet. Am I definitely finished? Have I got time to check? Anyone else could finish at any moment yet – I think it’s gone quite well, but obviously the slowest moments were finishing off. I’ve always planned not to check in the final, so grab my number, a quick look through for blanks, and hold up the number. A few seconds later, remember to stop the watch. 17m 43s, that’s a useful average – look around to see if everyone else is still working on the puzzles. Oh well, we’ll just have to see…

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