While today's puzzle did not give me an undue degree of trouble, I did need to dig into the Tool Chest quite early. I note that Gazza awarded the puzzle four stars for difficulty. From my point of view, it was probably between a three and a four. The relatively small number of Briticisms likely had an influence on my assessment. I usually find puzzles containing a large number of British expressions to be at least one degree of difficulty tougher than they are rated by the Brits.
Some possibly unfamiliar abbreviations, people, places, words and expressions used in today's puzzle
earwig - verb informal eavesdrop
form - noun 6
National Health Service - noun Brit (abbreviation NHS) the system set up in 1948 to provide medical treatment for all UK residents free, or at a nominal charge, at the point of delivery, financed mainly by taxation
Gazza's review of today's puzzle may be found at Big Dave's Telegraph Crossword Blog [DT 26094].
It seems that the expression "cry 'uncle'" meaning "beg for mercy" or "surrender" is a strictly North American idiom. There is quite a lot of discussion on this point in the comments section of Big Dave's blog. The Brits' lack of familiarity with the term is evident as one lady, Mary, comments "I guess i was totally ‘uncled’ by 19a!!" [Rather than "uncled", one would say something like ''19a [was so difficult that it] made me cry 'uncle'"]. Of course, Mary might just start a new strain of this idiomatic expression. Interestingly, one visitor provides a link to a discussion of the etymology of the expression which concludes that the North American idiom was likely derived from a joke first published in a British newspaper in the late 19th century that was subsequently widely reprinted in North American newspapers.
Commentary on Today's Puzzle
14a Not caring the man's innocent (9)
Here, the definition is "not caring" for which the solution is HEARTLESS. The wordplay is HE (the man) + ('s [has]) ARTLESS (innocent).
The wordplay relies on a couple of cryptic conventions. The first is that the verb to have is often used as a charade indicator. While I've never been able to completely understand the logic behind it, it may go something like the following: If you have something, you take possession of it or hold it ("to have and to hold ...") and it becomes attached to you. Thus A has B indicates a charade with the solution AB.
The second is that 's may, as in this case (as confirmed by the setter writing on Big Dave's site), mean "has" as in, "He's been trying to solve this puzzle for hours." In a cryptic crossword clue, words may take on a different meaning in the cryptic reading from the one which they have in the surface reading. Thus, in the surface reading of this clue, the 's means "is" while in the cryptic reading, it means "has". While the only instance that I can think of where 's means "has" is when the verb to have is used as an auxiliary verb with the verb to be - and then only in cases involving the the third person singular of the past tense. For instance, "He's been ..." would mean "He has been ..." but "He's to be ..." would mean "He is to be ...".
Finally, in a charade, one must consider each element in isolation - not as part of an overall unit. For example, in the wordplay for this clue we have three elements - two elements of "fodder" and an indicator. The two fodder elements are "man" and "innocent" and the indicator is " 's " which can be expanded to become "has". Note that even though we would normally only see 's meaning "has" if followed by a word such as "been", we must still make the substitution here despite there being no word such as "been" in the clue.
21a Educates where teachers are found ... (7)
It seems that many (perhaps even an overwhelming majority) of the Brits mistakenly inserted SCHOOLS here - which really messed up the southwest quadrant for them. I avoided this trap, probably due to first having found the solution to 24a, which starts with a G, and then intuiting that 7d might end in ING, thus eliminating SCHOOLS as a possible answer for 21a.
25a Flipping raining around drive home (7)
The definition in this clue is "drive home" for which the solution is INGRAIN. But what is the wordplay? Actually one has three options to choose from.
- an anagram (flipping ... around) of RAINING
- reversing the order of (flipping ... around) the syllables in RAIN ING to get ING RAIN
- a hidden word (indicated by "around") in flippING RAINing
Clearly, different people will see different solutions here. It seems to me that this is a bit like the drawing where you are asked whether you see an old woman or a young woman, or the image frequently seen in Internet ads asking whether you see a lamp or a woman in a bikini bottom. Moreover, few people are likely to see (without prompting) that there are multiple possible solutions. The reason being akin to the anwer to the old riddle, "When you are searching for something, why do you always find it in the last place you look?" Answer: "Because once you find it, you stop looking."
4d African capital city reaches Atlantic, initially (5)
Yesterday, I discussed &lit (all-in-one) clues at some length. Here, as Gazza puts it, we have "a clever attempt at an all-in-one ". In one reading of this clue, the word "initially" is used as a direction to use the initial letters of the preceeding words, thereby producing ACCRA. In the second reading, we are presumably supposed to see the entire clue as a cryptic definition of ACCRA. However, on this latter level, the clue really doesn't work for me. The phrase "African capital city" alone would define ACCRA and the remainder of the clue "reaches Atlantic, initially" doesn't seem to add anything meaningful, as far as I can see. Therefore, I believe Gazza was spot on in characterizing this as a "clever attempt" - one that probably did not wholly succeed.
7d Following an eagle, an albatross ... (12)
This is one of those clues where one suspects they might be missing some clever nuance in the wordplay. However, as far as I can see, it is merely saying that if one were to be following (with their eye) an eagle, an albatross, etc., they would be BIRDWATCHING. The clue is intended to mislead the solver into thinking that it is about golf, where an eagle is a score of two under par on a hole and an albatross is a score of three under par.
Signing off for today - Falcon