As predicted something a little more testing today courtesy of Monk. I must admit to not understanding all the parsing at the close, lobbing in answers such as 22ac on the bits gleaned and an educated guess, though as explained over on the other side everything is perfectly fair and above board. Talking of boards, there’s a Nina, which I didn’t look for and didn’t spot, which is a pity because it would have helped no end, and some thematic elements I also failed miserably to connect.

First in one of those elements down in the SW corner, last in another one to the SE, finish time comfortably over par for the i.

COD? Let’s go with 10ac – “In which woman’s knickers may end up in a slight twist? (3-7)”.

To February 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

A lovely little puzzle from Dac to ease us through midweek – very much on the easy side, a nice confidence boost before the no doubt stiffer puzzles that await us at the week end I suspect. Any problems encountered were of my own making, as I assumed for some reason that Vermeer was French, otherwise my LOI 12ac would have fallen a lot sooner. Oh well. A finish time that was about as quick as they get nevertheless.

COD? As ever you were spoilt for choice, with my pick going to 3d – “Cambridge college academic welcomes northern historian (9)”.

To March 2016:

Which could be subtitled the blog which almost wasn’t. As predicted the Bank Holiday weekend opened with unseasonable and arguably unreasonable wind and freezing temperatures, with the result that I spent Saturday hiding in the kitchen with the weekend’s i. As morning turned to afternoon and the grid remained stubbornly blank, much amusement was occasioned hereabouts, and I was urged repeatably to give up on it. Now, these blank jigsaw things aren’t really my thing so I was inclined to agree, but I can be stubborn too. Let’s just get some answers in that grid. Some of the downs having fallen, with associated extra letters, lob them in I did across the top row, only on finally solving the unlikely looking THIOURACIL to realise that none of them were actually in the right place.

Cue recourse to the eraser and a still blank grid come Saturday evening. Cue more amusement from the kids. Any illusion that I was actually any good at this game fading fast in a shower of well-deserved derision. By bedtime in my defence I’d:

  • Worked out that the across answers sort of weave back and forth from left to right and back again, for reasons unbeknown.
  • Filled the top half of the grid. Sort of.

And, oh yeah, come to a grinding halt with a grid on paper that had actually begun to decay from the degree of rubbing out.

Sunday. Azed. Everyman. The Telegraph Cryptic. Harribob’s Enigmatic Variations. One last, desperate push at the IQ. A last throw of the dice. And recourse to a spreadsheet because to be quite frank I couldn’t work out my scribbling anymore.

Things noted:

  • While COLLAGEN might be a valid anagram of some of the letters from “long and clear”, there’s no way it meets the requirements of any sort of definition in that clue. CALENDAR, Jon, CALENDAR.
  • We’re supposed to be highlighting something at the close. Highlighted things are often in a diagonal. There’s a phrase beginning to run down the NW to SE diagonal that I’m going to say is TO MOW A MEADOW.
  • Ergo, the remaining extra letters are going to give a question that probably looks a bit like WHY DID MAN AND DOG GO OUT?

Cue a finally completed grid, with GRANITA falling at the close, and a general feeling of release. Relief. I failed to complete a puzzle by Ifor elsewhere a couple of weeks ago, and I suspect will fail again in the future because that was tough, hopefully as tough as they get because my little brain cannot cope.

Bank Holiday Monday? Oh yes, the sun came out.

Today’s crossword is from the big boss, and takes the form of a tribute to a famously genial gentleman who had died a couple of weeks before the original publication in April 2016.

Eimi’s style is quite distinctive, and there’s generally a bias towards entertainment rather than bamboozlement. It was quite a surprise, therefore, to find a wild goat and some Malay bread in there, both of which are pretty deplorable words, if straightforwardly clued. 7d is another oddity – anybody would think that the theme was forcing some strange vocabulary choices. At least the footballer turned out to be one of the half dozen or so I’m aware of, so that potential source of disgruntlement turned out to be okay after all. What really isn’t on is18ac – the subject of much discussion and a mea culpa from the setter at Fifteensquared. This should not have been re-published without correction.

Fortunately there were plenty of compensations, because the clues had all received an application of Eimi’s special polish. There are some lustrous surfaces indeed: 2, 16 and 25 for instance are all quite exemplary. Best of all in my opinion was 27ac, which is simplicity itself but also jolly clever:

“For every French artist, repeatedly taking in capitals of Nigeria and Ghana, that’s always attractive (9,6)”

The week starts with a puzzle from Alchemi that I found to be on the challenging side, finishing a little over par for the i. I seem to remember not particularly getting on with his previous appearance, but found myself this week to be thoroughly entertained by the close. Perhaps I’m just in a better mood this week. 😉

5d it must be said was particularly obscure and took more than a little teasing out. I also wonder how well known 1ac is, and if I was the only solver to raise an eyebrow on D for “down” at 13d, but when the puzzle overall was as lively and inventive as this, perhaps one raised eyebrow is to be forgiven.

There’s a theme regarding anniversaries of some description which I haven’t followed up, but there’s more detail on the other side.

Lots to like, with a fairly unprecedented number of ticks, including the long phrase at 12ac, that scourge of guitar shops everywhere at 22ac, and the nicely misleading 27ac for starters. But just because it raised a smile, my COD nomination goes to 21d – “Pokes fun at bum (6)”.

To February 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

All Things Bright and Beautiful by Cecil Frances Alexander provided the the theme today; Creatures, Great, Small and Wonderful also featured. I don’t think either Large or Rainbow appear in the original words of that cheesiest of hymns, but they do sort of fit. I didn’t spot all that until I’d finished, but it didn’t take much looking.

I enjoyed the first half of this solve very much, but Phi’s more difficult clues tend to leave me feeling mildly irritated, whereas clues of a similar level of difficulty from other setters leave me feeling pleased as punch for having solved them. I’m not sure why that is, and it’s clearly not a view held by some of his fans over at Fifteensquared here, but there you have it, maybe it’s just a wavelength thing and my mind works differently somehow!

So my ticks were all for the first few I solved, and of those my favourite was this one:

15d Make excellent at packing grain (9)



Things I have learned today: what a “wang” is (although since I left school several decades ago my opportunities for deploying such slang are strictly circumscribed); that an EANLING is a sort of young sheep (and although I have miles of countryside on my doorstep I don’t think I know any shepherds, with whom I might apparently casually converse with such specialised vocabulary); now I know who MOBY is – I think a different clue might have been devised linking it to the aforementioned “wang”, but clearly Anax has better taste than me: and finally a word for “doubles” very clearly linked to the Heavenly Twins Gemini. All of these required a check on the internet, but only after the word-play had indicated what it was I should be checking.

This was a tough – very tough – but glorious crossword. The cluing was elegant and remarkably straightforward. I think 11 clues relied on simple charades, and 10 were insertions, three included anagrams, three included a subtraction, three were cryptic definitions and only one each were a double definition, a homophone and a hidden inclusion. Every clue has impeccable parsing and the surface readings are never clumsy. This resulted in a very pleasing experience and a satisfying solve. It was originally a Saturday Prize Crossword, and the level of challenge was perhaps better suited to that spot rather than a weekday one.

With so many delightful clues, choosing a stand-out is difficult. The CD-plus-D for CAN’T BUY ME LOVE was splendid, but my nomination for clue of the day goes to the remarkable and unlikely anagram in 14ac: “Gary Neville wants training, so showing off? (11)”.

To January 2016 for Beermagnet’s admirable explanation.

I think the best summary of today’s puzzle would be that it was indeed a good one, a very good one actually, but one that was too difficult for a weekday. To be fair I made good progress to the south, filling in the bottom half of the grid with little ado, but the rest, well… It was only after a lot of staring at blank space, much soul searching, and finally getting 1/8 that the rest fell, albeit with most of the answers guessed based on definitions and checking letters, just because of time constraints. Which is a pity, because there’s lots of nice stuff going on, with I note a couple of smiley faces jotted beside the clues which is always a good sign. Can we please have Tyrus on a Saturday again next time, though, please?

First ones in down to the SE, LOI 11ac, finish time as it transpires over par but not considerably so, so perhaps this wasn’t as difficult as it felt while solving? Or a case of needs must.

COD? Well, I couldn’t resist nominating this one. 15ac – “Frenchman with female is the right size for mounting – Viagra? (9)”.

Over to March 2016 for the answers and parsing of the clues, which I’m suspecting might be needed more than usual today:

What’s there to say? Another lovely little puzzle from Dac which was for the most part pretty straightforward. There’s a bit of a Gallic flavour, including a phrase that may have caused a little difficulty, but the letters were all there for you to pick from. 😉 We seem to have a superfluous “after” in 19ac, but elsewhere everything was as fair, above board, and entertaining as you would like. Aspiring setters could do worse than copy Dac’s style. First in 23d, last in 5d, finish time comfortably under par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with 10ac – “Street on island in which you’ll see bird, one flying high (10)”.

To January 2016:

We know by now what to expect from Alchemi: nicely polished crosswords with a good variety of clues, and a difficulty level sufficient to keep things interesting without risking a cerebral haemorrhage. Today’s themed puzzle answers that description to a T, and there’s a pleasing twist with some of the 22d appearing as wordplay rather than solutions.

Quibbles are rare with this setter, but here we go: the definition for 16ac is supported by Chambers of course, but ferrous metallurgists could be forgiven for losing their temper. Mind you, it’s come up before so forewarned is forearmed. Otherwise … nope, it all seems fine and dandy to me. We have a couple of odd words in the NE corner and a slightly dubious plural cheese, none of which bothered me much. Why is 17d hyphenated but not 27ac, you may well ask. Dunno. Anyway, on to the standouts. I liked 7, 15 and 29 in particular, but those theme-as-wordplay clues really tickled me. Plaudits therefore for 11, 19 and 28, of which the latter is my COD:

“Anger smelly one of the 22 (7)”

All good, inventive stuff, then. Here’s the April 2016 Fifteensquared blog, where blogger and commentariat were similarly impressed.