Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Seeing that this was set by Serpent, and seeing too that it was one of those grids, I was on the look out for a nina. As it happened, I got going in the SW quadrant, so WALLPAPER revealed itself fairly readily. That helped a lot with EROSION and RED SETTER. Unfortunately, I couldnt immediately call to mind anything to do with wallpaper, never mind the Oscar Wilde witticism, so it was quite a while before I got the rest of it. When I did, it helped with GIRDLE and DAL SEGNO.

This last was one of two or three obscurities that required me to check up in the dictionary or online. These contributed a little to the toughness of the puzzle, as did the grid – nineteen out of twenty-eight entries have no crossing initial letter. Mainly, however, it was the deliciously convoluted word-play and mischievous misdirection that made this puzzle both very challenging and at the same time an absolute delight to solve. One of what I call a treacle-toffee crossword: chewy, but good. Consider, to take just one example, the clue for GIRDLE, where “Bird’s beginning to fly…” made me think the entry was a bird, and it had an F in it, whereas I should have removed the beginning of “bird” as part of the word-play.

That one was one of six contenders for Clue of the Day, the one I finally picked being 26 ac: “The result when one’s routed a different way (6)”. I know it doesn’t strictly follow the rules, but it’s still good.

Here’s the link for all the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/14/independent-9674-by-serpent-sat-14-oct-2017/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟

Phi takes the Thursday spot this week with a medium level difficulty puzzle of the expected top-notch quality, and, as far as I can tell, not a gimmick / Nina / ghost theme in sight. We have the one very odd word up in the NE corner that was guessable from the first L and a few checking letters, but elsewhere the vocabulary was all common place (if not always easy to spell, as I found out when getting stuck on 10ac at the close only to find I’d put the L and D in 1d in the wrong order). One or two I couldn’t parse on solving, notably 12ac, but at no stage was I in doubt as to the correct answer, and thoroughly enjoyed the solve throughout, as always with Phi.

COD? Much to like, including here 23d, with the stand-out clue (perhaps of the week) 15ac – “What indicates event from evident modern crime? (8,5)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in the Fifteensquared blog from September 2017:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/01/independent-9637-phi/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟

Three stars represents the overall level of difficulty, as most clues were easier than that, or at that level, but several were considerably more demanding.

Around a dozen clues were what I would regard as beautifully crafted, and good, solid fare for the solver. They included 8, 13, 18, 23A, 27, 3, 14, 17, 19, 20 and 22, and getting their answers gave me a firm base from which I was able to branch out and solve the rest.

Other clues needed greater analysis, sometimes because their definitions were somewhat abstract, as in 5; sometimes because the wordplay was intricate, as in 23D; and sometimes because it was unclear how to interpret an Arabic number given in the clue: for example β€œ10” in 6 is to be taken as IO, but β€œ9” in 5 refers to the answer in 9 across.

Having completed about a third of the grid I was able to guess the Nina hidden in the left and right sides of the perimeter, although at that stage I had no idea why that particular person was mentioned. However, it did greatly assist me with getting answers which crossed with those letters. At the end I also noted the Ninas in the top and bottom rows, but it was only when I read the comments on Fifteensquared that it all made sense. And then I saw the relevance of the italicised words in 3 and 4, and of the clue for 2.

Some brief notes about certain things which stood out for me: A being the leader of ANTS rather than of THEIR in 6; AMAH in 12 – I only got this by guessing AYAH and then trying to turn the YAH bit round, getting HAY, and then seeing it might refer to HAM; POOL in 26A – having got the P and also the L (from the Nina), I was thinking PEAL meaning RING, before the real answer came to me.

However, I have to say that I was greatly frustrated by the unnecessarily complex wordplay in 11 and by the abstruse nature of 28, in which ORD is not the centre of OFORD – OXFORD without the X. Linked with this, I found the wordplay in 1 – COLORADO – unsatisfying as well. Fifteensquared has a slightly different clue for 28, so maybe the setter was trying to improve it here. In the end I had to enter these answers without fully understanding how they were parsed. Having said all that, I did enjoy solving much of this puzzle.

The Clue of the Day I’ve chosen is 7: β€œAsian from East China, UK resident (6)” Not the most straightforward of clues, but very neat, and indeed witty, once you understand it.

Here’s the link for all the answers and explanations:

Independent 9,671 / Hob

A book recommendation this week in the form of letters omitted, although even the mighty Amazon search engine would have struggled to do much with:

EL INNOW PE

Which is as good an indicator as any to the regular reader that I struggled too. Granted I started late, this being the weekend when traditionally we bake the Christmas cake, but despite having a full grid by 10PM Sunday, I was lacking the full book title, had letters in the left and right columns, but not even a guess at the highlighting or what to do about the “encoding”.

Any bafflement regarding the two columns we’d been busily moving letters removed into can partly be explained by an unlucky K for KORAN rather than the required Q, but still, my inability to decipher the following doesn’t bode well for a successful reading of ELLA MINNOW PEA, the volume in question, as apparently the letters used (allowed) diminish in number as the book proceeds. According to Wikipedia, that is.

THE QUICK BROWN FX JMPS V LAZY DG

Though we haven’t strictly speaking avoided the use of certain letters, which does make me doubt myself. It was only the other day too that I remarked on my lack of grid awareness, and here’s yet another example, the letters being a pretty random bunch as far as I could tell.

Never doubt my Googling skills though, which led to the Wikipedia page in question, the fact that the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” plays an important part in the book, only to be substituted at the close by “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs”, the latter a rearrangement in the form I have it of the original letters in the left and right columns.

It’s just left then to highlight the author, and LMNOP (Ella Minnow Pea, you see), the only remaining letters allowed by the end of the book.

All of which leaves me itching to have a look at the volume in question, though I’d love a sneak peak first as I suspect I may not be up to the challenge, and Amazon for once doesn’t have a Look Inside.

Oh well, the puzzle was finished, and enjoyed, albeit with a suspicion until the very last that I was about to run out of time. Perhaps I should start getting up earlier Saturday morning.

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Our theme today is to do with various sorts of trains, which are dotted about the grid. Not that I noticed, it must be said, more sure of the pangram which was there, and feeling anyway pretty battered and bruised by the close. Because yes, this was as tough (I hope) as they get, and dare I say much too tough for a weekday. Enjoyable in a masochistic sort of way, but by the close I was just relieved to have finished. Top quality clues from Scorpion as you’d expect, with a couple of obscurities in the grid, but all were among the easier clues to parse, so no complaints here, and I will admit to feeling smug on getting the unknown (to me) footballer.

COD? I’ll go with 19d – “Rosy wants first in biology – a strain at such a university? (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from October 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/10/independent-9670-by-scorpion/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

Is it fair to use references in a crossword that only those with a little insider knowledge will know? I suppose all sorts of human activities have their in-jokes and sly personal references, and why would one expect Crosswordland to be any different? The clue for ALIGNED requires new and inexperienced solvers to have some knowledge of the names of i crossword setters. When combined with the crossword’s only (I think) obscurity, “ned” referring to a Scots hooligan, this clue, I think becomes unfair. In defence, the crossing letters and clear definition can have left few in doubt of the entry.

Otherwise, this was an accessible and pleasing solve, if over rather too quickly for my taste. My first in was 1ac, and then they all went in fairly readily, more or less anticlockwise, until my last in, 9d. Apart from the aforementioned ALIGNED, I don’t think there are any obscurities, and only one bit of parsing had me puzzled: the clue for NURSE. I eventually took it as a straightforward definition (“tend”) plus a whimsical, but not not particularly cryptic, definition (“to hold on to a pint but not neck it”).

This puzzle was one I could have solved with my late maiden aunts without either of them blushing, which is a surprise, given this setter’s reputation under this pseudonym. I think there were only a couple of references to a certain sub-culture – and a couple of opportunities not taken. Even so, the setter’s creativity was on display in such clues as TRAVELLER, PASSING ON and ON THE SLY. I was amused by the surface reading of SIDEROADS, and the misdirection which both drew on and shamed my prejudice in GENERAL. Clue of the Day, though, goes to the clever 20d: “Let down recently (after making love, Ed turned over) (7)”.

This setter seems to read the comments in Fifteensquared and to reflect upon them, which is good. He seems to take a genuine interest in what solvers think. Here’s the link, with all the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/15/independent-on-sunday-1442-by-hoskins/

Difficulty rating (out of five):  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

A thoroughly pleasant solving experience today courtesy of Phi.

My scattergun approach to picking which clue to attempt next failed to get me a foothold in the top half, so I switched to the SE corner and worked my up for a change. After that the SW corner fairly flew in and In the end it might well have been my quickest ever Phi solve – if I ever bothered to notice such things that is. I wonder if some of the differences between us solvers might be sometimes be down to a matter of luck as to which clues we chance upon to do first?

The last two in were SKIRMISHED (it seems you can verb almost any noun these days) and HARRIED where we had ‘hied’ as part of the word play – as in ‘Hie thee hither’ I suppose, which I shall be doing in a bit – Mrs Cornick & I are off to spend a weekend in Stratford doing Shakespearean things.

Lots of good clues, no complaints (well, maybe ‘generated by’ in 10a would have been annoying had the clue not been an easy one), and my pick of the bunch goes to this one:

21d Razor specialist set up company: arrived for a trim (5)

I shan’t mention the theme by name, but if you’re curious then Phi drops in to explain in comment number 5 of the original blog from Bertandjoyce which you can access by clicking this link:

Fifteensquared/Independent-9643-Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

It took me ages to tune into Klingsor’s wavelength this morning. At the start it looked like this was heading for a five-star difficulty rating, but once I was in the zone it got much more tractable, and seemed closer to a three-star puzzle. I’ve therefore averaged-out at four stars. It took me only a little over my typical time in the end.

In the comments on Fifteensquared there is some comment about how Ximinean this is (or not), Ximinean meaning it is very precisely clued, following clear conventions – as distinct from the boundary-pushing and allusive or whimsical cluing that we get from certain other setters. I’m not sure how useful that is, but it is certainly the case that by the end I had no parsing difficulties left unresolved, which is good enough for me. Neither is there any obscure vocabulary, and no visits to Chambers were needed, even for checking purposes.

There are lots of ticks and smile-emojis in my margin. I thought SWEET-TOOTHED was good, with a nice surface reading, and the clue for AYRSHIRE was entertaining. PATIENT was neat, too, but this blogger has no choice but to proffer 25ac as Clue of the Day: “Destroy e.g. boat, with spite, principally (8)”.

Independent 9636 / Klingsor

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

For a while now I seem to have been struggling badly with puzzles by Serpent, and today’s Saturday reprint is no exception. To be fair, perhaps my mind wasn’t in the right place for solving today, but still, I got there eventually, but only with a great deal of help, and still find myself mystified by some of the parsing, in particular 26ac which still makes no sense at all to me, and am less than convinced that “lifting” and “raising” in 24d and 19d justify the switch in order of the wordplay elements. A few of the definitions seem tenuous, in particular at 20ac, but perhaps I’m just being particularly dim today. Always a possibility. There’s a pangram in the perimeter, which I guessed would be present early on, but I had so few in place for an age that it did little to help. At the close I found myself feeling generally disgruntled, so not one for me, sorry! The general reception on the other side seems to have been very positive, however, so perhaps I just got out of bed the wrong way. Do let me know how you got on.

COD? I’ll go with 6d – “Enacts changes on railway line (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in the 2017 blog from Fifteensquared:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/29/independent-crossword-9608-by-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟

β€œOne of Dac’s typically smoothly-constructed crosswords” was John’s comment on fifteensquared – and who am I to disagree? This was all completed fairly quickly, although there a few head-scratching moments, for instance until I realised β€˜dork’ was the definition and not part of the wordplay in 16dn. The two long answers at 4dn and 5dn were easily got and provided handy pegs to hang others on, although there was little need for such pegs. It is rare to find anything to quibble about in a Dac puzzle but one might possibly note the absence of an indication that 12ac is a definition by example.

I marked up several clues as candidates for CoD, including 9ac, 1dn, 2dn and 21dn, but my final choice is 18dn: β€˜Successfully handling piece of masonry (6)’

The original review generated very few comments, which is probably a reflection of Dac’s excellence as a setter. You can find it at

www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/30/independent-9635-by-dac/