A new setter to mark puzzle 2017, Commoner seems to have been a once-a-month Sunday compiler for a couple of years back in 2013-15.  You can read the full blog from his first outing at Fifteensquared here. So no Dac on a Wednesday, no JonofWales, and the blog’s going out before 9 – better check the world’s still spinning on its axis and the sun came up.

An enjoyable puzzle, when I saw an unfamiliar name I wondered if I’d be able to finish and do the blog over breakfast… I needn’t have worried – this was a continental rather than a full English.  No quibbles, a sprinkling of ticks, one new word (hands up who else had the plant at 12d as their last one in) and the following as my COD:

20a Wickedness shown by masculine aggression – not displaying it at first (11)

One to go until the big 1500, and a trip from A to B from Triton, with a few detours along the way? Seven pairs of clues run together, definitions to four letter words, wordplay to something longer. Smashing. The Welsh weather is doing its finest, a lovely bit of summer drizzle, so onward with little ado. Very slowly, as it turns out. These clues are tough. Luckily the definitions to the shaded clues are pretty evident for the most part, giving us a little bit more to work with, so progress is steady, even if it at a snail’s pace. Perhaps I’ll get away with not having to parse them. OK, maybe not, because with a full grid there’s nothing obvious that’s going to go into the elusive 21d. Let’s sort out the parsing, then, and get a full set of those letters we didn’t have to enter into the grid. And stare at them for a long time, until it becomes clear we can join the ones from each pair to form:

MERSEY
SEVERN
HATFIELD
BLACKWALL
WOODHEAD
TOWER
STANDEDGE

The first two I know are tunnels, and so are most of the rest. Apart from Tower which is a pretty well known bridge. The paired shaded bits are above and below 21d. So if the rest are tunnels, the letters disappearing under the grid, this one must be in plain sight. TOWER at 21d. Pretty neat. I enjoyed that, even if the difficulty level does make me wonder exactly what we’ve got in store next week. So, until then…

A surprise to see Phi’s name next to the crossword today, but his fondness for themes, Ninas and whatnot makes him a good fit for the Tuesday slot. This puzzle concerns a certain John 22d, but solvers who are not fans will get on perfectly well without noticing it. If that’s you, there were plenty of similarly unenlightened souls over at Fifteensquared back in March 2013, where you’ll find the usual explanations and a note on how this puzzle came about.

A couple of mild obscurities at 1ac and 2d, both of which needed checking although they’re perfectly deducible from the clues. Oh, and a knowledge of the theme did help with 21ac. Otherwise, the usual brew from Phi, familiar from Saturdays, and jolly good stuff it is too. My COD is 10ac:

“Simple singing recalled in surrounds of Russian lake, mostly with this (9)”.

I wonder whether there’s something unusual lurking in the wings for next Saturday?

A gentle start to the week from the Don, albeit with a few unknowns in the answers as ever. For me, these came at 8ac who I had to Google, 21ac, and 16d where I lobbed in the letters in what looked like a sensible pattern and got away with it.

COD? 23ac – “Brighter lady involved with boy in audacious act of exploitation (8,7)’.

To March 2013:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2013/03/04/independent-8232-quixote/

Saturday 15th July 2017

Phi has confounded me for the second week running by giving us a ‘normal’ puzzle again. One unfamiliar term for me – ‘Fit to be tied’ – but once I had all the crossers, then it had to be, really.

Quite a few very good clues in there – fully 11 receiving ticks of admiration in the margin – amongst which, and narrowly pipping  1a to my COD award, was the following:

23a Setbacks when invaded by two attacks of illness (5-5)

And here’s the link to the Fifteensquared website from the spring of 2013, where that unfamiliar expression gets a good deal of attention; it seems to be ‘Canadian adopted from American’ – which is presumably different to being, well, American…

After a few days away enjoying the architectural delights of York, mainly its alehouses, and not having the time or sobriety to do any crosswords I return to what to me is an extremely difficult puzzle from one of the Indie’s more challenging setters, or maybe like the setter I’m rusty. probably both, but judging by the comments over on Fifteensquared I’m not the only one who failed on 14d, a book by an author that I’ve not heard of before and wordplay that was very complicated. 12ac was another that struck as over complicated but in this case the wordplay proved unnecessary as with a few checking letters the answer was fairly obvious. 19ac similarly proved unparsable. The checking letters came mainly from the excellent and plentiful anagrams, 21ac and 26ac both getting ticks but its 5d that gets

COD     Fancy Tories! True embarrassingly but that’s not illegal (3,1,4.7)

Well, I started at a sprint to the north of the puzzle, slowed down in the SW, and then finished at an absolute crawl in the SE corner. Eventually getting 27d proved to be the key there, because I would never have got 26ac otherwise, or the rest for that matter. Enjoyable, though by the close in a masochistic sort of way.

COD? Well, it’s got to be 14d – “Old actor in The Lighthouse? (4,6)”.

To March 2013:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2013/03/11/independent-8238punk/

I made steady if not particularly rapid progress with today’s offering, perhaps because I’m still feeling the effects of baking out in the sun all afternoon at Sports Day. Oh, and cutting back a precariously high hedge immediately afterwards. The consensus on the other side seems to have been that this was on the easy side. I had to check 5ac, and there were one or two others where I didn’t bother with the wordplay (always a dangerous ploy), but I seem to have got away with it. Last in 2d, where I was overly hung up on using IN for a long time.

COD? 17d – “Middle East envoy dispatched to Libya to install new regime’s leader (4,5)”, even if I don’t think he is anymore, is he?

To April 2013:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2013/04/03/independent-8258-dac/

Welcome to an over-tired, slightly strung out Saturday. Friday night? Only if you count sitting up half the night with an asthmatic, over-anxious child. Gah. A bit of much needed relief then from Shark – misprints in the definitions, unclued entries, lots of characters to find, an author. Oh, and a bit of jiggery-pokery with a couple of the downs.

That afternoon, a handful of clues to the south of the grid. And nothing else. Really, nothing, zilch, for a long long time. Until that evening, in fact. Shark’s living up to his name this time. A few letters in one of the unclued downs, what’s beginning to look like a really odd name. Something foreign? Fantasy? Perhaps that’s the author’s name in the top row. Who might fit with the letters we’ve got? Pratchett doesn’t. Rowling? Joanne Rowling, let’s try that. The first down unclued beneath that starts with a Q, a few more letters and it looks like we’ve got something from this book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. About which I know absolutely nothing. Luckily Google does.

The rest of the grid becomes a matter then of scouring through the big red book, and using the list of beasties found here to fill the unclued entries.

We’re supposed to amend the name across the top “appropriately”. Newt Scamander fits, and all the resulting downs are real words. Those missing letters in the two down answers? ASTIC and FANT, not necessarily in that order. Phew. My brain hurts now… Tell me why I put myself through this again. Until next time, and a magical mystery tour from Triton.

This is Jambazi’s second appearance in the i as far as I know, and just like last time he presents a decent challenge with scope for a spot of grumbling. There’s a Quentin Tarantino theme which requires no special knowledge, but it didn’t start out that way according to the setter’s comment at Fifteensquared. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle and am therefore happy to overlook a few peculiarities of syntax, vocabulary and some odd definitions. 7d delighted me, but there will be complaints, methinks.

Candidates for clue of the day include the aforementioned 7d, as well as 20/14, 16ac and I suppose 18ac – described delicately by Eileen as “audacious” on the other side, which is one way of putting it. My choice is 27ac:

“Game is off top inventor and poet (8)”

Back to the night after the Oscars in February 2013.