The week off work proceeds with a leisurely breakfast, a bit of relaxation in the garden, no work calls for the first time since Friday, and a fresh, crisp copy of the i delivered through the door. We might not be able to get away as planned, but at the moment I think I could cope with a couple of weeks of this as long as the sun keeps shining, the birds singing, and the bees generally doing whatever it is they’re doing.

Dac’s been given time off for good behaviour so we have an IoS reprint from Kairos that poor Pierre over on the other side doesn’t seem to have got on with at all. To be fair there were a couple of odd abbreviations, I couldn’t remember Mr Lowry’s name at all, and suspect I wasn’t the only solver to get hung up on TU in the same clue, but overall this was fairly straightforward and quite accessible, with only a couple of question marks at the close. A few have been mentioned, the last being 4ac that I probably could have thought through if I’d been so inclined, but I wasn’t, and just lobbed in the answer.

Finish time under par for the i, and duly entertained.

COD? As with most IoS reprints pickings are thin, but I’ll go with 9d – “Outwardly struck by score’s outline (6)”.

To February 2016:

Today, as so often, I have the feeling that I’m missing something. Clearly there is a theme in this crossword referring to 17acs, but it also seems to involve work, so in my end-of-year round up this puzzle will be described as “Business and Pleasure”.

There are many things to distract us at the moment, and attempting to solve this crossword with the Today programme on in the background was probably a mistake. It was really quite tricky in my estimation, and certainly one of Radian’s tougher offerings. Everything appears to be fair enough though, and the only uncommon word is carefully spelt out for us at 20d. Some definitions are decidedly sneaky, however. Several commenters at Fifteensquared back in February 2016 came a cropper on 14ac: this, gentle reader, is why crosswords should be completed in ink. If you’re not sure, don’t write it in!

It seems to me that anybody who has ever attempted to write a clue would be pretty chuffed to have come up with 28ac, and by rights it ought to be the COD. It certainly deserves to be acknowledged, but it’s just pipped at the post by 9d:

“Feature of cryptic game? An ingenue tackles it (6,7)”.

The first draft of this week’s post began “I don’t know how much will have changed by the time this is published…” And then went on to have a general moan about the lockdown. Well, thankfully from a personal point of view the emergency might seem distant, something on the television news, in the i, or the BBC News site, but yesterday evening’s news about Boris Johnson is truly shocking, so the rest… Well, I’ve deleted. Best wishes to him for a quick recovery and to his family at this time.

Onto lighter things, somewhat jarringly I know. The Inquisitor which came courtesy of the i‘s online app, my free-delivery vouchers no doubt among the sudden flood of applications.

Perhaps it’s just been the unsettling nature of the past week, the constant nagging worry, but my solving skills have deserted me, so it was some trepidation that I turned to the puzzle. I shouldn’t have worried – after last week’s marathon session we’re definitely back on the beginner’s slopes, and that suits me just fine.

I might not be able to parse the clue, but I do know that ADA Lovelace was Byron’s daughter. Managed a rare smile on GSOH. Hopefully avoided the AGOUTA / AGOUTI trap (what a sneaky unchecked letter). Struggled a little at the close in the top centre, what William I might have referred to being somewhat beyond my linguistic skills, though surely we’re looking for the setter’s favourite revolutionary? And how long it took to spot that we had to insert not only C, but W into GAY.

What to highlight? Thankfully no difficulties on the grid-hunting front this week, as AUNT ADA leapt out along the bottom row. A quick Google leads to Cold Comfort Farm which I’ve heard of but not read, though I did know the phrase we’re looking for, because apparently Aunt Ada Doom saw “something nasty in the woodshed”. A sneaky FLORA to the NE, but we’re to ignore that.

Cells highlighted. Even I can conjure up an anagram of “something”.

Job done.

And that’s the first puzzle I’ve properly enjoyed all week, so thanks all for a much needed bit of light relief.

We begin the week with an IoS reprint from Alchemi that I found to be of about average difficulty, though with a few bumps along the way. Skinny at 20d I’m guessing will have bamboozled most solvers even if the answer was clear as day, and I was pleased on glancing over on the other side to find that I wasn’t the only person to lob in an alternative 4ac only to come seriously unstuck on the crossing down. And – DISAPPEARS was very tempting, wasn’t it? But enjoyed throughout, and a welcome distraction.

All of which gives me plenty of time to find other ways to fill the start of my fortnight’s holiday, beginning with the careful removal of the Government’s Covid-19 letter from the door-mat, and thence unopened to the bin. It’s the small acts of rebellion that are keeping me sane. Next to take my daily-sanctioned walk while I’m still able to.

COD? I’ll go with the aforementioned 4ac – “A mother and girl collaborate without hesitation for function (9)”.

To January 2016:

Having only purchased the i weekend today, I hadn’t realised till now that it’s not the usual prize puzzle after all. So there’s little point in postponing a blog (and therefore an opportunity for you to give your comments) until next Saturday.  Except that Fifteensquared are hiding their blog from 4½ years ago as if there were a prize on offer, so the logical thing to do is to take my lead from Saboteur on Friday and have a go at the parsings myself. Here goes:

1a This is my COD, so I won’t parse it here.

5a A charade of BA + SH

10a A charade of W + HITMAN

11a An insertion of TEA in (CALL)* = LACTEAL


13a A charade of DUE + L.  Nicely done.



18a T[i]REE


22a Double definition of FLATTER

24a L(U)LL.  Simple, but very pleasing somehow.

25a (TED)< + ACHED

1d BAWL homophone of “ball”.  Although I entered BALL at first, which confused me for a while with 10a.



4d GEN[‘ero]US

6d A ‘straight cryptic’ definition of AMERICAN ENGLISH. Either I am missing something or else this is no more than a mildly whimsical definition of the sort I don’t find particularly cryptic at all. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

7d A charade of HOLI + NESS

8d A double definition of FLINDERS.  The explorer who was responsible for naming Australia, apparently.

9d O + C(T)AVE.  Not  ‘octage’ as I first thought, ‘cos that’s not a word.

14d A charade of P + LEA + SURE.  Take your pick and call it a chestnut, a classic, or canonical as you wish.

15d An insertion of PIT inside (FUELS)* = SPITEFUL

17d A charade of O + PORT + O

18d TO(S)T + ADA – I knew it from the Spanish, but evidently it’s also a word in English.

20d An insertion of PE in TEE = TEPEE. Not that I like ‘is given’ as an insertion indicator very much.

21d [c]AGED


So a fairly typical offering from Quixote: Mostly straightforward, a couple of obscure definitions, one clue that I didn’t like (or possibly didn’t get properly) at 6d, and a smattering of ticks in my margin. Seven anagrams is more than he himself says a crossword should have, but given that two are only partial I suppose we can let him off!

And here’s my COD:

1a By implication a badge bringing witty conversation (8)


Saturday 28th March 2020

This puzzle first appeared at Christmas time 2015 in the Indy which, to the sharp eyed among you, will have explained the sequence of letters in the unchecked squares around the edges. Starting in the top left we had VROLIJK KERSTFEEST, then a gap (which very unusually led to an asymmetric grid), followed by BUON NATALE. Knowing something of the way Phi’s mind works, I suspect he was attracted to this particular pair of festive greetings precisely because those random-looking letters (especially those high-scoring Scrabble letters in the top row) help to disguise the peripheral Nina rather well. So award yourself a corner shop Easter egg if you spotted it.

That Nina led to a lot tricky 4-letterers in the corners, which are something of a Phi trademark; among those 2d ‘Irene’ (Sherlock’s obsession) being shortened to RENE was probably the hardest. On the other hand there were some very clearly signalled anagrams which went in without offering any real challenge at all, including the two long ones through the middle of the grid. So for me, things started at a gallop but I ended up barely hobbling over the finishing line. In between, however, was plenty in the zone of difficulty I most enjoy, and of those my nomination for COD (Clue Of the Day) goes to the following for its plausible surface reading:

5a Decline cover after receiving second form of confirmation (8)

Click here for the 2015 blog with all the answers plus parsing explanations.

A real toughie, this one, with quite a lot of clues that I struggled with. Just as well that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands at the moment. A shopping trip for essentials meant that I had the now luxurious experience of solving it on paper.

Rather too many queries for this to be truly satisfying, although there was some pleasure to be found in completing it from sheer determination not to be outdone. There might be something of a Grand National ghost-theme, but that’s cancelled…

I can’t find a Fifteensquared blog for this one, so below are my own answers. Corrections, clarifications and comments more than gratefully received. I’ve got only my tablet at present, no laptop, so it’s a fairly basic layout, I’m afraid.


1. Sun always gets riotous darts coverage. DAYSTAR. Definition is “Sun”, ay for “always” in an anagram of “darts”.

5. Wordy stanza Diddley penned? VERBOSE. Defined by “wordy”, “Bo” (Diddley) inside “verse”.

10. Some separation anxiety for Judah’s second son. ONAN. The second son of Judah, hidden inside “separation anxiety”.

11. Parody scripture in accurate representation? CARICATURE. Defined by “parody”. “R(eligious) I(nstruction)” for Scripture lessons, inside an anagram of “accurate”.

12. One stranded sailors thus hailed. CRUSOE. Robinson crusoe being the famous fictional strandee, the word-play being homophones of “crew” and “so”, for “sailors thus”.

13. Chaps when old discuss Jack’s impulse buy. BEANSTALK. “(Old) beans” are “chaps” and “talk” is “discuss”. Definition is “Jack’s impulse buy”. Now, it’s been some time since I took anyone to the pantomime, but from what I recall, the beans were a swap, and no beanstalk was bought, on impulse or otherwise.

16. Axes chopped up elm’s woody tissue. XYLEM. Definition is “woody tissue”. “Axes” as the plural for the X axis and the Y axis on a graph, plus an anagram of “elm”. Nice misdirection here, and a nice surface reading, with a near-literal clue, so this is my nomination for Clue of the Day.

17. Songbird at maximum speed in Kent. CLARK. Defined by “Kent”, as in Superman’s alter-ego. “Lark” as a “songbird” next to “C” for 100[mph] (although in what way this is a maximum speed rather than a significantly high speed I do not know).

19 Third-rate actor and writer encompasses Mjolnir’s work. HAMMERING, defined by “Mjolnir’s work”, this being the name of Thor’s hammer. A third-rate actor is a “ham”, but how the mering/writer thing works I do not know.

23. Apprehensive about many a Berkshire town. DREADING. Defined by “apprehensive about”. Word-play is “D”, Roman 500 as “many”, plus Reading as the Berkshire town.

24. Something expressed or deposited in some amount. SPUTUM, being defined by “something expressed”, with “put” for “deposited” inside “sum”, for “some amount”.

286. God’s power in unbridled emotion (NT). OMINPOTENT. There’s something not quite right about this. It’s an anagram of emotion, NT and the P from power. Annoyingly, neither God nor God’s power define omnipotent with sufficient precision.

27. Devil’s daughter inspires a Welsh name. I suppose that, whimsically, one might call sin the offspring of the devil. Add an A and you have SIAN, “a Welsh name”.

28. Catcher stops crooked playwright. BENNETT. “Net” inside “bent” gives us the playwright Alan.


2. Here they run from arboreal apes’ leader. AINTREE. Defined by “here they run”, for the Liverpool racecourse. “In tree” gives us “arboreal”, with A in front for “apes’ leader”. Something not quite right here…

3. Arias from G&S supporting one from Trinity. SONGS. Defined by “arias”. Word play is “Son” (Second person of the Holy Trinity) plus G and S.

4. Greek, Roman or Hebrew flag. ANCIENT. Other than that these are representative of ancient languages, I don’t know how this works.

6. Suggestion upset top mathematician. EUCLID. Again I’m not too sure about this, other than it being at least in part an anagram of clue for “suggestion”.

7. Blair type to play Hamlet? Hardly. BIT PLAYER. An anagram of “blair type”. Hamlet is a lead role, so the actor would hardly be a bit player.

8. Weird as quarks in certain hardens. STRANGE. “Weird” is the definition, but also a description of the wordplay, which is beyond me.

9. Bad for everyone in butcher’s whichever way we look. FROM ALL ANGLES, which is fine for “whichever way we look”, but how the “bad” and the “butcher” fit in I do not know.

15. Managed to get raise with share account. Narration. Defined by “account”. “Ran” going up, plus “ration” for “share”.

18. Wyoming place keeps top grade butter in lounge. LARAMIE, defined by “place in Wyoming”. Wordplay is A for “top grade”, “ram” for “butter” all in “lie” for “lounge”.

20. Mum on floor legs hot brewing vessel. MASH TUN, which is a “brewing vessel”, made by “ma” plus H inside “stun” for “floor”.

21. EU bloke in news is architect. NEUMANN. A nice simple clue for an obscure answer. EU plus “man” inside N and N for “news”. The architecture in question is to do with computer design, not buildings.

22. Make verbal attack greeting racecourse spy. HIT OUT. Definition is “make verbal attack”, created by the greeting “hi”, plus “tout”, the “racecourse spy” (spy?).

25. Having advantage over storm god produces surprise result. UPSET, which is a “surprise result”. “Up” comes from “having advantage over”. “Set” is the Egyptian god whom I was aware of although his precise area of competence was news to me; I didn’t know he was in charge of storms.

Errors and omissions all mine…

I’d like to be able to say I spotted that today’s puzzle is a double pangram, but that would be a lie as in truth I knew beforehand thanks to dtw42 on Twitter. 😉 I’m not convinced that I would have spotted it anyway as I fairly tore through the clues with no major hold-ups, finishing in a time considerably under par for the i. The double Z down in the SE corner where I started may have alerted me, but I’m not convinced, such are my powers of observation.

A thoroughly enjoyable crossword nonetheless, and I don’t mind ’em this easy – it fools me into thinking I’m actually any good at this game.

Just the one query regarding Greg Dyke’s body on solving, said gentleman’s identity remaining a mystery to me, but presumably it’s something football related.

COD? Lots to choose from, with my nomination going to 18d – “Warning: Drama portrays scenes of a sexual nature (8)”.

To December 2015 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

I guess the fool is on me, as I failed miserably to notice what was hidden in the border of the completed grid. To be fair it is Dac who doesn’t usually do this kind of thing, and I finished in double-quick time too, so didn’t linger for long. There are a couple of odd answers dotted round about, notably at 15d, which makes me wonder whether he painted himself into a corner here and there, but all were perfectly gettable, so no complaints on my part.

I solved today on a proper copy, paper deliveries having been arranged, which no doubt helped. Old habits, and all that. I did notice though that the paper looked somewhat thin, for obvious reasons of course, though I haven’t seen any other dailies to compare.

COD? I’ll go with 12ac – “Examines suspect? That’s initially fraught with dangers (6)”.

To an April’s day many moons ago:

The normal rules of engagement have been suspended. The order of the day self-isolation and general anxiety about completing the once run-of-the mill. School, college, university applications, driving lessons, used-car purchases. Shopping. New York not to add fuel to the fire is apparently 10 days away from a food crisis. As is the local Sainsbury’s by the look of the shelves. I’ve got two packs of toilet paper in the cupboard to go round the five of us and feel guilty for hoarding. Holiday cancelled, school cancelled, college gone, my sister and her family on an 862 mile round trip by car in 24 hours to rescue belongings from imminently unavailable university accommodation. Working from home. Schooling from home.

Welcome to Spring 2020, and not the post-apocalyptic movie of your choice.

This is not the way it was supposed to be.

Ifor, who is thanking us for a little help but little solace with something designed to fill the long hours of self-isolation. Answers this way and that, clues where they’ll fit, and you all know how much I love that kind of thing. And to be quite frank after drowning my sorrows Friday night in a surfeit of London Pride and cheap whisky left over from the oh-so-distant festive season, I’m really not up to this.

So after breaking isolation to glance at a used car that apart from needing new brakes, discs, bonnet, silencer and it would appear clutch too (yeah, I know), gloves and distance kept throughout, time to hide in the kitchen and cold solve. And cold solve, because while the shorter answers were keen to fall, the longer answers wouldn’t. Blame my parsing skills. Blame a raging head, a niggling cold (but thankfully no reportable symptoms because I need alcohol, chocolate, and copies of the i).

Evening… A long one… DEFENSELESS. Where to chuck it? Fatefully as it transpired in the left hand grid, and work from there. Not very far, admittedly. But… DEAD AS A DODO fell shortly afterwards and that did help. Oh yes it did, with the south of that grid filling pretty quickly until DESPAIR SET IN and the sudden urge to chuck it all in and take up an easier hobby like brain surgery. And there are all those episodes of Star Trek Discovery to catch up with too.

Sunday, Sunday, of a good night’s sleep and warmer days, of jaunts to the local cemetery, a table and chair outside for the first time this year – the floods a distant memory now the plague has descended upon us, and with it more luck with the clues, and finally, two full grids.

Distant celebrations, sighs of relief. What names will fit those two greyed out bits? Curtailed sighs of relief, cue much anguish, and compilation of – what-blooming-letters-will-fit-there-anyway?

The prosaic answers being Austin Stowell (with the ST letter-pairs duly paired), and Mark Rylance. I’ve heard of the latter, but not the former. Who appeared in Bridge of Spies, which I’ve not heard of, though the incident is one I have, being an east-west-east Cold War exchange of (alleged) spy and (yep he sure was a) spy and pilot on the other. So in the centre we can lob CIA as presumably representing a bridge of spies, and the clue at the bottom? An anagram of the character names (or bits of them anyway, Francis being shelved for convenience sake), and thus:


The magic word we need to fill in. Job done. Pen over the pencil entries so painstakingly filled almost literally with blood and tears, leaving the grids below. But that word, “before”, preying somewhat on the mind. That phrase in the preamble – “and establishes which grid orientation is correct”. This is only completely and utterly wrong, isn’t it, because Stowell played Gary Powers who was traded East-West, and Rylance Rudolf Abel who was traded West-East. Before. These grids are supposed to represent the position before the trade.

So this is wrong:

And this, presuming I’ve managed to transcribe properly, sort everything correctly, and that I haven’t gone off on a completely off-piste tangent, should be correct:

Bang goes your weekend. And any remaining sanity. Whoosh, the approaching week, and yet more horrors. Excuse me while I lock myself in a cupboard and scream and never stop.