The trouble with seeing eXternal’s name is that you don’t know whether he’s got his IoS hat on, in which case we’re in for a bit of an easy ride, or if this is a Thursday / Saturday reprint. This turned out to be the latter. At first I wasn’t sure. I solved maybe three quarters in a fairly encouraging time, with 15ac and 1d for example being pretty much 25ac’s, but the rest… Well, the rest pushed this up to a time where either I’d completely lost my touch, or this was indeed a prize puzzle reprint. Particular points of resistance were the NE corner – 5ac and 8d especially so – and elsewhere 18ac and 14d. I resorted to Google once I had the PASH bit of 20ac I must admit, fully aware I wouldn’t know the answer, and hung up for too long on the idea that it must be a prawn dish. 22d I did vaguely know, 2d and a couple of others I couldn’t parse. All in all an interesting challenge that certainly raised the bar for difficulty this week.

COD? For me 14d – “Concede room, getting crushed by misplaced bottom (9)”.

To July 2014:


In which we reach cryptic 2400 that for some reason feels more significant than it probably is. Dac, which can only mean good things – smooth surfaces, always interesting clues, something probably not too difficult – though today I did run into problems in both the NW and SW corners. To the NW first. Three pretty obscure answers at 1d, 9ac and 12ac, though there’s little to complain about as the clues were immaculate as expected. Was I the only solver to get caught out by the split of private and detective for the latter? For 9ac I was hung up for too long on take = R. Too many crosswords, I know. Down in the SW corner it was 23ac and 25ac that took far too long, really because Dac manages to hide his wordplay so well. All in all pretty enjoyable, and taking longer than expected on a Wednesday only means more enjoyment value, doesn’t it?

COD? With many to choose from I’ll go with 16d which has such a nice surface reading, though for seasoned solvers the “French art” bit by now is a bit of a write-in – “Apprehended criminal trader pinching French art? (8)”.

To July 2014 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

A slightly alarming preamble this week. Jumbled down answers, and, well, something to be done with the acrosses too. In the second grid. Yes, that’s right, a second grid, because what we’re going to have to do is evidently that complicated that it warrants, for the first time ever, another grid to work with. Now, perhaps it’s just the autumn blues, but this immediately set me on an I can’t do this fugue, not helped by a first pass through the across answers that yielded, well, all of one answer. With the youngest two rampaging round the house like things possessed after two days away on a residential school trip. Weren’t they supposed to be tired on their return?

Try again. 33ac is an anagram, and despite what the preamble says it’s in Chambers. But perhaps, he reasoned, the treated version in the second grid won’t be? Aha. A resident of Montmartre, that most fine district of Paris, minus an IS would be PARIAN. Not so difficult, you see. Apart from the down answers. Presumably we should be able to glean somehow what to do with them? After all, they can’t be completely, randomly, like totally jumbled with multiple unchecked letters, can they? Surely there must be some sort of rhyme or reason? Despite numerous attempts at looking for some sort of logic – backwards, making up different words, and so on, it appears… That they are indeed randomly jumbled. I can though solve them, oh yes I can, which is some consolation.

That unclued entry that presumably is supposed to tell us how to treat the across answers before entry in the second grid. Help from a word finder with the possible letters from the jumbled downs… RECONSTRUCT. Well, you don’t say.

All of which is to say that, at the close, the first grid looked like this. Note the blank squares where I had a choice of letters but no reason to pick one or another.

The second grid is supposed to contain real words throughout. Let’s apply some logic, RECONSTRUCTing the across answers with the letters we’ve got in place from the downs, making sure there are real words throughout. Lo and behold 33ac is SCHMEAR which indeed isn’t in the big red book. CHESTILY isn’t either, and oh, how many problems that caused me. So, SW clockwise to NW, a CURRENT COST across the top.

The quote to highlight? Well, that’s one I happen to know, being devoted to all things Whovian. “CHANGE MY DEAR. And it seems not a moment too soon.” The fateful words of the short lived 6th Doctor. Impressive opening night figures suggest Jodie Whittaker won’t suffer the same ignominious fate, but let’s see how that pans out. Based on the first episode I thought she was good, but the writing less so. But anyway… Here’s the best Doctor of the modern era, Matt Smith, with Orbital and their version of that iconic theme tune.

An unfamiliar name today: oo-er. And look at all those across clues: eek! Best ignore them and look at the downs, and hey presto, before long the meaning of all those Ps becomes apparent.

Mixed feelings about this one. On the credit side Hieroglyph has managed to fill all the across lights with thematic material which is satisfying, and for the most part he or she has kept the tone breezy and accessible. In the debit column – I am echoing what Duncan said in his July 2014 Fifteensquared blog here – 1, 2 and 16d are hard to forgive in a weekday crossword. Especially 2. Drawing a veil over those it’s not an especially difficult puzzle, and once the penny dropped about the theme it pretty much filled itself in.

Thin pickings for clue of the day. Regular visitors will understand my temptation to choose 17d just to give Sprouthater something to get his teeth into, but instead I’m going for the succinct and rather droll 4d:

“Communicate dog’s dinner-time (7)”

If anyone is interested in the Brendan puzzle mentioned in the comments at 15², here you go.

A top-notch IoS reprint to start the week. Enjoyable throughout, often 11d, with some good surface readings, and wordplay in places to make you stop and think. What more could you want on a pretty grey, damp Monday morning? 25ac was new, and I’m never particularly fond of abbreviations being required for anagram fodder (see 19d), but elsewhere it was only a little doubt over 1ac that caused much of a delay. Perhaps having to solve on a new office chair which tilts forward at a slight angle ever threatening to tip me onto the floor has upped my game a little.

COD? Well, if you want succinct, 1ac certainly is – “Small pot (6)”.

To August 2014:

Saturday 6th October 2018

Phi puts ghost themes in his puzzles with considerable regularity, but if you’re one of the many solvers who has trouble spotting them, then a good tactic is to go in search of a Christian name. If you find one, search the grid for a surname that looks likely, and then Google the combination to discover an obscure antipodean writer and half a dozen of their novellas.

Or, in the case of last week’s puzzle where ‘Paul Klee’ was one of the answers, you could have gone straight to Wikipedia and scanned a list of his works, to discover ‘The Twittering Machine’ and a series of pictures with ‘Angel’ in the title. It’s pub quiz level general knowledge to know that he was part of the ‘Bauhaus’ school and you might have discovered – or known already perhaps – that he was the originator of the quote ‘Taking A Line For A Walk’ (you’d have done better than me with that one).

One great advantage of having a those words hidden in the grid, of course, is that it gives me something to write about – I might have struggled otherwise because this was a typical good, solid Phi puzzle, with clues ranging from the simple (22a) to the obscure (19d).

Eight ticks in my margin, which is about average, and the following was my pick for COD:

30a Former speed challenge needing most from new engine? (7)

Duncan Sheill did a comprehensive blog with all the answers back in 2014 (click here) and in the comments Phi tells us Klee also played the ‘Violin’.

He’s the bloke who came up with the ink blot test and some of this puzzle was just as perplexing to me as the test would be. Many of the answers are names of people both real and fictional and therein lies the theme which of course I failed to spot. But I was in good company as duncanshiell who wrote the original Fifteensquared blog missed it too. 10ac also gives a hint…

I made a quick start with 1ac going straight in, and the rest of that corner soon followed although 9ac seemed a bit tenuous to me, as did 15ac. 5ac was one of my last in as it was an obscurity clued by another obscurity, with only the “in” being apparent from the wordplay.  Anyone who didn’t like yesterdays Eiffel = Eyeful hom probably won’t like 12dn, but the last three letters were a bit of a give away. 14dn is for me one of the most difficult clues I’ve come across recently, and only went in once all the checking letters were in, and even then I needed electronic help and still couldn’t parse it! Which was a shame as that answer was required before you could solve 18dn down which was an excellent clue. Plenty of ticks – 4dn, 27ac and 25dn were worthy – but I think the aforementioned 18dn is

COD What’s rendered 14 less mobile in May?  (8)

I have just noticed that I failed with 6dn something else that was new for me.

A Saturday prize puzzle reprint today, and a very good one it is too as expected from Nestor. A pretty rapid solve, only 4d and 11ac in the NE corner and 10ac opposite causing any real difficulties. Oh, and my inability for an age to parse 6d properly too. Now, this was one where I knew how the word should be spelt but got hung up on “non-conformist” as an anagram indicator and dithered over the possibility of an alternative spelling. But of course there wasn’t one, and it wasn’t an anagram indicator. The pretty bland checking letters made 4d a little tricky to spot, on 11ac I got hung up on “leave”, and 10ac I should have known, but being more familiar with the longer form ending OSIS, well, I didn’t.

COD? Lots to like, and I particularly enjoyed 20ac, but I’m going to go with 14ac, because, well, it was quite cheeky, wasn’t it? “Inability to choose? Find it here! (6)”.

To July 2014:

In other, perhaps worrying news, it appears that Johnston Press, owners of the i, have put themselves up for sale as a result of being unable to pay back some pretty eye-watering debt.

It’s Wednesday, it’s Dac, and a puzzle that’s as good as ever and, probably, about as easy as they get in the i. This was solved with half an ear to a phone conference and still about as quickly as I manage them. The definition at 1d was new on me, even if the wordplay left little doubt, as was the wine at 23ac, but what else could it be? The temptation to lob in APEX for 25ac was almost overwhelming before I reined myself in and thought hang about Jon, check the wordplay. FOI 1ac. LOI 12ac which I almost forgot to solve – and which did give a moment’s pause – until I twigged what the make-up bit was getting at.

COD? Lots of ticks as ever on a Wednesday, with my nomination going to 9d – “Setter – that’s me – in the money (6)”.

To July 2014:

From the blog that wishes it was more rock n roll than it really is. Or why I prefer a cup of tea and a quiet night in these days. Which is all another way of saying that the Saturday headache hasn’t materialised this week, handily because Ifor’s preamble has instilled a faint but nagging sense of unease. It’s that phrase “two different ways of filling the grid.” Did I bother to count how many asterisked clues there are? No I did not. Did I immediately think I can’t be doing with erasing the whole of another carefully filled grid? Yes, I did. A general feeling of malaise that didn’t improve on getting somewhere near the end of the across clues before I managed to get one in.

Okay, take a step back, concentrate on the non-asterisked clues because surely we can solve those. Well, yes we can, especially when they’re nice friendly anagrams like 44ac. Gotta be something ITIS, hasn’t it? NETSUKE directly above, which sounds like anything other than a Japanese decoration. And I can solve the asterisked clues too, you know. Some friendly definitions, nice clear wordplay. ASK or ASS, you decide. And what, you say, it’s a good idea to jot both possibilities into each cell, because it’ll make the grid fill a little easier? Oh, go on then. Only a few where we don’t have many letters in common between the two bits, notably towards the top of the grid.

That centre bit was a little tricky though, wasn’t it? YON or TON, an obscure bit of musical terminology. And the top row. Yes, the wordplay bit’s obviously an anagram, but I don’t know about you but I’d not heard of DENISE DARVALL. Perhaps I should have. First shot at the definition bit for the same was Doctor Faustus until it just wouldn’t fit. But we do have a doctor. One BARNARD, of HEART TRANSPLANT fame. Though the story does seem a little shady on the reading. Anyway, the former bit alternates with LOUIS, the latter WASHKANSKY in a lovely big heart shape.

So is it going to be the good doctor, or the first, unwitting heart donor? The preamble said to look at the title, which has been nagging away throughout. N in DOOR, surely? So go with Denise, which must mean the rest is HEART TRANSPLANT. Got to be.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought that was really quite impressive, very nicely put together, with a lovely endgame. Goodbye the malaise that marked the opening of the paper, hello a warm happy glow. And no, that doesn’t mean that I succumbed to the whisky immediately afterwards.