Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

The puzzle can be found online here, available for free, though you do need to register first.

Thanks first to my fellow bloggers for covering while I’ve been on holiday – a couple of tough puzzles over the past couple of weeks I thought, with the last offering from Hoskins unexpectedly on the tricky side.

Thankfully, as today I’m feeling rather dazed and confused (and unused to the heat, it being rather blessedly cooler by the sea), this was a much easier, and of course enjoyable puzzle. There was a hint of the trademark Hoskins cheekiness, though not in spades, which struck me as being about the right balance. I paused briefly while solving to check out exactly what is the 7d, though I was confident of the answer, and still finished comfortably in 2* time. If you were feeling somewhat brighter this morning you might have done better still.

COD? With much to enjoy, my favourite was the aforementioned 7d – “One rung by Brown, Blair and ex-MP for Tatton? (7,4)”.

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

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/11/22/independent-9707-by-hoskins/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A very enjoyable puzzle from Peter today completed in something around my average time I suppose. However I did struggle to get a foothold in the top half – it was the SE corner that yielded first. Once I had some crossing letters the clues then tumbled without too much trouble, finishing with 24d OS for bone inside BS for doctor; pretty tricky that. Other things that held me up included the little known CHINE in 14d, a complicated sequence of parsing in 13d MAGNA CARTA, the seldom seen C for Celtic in 15a, ‘sweeping’ in 17a which has a function I still can’t see for the life of me, ‘clouding’ as a containment indicator in 14a, and ‘under the duvet’ as an indirect instruction for the insertion ‘in BED’. So a sprinkling of difficulty to push this up from 1* to 2.

My favourite clues were many. I especially liked BAND SAW, ENGROSSED, YPRES, DEMONIC, BORODIN, and NIGER, but my CoD nomination goes to this one:

28a Actors tucked into kebab in Yorkshire town (9)

Here are the answers from 4 years ago with Pierre (presumably British?) blogging Peter (definitely female):

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/06/17/independent-on-sunday-1477-peter

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Phi is a consistently reliable setter who provides good, solid cryptics, albeit usually with a twist. My approach to his puzzles is simply to ignore any potential hidden theme, and enjoy the solve. When I am blogging, however, I do feel I owe it to our readers to put in the effort to see if I can find out if there’s something going on. Usually, this involves staring blankly at the completed grid in the forlorn hope that enlightenment will come, followed by googling more or less random groups of slightly unusual words in the hope that, for example, a series of books will be suggested. But not today. The Rowan Tree of Stavanger and The Agave on the Patio are yet to be written.

Enlightenment came only when I consulted Fifteensquared and saw that the diagonal from top left to bottom right has the first eight letters of the alphabet. No doubt this is a device used by Phi to get him started. I doubt there is anything else meant by it.

Otherwise, this was good, satisfying stuff. No queries about the word-play, no strange definitions, no obscure entries, just well-crafted clues. I did wonder about the RDA in YESTERDAY, but Madame La Saboteuse said it was common currency amongst people who watch carefully what they eat. “Olio” rang a bell, if rather indistinctly. I did check on the “group of cats” but I’m not sure why, as the crossing letters left no room for doubt. We had a couple of good, long multiple-word entries to get us going, and a few write-ins as well.

My Clue of the Day is the niftily constructed 25ac: “Reverence is adopted by head in old church (9)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/06/29/independent-9894-phi/

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

This puzzle from Anax drew nothing but high praise when it first appeared in the independent four years ago, and there’s no doubting the rigour and artistry of Anax’s setting – I just find him so very hard! Typically JonofWales blogs on an Anax day and gives the puzzle 3*, then I crop up in the comments to declare it the hardest puzzle in the i since, well, the last Anax puzzle. So no surprise today that I had to resort to a Wordfinder and the ‘Reveal all mistakes’ button on the app, although I did finish eventually.

My difficulty might be a ‘wavelength’ thing (whatever that means) but I also think Anax provides some technical differences to most setters that rack up the difficulty. Consider 14a where we have ‘in difficulty, what?’ to tell us we should put EH inside BIND, where the word order of the instructions is unusual. Then there were some vocabulary stretchers like CONCRETION, MASHIE-NIBLICK, WHISTLER [Mountain], PHLOGISTON, LOTH as an obsolete term for ugly, and WIPITI. I also think the cryptic grammar of using ‘kept’ in 16d SINISTER is wrong because clues are not supposed to take place in the past; I’m happy to be corrected on that though.

A lot of the clues were delightful in retrospect, but impossible for me to solve without having crossing letters first. Like ‘Somebody outside church’ in 1a to clue VI(CE)P. A great clue that one. However my choice for CoD has to go to one I think might be solvable without having any crossing letters, so I’m nominating this one:

3d Hard to finish puzzle without Queen Victoria (4)

I’d be interested to hear your experiences in the comments below.

Here’s the link to the blog with all the answers, written by the ever-delightful mc_rapper67

www.fifteensquared.net/2017/11/04/independent-9692-by-anax

Difficulty rating (out of 5): ☆☆
A short blog today, I’m afraid, as the paper was delivered late and I have to go out; fortunately it did turn up in time to save me struggling with the puzzle online. Is there a way to print from the app other than taking multiple screenshots?
Anyway, this was Tees in one of his easier moods and I was on his wavelength since he appeared (as Neo) in yesterday’s FT so I rattled through this fairly quickly, only 9dn holding me up for a while. A cracking puzzle, with plenty of tricks to keep solvers on their toes. There were so many delights there’s no way to single out a favourite today, so I’ll just direct you to http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/11/25/independent-9710-by-tees/ for all the answers and explanations.

Difficulty rating (out of 5): ☆☆☆
Tuesday is theme day in the Indy and here in the i too, with this puzzle being a re-run of one of Radian’s Tuesday offerings from 2018. Back in the day Radian compiled a number of puzzles with Shakespearean themes; this was one of them, alluding to one of the Bard’s most well-known soliloquies. But knowledge of the theme was not necessary for solving and I concentrated on solving rather than looking for the theme.
As to difficulty, I found this to be moderate, solving fairly quickly, needing help only for 22dn where I originally took ‘young swimmers’ to be the definition and wanted to put in an unparsed ‘elvers’ until the crossing 28ac ruled that out.
I thought a couple of synonyms were a bit vague – ‘launch’ in the clue for 8dn and ‘taskmaster’ as the definition for 12ac, where ‘hard taskmaster’ might have been nearer the mark. The clue for 12ac also required the solver to divide ‘workmen’ into two separate words – a device more common in the Guardian, though not unknown in the Indy (and i).
There were no really unusual words, although 1dn is more likely to be encountered in crosswords (and Shakespeare!) than in everyday usage.
There was plenty to like, such as 14ac, 28ac already mentioned, together with 6dn, 15dn and 26dn, but for CoD my choice is the combination of cryptic and straight definitions in 11dn: ‘They may be small devices on shields (4)’.
Duncanshiell’s original blog, to which Eileen has helpfully appended the complete Shakespeare excerpt with the thematic words highlighted, can be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/07/17/independent-9909-radian/

It’s August, which means a retreat to the darkest depths of West Wales to get away from it all for a couple of weeks. Away from everything but the Inquisitor that is and it appears Serpent too, as he’s occupying both slots in this weekend’s i.

A slightly alarming preamble this week too, with the promise of unknown letters slipping into the perimeter of the grid. A jigsaw in all but name then, as we have no idea which letter to shift? There is also the promise of something useful to be gleaned from the first and last letters of superfluous words, which it transpires would help, but that would only come a fair way into the solve with what was a fairly messy grid full of letters that were evidently all in the wrong place.

The grid fill being some days past, during which time several pints of the local brew and one or two Welsh Cakes have been consumed, I can recall little beyond a general impression that Serpent was being fairly gentle with us mere mortals.

How did you set about getting some of the answers into the grid? A lot more logically I bet than my fairly random “system” which involved merely lobbing them in in light pencil, shoving a first or last letter into the border, and hoping for the best.

This would lead inevitably to a lot of rubbings out, and general rework, but it would lead, eventually, to the realisation that the first letter from the superfluous word in each clue was the one that had to move into the border.

Cue more rework, the spotting of BUFFALO GALS to the north, south, east, and, well, west too, and the name of one Mr McLaren and his band in the last letters from the superfluous words, and basically, game over surprisingly quickly after what had proved to be a suitably inquisitorial start to the puzzle.

Highlight DUCK ROCK in the thankfully correct(ish possibly) looking grid, and we’re done.

An enjoyable start to my holiday then, and thankfully it transpires not too tasking as I’m far from operating on all four cylinders. Onwards then to the next glass of SA.

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

This was great fun. It was a bit challenging, I thought, and it took me longer than usual, but it provided so many moments of enlightenment when another crafty clue suddenly revealed its charms, and the scales fell from my eyes (if you will forgive my metaphor-mixing – perhaps I could get in a light-bulb and a falling bit of loose change…). Moreover, there was a fairly generous use of out-of-the-ordinary vocabulary and more specialist knowledge. These included NAEVI and in particular NEPHRON. Next to these the plant PROTEA and reference to the once near-ubiquitous but now all but forgotten Imperial Chemical Industries seem positive routine. I consulted the internet to see if BINGE was indeed a composer. I’ve never heard of him, but was pleased to find out that he composed Sailing By, often heard as I drift off to sleep – and a few other old wireless familiars from childhood listening with grandparents.

I was struggling with 7d for a while – perhaps more focused on athletics than motor sport – until FORMULAIC made me realise what the entry should be. This was a great clue, I thought. I’m not familiar with the district of SE London in question, but I’ve been through it on the train. If I do so again, I shall keep an eye open for a Hilton hotel. I then wondered if there was some theme that I was missing. Apparently not; just a pairing of two splendid clues, two not being nearly enough to constitute even a mini-theme.

My last in was PALINDROME. I did use a wordfinder for this, after valiantly but wrongly attempting to insert something from “level” into something from “top spot” to give me something else meaning “level”. Completely off track. I don’t see any palindrome in the puzzle itself – but I wouldn’t be surprised if even now a setter / blogger not unknown to this website were working on a gridful of them. 🙂

From among many contenders I struggle to pick just one. Ant and Dec usually win the awards, but this time its another serial winner, 7d: “He’s committed to track husband leaving hotel in South London (5,8)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/08/independent-9928-silvanus/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Lots of this was 1* difficulty, but I was stumped by 26d WAVE (w + ave) as my LOI so 2* it is.

I rather like Crosophile, and have always thought of him as a setter who goes the extra mile to provide convincing surfaces, a few surprising and original clueing devices and who often gives a clever ‘Easter egg’ of a ghost theme or Nina. Those things take extra work, so credit where it’s due.

So it was today – we had a sort of title for a ghost theme in ARTIFICIAL COLOURINGS at 15/20a and then the colours of the rainbow were dotted around the grid but not in their natural, normal form (hence ‘artificial’ I suppose). Instead they appeared as READy, ORANGutan, ‘MUSTERED’, ganGRENEd, BLOOms, INDIGnant and inVIOLATE.

Geddit?

Unfortunately nobody did get it until Crosophile (using another name) popped in to comment on Fifteensquared and started dropping hints. So it all seems like a bit of a waste of effort, frankly – like a joke told by a comedian that needs explaining afterwards because nobody laughed. Shame really, but we’ve seen the same happen often enough before. Perhaps it’s done for the setter’s own amusement, but I suppose it could also be that once an idea has been thought of it feels in need of being expressed – kind of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ if you will.

There were lots of nice clues, and my favourite was this one for it’s smooth surface reading and pleasing feeling once you spot the answer:

5d Release gun dog out of its confines (4)

Here are all the solutions and parsings:

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/07/09/independent-9902-by-crosophile

Difficulty rating (out of five): Either 🌟🌟 or 🌟🌟🌟, what do I know

Pretty typical fare from Phi today I thought. A theme that wasn’t a ghost theme this time though – we had to get AUSTRALIAN SONG across the bottom row in order to obtain the definition for the then obvious WALTZING MATILDA and the previously unknown-to-me A PUB WITH NO BEER by Slim Dusty which you can listen to by clicking that hyperlink. Not particularly recommended!

You may or may not have known the German grape variety at 9d, but apart from that we were obscurity free today. I wondered about whether MAST in 3a was really synonymous with ‘Staff’ but perhaps in the world of flagpoles it might be. Anyhow, that was my last one in and so the chances of a quibblet are somewhat bound to be increased.

I liked the clues for FAME, EAGLE. WALTZING MATILDA, and MAGMA but my CoD nomination goes to this one:

19a Skies opening, disgorging a crustacean (7)

Here’s the link to RatkojaRiku with all the answers fom 4 years ago:

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/06/08/independent-9876-phi