Saturday 14th September 2019

Puzzles by Phi having neither theme nor Nina are becoming as rare as the proverbial poultry incisors, so by now I’m betting we all give at least a cursory glance to see if something’s going on; and that was all it took last week to see REALIO TRULIO in the left and right columns of the completed grid.

Put that into Google and you get The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash.  I’m slightly surprised that didn’t feature in my childhood along with Lear and Belloc really, as it’s perfectly pleasant – maybe my parents thought it was too American or something. If it did yours, then the words DRAGON, CUSTARD, BELINDA, PIRATE and KITTTEN will have doubtless jumped off the page.

The grid filled pretty readio steadio until the last four where I suddenly hit a brick wall and had to come back later for a second sitting. The tricky ones for me were 25a – a reversal of ‘I to R’ to give ROTI, KIT+TEN in 20d, 12a [he]AL(D)ERS and 19a LOOK HERE. And in 21a, [b]UN+ROLL I couldn’t picture how ‘without crust’ could mean remove one side of the word but not the other, but maybe that’s why the QM is there.

COD? Despite my finding it fiendish at the time, I reckon the following was the most remarkable clue of the day:

23a Word for Indian bread, 10 letters (entered in reverse) (4)

For all the answers there’s yet another fine blog from Duncan Shiell, who also spotted NASH as a Nina in the bottom row. Nice.

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i Cryptic Crossword 2689 Hob

September 20, 2019

Before I get onto the puzzle itself, the observant among you will have noted that Sprouthater is no longer occupying the Friday slot, having hung up his blogging boots after years of faithful and much appreciated service. No fear, you won’t be stuck with me for long because Michael – a regular in the comments section – will be picking up Fridays in a couple of weeks. If anybody else does fancy having a go at blogging other days, though, do let me know as volunteers are always welcome. 🙂

To the puzzle, which isn’t an IoS reprint, despite what the link says, but from a Thursday long ago. I’ve found Hob to be extremely difficult in the past, and Pierre seems to have struggled over on the other side, but I suspect I got lucky because I fairly whipped through, recording my fastest time of the week. I sort of spotted today’s ghost theme without really registering it, though it wouldn’t have helped with some of the more obscure entries if I had. There were a couple I couldn’t parse, in particular 10/15, but the checking letters were generous enough they went in with little ado. Sound and enjoyable throughout, my only criticism being that there seemed to be a surfeit of hidden answers.

COD? Just because of the Man from Uncle reference, which was a nice bit of misdirection, 22ac – “Loner?  Perhaps Napoleon I’s tendency at first”.

To December 2014:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2014/12/11/independent-on-sunday-8786hob/

i Cryptic Crossword 2688 Morph

September 19, 2019

Morph today and a for the most part reasonably gentle offering, with the wit and inventiveness you associate with his puzzles. I started at a fair lick filling about three quarters of the grid (bar a little trouble with 3 and 4 down), before getting somewhat bogged down in the SE corner. Blame the slightly odd wordplay for 22d, my ignorance of what cars VW make, a desperate stab at WIDE AWAKE for 21ac on being unable to parse it, and trees. I can never get the hang of trees. I got there in the end with one of my faster times this week, so all in all pretty reasonable difficulty-wise, and top marks entertainment-wise. Puzzle of the week?

COD? Well, it made me groan as well. 10d – “Seeking Dracula as he may be found by day? (3,3,3,5)”.

To June 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/06/16/independent-8945-by-morph/

i Cryptic Crossword 2687 Dac

September 18, 2019

Mid-week rolls round again, and with it an offering from Dac that I found to be a little trickier than par, unlike Duncan over on the other side who “solved this without too much difficulty”. I suspect the preponderance of relatively (extremely?) unknown words and phrases in the grid were very much to blame, as there were loads that just couldn’t be chucked in. A French department, Danish physicist, a term for watercolour that was news to me, an odd Latin phrase, and an ancient Italian composer off the top of my head. In other words, those better educated than myself will have done well. 🙂 Elsewhere I didn’t know the slang referenced in 1ac, failed to parse 3d, and eventually staggered across the finish line in the sort of time I’d usually record towards the end of the week.

Good as ever of course, and absolutely fair (apart perhaps from 18ac where I did question the use of “in”, though it is justified in the parsing over on Fifteensquared).

COD? Let’s go with 5d, with loads to choose from – “Damned Conservative provided with money, having saved nothing (10)”.

To June 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/06/17/independent-8946-dac/

So a new Inquisitor setter, but a familiar name – Hob, aka Puck, a regular in the Guardian.

What do we have in store? Normal clues, but lots of alterations at the close and some highlighting. I’ve got lots of highlighters, especially for the purposes of solving the IQ.

Onto the grid fill, a lot of which feels difficulty wise on a par with a daily cryptic. Which isn’t a criticism – it’s about my comfort level being a bear of very little brain, and an enjoyable grid fill too. A familiar sea to start, an equally familiar punishment area even for someone as ignorant of all things sporting as I am, with a couple of unknowns dotted here and there – in particular that hat at 37ac.

Though at the close I seem to be continuing the unenviable run of stumbling on one last clue I can’t get. In this case the girl in the NE corner. NETTY fits, doesn’t it? Wordplay? Search me.

After that inglorious finish, to the end-game. “[I]nitial help” in the preamble screams out initial letters, so look at the first letters of at least the first bits of the across and down clues. MUSWELL HILLBILLIES. PORRIDGE HM PRISON SLADE.

The first doesn’t mean anything, but the second can only mean that the first alterations have got to give NORMAN STANLEY FLETCHER of, yes, Muswell Hill.

Back to the first. Ah, it’s an album by The Kinks, cue more alterations.

The other related group? After much grid hunting, that would be Fairport Convention, also apparently of said hill.

Except I’ve now got too many alterations in total. Because 10d was actually NETTA (scorer, netter, geddit?)…

Done. Seven letters altered, all adding up to REMAINS.

Four cells to highlight. Well, the latter group practised in a house on Fortis Green, Muswell Hill. There’s FORT in the centre of the grid. So – highlight it green?

Huzzah! All done. There was a lot to sort in that end-game, wasn’t there? But an easyish grid fill to compensate. And I liked it, oh yes I did.

Oh yes – the phantom flushing toilet? It still hasn’t been fixed, you’ll be keen to know, but we do know that apparently a flapper valve is to blame. Cold comfort.

i Cryptic Crossword 2686 Punk

September 17, 2019

All hail the master. What struck me about this crossword with its extensive latent theme was that it’s not especially difficult but crammed with inventive and often humourous material. Punk always seems to give us exceptional entertainment value for our money.

This setter usually gets a bit of flak for ribaldry, but the thing is he does it so well. In this case he only strikes the one bum note, as it were, and I hardly think it’s going to frighten the horses. Everything works perfectly as far as I can see, and there’s a trio of clues (16, 17/24, and 21d) where the wordplay is so spot on that you’d think that they’d be canonical. If so I don’t recall seeing them before. Picking a clue of the day from this fine field of runners and riders is a bit pointless really, and alternative nominations are encouraged. 7/2 wins, but it was a multi-way photo finish:

“Riders admitting their typical stature is pants (6,6)”

The June 2015 Fifteensquared stewards’ enquiry was supplied by Flashling, who has completely ruined my fun by ticking off most of the puns I was hoping to inflict on you. Recommended!

Kairos to start the week, and I’m afraid I have to agree with the general opinion over on the other side that this wasn’t his finest moment. Some synonyms that, while they might have dictionary support, are stretching it a bit – PESTILENT, embrace for assume, for starters – plus a load of obscurities, in particular the distinctly unhelpful wordplay in 21d where many different words would fit, and STA for station presumably. And, oh, poor CHE’s no longer a revolutionary. I’d assumed this was an IoS reprint, which it wasn’t, in which case my already sluggish time would have been off the scale. I’ve enjoyed Kairos’ puzzles in the past, so can only assume one or both of us were having an off day.

COD? For me 8d, which was very nicely put together – “Article on voucher company dismissed straight away (9)”.

To January 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/01/12/independent-8812kairos/

Saturday 7th September 2019

For students of the Epsom Derby 1800 – 1850 among you this will have been a delight.

Which subject happens to be particularly well-suited for a ghost theme – all ten winners from the period that appeared in the grid were clued by Phi without any reference to horse-racing at all.  I.e. TYRANT, WHALEBONE, PHANTOM, WHISKER, SAILOR, LAP-DOG, SPANIEL, BLOOMSBURY, CORONATION and COSSACK. Fine work that.

The near-obligatory obscurities that ensued included SLEEKIT and GREATS. Cornick Senior is wont to recite ‘To A Mouse’ upon the slightest provocation, so the former was more than familiar, but the latter is a bit of Oxford University slang, and no more known by me than yesterday’s printers’ nuts. I suppose Phi could have put Meerkat and Orgasm in those places instead, but maybe he considered those words a little low-brow.

I enjoyed the clueing, which was maybe slightly easier than average for both Phi and for the i, and especially the anagrammatical clues, which are always a strength with this setter.

Here’s my favourite from the runners and riders:

10a/26d How baleen may be represented? (9)

And here are all the solutions from the puzzle, which first appeared on Derby Day in 2015.

This Thursday reprint seems to have gone down a treat on the other side, so perhaps I’m just feeling tired and grumpy (which is always possible on a Friday), because I found this to be a bit of a slog. I never really seemed to get on Radian’s wavelength, struggling to decipher the wordplay, and with loads unparsed I eventually slowed to a crawl in the NW corner. Oh well, perhaps you’re feeling more alert than me today and enjoyed it more! 🙂 First in 10ac, last in 3d which was a bit of a guess, finish time very much over par for the i.

COD? To be fair there were several clues I did enjoy, with my nomination going to 14ac for the cleverly hidden definition – “Blunt deed almost achieved during test (9)”.

To April 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/04/09/independent-8887-by-radian/

Somewhat unexpectedly today we have not only a Wednesday reprint, but also one from Quixote. As expected it was fairly straightforward, enjoyable as always, with the odd sprinkling of obscure words. 15d was unusual for the Don in that not only was the answer extremely obscure, but the wordplay quite fiendish too. Together with a crossing currency that few of us will have heard of, I’m betting I wasn’t the only solver to have a little difficulty in that corner of the grid. Elsewhere there’s an unfortunate error in 25ac that’s acknowledged in the comments, but everything else is as sound as you’d expect. Finish time similar to yesterday’s.

COD? 1d, mostly because I felt quietly smug on getting it quite quickly from the wordplay – “One very intimate penetrating soldiers, one of many in a cell”.

To July 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/07/01/independent-8958-quixote/