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

The oddest of puzzles from Crosophile this Sunday. The top half of the grid was completed in something like 1 for difficulty, and at this point I felt comfortable that I would soon polish off the rest in no time at all. The bottom half though felt like it came from a different puzzle altogether, being mostly impenetrable, typified by ARUM for “lords and ladies”. Combined with an unflagged Americanism in the NW corner, it was at this point I’m afraid that I began to lose patience with the puzzle, and was just pleased to finish. Sorry Crosophile!

When solving I half thought at first that we were getting some sort of biblical theme, what with PROVERBS and WISDOM, but it turns out there’s a very well hidden Nina in the SW to NE diagonal that was timed for the Bank Holiday Monday this was originally published.

COD? I’ll go with 18d – “Potentially costlier place of retirement (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/27/independent-9944-crosophile/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳

A thoroughly enjoyable second outing for Italicus – although I don’t remember his first, which doubtless appeared this summer when I was in hospital.
Starting at the top of the grid as is my wont, I hit the ground running this morning, but things got a bit trickier with some names like Shona in FASHIONABLE or Dorothy Lamour in CLAMOUR; then the homophone of ‘said use’ for SEDUCE was obviously a bit of a stretch, even for a champion of allowing latitude with such things like me! Still, there was plenty to like as I say; SACRIFICE was nicely put together, ABSOLVE brought a smile, the Spooner in 1a was a corker, but the CoD has to be:

19d Some Scouse git’s evidently up for a scrap (7)

And here’s the link to the original blog:

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/24/independent-9968-by-italicus

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

Welcome Dalibor! It’s good to come across a new setter in the i, and I hope that we will see more puzzles before too long. Maybe if I do a few more I might find it easier to tune in to his (?) wavelength, and so find them easier…

This was very tough, and it took me quite a long time. But it is to his credit that I never wanted to throw in the towel, and I enjoyed it throughout. Moreover, on completion, I had no parsing problems to solve; everything was neatly constructed. I even managed to sort out how TECHNO and THUNDERBIRD worked, and that “shy” can mean “unproductive”. A couple of other visits to the dictionary were needed, for the crossing GRAVAMEN and KENNET, but these were to check meaning rather than resolve word-play.

The crossword is full of “people” either in the clues or the entries, and having got the two French-born actresses, I did wonder whether there was something going on (it did seem unlikely that Ed Sheeran was mysteriously French, though). But apparently not, as the setter confirms in the comments on Fifteensquared. Less contemporary are Elizabeth Fry and Gordon Banks, but both continue, deservedly, to be remembered for their different achievements.

The surface readings are good, and there is some nice word-play to enjoy. I rather liked BANJOIST, but it was pipped to the post by 13ac for Clue of the Day, on account of the element of humour in the latter: “Free camping? Something Corbyn doesn’t like (7)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/29/independent-9973-sat-29-sep-2018-by-dalibor/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳⏳

An interesting challenge from Serpent this Thursday that felt a little knotty in places. Quite a few I failed to parse – notably 2d and 11ac in the half of the grid which gave the most difficulties. Thankfully we had a Nina in the top and bottom rows of the grid that would make all of those fiddly bits a sudden write-in when spotted. Your own personal difficulty level will depend I suspect on how quickly you made the leap from any bits identified, if at all.

COD? There was much to like today, so I suspect there will be lots of picks, with mine going to 6d – “What could drive legless scoundrel to break toilet locks? (10)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from September 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/13/independent-9959-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): ⌛⌛

A bit short of time this morning so apologies for a fairly brief blog.

I made a slow start with only 14 and 26 from the acrosses, then a few downs gave a toehold on the gateway clue at 11ac, and to speed things up a wordfinder gave me the answer. After that it was mostly plain sailing, although the French département at 16 might be unfamiliar to some, as well as the boys at 25.

Nothing struck me as being a CoD, but I liked some of the short entries, such as 5, 8 and 23dn.

As usual, full details appear on fifteensquared, where there’s also a comment from the setter about the significance of the puzzle’s appearance on that particular date. All to be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/30/independent-on-sunday-1492-raich/

Inquisitor 1768 MD by Penumbra

September 20, 2022

An unusually bulky i Weekend would greet us this Saturday morning. It must have been a quiet news day, though, because most appears to have been devoted to one story.

The constant alerts from the BBC News app had given fair warning.

The latest news: The Queen is dead.

Newsflash: The Queen is still dead.

Latest: Nope, still no sign of a recovery.

So that the Inquisitor would come as more of a relief than it usually does, there being nothing on the telly.

It would be safe to say that the general feeling in the country was somewhere near the bottom of today’s grid – DEPRESSION, WOE, with only the odd few expressing feelings of JOY or EXULTATION, and then not publicly.

Because, yes, our misprints this week were to read FRAME OF MIND. MD you see, which was really rather neat.

Almost as neat as the revelation that we might be over THE MOON, or under A CLOUD. I’d like to say I spotted both quicker than I did.

Less neat was the DEPRESSION and WOE that would descend as I spent a good couple of days while steadfastly avoiding the “news” looking for three letters to change to reveal the origin of the “ideal MD”.

Sunday evening I threw caution to the wind and looked in the preamble for clues. Clues which it revealed could be found (fittingly enough) in the clued entries. HOPE I’d already spotted, but look, there’s OPTIMISM too.

Could the origin be a RAY of HOPE? Maybe, and it does have being appropriately placed between the two extremes going for it, though colour me uncertain bordering on severely doubtful. PREM fits, and ANYS is a name I don’t think I knew, but I haven’t got anything better so here goes for nothing.

And the Queen? The Queen Is (still) Dead.

20220911_202037~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳

A debut puzzle from Wire all those years ago in the Independent, and today in the i too I believe. An enjoyable outing – very much on the easy side, but a puzzle doesn’t have to be difficult to be good, and this was top notch stuff. There’s a theme, flagged by Toad, Mole, etc, that I sort of half glimpsed while solving, but never really fully untangled. A good puzzle to get us all back into the swing of things after the long weekend.

COD? I’ll go with 28ac – “Small step led three oddly to discover compound (9)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from September 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/11/independent-9957-wire/

i Cryptic Crossword 3624 Gila

September 19, 2022

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳

The i doesn’t offer a topical crossword (for that you need today’s Five-Clue Cryptic) because it republishes puzzles from the Independent from a few years ago. Although I knew, therefore, that today’s crossword would not refer the events of the day, I did expect something from that sticklebrick of a grid. I was quickly disabused of that as a few entries went in. It’s not a grid I like, mainly because the four quadrants are so weakly connected to each other that it always feels like doing four mini-crosswords, rather than one proper grown-up one. Moreover, the entry lengths are all in the mid-range; no long thirteen-or fifteen-letter words or phrases, but equally, to my relief, no four-letter ones. And it’s worth noting that sixteen of the twenty-eight entries have no crossing letter.

So much for the grid. The clues all had delightfully plausible surface readings. This matters, I believe. Its relatively easy to string together some synonyms and the odd anagram. But getting it to read like a proper English sentence, with a touch of humour, perhaps, and an opportunity for misdirection, is what makes for a stylish puzzle, as this one certainly is.

It’s fairly accessible. There’s one “aromatic plant” which seems a bit obscure, at least to me. Otherwise there are no words which are out of the ordinary. I did wonder whether the clue for 25ac ought to have indicated that it used foreign words on its construction, but I suppose anyone with even a passing familiarity with a take-away menu knows that aloo is potato. My only other quibble is whether INTERNED is ever actually used to mean “worked as an intern” rather than ” imprisoned without trial” say. And who was Monica Lewinsky? I hear Our Younger Solver ask.

My nomination for Clue of the Day is the aforementioned 25ac, for its deceptively simple construction and good surface reading, even if it is gastronomically unlikely: “Wine accompanies a bit of Dahl, potato and hot curry (8)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/03/independent-9950-by-gila/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳ (but I bet some will have found it harder)

This was superb; the puzzle of the month so far in my book, and a shame that it didn’t make it into print when much lesser crosswords have done.

Brilliant definitions abounded in both wordplay and ‘main definition’ elements of the clues. As soon as I came across ‘Fat controller’ for the BASTER element of 8a I thought ‘hello, this is looking good’ and the puzzle continued to delight: the cryptic definition of ZEBRA, ‘spotted creature in the house’ for DALMATIAN, ‘The ultimate in baldness’ for COOT, ‘One with two black eyes’ for PANDA and many more. Then the surface readings were universally brilliant, and the level of knowledge required to fill the grid seemed pleasingly in the comfort zone of this solver at least – a bit of culture but nothing too obscure, and a quite wonderfully realised theme. If you thought it was just about animals then I urge you to stop reading now and go back and have another look.

There, did you spot it? On the theme of Black and/or White we had Alabaster, Rhino, Zebra, Mezzotint, Rev, Dalmatian, Penguin, Casablanca, Oreo, Divisive (as in black & white issue), Coot, Chess, Satin (as in ‘Nights in white S’, Russians, Panda, and Dice. That’s 16 themed entries, with barely a reference to either black or white between them appearing in the clues. It seems from the comments on the other side that ‘Sundays’ and ‘Jazz’ could maybe be linked to B&W, and I suppose Charlie Chaplin was a B&W movie star, and I dare say there might be links to the theme even more tenuous than that.

Here’s my CoD from among many I loved:

22d Two characters boxed in spar, one with two black eyes (5)

And here’s the link to 2018 where the majority failed to appreciate how great this crossword was (‘Quite satisfying’ says the blogger – Pah!). Filbert, I hope you’re reading this; I loved it.

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/21/independent-9939-filbert

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳(or probably 2)

I think today’s puzzle must have the most solver-friendly of grids possible – all 5, 7 or 9-letter lights with all first and final letters checked. This is a good thing because it allows the clue difficulty and inventiveness to be racked up without necessarily upping the difficulty of the crossword as a whole.

Of course that presupposes the solver can get a decent foothold in the puzzle to start with, which proved elusive for me at least in the top two quarters. But then the whole bottom half yielded quite quickly, after which it was just a matter of chipping away at things till only 12a S_E_S remained. 5 minutes head-scratching later and I gave up. Oh well. Nearly.

There were some delightful clues along the way – 23a INVENTIVE was exactly that, as were 25a PIRATICAL, 14d DIALECTIC, and 1a PAPYRUS among others, but my pick for CoD goes to one with a similarly multi-part structure but the most plausible of surface readings:

6d Father going round church to avoid dog (9)

I missed the Nina in row 8 combined somehow or other with column 8; see comments in the original blog if you’re interested. That will explain some of the more obscure entries like the Russian scenic artist at 26a.

Here’s the link back to 2018:

www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/07/independent-9954-by-phi