2017 In Retrospect

December 31, 2017

For Christmas last year one of my presents was a 2017 Crossword Diary. What better way to fill it, I thought, than recording times for each puzzle solved. So here are the results from the Welsh jury. I’ve converted the times to an average value, where 1.00 is average for the i, anything less than that under par, and anything over, wait for it, over par for the i.

And the results? Crosophile it turns out is average in terms of difficulty, with most solvers coming in either just above or below him, and only a few appearing in the seriously difficult bracket. This sort of confirms my suspicion that the i tends to be on the easier side compared to the Independent and Times back when I solved them. The only other cryptics I solve regularly now are Everyman and The Telegraph, both of which it turns out take half the time on average it takes to solve the i. I solve the Telegraph Toughie when I’ve got time, but didn’t tot up the averages. Maybe next time. Azed usually takes twice as long as the i, the Inquisitor about six times. Yikes. The only surprise in the figures? Math, so I’m guessing that might have been an anomaly especially with only the one puzzle represented.

Anyway, without any further ado, here are the figures. Please note that they exclude a few I forgot to write down, and when I was away on holiday and had better things to do than timing crosswords. 🙂 Oh, also included are the number of puzzles for each setter, because of course it’s pertinent to the accuracy of the averages, and also a little interesting.

Thanks to all the bloggers for their sterling work throughout the year, and a Happy New Year to one and all!

Against Par Puzzles Solved
Nitsy 0.59 3
Commoner 0.60 3
Math 0.62 1
Quixote 0.66 28
Raich 0.68 8
Poins 0.69 12
Eimi 0.78 3
Hypnos 0.84 11
Dac 0.86 41
Glow-Worm 0.91 3
Mordred 0.97 3
Alchemi 0.99 6
Crosophile 1.00 12
Radian 1.05 7
Rorschach 1.06 4
Phi 1.06 50
Morph 1.09 8
Kairos 1.10 4
Tyrus 1.14 5
Scorpion 1.15 6
eXternal 1.17 2
Jambazi 1.17 5
Tees 1.18 6
Punk 1.27 8
Klingsor 1.29 11
Anax 1.30 1
Nestor 1.36 12
Donk 1.52 5
Hob 1.63 4
Monk 1.70 5

Saturday 24th December 2017

I’ve been led to believe that a crossword is a battle of wits fought between setter and solver which the setter should always aim to lose graciously. I suspect most seasoned solvers will have managed to fill the puzzle in all right (even if a couple defied explanation as to the parsing) What I’m not sure about is whether having secret themes each week which are nigh on impossible to discover counts as losing graciously. What do you think?

Last week – Christmas Eve of course – we had a puzzle from December 2012 in which the name of the English writer of ghost stories, M R James, i.e. Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) appeared. No I didn’t spot it either.  Various stories by him apparently feature an ash tree, a rose garden and a doll’s house, and apparently ghost stories are topical for Christmas, Phi tells us.  All of that passed me by and frankly I’m a bit disappointed to discover I’ve missed something yet again.

The only two clues I couldn’t parse were 26a, ‘Midstream’ and 24/25d ‘Near East’ but otherwise a steady and enjoyable solve. For what it’s worth I agree with Graham Pellen in the final comment at Fifteensquared here, re the parsing of 10a, which was my last one in.

COD? I liked 9d very much, despite its causing some difficulty on the other side, but here’s my winner:

16d Cross in church having ornate ends (8)

Happy New Year.

Oh, that reminds me – I’ve got a puzzle in the Independent on line coming out on New Year’s Day. Call me a hypocrite if you will, but look for something extra once you’ve finished solving the clues!

Nestor has given us a tough ending to the week. It started very well with 1ac being the first in then not much else although a few were tentatively entered I did surprise myself by spotting 20ac straight off even though I’d never heard of it, this was one of the three obscurities in this puzzle, the Fig Tree in 13ac and the French puppet being the others two. The whole was an excellent example of creative and misleading wordplay that I would probable take the rest of the year to complete without some assistance. It is only 10ac that I still have some difficulty with, despite B&J’s excellent blog over on Fifteensquared I can’t see that either has more than two arms but I’m probably missing something as usual :). Plenty of candidates for COD 6dn and 22ac are deserving but probably just because I like the word its

16dn    Mind blown in more massive knockout (9)

Nestor makes an appearance on the other side to explain that the cup referred to in 17ac isn’t the one you drink your tea from I wonder if anyone parsed it as Nestor intended?

A very Happy and Healthy New Year to one and all.

Re. 10ac I’ve just got it now doh!

I half thought we might get Dac today after Tuesday’s theme day got shifted to Wednesday by the festivities, but instead we have a very impressive Saturday Prize Puzzle reprint from Klingsor. On the easy side as far as prize puzzles go, this was nevertheless extremely enjoyable, with too many good clues to list. First in was 1ac, which is always a bit of a confidence boost, last in 14ac, swiftly followed by 19d. 3d was probably unknown to many solvers, but the clear wordplay left little doubt as to the answer, beyond perhaps a question mark over whether it was RE or RI at the start. I think there were only a couple at the close where I hadn’t untangled the wordplay, chief among them 17d, which in retrospect is very nicely done. Finish time, surprisingly, a little under par for the i.

COD? With many to choose from, 18ac – “In a manner of speaking, Frenchman’s after extravagant clothing (12)”.

To the tail end of August 2013, when we woudn’t have had to negotiate snowy, slippery, icy pavements to fetch the day’s paper, and would have had a bit more change out of a pound than we do now.


So it’s Wednesday, and it isn’t Dac, but Scorpion which sometimes means that the solver is in for a bit of a rough ride. As it turns out we have a reasonably straightforward puzzle based around 18ac’s, a fair amount of which I’m guessing has been consumed over the past week. My first answer in was 9ac, swiftly followed by 6d, at which point I guessed what the gateway clue was going to be, and from that point on it was a fairly easy ride. I had to check the names of one or two, notably my LOI 27ac, but most were pretty well known. Was I the only person to briefly worry that 24/17A was going to be an obscure Swiss wine? A nice piece of misdirection.

All in all pretty enjoyable, and not too difficult, thankfully leaving me time to prepare for the imminent arrival of the in-laws, at which point solving and blogging crosswords might be somewhat frowned upon. Pass me a glass of Penderyn whisky…

COD? The aforementioned 24/17A for the misdirection, nice wordplay, and pleasing surface reading – “18 from Switzerland, having one over the eight, upset French chef (6,5)”.

To the decidedly unfestive days of August 2013:


So as the festive season looms, the order of the day for Saturday:

  1. Take the kids to their dance lesson.
  2. Quickly solve the prize cryptic and concise puzzles while hanging round during (1).
  3. Lunch.
  4. See how far I get with the Inquisitor before:
  5. The pantomime.
  1. Tick.
  2. There’s a problem, I’m struggling with the daily cryptic, and that’s Phi as well. This doesn’t bode well for (4).

What do we have? A few unclued entries, normal down clues. Across entries where we don’t enter certain letters from the definition in the grid. They’ll “yield a sequence of numbers”, and then we write an associated phrase under the grid. Sounds reasonable.

Let’s begin at the beginning with 1 across, and hey, it’s an easy one, a reverse of CITE and E. What about that definition? EMETIC will fit, and it turns out to cat can mean to vomit. Huzzah. What about the down clues that cross it? Well, 6d and 9d are fairly obvious too. And so is a lot of the rest of the grid, much going in quicker than the daily cryptic. Perhaps I’m just more awake after lunch than before it, especially on the weekend?

Those unclued entries? With much of the grid filled in we can guess at ARTHUR C CLARKE, there’s HOLE midway down, so LOOP in the top right? Yes, Loophole was his first professional sale back in 1946. Apparently he was born 16 December 1917, which uncannily happens to be 100 years ago. Who knew? Well Phi did, obviously.

I think most solvers will have guessed what three word phrase we’re looking for, but let’s persist with those extra letters, which are all evidently Roman numerals, and the remainder of the grid. Last in 18ac, for no good reason I can see now, and 16ac, where working out the missing letter took a little work. What do we have?


Which are the last three books in the Space Odyssey series. The missing number is evidently MMI, so under the grid goes A SPACE ODYSSEY? Looks good to me.

Thanks Phi for an enjoyable, pretty breezy solve. A welcome bit of light relief which was almost, but not quite finished before the aforementioned pantomime. Oh yes it was…


Tuesday Crossword Themes 2017

December 26, 2017

Here is the list of all the Tuesday crossword themes from 2017:

01. Mastermind (TV quiz) Tyrus
02. Tennis Jambazi
03. Spinal Tap Jambazi
04. “L” (peripheral Nina) Mordred
05. Foul weather Morph
06. Shakespeare Tees
07. Valentine’s Day Eimi
08. Food named after counties (Yorkshire pudding etc) Glow-Worm
09. Artists Mordred
10. Sensational journalism Tyrus
11. Battle of Trafalgar Glow-Worm
12. Piltdown Man hoax Radian
13. Abba Raich
14. Holes on a harmonica (Nina) Monk
15. Rebukes (“slap on the wrist” etc) Tyrus
16. Cats and dogs Radian
17. Henry VIII Mordred
18. “The Hobbit” Crosophile
19. Association football (theme and Nina) Donk
20. Airports Rorschach
21. <no theme> (but plenty of malarkey) Punk
22. Punctuation and proof reading Radian
23. “The Hunting of the Snark” (theme and Nina) Crosophile
24. Millers’ tales (eg. Arthur, Glenn, Henry …) Punk
25. “The Canterbury Tales” Scorpion
26. The horsemeat in food scandal Morph
27. Points Radian
28. Breakfast Crosophile
29. Quentin Tarantino Jambazi
30. Inspector Rebus Phi
31. Test cricket Raich
32. “The Silence of the Lambs” Tees
33. Richard Briers Eimi
34. Sheep Hob
35. Joints Morph
36. Roy Orbison Raich
37. Cluedo Scorpion
38. Tom Stoppard Radian
39. Pink Floyd Alchemi
40. Rocks and stones Radian
41. Countdown (TV game show) Scorpion
42. The Clash Alchemi
43. Phoenix Nights Jambazi
44. High finance Hob
45. Fish Phi
46. The Open (golf) Radian
47. “The Wizard of Oz” Jambazi
48. Boxers Punk
49. Fictional bears Kairos
50. Card suits and golf (double theme) Radian
51. “Great Danes” Hob
52. Winter holidays Hypnos

A few observations:

Firstly, a big “hurrah” for all the setters: they don’t have to devise these elaborations after all, and in general the jigery pokery adds to the gaiety of the solvers’ lot. The overwhelming majority of these puzzles had accessible themes, or else permitted of solving without one having a clue that there was any funny business going on. The Tuesday puzzle is rarely the toughest of the week but often provides a lot of entertainment, so I hope we can be indulgent on the handful of occasions when it does get a bit obscure.

A cursory scan of the list shows that “high brow” is the exception rather than the rule. There is, however, a heavy bias towards the arts – and if there are disgruntled scientists and engineers out there feeling under-represented, they have a point. Despite frequent grumbling (and that definitely includes me), football isn’t omni-present after all … it just seems that way. Popular culture seems to finish some time during the early 1990s in Crosswordland. For all that they would probably baffle me, I’m sure younger solvers would be pleased to see some more up to date references.

And that is about all the wit and wisdom I have to offer on the subject. Comments are encouraged!

No doubt everybody is bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning, but just in case anyone’s hand slipped with the port decanter yesterday, Eimi has served up something light and fairly undemanding today. An Independent on Sunday reprint from Twelfth Night in 2013 with a few seasonal references which barely amount to a theme, and nothing to frighten the horses.

Good, tidy workmanship from Hypnos as usual, with some rather natty clues to enjoy. The reference in 26ac might be more familiar to readers of other papers, and it seemed to catch scchua out to start with when he wrote the excellent illustrated Fifteensquared blog entry – a shame all that hard work only drew one comment on a point of information. My favourites today included 1, 5 and 15ac, plus 2 and 16d, with the COD going to 28ac:

“Premier, ex-Labour leader, with a lot of Irish and Scottish celebrants? (5,7)”

A list of all this year’s Tuesday themes will follow shortly.

Saturday 16th December 2017


George Arthur Barnes was an English racing motorcyclist and a pioneer aviator. He may well have enjoyed reading ‘Innisfree’ and ‘Talking It Over’ with his ‘Mama’. Well that’s the best I could do at the puzzle behind a puzzle which a habitual solver of Phi’s puzzles is implicitly invited to try and solve.

In fact ‘Arthur and George’ is a book by Julian Barnes (I might have got there if we’d had a Julian in the grid) and there was also ‘Porcupine’, ‘Talking It Over’, Flaubert’s ‘Parrot’, ‘Metroland’, and The Sense of an ‘Ending’. Congratulations to the bloggers over at Fifteensquared who spotted it – and to you if you did too. The only Barnes books I know are Flaubert’s Parrot and A History of the World in 10½ chapters, so I currently feel a bit of a Philistine.

Never mind, at least I can solve crosswords – and after a slow start this one picked up speed as the impenetrable became progressively more solvable, with plenty to savour along the way.

It’s hard to pick a COD because there are lots of ticks in my margin without any clear winners. Several nice pictures created in the surfaces though, amongst which was the following:

20a Farming monarch feeding last of waste to pig? (6)

Even if it didn’t really need that question mark on the end.

I usually find Morph tough and this didn’t disappoint in its toughness. Lots were entered without fully understanding why  9ac and 20dn being foremost amongst these, luckily there were a few write ins to get started with. I didn’t enter anything with complete certainty until 19ac and then it was then only 25 and 26 of the across clues that went in.  The supposed footie reference in 1dn didn’t fool me:-) and I was straight in with Hair but the rest of it was a little harder untangle likewise 2dn one of my final entries, I must admit “spikier” never occurred to me and I couldn’t find Reiki in the dictionary and on the internet into doesn’t mention massage just a Spiritual Healing, but having never indulged I must assume Morph knows what he’s talking about. 6dn is an obscure plural and was entered wrongly until I spotted the anagram at 14ac Deputy = MP  seems a bit strange to me as well. of the rest they all, on completion seem fair and as usual very clever with plenty to pick from for COD

1dn    Barnet manager praises performance after double left-right substitution (9

The Blog from August 2013 is here http://www.fifteensquared.net/2013/08/15/independent-8373-morph/

And finally  A very Happy Christmas