Saturday 23rd March 2019

No grumbles at all recorded in the margin of last Saturday’s puzzle from Phi – an impressive grid fill and a pleasant stroll through Crosswordland which was for the most part towards the easier end of both Phi’s and the i’s range of difficulty.

Four 15-letter entries in the across lights were punctured by the words STALACTITE coming down from the top and STALAGMITE coming up from the bottom. Very nice.

The clues were uncontroversial – except perhaps for a rather heavy reliance upon anagrams, all of which were pretty obviously flagged – lax, out, wrong, misjudged, getting busy, rocks, nasty, vaguely, and variety. One of my grumbles about yesterday’s Tyrus had been his use of ‘outcome’ as an anagram indicator, but Phi is a little kinder to his solvers.

I thought the vocabulary was pitched just right, with words like Trilithon and Hypnagogic being in that category of seeming familiar, but don’t ask me to give you a definition!

My last one in was also my favourite – even if it did take me ages to twig what was going on:

23a Soporific expression of sympathy finally put forward (5)

And all the answers from 2014 in the Independent can be found by clicking here.

For those among us who wanted a puzzle with a higher level of difficulty than previously offered – well, you got it, even the setter thought this was hard. As this was a Saturday prize puzzle the solvers had a bit of time to complete it, in one case three months. I haven’t got that luxury so I have to admit to a bit of electronic help and perhaps a downright cheat here and there.  The opening 8/1 clue had me completely bewildered as did quite a lot of the others to be truthful. I did know the bird at 9ac, the anagrams at 12,14 and 25ac were duly entered as was the write in at 21ac. The downs proved equally as difficult, 4 went in with a question mark but it turns out to be a really good clue, 5 raised a smile as did 14 and 15 – though I needed Google to check the spelling. The rest all became a bit of a struggle with answers going in as guesses. 3dn,10ac, 16ac and 20dn stand out among these with 16ac getting my pick for worst clue of the day, and 13dn a close second. 1dn Roost for Bed caused a frown as did Field for Entry at 22dn, but it all works (just about), even 8/1ac, explained over on Fifteensquared.

And so to COD, 5dn and 14 dn had ticks but my face palming moment was 24ac

Crucial assessment dictates outcome (4,4)

Our second IoS reprint of the week comes courtesy of Hypnos, and a thoroughly enjoyable offering it was too. On the easy side, as expected, but I’m not complaining as today has turned into one of those days where I’ve been rushed off my feet and the prospect of a prize puzzle or Thursday reprint wasn’t the most enticing. The parsing of 23d went totally over my head, and I can’t help but think that the archaism in the wordplay really should have been flagged, but elsewhere everything went in fully parsed and understood. I would have said that I didn’t know 9/10, but as I lobbed the answer in fairly confidently based on the wordplay I have a sneaking suspicion that he might have cropped up previously, whether here or elsewhere. I’m certainly ignorant of any further facts concerning him.

Lots to like – the aforementioned 9/10 particularly so – but my COD goes to 13ac that I liked, but with a nagging suspicion that it might not have gone down well in all quarters – “A bed in Paris in the dark? (5)”.

To December 2014:

The usual Wednesday goodness, though was I alone in finding this a little more difficult than usual? Which is to say that usually I can solve Dac with half a mind on something else, whereas today it took all my concentration and a coffee to complete. Blame the Frenchman, my inability to spell 13ac coupled with a, to be quite frank, extremely obscure American town, and my ignorance regarding imperial measurements. The first was resolved using a little common sense, the latter because what else could it be, and the middle one with the help of a dictionary. As I have the BRB on my phone, though, this wasn’t much of a bind.

Lots to enjoy – 17d, 15ac and 7d were all worthy of praise (but let’s face it, most of Dac’s clues are worthy of praise), with my COD going to 14d – “Drowned by Rolling Stones, female with piano accompaniment offers Rocket Man? (10)”.

To December 2014 when I’m sure the weather couldn’t have been more different:

There might be some solvers out there who say – “Oh good, it’s a Carte Blanche” – but as regular readers will know I’m not one of them. Call it lack of confidence in my own solving abilities, and on a weekend when I’m feeling somewhat under the weather. Into every life a little rain must fall, and fall it is doing in some style too.

Fuelled by some typically bland fast food – which does have the advantage of being cheap, and the kids like it for some unfathomable reason – to the preamble, of which there is little. Misprints, the correct answers to which spell out further instructions.

In anticipation of a lot of cold, hard solving – onward.

The first across I feel I should know, but don’t. USTINOV I do though, being a simple anagram. We like to see lots of those in puzzles like this. Oh look, another long anagram, a CELEBRANT who is revelling and not revealing himself for which he would presumably be arrested.

Downs? Apparently DEACON can also signify the skin of a young calf. Who knew? Well, Eclogue obviously.

A few solved, and buoyed on by past successes in such puzzles, why not just start lobbing answers in? USTINOV somewhere to the right on the second row based on those word counts, DIM SUM which I did eventually get top left, DEACON crossing going down, and so on.

Which is to say that either I’m getting better at these blank grid things, or Eclogue’s being rather generous. A little tussle in the NE corner until COSTNER finally fell, and done. And you know what, I did enjoy that grid fill after all.

The instruction? Needless to say I didn’t get all the misprints first time, but it reads: ERASE ALL BAR FINAL CONTENT OF PANDORA’S BOX.

Apparently all that was left in the box at the close was HOPE, which I didn’t know. But it is there across the SW to NE diagonal.

What flew out though? This is where it gets a bit sticky – there seem to be lots of different versions. Disease, misery and death though, certainly, which about sums up how I’m feeling this weekend. I can see the letters of death in the wrong order in one diagonal, and the same with disease to the NW. Also a scrambled “moths”, which is apparently the form all the said evils came out in.

None of which is particularly convincing. Red herrings? Yeah, I think so. The title says Carte Blanche, the instruction says erase all content bar HOPE. So all we’re left with is hope? I think so. And I think that’s rather nice, too, actually. All that remains is HOPE.

RIP, Schadenfreude.

We haven’t seen one of these for quite a while. Hieroglyph is to be congratulated on constructing what must be one of the trickiest types of novelty puzzle, with every across entry sharing a thematic definition. Clever stuff, and the only problem is that it doesn’t leave an awful lot of thinking for the solver, especially when the gateway clue is a sitting duck as is the case here. Entertaining enough while it lasted, however.

The comments over at Fifteensquared back in November 2014 surprised me somewhat, with a good deal of disgruntlement being expressed about the small handful of uncommon words involved – inevitably one would suppose, given the trickiness of filling a grid in this way. Much ado about a fish which was a bit off, and an obsolete synonym for “pompous”. Fair enough, but it’s not as if the solutions weren’t easy enough to deduce given a few crossers. It was also noted that Hieroglyph uses some debatable abbreviations, and that is a more telling criticism to my mind. Anyway, it’ll be interesting to hear what people think. Everything seems to parse satisfactorily and there are some pleasing constructions: 6, 18 and 23 for instance. My COD is a thematic one for once:

21ac: “24D’s sending off, way out for player, to begin with (6)”

A good puzzle to start the week, pretty straightforward as expected being Commoner and an IoS reprint. One unknown for me at 13ac I was pleased to get correct, and a couple I failed to parse in the NW corner, principally OFFA that I wanted to be CNUT, eventually chucking in the answer on entering the crossing F with a shrug. “[Y]ours truly” at 13d surely leads to ME and not I, but elsewhere everything seemed to be clear and above-board.

Thanks to all BTW who commented on or solved yesterday’s Skirwingle puzzle – if you haven’t already, do check it out, it’s a good one.

COD? I did like 23ac – “16:51 of a workday? (4-2-4)”.

To December 2014:

As promised a few weeks back, here’s the first in a potentially sporadic series of guest puzzles. If you’d like to submit, there are some brief guidelines on our crossword hosting site linked to below.

Talking of which, you can find the first puzzle by Skirwingle here:

Let me know if the site gives you grief. I’ve tested it pretty thoroughly, but, well, you never know. Apparently it should work for 99.9% of browsers, which should be comforting but isn’t. Who knew there were so many?

To Skirwingle then. A good puzzle to begin with as expected on past form. In terms of i difficulty this felt pretty Wednesday-ish with only the one obscure term (most musical terms are obscure to me). Nicely clued, good surface readings throughout, I liked it. But what did you think? There was one I couldn’t parse, of which more below.

COD? I particularly liked 22d. Short, sweet, and to the point.


1 Everyone’s different – How do Maynards Bassetts turn a profit? (2,5,3,5)
A nice cryptic definition to begin with.

9 Where to find pilot? Yes, Russian one in space station (6)
MI(DA)R, which is about the extent of my Russian and presumably yours too.

10 French one beginning to dry tangled layer that’s backing mat (8)
UN + D + an anagram of “layer”.

11 Unbelievable statement from Cockney cartoon character – detailed estimate to start with (5,3)
The answer’s obvious with a few letters in place, but the parsing took a little more figuring out. It’s this character, presumably, “detailed”, with the E from “estimate” at the end.

13 French pupil’s new time for morning snacks (6)
The N’s obvious, but as for the ELEVE bit. Colour me confused.

14 Notice part of your ear (4)
Contained in the first word, and not the last two as I first thought.

16 That person (female) is carrying a bundle (5)

17 Competed to put Ellen’s onset into 6 down (4)
Hands up if you were looking for an insertion of E into the answer for 6d sort of thing? It’s actually VI E D, the D presumably from “down”, though the abbreviation isn’t in Chambers.

18 Small vessel for fish from America (4)
S + CUP, though well done if you’d actually heard of it. 🙂

20 I rent unusual place in the ground (5)
A nice easy anagram of the first two words in case you were struggling at this point.

21 Box got from supermarket (4)
A double definition. The supermarket’s obvious to anyone in the UK, but box? Apparently “spar” can mean “to shut” as well. Who knew?

23 Stewpot‘s got one from Ultravox in number 10 (6)
That would be Midge URE contained in TEN.

24 Ute customised with nitro’s losing speed (8)
An obscure bit of musical terminology I needed to look up, an anagram of UTE and NITRO.

26 Doctor to peer at Candide, perhaps (8)
Of which Candide is an example. It’s an anagram of “to peer at”.

27 Southern church is heading for major division (6)

28 Plate of fizzy sweets perhaps for those whose skills are rusty? (9,6)
A cryptic definition, referencing yet another sweet. Is this how Skirwingle keeps his sugar levels up?


2 See things high up tor – it may be crumbling (4,3)
An anagram of “up tor it”.

3 Find a defender by surprise (5)

4 Fine art’s embracing listener (3)
Hidden in the first two words…

5 Something on the pier perhaps playing REM etc., ad nauseam (9,6)
An anagram of “REM etc., ad nauseam”.

6 Chivalric comment about toilet cleaning schedule? (6,5)
A slightly whimsical cryptic definition.

7 Confused EU solvers (us) resolve to untangle this (9)
It’s an anagram of both “EU solvers” and “(us) resolve” which is quite neat.

8 Bring in unknown to repeat crazy circus act (7)
Z’s the unknown, in an anagram (crazy) of “repeat”.

12 Tacky items stuck up around the office (4-2,5)
A cryptic definition that is presumably referencing other sorts of tacky items that might be put on the walls in offices.

15 Who serves drinks and ghastly crab puree? (9)
An anagram of “crab puree”.

19 Collapse of Conservative arse when lead’s cut by 50% (7)
C RUMP and half of “lead”.

22 Dire Straits? (7)
Now, I particularly liked this one, a very nicely observed &lit.

25 Statesman brought up by Arthur Hendrix (5)
Reverse hidden in the last two words. A statesman I know from crosswords alone which says more about my own ignorance than anything else.

27 Switch alternate parts thus (3)
Alternate letters from “Switch”.

Saturday 16th March 2019

I’m sure you all spotted that the grid last Saturday had top to bottom mirror symmetry rather than the usual rotational symmetry. Which was clearly flagged, of course, by the words TOP and BOTTOM appearing in the appropriate rows and also LEFT and RIGHT in the appropriate columns. What’s that you say? You put ‘Sleep like a Log’ in the top row and missed the Nina altogether?

Well actually the Log error was mine. Which meant I was unlikely to see the Nina, and I didn’t notice the symmetry thing either. Oh, I’ve heard the expression ‘sleep like a top’ but it just didn’t occur to me, and instead I got a mental image of those Canadian log spinners in Lake Winnipeg, or wherever they do it.

My only quibble came with the clue for 12a which I failed to parse; fortunately the Fifteenquared blog is now restored to enlighten me. It’s PENDING with the D moved to the front to give DPENING, but you have to spell out the D to get DEEPENING, that last step being unindicated. Brilliantly worked out by the affable and clever pair of Bert and Joyce, but dubious from Phi, I’d say.

On the other hand I liked 8a very much and 14a, 24a, 8d, 20d all got ticks. However my pick of the crop, largely because it made me feel all cultured and that, goes to the following:

19a End of sonnet material (5)

Coming back that error of LOG not TOP, I see on page 46 of today’s paper that yesterday’s answer to 20d was FLIGHT not ALIGHT. Hmm. Two grids to remind me of my shortcomings stacked next to today’s puzzle – I’d better go carefully!

And a reminder too that JonofWales will be posting the first ever puzzle on the idothei site tomorrow – Don’t miss it!

A Saturday prize puzzle reprint today and I found it quite hard going, but that’s probably me as the solutions and parsing over on Fifteensquared all seem quite fair with just 20dn causing any concern. The wordplay for 1ac had me baffled for a long time as did the new to me 8dn which was made more difficult by having to find a woman’s name and I presume a cricketing abbreviation to arrive at the answer. Another question mark was for 21ac – it was pretty obvious that it was an anagram, but the fodder proved difficult to find as I know EG as “For Example” but here it is “For One” which I’m not sure about at all. Apart from these quibbles there were some fine surfaces and plenty of excellent misdirection. Although it’s been done before 3dn is a candidate for COD as is 25ac. In fact there are a lot of ticks so I will go with the aforementioned 3dn

Lying is what urban improver will try to do? (9)

And don’t forget to check out our first Guest Puzzle this coming Sunday. It’s a good one, so don’t miss it – JonOfWales.