Saturday 22nd June 2019

I found everything thoroughly agreeable for the first ¾ last Saturday, but then that SE corner presented me with a few problems. The first was my fault – having spelled Colonel Bogey ‘Bogie’ I couldn’t get Pyramids across the bottom, then once I’d realised my mistake there was Giocoso intersecting Palooka, both unknowns, to cause some lengthy head-scratching at the very end.

On the other hand that quarter also included my favourite clue – and pretty much how I imagine Phi sees himself as a setter:

20d Mostly to tease, entrapping solver, is very pleasant (6)

For those who like marches (that won’t be me then) there was a ghost theme that was easy enough to spot but fiendish to see in its entirety. We had the aforementioned Colonel Bogey, Pomp and Circumstance, Turkish, Joyous, Homage, and Slave. I’ve never heard of those last four. In the comments section over at Fifteensquared in March (yes) 2015, one aficionado points out that there’s also a March of the Pyramids, which Phi hadn’t realised; so he got the last laugh on behalf of all us solvers. Thank you Cookie.

Morph to finish the working week with a gentle offering, but also for me the puzzle of the week. Lively as ever, clues that were never dull, always crystal clear – at the close I had just the one I was unsure of – yes, Geography strikes again at 16d. As it turns out I had the correct answer, but only because I was aware of the ITV region. There’s a word hidden down the middle of the grid which may be significant. First in 1ac which opened the grid up quite nicely, last in the aforementioned region and city, time half par for the i. All in all a very nice way to wind down towards the weekend.

COD? With lots to appreciate, 11ac – “Flying ace and sexy female – you and me? (4,5)”.

No prizes for guessing that we’re back to March 2015 once more:

A reasonably challenging offering from Hob that I found easier to start than finish. OK, that in part may be due to the hash I made of the SE corner where I cycled the drug addict rather than the trick, and consequently lobbed in a rather rash CORE for 22ac. 21d was also a little on the difficult side, too, the cryptic looking more than a little daunting. I guessed there was a Nina, but couldn’t make much sense of it apart from the first four letters across the top of the grid, but there you go. Apparently the whole is something to do with DNA, with other thematic material scattered round I failed miserably to put together. To be fair, only 12ac in retrospect was likely to.

Still, an enjoyable puzzle, but one which was wasted on me. 🙂

COD? Lots to appreciate, with my nomination going to 16ac – “Use of mouse with wrong hand causes muscle spasm (5)”.

To March 2015:

No Dac this week, but no complaints either because we’ve got eXternal instead with a relatively gentle offering, but one as enjoyable as ever. Only 5d and 8d took any real time to solve – the former because I was struggling for a synonym for “thin”, the latter because it’s a very clever clue. No vocabulary that should have troubled anyone, and I’m guessing another rapid solve all round – my own time was just a tad slower than Monday and Tuesday, and indeed this is a Monday reprint. Just the one I couldn’t / didn’t parse, to be more accurate perhaps, at 2d where I’d forgotten the curse, but not the cash.

COD? It’s got to be the aforementioned 8d, hasn’t it? “Any in audition to get such direction shortly (14)”

To March 2015 once more:

So another week rolls by, and with it another Inquisitor – one with a pretty lengthy preamble too. What do you do when faced with a lengthy preamble you can’t get to grips with? Ignore all the stuff at the bottom and start with the simple stuff. The simple stuff being wordplay that leads to the answer plus an extra letter. That I can cope with.

It has also stopped raining for the moment, so solving can take place in a relatively quiet environment. I have a table and chair hidden in a corner of the garden especially for such rare, fleeting occasions.

The grid fill in terms of difficulty? We still seem to be on a run of easier entries following Wan’s mammoth offering of the other week, so middling, even if it took a few entries to get going. First in being a nice friendly anagram of NORITE with an extra U. A PROWL CAR sounds like the sort of thing I should have heard of, but haven’t. And is ENORM really archaic, don’t all the kids say that these days? We’ve got two to the NW that aren’t in the BRB but are in Collins. To date when the preamble specifies entries in Collins I’ve just Googled the answers and hoped for the best, but at least one is particularly obscure so Google leads instead to a handy version of Collins online. Why did nobody tell me it was there before?

So, grid done. The quote from the extra letters? As expected large chunks consist of question marks, but with enough letters in place to guess the remaining few with a little help from the aforementioned search engine… “You can get a happy quotation anywhere if you have the…” “eye” being the missing word, by one Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr – which are presumably the initials at the end. I only did ever manage to get the W though.

The latter bit of the preamble? I must admit that I didn’t crack most of it, but what is clear is that we’re looking for something to highlight, quotations presumably. And lo and behold there are two across the diagonals which are missing just a central… i.

“Firm fair price.”
“Wisdom in words.”

Presumably referring to the esteemed organ in which the puzzle appears. The appropriate colour, based on “a prominent example in plain sight”? Red? Got to be.

The other hints? Nope, didn’t get those. But lob a big red i in the middle of the grid, highlight the quotations, and we’re done, aren’t we? Yes, I think we are, and at the close in a pretty good time too with more than a modicum of entertainment gleaned throughout. So raise a glass to Penumbra – another good one – we’re on a roll.

Next week the big 1600, which is significant, presumably? 😉

Here we have an object lesson in the pitfalls of explicitly themed crosswords. Deciphering hieroglyphs is most effectively done with the help of a Rosetta stone, so once you have the idea (10ac ought to spell that out) a list of thematic items should see off all the across entries nicely. The setter is of course to be congratulated on a nifty bit of grid filling, but if ever a puzzle solved itself it’s this one.

Some of the across answers are quite exotic and that slowed me down a little – I take the view that diving into a crossword dictionary straight away is a bit off on a blog day – but this was almost as quickly finished as yesterday’s all the same. All the clues are fair enough; not all of them are much cop though. 17d, anybody? And there’s that Gabon, too. Anyway, I don’t consider it my job to catalogue a string of niggles, and if it struck me as a disappointingly lightweight challenge that’s not for want of effort on Hieroglyph’s part – just a consequence of this type of gimmick. There was only one candidate for COD for once: it’s a good spot and rather chucklesome:

3d : “Off-colour article repeatedly goes into unmentionables (5,3,7)”

We’re back to March 2015 with this one, and there was a good deal of positivity in the comments at Fifteensquared. Perhaps it’s just me being grumpy then. I did like Bertandjoyce’s contribution.

An IoS reprint to start the week, and nothing too tricky I thought. The fish was pretty obscure, and the “chief” is perhaps better known as a car model, but elsewhere the vocabulary was common enough as expected. Well done if you parsed 11ac on solving because that was surprisingly tricky, if nicely done, though the answer was pretty obvious. Elsewhere everything was clear and enjoyed throughout. First in 7ac, last in the NE corner which held out for a little while and then fell all at once, as often happens, finish time half par for the i.

COD? Just because it’s such a fantastic answer, and one I suspect won’t have appeared in most word searches, 17d – “E.g. beer brewed in this country by extreme enthusiast (8)”.

Now, tell me, do I risk going out without a coat for my lunchtime walk?

To April 2015:

Saturday 15th June 2019

For me the best thing about last Saturday’s prize puzzle was the Nina gag. We had MAGRITTE – he of ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ fame – at 25a and a Nina in columns 1 and 15 which read NO NINA IS HERE. Ho-ho.

I hope you liked the clues, for me they were something of a disappointment. But maybe my frustration was simply caused by the difficulty being racked up a bit? I could only find it in myself to give a tick to three clues – 5d, 6d and the following, which gets the COD award:

2d Clarifies the history of some mountains? (8)

But frankly I didn’t have much fun with this crossword at all so, rather than go into a long list of gripes and niggles, I shall leave things there and point you towards Bert & Joyce’s ever-reliable blog from 2015.


Sprouthater’s on his holidays at the moment, so you’re stuck with me for another day.

Fridays are usually busy here, so I was rather hoping we might have had an IoS reprint I could quickly knock off, but as it turns out we have our second Saturday Prize Puzzle of the week. This felt a bit trickier than yesterday’s, and on my first pre-lunch pass through I had very little. A sandwich and a coffee later progress was more rapid, though, so perhaps I just needed sustenance. There were still loads I didn’t follow at the close – the key 6d among them – but the answers went in, with a little tussle at the close in the SE corner with two crossing, four letter, fairly off-beat answers, which was a bit naughty of Tyrus some would say. I’d struggled similarly to the NW already, but guessed the drug a little more quickly. There’s a Nina I should have spotted as I was on the lookout for one after one glance at the grid, which is a pity because it would have helped no end. A nice 6d to add to the ones we already had. Finish time similar to yesterday’s by the close – lesson learnt, don’t try to solve while low on caffeine.

COD? Lots to appreciate as expected from this setter, with my nomination going to 16/22 – “Unsure answer‘s very good, trendy couple in agreement – British 6D (8,5)”.

To March 2015 once more:

I see that over on Fifteensquared twencelas noted that spring was just around the corner, and here we are with a reprint of the same puzzle when it still seems that we’re waiting for spring to be round the corner, it having appeared to have rained incessantly for the past three months.

Oh well, we have a Saturday reprint from Nestor to pass the time – one that was reasonably challenging, as expected, but also scrupulous and fair throughout and also fun, of course. This was the sort of puzzle where you needed to look quite carefully at the clues so only a couple went in on definition or without full understanding of the wordplay, 5d and 9ac being the only ones of note that fell into this camp. Elsewhere I was pleased to get 18d and 22d from the wordplay, having got lucky with a state abbreviation I wasn’t quite sure of, but it looked sort of right.

I started on 17ac – which is never a good sign, didn’t do at all well with the rest of the acrosses, but on getting 3d the first across fell too, and after that progress was steady if not spectacular, finishing on the Irish man. Time over par and a bit more for the i.

Close to a pangram, and I was rather hoping there was one on seeing the Z and being a little stuck to the NE, but we’re one or two short I think.

COD? Lots to like, with ticks in particular by 20d and 8d, but my nomination goes to 11ac – “How to derive an irrational root (6)”.

To the no doubt warmer and more pleasant days of March 2015: