Saturday 23rd November 2019

If we are to believe what we read, today’s editorial should provide reassurance for us all. Following the alarming news of change of ownership to the Rothermeres (yes, as in the Daily M**l), the i will apparently retain its editorial independence and also its supply chain from the Independent; there’s also a promise to ‘invest in journalism’. Well, if the Mirror and the Express can share an owner, I suppose anything is possible.

As to last Saturday’s crossword, I thought Phi was on very good form indeed. In a parallel world we could imagine all double-word answers having a blank square between the two halves, like an em space, and that the two halves would be lined up in the same row or column. Which is exactly what Phi gave us last week with BATHING MACHINE, TURKISH DELIGHT, THERMAL PRINTER, and INERTIA SELLING. Extremely gruntling that.

No quibbles either – my LOI was 19a EASED which was maybe a little convoluted SE[t] inside [h]EAD, but perfectly parsable with a little thought in retrospect.

So all in all very happy to have Phi back in the Prize slot. Hope you enjoyed it too.

COD: 8d Cuts in energy repeated period of darkness (7)

And the answers can all be seen by clicking here.

i Cryptic Crossword 2749 Anax

November 29, 2019

What is it about crosswords and “ravioli”? It seems to crop up regularly, seemingly with a barely-changed clue. I suppose it makes a change from that other Italian crossword staple, “lasagne”.

This was, to my mind, a fine, absorbing and enjoyable crossword, although a somewhat challenging one. Not because the generality of clues were anything less than fair, but because of elliptical definitions (“See relevant” or “a water feature”, for example) or unfamiliar answers like ORTHOCLASE and OUTLAWRY, and perhaps SASQUATCH.

I could not parse COSTA RICA, but looking at the commentary on Fifteensquared, I think that is me, not the clue. Neither could I see how GRITS works, although that seems to have provoked no comment, so I am probably missing something obvious.

This was a Did Not Finish for me, as FREE at 25d eluded me, as it was one of those annoying four-letter clues with the initial letter not crossing, and too many potential words for me to plough through them and work out the right one.

Clue of the day? Lots of very impressive anagrams, but for neatness alone I propose 26a “One exemplified by ‘good’. (3)”.

To September 2015:

i Cryptic Crossword 2748 Phi

November 28, 2019

Phiday this week is a Thursday, which presumably means the variation we’ve been enjoying over the past few weekends is set to continue. Today’s offering is one that was in keeping with the Thursday spot, being a little chewy in places, especially to the NE corner where we had three obscurities all grouped together, one an odd foreign phrase that was actually the easiest one to solve.

Thankfully elsewhere there was lots to enjoy, with a good number of ticks beside the clues. There’s also a theme, being works of an author anagrammed at 27ac. You didn’t need to know to finish, but I half wonder if it caused some of those obscurities.

There were one or two I didn’t fully understand on solving, including the double F at 28ac and the homophone at 1ac, but I got there in the end in a time similar to yesterday’s.

COD? With honourable mentions to 9ac, 1d and 3d, I’ll go with 18ac – “One beginning to bother all on road when travelling round motorway? (8,4)”.

To September 2015 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

i Cryptic Crossword 2747 Dac

November 27, 2019

It’s a Wednesday, it’s Dac, and a puzzle that should appeal to a broad range of solvers. Accessible as ever, with much to appreciate in the cluing, but with added gristle today to give us something to get our teeth into. The Spanish bits and engine in particular caused me some difficulty, as did 16d, but that was because I persistently misread the definition as being “[u]ndulating”. I suspect I need to start wearing glasses when doing these, especially on dim days like today. The temptation to lob in DEMO for 1ac was pretty strong, but I resisted it and took note of the wordplay for once. Lessons learnt, and all that.

Finish time a little over par for the i, though with an interruption to deal with a blocked toilet.

COD? I did like the way 19ac was so neatly put together, but it’s got to be Thomas, just because it made me smile. 30ac – “Perhaps Thomas – new boy – into Moroccan food? (4,6)”.

To September 2015:

Stone the crows indeed. After several weeks of particularly testing puzzles, it’s… Time for another, but one that is particularly so. All but five clues adjusted before entry into the grid, as it turns out leaving non-real words. Definitions for the real thing, wordplay the mangled entry. I can be pretty miserably poor at sorting out wordplay.

First pass through the clues… An incorrect across – was I the only person to get hung up on “nubeculae” for 14ac? Which had the misfortune to cross with a correct down – DILU(V)IAN.

That was about as far as I got for a long time, this being the very epitome of the slow, hard grid fill. Frustratingly so at first, but you know what, once I’d accepted that this was one for the long haul, it turned out picking off those entries one by one became quite pleasurable. In a masochistic sort of way, I’ll grant you. One eye on the puzzle, another on the TV, and an it-will-have-to-be-metaphorical other on the fire we’ve lit not just because we’ve finally cleared the chimney of the crows’ nest that had well and truly blocked it (a happy coincidence), but because it appears to be several degrees too cold for the time of year.

Through Saturday evening…

The themed entries. Well, 10d from crossing letters must be EXALTATION, that much is clear, but as for the rest?

Let’s look at the missing letters. After the by now de rigueur cock-ups are resolved – CONVERT ANSWERS TO COLLECTIVE NOUNS.

An exaltation of larks, it transpires. The answer to 10d being? LARKS. Huzzah. An UNKINDNESS of crows, though that was one I failed miserably to parse. A RUSH of POCHARDS, and a BUILDING of ROOKS.

30d, though. ?LAN. No collections of birds look likely to match.

As so often happens, on giving up and drifting off to sleep later, and much warmer, it comes. That glorious moment of revelation. CLAN, a collection of PEOPLE. Neat.

Job done, and an ultimately satisfying solve it was too. But aren’t we due an easier one soon?

Today’s theme is weird words. Oh, all right then, it’s really all about 1 across, but it was the vocabulary that caught my attention. We have Ukrainian cash; one of those Irish names which sound nothing like they look; an antiquated spelling of a dairy product; everybody’s favourite port in New Zealand; a well-clued Arab; an unfamiliar gazelle; a shambolic national leader called Boris, and another one from Tanganyika. Also a dodgy rebel and a football manager. Phew.

None of this should mean that the puzzle is beyond the reach of a notional “average” solver, because Raich is not that kind of setter. Everything is spelt out, and it’s just a case of following the instructions – of course that’s the case for all cryptic crosswords, but Raich is exceptionally clear and never falls foul of Arachne’s Law. Easy clues for hard words, and vice versa. Consequently solving this one was a pleasure and an education. As noted above our old friend at 24d was unusually well done and I also particularly liked 14 and 23. The COD for me is 18ac, because this sort of thing doesn’t come along very often:

18ac: “Become more intense, hard – this clue has letter missing? (8)”

For solutions, commentary and everybody chipping in about 28ac, here’s John’s September 2015 Fifteensquared write-up.

An IoS reprint to start the week that was for the most part pretty straightforward, though I did get a little stuck in the SW corner, spending perhaps half my solving time there. 24ac was the main problem – the use of “champion” is common in Welsh speaking areas, so I was aware of it, but struggled badly with the parsing, and wanted the answer to be a fish 😉 . As it turns out there is a fish I wasn’t aware of involved in the wordplay which is referenced in Chambers, despite Pierre’s note on the other side. Once that fell, and I finally kicked my brain into gear regarding 26ac, so did the rest.

There seems to have been some disgruntlement over on Fifteensquared, but I must say that I quite enjoyed this, with a higher than average number of ticks for an IoS reprint. 19d was at the fore of those not COD, which for me went to 21ac – “Worse number? Anything that is by Queen (9)”, which again Pierre didn’t like, so we seem to be at odds today.

First in 22d, because that’s where I started, last in the aforementioned 26ac, finish time about par for the i.

And now I must dash, because an electrician is about to call, the extractor fan having had the poor grace to bite the dust during the middle of Strictly Saturday evening.

To September 2015:

Saturday 16th November 2019

Was eXternal always like this? We’ve had a couple of dozen of his puzzles by now I think, but whilst my early impressions were of a tricksy innovator, he seems to have been much easier recently, and last Saturday’s seemed about as soft-boiled as they get in the i, with 7½ anagrams (most of the longer clues) and a couple of hiddens to boot.

Looking back through the Fifteensquared archive I see that several of his crosswords appeared in the IOS slot, which normally indicates an easier type of puzzle of course, but that he has also produced quite a few Inquisitor puzzles, which JonofWales will confirm are decidedly fiendish. So I suppose we can safely conclude that he’s pitching things just as he intends to.

All that means this was a good one for beginners and improvers, but won’t have caused the old hands too much trouble, I suspect. Writing this a week after the event, I certainly can’t remember being held up at the end by anything – my LOI was 15d which seems to be as straightforward as all the rest really. Just one quibble-ish glyph for the supposed synonym skirt/ round, but four ticks, with my favourite being this hidden:

11a A bit of Latin or the astronomy course? (9)

And you can whisk yourself back to September 2015 for all the answers by clicking here.

If “business” needs certainty, as we have been regularly informed over the last couple of years, how much more do crossword-solvers feel frustrated by a lack of clarity?

Often we have a few question marks in the margin and I for one never feel truly satisfied with my solving experience if these queries are not resolved. In today’s puzzle it was DENIAL that caused the disappointment. I got the answer from an electronic trawl and – eventually – twigged that the definition was Negation; the word-play completely eluded me.

But the real frustration came from strangely wanting to know more about the story behind the nina and the mini ghost-theme. Duncan over on Fifteensquared did a nice imaginative job telling the story, and I found myself drawn in…

I had a few other question marks. I could not work out the word play for TABLOID. I wondered, when solving EN ARRIERE, about how much foreign language answers have a place in a daily cryptic. And how much knowledge of German suburbs does one need; although WEDDING was fairly obvious from the definition and crossing letters?

Clue of the Day? When the day in question is the bicentennial of her birth, it has to be 5d: ” ‘ Love isn’t to be trifled with.’ (Eliot?)” (8)

September 2015:


i Cryptic Crossword 2742 Monk

November 21, 2019

Something a little trickier from Monk that I suspect will have caused difficulties based on some of the comments over on the other side. Problems it caused me too, but mostly of the parsing variety as I had a finished grid in a time somewhat over par for the i, but with question marks beside a good number of the clues. These mostly related to the book referenced at 5d, where the correct abbreviation didn’t occur to me and I wrongly accused Monk of an erroneous spelling, 8ac which I still don’t think is cricket having checked the parsing, the R not being properly clued to my liking, 21d which doesn’t really work for me, and 13ac which I got wrong – my only consolation being that Alchemi also chucked in exactly the same answer. TAMLA was also somewhat obscure, while we’re at it. If Sprouthater solved this, I imagine too that he would have thrown up his hands in horror on reading 9d.

In other words, phew. I’m fond of chucking in answers based on a bit of wordplay / checking letters anyway, and got away with it for the most part, otherwise I suspect I still would have been beavering away.

There’s a Nina I missed, having gone looking for one as well, but as I usually do miss them this is nothing new.

A rigorous puzzle I enjoyed, but let me know what you thought.

COD? I’ll go with 15d – “Reach up above aerial, oddly a long drop from here? (7)”.

To September 2015: