Saturday 22nd February 2020

Having solved hundreds of Phi puzzles by now, and blogged a good number of them, I come to a point where I might have solved a related puzzle for myself – that of why I don’t enjoy his puzzles as much as I feel I should. His cryptic grammar is nearly always impeccably fair, I am in awe of his output and his ability to create puzzles in the Inquisitor and other outlets, and I reckon he must have a brain the size of a small planet, So what’s my problem?

Well after much musing, I think it might be this: Some setters, whether at the higher end of things like Radian or the simpler end of things like Vigo, and definitely the likes of Dac and Morph somewhere in between, seem to have an instinctive empathy for the solver, such that a clue reveals its secret with a satisfying penny-drop moment. Maybe Phi is just too goddamn clever for me – I find his synonyms very often make me react with ‘well, I suppose so’ rather than ‘yes, of course!’. His anagrams are very good, but overused for my taste given that solving anagrams doesn’t often provide me personally with a satisfying ‘pdm’ either (perhaps I find them too easy?). Then there are his grid fills with the notoriously difficult/ impossible ghost themes. Phi wrote in the comments to yesterday’s puzzle that “setters put them in often to kick-start a gridfill, and there’s no real expectation that solvers will spot them”. Well I don’t know of another setter who does that with ghost themes. If Phi were to just do a lucky dip on a page from the dictionary he could pick any word from that page that appealed for 1a, and bingo, he’d be off! By having ghost themes there is a real danger of ending up being forced to put in entries like yesterday’s TELCO, which would need a very enjoyable pay-off to be justified, if at all. I do love a ghost theme, but think they should be as obvious as possible.

Right, rant over. Sorry, that’s been brewing for years!

Back to last Saturday, which I found a curious mixture of three-quarters read-and-write and one quarter quite tricky. All my ticks seem to be with the trickier clues, and of those the one I enjoyed most was the nifty substitution at 28a. However, it’s not often we have a single word clue, so for its cleverness and remarkableness, I’d like to nominate my last one in:

6d Layperson? (9)

And yes there was a Phi-friendly ghost theme, which you can read about in the 2015 blog here. As it happened I didn’t have the multitude of quibbles mentioned by some solvers in the comments back then (e.g. perfectly happy to agree that Balti is an instance of British cooking) but I can’t help wondering if other solvers are sometimes moved to grumble after doing his puzzles for pricisely the reason I’ve given above.

i Cryptic Crossword 2826 Phi

February 28, 2020

“It’s a Phi, so there must be some sort of theme or nina” I said to myself, over and over again, whilst looking for something. I don’t think I would have spotted it if I had not been blogging, but such was my sense of duty to my fellow-solvers (or my fear of looking foolish!) that I persevered until, finally, at last, I was vindicated in my instinct that this was not merely a penny-plain, old-fashioned, simple, straightforward crossword.

Over on Fifteensquared there was some small debate about whether the blogger should make Ninas or themes explicit, or merely hint at them to allow the solvers to seek further and discover for themselves. So, if you want to do that, skip now to the next paragraph. For those who want to know: there are a series of themed Ninas in all of the rows, identifying famous bridges. “Bridging the gap” springs to mind.

Apart from that, I did indeed find this to be a simple, straightforward, old-fashioned crossword – and none the worse for that. Thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying, with plenty of variety in the cluing, it was a pleasure to solve. It took me just a little less than my typical one hour.

My first in was LOOFAH and then I worked more-or-less systematically clockwise from NE to NW. I had no questions about word-play on completion, although I did need to check my last one in, ADUKI, to confirm that it was indeed a bean. I got a bit stuck for a while by entering “white wine” at 14d, but with a question mark, because I could not see the word-play, even though the enumeration and crossing Is and Es seemed to suggest that. This made 12ac impossible, so I had to revisit, and finally got RHINE WINE. I didn’t like TELCO, mainly because I couldn’t unsee “Tesco” once I had the T and the O, and the answer itself seemed a little disappointing.

My Clue of the Day is 21ac: “Our group recalled the best horror movie participant. (8)” A nice surface reading and a neat reversal of “flower” as “the best” instead of the more common “river”.

A crossword from Morph is always a treat, with lots of inventive wordplay to look forward to, and lots of smiles along the way. Today was no exception, and thoroughly accessible to boot, in particular given that this is a Thursday reprint. The ridge and muscular type gave me more than a little pause for thought at the close, but the rest went in with little ado, finishing in a time about par for the i. To be fair I skipped large bits of the wordplay given a sprinkling of clearly flagged definitions, some generous checking letters, and enough wordplay grasped to supply the rest. A pity really because there’s much to enjoy, but as is often the case I was in a hurry this morning. If you prefer a more meticulous approach your mileage may indeed vary.

Talking of good clues, 10ac I thought was very nicely done, but the definition at 7d tickled me no end, so that gets my COD nomination – “Peer’s decoration that may hang by his sideboard (7)”.

Without further ado over to November 2015 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

i Cryptic Crossword 2624 Dac

February 26, 2020

It’s midweek, it’s Dac, what more could you ask for? This week we have a synonym from down under that may have caused a little pause for thought, and a few names you may or may have not known (I’d forgotten 8d having managed it seems to miss everything he’s been in), and a couple of longer answers that may have taken some unpicking, in particular 4d and 11d. My finish time was well under par for the i, though I did sweat duly a little over the above, but not for as long as it felt like, it appears.

COD? Well, you could pick any of them, couldn’t you? But as I’ve got to nominate one I’ll go with 11d – “Theatrical dame tucked into cooked sardine? That’s potty (7,5)”.

To November 2015:

On the weekend that large bits of South Wales disappeared beneath the waters, including the kids’ local dance studio, it was left to Kruger to remind us of the lighter side of life. That is presuming you could get into the shops for a paper as every man and his dog rushed to the supermarket before Storm Dennis’ scheduled arrival. As I spent the afternoon and night thinking – I’m not going out in that, and stoking up the fire, perhaps they had a point.

Finally turning to the centre pages we find talk of blank cells which I’m ready for after the past couple of weeks, and also misprints in a few definitions which I’m also fully prepared for. I’d even go so far as to say that I guessed straight off where the blank cells would be – the thematic entries at the top and bottom of the grid – though it took too long to spot that they also encompassed a couple of entries to the left and right, having exhausted several options as to possible entries and parsing, it then occurring that there were in fact several more to leave empty.

If only I’d counted the number of unchecked letters and compared them to ICY BIN FIXES… There’s always one bit of the preamble which the setter has generously supplied to help us bedraggled solvers that I choose to ignore to my peril.

Oh well. CRUCIFIXION fell pretty quickly across the centre, there being little in the way of options there. As did MENUDO which interestingly wasn’t in any dictionaries I own, and FINITO too which I suspect might also have been lacking, but better-known.

As afternoon turned to night, and I got enough of the misprints to work out that we were probably looking for THE LIFE OF… something, and a character called GREGORY, with the fire roaring and the rain generally hammering it down, what did trouble me was what to put in the top and bottom rows. Possible checking letters seemingly pretty un-helpful, if the word searches I utilised were anything to go by.

Now, The Life of Brian is what sprang to mind, of course, and there is a very minor character called Gregory in the film too, not that I noticed on many repeat viewings.

But as it turns out the line we were looking for is one I didn’t remember either, but I have trouble remembering many things so that isn’t much to go by. I’M BRIAN AND SO IS MY WIFE.

Was it a bit naughty those two thematic entries not being actual words? I think so, but I’ll forgive Kruger just this once for generally lightening the mood round here.

On a weekend where much misery was being wreaked locally it would be tempting to put up a link to that song, but I often think its modern-day appropriation is a bit trite. So I will link to my favourite scene from said film, which I suspect is one biblical scholars in particular find to be particularly rib-tickling.

So to close, and one final – damn you, Dennis.

As Jon archly observed yesterday there’s always room for a diversity of opinions here, so I wonder how this crossword will have gone down? There’s a drug reference so that’ll be Topsy out of sorts unfortunately, but nothing else in the potentially offensive line. The level of difficulty seemed to me roughly middling, albeit a little tougher than one generally expects from Radian, so all told I have some hopes that others will share my opinion that this is about as good as it gets.

This setter is a real master of the thematic grid fill, and it’s instructive to do some highlighting to see how he has distributed all the goodies throughout the puzzle. The theme itself is not quite explicit, but it was soon clear what was going on and that helped quite a bit. Incidentally, and possibly coincidentally, there is a tenuous link between 14ac and the great man, not picked up on by RatkojaRiku in his otherwise exhaustive November 2015 write up for Fifteensquared. Anybody else get the feeling we’re missing a window, by the way?

Highlights? Well, take your pick. With oodles of variety (another Radian characteristic) there surely must be something to delight everybody, and I wound up with more ticks than an horologist’s workshop. Here’s my COD; alternative nominations are very welcome as usual.

14ac: “Poles invested in low quality gem (9)”

Rather unexpectedly we have an IoS reprint to start the week, because it feels like an age since we’ve done so. An odd puzzle, in that I finished well under par for the i as expected, but rather than racing through it felt like careful deliberation was the order of the day, especially down in the SE corner. No hold ups as such, apart from 8d which for some reason took me a while to spot, but no sense of this being a write-in either. Nothing that was controversial, though I’m guessing there were tuts in some quarters on entering 4ac, and no fireworks either which again is par for the course. Just a good, solid, enjoyable start to the week.

COD? I’ll go with 11ac – “Vogue article featuring northern Italian city (6)”.

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

Saturday 15th February 2020

Tees is definitely one of my favourite setters, but I found last Saturday’s to be a relatively muted affair by his own high standards. The most remarkable clues were so because they had an obscure or difficult-to-guess answer, rather than for showing much of the invention, cleverness and guile he usually gives us in spadefuls. That having been said I still thought it was very good, and much better than you’d see in most newspapers!

Those tricky answers were ‘Ngultrum’ the Bhutanese currency at 2d, 16a the Australian expression ‘Come the Raw Prawn’(which without a dictionary check could just have easily been ‘Come the Bad Prawn’ for me), and my LOI 15d ‘Tailspin’ which with its deceptive wordplay, definition ‘Agitated state’ and the crossing letters all being SENORITA letters had me copping out and looking at a wordsearch, I must confess.  Oh, and I also learned that Clio lived on Mt Helicon – who knew?

For the COD, I did enjoy the acrostic at 21d, which was very nicely done, but I’ll plump for this one:

15d Seed-spiller up and back in very little time (10)

Click here to see all the answers, and also the 3 clues RatkojaRiku picked out as his favourites – all of which were different to mine!

i Cryptic Crossword 2820 Punk

February 21, 2020

A relatively gentle puzzle from Punk, today, solved by me in well under my typical time, and with no need to resort to aids – except to check on two or three of the answers.

A relatively tame one too; I hope Topsy, if she has done this one and is reading this, will have been able to ignore, or at least indulge, the one reference to drugs and the one double-entendre – if indeed it is one.

On completion I had no queries left about the word-play. I needed to go to the internet in order to check that YAOUNDE was an African capital, and that STYLET was a surgical instrument. I also checked on LENTIGO, but that was a word I was sort of sure I had come across before. I was not familiar with the phrase WHO’S YOUR DADDY[?] but it was nicely clued and once a couple of crossing letters were in it seemed obvious.

The one other phrase I had not come across before is my nomination for Clue of the Day as it made me laugh out loud, which was 13ac: “Negotiation of deals OK where working lunch is taken?” (2,5).

Back to October 2015 for its first outing:

i Cryptic Crossword 2819 Monk

February 20, 2020

As I’ve said previously, Thursdays seem to be a toss up between an IoS reprint and something… rather more challenging. This Saturday Prize Puzzle reprint from Monk I’d suggest definitely falls into the latter category, my finish time being (accurately for once having calculated the thing) 1.3 x par. There’s a Nina in the top and bottom rows that certainly helped in the SW corner at the close, having got somewhat more stuck there than I was elsewhere. In retrospect I don’t see why as none of the answers were obscure (even 25ac which I expected to be, dreaming up all sorts of combinations of the letters from the anagram before the obvious sprang to mind). Elsewhere I think only 13ac and 8d caused problems over and above already faced. A very unfriendly grid didn’t help progress, this being in essence four separate puzzles in one.

As is noted over on the other side, “[a] good tussle and definitely worthy of the Saturday spot”, which is perhaps where it should have been scheduled. 🙂

A good puzzle nevertheless, with much to appreciate, my COD going to 20ac – “Tanker was emptied in the name of war (6)”.

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