i Prize Cryptic Crossword 2821 by Phi

February 29, 2020

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.

7 Responses to “i Prize Cryptic Crossword 2821 by Phi”

  1. saboteur said

    Tell us what you really think, why don’t you, Cornick! 😀

    I very much agree with you about ghost themes, as I commented yesterday. However this one is another of those that is so spectral that it might as well not be there. I don’t see how it adds to the solvers’ enjoyment, except for what must be a tiny minority of us who share Phi’s taste in reading-matter, or whatever. It may please the setter him-or herself, but it breaks the implied contract between setter and solver that I mentioned yesterday.

    As to anagrams, I too don’t like too many in any one crossword, as they don’t really tax me, especially if well-signalled. But there is a place for being tortoise-friendly, so I don’t mind too much. I know that in my early solving days I was glad of anagrams as ways in to puzzles, when other clues were often too challenging.

    I found this one to be tough, but I like that on a Saturday, when I can solve at leisure. I struggled to parse BALTI for a while, thinking that British clued the B, rather than being part of the definition (which I don’t have a problem with).

    Today’s was fine just needing to check a “sort of filter”. Any theme, etc, so far undetected.

  2. jonofwales said

    Ghost themes? If they don’t jump out at me I don’t go looking for them, and don’t really mind missing them. I suppose they keep the beleaguered setter amused, and it’s a nice Easter Egg for solvers with similar interests. Solvers who don’t pop over to the crossword blogs, who I suspect are in the majority, will also have remained blissfully unaware and enjoyed the puzzle nevertheless. 🙂

    I thought this was a fairly straightforward puzzle, surprisingly so for Phi, that I enjoyed thoroughly. With the added plus that it gave me more time than is usual to read the rest of the always excellent paper throughout the remainder of the kids’ dance lesson.

  3. Grodnik said

    I enjoyed this one. Phi’s puzzles are always accessible and he is obviously a roundly educated and cultured setter. My own working life was in scientific research but I never before heard the word “scientistic”. I don’t like it as it seems to smack of charlatanism. I’m thinking about trying to devise a crossword myself, just as an exercise. How does this grab you as a clue?

    Today’s major problem, our vicar’s on the turn. (6,5)

    Too easy?

    • jonofwales said

      I don’t mind easy clues when they’re as nicely done as that. If you ever do finish that crossword, we’re still on the lookout for the occasional Guest Puzzle, despite an extended absence. Other would-be setters should also take note. 🙂

    • Cornick said

      Not too easy; I got it all right and I liked it for topicality and humour. However, I do think there’s a problem: ‘turn’ is a valid anagram indicator, and so is ‘on the turn’. Unfortunately ‘the turn’ is not, so you have a problem with a superfluous ‘the’.

    • saboteur said


  4. batarde said

    Being in the tiny minority of us who share Phi’s taste in reading matter – at least as far as Robertson Davies goes – I note that this is the third RD themed puzzle to have appeared in the the i on a Saturday. And there were two Bryant and May crosswords as well. No reason why not, I suppose, especially if you take him on trust that it’s just a way of seeding the grid rather than demonstrating how monumentally clever he is. The fact remains that his subject matter is often distinctly niche, so it’s a fair question who all these technical shenanigans are intended to please.

    As mentioned yesterday, I am not a fan but will happily acknowledge that Phi can be very good indeed when he doesn’t get himself tied up in knots working around a gimmick. I don’t believe that he holds his solvers in much esteem though, and some of his comments on Fifteensquared have come across as outright disdainful when someone ventures a criticism.

    As for this example, yes, pretty good and it was nice to pick up on a theme for a change. Mu-meson and jammies however? … pfft.

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