The normal rules of engagement have been suspended. The order of the day self-isolation and general anxiety about completing the once run-of-the mill. School, college, university applications, driving lessons, used-car purchases. Shopping. New York not to add fuel to the fire is apparently 10 days away from a food crisis. As is the local Sainsbury’s by the look of the shelves. I’ve got two packs of toilet paper in the cupboard to go round the five of us and feel guilty for hoarding. Holiday cancelled, school cancelled, college gone, my sister and her family on an 862 mile round trip by car in 24 hours to rescue belongings from imminently unavailable university accommodation. Working from home. Schooling from home.

Welcome to Spring 2020, and not the post-apocalyptic movie of your choice.

This is not the way it was supposed to be.

Ifor, who is thanking us for a little help but little solace with something designed to fill the long hours of self-isolation. Answers this way and that, clues where they’ll fit, and you all know how much I love that kind of thing. And to be quite frank after drowning my sorrows Friday night in a surfeit of London Pride and cheap whisky left over from the oh-so-distant festive season, I’m really not up to this.

So after breaking isolation to glance at a used car that apart from needing new brakes, discs, bonnet, silencer and it would appear clutch too (yeah, I know), gloves and distance kept throughout, time to hide in the kitchen and cold solve. And cold solve, because while the shorter answers were keen to fall, the longer answers wouldn’t. Blame my parsing skills. Blame a raging head, a niggling cold (but thankfully no reportable symptoms because I need alcohol, chocolate, and copies of the i).

Evening… A long one… DEFENSELESS. Where to chuck it? Fatefully as it transpired in the left hand grid, and work from there. Not very far, admittedly. But… DEAD AS A DODO fell shortly afterwards and that did help. Oh yes it did, with the south of that grid filling pretty quickly until DESPAIR SET IN and the sudden urge to chuck it all in and take up an easier hobby like brain surgery. And there are all those episodes of Star Trek Discovery to catch up with too.

Sunday, Sunday, of a good night’s sleep and warmer days, of jaunts to the local cemetery, a table and chair outside for the first time this year – the floods a distant memory now the plague has descended upon us, and with it more luck with the clues, and finally, two full grids.

Distant celebrations, sighs of relief. What names will fit those two greyed out bits? Curtailed sighs of relief, cue much anguish, and compilation of – what-blooming-letters-will-fit-there-anyway?

The prosaic answers being Austin Stowell (with the ST letter-pairs duly paired), and Mark Rylance. I’ve heard of the latter, but not the former. Who appeared in Bridge of Spies, which I’ve not heard of, though the incident is one I have, being an east-west-east Cold War exchange of (alleged) spy and (yep he sure was a) spy and pilot on the other. So in the centre we can lob CIA as presumably representing a bridge of spies, and the clue at the bottom? An anagram of the character names (or bits of them anyway, Francis being shelved for convenience sake), and thus:

BEFORE

The magic word we need to fill in. Job done. Pen over the pencil entries so painstakingly filled almost literally with blood and tears, leaving the grids below. But that word, “before”, preying somewhat on the mind. That phrase in the preamble – “and establishes which grid orientation is correct”. This is only completely and utterly wrong, isn’t it, because Stowell played Gary Powers who was traded East-West, and Rylance Rudolf Abel who was traded West-East. Before. These grids are supposed to represent the position before the trade.

So this is wrong:

And this, presuming I’ve managed to transcribe properly, sort everything correctly, and that I haven’t gone off on a completely off-piste tangent, should be correct:

Bang goes your weekend. And any remaining sanity. Whoosh, the approaching week, and yet more horrors. Excuse me while I lock myself in a cupboard and scream and never stop.

A hard frost and bright sunshine this morning, an appropriate accompaniment to the unusual Nina in this crossword. I spotted the top and bottom rows of course, but would have remained mystified without Bertandjoyce’s help: click here for the February 2016 Fifteensquared write up.

When Crosophile’s puzzles started to appear in the i they were often a bit peculiar, with some abstruse vocabulary and clue constructions more suitable for a barred crossword. No such oddities here, and most solvers will have taken this one in their stride with no difficulty I should think. Lots of anagrams and simple cryptic grammar today, with no unfamiliar words … well, not quite. 14ac got a “bleugh” in the margin, and one can imagine it cropping up in third rate Victorian doggerel but not, one fervently hopes, in everyday parlance. The workmanship is just fine throughout, and there are a few eye-catchers: 10 and 27ac are pleasing for instance, and 18d is prime clue of the day material:

“A ‘new’ alternative that’s recycled, and not at all resounding (8)”

My best wishes to one and all of course, and if anybody is climbing the walls for want of collaborative fiction, there have been surprising developments at A Write Panic. Ms Scarlet tells me that she has “something silly” up her sleeve for today, so maybe worth a look.

After the travails of last week it came as something of a relief to get a nice, straightforward puzzle to ease us back into the working week (yes, some of us still are). The fact that the current situation is 15ac, and that I suspect we’re all starting to 22ac left me looking for other thematic entries, but it appears there aren’t any. 😉

Questions / issues? I had to look up the gentleman referred to in 18d, failed to fully parse 4d, and had to check the definition at 1ac, but the rest went in with little ado and all understood.

Finish time comfortably under par for the i, and thoroughly enjoyed.

COD? I’ll go with 29ac – “Gate money essentially to go with Bill (7)”.

To December 2015:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2015/12/27/independent-1348-by-poins/

Saturday 21st March 2020

On those extremely rare occasions I ever get roped into a pub quiz team, I always inform my team-mates ‘if it’s opera or soap operas, don’t ask me’; so last weekend’s ghost theme based around Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes went completely over my head. Well, I knew he’d written an opera of that name, but then again I know there’s a family called the Dingles in Emmerdale; it doesn’t mean I’ve seen either.

Anyhow, I thought we had a really nicely constructed grid and a consistently high level of clueing from Phi. I’m struggling to think how an adverb like 29a SLENDERLY might be used, but it’s there in the dictionary, so no complaints. My last one in was 5d GRIMES, because (unsurprisingly) I didn’t know that Peter Grimes was a deranged fisherman, and it took me an age to realise the way 11a F[av]OUR worked,  which was definitely a tricky clue to parse.

Amongst my favourites were 1a SEARCHING, 12a INTERLUDES, and the excellent clue for 27a BRITTEN. However my COD nomination has to go to this pleasingly assembled &Lit:

6d Low luminance in the dark? (9)

All the answers can be found by clicking here, along with plenty of discussion on the theme and the expected contribution from this setter to boot.

Trusting you’re all keeping well and managing to access the crossword by means foul or fair. I had been supposed to be playing Macbeth in the local AmDram this week. Heigh-ho.

Just the sort of crossword I like!

Forbidding, even alarming, on first sight (particularly when a blog is to be written); discreetly welcoming when the territory had been surveyed and a port of entry had been discovered; ultimately very satisfying to visit, offering as it does a variety of landscapes and features.

Klingsor’s clue-writing is usually impeccable, with neatly written clues which rarely compromise on the surface reading – I do like the sentences to make sense! And quite often they have a literal feel to them; 11a’s ECONOMY and 16d’s UKRAINE being very pleasing examples of this.

Even so, there were a couple of clues where nice bits of misdirection meant that the word-play eluded me. SHUT-EYE was a write-in from the definition and some crossing letters, but the word-play troubled me, until I realised that “soundly” indicated U as a homophpne for “you” (I had erroneously identified “ye” as “you”). RESENT, too, took a while, as I wrongly thought that “about” took care of “re”. It took me a while, when doing 7d, to remember that there was another academic Cambridge, other than the chilly and misty one in the fens.

Some things required an online check: LIEF worked and sounded plausible, and so it turned out to be; and my dim recollection of the Pilgrim’s Progress turned out to be sufficient to get DESPAIR – but I thought it best to check. WANNABE took me a while, it not really being part of my vocabulary.

My one criticism is for 1d: SHARPIE. It was unknown to me as “cheat”, and the word-play was far from obvious. I don’t believe this follows the rule of “easy clues for obscure words”.

So many good and enjoyable clues make it hard to pick out a favourite, and 21a was a strong candidate as an implied reverse anagram. However, although I’m not generally a fan of homophones, 20d did make me smile: “Beast’s command to beloved oarsman overheard? (3,4)”.

All the answers and explanations can be found here.

Our second Prize Puzzle reprint of the week comes courtesy of Anax, and as expected it’s one that’s a little on the tough side. Perhaps it’s just the general malaise that I’m feeling at the moment, but this is one that I found to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure to complete. Perhaps at a better time I would have appreciated it more… Solved yet again using the i‘s application, which works great on a Chromebook but I suspect less so for solving on a small screen. 🙂

Points of interest? Apart from the ridiculously long anagram that took an age to get, UN for one as in 16ac without a foreign language indicator always annoys me, we seem to have a superfluous “as” in 14ac if the parsing over on the other side is correct, and similarly with “The” and “of” in 4d.

Anyone, I must get onto my daily allocated bit of exercise. So COD? I’ll go with 2d – “He’s earned bucks as a songwriter (2,7)”.

To January 2016:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/01/04/independent-9105-anax-sat-19-dec-2015/

It’s Wednesday, it’s Dac, and a puzzle I suspect will have come as a relief to many after the past couple of slightly testing days. Taking heed of the latest government guidelines I’ve stayed put this morning, relying on the i‘s digital edition and puzzles app. This seems to be working quite well, and is an option well worth pursuing for those of you unable to get a physical copy of the paper. On the other hand my broadband connection’s up and down like a yo-yo today, no doubt because everybody’s busy streaming Netflix, though it does add a certain frisson to the solving and blogging experience.

Today’s solve could best be described as being pretty straightforward, with a couple of nice long friendly answers to fill up the grid – notably the TV show which will have been a write-in for many, and with a little sting in the tail on reaching the Canadian city and criminal tendency. The latter gave rise to my only query because I don’t see how Thelonious could possibly be mispronounced as the correct answer, but thankfully we were gifted the first letter. Elsewhere we had a language that was also somewhat little-known, but pretty clearly signposted, and a sea monster you may or may now have known.

Finish time easily under par for the i for the first time this week, and as good as always.

COD? Let’s go with 12/13 – “Broadcast e.g. favourite show on telly finally – this one? (4,1,3,4,3,3)”.

And before my connection drops again, here’s that all-important Fifteensquared link:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/01/06/independent-9119-dac/

On the weekend that the Listener booze-up somewhat unwisely carried on regardless, was it any coincidence that eXternal’s latest offering on the theme of something a little less highbrow than Hedge-Sparrow’s was scheduled? Thought not. Though I imagine the bash was the sort of up-market affair where rousing renditions of the Drunken Sailor were strictly non-U.

To the preamble, which looked somewhat alarming. The bit we needed to actually solve the thing could handily be summarised as being 17 clues with an extra word, and 6 without definition. See, this IQ business isn’t that scary after all.

The grid-fill was begun following the obligatory Saturday morning dance lesson where all 8 of the usual suspects turned up, such being the general climate of fear and all-encompassing loathing. Thankfully it left lots of space in the bar to self-isolate and enjoy Quixote’s unexpected prize puzzle. But the IQ I hear you cry. Well, the grid-fill could best be summarised as being slowish but steady, with an eyebrow raised on “tough” for “sticky” in one bit of wordplay, only to find it justified in the BRB, one of many trips required this week, mostly on the parsing side of things it seemed.

The south proved somewhat more intransigent until I thought to look at the locations given by the definition-less clues. We had SCUPPERS, LONGBOAT, GUARDROOM and BILGE for starters. And what did they all have in common? Well, that song of course. Which location might the checking letters fit? That would be TAFFRAIL which you’d think I’d know but didn’t. A last YARDARM bang in the centre and the set was complete.

Job done.

Having somewhat enjoyed the solving experience thus far, I thought – let’s throw caution to the wind and enjoy it a bit more. Yep, those extra words. The time of course would be early in the morning, leaving just a bit of untangling of some mariners to sort out.

r(e)mainer MARINER
p(a)shmina SHIPMAN
mo(r)tal MATLO
dro(l)lest OLDSTER
ha(y)dn HAND
man(i)toba BOATMAN
ora(n)gutan ARGONAUT
(t)imely LIMEY
p(h)antom TOPMAN
refer(e)e REEFER
(m)arked DRAKE
(o)wner WREN
(r)ibands SINBAD
sla(n)t SALT
w(i)steria WAISTER
mea(n)t MATE
madri(g)al ADMIRAL

No prizes for guessing that the letters to be moved would leave us with a sailor, albeit a drunken one, and one where it took me a little while to realise that the letters we didn’t need to highlight would be the ones moving alongside the longboat.

All done, I hope, given an extensive preamble and my proclivity to not read the things properly. Time to text my apologies for skipping some activities not commensurate with this isolation lark, reach for a bottle of the hard stuff, and sweat it out.

PS Far be it from me to point out mistakes on the part of the editor, but I suspect that the closing date for this puzzle is in fact the 24th and not a time-bending 12th March.

I have been really enjoying Radian’s puzzles just lately, which is as well since he’s already chalked up four Tuesdays this year and it’s only March. He seems to hit the happy medium consistently and never comes close to insulting the intelligence on the one hand, or outright clever dickery on t’other. This one first appeared at the start of January 2016 on a Monday, which is a bit rum. The consensus over at Fifteensquared was that it’s pretty thorny: not sure that I found it markedly so, but it’s definitely not in the start the week off gently category either.

Pierre, I think, hasn’t quite nailed the nature of the theme, which seems to me to be about matters of 23d generally, although there are certainly plenty of references to musical tempi. Small matter – make of it what you will. There’s lots to enjoy today, from the simple but elegant (23ac and 20d, say) to the cor blimey (10 and 22ac). 15 and 17 both raised a smile, but 25ac got a cackle and is therefore my COD:

“Piano’s on facility: overpowering hectic playing (9)”

On a different matter, long term (not to mention long suffering) readers of the Tuesday blog might remember Charmaine, who went off to live with her Aunt Scarlet. In order to alleviate cabin fever Scarlet has set up a collaborative writing project, so if anyone is feeling cooped up and at a loose end it might be worth a look now and then. Yes, I’ve been roped in, but there are some witty and talented people involved too. Here’s the link: A Write Panic.

The week begins rather unexpectedly with a Saturday Prize Puzzle reprint, and one for that matter that was the most challenging I’ve encountered in a long time. At the close I had a full grid, though with loads not understood, and a nudge or two required (notably with the crossing 6ac and 8d). I know that half the country isn’t working, but I am, and could have done with something a little less taxing to kick off the week. At the close I was just pleased to have finished, but it’s possible you had more time on your hands today and appreciated this a little more. Finish time twice that par for the i, which is the longest I’ve spent over any puzzle for years.

COD? I’ll go with 15ac, though pickings were thin simply because so many went in not fully understood – “Leading Axis spy travels to Switzerland – nothing’s on record in behavioural study (10)”.

To February 2016:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/02/06/independent-9140-by-anglio/