Saturday 14th March 2020

Don Manley appearing with his Indy hat on; you may already know that he appears elsewhere variously as Pasquale, Bradman, Duck, Giovanni and Izetti. Rather brilliantly, each Don has its own style and level of difficulty. I think I’m right in saying that Quixote is at the easy end of the spectrum; certainly there was nothing to frighten the horses in last week’s clues – apart from the unfortunate grid perhaps, and that small town of Birr in County Offaly, which seemed plain from the wordplay but which I wasn’t prepared to write it in until both crossers confirmed it.

I had 8 ticks for merit-worthy clues in my margin, but 3 unsmiley faces. Obviously those are more interesting to talk about, so here goes with my carps:

26a ‘change of direction’ as an anagram indicator. Looks like a reversal indicator to me. ‘change’, sure, but how ‘of direction’?

6d ‘See’ presumably as an indicator that if you do the wordplay you’ll see to it being done. Just don’t like it.

5d Purportedly a form of ‘straight cryptic’. But what’s cryptic about it? Isn’t it simply a rather long-winded description of the answer? I can only presume the justification is that it misdirects the solver to think it’s a standard definition/wordplay clue. If so, that seems like a cop-out to me, and of a type we’ve seen too often recently. Allow me to give you an excellent example of what a ‘straight cryptic’ should look like, taken from the i, 5 years ago: ‘Keep falling down as the water comes closer?’ As you can see the solver would initially see the obvious meaning of ‘keep’ and only upon realising the answer, ‘Sandcastle’ realise the other meaning. And the setter? You guessed it, Quixote.

Back to the positives, I very much liked the double definition (one whimsical) for BOOTS ON THE GROUND, but that got pipped by this nifty container:

7d Scientist’s introduction to rare work included by one making literary selection (14)

You can see all the answers from the original blog here, where there are some (in my opinion) groundless quibbles discussed in the comments section, in particular with regard to 9a and ‘let’.  William FP makes an interesting contribution about this category of words which can be taken in opposite ways: he calls them Janus words; Ben Schott in his ‘Original Miscellany’ calls them contradictanyms, allan_c supplies us with possibly the two best known examples: ‘cleave’ and ‘sanction’.

The distinctive and somewhat striking grid positively leapt off the page when I combed through the paper in search of the crossword. “Must he a nina”, I thought, possibly four sets of three or something like that. But when a few went in, I decided I was mistaken. And then, once the puzzle was completed I noticed two BEADs in the perimeter – but the F, C and G on the top line and the G on the bottom made no sense, so I tried to convince myself there was nothing there.

But of course there was. If you really want to understand, refer to the comments in the Fifteensquared blog from December 2015.

The grid, in fact, proved an irritation to me, as it was one of those puzzles where the corners all seemed too detached from the whole, and it ended up rather like a series of mini-crosswords, rather than one coherent whole.

I got this done within my typical one hour, but needed a bit of e-help in places – more for untangling the word-play than in determining the grid entries. ATELIER, INSUFFICIENCY and FORELIMB proved very reluctant to give up their charms to me, and the definition for ABSCONDS eluded me for a while. And has anyone called a film a “TALKIE” anytime in the last eighty years?

ESNE was new to me, and as for PICARD, that went in with a shrug and with no understanding whatsoever.

Clue of the day? I’ve said before that I’m no fan of anagrams, but the smooth surface reading and the near-literalness of 16a pleased me: “Team spirit beat dire prospects (6,2,5)”.

[I hope that my fellow-bloggers, our contributors, followers and readers are all ok. I and my family are all fine. I’m not too worried for myself, as if – or when – it happens I expect to make a full and speedy recovery, as I am a fit and healthy (albeit diabetic) man in my fifties. Reduced social contact is a trial, but consolations can be found in music, books and in quiet, as well as in crosswords. My good wishes to one and all.]

Presumably Eimi has decided that we’re self-isolating and need something a little chewier to pass the time. At the moment I’m still allowed out and about, though hard pressed with work, and when the kids are off next week I suspect even harder pushed for time a little peace and quiet, so easy on the more challenging ones please. 🙂

I found this to be challenging, yes, but also extremely accessible. A nice long answer down the centre of the grid, a few sporty references that may or may not have fallen into place quickly depending on your interest in such things (or not in my case), and a couple of gimmes, the caped one at 5ac notably so. Loads that were easier to chuck into the grid than parse too, with the luxury of an always excellent blog from Duncan over on the other side to refer to at the close.

Finish time a fifth over par for the i, and a standing ovation all round I suspect.

COD? So many to choose from, with my nomination going to 15d – “Darling, look at those really famous celebs! (8)”.

Today’s rationing update: We have toilet paper, but long life milk and eggs are most definitely flying off the shelves. Wish me luck.

It’s an IoS reprint, but not as we know it. 😉 Yes, it’s Daedalus, which means something perhaps a little trickier than we’re accustomed to on a Wednesday, and for an IoS reprint too for that matter. My finish time was higher than average and with quite a few not fully parsed – chief suspects being 15d and 6d. Or perhaps my head is just elsewhere at the moment and you all sailed through this. An enjoyable offering nevertheless, though one I suspect won’t be to everybody’s taste. Now I must dash, my customary lunchtime walk having been reduced to a probably fruitless shop-by-shop hunt for toilet paper. By 2020 weren’t we supposed to be whizzing round in flying cars or something, and not reduced to this?

COD? I had several ticks beside the clues – in particular 1ac and 18d – with my nomination going to 16d – “In Romeo’s home I start to collect speedwell (8)”.

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

First thoughts:

  • Presumably the title is indicative of an anagram.
  • What a complicated preamble.

Final thoughts:

  • Oh yes, the Duke of Wellington was the Iron Duke, and there he is hiding in a STATION. Neat.
  • Yep, the missing object was secreted to the SW of the grid all along.
  • And it’s a PAINTING.
  • Is NG a valid abbreviation for the National Gallery? I suppose so.
  • Where was Mr Bunton hiding all that time? There, in plain sight, and now highlighted a fetching shade of pink.
  • Didn’t everything hang together nicely.

And last of all the curious bits in the middle:

  • Clues not only entered, but fully parsed as well. That must be a first.
  • What a lot of long answers there are. Perhaps that helped. CAPPERNOITIES to you too.
  • Either I’m getting better at these things, or that was another easy one. My money’s  on the latter.
  • What’s a Stem and Leaf Diagram anyway, and why didn’t we do them when I was in school? But that’s got nothing at all to do with the puzzle, and everything to do with this weekend’s homework, so shall remain forever unanswered.

The title? Well, go and read Mr Bunton’s Wikipedia entry, and wonder no more why a certain secret agent also gets a mention.

TV Licences for the poor? Not with this government I suspect.

Today’s crossword has a greenish tinge and a whiff of the apocalyptic about it. I suppose it does make a change from current concerns. 12/20 has been lightly edited to bring it up to date although it’s not particularly helpful if you ask me – so it’s a case of knuckling down and parsing the sucker, or, ahem, waiting for all the crossers and just bunging it in.

We all know the score with Radian on a Tuesday, and sure enough it’s pretty accessible and liberally provided with thematic material. The two whacking great anagrams to either side of the grid rather jump out, but the crossword doesn’t rely excessively on them elsewhere and the usual observation about a goodly variety of clue types holds true. Quite a few of them are distinctly complicated, making this one of Radian’s more challenging puzzles in my opinion if you like to parse everything to your complete satisfaction. 19ac made me smile for that reason: it really is rather solver hostile, don’t you think? Another smile, with apologies to Topsy, for 2d. I also liked 9ac and 5d, amongst others, with 10ac taking the COD laurels:

“Weather lady who rules lines (5)”

Duncan did the honours back in December 2015, so if you click here here you’ll be in good hands for solutions and explanations. Much discussion of spelling in the comments, on account of 6d. My late Auntie Maisie got around it neatly by always referring to “desecrated coconut”, which is much easier.

It’s Kairos, but it’s not an IoS reprint as you might have been expecting, and some was difficult enough to push this into par for the i territory rather than far below as  expected. O/C in the wordplay for 23ac was a bit rough perhaps, and I remain unconvinced by the DD in 17d, but the rest to be fair was… Well, fair and above board, and pretty enjoyable throughout. I’m wondering how many will complain about the Harry Potter reference in 9ac, but I’ve not read the books or seen any of the films and I got it, so therefore everybody should. 😉

COD? I’ll go with 4d – “Briefly run away on short tryst maybe returning with youngster (7)”.

To November 2015:

Hope everybody is keep well, btw, and coping with the current rather odd turn the world has taken.

Saturday 7th March 2020

Which gave me probably my most enjoyable Phi puzzle of the year so far. Yes, there was a reasonably recondite ghost theme which only lovers of contemporary classical music will have tumbled (without the help of Mr Google, that is), but if his puzzles were all this good, I’d be laving his honours in flattering streams week in week out.

James Macmillan (1959 – ) is the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation, and there he was in row 11. I much prefer it when the name is put on the same line like that, rather than split around the grid or, as Phi sometimes does, split around the grid with one name hidden inside another word. It might even be nice to have the theme title in row 1, but perhaps that’s asking too much. Personally I was raised in a Radio 3 house by 3d Prommer parents, but have let the side down rather, and seldom listen to new classical composers nowadays. Hence my ignorance. Theme words of Macmillan opera titles are discussed at the Fifteensquared blog here if you’re interested. Annoyingly, Phi chips in in the comments with the nugget of trivia that Macmillan’s opera ‘Busqueda’ translates as 5a SEARCH. And he almost sounds disappointed that so many people got the main theme at all!

As for the COD, I do like hiddens very much once they start getting above 7 or 8 letters, and I like misdirection too, so for me it has to be this one:

16d Pity bicycle men, cycling without limits (8)



A strange sense of deja-vu descended over me as I read 1ac and unhesitatingly wrote in the answer, Dac’s bottom-right word from Wednesday becoming Phi’s top-left today. Solving 20d just added to this feeling, including as it did a bit of wordplay used in yesterday’s Alchemi (I couldn’t parse it yesterday, but had no problem today, as a consequence).

This being a Phi there is, of course, a twist to the puzzle, in this case a very cleverly hidden nina, forming a near-rectangle sitting aslant in the grid. Having said that, if you want to work on the nina yourself, then don’t read my final paragraph. I refer you to the discussions last week about what to make of such deeply hidden dimensions to otherwise apparently simple, straightforward puzzles.

By and large, and aided by a quick start with the aforementioned INTERNEE, this was a fairly swift solve, with only one word needing a check online – ERGOT, a plant disease I was unaware of. I also looked up who the Ruthenes were/are, but that was merely because my interest was piqued, as I had heard of Ruthenia. I scratched my head for a while before I got O’KEEFFE, but it was fairly clued, and I decided to trust the wordplay, which paid off. NOSED I failed to parse, and needed to refer to the Fifteensquared blog from November, 2015, to see how that particular clue worked; it’s fair, if obscure.

As usual with this setter there is a nice range of clues, and my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the amusing 7d, with it’s splended surface reading: “Golf is man struggling to get birdies? (9)” .

Now, as to that nina: I wonder if anyone would have spotted it without repeated prods from the setter. Even after one hint it seemed to draw blank from the commenters of 2015, resulting in a weird diversion into something to do with astrology. Ignore that; it’s a snooker-based nina spelling out, in the shape of a slant-wise rectangle, REBOUNDING FROM THE CUSHIONS starting from the R in IDEOGRAMS and heading NE in the first place. Don’t tell me it was obvious, and you got that straight away. 🙂

A few terms I hadn’t heard of – the item of espionage equipment and joiner – and the one I couldn’t parse (4d), but despite that this was all done and dusted in pretty good time, and with many a tick beside the clues too. Which is lucky because the rest of my lunchtime is taken up with a trip to the local pharmacy while I still dare to venture there. 😉 We had a few signs, and for a while I thought I spotted an audio theme emerging, but it appears that what we actually have is a good, plain, thoroughly enjoyable puzzle finished comfortably once more under par for the i.

20d in your paper will read differently to the one in the blog on the other side, for reasons given there:

British pack animal and French dog

Just to prove that I still can parse the odd clue.

To COD, with my nomination going to 21ac – “Swinging places Algerians busily put rugs round (8,5)”.

And with no further ado to December 2015 when the world seemed a much gentler place: