We often get tough offerings in the Thursday spot, and it must be said that today’s Saturday Prize Puzzle reprint was very tough indeed. With a little help here and there I ended up with a full grid, but must admit that the parsing went totally over my head for a number of the entries, even when I was sure of the answer. That, combined with a number of obscurities (13ac and 6d being chief examples) made for an uncomfortable solve that I was more relieved than pleased to finish. Perhaps an early morning solve in anticipation of a busy day wasn’t the best idea today, or maybe Tyrus will always be one of those setters I never really get to grips with. Finish time twice that par for the i, with a little help from a word search on a couple of answers.

COD? It may have caused much agonising at the time, but I’ll go with 6d – “Modest musician scented shameful U-turn by insiders (10)”.

To January 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/01/23/independent-crossword-9128-by-tyrus-16-01-2016/

I suspect today’s offering in terms of difficulty is about as straightforward as the i gets, though being Dac this was of top notch quality, so I suspect too there will be few complaints. In common with solvers on the other side I was more familiar with the version of 10/12 heard in The Godfather, and questioned the definition at 30ac, but everything else seemed to be present and correct. We have the one potential unknown at 23ac, but the wordplay involves a crossword cliche I’m guessing most solvers will have met before, so it should have caused no difficulties.

COD? Because it’s done well, and because it reminded me of Agatha Christie’s always enjoyable whodunits, 19d – “Highly-poisonous compound, portion with water put in (8)”.

To February 2016:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/02/17/independent-9155-by-dac/

I don’t think it would be a spoiler, given the puzzle title, to note that the members of PINK seem to be self-isolating even in the byline. Phi dropped a hint earlier in the week that a special was in store, and it didn’t take a genius to guess at the likely subject matter. Luckily, because we’re lacking in geniuses in these parts.

What did surprise me was a grid fill lacking in gimmicks, one that wouldn’t have been out of place in terms of difficulty for the average plain Azed. I tend to start ordinary cryptics in the bottom right corner, and glanced that way first today out of habit, to see OLD like a shot. As expected you needed your copy of the BRB to hand for beauties like NGWEE and ECUELLE, and many such in the word play, but such is far from being a chore. Much elsewhere went in with little ado, and with the mornings longer these days due to the lack of dance and the customary supermarket visit, the grid fill was duly finished before lunch. And that after a particularly broken night’s sleep. I’m guessing I’m not alone in broken night’s sleep these days.

To the last bit of the preamble, which I’d studiously ignored to that point. Thankfully our setters have given an example of what we’re supposed to do, otherwise I don’t think I would have been up to it. Reference my earlier comments.

So first, which letter only appears twice in the grid? That would be I. And picking appropriate letters from the clues based on its position gives? CHANGE CONTENTS OF TWO CELLS BAR OFF ALL CELLS CONTAINING… V or I. Thankfully there aren’t any V’s, so we’re to bar off the I’s. And then?

Then, well, if you were to look across the diagonal NW to SE of the original grid you’d spot SELFISH NATION. Change to letters to give? SELF-ISOLATION, which will have come as a surprise to nobody, but has still done more to convince me of the need to do so than all the half-witted state-sponsored messages I’ve been doing my best to self-isolate from the past month.

So good spot, if it was PINK’s spot. Do stay safe everybody, and remember to self-isolate but not self-immolate, as spell check handily suggested a few weeks back.

We haven’t seen nearly enough of Tees for my liking just lately, so his return is very welcome. Was it just me, or was this his gentlest puzzle ever? There’s a rather restrained theme, a not especially well known Californian city and a historical personage who doesn’t appear in my biographical encyclopedia, but it was all eminently solvable from the clues alone.

I can’t see anything to complain of at all, not that it’s likely with such a diligent setter, and there’s a good handful of noteworthy clues including 13 and 28ac and 7d – any of which would do nicely for a COD. 10ac wins by a nose:

“Brave daughter giving sportsman hug made advances (10)”

The December 2015 Fifteensquared blog entry was supplied by mc_rapper67, and jolly good it is too. Nice to see a splash of colour.

A new week begins, and with it an IoS reprint from Poins. Fairly straightforward overall I thought, finished here certainly well under par for the i, though I’m guessing 19d gave most of us pause for thought. I circled “of” in 25ac which seems to be there to support the surface reading only, but everything else looked pretty fair and above board. An enjoyable start to the day.

COD? As ever thin pickings with these IoS reprints, being in their nature really, but I’ll go with 23ac – “Protective screen placed in position around most of royal family (7)”.

To February 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/02/28/independent-on-sunday-1357-poins/

I can still remember my sense of wonder when, as a small child,  somebody pointed out to me that Cruella de Vil had ‘cruel devil’ hidden inside her name – maybe that was the start of my love of crosswords? So I was on the look out for her name from the get-go in this very clearly flagged theme from Punk.  We also had HANNIBAL LECTOR, MICHAEL CORLEONE, NURSE RATCHED, TRAVIS BICKLE (Robert De Niro’s character in Taxi Driver) and PINKIE [Brown] from Brighton Rock. As my grandfather used to say: ‘If the devil could cast his net!’ Quite a grid fill that, and nothing ghosty about it this time.

I thought it was going to be very hard at first, and struggled to get going, but once I got a foothold the second half of the clues yielded much more easily with things finishing at a veritable gallop, and what great clues they were! Quite convoluted in places, but scrupulously fair of course, highly ingenious, and even with answers I didn’t know like Mr Bickle, it was all deducible from the wordplay.

COD: 15a Villain’s failure of cochlear implants in start of long journey? (7,8)

And the Fifteensquared review from 2016 with all the answers is here.

Hob is one of my favourite setters, and appears less frequently than most, so it was a great delight to find one today. Perhaps slightly easier than is typical from Hob, this one took me about my average length of time to complete, and I was able so without recourse to aids. This is a tribute to Hob’s faultless setting; I had no queries whatsoever about any clue.

I do wonder, however, what younger solvers than me (and I am not that old myself, being a child of the ’60s) make of references to the Fat Owl of the Remove. Are Billy BUNTER stories still known or read? I’m not sure how or why I know the references to the schoolboy in question and that the ‘remove’ is a year-group in certain independent schools. I never read the books, so perhaps there was some television adaptation from which I may have absent-mindedly absorbed the information.

More puzzling is the defining of CARSON with “republican”. If it refers to a certain current member of the American government, then he is a somewhat obscure (at least in this country, I think) personage requiring rather more than “republican” to point the solver in the right direction. If it refers to Sir Edward, who is a historical figure whom British and Irish solvers might have heard of,  then it is not just wrong but seriously wrong, as he was famously a Unionist.

CARSON is part of a ghost theme based upon fictional butlers, and they are identified in the esteemed BertandJoyce’s original blog from February, 2016. I didn’t spot it myself. I had wondered whether there might be something emerging when I got MAHARAJAH in the top left and SOVEREIGN in the bottom right, but I was wrong.

There are lots of good clues today, making it hard to choose one in particular. I was impressed by the aforementioned MAHARAJAH, an impeccable reverse charade, made all the more entertaining by having only four consecutive As as crossing letters. GEORDIE made me laugh with its neat surface reading. But in the end it had to be the superb double inclusions of 6d: “Those undesirable periods of dishonour if father and mother affected (4-4)”.

The crossword editor puts in one of his occasional appearances to give us a themed puzzle that I sort of spotted. I could see lots of films dotted round the grid, but I must admit to being unaware that this gentleman was the common factor until I Googled a few. For the most part fairly straightforward, only 21ac and 7ac gave me any problems, and then at the close. Both were fairly clued, so I can only blame my own ineptitude. Elsewhere I did wonder at “cut” in 15ac, but in retrospect think it’s fine, and smiled on spotting one of the crossword setter’s favourite composers at 18d.

COD? Lots to appreciate today, with my nomination going to 10d, just because of the misleading use of axes which was nicely done – “Bingo company axes a splendid gathering (6)”.

To February 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/02/02/independent-9142-eimi/

It’s Wednesday, so it’s Dac, and a pretty gentle offering overall. Thankfully, as the return to work continues as frantically as it started. I had a slight issue with 13d, having missed the “wood” bit in the wordplay for reasons that escape me now – probably carelessness – and agree with the comments over on the other side that ACCURATE is the correct synonym for 5ac (and it was indeed what I first lobbed in), but apart from that there’s nothing to argue about, and much to enjoy. So as I really must get on I’ll just note that my first in was 1ac just for a change, last in the aforementioned 13d, with a finish time under par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with 13ac, and not only because for a change I got a bird name straight off – “Bird makes fellow cross: she has drink behind bar, topless (4,10)”.

To February 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/02/03/independent-9143-dac/

At this stage of proceedings we’ve been in lockdown for three weeks, and I’ve been on leave for one week. Which is to say that I can barely remember what day it is, my own name, what it feels like to be able to pop to the shop for non-essential items without risking arrest, and have got to feeling decidedly odd. Which it appears can be good for lateral thinking. Because, after struggling badly for an age to get a handful of clues in the grid, though enough to get some of the extraneous letters, the thought occurred – let’s try another approach and see if we can guess the motto from the letters we’ve got. Combined with a punt at ODYSSEY, it proved to be an unexpectedly inspired one. Ex Luna Scientia like a shot, the ill fated Apollo 13 mission for which it was the motto, and hence the astronauts involved who make up the twin letters missing from the answers in the top of the grid but present in the bottom… Though I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember exactly where that morning I’d been reading about said mission, and hence the moment of rare inspiration.

Oh well. Armed with the remainder of the letters from the astronaut names, a likely looking AQUARIUS to the south, and APOLLO 13 across the centre (bang, the two answers we had to enter in a less than conventional manner), progress proved to be more rapid. First to the north, because I could see what we had to do with the twin letters, and then to the south, but only then on parsing HOKUMTH. Yep, needless to say we had little in the way of real words in the finished grid.

All of which proved to be a satisfying test of our parsing skills, what with the lack of recognisable collections of letters all over the shop. With the showers thankfully limiting themselves to a couple of random dots on my copy of the paper, and the sun continuing to shine, a very pleasant solve it was too, albeit while still feeling… decidedly odd. Apparently residents in a town in Derby are mooing out of their windows every night. I’m considering joining them, in spirit if not in body.