In a parallel universe I woke up, glanced at the IQ cheerily and thought – oh good, it’s another carte blanche. As it was I staggered out of bed somewhat tardily feeling rather the worse for wear, glanced at the paper and thought… Oh dear.

Several hours later… Buoyed by croissants, several cups of strong coffee, and Math’s spiffing Star Wars themed cryptic, I turned to the Inquisitor to find that, unlike the last offering of this ilk, this was actually quite accessible. 13 letter answers at the top and bottom of the grid, and acrosses the positions of which could be deduced by the application of a little logic. The downs? I’ve never got the hang of positioning down answers in this sort of thing, and just kind of lob them in where they fit. Perhaps that’s all there is to it.

So that despite failing miserably to get the first across for an age, it didn’t take long to work out where EQUATIONS went, and with it EYOT and GEAR. Further encouraged by getting the ink blotty test thing down the bottom, the grid, well, it didn’t take too long after all, with, yes, the other related ink blotty thing at the top 3rd from last to fall. Aided by a hunch that it would end GRAPH something.

Leaving something that looked like this:


Oh yes, shading and deletions. Well, the top and bottom were thematic, having no definition (yep, forgot to mention that). Presumably we’re supposed to produce something symmetric. So the two lines to left and right, plus some other letters dotted round the grid like this? With the centre one to make up the numbers, being of course symmetric in its centrality.

That was me, confident that this was done and dusted… Until the evening approached and I presumably woke up and realised that the whole of the centre column was as equally symmetric as the centre cell. Gah. So, we’re looking for something that looks remarkably like that III in the title?

Yep. But what about the other symmetrically placed letters? Oh yes, the shaded ones can all be mirrored and remain unchanged – O, T, W, A, I, etc. Unlike E, N, L and so on.

Phew. Trap neatly if somewhat fortuitously sidestepped.

And you know what, I enjoyed that thoroughly despite not expecting to at all. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that’s the best we’ve had for a while. So thanks Serpent. Onto Mirror Image IV, presumably?

Raich is seldom seen on a Tuesday, so this is an unexpected pleasure. For my money he’s the top dog on Mondays, and one of the finest compilers of novice-friendly puzzles ever. This one felt straightforward to me, but the quality and polish left little to be desired.

The subject of the theme is not, I fear, my specialist subject, and the subtleties no doubt passed me by. Nice sentiment across the top, anyway. The only thing I didn’t much care for was 5d, on account of my aversion to company names in crosswords. What next … Serco? Spud-U-Like? All the rest was jolly good though: rather in the nature of a series of write-ins, but with uncommonly decent surfaces. The kind of convoluted sneakiness which tends grab my attention for COD selection purposes wasn’t much in evidence today, so I’m going for 28ac which is a concise, quirky clue for a word which doesn’t come up very often:

“”Unlikely local capital (7)”

Solutions, parsing and a sparse sprinkling of comments may be found by following this handy link to the March 2016 Fifteensquared blog entry.

A quite tricky IoS to start the week with, I thought. A finish time somewhat over par for the i, and with quite a few question marks to boot – notably the wordplay for 2d which had me totally bamboozled (and you could argue is a bit unfair) and the definition at 24. Now, I did have an unnecessarily late night and can barely think logically if at all today, plus temperatures seem to be more reasonable for October than June, which may mean that I’ve totally seized up. Never mind – let me know how you got on!

COD? While wondering if it’s entirely fair, it certainly stands out, so I’ll go with 2d – “In force by 74 in the Borders (9)”.

To April 2016:

On Fifteensquared this week Kathryn’s Dad wrote these words: ‘There’s an art and a skill to compiling cryptics, but there’s an additional ability to produce interesting crosswords week in, week out’. I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I will always admire setters like Phi, Quixote, Punk and Dac and those from other papers who can do so.

No theme or Nina this week, and a pretty smooth gridfill hereabouts for the most part. No need to check CAPARISONED or OPERA SERIA because although both were only on the very edges of my vocabulary, they were very clearly clued. My only hold-up came right at the end on the intersecting SHINGUARD and DUKEDOM. I’m no great fan of definitions like ‘one protects’ for the former and fist = duke didn’t come to mind for the latter. I wondered if I’ve heard ‘show me your dukes’ in a gangster movie somewhere, but Collins has it as Cockney rhyming slang: Duke of Yorks/Forks/ Fingers.  Anyhow, all finished with nothing else particularly obscure or difficult – I imagine anyone tackling a cryptic would know the story of Sisyphus and won’t have struggled with 2d, but then again we’re all allowed gaps!

Runners-up for COD were the excellent clue for 11a already referred to, and the nifty Straight Cryptic for SIDEWALK at 16d, but I’m plumping for the following:

22a Angry Left encouraged following protocol in sit-in? (5-6)

All the answers and parsings from March 2016 can be found by clicking here.

Finally I feel duty-bound to point out, whenever it crops up as it did in the comments on the other side, that a tomato is a fruit in the garden, yes, but a vegetable as soon as it enters the kitchen. Strange but true.

This was a Saturday prize crossword – surprisingly, since it seemed more accessible than many, and I completed it in well under my typical time, without recourse to aids, other than to check and confirm.

As is usual from Morph, there was much wit, and the surface readings were delightful, and my paper was smothered in ticks on completion (and how good it has been this last fortnight or so to be back using the dead-tree version!).

Quibbles and queries? The “fenn”part of PFENNIG had me scratching my head. Googling “fenn” and “Chinese coin” didn’t help. After a while I did stumble across the “fen” (with one “n”), which was useful – but eventually concluding that the second “n” was a contraction of “and” left me underwhelmed. I thought there must be more to the clue for SIDES than a whimsical definition, and I am inclined to have some sympathy with OPatrick’s comment in BertandJoyce’s comprehensive blog from March, 2016. LYRIST (my last one in) for “poet” seemed a bit obscure, although there were helpful crossing letters, so once I had those it was clear what I needed to google for confirmation.

I wondered also if I might be missing something in EGGCUP other than another whimsical definition, but it’s such a nice clue, with its nod to Swiftian satire, that it didn’t matter, I felt.

So many good clues: MISSING, ARCHAEOLOGISTS, JAILHOUSE, GAUCHERIE and the aforementioned EGGCUP all got double ticks from me. But the one that made me laugh out loud was 2d; “Channel One producing seamy stuff? (5)”.

Hands up if you spotted what was going on in each of the four corners. I certainly didn’t, though the possibility of a Nina did occur to me. How I managed not to spot it is something of a mystery now, explained partly by, yet again, a solve rudely interrupted by real life demands. My LOI was 21d which I would have got a lot quicker if I’d paid more attention, the bit outside of NAG being somewhat of a mystery for too long. Elsewhere the identity of 14ac remained equally mysterious, though with a nice easy clue. 18d I had to look up, though I bet Cornick didn’t, and as for distant Ayrshire villages, well… Finish time a bit over par for the i, as expected for a Thursday reprint, but one that was extremely accessible and thoroughly enjoyable.

COD? There might be better clues in the puzzle, but once I’d spotted the definition 3d raised a great big smile – “Sonic equipment maker set up forever? (4)”. Who else remembers the infeasibly tall Sonic on the westbound route into London back in the day?

To March 2016:

If you’ve still got time to fill, I understand the Independent have a rather good puzzle by Maize up today.

Enigmatic Variations

June 24, 2020

For those who haven’t already heard, it appears that the Telegraph are about to cancel their Sunday barred grid puzzle. I solve whenever I have the chance what is a top-notch puzzle that it would be a pity to lose. It’s often easier than the Inquisitor and Listener, so a good introduction for newer solvers. It was, I believe, the first barred grid puzzle I tried following on from Azed. There are details on Alberich’s site regarding a campaign to save the puzzle. Please do take a look.

I find myself with little to say about today’s puzzle, but in a good way. It’s Dac, which means it’s well clued, entertaining, and consistently good. The particular meaning for 26ac was new to me, but given all the checking letters and wordplay there was nothing else it could be. I suspect 2d may have caused issues for some solvers, but the cryptic was easy enough to untangle should you have been stuck. Finish time just under par for the i, but mainly because I was multitasking at the time.

COD? So many to pick from, with my nomination going to the aforementioned 2d – “Actor and comedian taking part in dance (7,8)”.

To March 2016:

Difficult to put one’s finger on a theme this time, but it seems to me that there’s something going on concerning modes of expression, clarity and its absence and so forth. A couple of years ago we had another Radian puzzle crammed with 1d, for which I supplied an embedded link to a statue of Cicero by way of a hint. Nothing suggests itself today.

Probably more than with any other setter, I know what to expect of Radian on a Tuesday: a well made, entertaining crossword with no worthwhile quibbles and of medium difficulty – and a struggle to find a clue of the day because there’ll be a few candidates. This is pretty much the case today. There’s the customary wide variety of clue types, with a few gentle ones to provide toeholds and some more gnarly examples to add a bit of spice to the end game. Three phrases of foreign origin would ordinarily ring alarm bells, but I think they’re all pretty current, aren’t they? The Hebrew letter ought to be familiar enough to all but the greenest solvers, but 5d is a bit of a classic device which will cause all manner of trouble if you haven’t seen it before. Thumbs up for that. Anyway, no complaints here on grounds of obscurity, but the definition of 4d is rather perplexing – as in “why did he do that”?

Prominent amongst the runners up today are 5, 12 and 20, but on this occasion there was a clear COD even if it was a write-in:

17d: “Old idiot grabs axes, 1 of 1 (8)”

Bertandjoyce were in the chair at Fifteensquared back in April 2016, so we have the usual unimpeachable colour-coded exegesis to consult.

Accompanying today’s IQ, in glorious rainbow colour, is proof of my miserable failure, to, well, draw a rainbow accurately. Oh well. This one seems to be a simple matter of filling in some answers that are clued and some that aren’t. Presumably bereft of opportunities to come a complete and utter cropper?

Well, not really. The grid for the most part was filled in a jiffy, though with much agonising about DIP and CLINKER, the latter the likely looking replacement for Nail, though the parsing. Whoosh, that’s the parsing going somewhere over my head.

Misprints duly sorted, apart from the one. The poet, you see. There are lots of poets, so it seemed to be rather unfair we had to guess the right one. Needless to say from the sour grapes I picked the wrong one, so that my misprints looked like ARDHENLEYSN.

A random selection of English place names that were evidently going to complete the unclued entries were doing nothing to help, there being no obvious link between them.

And there doesn’t seem to be anything obviously cryptic about ARDHENLEYSN. Apart from its cryptic-ness that is.

24 hours later.

E, not S. ARDHENLEYEN, or Henley-In-Arden. Nope, I didn’t know it had a longer name either. And look, the other entries are above something (WESTON super MARE), GRANGE over SANDS, inside them (MORETON in MARSH), by them (WELLS on SEA), and so on.

Which is all very jolly I suppose if you knew more than one or two, but as noted previously Geography isn’t my strong suit, so I spent an age wrestling with Google and a list of unfamiliar places. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all…