The last Bank Holiday before we get to the Christmas season, we’re off to go and look at the sea, and so thankfully then an IoS reprint that was on the easy side. The spring and crossing 4ac / 7d caused a little difficulty at the close, but elsewhere the only problems encountered were a pen giving up the ghost halfway through and a late-summer hayfever induced bout of uncontrollable sneezing. I would say that some sea air will sort the latter, but Barry Island is known for its floral displays. Perhaps Covid will have put paid to that. Anyway, there’s a Nina absolutely nobody was expected to spot – see the comments over on the other side for more detail – and little that will have caused difficulty elsewhere. All in all a nice start to the week.

Finally to COD, with my nomination going to 4ac – “Outstanding leader in Eastern Levant perhaps (8)”.

To May 2016:

Back to St George’s Day 2016, which means we’re celebrating the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. And there he is, sort of, in the answers to 5d and 24d, SHAKE and SPEAR. Then there was a quartet of additional clues referencing each those two: TRILL, ROCK, TREMBLE and UNNERVE for the former, JAVELIN, ASSEGAI, DART and PIERCES for the latter – one of each for each century presumably. Very nice.

My favourite clue was probably 23d. Here it is again: Spruce up M’s place? (5)

And my favourite Fifteensquared blogger is probably Mc_rapper67, who was on his usual good form with the original blog here:

One of my favourite books when I was a child was Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes. And one of the joys of being a parent was reading it aloud some twenty-five or thirty years later. So I did know about the ERYMANTHIAN BOAR. But it was an age before I unravelled the anagram and worked out what was going on. The form of the clue was fairly straightforward and the anagram seemed pretty clear – but I needed a good fair few of the crossing letters before I got it. En route, I wondered if I was mistaken and, having got the O from GENIUS LOCI, perhaps the second word was “work” (I had not by that point solved RICE KRISPIES, so a K at the end seemed realistic). On solving PHILADELPHIA, the E made me wonder if it meant “polled” and was something derived from “electorally”.

This was the toughest challenge I have experienced in a long time, and I might have given up had I not been blogging. And I do hope it did not discourage less experienced solvers. I needed help – a lot of it – throughout my solve, and when all the answers were in I still had a number of clues unparsed, such as OPAL and TEAS. RING-FENCE in particular had me perplexed. It still does. I was relieved to find that the good folk on Fifteensquared had a similar experience. No-one got the nina. (Yes, I know, I didn’t think so either).

There was lots of imaginative defining such as “puffed up little things” and some fiendish word-play (of that which I could unravel) such as that in MADE and VIPERS, and apart from the aforementioned Labour of Heracles, one or two obscurities, like CZARDAS.

My nomination for clue of the day goes to 22d, which has ingenious word-play, an imaginative definition and an amusing surface reading: “Picked up a dear bachelor, camp at heart, swinging either way (5)”.

A Thursday reprint today from Tees who I often struggle with, but apart from the SE corner I found this to be more straightforward than both the IoS reprints we’ve had this week. Not being sure of the parsing of 22ac or 100% certain that I’d interpreted 18d correctly I suspect were at the root of my problems there. My finish time was still just above par for the i, so I evidently wasn’t held up too long. The long clues at the top and bottom of the grid were a gift to the solver, as was the easy hidden word at 7d which confirmed the already perfectly gettable unknown at 4ac, together with a bit of a crossword staple at 14ac.  Elsewhere it was much the same story until the SE corner where I needed rather unexpectedly to think a little more. 🙂

I have a steady stream of ticks by many of the clues, COD going to 18ac – “Doctor’s bone-setting charge? (8)”.

To May 2015:

Our second IoS reprint of the week, and the second with which I have struggled rather badly. This time any difficulty is down to the ingenuity of the setter, and time spent having to unpick quite carefully the wordplay. To be fair I solved while multi-tasking, so perhaps this was just one of those puzzles that required more focus. 10d I can never spell causing unnecessary difficulty, 13ac I failed to parse, and at 16d a hasty BEDSHIRT caused extra problems that were of my own making rather than the puzzle’s. Oh well. I had lots of ticks beside the clues too, so top marks for entertainment value, and today value for money too given the time spent.

COD?  With 22ac, 2d and 4d getting the runner-up spots, I’ll go with 12ac – “Herpes symptoms – head to the centre to settle these, perhaps (3,6)”.

To May 2016:

Batarde’s in the middle of an ongoing IT meltdown, so I’m afraid that you’re stuck with my somewhat less insightful meanderings. A puzzle today of not two halves, but three quarters which went in at somewhat of a sprint, and then the NW corner which took absolutely forever. I say forever, but I finished only a little over par for the i, and certainly faster than yesterday, so perhaps it just felt like forever compared with the rest. The main problems were 13ac which I failed miserably to parse for too long, and 3d which I guessed, but which contains some rather dubious wordplay. ESSO for petrol?

It’s Tuesday, so there’s supposed to be a theme. Lots of fuels, some fish bits, but no, nothing as far as I can see. In the comments on the other side somebody a lot cleverer than I am spotted PRIMUS INTER PARES and FIRST AMONG EQUALS, but whether there’s more to it than that I don’t know.

Enjoyed, anyway, with loads of ticks dotted beside the clues, my COD going to 27ac – “Queen’s consort’s mood inspires black memorial (9)”.

To May 2016:

In which Penumbra informed us that we were to seek out five things created by somebody called Charles and I answer that there are rather a lot of things created by people called Charles and that in searching for the exact ones he has in mind I think my head is going to explode.

It being that sort of solve.

To be fair extra words are for the most part easy to spot, and grid fills devoid of other trickery aren’t actually that mind-blowingly difficult. Barring a mistaken SURFACED for SURFACER and YAWS for YAWL, that is, which…

Well, actually, both mistakes helped as they sharpened my mind in the SE corner where I’d been gazing wistfully at that grey (not silver!) cell for far too long before thinking WONDE could, followed by a handy R and L make up WONDERLAND, or WONDERL& perhaps if I’ve guessed correctly what was meant by “cryptically”.

Because there was a lot of guessing involved in this, and said guessing took a long time. Oh yes, Wonderland, because Lewis Carroll wasn’t his real name, see. £BURY though that wasn’t created by anybody called Charles though the heir apparent was involved somehow I understand. E@ANSWILL which was that obscure I had to spend five minutes working it out again by the time I wrote this because… I’d forgotten again. Does $=IS? Who can tell, but I’ve gone with WHATD$AY for a Ray Charles song I’d not heard of.

Leaving 3 cells by my calculations, which varied searches seem to imply must be PRADO with a lesser known symbol for RAD. But there again it might not be, because there’s no way of checking if the above is all a figment of my fevered imagination.

Ah well, the solution will lay bare my incompetence and inability to mind-read Penumbra’s well-hidden intentions.

Oh yes, the last thing I didn’t get. The title. Shrugs…

An IoS reprint to start the week, but one it must be said I struggled with mightily, recording my longest solve in yonks. Perhaps it was the unfriendly grid, perhaps it was the mild feeling of exhaustion that besets me as ever on a Monday morning, or perhaps it was genuinely tricky. We have one big obscurity at 10ac that perhaps could have been clued less ambiguously and an equally obscure horse referenced in the wordplay at 21d, but most of the rest seems to have been fairly clued, so perhaps it was just me. Let me know how you got on though.

One clue has been rewritten since the original outing at 17d, with an unfortunate typo as it should be “Kiarostami”. The wordplay is an anagram of “earth” followed by TEN, a film I was blissfully unaware of until now.

COD? I’ll go with 25ac – “Helps assistant to remove ass’s head from Bottom (8)”.

To May 2016:

Having just looked at Fifteensquared where this puzzle was first blogged in 2016, I was more than a little surprised to see the negative comments and to learn that so many people have no idea at all about ‘The Big Bang Theory’ which, largely thanks to having two sons of the right age (one a mathematician and the other an engineer), has been a massive part of the Cornick family viewing over the last several years.

Every single clue had a surface reading relating to the series, and even 4d which some commenters thought didn’t, seemed to me like a neat summation of the series. The only reference I didn’t pick up on was ‘Bill’ in the clue for 9ac, but I’ll wager that’s a reference too.

So I was a very happy solver, and the convoluted nature of several of the clues was more than forgivable given the constraints of the theme. For my money I’d say ‘Nice one Math’. FWIW, my favourite episode is the one where Leonard’s mother comes to stay, but I accept I might be speaking to a small audience of i crossword solvers with that.

My COD relates to a repeated gag in the show, where Sheldon always has to knock on Penny’s door and call out her name 3 times so she knows it’s him. Yeah, you had to be there, I know.

20d Co-worker knocked his heart out for “Penny, Penny, Penny!” for example (6)

When is a theme not a theme? Working my way through this splendid offering from Tyrus it was hard not to notice a few references to the media in one form or another, some references direct, others more allusive. But the finished grid did not really seem to confirm that this crossword was truly themed. The Fifteensquared blog from May 2016 opined that the theme was pretty overt, but I wasn’t so sure.

This was a fairly tough one, and was a Saturday prize puzzle when it first came out. Strictly speaking I Did Not Finish this one, as there were a couple where I could not disentangle the intricately knotted word-play: ROTTEN ROW and PEERS. With the latter I was tempted by the sort-of theme to write in “press”; being a Radio 4 sort of person, the stars of breakfast television don’t spring to my mind readily, so even after I corrected it to PEERS for “fellows”, the allusion to a homophone was lost on me.

There was a nice variety of cluing and some imaginative definitions. I was particularly impressed by the four long anagrams. I nominate one of these, 10ac, as clue of the day; not only is it an impressive anagram, but also it’s an imaginative definition. And it made me laugh when I twigged it. “He’s indecent! Name unholy terror who’s stripped (6,3,6).