First thoughts this week were one of alarm. The grid being distinctly odd looking, clues printed in a type small enough to lead to speculation on the need for stronger glasses, and the preamble. Yes, what a lot of it there is. Thankfully for the first bit all we need to know is that some clues have superfluous words.

The gods having smiled upon us, by the time I got round to solving the thing the biting wind had subsided, the sun come out, which meant that I could venture outside and dispense with the magnifying glass. For the clues themselves the phrase pearls before swine leaps to mind, because while in my slightly addled Saturday morning state I was aware of the quality of the goods on show, I found myself lacking the requisite to wax lyrical and truly appreciate what was on offer. For that you’ll be wanting to nip over to Fifteensquared, but I’ll just note that this is indeed quality stuff. And that I indeed spotted the extra words, and thought 21ac very neatly done with Dunkirk and Bader pointing you towards exactly the wrong sort of fly, this one being flightless, apparently, a misnomer if I ever saw one.

Voila. Though careful readers will note a couple of mistakes, in particular at 17ac where the endgame came to the rescue. Was I the only person to notice BEAGLE hidden in the grid too? Hints of Chalicea’s EV of a few weeks back. And APOLLO reminiscent of a different EAGLE altogether.

Talking of which, those extra words. Well, one lot were colours, and another lot flowery / planty sort of things. And the letters we didn’t use from each? Both looked slightly unlikely at first glance, but behold they weren’t, actually being characters from The Scarlet Pimpernel – Citizen Chauvelin and Marguerite St Just.

The Scarlet one it transpires handily for the setter has the same number of letters in his pseudonym as his real one – Sir Percy Blakeney – which we have to substitute in the grid, though not before I’d gone looking the him in the clues instead for reasons that elude me now. Handily, it was at this point that I found I’d lobbed in an S rather than E at the end of AREOLAE, explaining also why I’d failed spectacularly to parse the clue.

Oh yes, highlighting. I like highlighting. 15 cells, presumably being parts of “They seek him here, the seek him there, etc”. THERE and HERE doubling up to make the count.

That wasn’t as scary as it looked, was it? Though it was all very time consuming, not that I noticed at the time because I-was-having-so-much-fun.

Oh yes, Ethereal.

Bit of a bish today: there is a theme and rather an amusing one at that, but it’s utterly opaque owing to the omission of an essential part of six across clues. Specifically, 8, 9/24, 10, 21, 25 and 28ac should all end in “(about the size of 17)“. Fortunately Bertandjoyce’s June 2016 Fifteensquared write-up includes the original text, so you can work back from that, but really this crossword is unnecessarily baffling as printed.

However, it’s a Scorpion, and therefore a high quality production which can be enjoyed without having the foggiest what’s going on beyond a vague intuition that there’s something geographical afoot. Well, I thought so anyway. Pretty tricky, even by this setter’s standards, and my mind is still a little boggled by 28ac – “drawing” as a reversal indicator? It would have been nice if Scorpion had dropped in to explain his thinking on that one. And how about those bends in 22d? Obvious enough once the penny dropped … eventually. Of the many excellent clues I particularly liked 3, 13 and 27, but my COD is the gateway, 17ac:

“Cardigan’s found in this school, as reported (5)”

I suspect how well you did with today’s offering will depend on how quickly you spotted the Nina. As I started in the SE corner this wasn’t perhaps as soon as I might have, but when WE?C appeared in the top row, well, even I spotted that there was something going on. Belated congratulations to Kairos.

An enjoyable puzzle which we could appreciate without the website issues solvers had to endure back in the day, my only major question mark being regarding 31ac. Having agonised over the clue for a while I think it’s sort of clear that the answer is BLOOMERS and not BLOOPERS, but it’s one where the poor solver could be forgiven for jumping the wrong way. Elsewhere I couldn’t work out what was going on at 23ac, but a quick Google would have sorted that for those unable to conjure up the answer.

First in today 27d where I started, last in 11ac, finish time comfortably under par for the i.

COD? I’ll go with 15ac – “Capital investment in medical assistance rejected (6)”.

To June 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/22/independent-9263-kairos/

As usual I started in the top left corner – all jolly nice and pretty quickly filled in; Top right – a similar story, possible pangram on the way? Bottom right was tricky to get started with, in part because of the relatively isolated nature of each quarter but it fell in average sort of Phi-time. But oh how I struggled to get a foothold in the South west! 15d and 16a were my last ones in, and they were the only joining lights from the other corners, so it was simply a matter of scratching the old bonce until eventually the likes of DMITRI, TITULAR, and NECKTIE yielded, each presenting difficulties for different reasons. in the end I only got 16a after I’d had a look at the IMDb page for the pretty clearly flagged theme of The GRAND BUDAPEST Hotel, where I learned it had been directed by Wes ANDERSON, and then 15d with its questionable definition (is a BISHOPRIC a religious centre?) became apparent. Phew.

Notable features in the clues this week were a couple of instances of pushing the boundaries on anagram indicators: ‘freedom to’ in 16a and ‘Activity displayed by’ in 5d. Taken in toto I’d say this was one of Phi’s better puzzles, if not quite out of his very top drawer.

COD? Let’s go with 23a Studies book, engaged in stories and pictures? (10)

Here’s the link to the answer for that one, and for all the others in fact.

Well done if you spotted any of the characters (ZERO, AGATHA, DMITRI, GUSTAVE) from the film; I’ve not seen it, so didn’t.

i Cryptic Crossword 3006 Raich

September 25, 2020

Saboteur is otherwise engaged today, so it’s left to me to blog what is usually one of the trickier days of the week. Instead though we have an IoS reprint, which we haven’t seen on a Friday for a while. Pretty straightforward, the only slight bother I had was the parsing of 21d, which was my LOI, but that is just because the clue was so well done, as ever with Raich, as was the crossword as a whole. It’s almost enough to make you want to subscribe to the Times where I understand he mostly sets these days. Nothing else really to comment on, except to say that this was a lovely little puzzle to end the working week.

COD? 19ac raised a smile – “Too great a toll? (7,7)”.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/12/independent-on-sunday-1373-raich/

i Cryptic Crossword 3005 Monk

September 24, 2020

My copy of the i has failed to materialise today, so the digital edition to the rescue. I don’t always get on with the i‘s app – I blame the peculiar shade of green utilised, which reminds me of school and hospital corridors – so was somewhat nervous on spotting Monk’s name in the paper itself. An initial run through which yielded only every crossword setter’s favourite villain did nothing to improve my spirits. Thankfully the downs were more forthcoming, or else I settled into Monk’s frame of mind, finishing eventually just under par rather surprisingly for the i. Quite a few went in on definition alone, to be fair, so those who prefer to parse their clues may have taken somewhat longer. 😉 There’s a Nina in the left and right columns which meant nothing to me, but a quick Google will reveal all, and perhaps the smattering of a ghost theme. 18ac apparently is a little inaccurate regarding the author’s name, not that I noticed.

COD? 25ac appealed to me today, if only for the sentiment in the surface reading – “Well-read pig in charge of wars? (10)”.

To June 2016 for the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/30/independent-9270-by-monk/

i Cryptic Crossword 3004 Dac

September 23, 2020

A fairly easy going, enjoyable offering from Dac eases us through a wet midweek. A few potential obscurities dotted round the grid – the Roman soldiers, the critic, and possibly the London location (was I the only person to get halfway through writing in Covent Garden?) All were gettable though, with only 4ac causing major issues. Finished easily under par for the i, with a feeling that this is likely to be another crowd-pleaser.

COD? I’ll go with 8d, though as ever with Dac there are picks aplenty – “Group of witches meeting round wood somewhere in London (8,6)”.

To June 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/29/independent-9269-dac/

i Cryptic Crossword 3003 Vigo

September 22, 2020

Lucky me. Beyond the fact that it’s invariably thematic, the Tuesday crossword in the i is unpredictable, and there’s no knowing whether one will be faced with something fiendish or, as today, a congenial stroll over gentle terrain. This puzzle was a real pleasure, because it’s Vigo – and that means a highly polished production with a good deal of wit, designed to entertain rather than confound.

As for the theme, well I must admit that it didn’t exactly leap out. On the other hand the pangram did, which was just as well in view of my last one in, 9ac. Ordinarily American English doesn’t go down well with me, especially not when it comes to perfectly respectable verbs corrupted with a “z”, but this one is different. Perhaps Pierre wasn’t familiar with the usage across the pond, but the other definition felt pretty solid to me; ditto the retro fairy in 13ac. No complaints, then, and a few smiles along the way. I was struck, as in previous Vigo puzzles, by some particularly elegant bits of clue writing, for instance 2 and 4d, and 28ac. However, you all know what’s going to be the COD, don’t you?

1d: “Boxers possibly step and run about (10)”

Yes, I know, but a good laugh is a mighty good thing, as Herman Melville once said. Just in case anyone else is as theme-blind as me, all is explained by the setter in her comment on the June 2016 Fifteensquared blog.

It’s a Phi-fest, our favourite Antipodean setter having doubled up again. A preamble thankfully short of gimmicks, as extra letters, etc, had begun to tire somewhat. Encryption sort of stuff to sort out, and such is the state of my head that I’m not sure if I was hoping this kind of thing would come up, or whether I glanced at the puzzle first thing and thought, oh good. The result either way being a thumbs up from these quarters.

Even if it took until about halfway through to realise that the encoded entries actually had clues to go with them. Making possibly the on-the-face-of-it seemingly impossible. See, they’re in italics too. Phi knew we’d need the extra nudge.

Lots of musical stuff of the highbrow kind Phi revels in and I remain blissfully ignorant of – BOHM and IBERT somewhat obscure, but with user-friendly entry-level wordplay to compensate. Entry level wordplay is what I need this week. REYNOLDS an equally obscure painter to the SW, special trips to the BRB required elsewhere for POISHA, KARAIT and last but not least LYSOSOMAL. Trips to the BRB we welcome and enjoy over the course of the weekend.

A moment of self-doubt on looking at the encoded entries. Because cold solving really isn’t my thing. But… EATS and STAR nice and easy, and, look, we have lots of checking letters in the others, because they really don’t seem to utilise that many. Belatedly too the realisation that the encoded entries are real words. A wild guess at the one name in the key being ROSETTA leading nowhere, ETON finally fell, and it became clear the two names in the key were ESTRAGON and VLADIMIR, being characters from Waiting for Godot which I of course know but have never seen.

The three others in the grid are going to be impossible to find? Well, no, as the play doesn’t actually have many names associated with it. POZZO, LUCKY and GODOT himself being the ones we’re looking for. One’s even in plain text, and the other two only partially encrypted – PIZZI and MIDIA, if I’ve got it right.

There, that wasn’t too fierce, was it? And fun? Yes, fun too. Something tells me this one’s going to be a bit of a hit.

Is it just me or has it been a while since we’ve had an IoS reprint? Anyway, we have one today from Hypnos that for me at least was well over par in terms of time expected, if on a par with the average Independent reprint. Most of that time was spent on 29ac, where “Patron” took too long to work out, and the NW corner where a hasty ARSENAL caused no end of issues. Did anybody else also agonise over GREAT / GRAND at 1d? Gaufrid has a couple of quibbles on the other side, of which only the latter seems justified, being an iffy BT for company. The rest though was fair and above board, and enjoyable throughout.

COD? I’ll go with the aforementioned 29ac – “Patron maybe notes untidy headwear (7)”.

Over to July 2016 for the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/07/03/independent-on-sunday-1376-hypnos/