Vigo has always been a meticulous setter who gives us clues with the smoothest of surface readings, but have you noticed her racking up the difficulty level? We’ve gone by gradations from the easy-end of things through moderately challenging to this, her 11th I think and her toughest so far – and what a treat it was!

I was aware she’d done a double pangram (have we already had that one in the i?) but hadn’t realised she’d created this triple, which snuck up on me towards the end of the solve – “Can it be?… Surely not?… I thought I’d gone looking for that!” FWIW, Tees had done a triple before this in the Indy, Monk a double and your Saturday blogger was having a go at a triple with an average word length of greater than 7 over on Big Dave’s website at about this time, prompted by Tees’ appearance in the i, and a question from Monk in its comments section.

The trick when filling any fancy grid is to try and pass it off as if it’s just a normal puzzle, hopefully making the moment of realisation all the better. Obviously achieving the feat by dint of a bunch of obscurities would spoil the solve somewhat,but no such fears today – none of the vocabulary was even remotely obscure – even though HOICKS and SCHMALTZ took a while to bring to mind, they’re definitely everyday words. So bravo to Vigo.

The clues were excellent too – no complaints to speak of. I’ve been told that an astrological house is in fact a different type of thing to a star sign (it’s purely coincidental that there are also 12 of them), but the answer for 12 ARIES was plain enough; also zero = Z in 1d was new for me. Again and again Vigo makes it look easy, which it certainly isn’t.

My pick today and nomination for COD was the following:

15d Parallel to a hypotenuse? (9)

And all the answers from John’s blog in 2016 can be found by clicking here.

A grid like this one positively shouts “nina” at the solver, and so it was. And one with an unexpected twist to it, as well. STATION along the top revealed itself fairly readily, and was helpful in confirming OARING, which was reasonably accessible, but just didn’t seem quite right as an actual word to me. However, getting D A T V… down the left-hand side made no sense to me, and it was only when I had completed the grid and googled the great artist that I got what Monk had cleverly done. Not an album I was familiar with, but easily spotted thanks to the Internet. And enjoyment of the crossword was not at all dependent on seeing or understanding the nina.

I think this was quite tough. Some clues were difficult to unravel, and I for one needed a fair bit of help from Google, particularly with the central three crossing SMELT, ENIAC and BECKS. How did PIRANHA work? (Just a cryptic definition, I concluded, after puzzling over word-play). But it was very rewarding with lots of pennies dropping to add to one’s sense of satisfaction. Throughout, the surface readings were impeccable, each clue being a plausible English sentence.

In addition to the aforementioned OARING, I think a question mark can be placed against IAMBUSES. And I do worry more and more about Our Younger Solver: has she heard of RED KEN? Of the SALT talks?

But so many good clues to choose from. From a short-list of six or seven I nominate 12ac as Clue of the Day: “Pioneering cosmonaut cutting out drink in scientific culture (6)”.

All the answers and explanations can be found here: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/05/28/independent-9242-by-monk-saturday-puzzle-28-may-2016/

Cornick should be pleased as we have a Thursday reprint from Klingsor that was a little tougher than some offerings this week, though it must be said one that was gentle as far as such reprints go. So perhaps there will still be cause for complaint. 😉 Lots here that went in not fully understand, or not understood at all (the quote and short work being the chief suspects), though I do suspect that was more due to laziness on my part rather than any inherent difficulty. The dictionary was referred to for the salmon and 5ac, but the rest didn’t cause too much difficulty, with a finish time about par for the i.

For a while I thought the preponderance of composers indicated a theme, and a hasty VIVALDI the possibility of some sort of Maize record breaking pangram, but it appears that we have a good, solid, thoroughly enjoyable puzzle free of gimmicks. Famous last words.

COD? Lots to like, with my nomination going to 4d – “Gamblers in America who repeatedly miss the target? (12)”.

To June 2016:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/16/independent-9258-klingsor/

Mid-week rolls around with Dac back in his customary spot, and a puzzle that shouldn’t really have caused too many difficulties. The song title was my LOI, for the most part really because I couldn’t see for an age what would fit A?N? from the anagram fodder and obligatory HAT. At the close though thankfully it was a title most solvers would have heard of, unlike yesterday, and I suspect it will have been solved a lot sooner by those sharper than me today. ie. Those who actually managed to get any sleep last night. Thankfully we have coffee, and a puzzle that was completed in a time less than half that par for these parts.

COD? Well, you could pick loads, couldn’t you? I’ll go with 13d – “A weapon concealed in cracker? It’s of little importance (9)”.

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

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/15/independent-9257-dac/

And so we bid a fond farewell to Frank Bough (obits, page 16), a genial speedfreak who was seemingly unavoidable during the 1970s and 80s. I am in no way suggesting anything about Phi’s recreational proclivities, but he’s pretty ubiquitous too. Here he is again, and it’s the same deal as Saturday: medium difficulty; lots of fiddly constructions involving chipping bits off words and gluing them together to make new ones, chimæra-style, and a theme. You are perhaps more likely to spot this one if, like the setter, you share a surname with it. To be fair, it’s probably impossible to have got through life without coming across at least a couple of the songs, but I doubt one in a thousand could name the composer nowadays.

“Medium difficulty”, but in truth prolonged and frequent exposure means I can do 98% of a Phi puzzle in my sleep, so familiar is his style. You always seem to wind up with something completely bonkers outstanding at the end, like 4d. With any other setter you’d wonder long and hard about that narrow road, but with this one it’s par for the course: a reversal, a digit in an abbreviation, the same again in an obscurity unsupported by the dictionary … put ’em together and Bob’s your uncle. Clear as day, as is the “definition” for 14ac. Well, you get used to it. Once again we have “on” to indicate an anagram but I shall not mention that because it is merely lazy and tiresome, as are all the other crossword commonplaces dotted around. There’s no way I’m letting “farewelling” go though – that’s an appalling, gratuitous act of noun-verbing, and an utter outrage.

So yes, rather faint praise today I’m afraid, and it’s likely that others will have enjoyed themselves a lot more. Not my thing, however. I’m struggling for a COD but will go for a nicely executed chestnut:

25ac: “Old woman covering a blemish in make-up (7)”

Click here, and as if by magic the answers will appear.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in finishing Nimrod’s daily cryptics with a full grid but myriad questions regarding the parsing of the clues. Which is fine when you can complete with a shrug and then sit back at leisure while the poor blogger unpicks the subtle craftsmanship, but this IQ lark’s a bit different, isn’t it?

Yep, I had a full grid. Yes, I worked out that the extra letters from the downs gave STEPHEN KING and DANNY TORRANCE pretty sharpish, spotted MURDER quickly too (the missing letters from the wordplay of MURMUR and DERBIES explaining my difficulty making sense of the clues in that neck of the woods), and even belatedly realised why SUCCESSES didn’t have a definition.

But my extra letters from the across entries consisted mostly of question marks, and an incorrect E for the first A. The above having brought back warm memories of The Shining and Redrum, some would argue that I should have made the imaginative leap at that point. But I didn’t, perhaps because my mind is more on the looming restrictions about to hit this neck of the woods which are also lacking in clarity and clearness of thought.

The upshot being that I spent most of Saturday evening unpicking the wordplay for the across entries, the highlight of which was possibly “nemcon” at 12ac, giving me… Yes, two jockeys, which I really should have guessed sooner. BRIAN FLETCHER and TOMMY STACK, who both rode RED RUM to victory in the GRAND NATIONAL, which is of course run at AINTREE, all of which after much soul-searching could be found and duly highlighted in the grid.

The resulting shape? The finishing post? Horse shoe and something else? Fifteensquared will have worked that one out.

Boom. Done. Possibly not correctly, but done, and enjoyed, so thanks to our setter / editor. And onward, into darkness.

This IoS reprint was Peter’s second in the Independent, and also in these parts too I believe. A lovely little puzzle with nicely constructed clues, little that was obscure and that fairly clued too (9ac and 25ac in particular), solved at quite the sprint. In other words exactly what most of us are looking for on a Monday morning. I missed the definition in 26d, but that it must be said is down to my own stupidity, the rest going in fully understood and enjoyed.

COD? It’s sometimes hard to pick one from an IoS reprint, but today we’re quite spoilt for choice, with my nomination going to 3d – “Glove drawn on the French Lieutenant’s bottom (8)”.

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

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/06/19/independent-on-sunday-1374anonymous/

After quite an eventful crosswording week in the i, it was something of a relief to see Phi’s name and be treated to a series of clues which were neither too hard nor too easy, neither too boring nor too tricksy, and that managed to be entertaining, challenging and varied. Nice one Phi.

Some of the surface readings were top drawer stuff – consider ‘Thrust of half my cryptic clues’ or this, my COD nomination:

8d Man finally entering competition after back problem (9)

I also admired the way that 16d IMITATION was put together, the clever way that MARSHALSEA had short wordplay and a long definition – well, too many to list here really. Only 18a was a word to make the nostrils twitch somewhat.

In common with many solvers probably, my FOI was LEMON SQUASH, but whereas I finished on 21a SURVEY, I wonder if the intersection of the aforementioned London prison and 23a LAPUTANS held people up? Pretty clear wordplay I thought, to balance it being one of the lesser known coinages from Gulliver’s Travels.

It’s a slight shame to read over on Fifteensquared here that there’s a ghost theme of words which can be appended to ‘cross’. It seems no-one realised without a heavy hint being given by the setter in the comments section of Fifteenquared itself, so this was yet again a case of Phi keeping the last laugh for himself. Or maybe I’m wrong – perhaps you spotted the link between FIRE, SECTION, EXAMINE, COUNTRY, TALK, ROAD, KICKS, QUESTION, and BREEDING?

Pity the dog who, during lockdown, has got used to a good long morning walk and at least a bit of attention, but who today found herself feeling neglected and reduced to a few minutes in the garden, because her owner/carer seemed to have become transfigured into immobility, oblivious to the world beyond the page and the tablet.

I think I would have given up if I had not been blogging – or at least would have set it aside and tried again later. Tough isn’t quite strong enough. To be sure, there were a few simple, straightforward clues; for example POSTER, MADCAP, HOOPS, ODOUR, TWINE. Maybe a few more. But most were very difficult, and I would not have finished without extensive use of aids, both printed and on the Internet.

Some parsing was completely beyond me. I could see that SICILIAN VESPERS, which I got from crossing letters only, was some sort of anagram, but of what I was not sure – and neither could I see the definition. SOLAR SYSTEM, again inserted from crossing letters had me likewise confused. That’s enough for now though, or I could end up with too long a list… Oh, and isn’t it POPEYE THE SAILOR man?

Did I enjoy it? In a perverse, masochistic way. I don’t like to be defeated by a crossword, but since I could not parse all the answers, Punk beat me today.

Clue of the day? 27/22 made me laugh:”Bum crack? (3,8)”.

Now to walk the dog. A good, long one, I think.

All the answers and explanations are here: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/05/23/independent-9237-punk/

When you’ve got a busy day ahead and just want a quick solve and spot of blogging around breakfast time, what you’re not necessarily looking for is an offering by Anax. As it turns out though this was very much on the accessible side of things, with a couple of nice long entries to get a foothold in the grid (in particular 2d, 14ac and 18ac), and some simple anagrams, with the result that much of the south half of the grid went by in a flash. That said obscurities like 9d, 7d and 10ac (VO for “order”!), and BOO for “partner” elsewhere slowed things down somewhat, the upshot being that I finished just a little above par for the i. 13ac in retrospect I suspect will be less obvious to solvers from other parts of the country, but as I regularly have to put up with Essex villages and the like I think it’s perfectly fair. 😉 Did I need a dictionary and Google to finish? Yes I did. But overall this was pretty gentle by Anax’s standards, thoroughly enjoyable, and a nice pick for the Thursday spot.

COD? With 17d and 3ac in hot pursuit, I’ll go with 2d – “Crumbs of old salt (6,2,7)”. Though it did make me wonder if Eimi missed a trick by not scheduling this for Talk Like A Pirate Day.

To a Saturday long ago for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/07/23/independent-9290-by-anax/