i Cryptic Crossword 3018 Serpent

October 9, 2020

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” exhorts Jesus his disciples, according to Matthew (10:16). Serpents are commonly used as a symbol for cunning, and usually not in a good way; they are presented as devious and even wicked – one has only to think of the serpent in Eden, tempting humans into disobedience. But, while there is little dove-like and gentle to this crossword, I do think Serpent’s wit and cunning is closer to wisdom than it is to slyness.

This was magnificent and a joy throughout. Though challenging, once I got onto Serpent’s wavelength, I was engrossed, and full of admiration for Serpent’s skill. A few days ago there was a little discussion about the tension between a strict application of the letter of the laws of crosswordland, and a more liberal interpretation of their spirit. Well, today one needed one’s wits about one, as the setter steered his way between the two. There was allusiveness and invention in spades: NEUTRON and the crossing TRUANT, being perhaps the best examples. There was clever misdirection, with “ship’s staff” in MASCOT and “doctor” in ANENOMETER – and especially so, I thought, with “dictator” in INTERNING. But throughout, the cluing, once unravelled, was impeccable – and so were the surface readings, every one.

And a pangram and not one but two ninas! I was looking out for a message in the top and bottom lights, and was very entertained when they turned out to be the same word. But, despite being familiar with one of the artist’s more celebrated works, I failed to spot the second nina until I went to the original blog on Fifteensquared from 2016. Quite often a nina or a pangram (nevermind both) force the setter into something awkward, but with the possible exception of 17d, this was not the case today. I have never heard of EXTRA JAM, and I really only got that one with the help of the nina and the hope of a pangram. My only other frown in my margin was caused by the cluing of “dove” by “American lunged”, which didn’t quite work for me.

There are so many surpassing clues that it is hard to pick out just one. In addition to the ones mentioned above, I did like other ESSENCE and QUEST. My nomination for Clue of the Day, however goes to 22ac: “Disheartened would-be sire that’s not covered dam (4)”.

15 Responses to “i Cryptic Crossword 3018 Serpent”

  1. Denzo said

    My favourite was EYESIGHT which I got quite quickly, but might not have seen at all. I also enjoyed the eureka on eventually cracking ESSENCE, an inventive wordplay, and WEIR. I wondered about a pangram on entering GAZED, my second one in, but then completely forgot. However, having seen U as second letter of 24d, I recall wondering if it was preceded by Q (as indeed it was), and it might have helped subconsciously also with JAM. I never think “nina?”, but if I had it could have helped with the SW corner, my last.

    For all this and more this puzzle deserves its considerable praise on 225 and by Saboteur. But I struggled too much to enjoy it, because it had more than its fair share of obscurities in a puzzle that was already challenging. SEA POTATO, ANEMOMETER, EXTRA JAM and PASCHAL were all unknown to me. I have not encountered Doctor or Dove in the contexts used. MASCOT and ESSENCE, although above the belt, are probably the most unlikely synonyms for Charm and Concentrate. For all this puzzle’s cleverness, I prefer yesterday’s by Klingsor which was just as challenging but also scrupulously fair.

    When a setter goes to the not inconsiderable trouble of including ninas, would it not be a good idea also to provide cryptic (or other) clues to them without necessarily disclosing how many letters or where they are? Surely this would add to the setters’ enjoyment….

    • saboteur said

      Interesting suggestion, Denzo.

      There has been some discussion on these pages previously about ghost-themes which is pertinent to what you are saying. Sometimes a ghost-theme is so opaque that no-one (perhaps literally so) notices it. One setter in particular is notorious for this. The same might be said for ninas. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes not. I think one can enjoy a crossword without noticing a ghost-theme or a nina, although it is particularly satisfying when one does notice.

      • Denzo said

        I have never spotted a nina, but often spot themes, and am beginning to sniff around for pangrams. I believe firmly that a clue should be soluble on its own merit (except where another clue is referenced), so if my idea were applied to themes, it could make puzzles too easy. But ninas tend not to have any connection with anything in the crossword, as in today’s (unless you consider the whole puzzle an exercise in surrealism!).
        In today’s puzzle I saw the Nina only on 225, thought “clever” and shrugged my shoulders. If it had been flagged by an unnumbered clue such as “Artist did not smoke on his third appearance (4,2,3,1,4)” I would have been far more respectful of the setter’s slipperyness, though I would probably not have been helped to solve the puzzle!

      • saboteur said


  2. jonofwales said

    What a great puzzle that was! I spotted the top and bottom rows, of course, and they were of considerable help when finishing, but missed the other, quite witty Nina. I’ve been solving puzzles in various places by Serpent for a number of years now, so perhaps I am just on his wavelength, but thought this was fairly straightforward, finishing just under par for the i.

  3. batarde said

    Well, that was surpassing odd, and pretty impressive to. Not by any means difficult in my opinion, and that’s part of what makes it such a feat given the amount of inventiveness going on. I’m nearly new to Serpent, but he appears to be another in the Phi mould who can’t resist clever gimmickry – I’m finding him a good deal more rewarding frankly, but that might just be the novelty. A praiseworthy piece of work, indeed.

  4. PJ said

    I also thought this was a terrific puzzle and actually laughed out loud on seeing the less obvious Nina.

    Thought DOVE was fine as American lunged and in all other respects this was very fairly clued IMO.

    • saboteur said

      I think I must have led a very sheltered life, never having come across any lunging Americans 🙂. It sounded highly unlikely to me, but I do agree it is in fact accurately clued. I shall pay careful attention to the commentary for the diving events if we ever have an Olympic Games again…

  5. Cornick said

    To quote Batarde from yesterday, that was as good as it gets; what a tour de force! Great blog too, Saboteur. 🙂
    Having spotted the top line Nina early on (Serpent seems to do them more often than not, Denzo) I was wondering with whom he might be paired – himself of course! How very Magritte.
    I wondered about the doctor/ anemometer thing, but apart from that all was as clear as day – once the clues had been solved, that is.

    • batarde said

      That was the only “steady on, old chap” moment for me too: presumably we’re talking about the Cape Doctor, which would make it very crosswordy indeed, but I haven’t checked. By that time I was prepared to indulge almost any flight of fancy, having had so much fun already. It’s a good example of getting the balance just so, a tricksy definition partnered with a straightforward way to get to the answer so that you can work back and exclaim “aha”! This leaves one with an agreeable sense of one’s own cleverness as well as the setter’s. 🙂

      • Denzo said

        Having complained, I accept this answer was easy to get, but not without an anagram solver.

      • Cornick said

        Do I hear a tinkling of very distant bells? Ah yes, that’ll be the Cape Doctor.
        Only just read about the pangram and ‘This is not a Nina’. Seriously impressed.

  6. Henri said

    Unlike the 2016 blog, I thought that tier was tinder gutted.

    • Cornick said

      Correct Henri – Serpent confirmed it in the comments.

    • saboteur said

      I was a bit surprised that there had been any doubt about that in 2016. Once I had the crossing letters, it went in without a second thought as *obviously* tinder (or timber, at a push) gutted.

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