You go for weeks without an IoS reprint, and then like buses two come along at once. Today’s was perhaps a little knottier in places than Monday’s, with a fair few answers lobbed in with a bit of a shrug and a – well, it’s got to be that with those letters. Perhaps if I’d taken the trouble to look at the parsing in more detail that wouldn’t have been the case, but I often skip such niceties. 27ac I wasn’t quite sure worked as an &lit, but perhaps I’m just being picky. The rest though seemed to be fair and above board, and passed the time pleasantly enough in Dac’s absence.

First in 19d, last in 11ac, finish time a little under par for the i.

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

I was pleased to see Jambazi’s name this morning as he hasn’t appeared since early last year, but as it turned out this puzzle may as well have been compiled with the specific intention of getting right up my nose. For those who don’t know, Jambazi is the alter ego of Tramp in the Guardian, that lawless bearpit where setters are encouraged to ignore all the crossword conventions and cut loose in “libertarian” fashion. Perhaps he forgot that this one was going in the Indy, because it doesn’t half take some liberties. Furthermore, there’s a theme, alas.

“Brilliant”, “tour de force”, “great effort” … click here for a load of gush at Fifteensquared. I’m sure it’s all warranted – no really. Apparently the setter managed to devise two extensively themed puzzles to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary in July 2016, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge that this is going it some. However, a martin ain’t a swallow, and a hero doesn’t have to be a victor unless Hector has been downgraded. Little things like this matter to pettifogging pedants like me, I’m afraid, and there are plenty more. Anybody care to explain to me what on earth is the point of 8ac, by the way? Apparently it’s “outstanding” and refers to a controversial incident in a game of Association football half a century ago – this excusing the absence of a definition. To which I say phooey. Oh, and we have some gratuitous micturition just to round things off. In fairness I have to say that I did finish the crossword unaided and everything turned out to be correct, so my moaning is perhaps more to do with the style than the substance.

I am contractually obliged to select a clue of the day. There is a good deal of cleverness going on, and I’m perfectly capable of appreciating the quality of 9 and 24ac, say. As ever, nominations are very welcome. However, the one which made me smile is a 16ac, but it’s been a while since it put in an appearance:

2d: “Saw state of unfinished cake? (7)”

Inquisitor 1668 Q by Vismut

October 20, 2020

I know, you saw Q, thought Question, and then this too.

Though I bet you didn’t have to guess as much as I did. Letters, you see, ones we have to overlook for one reason or another. And to be quite frank after a late night followed by hours lying wide awake worrying about things that are completely beyond my control as I’m guessing lots of us do nowadays… Yep, my already flaky parsing skills weren’t up to it.

My “25 letters” jotted across the top of the grid being somewhat akin to REC?LLE?TYI?ON???OC?HA??PPYLLFE. Now, I don’t know who’ll be blogging this over on Fifteensquared, but I’m betting their version will be a lot more coherent. And that they didn’t need to get down to some hard googling to find Recollections of a Happy Life, and hence Marianne North. But there’s her gallery in the middle of the grid, highlighted a fetching shade of pink, and within that something about SOIL and PAINTING. Because that was her thing, apparently. I went for green for those. It felt more thematic than my earlier choice.

The other letters, the 10. I only managed to get 6, being WADKNR, but if I were a betting man I’d say they constitute KEW GARDENS, which is where said gallery is situated.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Said guesswork is a pity, because the grid fill consisted of little except where I needed a modicum of luck. Even the feared obligatory Scottish word being one that took the briefest scouring to find in the BRB.

Prize for the most interesting word to GILGAI, for the cutest to TALCY. We don’t often get cute words in the IQ.

And Q? I guess because it sounds like, well, Kew.

Listening en route: Don’t Get Lost, including the irresistibly titled Throbbing Gristle. Enjoy.

The long awaited IoS reprint kicks us off this week, courtesy of Gila who we tend to see more of in the Inquisitor I believe. Nothing too tricky today, apart from 10d which is a completely unfamiliar term to me and which I therefore… well, got horribly wrong. Oh well, the rest went in in a jiffy, and was thoroughly enjoyed. 11ac and 19d I suspect you might have struggled to find in the dictionary should you have had recourse to do so, but the rest was pretty common vocabulary with the exception of 29ac which couldn’t have been more plainly clued.

COD? Let’s go with 14ac – “Supplying alcoholics with assorted ales and gin shows a complete lack of feeling (9)”.

To the warmer, gentler days of July 2016:

I first met Kairos on Big Dave’s crossword site where he sets puzzles as Prolixic, gives detailed reviews of new setters’ puzzles on ‘Rookie Corner’, and has written an extremely good guide on how to compile a crossword (click here and find the pdf at the bottom of the page). So it’s no surprise that his crosswords invariably present a scrupulously fair challenge.

And so it was today; the word ‘straightforward’ seems to be a bit like damning with faint praise, but probably fits about half of the clues here – at least they were straightforward to solve for any experienced solver I suspect. Which is not to say they weren’t amusing; here’s my COD:

18d Print Starbuck’s warning? (7)

But then there were a good few where the difficulty bar was raised a few notches: ‘up’ as an anagram indicator in 1a, counterintuitive word order in 7a, a tricky clue for 8d LEAP DAY and some challenging vocabulary like PING in 2d, TRUMPET STOP, DUSTY MILLER, HYPOTONIC and AFRIT. That last, as well as being an Arabian sort of genie, was also the name of Ximines’ predecessor at the Observer, responsible for the famous setter’s injunction mentioned by Raich over at Fifteensquared where you’ll find all the answers: “You need not mean what you say, but you must say what you mean”.

My general knowledge would be much poorer without crosswords. From today’s I have learnt that a plait can be called a queue, and how to spell the name of that rather nice salad you sometimes get (I doubt I would have given it a double-B had I been asked). I did already know about the thing referred to in the laugh-out-loud clue for BUMBLING, although how I know is quite inexplicable to me.

This was a relatively gentle offering from Morph, which I solved in a little under my typical time. I don’t think there was anything in it which was unfair, or which required particularly specialist knowledge. I did check on both ATROPINE and INTUMESCE, but unnecessarily so, as it happens – a slight lack of confidence on my part. But in both cases the cluing was very clear so I really was checking, rather than searching.

I won’t nominate 2d as Clue of the Day, good as it was. Instead I shall go for the aforementioned 1ac: “Forbidden to put something smelly in the French Hotel salad (9)” for its amusing surface reading.

All the answers and explanations here:

I was half expecting an IoS reprint at the latter end of the week, and seeing Crosophile’s name presumed this was it, but no. It’s a Tuesday reprint, which usually means a theme, but in this case a Nina concerning what I suspect remains a little known book. It was generous of Crosophile though to give it a bit of a publicity boost.

The puzzle itself was fairly straightforward, though I must confess to struggling with the parsing of one or two, in particular 9ac where I needed the Fifteensquared blog to help. The same clue made me wince somewhat, though I’m not sure if that was just me being overly sensitive. Elsewhere this was an enjoyable offering, fairly clued, though it helped to know your classics in the SW corner. I didn’t, but Google did.

First in today 23ac, last in 20d, finish time just a little slower than yesterday’s.

COD? Nothing really leaps out, tbh. But whether you liked it or loathed it, the most inventive clue was the aforementioned 9ac – “Move fast when making bitch brunch? (3,3,2)”. This being COD in the same sense that Time named Hitler man of the year. 😉

To July 2016:

A gentle offering from Dac eases us through mid-week, with little that will have troubled seasoned solvers. For my part I struggled a little towards the close with 5d and 25ac, and failed to parse 11ac and 18d on solving, but the rest went in with little ado finishing in a time more akin to the Telegraph than the i. There is little more to say, just because Dac is so consistently good with little if anything to quibble about.

Top notch entertainment all round, of course, being our usual Wednesday setter, with my COD nomination going to 5d – “Annoying shop assistant providing ointment for example (15)”.

To July 2016:

Your blogger is feeling distinctly second hand this morning, and not having the sort of revitalising beaker on offer at the White House on tap, made rather heavy weather of the crossword. Nonetheless, at least I didn’t think that the theme was about cycling: one has to assume that Fifteensquared was gripped by Tour de France fever back in July 2016. Lots of Terpsichorean stuff, which made me wonder why Scorpion passed on “flamenco” for 5d. He does tend to keep thematic material to one set of clues or the other, so perhaps that’s it.

4d and 25ac are a bit surprising, the latter being well known enough to those of a certain age I suppose, but the former surely has to be the most glaring obscurity we’ve had for quite a while. And there’s the Bublé chap, who has appeared in a crossword before but is otherwise a complete mystery to me. Is he famous? Do tell. Anyway, I have no particular complaints and managed to finish the puzzle in a not completely unreasonable sort of time having enjoyed myself en route. There was much praise on the other side for 16d, probably from the people who were thinking Lance Armstrong, and 10, 16 and 23 among others seemed notably strong, but my favourite was the rather daft 13d:

“Vocal support for magician who performs in church hall? (9)”

So, you’re feeling somewhat frayed too. Autumn is here with the added frisson this wonderful year of Covid. Reasonable excuse. What does that mean, anyway? It’s raining, we’re all getting claustrophobic, and the memory of last week’s Inquisitor rout looms large.

For a while this looked like being another. Is it just me or were the clues this week particularly fiendish? Consisting of not just extra letters in some, but of entries that needed adjusting before entry in the grid. The latter is wont to result in much soul-searching on my part. A quarter of the solving time resulting in only four entries in the grid I was indeed ready to throw in the towel.

TRUMPET TREE to the rescue, being a nice long entry. We like nice long entries. The belated discovery that we have RATs missing from the adjusted ones. PratING, PIratES, and so on. Rats everywhere, but not being indoors the council won’t dispose of the things in “the current climate”, almost as if that were a convenient money-saving-excuse. At least they’ve cut the grass. Small mercies.

False step alert. Rats being disposed of, and leaders to follow, means the central entry is obviously the PIED one himself. Well, he will be at the close, but the crossing entries don’t work for the moment. Getting ahead of myself again. Our favourite old tax lies to the SW, though the volunteers are at least acknowledged as being “old”, a blow to crossword setters everywhere.

And, oh, if 5ac is BUKSHI I’ve no idea why. But what’s new.

Grid full. See, I managed it this week.

The hints from the extra letters. The first couple, well, I don’t where they fit. S something? The rest though is all about the piper himself AND IN DID COME THE STRANGEST FIGURE. At last we can amend BOYS AND GIRLS for what is not only a strange but sinister FIGURE. Yep, the child snatcher always frightened me too. Still does, truth be told.

Phew. Done, I think. Good stuff, Serpent, good stuff. But my brain. It hurts.