i Cryptic Crossword 3049 by Serpent

November 14, 2020

Deep joy to be given the hardest puzzle of the week on a weekend when we have the most time. If you’re reading this because you’re stuck, then please keep going; it’s a real treat and is solvable without any aids – provided you can find somewhere quiet that is, and give yourself a chance to tune in to Serpent’s wavelength.

Following on from our discussion on these pages earlier in the week, it felt a bit like cheating when I went looking for a Nina with just V _ A… in the top row and casually wondered if ‘Vladimir’ might fit. Well of course it did, and theatre is my sort of thing, and I know Serpent is extremely good at the jiggery-pokery of grid filling, so I presumed Estragon would be at the bottom and – yes – there was the play title across the middle, with the clue cleverly referencing the top and bottom rows. Brilliant!

After that – which probably should have been the endgame really – it was a matter of filling in the gaps and trying to resist the temptation to look in a dictionary. No worries; despite the constraints of the Nina the most obscure answer for me was LAYETTE which was very clearly clued and vaguely familiar in any case. And weren’t those clues brilliant? Highlights included a great surface reading for 20a BUSY BEE, a double bit of misdirection for 16d WARHORSE, a neat hidden for 8d REVERENT and that super clue for 16a WAITING FOR GODOT. Under normal circumstances that would have been my COD, but we’re all a bit fascinated with that narcissistic demagogue over the pond at the moment, and one clue seems to be a perfect description of Defence Secretary Mark Esper, sacked 5 days ago; so it has to be this one really:

14d …haven’t lost heart after I stopped president celebrating victory (10)

Over to Fifteensquared, where it seems several people were flummoxed by the parsing of UNCLE. That one seemed clear to me, but I realise now that I had the RAT of IRATE wrong – it’s much more likely to be a synonym for singer (to the authorities) of course than a reference to Sammy Davis Jr et al. Interesting to note no-one’s picking up on the sign/ house confusion as seen again in 22d yet – I can assure you that within a few months time that’ll be ‘verboten’ by the editor!

15 Responses to “i Cryptic Crossword 3049 by Serpent”

  1. Denzo said

    Managed NURTURED, then gave up, sensing it wasn’t for me. I think Serpent had a similar effect last time he slithered past me.

    Clearly it was the right decision, as I noticed that folks on 225 found it tough and most couldn’t parse UNCLE. I vaguely know the words BODEGA and LAYETTE, but would not have recalled them and, had I continued would have struggled for three hours then chastised myself on seeing words I know on 225. As Cornick says, UNCLE, which it had to be, parsed easily if you saw it, and indeed I saw no unfair parsing, but this puzzle was not for me.

    I love the theatre (should that be loved?), but recall seeing WAITING FOR GODOT fifty years ago and, missing its point if it had one, making a mental note not to waste any more money on Beckett, so the Nina wouldn’t have helped either as it did some on 225.

    Solving (often partially) the i puzzles, visiting this site and 225 has improved my crossword ability somewhat, but has made me an expert at knowing the right time to throw in the towel!

  2. jonofwales said

    What a great puzzle. Starting to the SE of the grid was of definite help this time, as I soon had G.D.T at the end of 16ac, leaving little doubt as to the answer, and shortly afterwards ..ADIMIR across the top, so job done bar filling in the gaps as you say. Too many good clues to list, my favourite was 20ac.

    Definitely the trickiest puzzle this week, but also the best, most rewarding, and accesible to boot.

    14d was ironic given that elsewhere in the paper John Henderson bemoans the loss of the orange one to the crossword setting world.

  3. Saboteur said

    A splendid puzzle. Loved it. I had the pleasure of blogging a Serpent a while ago, so I knew we were in for a treat.

    Spotted the nina fairly early on, which helped with a few answers. Count me as one who couldn’t parse UNCLE, although once you know its obvious, isn’t it? Loved TRIUMPHANT, for the same reason Cornick gave. 😊.

    As for the theatre, it seems like a distant dream now…

  4. Topsy said

    When I saw the grid I thought a NINA was in the offing and my face fell. I managed a few and then gave up because I was deriving no pleasure whatsoever 😦

  5. Guy Barry said

    Generally a very nice puzzle which I didn’t have too much difficulty with. I really seem to be blind to this theme/Nina business though.
    My first one is was 16ac, which I was quite pleased with, though I couldn’t for the life of me see the significance of “…featuring extreme rows”. Didn’t even think of looking at the top and bottom rows of the grid. Right until the end I was convinced that 7dn was FOGBOUND (thinking “heading for French” = F); if I’d seen the Nina, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made that mistake!

    (Even more annoyingly, there was an Inquisitor a few weeks ago based on Waiting for Godot, where VLADIMIR and ESTRAGON were the main keywords. Perhaps my brain had dismissed them.)

    Favourite clues were 9ac and 26ac. Last one in was 7dn, for reasons already given; penultimate one in was 10ac, mainly because I had U-O-E until then, and entered without parsing after checking Crossword Solver. I agree with most of the commenters on Fifteensquared about this; it’s not a standard cryptic crossword device as far as I’m aware, and I’m not sure if it should have been used.

    I spotted the dodgy “house”=”sign” equivalence in 22dn as well, but only because Cornick had previously drawn my attention to it! (I still maintain that “Aries”=”house” is OK though; there is a house of Aries and a sign of Aries, but they’re not the same thing.)

    Misparsed 24ac as COR (= “my”) + PS (=”noise”, like a whisper maybe?). The correct parsing makes much more sense. Almost entered BERLIN for 21d, which fitted all the crossers, but thought better of it. (Nearly had GASLAMPS for 18d as well.)

    Re 14d, of course in August 2016 Trump was not yet President, and the clue read “controversial politician”. If they ever reprint the puzzle again they can easily change it back!

  6. Jayjay said

    I most certainly was reading this blog because I was stuck, (the Serpent generally has that effect on me) so my eternal gratitude to Cornick for the encouragement to keep trying. Also for the massive shove in the right direction that I got by reading a bit too far and seeing Vlad…Found it difficult, even after that, so my sympathy to Denzo. It’s a dreadful day here and I had absolutely nothing else to do, so I tussled and got there in the end.

    • Cornick said

      Glad it was worth it Jayjay – perfect for a day like today 🙂

    • Denzo said

      Thanks for your sympathy. Even on a foul day like this, I can find plenty to do, and if I had looked at Cornick’s helpful blog, I would have noticed the theme and given up even faster. I just wouldn’t have had the patience, which is probably why I hated Beckett’s play so much!

  7. dtw42 said

    Goddammit, didn’t spot (i.e. think to look for) the nina, which certainly would have helped, because I struggled and resorted to electronic assistance for about the second half of that.
    FWIW, uncle, bodega, layette were all amongst the unaided (and correctly understood) first half.
    Ensign was my LOI.

    On the plus side, I got far further through the previous page’s jumbo general knowledge crossword than I usually do (perhaps due to the general shortage of inflated-bladder-kickers).

  8. allan_c said

    How things change over four years – and not just the clue to 14dn. I had much the same experience starting the puzzle, solving only a handful of clues. But back then I suddenly got WAITING FOR GODOT and the nina followed from that; this time I spotted the nina first which led to the play. After that it was just about plain sailing, although there were some I couldn’t parse despite having done the puzzle first time around.

  9. thebargee said

    Definitely not my cup of tea. Didn’t actually look at it until this morning, spent far too long getting IRATE (in more ways than one!), followed by DELETE, MUSTARD GAS, BODEGA and WAITING FOR GOGOT. Never seen the play unfortunately and didn’t have the remotest idea about the wordplay.

    Next time a see a Serpent, I think I’ll run away rather than confront it.

  10. DaveW said

    I wish I could find intermediate cryptics that are harder than absolute beginner and easier than this (which is clearly out of my league)
    Any ideas? I want to get better without being totally demoralised!

    I got Irate and Engraving (once I’d looked up who Hogarth was).

    Never heard of:
    Venial
    Layette
    Gossamer
    Uncle in that context
    Barrio
    Bodega
    Nick as name for Satan

    Even with putting in all the first letters of each clue from solution on fifteensquared, never stood a chance.

    • Cornick said

      Hi Dave. Mondays and Wednesdays in the i are usually the easier days; Tuesday is almost always themed or carries a Nina, difficulty is variable. Thursdays and Fridays are usually harder, especially Fridays, and Saturday (which always used to be Phi, medium difficulty) has been pretty varied for the last few months.

      If you go elsewhere, the Telegraph is the easiest of the quality papers, certainly easier than the Times, and both seem to be more consistent than the Indy or the Guardian. The i is the Indy recycled 4 years on, in case you didn’t realise.

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