Never let it be said that the British sense of humour fails to let us down. In a week where cases of the virus locally exceed 600 per 100,000, the schools have closed because too many staff and pupils are either sick or isolating, the local health board is near to breaking point with patients waiting 19 hours in ambulances outside hospital doors to be let in, and a general feeling of alarm prevails in the community, what better way to mark the occasion with that old nursery rhyme. OK, the story regarding its link to the plague is almost certainly apocryphal, but it must be said that it does have that reputation. Gallows humour indeed from the team this week.

When did I notice the rhyme in the perimeter? That would have been about halfway through with almost the whole of the RHS filled, having picked away carefully at some very nice wordplay to extract the letters we had, and guessed the one to be placed in the perimeter from wordplay. Which thankfully was nicely judged by Kruger otherwise this could have turned into quite the task.

I even managed to do so with an extended break to put the decorations up. Let it be noted that we have 11, yes 11 different sets of lights both inside and out. Should there be issues with the national grid this month, look no further than my humble abode.

Rhyme spotted the rest of the grid fill was much more straightforward than it could have been, which is the trouble with this sort of thing I suppose. But I for one was grateful for the extra help.

At the last? We sincerely hope that we do not all fall down, but that is what is cryptically represented in the grid.

On which point I will go back into hiding, with the double whammy of Covid and Brexit hanging over my head, and thank Kruger for an enjoyable solve, if one that was a little… cheeky under the current circumstances.

A lovely light offering from eXternal starts our week, perfect in general for the time of year, and especially so in these fevered times. 16d I failed to parse and got from checking letters, but the rest went in with little ado beyond a vague, needless doubt that 24ac actually is a hotel. Of the rest there is a little to say because it is all so nicely done.

First in was 28ac where I started, last in the aforementioned 16d, finish time about as quick as they get in these parts.

COD? Loads to pick from, with my nomination going to 1ac just because every bit of of the cryptic is spelled out in plain sight, but the careless solver could still possibly miss it, so smoothly is it done – “Two fellows after fruit hard to resist (5,3)”.

To the happier days of December 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/12/19/independent-9417-by-external/

I’ll just close with that dreaded phrase – stay safe everyone. There are bumpy days ahead, but this is the shortest day, the evenings will be getting brighter, and hopefully with them the general outlook. In the meantime there is a more than sufficient amount of alcohol and generally unhealthy food to pass the days with still in the shops, so the time between now and then should at least pass agreeably.

If I tell you that this crossword was first published on a 23rd December, and you combine that with the fact that you probably already know Phi is very fond of the most secret shade of ghost theme, you may want a brief pause in reading this blog to go and recheck your grid…

There – did you spot it? Dotted around the grid we had Santa, Sleigh, Snow, Sack, Present, Advent, Card, Ass, Deck (the halls), and Lord, plus one or two tenuous links such as Tat and Street. Obvious once it’s pointed out, isn’t it? What’s that? Did I see it? NO! But fortunately the good people over at Fifteensquared are there to shine a light onto the hidden corners of Phi’s deviousness; click here and all will be revealed.

The actual clue solving was remarkably speedy and straightforward hereabouts – no ‘no-ball’s today and no googlies, fizzers, or boundaries either, really. Everything was delivered to the middle of the bat and duly tapped away for singles or two-runners – a consistent level of difficulty which will have pleased many solvers I’m sure. Here’s my nomination for COD; feel free to add yours in the comments below:

1a Disposing of a circular object, daughter’s brought in a circular object (10)

As this will be my last blog before the big day, festive cheer to all, and many thanks in advance to Saboteur, who will be deputising for me on Boxing Day. And now I’m off to ‘work’ in a grotto in a garden wearing a big white stick-on beard. Ho, ho, ho!

i Cryptic Crossword 3078 Hob

December 18, 2020

What’s not to like about this puzzle?

Well, quite a bit, I imagine, for many solvers. The grid, to start with, which effectively creates two half-crosswords. Then there’s the cross-referencing and the interconnecting clues, so you struggle to solve one unless you’ve solved the other. Surface readings which suffer as a result of the cross-referencing. A theme which deceives, being really two themes, unconnected except by a pun, which misleads the solvers who think they know what they are doing only to end up confused again, until they twig what’s  going on. Some dubious vocabulary (ARGUFIED?) and obscure references to Irish folk-music, unknown to me, at least, and 1970s, albeit iconic, alternative comedy.

I loved it. I suspect this will be a ‘marmite’ crossword which one either loves or hates, and I loved it. Hob is a very inventive setter who is prepared to push at the boundaries of the form. I loved being caught out by the punning theme and then seeing the light. I loved having to cross-refer to different clues to sort things out. And all clues were perfectly constructed, so that although it seemed challenging, I actually had it solved in about my typical time, and with no queries as to the parsing. The internet was consulted only to understand AFTERTASTE and to remind myself about the Gumbys. Great stuff, and a very rewarding solve.

Clue of the day? My nomination goes to 10ac, if only because it could have been clued so differently: “One 24 is the 1, perhaps (6)”. I think this encapsulates very nicely the essence of this cleverly constructed crossword.

To December, 2016 for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/12/29/independent-9426-hob/

i Cryptic Crossword 3077 Tees

December 17, 2020

It has been one of those days where I didn’t have half the time I thought I would, so I was pleased to find an accessible puzzle from Tees to solve, albeit with a slight sting in the tail. Yes, you got a little stuck on the crossing unknowns at 5d and 18ac, didn’t you? No, then I presume you spotted the clear-as-day wordplay a lot quicker than I did, or were a little less panicked on looking at the crossing letters. I’m guessing 17d and 3d didn’t trip off the tongue either, but were both equally fairly clued. This puzzle comes from a Christmas Eve long ago, so perhaps Tees and / or Eimi had decided to go easy on solvers otherwise engaged that day icing cakes, preparing veg, and generally laying into the Christmas booze and mince pies. I wouldn’t say the puzzle was exactly festive fun, but it was fun, and finished in the fastest time this week, albeit with a couple I’d noted to check afterwards.

COD? Stacks to choose from, with my nomination going to 18ac, though I suspect I wasn’t the only solver to wince a little, the answer being unfortunately close to a term that will not be repeated – “Tiger playing unclothed round shows black identity (9)”. Notable for being well clued, and perhaps a little too close to the edge, I’ll leave it to you to decide how close.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/12/24/independent-9422-by-tees-saturday-puzzle-24-december-2016/

This was Eccles’ first puzzle in the Independent, and strikes me as being very good, though with a few rough edges, and examples of trying a little too hard typical of a debut. Things I liked in particular were “setters” to indicate the double ME at 21ac, PER PET RATE, the very well hidden at 26ac, and my COD which I’ll come back to later. ­čÖé “Retail” at 12ac to indicate changing the tail of “therapy” was inventive, but a step beyond detail used similarly which I never much like anyway. The “by” in 16ac threw me entirely, though I suppose the rest in question is stored somewhere near a snooker table. 25ac lost me similarly, though in retrospect it’s very clever with a nicely hidden definition.

A bumpy solve here, some going in quite quickly, others I thought I would never get, and a feeling that things didn’t quite flow, but enough enjoyed too to say that this was a promising debut. Finish time once again well over par for the i, though this is the first puzzle by Eccles I’ve solved I think, so it may just be a matter of getting used to his (or her!) style.

Which reminds me, going back to a discussion in yesterday’s comments – the only puzzles I solve in the Independent are those of our Saturday blogger, so each day as far as I’m concerned I get a puzzle that may as well be a new one. And I doubt if I would remember a crossword four years on, anyway…

COD? Well, I know the order of books in the Bible (just about), so it tickled me, though I suspect others may have been less amused. 15d – “What Zechariah and Malachi do, for example (9)”, with a nice bit of misdirection towards a variant on PROPHECY which wouldn’t fit, of course, much to the frustration I suspect of many a solver looking for a write-in.

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

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/09/07/independent-9329-eccles/

i Cryptic Crossword 3075 Punk

December 15, 2020

Punk / Paul / John Halpern has been on the scene for a long time, and in fact this has been his silver jubilee year as far as published crosswords go. In celebration of this, here is the first clue from the first ever Paul, back in 1995:

“Name sewn into footballers’ underwear (8)”

A case of starting as you mean to go on, just like the first clue today. One has to admire his consistency. Of course he does come in for some flak for the schoolboy humour, but today’s puzzle is pretty mild. It does have a strong whiff of the stables about it though: whether that amounts to a┬átheme is moot, but there’s plenty of horsing around.

So what did I like, and what did I not? Everything and nothing, respectively. A breezy sort of crossword, neither trivially straightforward nor annoyingly refractory, with plenty of variety and a few amusing surprises. Near enough ideal for my tastes, unless the object of the exercise is to kill either a lot of time, or very little of it. Since it’s panto season, I’ve decided that it’s time for some audience participation, and therefore in addition to your nominations for COD (I have far too many runners up to mention) I am soliciting equine puns, please. They don’t have to be any good, and chestnuts are welcome. Points are on offer, and what do points mean?

Drum roll …. the Clue of the Day is … 4d:

“Old war horse’s place to claim local prize (6)”

Here’s the┬áFifteensquared link for solutions and whatnot. The comments section is very sparse, but we can do better can’t we girls and boys? Oh, yes we can!

First thoughts this week would have to be that there’s a lot of preamble to get through, and as it turns out a lot to do to stagger across the finish line too. Definitions that are not what they seem, other clues where we have a whole bunch of letters that could best be described as superfluous. Loads of them as it turns out.

We do have though lots of normal looking clues to solve, which I can cope with, sort of, in the aftermath of another Friday night. Not that I don’t have severe doubts about one or two answers this week, but hopefully that’s just down to my remiss parsing skills and rather dull state of mind.

Possibly too my limited grasp of Spanish, beyond that picked up from a most likely unhealthy obsession with Spaghetti Westerns. Vamos a matar compa├▒eros isn’t going to help you much in the local supermarket.

Did you know that down that way they have different suits of cards? No, me neither, but that’s what the unclued downs resolved to (or rather anagrams of them). Oros, Copas, Espadas, Bastos to you too.

Thankfully the extra letters in the clues resolved to the good old English versions of the same, because otherwise I wouldn’t have got anywhere.

Thank the crossword gods too for Google, because not having a copy of the ODQ to hand (though Amazon is somewhat obsessed ever since with trying to flog me a copy) the quote from the highlighted letters proved somewhat difficult to track down. Thankfully 29, 9, 4 and 22 from the clues with superfluous letters could only yield so many dates, leading to those of Cervantes, and hence a quote that led to something about shuffling cards.

Thus all the above rigmarole. The Listener and EV led with beginner’s level puzzles this weekend, so hurrah to the IQ for something a little more challenging, even if a lot of that was down to my dire language skills. Can we have Welsh next time please? Vamos, compa├▒eros. Here’s Morricone’s theme for the same.

A pretty tricky start to the week I thought, one that took only a little less time than Friday and Saturday’s offerings. Copious question marks beside the clues may explain some of my difficulties, as I had little confidence in some of my answers, in particular 6d, 25ac and 20d (the latter is a bit too loose for me – there is no indication that the revolutionary is in fact at both ends of the first synonym). And then we come to 14ac, which while it fits still leaves me somewhat bemused. Crossing as it did with the pretty obscure 7d, I was left feeling a little grumpy. But then again I’m often grumpy on a Monday.

To be fair there were things I liked, with 4d warranting a tick, as did my COD 11ac, if only for the Star Wars reference – “Fictional moon leading to extremes of space and back (7)”.

But what did you think?

Stuck on any of the answers or parsing? All is revealed here:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/08/29/independent-9321-by-lohengrin/

I found today’s Phi considerably tougher than yesterday’s Serpent – which judging by the review of the original puzzle and comments at Fifteensquared (click here) makes me the exception! Heigh-ho.

Also I’m a busy chap today, and being under pressure is no way to tackle a crossword, I’m sure you’ll agree. Indeed I ended up running out of time and hitting the ‘Solve entire puzzle button’ with half a dozen still to go – and that’s a first for me since I started doing most of my i puzzles on line at the beginning of Lockdown.

So why was it hard? Well apart from the several obscurities – like MAECENAS, SAGUARO, FIRE AGATE, LIVIA and CHLOE (I was okay with AMATI & SHAKO), I found several of the leaps hard to make as Phi hinted at word components rather than defining them – in 4d OFF BALANCE, for example, we had two slightly cryptic definitions: ‘Encouraging a tip’ and ‘that’s not on the scale’, neither of which led immediately, obviously and clearly to the answer and which when put together caused me too much bafflement.

But maybe it’s simply not being in the right frame of mind.

My COD goes to 28ac: Comedian, one whose heart is given over to depression (5)

If you’re interested in what inspired Phi’s grid fill – I won’t call it a ghost theme – then you can read about it in the comments through the link above.