An enjoyable puzzle to kick us off this week, on the easy side, but showing lots of 2d. There is little to say this (extremely icy) morning apart from that, because I don’t think there was anything contentious, though as more than a few were write-ins it’s possible I may have overlooked something. I did though have more than an average number of tick beside the clues, so a big thumbs up here. Finish time about as quick as they get.

COD? With 21ac, 15d and 22ac in close contention, I’ll go with 16ac – “Balls’ motivation to get close to final (6)”.

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

What a treat that was! Pitched just right for this particular solver, with only a couple of new terms: yes, PHARAOH’S SERPENT and SERPENTINE VERSE; who better than Serpent to introduce us to them both! As if that wasn’t enough, if you look carefully you can see two more serpents hiding in the SW and NE corners. All of that is beautifully neat and symmetrical, although unfortunately I didn’t look for that Nina. Knowing how brilliant this setter is at grid filling, I really should have done.

And what terrific clues – some really elegant surfaces, nothing overly impossible, but no real pushovers either – just a nice range of difficulty from the likes of 1a ADVENT, say – to give us a foothold to the more challenging end of things like those two Serpent clues, DOG PADDLE – which I’d only previously met as ‘doggy paddle’, my LOI 25a EXUBERANT, or this delightful clue, my COD which for far too long I thought must be ‘trepid’ without being able to parse it. Oh no, it’s much cleverer than that:

8d When you’re wobbly and about to snap, it helps to take drugs – lots of drugs! (6)

I shall be looking forward to the good supply of Serpent puzzles that lie in store for us lucky readers of the i!

Click here for the link to Fifteensquared and all the answers, and please do tell me which were your favourite clues in the comments below.

How strange was that? I got off to a flying start with this one, with five across entries going in almost without my having to think about them: BRUNEI (there aren’t that many six-letter countries starting with B and ending in EI), NEUTRINO (pretty obviously an anagram of sorts), the chestnuts BRIE and BANANA, and the straightforward charade TURN INTO. Naturally I wondered if we were going to get a fairly accessible puzzle with Bs on the left and Os on the right, and perhaps the whiff of a theme…

How wrong I was. My next in, PATIENCE disabused me of the B & O idea, although it was another read-the-clue-and-write-the-answer double definition. But then I struggled and struggled. I got there in the end, in considerably longer than my typical time, and even parsed everything, albeit with help from lists and the internet. But it was certainly hard work.

Did I enjoy it? Not really. In the end there were too many clues with obscurites or with too tightly-knotted word-play. How did the definition of WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA work? DJEMBE? NANDOO? How many of us know that Muswell Hill is in N10? And “place [bet]” for “ante”? Where did the Z come from in ENBLAZON? And what happened to the “n” in INDIA[N] INK? There were other, lesser question-marks, and perhaps other solvers had different experiences. It is rare for me not to get satisfaction from completing a tough puzzle, but I didn’t today.

My nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the simple, but rather neat 6d: “Circus attraction in London aching to travel north (4)”.

All the answers and explanations can be found by clicking here.

Over on Fifteensquared the original blogger noted that today a bit of lateral thinking was required, and in the comments somebody else noted that they entered a few unparsed. Today any lateral thinking seemed to be beyond me, as I entered most of the clues either with little idea of what was going on, or in several cases none at all. Now, I still finished easily under par for the i, so you could argue that I was given enough to work with, but it still felt like a far from comfortable solve where I half expected to grind to a halt any second when inspiration failed me. Interesting and enjoyable nevertheless, quite different to the puzzles we’ve had the rest of the week. Perhaps best described as lively? Let me know how you got on, anyway.

COD? I’ll go with 31ac – “French novelist’s ‘babbling stream and brook’ (8)”.

To December 2016 where thankfully the always reliable duncanshiell has all the answers and parsing of the clues:

Another pretty gentle solve, which leads me to wonder if we have tougher challenges in store for the rest of the week. It’s Dac, so we make up what we lose in quantity (of time) with quality, so certainly no complaints here. Unusually for him I do have the one question mark, as to whether the A at the start of 21ac is adequately signposted, but apart from a brief moment of fussing about where 20d lies geographically, the answer was forthcoming enough. A lot of the rest did not need to be fully parsed, but I did pause to note that 14ac and 2d at first glance left me a little flummoxed as to what was going on. No doubt with a little more thought I would have seen the light, but this is what we have Fifteensquared for, isn’t it?

First in, yes you guessed it 22d where I started, last in 19ac, but only because I almost forgot to solve it, finish time close to being as quick as they get.

COD? With lots to pick from as ever, I’ll go with 2d – “Cooked sole apt to need sprinkling of salt and dressing (11)”.

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

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in my opinion Raich is like the final set of stairs to the roof of the Batarde Towers Belvedere.* He is not a setter known for devilish difficulty, but his puzzles are as polished as they come, and it’s an all-too-rare pleasure for one to come up on the Tuesday shift. Just as yesterday’s Peter was a fine introductory crossword, this one ought to appeal to those who do not generally speaking care for themes.

He is not playing to one of my strengths in this case, but 1ac spelt out the subject and the name did ring a bell. Anyone who has ever tinkered with setting crosswords will know that, as soon as you introduce a gimmick, the grid fill can get weird very quickly. Therefore, to shoehorn in a decent amount of thematic material without recourse to anything approaching obscurity is no mean feat, and yet I think we can safely say that there’s nothing here to frighten the 20 downs. Nor is there anything quibbleworthy to pick up on as far as I can see. Doubtless the ghost of Ximenes is smiling benevolently today, because every single clue works like an equation, leaving one in no doubt as to what has to go where. If you’re reading that and thinking “he’s trying to say politely that it was trivially straightforward”, well, yes – but it’s too early in the week for me to start moaning about that and not getting my thirteen bob’s worth. Excellent craftsmanship throughout, after all.

No list of preferred clues today because they’re all nicely made, but I shall slap the CoD rosette on 8d because, having consulted the dictionary, it taught me something. Besides, it’s a funny, unexpected word.

“Like famous Piper accepting good metal for provender (7)”

For John’s blog and some appreciative comments, please click here to be whisked back in time to November 2016. Isn’t Fifteensquared looking spruce and up to date all of a sudden, by the way?

* Top Flight. 🙂

If you’ve been solving Quixote’s puzzles for several years as I have, and are aware that he was (and perhaps still is?) the editor of the Church Time’s crossword, then I’m guessing that you too spotted today’s event and location a mile off. It took me until R.CL C..A to make the not so miraculous leap of faith, and pencil in WEDDING MIRACLE AT CANA for the extra letters. It didn’t need much in the way of omniscience either to guess that we’d be turning water into wine.

But all of the above would only be accomplished after MANY HOURS OF AGONISING. Because, yes, this was Quixote in full on turbo-charged Pasquale mode. His last IQ having been a pretty gentle affair this came as a surprise, but not necessarily an unwelcome one because who’s got anything better to do these days? I was also less than best prepared following an evening I suspect the vicar would have frowned upon. As my father is, most literally, one, perhaps I should have known better. Either way potentially jumbled entries were enough to faze me.

Perhaps unnecessarily so, because once I’d established that they lay to the SW and NE only, the final NW corner fell in what could only be described as a jiffy. Lack of confidence, you see. WAG being the last thing I thought of for moving up and down, leading to the unlikely looking FAGUS, and when I eventually thought about it, the sticky substance was evidently LAC and so ILIAC. But NOGG you could be forgiven for not knowing was another word for what some would argue lay at the heart of my most definite lack of mental prowess this Saturday.

But with Quixote you expect a trip to the BRB, and with the IQ doubly so.

What do you know, the end-game is as it should be. Clear, to the point, the icing on the cake. WATER twice amended to PINOT and MEDOC giving what is definitely a plethora of real words to fill a grid that was in places bereft of same.

I suspect this is a barred grid puzzle of the old school, but having not been solving the things that long I couldn’t say for sure. But one that was a real treat, if an unexpectedly challenging one. Here’s Monty Python on the subject of miracles.

A fun puzzle by Peter to start the week, with nothing too difficult, unless you floundered for a while trying to think of an Italian city that wasn’t the capital, or briefly considered SPIKE for 1d that is. The top half took marginally longer than the rest, but I suspect that was just me running out of puff halfway through, completed at a sprint as this was from the bottom up. Nicely judged for a Monday, and I suspect a real crowd-pleaser.

COD? I’ll go with 21ac – “European clergyman dropping king in favour of court is catholic (8)”.

To Halloween 2016 for all the answers and parsing of the clues. The observant among you will note that Fifteensquared has had a makeover that looks rather nifty.

If you track down the columns of your completed grid you will see the 4-letter names of the composers BA/CH, LA/LO, IN/DY, NO/NO, PE/RI, RO/TA, and AR/NE; there’s also Ernst TO/CH in row 2. The pangram was just there to put you off the scent, reveals Phi in the comments to the puzzles blog from way back in May 2016 here.

Now that may or may not be a difficult and brilliant piece of grid filling, but the fact that it forced the setter to give us a few obscure or unlikely-seeming terms to find in our clue solving: Tenuto, Sunnites, Liner notes(?), Uniter(?), Quinella(?), and Rinderpest – shows that there were sacrifices made for a theme which once again almost no-one will have spotted unless they were helped to do so in conversation with the setter, as happened back in 2016. Contrast that with Donk’s wonderful puzzle yesterday – where the theme was clear to all, or Math’s Sherlock Holmes based puzzle on Tuesday – both were pure delight. Unfortunately this puzzle has been weakened in order to enable what turns out to be a joke almost no-one will get. For my money Phi is at his best when either he eschews themes altogether or at least makes them discoverable to the general solver; when he does his puzzles are excellent.

Rant over. Now for the clues. Well there were a mixture of easy, straightforward solves and then a bunch of straightforward constructions with either stretched synonyms to find or with those difficult answers already mentioned. One exception was the complex, Russian doll style clue for 6d KNITWEAR, which might have made it as COD if I’d felt that ‘our team’ could be ‘we’ as well as ‘us’. I also enjoyed the nicely deceptive definition ‘lose heart’ for ‘Fall in Love’ at 18ac, but my COD goes to the following clue which, simple though it was, has a nicely polished feel about it:

14d Plans to accept scripture lessons in cathedral (8)

This crossword is constructed around something I’ve not seen done before – or, more precisely, not done so impressively before: a chain of eight answers, each one an anagram of the previous clue, plus one additional letter, taking us from RIM to the ten-letter IMPERSONAL. This is no small achievement. Donk deserves high praise for it.

To be sure, on my first read-through I was irritated by what I took to be just a high proportion of clues which were cross-referenced. Accordingly, the first part of my solve was largely confined to the left-hand side, which was more-or-less free of the interconnections. Only when I came to solve IMPERSONAL in the LHS, and ended up working backwards all the way to RIM did I realise what a tour-de-force Donk had created.

Moreover, there are some very nice cryptic or whimsical definitions, like “face employee” for MINER and “one lacking depth” for CYCLOPS.

There is one genuine obscurity: EXAUGURAL. This was very neatly and precisely clued, the crossing letters offered substantial reassurance and the possibility of there being an opposite for “inaugural” seemed reasonable, with this being the logical way to construct it. But I did have to go to my ancestral Shorter Oxford to find it (yes, I know I could have googled it, but in my hierarchy of what help to seek, googling comes as the last resort).

I would like to nominate, if I could, the chain-of-eight as the clue of the day. But I don’t think I can, so instead I offer 5d: “Short rotation works for one struggling with depth (7)”.

Click here for the answers and explanations.