i Cryptic Crossword 3131 Serpent

February 19, 2021

Of the newer setters, Serpent is now a firm favourite for me, and I take a real pleasure in solving his crosswords. They are beautifully crafted, where fine surface readings combine with impeccable word-play, neither compromising the other.

Previous offerings have included self-referential ninas, and looking at the grid I expected something similar today. I patted myself on the back for my prescience when I got a P,E,N in one corner – and then getting an E,N,T in another seemed to confirm it, leaving me wondering how he was going to fill the gaps between them. Just goes to show how wrong I can be.

Serpent was kind to us today with a puzzle gentler than previous offerings. In particular, there were some simple clues to get us going in the top left. But these were balanced by plenty of chewier ones: DEBRIS and EUPHORIA had me struggling over the word-play for some time, before it rewardingly yielded.

Thats not to say the crossword is without flaw. ITAL seems very obscure, at least to me, never having come across it in the rather limited and provincial circles I move in (or used to move in, at any rate). Only that there were only a very limited number of options available when the crossers and nina were in place made it solvable. But even then the clue was very neat, in terms of its construction. CENOTE was another unknown, but rather more plausible. These two were the only ones where I needed to resort to the Internet – well, for those, and to look at pictures of HAWKSBILL TURTLEs, one of the joys of a crossword being these little opportunities to discover something new.

Clue of the Day to me has to be 2d, a delightful clue, with a great surface reading and neat word-play: “Essentially they vacuously cheek live routines (8)”.

To December 2016 for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2016/12/03/independent-9404-by-serpent/

20 Responses to “i Cryptic Crossword 3131 Serpent”

  1. dtw42 said

    Yers. I flagged CENOTE as a bit obscure, but that was before I’d got anywhere near ITAL (not in Chambers … to me if it means anything, it’s an old model of Morris – remember them?). Needed CC’s anagram tool to unpick the turtle. But, at least I did finish relatively early so a marked improvement over my struggles on Wednesday and Thursday!

  2. Veronica said

    Agree with everything that Saboteur said. Right down to the COD – which I didn’t like on first reading, because of the awkward surface – only to discover that the surface reading was perfect once I’d solved the clue.
    I had several more ticks, notably 5 down for such a lovely image from the clue itself.
    For once, I spotted the nina (x2). Otherwise I’d never have got ITAL.
    Very enjoyable.

  3. Cornick said

    Thoroughly agreed. I now give a little ‘oh goody’ when I see it’s a Serpent.
    Quite quick today, especially post-Nina. My biggest hold-up being that turtle which (probably intentionally) seemed at first to be the beginning of the clue ‘shattered’ to give something meaning ‘on the rocks’.
    Loads of great clues – consider the surface reading in 19d CLOTH for example – excellent stuff!

  4. tonnelier said

    Very much a puzzle of two halves for me. Lower half all went in easily enough, with a check required for CENOTE. The upper half took three times as long, largely because I couldn’t sort out the anagram in 10, and had never heard of the answer – they do look rather attractive I must say. Didn’t think much of ITAL – we definitely don’t have them in rural Gloucestershire.

  5. batarde said

    No unknowns today, but I fully expected some protest about ital and cenote. The latter is a word you’ve either come across or you haven’t, but the former is a major concept in Rastafarianism, and if it’s deemed to be unreasonably obscure, well I wonder why that might be. Presumably terms like kosher or halal are all right. Anyway, I certainly do not regard either as flaws, and can’t put my finger on anything else which might fit the bill either. Superb puzzle, and my favourite this week. 2d would be my choice for COD, too.

    • Veronica said

      I didn’t know the word. I agree, though, it should be brought to attention if well known in Rastafarianism. And therefore it should go into modern dictionary versions too!

    • Saboteur said

      I don’t think I agree with you, Batarde. However important a concept in Rastafarianism, and however worthy such concepts are of wider dissemination, it remains that ITAL, is, at present, an obscure word. As Tonnelier has pointed out, it’s not in the dictionary. (Certainly not in my Shorter Oxford, although since that is virtually an antique, I can’t say I’m surprised).
      There are plenty of concepts which are absolutely central to religious or philosophical systems followed by millions, even billions, which would be obscure, and so equally unfair in a daily cryptic: Hypostasis, Anamnesis, Kenosis, to name but three in Christianity, Pareve, Halakhah, in Judaism. I could go on. But I won’t. 🙂

      • batarde said

        I think that Chambers and the other dictionaries are deplorably deficient in this instance. Frankly, somebody should go on a course. On a regular basis we are expected as solvers to know the books of the Bible, any number of clerical titles, details of ecclesiastical architecture, apparel and whatnot … fair enough, we are nominally and culturally a Christian country. Furthermore, there are the various Muslim functionaries who keep cropping up, a few specialist Jewish words and a selection of Hindu deities; one or two Buddhist terms, and how many times have we seen “avesta”? So that’s the Zoroastrians catered for. Yet as soon as one Rastafarian word comes up it isn’t in the dictionary, and I’m still wondering why. This is not a technical word only known to academic theologians: it’s about what you eat and I for one first came across it in relation to Reggae Reggae Sauce®. 🙂

      • Saboteur said

        You are clearly much more adventurous than I am in the kitchen, Bararde! 🙂

      • Cornick said

        Rastafarianism, along with the Baha’i faith come to that, both feature widely in resources for schools nowadays, I think it’s the middle aged and old ‘uns who could do with a bit of getting with the programme – to which end Serpent seems to be doing his bit.

  6. tonnelier said

    My problem with ITAL is simply that it isn’t in Chambers. That would normally disqualify it I believe.

  7. jonofwales said

    The obscurities were clearly clued so no issues here, though both were decidedly obscure. I’m not sure I would have finished without spotting the Nina, or at least I would have taken a lot more time. As it was this seemed to me to be testing, but not impossible, and as good as they get.

  8. Willow said

    Sorry, but I think it’s important to flag up problematic clues: I find difficulties with accepting that a reference to an idiot can equate to a part of the female anatomy. This is simply outdated (1960s?) and we need to move on.

    Having said that I very much enjoyed the rest of the puzzle, although I am still uncertain about the parsing of EUPHORIA. It was also lovely to see Serpent drawing attention to his employer in the Nina rather than himself. Many thanks.

    • batarde said

      Yes, that did irk me rather a lot too – should’ve remarked on that but forgot.

    • Cornick said

      EUPHORIA is an anagram (debauched) of HOUse PARtIEs. So remove ‘sets’ first before jumbling up the letters. This is called a subtractive anagram and, FWIW, it’s often thought to be only kosher (or should I say ital) if the subtracted letters appear in the correct order, as they do here.

  9. thebargee said

    I was determined to finish this one after 3 DNFs, and thankfully I did, but not without a struggle. I got off to a good start, 8ac and 2dn going straight in, followed by a random selection throughout the grid. The final third took me an age though.

    Never heard of ITAL (except the Morris car of that ilk and that’s probably best forgotten 😉) or CENOTE, but they were both pretty clear from the wordplay. I failed to parse EUPHORIA, and would have finished sooner had I spotted the Nina – my LOI was 9ac and as I hadn’t figured out the wordplay I agonised over whether it was TRADE WAR, GAP, BAN etc.

    All in all thoroughly enjoyable. My only minor niggle is over 26 ac, I don’t particularly like either the Spoonerised version or the Americanism.

  10. twobob said

    I quibbled Ital, last clue in, it was clean wordplay and using Google rather than chambers took me down an enjoyable rabbit hole of the divisions of rastafarianism so I was happy. Don’t be a tit is still common parlance among middle aged drinkers in SE London pubs so thought nothing of it. The only negative comment I can make is that I wouldn’t let Serpent anywhere near the plumbing in my flat! (20d)

    The comments re pleasure gained from seeing Serpent’s name top left and the COD have my full endorsement. That was a satisfying solve. Shades of Virgillius perhaps? Who was the setter that drew me in to this passtime.

  11. Polly Fonnick said

    Two days is a long time in Crosswordland, but for me Serpent has taken the place of the hugely missed Anax and become the setter whose puzzles I’m happy to linger over or save for as long as it takes. (In Anax’s case that could stretch to months.) The reward as enlightenment dawns is directly proportionate to the effort put into the solve.

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