Today was almost the day there wasn’t a blog. The paper boy it seemed being a no-show this morning, I thought no problem, I’ll just nip onto the i application and solve online. As if to demonstrate how poor my memory is, it took me three clues to realise that they still had yesterday’s puzzles up. Thankfully, the paper did eventually arrive in time for a “quick” solve and then onto the day’s painting. Such is my Easter break.

As it turns out the solve wasn’t so quick, this being a bit of a monster in places from Gila. In retrospect I’m unclear why that is, which is always a sign of a good puzzle where it’s only the ingenuity of the wordplay that’s held you up. There’s a nice contemporary(ish) feel throughout, from DORA the Explorer through to COLDPLAY and BONG. No outlandish vocabulary where the setter was left stuck in a corner by some ghost theme a poorly designed grid, just one PDM after another when what should have been obvious from the off made itself known through some quite lovely wordplay. Finish time more akin to a Thursday reprint than the Wednesday we’re accustomed to, but a joy to solve throughout.

COD? Lots to like, with my nomination going to 22d just because it was so deceptively simple, and I’m guess I wasn’t the only solver who spent an age trying to fit a word for doctor inside a synonym for blue – “Attractive doctor in blue (6)”.

To March 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/27/independent-9501-by-gila/

I had misgivings about this puzzle, which seemed to be full of perils and portents of doom. As it turns out Vigo had something more specific on her mind. This is well outside what I like to think of as my areas of competence, but if anyone picked up on the theme, well done, kid. 🙂

When Vigo’s crosswords started to appear I misjudged her badly, mistaking the clear and direct style for a lack of sophistication. To be fair, the first couple were remarkably straightforward, but it’s become clear that this is a setter who prioritises entertainment and has some neat tricks up her sleeve. Incongruous juxtapositions are a particular trademark, giving proceedings a sprinkling of surrealism. Anyway, pleased to set the record straight: my fault for not paying due attention to surface readings.

Today, then, we find the setter getting high on board a ship; dismemberment with inappropriate cutlery; deer without feet and spirits without heads, and so on. Also a word which only Vigo and Cornick can spell, put in for sheer devilment I imagine, unless there’s a Buffy connection. Oh yes, nearly forgot James Bond’s latest adventure and Spooner’s supper. All good knockabout fun, and if I single out 4ac, 17 and 18, that’s merely a personal choice. The COD, however, did seem to be jumping up and down insisting that I pick it:

3d: “Stockholders step back after French article (7)”

The original publication date was in March 2017, by which time the average number of comments at Fifteensquared had risen noticeably. They are worth perusing for a sighting of our own Cornick; Hoskins’ guide to the use of ellipsis, and a few handy mnemonics.

Familiarity with the bard’s work was never going to play to my strengths, so my efforts could best be summarised thus: guessing bits of a quote and a play, and utilising the services of a popular search engine to fill in the rest.

Unclued entries this week, which means lots of isolated bits of the grid and a lack of checking letters. On the other hand, we have wordplay generating extra letters to fill bits of them, and letters garnered from the clues themselves to generate a quote which would later prove useful when back-engineering parsing to work out the missing entries.

Which isn’t how we’re supposed to do this, I presume. I like to think that the real pros had a neatly written collection of letters making up a complete quote, which they swiftly pinpointed, and another collection they used to fill in the gaps in the unclued entries. My solving methods being a little more chaotic, I resorted to the above.

In my defence I will say that I got HENRY VIII ACT II, HEAVEN (who didn’t!), and MY SOUL. And then jotted in YOUR PRAYERS ONE thanks to the results of a nifty Google search (“Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice, And lift my soul to heaven…”), and pounced on the remainder of “as the long divorce of steel falls on me” as being handy for the parsing of several clues as per the above.

This sort of thing is right up Cornick’s street, of course, but I thanked the gods of the internet for an online open source copy of Bill’s works, and filled in much of the far right hand side of the grid based on it.

If the quote telling us to move MY SOUL northwards, and replace YOUR PRAYERS ONE with SWEET SACRIFICE wasn’t explicit enough, the that-obscure-it’s-not-in-Chambers BLUET to the SE corner should have been enough to inform the canny solver that there was jiggery-pokery afoot in that corner of the grid.

The equally obscure TREVIS and CEL being equally useful for Serpent’s purposes to the south, empty cells were left appropriately blank and the grid complete. So done, and enjoyed. But why do I that suspect Serpent will be more than a little disappointed at the way I hacked and slashed through the goodness on offer?

A pleasant, fairly straightforward offering from Eccles kicks off the week and my Easter break too in fine fashion. I found the NE corner to be a little trickier than the rest, but that will mostly be down to my ignorance regarding Turkish currency, and my determination that 7ac was a hero worshipper in general rather than one in particular. I also failed miserably to parse two – 6ac and 24ac – which is most likely because my brain is already becoming dulled after a few days off work, a state of affairs that will no doubt be even worse after I’ve got through the list of jobs waiting for me. Finish time comfortably under par for the i nevertheless, with my LOI 7d, and enjoyed throughout.

COD? Let’s go with the aforementioned 7d – “In Turkey, one is a bit of a pervert, it’s said (4)”.

To March 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/15/independent-9491-by-eccles/

Just fifteen puzzles in and Serpent has already established himself as one of my very favourite setters with the i. Mind you, finding nothing to solve where I started in the NW corner led to a flurry of panic at the thought that I was on blogging duty today. Time to concentrate and enter a Sherlockian mind-palace – or Cornickian noddle-shack in my case.

Everywhere I looked all I saw were compelling surface readings – stopping to admire them is hardly conducive to a quick solve, but I couldn’t help myself. ‘One of the youngest Members of Parliament?’, or ‘Understood article in French documentary’ – they were all so good! And then when the clues did start to fall it was obvious we were dealing with a consumate setter. Consider ‘Felt desire made dogs start to yelp’ where ‘dogs’ is used as a juxtaposition indicator, or ‘Build-up about invention making a leap forward’ where we are being asked to make A leap forward to the front of C-CREATION – these are delightful bits of wordplay.

There was one hidden – if these are short it feels like a cop-out, if they’re long and well concealed, it feels brilliant – ‘smoKE ROSE NEear house’ is clearly one of the latter.

Looking around the grid I’m spoilt for choice for a favourite. It could be almost any but in view of the comments below I’m going to change my mind and go with the aforementioned 10a:

One of the youngest Members of Parliament? (5)

Whilst solving there were two occasions I felt less than gushing with praise, but when I looked on Fifteensquared predictably enough these both turned out to in fact be my own failings. Firstly I didn’t know that silver is the best conductor of electricity so was left puzzled by the definition of 17d, and secondly I misunderstood the parsing of my LOI COUNTERFEITING where ‘Consider’ was supposed to lead to COUNT not ‘Counter’ as I had thought, and ER was part of the homophone for ‘a fitting’. Other than that everything was all fully understood and solved in what turned out, surprisingly enough in the end, to be a pretty average sort of time for the i.

I loved it.

Not the excruciating challenge that some of us may have been hoping for, or fearing, after a run of relatively accessible crosswords this week, today’s offering from Hoskins is an enjoyable and accessible solve which, by me at least, was completed in rather less than my typical time.

Hokins’s clues have delightful surface readings, for example “A bishop taking crack? Pardon!”, or “A shade rude, like Prince Philip, earlier on?”, both of which are perfectly plausible English – and which are put together with a lightness of touch and humour which is enviable. I don’t think there is anything controversial in today’s word-play or definitions. Perhaps “grunt” for GI is a bit obscure, but, lo and behold, there it is in the dictionary – and with “facilities” forming the other half of the word-play and a definition of “frozen house” I doubt whether many solvers hesitated much over either entry or what to check in the dictionary. Likewise DOP was new to me, but about as obviously clued as possible. Other queries? Well, referring to nuts as fruit is deceptive, and I do wonder how much time must elapse before references to a Prime Minister of yore need to be prefaced with an “ex-” or “former”.

We have two bits of characteristic naughtiness in the nicely constructed RELATED and the very daring and close-to-the-bone RAISE HELL. No problem for me, but then again I am not solving in the company of my elderly maiden aunts. Or bachelor uncles.

I thought that the clue for NIT was cleverly done, but my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 14d, if only for its delightful way of removing an O from a word: “A wee yen to nurse unloved boy in a bad way (9)”.

Click here for the answers and explanations, and for a little bit more from our talented setter himself.

A Saturday reprint draws us towards the end of the week, and one that I found to be a nice mix of the accessible with a few at the close, especially in the SW corner, that were a little more testing. In particular an obscure Mexican location mixed with some equally obscure wordplay was always going to be a sticking point, and I must admit to checking with Google. On the other hand in the same corner, 25ac was also pretty obscure but as clearly clued as you would like. Elsewhere I was tempted to lob in ELECTRO for 8d, except that nothing would then fit for 6ac, and failed to parse quite a few, in particular 12d. Finish time a little over par for the i on a morning when I was a little pushed for time.

COD? Much to enjoy, with both 19ac and 17d both worthy picks, but my nomination goes to 23d – “Daughter initially feared rabbit asking “What’s up, Doc?” (5)”.

To March 2017 once more for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/25/independent-9500-by-klingsor/

Dac occupies his customary weekday slot with a fairly straightforward, thoroughly enjoyable offering. There’s some discussion on the other side regarding the rareties at 6d and 7d, but neither held me up for long, the latter in particular being as clearly clued as you would like, as expected with Dac. We have the usual smooth surfaces, fair wordplay, and top notch quality and entertainment value. What’s not to like? Well, nothing, of course. Just the one I couldn’t parse at 4d, but thankfully I did know the eponymous hero’s first name. Probably from other crosswords it must be said, rather than any extensive literary knowledge. First in today 22d where I started, last in the aforementioned 4d, finish time about as quick as they get.

COD? The problem (!) today was that there were too many to pick from, with my nomination going to 16d – “Traveller, customer at restaurant who belches a lot? (8)”.

To March 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/03/01/independent-9479-dac/

Solvers of a suspicious bent will have been immediately dubious that any puzzle by Nimrod was going to be of the plain variety, and a quick glance at the clues will have been sufficient to confirm this. I had the advantage of getting a sneak preview a few days before publication, which was long enough to assure myself that the gimmick in question was that each clue was missing a letter. Tars as a definition making no sense of regular letters from airliners, but with an S to give stars a quite perfect description of ARIES.

This being Nimrod though I’d steeled myself for the long haul, but still managed to draw a bit of a blank with only a handful of answers in place. There’s more going on, you see, answers that are evidently too short for the space available, but all to the north of the grid thankfully as otherwise this would have turned out TO BE IMPOSSIBLE, he said in a slightly hysterical tone of voice. The same tone of voice I would feel myself beginning to adopt the next day when the allegedly simple task of replacing RAM in a gaming PC turned into quite the odyssey, with the suspicion at one point that the machine in question was bricked. A hint for those of you who might face a similarly sticky situation in the future – despite the RAM claiming that it’s taken (no more awful beeping noises), a little extra gentle pressure is required for it to clip into place. Which is all to say that the day was saved, yet again.

But back to the Inquisitor, and 1 and 8 across which,  when you ignore the word counts, lead obviously to SO and AR. As ever, expect the unexpected.

I note from my jottings that I seem to have taken an unusual amount of pleasure from the completion of the clues, 2d in particular garnering a number of ticks (“Source is encircled?”, leading to RISING). Neat, eh?

At the close I had, as expected, a message garnered from the letters that needed to be added to each of the clues. It took about the same time again untangling my dubious-at-best parsing, and a few incorrect answers (the lingering suspicion that there are more in the grid I haven’t picked up on), to get one that made any sense though. INSERT WHAT’S MISSING THEN NOTE ADVICE AT BASE.

Luckily I had already spotted HIGHLIGHT across the bottom of the grid, followed by 1T. No, that isn’t a typo, but exactly how, in my frazzled-by-then state of mind, I had decided to read it. Oh, how I laughed when I realised that I wasn’t in fact looking for a single T to highlight, or the hidden shape of one, but actually that the message read HIGHLIGHT IT. IT being A PREAMBLE which is the most likely looking collection of letters that might fill that gap at the top of the grid. A preamble being what we are indeed missing, the only sticking point being the crossing EWART which, being a name, does not appear in the BRB.

All good stuff. Count me for one as being impressed at how all that fell together, as nicely judged as you would like, both starting and finishing with a missing preamble. Which is all to say that I think, ladies and gentlemen, that we have another candidate for the end of year voting.

A Phi with a theme one would be hard pressed to miss. I rarely make reference to time considerations, but today I have to ask: is it just me? This was over in a trice, and really did consist of a series of read-and-writes, leaving me with precious little to say on the subject.

No legitimate complaints about this puzzle – feeling short changed is just my tough luck – but the truth of the matter is that my favourite crossword thing today was the concise homophone. In this one, 28ac was fairly natty and came in a close second behind my clue of the day, 7d:

“Boss has to lead, supported by a fool (3,6)”

Bertandjoyce were on blogging duty at Fifteensquared in March 2017, and did a sterling job as per.