i Cryptic Crossword 3168 by Phi

April 3, 2021

For the most part I very much enjoyed this week’s Phi. There were some great surface readings in clues like 1d HEARSE and 4d SHAH, there was no over-reliance on either long anagrams or deletions and there were some lovely clues like the beautifully worked double deletion for 2d DRY-CLEAN, nifty Russian-doll style clues for both 28a RUMMEST and 21d IDIOMS. I also enjoyed the wordplay in 16a LENGTHS very much, and the clever misdirection in 22a READJUSTS and 29a TANNERY. But I’m a sucker for a smooth surface reading, so my pick of the crop goes to this one:

14d Rock formation, mostly milky in condition (10)

There were a couple of bits of wordplay I’ve not seen before which frankly defeated me. In 16d the answer was plain enough, but we were being asked to make a switch from something meaning ‘supports’ to get there. Evidently ‘making a switch’ means swap the position of two of the letters around, so that’s ‘bolsters’ in the wordplay becoming LOBSTERS. Live and learn, live and learn. Another new thing was the abbreviation Ep. for epistle meaning ‘letter’ in 12a EPHEDRINE. I got the German poet all right in that one (dragged up from somewhere) but had never encountered the drug and so entered ‘Exhedrine’ which was wrong of course, so a (thankfully rare) DNF for me today.

On to things I objected to (oh how I would love to say nothing at all!) – well just two really: not especially the American spelling of COLOR (I’ll leave Batarde to comment on that) but I did find the surface reading in 24d decidedly creepy: ‘Dallies, poking end of finger into female underwear’, not an image I want in my head thank you very much; and then obviously I’m going to object to the Nina, where I still have absolutely no idea what Phi is on about. Here is what he said in the comments at Fifteensquared: “A couple of hints for Nina hunters. All the 14 across entries are an odd number of letters in length. The letters O through to Z are not involved.”

Eh? Please enlighten me anyone!

For responses to that comment and all the answers please click here.

31 Responses to “i Cryptic Crossword 3168 by Phi”

  1. dtw42 said

    Ninas … after much searching, I can see that the middle letter of each across answer in turn is A (enrAged), then B (herBage), then C (reCto) and so on.

    There must have been an edit to the LOBSTERS clue, because my dead-tree edition doesn’t say “making a switch”; instead, it has “Elevating the three foremost” – better?
    Either way, that was part of the SW corner, which is the bit that held me up at the end: although the def for 20 was clear, I couldn’t parse the wordplay, so I held off on putting that in until I’d got 16d and 17d, which were (along with 16a) my last ones in.

    • Cornick said

      Very good dtw. I couldn’t see that even with Phi’s hint. I wonder if any solvers either then or now managed to do so without it.

    • Saboteur said

      I’m seriously impressed that you got that but how long did it take you, Dtw42? And how did you spot it? Was it worth it?

      • dtw42 said

        As a reminder, Phi’s hints were:

        All the 14 across entries are an odd number of letters in length.
        The letters O through to Z are not involved.

        Without that I guarantee I would never have spotted it at all. WITH it, one can infer that the letters A to N *are* involved, and presumably once per answer since there are 14 of them. Possibly the noticeable J in READJUSTS followed immediately by the K in TRICKIEST might have made a mental link with the question “what attribute do odd-letter-length words have that make it worth mentioning?” and from that a pretty quick penny drop.

        Was it worth it? Not really, LOL.

      • Saboteur said

        It all seems so obvious when you put it like that! 🙂

  2. Topsy said

    This was a total DNF for me, not because I couldn’t but because I chose not to. As I have said many times, I dislike sex and drug references but 24d made me throw aside my paper in disgust. I can appreciate jokes, Humph was a great favourite, but this clue was a step too far!

  3. jonofwales said

    24d unfortunately followed on from Thursday’s debate and thus elicited the biggest wince ever. The rest though was enjoyed and finished without too much ado. I wondered at some of the repetitions in the answers – AGE, THS, etc – but suspect dtw42 has hit the nail on the head. Regarding the American spelling, well it was flagged as being so. 😀

  4. Denzo said

    I enjoyed most of the puzzle and agree with what Cornick said with the exception of COLOR. Two weeks ago almost universal praise was heaped here on a mostly splendid Morph puzzle in which one answer included the word FANNY, American slang bordering on the vulgar, not widely known this side of the pond (indeed unknown to me); furthermore the clue did not clearly identify that US slang was used. So I do not see the logic in quibbling about a word which WAS clearly identified as American in the clue, when we all know well that words such as colour and honour lose the U oner the pond.

    I saw the Nina when I read Phi’s comment on 225, but I can’t imagine anybody would have spotted it without his hint. It adds absolutely nothing to the solvers pleasure, but, as we now know well, enables him to pop up like Jack Horner in 225 and say “You didn’t spot my Nina/theme, Ha ha, Ha! What a clever boy am I!”

    OK, Phi, I accept it was clever, but sometimes cleverness leads to poorer clues, rather like 24d, which could actually have worked almost as well and caused much less offence if the word “female” had been omitted from the clue. It didn’t actually offend me at the time, but I can see why others are offended. I encourage Topsy to write to the editor, and hope she shares her reply with us here in due course.

    FOI was SHAH. SE corner was most difficult, containing some good misdirection, COLOR being my LOI

    • Cornick said

      With regard to Americanisms, I don’t claim to be any sort of arbiter of rules, I can only say what I like or don’t like – this will obviously vary from solver to solver.
      For me I’m fine with the appearance of American words that don’t exist in English over here provided they’re indicated; I grudgingly accept American spellings used as wordplay components, again provided they’re indicated; but I draw the line at American spellings as solutions – like Color today. However even that would have been justifiable to enable a Nina – but the Nina would have to be gettable without a hint from the setter.

      • Denzo said

        We will have to agree to differ on what is logical – maybe our minds work differently, or maybe logic doesn’t come into it. Why allow it in clues and wordplay, but not in answers?

        I hadn’t spotted that the American spelling contributed to the Nina, but, unlike you, would have objected strongly if I had, because I firmly believe that puzzles should work without Ninas, as the best usually do.

        As a Brit, I do not like the way that US English is taking over, but I suppose we have to accept that it is used globally by many more people, and have to accept it, grudgingly or otherwise. But I agree with you that it should be clearly identified as such in crosswords. This was the case here, but is not always so, and was not in the example of FANNY which I quoted.

      • batarde said

        I think it’s lazy. That corner could have been reworked to avoid the US spelling and the unpleasantness in 24d without much trouble, retaining the self-congratulatory gimmick. Colon; Sanest; Tanners would’ve done it. You have to wonder where it would all end up if American variants are deemed fair game for any setter who gets into a bit of a fix with a grid fill. Bet you won’t see English English in the NY Times, by the way.

      • Cornick said

        Yes Denzo, there is a logic. Something suboptimal (American variant spelling) needs to be justified. This is never the case in the business of filling a grid which can always be re-jigged UNLESS there’s a worthwhile Nina or theme. Similarly it can be justified in the wordplay of a clue, but only if it helps to make a clue clever or amusing. Hope that’s clear, but as I say, it’s just my view 🙂

      • Denzo said

        I agree that’s logical. I have not your experience of setting grids or clues, but it surprises me that you suggest its easier to fill the grid (when you have also to consider crossing letters), than to compose the wordplay where you need only to consider the letters in the answer itself. My surprise is the greater when I recall that the most common Americanism in crtosswords is “ass”, not meaning a donkey, and they are frequently used to introduce (usually vulgar) humour.

        But Batarde is right that Phi could have easily solved that and the 24d problem had he wished.

  5. dtw42 said

    FWIW – I am perfectly happy with American spellings when they are appropriately flagged as such – in the same way as other regional variants and archaisms.
    Re 24dn, while I was not personally offended, I agree that it’s poor taste and should probably have been rewritten. (Sins of southern carriers?)

    • Cornick said

      Now I have my dead-tree edition I notice that ‘Dallies’ at the start of 24d appears as ‘Sins’ – as it did in 2017. The ‘Sins’ version is slightly less offensive I suppose.

      • Denzo said

        My paper version has “Sins”, not “Dallies”. Seems like it might have been spiced up for the online version of the i….

        It seems that 16d was changed from 2017 for the Paper but not the online version, and 24d changed for online but not the paper.

        I’ve given up expecting anything to be logical.🙃

  6. tonnelier said

    I found this a bit dull and very simple UNTIL I got stuck in SW corner. Both 16s and both superlatives caused some problems, but that’s my fault, not Phi’s, of course.
    24 down struck me as mildly smutty, but I really can’t see any cause for being seriously offended. The only thing that upset me slightly was RUST for DECLINE. Best for me was 20.
    The so-called Nina is of course clever, but pointless.

  7. batarde said

    I have a friend in Hamburg, who insists vehemently that British spellings are the only legitimate ones: he likens putting a “u” in “colour” to using a knife and fork instead of eating with your hands. Hardly conclusive, but anyone who has studied English language on a technical level knows that Germans are much better at it than we are! Anyway, my objections are identical to Cornick’s, in that for an American spelling to be legitimate in a solution the excuse has to be phenomenally good, and “I couldn’t be bothered to re-jig things and hey! – check out my invisible Nina” ain’t cutting it. As they say in Birmingham. Alabama.

    24d is indeed icky, and I encourage Topsy to crack open the green ink and make her displeasure felt. Not really excusable.

    However, my biggest gripe today is 13ac, which is foul. I’ll give you “Eph” as an abbreviation for the letter to the Ephesians, and “Heine” most certainly. “Ep” for epistle, however, is deeply buried in the dictionary under a different headword – clearly in no way mainstream – so add that to a poet who is not especially well known outside his homeland to form an alkaloid and you’ve got about as clear an infringement of Arachne’s law as you could hope to see.

    Usual thing: a crossword with good stuff in it, but marred by some ill-considered clue writing and a smartypants gimmick.

    • Saboteur said

      I think I agree with you and Cornick on this, Batarde, especially when that SE corner could so easily have been inoffensive on both counts.

      BTW, I also agree about “Eph”, I didn’t notice at the time of solving that I had mistakenly taken the H twice, one in Heine and once in Eph(esians) which is how I parsed it for “letter”. I don’t think that in many decades of teaching theology I have ever seen “epistle” as “ep”.

  8. Saboteur said

    24d was indeed shocking. Inexcusable.

    Otherwise an uneventful solve. I didn’t know EPHEDRINE, but the poet was correctly guessed from the crossing H, so it fell into place. Last in was LENGTHS, which went in with a shrug and without parsing.

    I no longer bother with Phi’s themes or ninas. This demonstrates why.

  9. Veronica said

    I did enjoy the solve.
    But I agree about 24 down (I had “sins”). It jseems unnecessary to potentially offend, upset, or be frivolous about something unpleasant. LOBSTER was my last one in because it was so hard to parse, even though I had the “elevated” version, but I thought it clever in this version.
    Not fussed about the nina. No, I couldn’t see it, even with the hint – well done, dtw! Clever, but it doesn’t add or detract for me.
    I liked quite a few clues – good fun and good quality. Particularly liked IDIOMS and LENGTHS.

  10. Denzo said

    Having tried for ages to think of a fish spelt L_N____, I suddenly thought of a different swimmer so this was my fav clue.

    Smut has been a topic in several recent, puzzles and I have wondered if the editor has fed these deliberately to see what reaction comes.

    I noticed also a very recent puzzle by a setter well known for, shall I say, pushing boundaries, whch elicited no complaints. It is almost as if said setter has cleaned up his act just as others are jumping on the bandwagon.

    • Cornick said

      It’s not smut per se that’s the problem, but rather innuendo relating sexual assault that offends.

    • Denzo said

      That is no doubt the most offensive.

      But I have also seen objecrions to “going” and “it”

    • batarde said

      Presumably you’re referring to John Halpern (aka Punk or Paul), who has long had a not entirely deserved reputation on account of a certain puzzle which gave the Daily Mail a conniption fit. That one was quite puerile, and he cheerfully admits as much, but it was a long time ago. Nowadays there are other setters who venture much nearer to the knuckle, whilst Punk has become very adept at scraping through the Humph test. This link will either appeal or appal, according to taste:

      This country being the home of the saucy postcard, Max Miller and the Carry On films, I imagine that the general level of tolerance for low level ribaldry is pretty high – so long as it’s silly, done with a twinkle in the eye and some wit. In other words, the clue had better be a good one, and 24d was not. Furthermore, it went way too far. If people really are moaning about “it” (a rather rubbish crossword cliché, to be frank) and “going” then that’s very peculiar of them, but I’d rather like a citation, please.

      By and large my feeling is that setters should do whatever they want – the self-appointed grammar and pronunciation commissars clearly love being wound up and therefore ought to be – but when one hears that a solver has abandoned a puzzle having been affronted, that’s another matter. This is a civilised pastime, one hopes, and it behoves setters to consider others’ feelings. Frankly, I’m not even convinced that Phi gave the surface reading of 24d more than the most cursory attention, and may not have realised what he’d done. Which just makes it worse.

      • Cornick said

        Well said Sir.
        And that link was excellent. Are you and he by any chance related?

      • Denzo said

        Yes, like Cornick, I enjoyed the link, and shall remember it next time I drink a glass of House White in Lincolnshire. I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall at my late Mother-in-law’s when, pen poised, she opened her Daily Mail on that fateful day.

        I am afraid I cannot remember precisely who, what and when, but I assure you that disparaging comments have appeared on these pages when go was taken a synonym for pee, though they have been more along then lines of “I’d prefer not to engage with this puerile vocabulary” than those with 24d today or with Thursday’s seductress.

        However smut, like beauty, is often smut in the eye of the beholder.

      • batarde said

        Oh yes, I remember now. Apologies. The lavatorial stuff is a slightly different matter, but it certainly has the potential to get those eyeballs rolling.

        No, not related! I’ve read his book though, and recommend it.

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