A welcome return for Peter this Bank Holiday Monday after what I feel has been a long absence. As expected this was a bright, breezy solve, with only the choice of blade to the NW and a very nice bit of misdirection regarding a prince who it transpires isn’t one from Troy to the SE. Your spelling may have been put to the test at 10ac, and I wonder if I was alone in finishing with a moment of slight concern on the possibility of getting stuck at the close, yet again, at 24ac, only to realise MONO, something, and watch the rest fall into place. Lots of fun then that gives us loads of time to enjoy the sunshine (we’re throwing caution to the wind and attempting a barbecue here), and also the day’s concise which I thought was on the tricky side.

COD? Just because of the lovely bit of misdirection, 22ac – “Hot meal prepared by Troy’s prince (6)”.

And so to a Sunday in darkest January 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


Another wonderful puzzle from Serpent – I suppose you could call it a theme based around numbers but it seemed more like playful riffing than a theme as such. There were so many lovely clues. I’ll start with my CoD nomination 11a:

Number between 0 and 2.718… (3)

Then there were two nifty examples of clues referring to the clue before themselves. In 27a the anagram fodder for LICENSE was provided by 26a, and in 9a the definition was provided by the example of 5a FANZINE. Nice. There’s some chat in the comments over at Fifteensquared about 9a which seems to me to miss the point slightly. Surely a portmanteau is a case designed to carry (porte) a coat (manteau) and because it folds up its two halves into one, that’s why Carroll borrowed the word to describe all those delicious words like slithy and chortle which he coined in the Jabberwocky. In the original French it’s no more a portmanteau word than is suitcase, surely? But I’m going off at a tangent.

Back to the crossword – honourable mentions should be made for the beautifully put together ACQUIESCENT, 1a, 12a (which used an ellipsis by way of the definition – did you notice how that also made sense of the irrational number e in the previous clue?), 14a, 17a – oh crikey, well all of them really. I’m just a big fan of Serpent’s puzzles so seemed to have lost all ability to offer any kind of critical thought whatsoever.

I will say that I found it easier than usual for a Serpent, but that could just be that I have become familiar enough with his style, and more importantly perhaps that I have come to completely trust that he will always be completely fair.

Here’s the link back to the original blog with all the answers and parsing:

Independent 9434 (Sat 7-Jan 2017) Serpent

Our setter today has given us a good work-out today, in a challenging crossword themed on cities. Some of the entries were cities, and sometimes cities were referenced in the clues.

As we would expect from a setter such as Punk who is at the top of the league, there was a lot of creativity and boundary-pushing to stretch and entertain us. ORIGAMI, for example, was clued as “delicate operations” and BOWYER as “Robin Hood’s supplier”. We were treated to a nice bit of misdirection in GELATIN. I for one presumed the “setter” referred, as usual, to the person behind the crossword, and spent some time wondering if the “rash” was “measles”. I had the E from NAIVE, so thought that “setter” was “me. Just couldn’t find a way to derive “asles” from “genital”. I was also misled in HARVEST; having the crossing A, I was convinced the boxer was “Ali”, rather than “hare”.

Again, as we would expect, everything parsed beautifully, leaving me with no question marks in my margin. And I don’t think there are any obscurities necessitating deep delves into the dictionary.

All in all, an excellent, if challenging, puzzle from one of the best.

Clue of the Day? I nominate 20d: “A gathering storm truly starts after boxer claims victory (7)”.

To January 2017 for the answers and the parsing: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/01/02/independent-9429-by-punk/

Rather surprisingly, today’s offering from Alchemi turns out to be an IoS reprint. I say surprisingly, because I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in finding this to be a little chewy, with a time at the close a little over par for these parts. Nothing impenetrable, with only the one potential obscurity at 13ac that luckily I sort of knew (with all the checking letters in place at the close), because it was one of several where I struggled with the parsing. The rather noisy removal of the chimney today may not have helped matters, the beginnings of a how-much-noise-can-they-possibly-make headache rather than clear thought process rather occupying me at the moment.

This being Alchemi, though, the puzzle fairly sparkled throughout, with a more than average number of ticks. For COD, with lots to pick from, I’ll nominate 10ac – “Characters changing used to be random vowels (10)”.

There’s a musical theme that you didn’t need to know to finish. Thankfully, because I suspect most wouldn’t have.

And so to January 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


I was expecting to see one of many setters today, but must admit that Phi never entered my mind. But as expected this was well judged by the editor, being a friendly Wednesday-style puzzle that was over in a jiffy and thoroughly enjoyed too. Observant solvers will have noted the number of H’s in both the answers and grid, but I needless to say didn’t. A nice touch though. I questioned “chill” for “unfriendly” at 3d on solving, but to my surprise (but to nobody else’s I suspect), it’s present and correct in the BRB. I should have known to trust both Phi and Eimi. I note that over on the other side there are grumbles about 19d, but, well, onions are, aren’t they?

Bets now please on who we’ll get Saturday.

COD? I’ll go with 1d – “Female force motivated half of them subsequently (10)”.

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


I’d forgotten that Phi had trailed this week’s Inquisitor in his blog (as well as an upcoming shared appearance for 1700), but, well, here he is. Additional words, mislaid letters and all.

This week finds me unusually rested having taken the opportunity to get the recommended 8 hours and more, and you know what? I’ve still been defeated by 4d. The additional word is clear as day, and symmetry says that all the letters of the answer must be ones not given by the clue, which means that it must be a definition of “take off Scots”, but I can’t find anything in the BRB that matches. REAM it is then (and the keen eyed among you will note that wasn’t even my first choice) purely because it has “Scots” beside it in the dictionary.

But first came an interesting, odd grid fill. Lots of letters omitted from wordplay equals lots of trips to the BRB, which I suspect I’m not alone in finding to be a pleasant way of passing some time. Obscurities being aplenty, it could safely be said to have been an instructive one too, although I suspect AMPHISBAENA is one that will be forgotten by tomorrow.

A little Google on who might fit MARY?HASE leads to MARY CHASE, HARVEY, ELWOOD P DOWD, and POOKA. Google being required because it’s one of those plays / films I’ve inevitably been aware of but never seen.

My “shading” (I’ve ignored the instructions and used highlighters because you won’t be able to see it otherwise) is a mix of the knowledgeable (those bits I think I’ve parsed), and the not so (bits where I relied on symmetry). If I’ve missed anything in addition to the 4d cock-up, well, I wouldn’t be surprised. I suppose it looks a bit like a rabbit.

Thus job done, of sorts. Not the most difficult offering we’ve had, but an enjoyable one, so thanks Phi.


We’ve had a complaint! Not serious enough for a referral to Ofblog as yet, but enough to get me happily composing a diatribe, and it would have been a cracker, too. Sadly I now find that I can’t be bovvered … peaked too soon, you see. So there will be no contumely, embedded hyperlinks to insulting websites or Rickrolling. To the person who would like the link to Fifteensquared to be more prominent so that he doesn’t have to skim read the twaddle, we have decided to standardise the format so that it appears on its own in a final paragraph. You’ll just have to scroll through the content and I do hope that’s not too much of a hardship for you. And don’t worry, I haven’t changed the target URL to Taxidermy Warehouse or Hell.com. Of course not.

Now then, if anyone’s still here, twaddle time. Delighted to see Scorpion back, albeit with something rather less in-your-face than we have come to hope for. To my mind the archetypal Scorpion comes with a thicket of cross-referenced clues, quite possibly without definitions, but today we just get a ghost theme, and a pangram. This subject must be a gift for compilers (and it has been done before), because there are hundreds of examples, often with amusing or exotic names. All the across lights are either thematic or have a reference in the clue, which is characteristically diligent. There are mild quibbles which some solvers may care to essay in relation to 9 and 14d for example, but I do not. There’s nothing that amounts to a plausible excuse for failing to finish the puzzle in my opinion – but if anyone just found it too thorny all round and is honest enough to admit it, I readily sympathise with that. This isn’t a particularly gentle one.

Today I have more ticks than a mattress factory. It’s not an absolute mass of pyrotechnics, but there are always some surprises in a Scorpion puzzle to repay the lateral thinker. 2, 3 and 17d; 12, 14 and 26ac were all rather spiffy, but the standard being so consistently high across the whole crossword I could equally well point to a different half dozen at random. My favourite is a little nugget of Victoriana which isn’t seen much these days, the more’s the pity, but I’m also choosing it for the interaction with 10ac and the happy memories that evokes. 😉

4d : “Face letter from abroad – the last letter (4)”

This one first appeared at the beginning of 2017, right in the middle of winter when colds and sniffles used to be a mere annoyance, pre-pandemic. There’s a smashing recipe suggestion in comment no. 1 for a warming early January noggin, and the way things have been going lately just the thing for a rotten late May, too.


Was I alone in missing the obvious today? I was vaguely aware that 11ac turns 80 this week (though I didn’t realise that it is in fact today, until I checked), and spotted the reference to folk music, but if I’d looked a little closer I would have spotted a Nina in the left and right columns that would have helped no end when stuck on 17ac at the close. There are also several other references throughout that you may or may not have spotted. Fun for those that did, and for myself in retrospect. That saying regarding pearls before swine springs to mind. 😉 I enjoyed a fun, lively, fairly straightforward puzzle anyway that was a welcome break from a fairly frantic start to the week. All was understood at the close, and I would say there was nothing controversial or amiss, but as I said so last week and everybody else disagreed, I’m loath to do so. Finish time under par, with my LOI the aforementioned 17ac.

COD? I’ll go with 21ac – “Literary piece of art about old lecturer? (6)”.

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


And in case you’re blissfully unaware as to what’s being referred to above… https://vimeo.com/195142881

Those hanging chads in the NE and SW corners will have alerted regular solvers to the presence of one of Phi’s ghost themes. For once I thought I’d give it a good deal of time – quiet, calm, deliberate time you might say – scanning the completed grid to see if I could pick up on something from my general knowledge and my high degree of familiarity with Phi’s proclivities.

No chance.

What I had been failing to find was a quote from The Gondeliers: QUIET CALM DELIBERATION DISENTANGLES EVERY KNOT. Really? Well it didn’t disentangle that one!

Heigh-ho. Let’s move on.

I enjoyed the clues which were pretty consistently comfortable and for the most part not overly challenging to experienced solvers I suspect, even if there were a few curved balls thrown as Phi is prone to do. CHIPOTLE rang only the most distant of tinkles, though the wordplay was clear, and at 11a the shocking truth is that not everyone has heard of Carl Maria von Weber, let alone his operas – for my part I certainly I hadn’t ever met EURYANTHE. It was obviously an anagram but crossing letters were needed to be sure. Without any connecting isthmus to the NE corner, that effectively became like a Five-clue cryptic flown in from page 11, and was consequently my last piece of the puzzle. Elsewhere the only question mark in my margin was for EVERY in 26ac. Bert & Joyce explain that perfectly in their 2017 blog (see below).

A new device today was the wordplay in 13a: Rather than putting ‘on the contrary’ at the end of the clue, Phi used ‘Contrary view of’. Nice idea, I thought. However my favourite clues were 5d SURREPTITIOUSLY, 10d GO PUBLIC, 12a SHOT-PUTTER, 24a DUBLINERS and this one, which gets my CoD nomination:

25a Slender drawing ultimately the hand of Addams? (5)

As promised, here’s the link to Fifteensquared with all the answers & parsings:


Things I have learnt today: that Anaga is an area of Tenerife, and ABAYA is an item of clothing. I’ve also expanded my knowledge of BANDICOOTs, which may one day come in useful. Or maybe not.

This was quite a tough challenge, I thought; one that took me well over my typical time. The setter informs us over on the original Fifteensquared blog that it is his hundredth crossword, although there is no theme or nina or other gimmick to mark the occasion – just good-quality, creative setting, resulting in a rewarding and enjoyable, though far from easy, solve.

There’s lots to like, although I was sorry to see the derogatory reference to women in YELLOW BRICK ROAD. The only bit of parsing I struggled with was for MAKE MINCEMEAT OF, although I suppose I was overthinking it, as it seems fine now I’ve looked at it after a bit of a gap. Hume is perhaps a lesser-known philosopher, but the definition was clear and the crossing letters couldn’t have made it easier. If, that is, the solver knew of the element YTTRIUM. This was one of those words that I had come across before and was able to drag out of my store of useful-but-only-for-crosswords knowledge (I did have to check the spelling, I confess).

I liked the “thing a thong” idea, and the clue for EARTHWORM made me smile. The aforementioned YTTRIUM was neatly done. Clue of the Day for me, however, is 5ac: “Hint of balsamic in salad saucer for tossing (7)”.