Difficulty rating (out of five):  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

In which were hidden the titles of the Thomas Pynchon books ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, ‘Vineland’, ‘Vice Inherent’, ‘Bleeding Edge’ and ‘[the] Crying [of Lot 49]’. One assumes Phi has read them all, or perhaps like me and ‘The Brothers Karamozov’ they’re just sitting on his bookshelf waiting for him to get round to it; ‘Oh well, I’ll put ’em in a crossword, perhaps that counts’. Needless to say I didn’t spot said ghost theme, nor have I read any of the books. In fact I hadn’t even heard of the author in question. Heigh-ho.

A mostly gentle solve hereabouts, with just a couple at the end provoking some head-scratching Sometimes Phi will put in the odd trick, piece of invention or sleight of hand, but this was pretty much down-the-middle-of-the-fairway stuff today I thought. It’s a while since I’ve heard marriage referred to as a NOOSE, but MACARONI as a dandy (which puzzled the original bloggers) was plain enough and no particular hold-ups elsewhere until CAMEL-CORPS which combined a term that rang only the most distant of bells with some quite intricate wordplay; well done if you got that without help.

My CoD nomination goes to this one:

17a Range of colours shown by East London artist? (7)

Back to July 2017 for Bert & Joyce’s original blog and some discussion as to whether or not this was a ‘vanilla’ crossword:

Fifteensquared Independent Crossword 9595 by Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I don’t know about anyone else, but speaking for myself I felt a growing, voyeuristic unease solving this. The ghost theme having suggested itself, I couldn’t help but wonder which clues and which entries were part of the tribute to the couple in question. For example, did they honeymoon in ATHENS? Other solvers may have asked themselves other questions.

This is a lovely tribute to the happy couple. I sometimes construct similar ones, far less accomplished and usually on a smaller scale (and not for publication, of course) and they are always well-received. I dare say GEMMA and MARK, for surely it is for them, were delighted with this.

In addition to having a ghost-theme, this crossword is a pangram. This helped in a couple of places, particularly with the crossing SPANDEX and EXHALE, and also with ETIQUETTE. This last took quite a bit of untangling, but I got there in the end. Which is more than I could say for ATHENS. The answer was obvious enough once the crossing letters were available, but I completely failed to parse this. An explanation can be found on Fifteensquared – and still I am unsure about it. There is one niche bit of knowledge – LAERTES, but it is very overtly clued. STONECHAT was less obviously clued, but is one of those song-birds that are regularly spotted in crosswordland.

Clue of the Day goes to the four-letter, four-word, four-definition 25d: “Regard standard record brand (4)”.

Here’s the link for the crossword’s first outing: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/06/independent-on-sunday-1432-monk/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟

It being half term in this neck of the woods, I ended up solving online, the paper-boy having evidently taken full advantage of his last few days of freedom. I often struggle with the application, and with Tees too, so approached the puzzle with some trepidation, but this turned out to be one that was very accessible, even if there was a little sting in the tail, and a few went in unparsed.

The former in particular came courtesy of 9ac, which was one of those – either you know the unlikely looking set of letters, or you don’t. I didn’t, and so hit the reveal button. A bit of an unfair clue perhaps, which was a pity, because the rest was a fine offering that was perfectly solvable without recourse to aids or the internet, and one in which you might have learnt something too. Did you know that MALTA was awarded the George Cross for bravery? I certainly didn’t.

Elsewhere we had the still amusing reference to bruiser Prescott at 10ac, a couple of Northern place names I thought fleetingly might have marked the beginning of a theme, and a good range of clues that made this a pleasure rather than a chore to solve.

COD? I’ll go with 19ac – “Serving men in battle ultimately dividing spoils (7)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in the Fifteensquared blog from August 2017:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/10/independent-9618-tees/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

Silvanus is a graduate of Big Dave’s Rookie Corner and NTSPP slots and today’s puzzle was one of his early appearances in the Indy. Since then he has gone on additionally to set Toughies for the Telegraph but whilst this puzzle took a little getting into I would not describe it as particularly tough. There were, though, a couple of answers – NO LONGER and FRIENDSHIP – for which I needed the fifteensquared blog to get the parsing.

I found this a delight to solve, with some quirkiness in both definitions and wordplay. There were also some nice misdirections, as in 8dn with β€˜abolition of bishops’ suggesting removal of two Bs was needed, and penny-drop moments as in the outrageous 12ac. The only downside was 5dn which, as someone commented on fifteensquared, was not particularly cryptic.

Selecting a CoD was difficult. I liked the surfaces of 21ac, with its suggestion of seeking refreshment on the way home from the Albert Hall, and 20dn with its overgrown creeper. 1ac and 2dn also suggested themselves but for sheer quirkiness I’ll go for 28ac: β€˜Element evenly distributed throughout Kosovo? (6)’.

For all the answers and the parsings I missed go to https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/09/independent-9617-silvanus/

Nimrod, with a grid ominously missing bars, and cells to be left empty can mean only one thing – that we’re in for a bit of hard time, albeit a fair and enjoyable one. As chance would have it, this was one of those weekends where I quite fancied a bit of a challenge. Call me a masochist. Quite how much of a challenge was in store became clear quickly when, by lunchtime Saturday, all I’d managed was TSUNAMI and EARTHSCIENCE, and only then on erasing the latter having belatedly realised it was to start in the second row and not the first.

Letters marking the border of the “hole” being missing from wordplay meant frequent trips to the BRB, a bit of guess work here and there, and more rethinks than is par for the course. The upshot being that, by close of play Saturday evening (much of which was spent in the company of Strictly), most of the clues were solved, and part of the description of the hole, including TIGHT and GREAT, but large bits certainly were not as I had more than 27 letters in said perimeter, and apart from a few, all were gobbledegook.

What I did though have were the two descriptions of the filler that were decidedly BEARISH, leading to a suspicion regarding things Pooh that I should have acted on sooner.

As it was, it would be Sunday afternoon while sitting in the sun, and the long wait until the booked time for the twins’ Covid vaccinations (tensions therefore running as high as would be expected), before I settled on HERA for the Olympian (queen as it turns out not indicating ER but being part of the definition), and INANEST which had been there in plain sight all along, thus obviating the need to add yet more letters to the grid.

The perimeter then presumably: A WEDGED BEAR IN GREAT TIGHTNESS.

It had already occurred that the I in the blocked off square might, well, be an eye. I’ve made it look a little like one, though I’m not sure if that’s what was intended.

And spotted RABBITS HOWSE, with one S mirrored, as per the illustration from Disney’s version of how Pooh went to visit Rabbit and rather unfortunately got stuck in the doorway. Duly highlighted.

The last stage of the game would be Nimrod’s invitation to solvers of an artistic bent “to add colour and detail to the filler.” Quite how well my artistic skills measure up I will leave it to the reader to judge. But before I do, thanks to Nimrod for the challenge, and apologies in advance for any errors because, I suspect, there will be some, such was the nature of the challenge, and me being a bear of very little brain indeed.

Behold, the beast.

20211017_161312~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Things 21 were our theme for the day, for a challenging puzzle that I suspect will have been more challenging still if you weren’t aware of the likes of 17ac, 11ac and 9ac. Certainly I suspect you will have found that some of the more popular word search sites will have let you down if you were stuck. I’ve given this four stars for difficulty, but it’s easing somewhat towards a five, and I’m expecting a bunch of DNF’s too dependent on your age and / or willingness to put answers in on a bit of a wing and a prayer as I did for the “Italian barman”. I suspect too there will be a few solvers unhappy with the number of linked clues. πŸ˜‰

As well as being challenging, though, this was an always interesting and engaging puzzle, if sometimes to the point of being infuriating, and always inventive. Outside of the COD I particularly liked the misdirection of “Chill out” at 12d and the nice surface reading at 19ac. It’s also refreshing too, it must be said, to see a number of very still-contemporary references in a crossword.

So, to the aforementioned COD, with my pick going to 18ac – “Went on a horse, say, in northeast Germany (6)”.

Still stuck? Look no further than Fifteensquared’s blog from July 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/27/independent-9606-by-hob/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A pleasantly accessible puzzle to start off the working week from Peter this morning, this crossword will not have detained an experienced solver for too long and was an enjoyable and largely trouble-free solve.

Only one corner caused me any trouble, and that was the crossing LIVERY and CAVATINA. They are the only obscure references in the puzzle, and as far I am concerned they raised the difficulty level from one-star to two-star. LIVERY, in the sense of what today would probably be called part of a corporate image, is a little niche, as is the Roman historian Livy. As for CAVATINA, I’m afraid I had to revert to electronic cheating for this one. There were too many possible girls’ names – Anita, Rita and Tina, for example – to make this easily gettable. And the crossing letters were far from helpful. I’m sure we can all hum the song in question, but who knew that was what it was called? But that said, this was a good and satisfying solve. TA from “retired sailors” had me wondering for a while, but I decided not to trouble myself too much over it, and likewise the description of LEBANON as an Asian Republic. However, these are but minor quibbles.

My Clue of the Day nomination goes to the simple but amusing double-definition 2d: “Grotty Station (4)”. I was quite taken by the “policeman”, though.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/30/independent-on-sunday-1431-by-peter/

Difficulty rating (out of five):  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ (🌟) depending

In Serpent’s most recent offering 3334, all the across solutions were themed around red, and one of the down clues, DEER only made sense if you related one of its constituent words ‘theme’ to RED. Today the enigmatic down clue was 2d REVERT where ‘French Connection’ means VERT – the French for green of course. And that’s our theme.
I did tumble that all on my own for once – and felt sure it was right when I recalled that similar gimmick from that earlier puzzle. So what’s next? Blue is my bet, with Black and White close behind with the bookies.

And what a great puzzle this was! Looking at the completed grid you will notice that there is nothing that could be described as obscure – surely we all know RETRENCH as a word? For many setters such a heavy theme would justify weirdy-weird words being included in the down lights, but not Serpent. Furthermore, the definitions are all either very obvious ones or else clever whimsical misdirections of Serpent’s own invention – like ‘action of course’ for PUTTING. Not for Serpent to go picking out unusual meanings taken from the middle of a paragraph in Chambers; which is a lazy trick in my view. Also there is no ‘negative checking’ (more unchecked squares than checked).

So the question remains: why do some solvers find Serpent so hard? I would suggest that it’s for all the right reasons. The surface readings are compelling and draw you down the wrong path time and again; simple non-Crosswordese devices are there in plain view, but so artfully arranged that they are easily missed. My advice to anyone who struggles with Serpent would be to slow down. The clues are really very easy if you pause and pick them to pieces. A classic example – one for which I needed all the crossing letters – would be 7a. One of my last ones in, it’s a themed word and produced a broad smile when I realised how simple it was. And you cannot fail to admire the plausibility of its surface!

7a Religious figure continually pursuing right to die (8)

My only remaining question relates to 13a. Did Serpent mean to point us towards ‘Winter Greens’ or the less common phrase ‘Green Winter’? Perhaps it doesn’t matter…

Here’s the blog from 2017 with all the answers:

Independent 9568 by Serpent

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

There’s a theme, of course. And of course, it’s not obvious. Regular readers may know that I have learned to rarely give more than a moment’s thought to Phi’s themes. When I am blogging, however, I do feel its part of the job to at least put in a bit of an effort. An effort, in this case amounting to staring at the grid for a while and then entering random combinations of words into Google to see if anything came up. It didn’t. I had a suspicion that books might be involved, but apparently The Truculent Wench and Daughters of the Iceni are yet to be written. Well done to anyone who spotted the actual theme.

Theme aside, this was a typical Phi. Good and solid. Everything parses well, and with a good variety of clues and range of vocabulary. I struggled with a few. Parsing IOTA took me a while, although I guessed the entry from the definition and one crossing letter. I did wonder a bit about CANTABILE, EVENTUATE and GERMANIST, but I think they are all fair enough. The only real obscurity is, I think, the hoki fish, but the artist himself is well known enough, and the crossing letters made it a give-away.

That’s my nomination for Clue of the Day: “Japanese artist depicting fish around America (7)”.

Here’s the link to the Fifteensquared blog for all the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/28/independent-9607-phi/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

A rare outing from Quaiteaux fills the sometimes tricky Thursday spot, and one that was a Saturday prize puzzle too. The latter can sometimes mean quite a tough offering, though not always, but is always a guarantee of quality, Eimi invariably holding back some of the best puzzles for the weekend Independent slot. Today was one that I thought was of about middling difficulty, with enough write-ins to give solvers many different ways into the grid, and lively / engaging throughout. Some definitions will doubtless have only leapt out to solvers well up on their rules of grammar, a group which will have excluded me it won’t surprise you to learn. There were also some very nice bits of misdirection, the capital L in 1ac being a notable example, and “BT tower” at 19ac. One or two others I struggled to parse, but the fault was usually my own, being as ever a bear of very small brain, though some would argue that the SAL in SALTIER and the AX in TAXABLE were a step too far.

Lots to enjoy, as noted above, with 1ac raising a smile, and much that was devious on offer, with my pick for COD going to 20d – “Inanimate cat I transported about – story of my life! (7)”.

For all the answers and parsing of the clues, look no further than the Fifteensquared blog from July 2017:

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/22/independent-9602-by-quaiteaux-saturday-puzzle-22-july-2017/