Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Punk is well known to Guardian solvers as Paul, but his appearances in the Indy and hence the i are less frequent. An editorial oversight, though, meant that this puzzle appeared twice in the Indy. On its first appearance in 2017 RatkojaRiku found it β€˜not that difficult to get into’ but then increasing in difficulty; John, in 2018, went straight for the jugular, declaring β€˜what a difficult puzzle this was.’ Certainly, Punk’s puzzles can be tricky and I was prepared for a struggle with this. So I was pleasantly surprised to zip through it in around half an hour apart from 10dn which I eventually had to resort to a wordfinder for.

This was, though, one of those puzzles with several long entries, some of which split over more than one light; if you can crack those that’s a lot of the grid filled and you’ve got plenty of crossing letters for the rest. In this case I saw 7, 18 and 22 straight away which gave me a good start. 12/15 and 4/25 took a bit longer but by then crossing letters had made the answers, if not the parsing, obvious.

I had several candidates for CoD including the self-referential 11ac as well as MASTODONS and PETER PAN. However, since β€˜pi’ is often used for β€˜good’ but has been used differently here I’ll go for 13dn – β€˜Those known by experts to hold sanctimonious views (8)’.

As for the difficulty level I would personally rate it as 2*, but since other solvers struggled on both the puzzle’s previous appearances I’ve given it three stars and wonder if it ought to have four.

For the fifteensquared blog we’re spoilt for choice. A couple of clues were changed in 2018 but what we got today was the original 2017 version for which the blog can be found at https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/16/independent-9623-punk/ . The comments on the later version, to be found at https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/03/14/independent-9802-by-punk/ include an apology and explanation from eimi (the crossword editor) for the duplication.

This would be the week that my solving time would be unexpectedly cut rather short, my son having grasped the nettle and insisted that we go to see No Time To Die at the cinema, which I’d been itching to see since early 2020. I will not give away any spoilers, except to note that it’s one of the best, if not the best, and,,. Well, go and watch it, and find out for yourself.

Thankfully, Eclogue’s puzzle was one that was IQ 2d, my time having been cut short yet further thanks to the twins’ first solo shopping trip to town which required the the services of a driver…

Rather belatedly, then… Some clues with wordplay omitting letters, others where we have a surplus. This sort of thing can mean a pretty tough solve, but this week was definitely IQ 2d, from a pretty easy anagram at 1ac onward, some letters duly noted at the bottom of the grid, others jotted beside the clues, with, it must be said, little ado.

PREVIOUS NIGHT and ARTHUR BULLER duly noted, a quick Google search led to his poem, Relativity, the existence of which I’d remained blissfully ignorant of until now.

There was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She set out one day,
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.

Which is where I’ve potentially come unstuck, the remaining instruction informing us that we needed to highlight two rows that provide cryptic representations of the poem. A betting man would have said, without reference to the poem, that the unsilvered top and bottom rows, containing real words throughout, were good bets, but I do have a niggling doubt not being 100% sure how they cryptically refer to three lines in the poem, outside of BRIGHT, and NO ROAD (“set out one day, In a relative way”???)

But I haven’t got any better ideas, so, as they say, publish and be damned. So, with thanks to Eclogue for a fun, and most definitely lite outing… 

20211010_112517~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

I’m guessing that even the most theme-blind solver won’t have failed to spot the names of several well known works dotted throughout the grid today. The puzzle itself was originally published to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of the author, an anniversary I suspect was a big deal at the time. A good pick nevertheless for our Tuesday themed spot – of about average difficulty, helped a little here and there by the themed entries (congratulations if 10ac leapt out without said help), and the little that could be called obscure clued as clearly as you would like. I half expected to find a few more thematic entries (and perhaps there are some I’m blissfully unaware of), but I suspect Radian did well to get all the ones he did into the grid. A nice puzzle overall that I thoroughly enjoyed.

COD? While tempted by the lovely surface reading at 22ac, and both hidden words, my favourite today has got to be 4d – “Fan of Queen’s inspiring European books (5)”.

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

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/18/independent-9598-radian/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

If the solver is familiar with matters ecclesiastical and has some knowledge, whether first-hand or more indirect, of Cambridge, then she or he may well have found this crossword somewhat easier than the four-star rating I have given it would suggest.

Using a recondite word like Simony, being the sale of religious privileges and thus an ecclesiastical offence, is relatively routine in Crosswordland. Part of the joy of solving cryptics is the expansion of one’s knowledge as a result of untangling some word-play. So I have no more quibble with the appearance of “simony” than I do with “aboral” or “defile” for “col”, or even “pun(gent)” from “sarcastic”. All par for the course.

I do, however, think that the clue for KEYS is deeply unfair. Lists of Cambridge colleges are easy enough to find online, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking at those to help one solve a clue. But however hard one does look, to get this word-play one has to know that Gonville and Caius college is commonly shortened to Caius, and that it is pronounced as “keys”, rather than “kai-us”. You can’t tell that just by looking at it. Add to that that the entry has no crossing initial letter, and that the two letters that do cross are the very frequently appearing E and S. Granted, the definition “means to enter” is clear enough. But nonetheless, I think it is an unfair clue.

Despite that, I did enjoy this one, and found it rewarding and satisfying to solve. In particular, I thought the surface readings were good. And my nomination for Clue of the Day, 29ac, made me smile: “Cover over Nissan car beginning to stop radiation (6,4)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/20/independent-on-sunday-1434-by-kairos/

Difficulty rating (out of five):  πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ

There’s something going on theme-wise to do with Peter Grimes in the crossword today – don’t ask me what though; when it comes to total ignorance, my two specialist subjects are operas and soap operas. True, I’ve heard of Peter Grimes, but then I’ve heard of Emmerdale too.

A mostly gentle solve – by chance I encountered most of those pretty straightforward anagrams early doors which got me off to a good start – but I did have to pause for a bit at the end when I encountered the crossing 22a NIHILISTIC and 19d MATLOCK – the former being probably the most complicated clue in the puzzle.

As ever Phi’s clues are put together following all the rules of cryptic grammar immaculately. This makes him a popular setter with the solvers on Fifteensquared, although I find myself repeatedly disappointed by the surface readings, which often read like the sort of gobbledygook that non-crossword people poke fun at. If you look back at them and unpick them, they can invariably be made to make sense, but the surface reading generally springs off the page less readily than does the cryptic reading, which for my money is the wrong way round. My sister (on the other side of the breakfast table) is a speedy and expert solver who says she never reads the surfaces anyhow, but just goes for the cryptic reading every time. So perhaps not many solvers care about or even notice such things.

Happily some of the clues have surface readings that do read like normal sentences, and so (because I do care!) one of those gets my nomination for Clue of the Day:

2d Holiday rental for three? (7)

And here’s the link to the Fifteensquared blog with answers and parsings:

Fifteensquared Independent 9565 Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A very engaging pangram comes to us courtesy of Vigo today. This is an accessible puzzle with excellent surface readings throughout, good word-play and no obscure vocabulary.

It’s one of my least favourite grids, a Brompton effectively delivering four mini-crosswords rather than one whole one. This can add to the difficulty somewhat. If you get stuck (as I did today, and indeed often do) with two or three crossing clues which are reluctant to yield, it is sometimes possible to besiege the resistant area by surrounding it and infiltrating one’s way in. But with this sort of grid that sort of approach is sometimes impossible, and today I was forced to resort to lists in one quadrant.

Canvassing other solvers’ opinions, I have one question: are we an anagram indicator missing in the clue for YIELDS, or is “produces” doing double-duty? Or am I just over-thinking this?

Double-ticks and smiley faces today for: the whimsical word-play in BEMUSE; likewise for BESTRIDE; the delightful MARIJUANA; the amusing BUMF. Clue of the day, though is the gem we have in 14ac: “Try to get silver coating on edge of seat (4)”.

Here’s the link to the puzzle’s first appearance, with the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/21/independent-9627-by-vigo/

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

Today’s puzzle began with the worry that I was going to upset some of my fellow solvers by awarding low marks for difficulty to a Serpent puzzle, because I know that some struggle with him more than I do. No fear though, because following a pretty much read and write solve of the RHS of the grid, the other half refused resolutely to budge and took this well into 5* territory. Key to this difficulty was 1d, where “you broadcast” for the anagram indicator passed me by completely, leaving a grim determination to do something with the “you”, whatever the odds as time passed. SALON for exhibition room being less than obvious, and a fixation on STY, ENC or PEN for the enclosure at 1ac would also contribute to my undoing.

As there’s lots of brilliant stuff on offer, though, you would have little cause for complaint about having to spend a while with the puzzle. In particular, outside of my COD nomination, I liked 29ac not only for the smooth surface reading, but for “midnight” which contributed to it, and 17d again for a pretty good surface, and the lesser used “jazz” to indicate the anagram.

There’s a theme, that I missed, to do with things beginning RED, which is a pity as it would have helped no end. Perhaps this contributed to the difficulty level in terms of words chosen for the grid, I don’t know.

That aforementioned COD? For me, it’s got to be the rather neat 10ac – “Substance abuse that initially started with illness (4)”.

Stuck for the answers or parsing of the clues? Look no further than John’s 2017 blog:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/06/29/independent-9582serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Another great puzzle from the legacy of the late, great, Dac. As one of the commenters on fifteensquared says, β€˜I know we keep saying it, but you run out of things to comment on when Dac is providing the puzzle. Excellent as always …’

This took a few moments to get into; I was half way through the acrosses in my first read-through before I got my first one in, MORALITY, but after that things flowed pretty smoothly – there was certainly nothing TROUBLESOME (2dn) about this puzzle.

That being said, I did think a couple of clues were a bit close to their answers. In 5ac the functions are of course sines but the answer, COSINESS, is simply an S added on to β€˜cosines’ – and β€˜cosine’ is another example of a function. And in 5dn the first three letters are the standard abbreviation for the complete answer, COLONEL (as well as the word for a mountain pass).

There were plenty of high spots, though. In 11ac I liked the misdirection towards the films of Richard Burton, and in 13ac I thought the combination of the full abbreviation (REME rather than just RE) plus a reminder that we used to dial rather than press numbers was rather neat. Others I liked included 24ac, 16dn and 20dn.

Occasionally on fifteensquared there are discussions as to what constitutes an &lit, otherwise known as an extended definition or a clue as definition. My CoD, if not a full &lit, certainly has &lit-ish qualities: 1ac, β€˜Fair-minded people repulsed by such temper tantrums (6)’

All the explanations can be found at www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/26/independent-9605-dac/

I had a dream, and it was about falling ladies. Some would say that the week’s Inquisitor had finally driven me to distraction. Perhaps they would be right, because following a pretty swift grid fill, I proceeded to spent all Saturday afternoon, evening and night staring at the grid trying to ascertain how the LADY in the diagonal across the centre might, presumably, fall, to give a “possibility for the victim’s name”.

Ironically, if my solution is correct, I had GLADYS in mind for a long time, but just couldn’t seem to get it to work. And then, overnight, I dreamt that I was reading the accompanying Fifteensquared blog which revealed all. Presumably I misread, because I’m sure it said that the name would be found across the bottom row of the grid, the lady having fallen thus far, because I only have the L, A and D of LADY toppling backwards to the centre of the grid.

Feel free to refer me to a counsellor, or advise that I take up a new hobby.

Mind you, things didn’t start that smoothly. My first answer solved was HYPNOTOID, which I proceeded to enter confidently in the grid, only to find that we were a cell short. As a quick count ascertained that we were for all the across entries. A solve of a few downs seemed to confirm that we just had to omit the last letters, and being of a suspicious mind I jotted them beside the answers, which gave, with little ado:

LADY DON’T FALL BACKWARDS

Which a quick Google search revealed was a fictional book from HANCOCk’s (35ac, see) The Missing Page. We only have missing letters, but it’s close enough. The missing page in question apparently should have revealed the identity of the murderer, much to the frustration of Hancock and Sid James.

Look, there’s the detective, duly altered, near the top of the grid.

All of which was completed before lunchtime, perhaps as a result of not being able to get out due to seasonal but still quite dispiriting downpours, but also because, well, this was at the easier end of the scale.

And then it would be another twenty-four hours before I finally spotted that moving LAD as I have would give GLADYS. Why Gladys? Am I barking up completely the wrong tree? When I’ve begun to dream about crosswords is it time to move on? Probably, probably. The fact that as well as noting beside the grid that 20d tickled me, but also that I was particularly impressed with 11d in a puzzle where there was no 11d would seem to confirm this.

Pass me a strong drink, followed by the name of a good psychiatrist and a lie-down in a darkened room.

20211003_115011~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Rather unusually, I believe, Tees offers up our Tuesday themed puzzle, this week being on the subject of 10 4. Now, I’ve given this a three star rating for difficulty, but I suspect that if you were familiar with the subject matter then you may have found this quite a bit easier, in particular 21/16/23 and the author’s name. As it was I fell between the two camps, and didn’t really struggle throughout, recording a steady but not spectacularly fast time. Outside of the themed entries, most would have been familiar to solvers – 27ac as a Doctor Who villain, of course, and 18ac more usually as part of wordplay. To the NW corner we had the less-familiar “scratched message” crossing with the completely unfamiliar 9ac, but the latter was as fairly clued as you would like and something of a write-in here.

Overall as nicely done as expected from Tees, with ticks beside 17d and 6d. COD though goes to 26ac – “Poetic content from Tees is nonsense! (5)”.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/07/12/independent-9593-tees/