Regular readers of idothei will be aware that some cryptics in the i are themed. Below is a list of the themes of crosswords throughout the past year. I won’t claim that the list is definitive, as it is perfectly possible that I have missed something. Of the 315 puzzles 103 have been themed, so about two each week – Tuesdays, typically, and often on Saturdays, and some occasioned by high days and holidays. Although there may be someone who has eschewed a themed crossword all year, I think that all the i setters appear on this list. Phi, unsurprisingly, is a prolific theme-setter.

There is a great variety of themes, from things as light-hearted as Pokemon to such serious subjects as the art of Hieronymus Bosch. Whilst books and great composers are generously although not disproportionately present, the range of themes gives the lie to the accusation made in some quarters that solving cryptic crosswords always demands a knowledge of high culture.

Themes usually occur across the entries, but sometimes the clues themselves can be themed. Sometimes there is one “gateway” clue which links all the others. Some of them are what we call ghost-themes; that is to say that you cannot tell in advance by reading the clues that there is a theme at all, and it only emerges on completion (if you notice it, that is). I have indicated these with a (G).

5th January Radian Battle of Hastings

9th January Phi Music of John Pickard (G)

11th January Hoskins Wainwright albums (G)

12th January Math Sherlock Holmes

16th January Phi Composers (G)

19th January Raich Sam Cook songs

26th January Eimi Pokemon (G)

2nd February Scorpion Brief Encounter

6th February Phi Sweeny Todd (G)

9th February Hieroglyph Tube stations (G)

16th February Scorpion Epithets for kings (G)

23rd February Radian Mushrooms (G)

2nd March Punk Cars

5th March Hob Bohemian Rhapsody (G)

6th March Phi Classic cars (G)

9th March Knut Cuba

13th March Morph Zero (G)

16th March Alchemi Ian Dury (G)

20th March Phi Much Ado…

23rd March Phi Gilbert and Sullivan (G)

30th March Vigo Buffy the Vampire Slayer (G)

6th April Hob Hull

13th April Maize Football teams (G)

17th April Phi Marches (G)

20th April Radian Roald Dahl (G)

22nd April Alchemi Characters

24th April Phi Mahler (G)

27th April Phi The Tempest (G)

30th April Rodriguez Insects

4th May Radian Archaeology (G)

5th May Math Films

11th May Phi Thunderbirds (G)

12th May Punk Mike Leigh

15th May Crosophile Buster Keaton (G)

18th May Radian Trees

22nd May Phi The Gondoliers (G)

24th May Hoskins Bob Dylan (G)

25th May Scorpion Cocktails (G)

28th May Punk Cities

29th May Serpent Numbers

5th June Phi Chopin (G)

8th June Punk Richard Adams / Douglas Adams

11th June Scorpion 1966 winning team (G)?

12th June Alchemi Roy Harper albums (G)

19th June Crosophile “Turning the tables”

22nd June Maize The Choir Invisible (G)

25th June Monk Trump’s White House (G)

29th June Vigo Wacky Races (G)

3rd July Phi Musical Instruments (G)

6thn July Hoskins The Third Man (G)

8th July Morph Temperature (G)

10th July Gila California

13th July Hob Anthony Burgess (G)

15th July Knut Punishment (G)

22nd July Nestor Fruit (G)

23rd July Punk Olympians

24th July Vigo Veronica Mars (G)

27th July Knut Glaciation

3rd August Radian The Spectrum / Rainbow (G)

10th August Morph Graham Greene

21st August Phi Shakespeare’s Ages of Man (G)

24th August Alchemi Cream (band) (G)

28th August Crosophile Drinks (G)

31st August Radian Map-reading (G)

2nd September Serpent Collective nouns (G)

3rd September Tyrus Solecisms (G)

4th September Phi Films (G)

7th September Hoskins Birds (G)

25th September Maize Great women (G)

28th September Serpent Writers (G)

1st October Hoskins Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles (G)

2nd October Phi Mastermind (G)

5th October Radian Crime and Punishment (G)

7th October Alchemi “Not found”

9th October Morph Seven Deadly Sins (G)

12th October Tees Billy Bunter

14th October Serpent Red things (G)

16th October Phi Peter Grimes (G)

19th October Radian Jane Austen (G)

22nd October Phi Colin Dexter (G)

23rd October Serpent Green things (G)

26th October Hob Photography

29th October Monk A wedding (G)

30th October Phi Thomas Pynchon (G)

2nd November Hob Marc Bolan (G)

5th November Phi Lindisfarne (music) (G)

6th November Serpent Pub names (G)

9th November Knut Golf (G)

16th November Radian Constable(s) (G)

23rd November Morph The rainbow (G)

27th November Phi Rotherweird (G)

30th November Scorpion Trains (G)

4th December Gila Music / singers

7th December Tees Political factions

14th December Hoskins Clothes (G)

18th December Phi Hieronymus Bosch (G)

21st December Alchemi Led Zeppelin (G)

23rd December Morph People who died (in 2017) (G)

24th December Phi Dickens’ Christmas stories (G)

26th December Eimi Dickens’ Christmas stories

27th December Hoskins The festive season

28th December Knut Blue things (G)

30th December Serpent Money (G)

31st December Phi Rembrandt (G)

i Cryptic Crossword 3400 Phi

December 31, 2021

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

There’s no theme today – or if there is, no-one, not even the setter himself, has yet pointed it out. But a seasonal quality is given by the linking of two entries by the one clue to give us WATCH NIGHT, as the transition from the old year to the new is known in certain circles.

*Edit: I am grateful to Cornick for drawing my attention to the theme, and that it was identified by a commenter on Fifteensquared.

This was a relatively accessible puzzle, with little in the way of intractable parsing. There is one entry requiring a knowledge of Greek mythology, the story of ACTAEON, a hunter who was eaten by his own hounds. There is a reference to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, although the entry SUSANNA is a sufficiently common name for the anagram to have been unraveled, even without the helpful crossing letters. Is EULER obscure? Perhaps. The only other bit of obscurity was the use of “plaint” for objection. PLAIN TEXT was my last one in.

My favourite clue today is 20ac: “Refusal to involve East German? Discrimination (9)”.

So, a relatively low-key ending to our year of crosswords. Let’s hope that 2022 brings us not only a wealth of cruciverbal delight, but quite simply a better year all round. Happy New Year, everone!

Here’s the link to the answers and explanations:

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

The i app having started playing up on me again this morning, I was left at the mercy of the paperboy’s lie-in regarding my starting time on today’s offering from Serpent. As it turns out it was well worth the wait, with a puzzle that I suspect may turn out to be the highlight of the week. With highlights here including the misdirection (for those of us expecting a different sort of hack) with “lodgings for hacks”, to the “linesman” immediately below, the almost Dac-like smoothness of “Serpent takes shelter”, and too many ticks to list, this was a pleasure to solve from start to end.

It being Serpent this was on the tricky side, with more than a few clues unparsed on entry, but looking back everything is as clear as day, so it’s possible that the ongoing festivities have begun to take their toll.

There’s a clear theme running throughout, to do with 19ac, that helped with more than one or two at the close, notably 5ac.

Talking of the close, my LOI was the extremely obscure 7d that needed all the checking letters and a trip to Google to confirm.

COD? Just because I felt quite smug on untangling the wordplay, I suspect, for what was another unknown here, 3d – “Feast laden with fat in the morning brought about sickness (5,5)”.

This is my last post this year, so I’ll take the opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year. Early in the New Year I’ll be presenting my annual roundup of the year, and I believe Saboteur has volunteered to pick up Batarde’s summary of the year’s Tuesday themes. Do check out both – the latter will be fascinating I’m sure, and as for the former, it’s always interesting to see how our mileage has varied across the year.

And so one last time from me for 2021 – stuck for any of the answers or parsing of the clues? Look no further than Fifteensquared’s blog from December 2017:

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

So it’s back to Dac for the final Wednesday of 2021 in a reprise of the final Wednesday of 2017 and, to quote Duncanshiell in the original 15^2 blog, “Dac takes us away from Christmas-themed crosswords and provides us with his usual smooth surfaces leading to everyday words as entries.” Although, having said that, Duncan acknowledged that he’d not encountered KNOUT before, and for myself I’m not sure that I’d use ALIMENTAL instead of ‘nourishing’ in everyday speech.

This was a joy to solve, my only complaint being that it was over too quickly. Among the many delightful clues I can pick out 10, 12 and 15 across, together with 3, 4 19 and 21 down, and it was nice to see ‘key’ as the definition in 18ac instead of indicating ‘esc’, ‘alt’ or similar in wordplay. My vote for CoD, though, goes to 22ac for its apt surface: ‘Agrees gala could turn out to be money-raising event (6,4)’

As this is my last post of 2021 may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and hopefully better New Year for 2022, before directing you to the original blog and comments at

Being but a bear of very little brain, setters have more than once spared my blushes by revealing, via their endgames, random mistakes / guesses I’ve lobbed into the grid. And so it would be this week. Having ascertained after some ado it must be said that we were looking to reveal via corrections the names of some pretty famous composers – famous enough that even I had heard of them – completing the set of  Ella Fitzgerald songbooks (rather less well known, I would hazard to venture) – and having found ELLA herself via corrections to misprints (as instructed via extra letters) in the middle of the grid, I realised that this required me to make thirteen corrections and not the requisite twelve.

Cue much soul searching and agonising, until light dawned and it became equally clear that a rash stab at OTTO for our Roman emperor without any support from the parsing was indeed not only rash, but incorrect, OTHO being a much more rational entry that has the advantage too of being supported by wordplay. One too that would require one correction less to make GERSHWIN.

By way of excuse I will offer a truncated solving time thanks to the transport of my son and his belongings back from university for the holidays, what I thought was a pretty tricky grid fill, and a touch of weariness / general spaciness brought on by Moderna’s otherwise highly recommended vaccine.

Skylark could also be said to have been fairly gentle with the poor solver by giving real words at each stage of the correction of the misprints, otherwise, well, I’m guessing I would have fared a lot less well.

On the other hand, thanks to a very nicely constructed puzzle packed full of the requisite thematic material, here we are with a completed grid, rather unexpectedly it must be said.

So onward with some trepidation following last year’s Harribobs rout to the Christmas twist.


i Cryptic Crossword 3397 Knut

December 28, 2021

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Today’s theme is regarding things 10ac, though it will have taken observers sharper than me this morning to have noticed. A reasonably difficult puzzle I thought, with a smattering of unknowns, some bits which I feel have dated badly in such a short space of time (Corbyn and a Labour faction I’m not sure exists anymore, and which I’d forgotten anyway), and some bits I struggled badly to parse, notably the aforementioned 10ac, 29d and 4d where we have quite the obscure abbreviation. The answers for the most part were guessable even if you couldn’t make head or tail of the cryptic bit, so I imagine most solvers will have struggled through. Lots of imagination on show too, and some nice intricate wordplay to go with it, which all kept me engaged for about an average time for the i, and entertained throughout.

COD? I’ll go with 30d – “Taxi driver finally accepted fare in shell suit (4)”.

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

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A nice example today of a crossword with lots of seasonally themed clues and a light smattering of themed entries in the completed grid. This was an accessible and largely “family-friendly” puzzle from Hoskins. Although our setter has eschewed the laddish persona he sometimes adopts, his creativity and playfulness is on display in abundance this morning. Consider for example his definition for sprouts as “wind-generators this time of year”. We all know exactly what it means, but how wittily he has included it in his clue’s surface reading! There’s lots more like that. I liked the clue for BRR (and the cheekiness of daring to use an entry with no vowels), and loved also the surface reading for PACE ONESELF.

A couple of very minor quibbles, though: although it has its charms, no doubt, I’m not convinced that Cliff Richard’s Millennium Prayer has earned a place alongside the venerable compositions of King David, and surely my family can’t be the only one this side of the Atlantic to drink EGGNOG at this time of year.

The one clue I struggled to parse was FANLIGHT, and I did panic a bit looking at the anagram-fodder for OPHTHALMIC, which seemed to have far too many consonants and too few vowels. But most clues were very accessible, and the puzzle was a real delight to solve. From among a lot of contenders, my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the aforementioned 22ac. It has a plausible surface reading, a bit of the Hoskins trademark levity and neatly devised word-play: “After losing head, Catholic MP drunkenly wins hearts of viewers (10)”.

Click here for the answers and explanations:

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟🌟 (or 🌟🌟if you’ve already done the Christmas Eve puzzle)

Things have changed a bit over the years at idothei. When I first started doing the puzzles the paper had about a dozen pages, cost 20p and the Independent was still very much on our newsagents’ shelves.  Not only that, but the blogs on Fifteensquared had a convention whereby only the tricky clues were explained. Presumably neil dubya classed the parsing of these six as pretty obvious then:

14a GOLDSMITH – a straight cryptic definition; 15a INERT – an anagram (explosive) of nitre; 16a ENDED – the first letters of ‘even Neil Diamond envied Dylan’; 5d OMAN – a reversal hidden at the end of Guantanamo; 19d CROATIA – an anagram (change) of at Cairo; 23d SCAR – a homophone of ska.

…which relatively speaking they were of course. The other solutions and parsings are in the link at the bottom of this blog.

At the other end of the difficulty spectrum my LOI was 22a PINT POTS, because I had no idea that a pinball machine is also known as a pin table. I see that the original blogger found it tricky because he went for ‘all that glitters’ in 8/15d, whereas Eimi wanted the ‘correct’ Shakespearean ‘all that glisters’. Fortunately for me the Bard’s was the version I had automatically assumed (without checking the anagram fodder) although the ‘glitters’ version is used by others as diverse as Dryden and Led Zeppelin.

But of course this was a day for that other colossus of English literature, Eimi has given us a repeat of Phi’s Christmas Eve theme – Charles DICKENS’ Christmas novellas A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH, and THE CHIMES. Except that rather than a repeat, this puzzle is actually from 10 years earlier and moreover the theme is there for all to see rather than being hidden for the amusement of the setter and a tiny elite. That’s the way to do it!

There’s a real freshness and fun to Eimi’s clueing style, so it’s a shame we don’t have him more these days. Hopefully these Sunday app puzzles will give us a chance to rectify that.

My pick for CoD is this implied reverse anagram:

26a Perfect models suggested by presents for the ninth day of Christmas? (6)

And here’s that link to the blog with the remaining answers from 14 years back:

Fifteensquared/ Independent 6615 Eimi

i Cryptic Crossword 3395 Phi

December 24, 2021

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Hurrah! For once I spotted a Phi-theme unaided! I even spotted it without completing the whole crossword and staring with fading hope at a grid waiting for some glimmer of inspiration.

It’s Christmas Eve, so a Christmas theme was of course to be anticipated, and my early entries of CHRISTMAS and CAROL confirmed my expectation. But there was more. My partner and I went on Tuesday to see a stage rendition of a Christmas Carol, and this was followed by a brief perusal of our copy of Dickens’ five Christmas novellas. So spotting references to A Christmas Carol, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Chimes, and The Battle of Life came very readily. A Haunted Man is not there overtly, but is alluded to, I suppose, in the GHOSTS entry, which relates to the first book as well.

This certainly helped with a few entries, particularly LIFE. One obscurity demanded a visit to the Internet: SCHLEMIEL. This was fairly clued as an obvious anagram, but there was just enough doubt left by the crossing letters for a check to be necessary. I did wonder at one point about a certain footballer, but I thought the definition was grossly unfair to him if it was (it wasn’t). One quibble: the Prince, famously married to an actress, was named RANIER, but the family are the Grimaldi, I believe. Not that it really mattered.

This was fun and enjoyable, and just right for Christmas Eve.

A very Merry Christmas to everyone, and I hope that whatever your circumstances (we have two family members who cannot join us as they are isolting) you will be able to enjoy some Christmas cheer.

Click here for the answers and explanations:

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

Apologies for the late post today – after an extended no show of the paper, I rang the newsagents only to find that “we’ve had no i‘s today”, so after a brief detour to get the other half jabbed, to the i‘s app it was. With some trepidation it must be said, as I still feel I haven’t quite got to grips with it.

Thankfully today’s puzzle was a pretty straightforward one, albeit with a brief pause at the close on 3d – which is a pretty tough clue – and, talking of “pretty”, 25d where the aforementioned was the very last thing I thought of for “cutie”. Elsewhere the clues fairly flew by (if not always fully or at all parsed), with a proverbial exclamation mark by the very non-Ximenean 6d.

There’s a theme, regarding people deceased in 2017, that I’m guessing nobody would have spotted now, even if you did spot the names, which I didn’t. A fine, otherwise straight cryptic enjoyed nonetheless.

COD? It’s got to be the aforementioned 6d – “Amazeballs? The reverse! (4)”.

This is my last post before the big day, so I’ll just wish you all a very Happy Christmas. If you’re on your own this year (as I’m sure many will be given current conditions), take care, do celebrate as best you can, and remember that tomorrow’s i is the weekend edition with an early Inquisitor (“with a twist”) should you need something to occupy you.

And so to New Year’s Eve 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues: