Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

Normality has returned – to Crosswordland at least – with a friendly and accessible puzzle to start the week. This delightful offering from Vigo will not have held up any but the most novice of novice solvers for very long. There’s no obscure vocabulary, all the definitions are straightforward and the word-play is precise and clear throughout. Nothing to see here, you might think.

But indeed there is. So bright and breezy and, if I may say so, simple-seeming was this crossword that the possibility of a nina did not occur to me until after I had completed it. Quite often the decision to include a nina results in some awkwardness somewhere in the grid. But not in this case. One must conclude, therefore, that this puzzle was very skillfully constructed. A full-perimeter nina yet no awkward vocabulary and delightfully accessible cluing is no mean achievement. So before we move along, there is something to see here.

My nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 19d, which is the one I had to work hardest to unravel: “Put up with old man taking year to finally resolve discussion (8)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/11/13/independent-9699-by-vigo/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

This was originally published in the IoS, which typically means an easier-end sort of a puzzle; however there was quite a bit of trickiness around the grid with one definition: DEEP clued by ‘late’ in 12a still puzzling me – is it as in ‘6-feet-deep’, ‘deep into the night’, or something else? And also is SO clued by ‘that will do’ in 28a EVENSONG? Thoughts?

Overall there were a mixture of truly delightful clues and clues which seemed a bit sub-optimal, so we could focus on either really. I’ve actually listed 12 clues with things that left me underwhelmed, but I’m a picky so-and-so. Among them are some of the juxtaposition indicators. We have ‘taking’ in 1a HANDICAP which I don’t see, and ‘on’ in 21a TATI which is surely used the wrong way round; then I think ‘against’ as a concatenation indicator in 4d CASSOULET is confusing because it comes straight after ‘Decide’ to clue ‘cast’. For newer solvers it would be helpful to iron out those little niggles I think.

But here are some of the delightful clues: 15a TEA PARTY – great surface, expertly put together; 18a DECANTER – Same comment as for 15a; 23a COMMERCIAL – another example of a great surface reading where all the components serve a clever assembly of letters in the wordplay. Actually the same could be said of my nomination for CoD:

14d  Temporary alliance getting into trouble after Conservative leader starts to oppose all liberal initiatives (9)

Here’s the link to Pierre’s blog with all the answers:

IndependentonSunday/1433/Poins

P.S. A little birdie tells me it’s a Maize puzzle (by me) in tomorrow’s i, so get your custard pies ready!

PPS Had my dates muddled up. February 1st is Tuesday. (First custard pie in face)

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Consummate work again from Serpent – I loved it.

This setter can be very subtle with his misdirection so you may have found this more difficult than my 3* rating. On the other hand, if you were on his wavelength then that’ll likely be because you were reading each clue looking for cryptic readings of key words different to the surface reading you were given. Furthermore you’ll have been confident that the ‘instructions’ of the clue were staring you in the face because Serpent is among the most scrupulously precise of setters; there will be no unfairness, awkwardness, obscurities or verbiage. Combined with thoroughly plausible surface readings and a great range of devices, he really is superb – my crossword of the week.

Without the constraint of a theme the grid is a predictably user-friendly one; every light has more checked than unchecked letters, all first letters are checked and the corners are thoroughly woven together. True, there are four words that could be seen as a mini-theme – CHARMER, COURTSHIP, BLIND DATE, DATED – but I suspect they were entered into the grid here and there as it was being filled, rather than inspiring its construction.

And so many good clues to choose from! The Spoonerism ‘short kip’ for 4a COURTSHIP was beautifully clued with ’39 winks’, 14a BELLICOSE had a great surface and a neat twist in the tail, 1d FOCUSED had a perfect acrostic for the last four letters, there was fun with rings in 6d TORSO, and ‘Dome-shaped’ was used to good effect in 18d MODESTY, but my CoD goes to one where the parsing eluded the original blogger:

7d Did couple go some distance to be awkward? (4,3,4,4)

And here is that blog with all the answers:

Fifteensquared/Independent/Serpent/9615

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Phi sets good, solid cryptic crosswords. He can infuriate sometimes with themes so ghostly that the very best of mediums would struggle to give them voice. But if you switch off to the ghost themes and consider them as straightforward puzzles, then you can rely on Phi.

As it happens, there is no theme to this crossword. And it is a good, solid cryptic. There is no contentious word-play, and just one potential obscurity, which is PITOT TUBE. I for one had not come across this before, but it was clearly clued with helpful crossing letters (the only question was whether it would be”pitot” or “potit”).

I think this was a good choice of crossword to follow yesterday’s perhaps too challenging one. Among many pleasing clues, my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 14d, with its humorous surface reading: ” Concern about deity’s lumbering steed (9)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/20/independent-9679-phi/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Or, we’re going to need a bigger difficulty rating. If we just note that I’ve solved some Inquisitors in less time than it took for today’s Tyrus, then that should sufficiently scope the size of today’s mammoth task. There’s a Nina, and theme, and whether or not that “necessitated” the number of obscurities in the grid, I’m not sure. Tyrus is usually pretty tough anyway, but said obscurities made it doubly so, and some would argue that the German town and Irish name were definite no balls. Elsewhere 19d surely doesn’t work, as we have a link word between “costs” and “run” which in my book gives CHARGETOR, and not the desired answer. IC for “in van” is also clever, but probably a step too far for me. Over on the other side the consensus seems to have been that this was worth the time, but tbh I found it a bit of a slog, and often unfair. Sorry Tyrus!

COD? I’ll go with 13ac – “Man U get beaten by Spurs at last! They will make changes (8)”.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/21/independent-9680-by-tyrus/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

Well, I don’t know how fair a review I can write about this. I’m not a fan of Hoskins these days and usually give his puzzles a miss as I find his penchant for smut, drugs, booze and schoolboy humour about bodily functions very tiresome. I’m not averse to occasional risquΓ© surfaces but when almost every other clue contains such references it’s a bit much. Today’s puzzle is a prime example, starting with the first word of the first clue.

So I may as well acknowledge that having solved a handful of β€œnormal” clues I sloped off to the fifteensquared blog and wrote in most of the answers to the setter’s β€œtrademark” clues, which means that my assessment of the difficulty level is a bit of a guess.

So did I enjoy any of it? Yes, there were several clues which took my fancy – 10, 13 and 24 across, plus 4, 5, 6, 7, 15 and 21 down. Of those I particularly liked 10 and 13 across but my nomination for CoD goes to 6dn: β€˜Cross and weary after the Spanish turned up (7)’

The original blog and comments, with extended input from the setter, can be found at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/01/independent-on-sunday-1440-hoskins/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Matters 25ac today? Apparently there is a theme, and as the game of needling poor Pierre over on Fifteensquared regarding his hatred of all things to do with 14/19 seemed to still be going strong, I’m going to assume that’s what it is. All of which means little to us now (and I suspect then either), which doesn’t matter, because this is a decent puzzle enjoyed nonetheless. A few obscurities dotted around, notably in the wordplay for 1ac, and a nice bit of misdirection that I fell for in the wordplay for 1ac, ie “1 Down’s neighbour” kept me on my toes. The font used for the clues also gave brief pause when trying to identify the Shakespearean character, but everything else went in with little ado.

COD? I’ll go with 6d – “See stars with really good ecstasy taken in pub (5,4)”.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/25/independent-9657tees/

More than 50% extra free is what we had this week courtesy not only of an extended title and setter’s name (welcome, btw), but also a hefty preamble. When faced with such a beast my policy is always to look at what we need, in this case clashes and extra letters, and ignore the rest until all becomes clear at the close.

Or not, on the other hand.

After an early start necessitated by the twins’ second Covid jab at what could only be described as an ungodly hour for a Saturday morning, with the added excitement of somebody else’s child fainting and a tsunami halfway through, to the main event.

Slowly, it must be said, this being what could best be described as a fairly rigorous solve, though one that elicited a smile courtesy of the Star Wars reference, even if I must admit that the Jedi in question was the last I thought of.

Extra letters. Having disposed of an unwanted ASS (yeah, your parsing skills were pretty rubbish too): BEST TONY MUSICAL WINNER.

Clashes duly noted… After calling on the services of an anagram solver to help untangle them, a little tweaking revealed that one possible combination, in order, in the shape of a figure 6 in fact, was the lesser spotted ANNA OF CLEVES, from the musical Six.

All good then? Read the preamble more closely, Jon. It’s “a work”, so I think it’s safe to say the figure drawn is correct, but the character isn’t a thematic one, because said musical hasn’t (yet) won a Tony.

The alternative, reading from the other direction, though, is: GUIDI CONTINI, from another musical, Nine, which did win a Tony or two. So those are the choice of clashing letters, I suspect. And, rather neatly, it fits in with all that 50% extra stuff, both in the title and addition of extra letters.

The work it was inspired by? 8 1⁄2, which I must admit to not writing in properly first time, having not read the preamble carefully enough.

But first we were asked to manipulate the grid. I can only think that it needs to be turned upside down, to change that 6 into a 9, and thus the required thematic work.

Probably wrong, and no doubt I’ve missed something else in the mother of all preambles, but there you go.

Done, and dusted. A debut, and what a debut, from the mysterious Nathan Panning. Pseudonym, or just one of the many Google failed to link to any crosswordy types? Perhaps Nathan him (or her) self will reveal all.

20220116_143529~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

After the tribulations of last week, in which we were treated to a concentration of very challenging crosswords and, moreover, were affronted with the confounding of our expectations of accessible puzzles on Mondays and Wednesdays, it was reassuring to have a pleasantly gentle start to the week. That’s if there’s anyone left solving after such a week as that. πŸ™‚

This enjoyable and satisfying puzzle was just right for a Monday. There are no obscure words, with the possible exceptions of the crossing PIED and SKIPJACK, both of which provoked a quick check in the dictionary. Only one clue caused me some head-scratching, which was INDICES, my last one in. Once the crossing letters were in the entry was clear, and I got the word-play. It was the definition which bemused me.

My Clue of the Day goes to 14ac, which was pleasing in the simplicity of its construction, and which offers an excellent surface reading: “Writer drinks fruit smoothie at last (11)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/22/independent-on-sunday-1443-by-peter/

Difficulty rating (out of 5): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A pretty tricky offering from Scorpion today, due not only to the always fiendish cluing we have come to expect from him, but also because of the sheer volume of obscurities on offer in the grid. To some extent I’ll forgive Scorpion because the name of one of my favourite bands is smack bang in the middle of the grid, but obscure long dead sports people, odd British towns, and French regions together with some forays into the less known parts of the dictionary is all a bit much. There’s a ghost theme explained by our very own Cornick over on the other side – songs and albums from the 10ac band Half Man Half Biscuit who I vaguely remember, but I’m guessing nobody noticed. Not my cup of tea then overall, but well scheduled for a Sunday I will say when solvers will presumably have more time on their hands.

COD? I’ll go with 6d, if only for the bit of Welsh mentioned – “During party in Wales, note semi-cropped style of hair (7)”.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/08/08/independent-9616-by-scorpion/