Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

In which Phi’s customary ghost theme consisted of these 8 record labels: BRILLIANT, HYPERION, ORFEO, FUGUE, FLARE, DΓ‰JΓ€-VU, NAXOS, and TESTAMENT. I think that’s it. I’m not entirely sure whether or not GUITARS, TUNE, PART, ALBUM and OOMPAH or indeed the sprinkling of musical references in the clues count as part of the theme; they may have been deliberate embellishment on Phi’s part, they may have arisen subliminally because he was thinking about classical records, but then again he often puts in classical music to his crosswords in any case, so who knows?

In the Fifteensquared comments, ‘crimper’ opines that a ghost theme is the best sort of theme because it ensures no-one feels left out; hmm, that rather depends doesn’t it? If, like me, you guessed that there was probably something musical going on in a classical vein but weren’t sure what, then you may indeed have felt left out! There’s my regular moan again – sorry!

Two stars today because after failing entirely in the NW corner while my brain was waking up, I then managed to solve the whole puzzle ‘in one pass’ sweeping round clockwise a quarter at a time from the NE, starting with 4d AUSTRALIAN and finishing with 1d BRAVE. All understood and as it happened nothing was outside my vocabulary today – although that’s quite a rarity with Phi and me.

Along the way were some neat little tricks which I’m sure will have delighted many solvers: NINE clued by ‘square’, A TO S clued by ‘nineteen letters’, a nice long reverse hidden for LIMESTONE, a rare appearance for the I Ching (it was quite the thing in my student days), the Romanians/ SAN MARINO anagram (familiar to some), and the delightful use of ‘switching directions’ to turn ‘Saxon’ into NAXOS – which was almost my favourite clue; but in the end that honour goes to the excellent 13d:

Second year – year defined by interaction of sun and moon – having same meaning (10)

Here are all the answers and parsings, plus Phi’s contribution to the comments vis-Γ -vis ODD-JOBMAN with which I thoroughly concur:

Fifteensquared/ Independent/ 9619/ Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

In a different week this fine puzzle might have stood out as reasonably challenging; given the two toughies were were treated to on Monday and Wednesday, its accessibility seems more to the fore. Serpent is an accomplished setter, and I think this crossword balances accessibility with challenge rather well.

In particular, consider the anagrams. There are seven of them, a full quarter of the total. These, in my experience at least, help to open up a puzzle somewhat. But how impressive they are! ALPHANUMERIC and SHIVER MY TIMBERS are superb. And never at the cost of plausible surface readings, so important in making a clue satisfying.

In fairness, I ought to admit that I wasn’t overly happy with EASY CHAIR. I could see what was going on, just about, but it didn’t quite work for me. Neither could I get the word-play in HEAD. On the other hand, the triple definition CASE and the reverse-anagram of CRIED OUT were worthy contenders for the prize for Clue of the Day, but they were beaten by 24ac: “One rivalling Greek character spelt out for the audience afterwards (8)”.

It being from Serpent, I was expecting some gimmick or other. I thought there might be a theme on faries in the lights, having got FAIRY LIGHT very early on, and having read 1ac. I was wrong and failed to spot the actual gimmick of there being an H in all the Downs (complemented by the four big Hs in the grid). Bravo, Serpent!

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/14/independent-9648-by-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Who would have thought that a Thursday reprint from Knut would turn out to be the most straightforward puzzle of the week so far? There were a couple of potential obscurities in the grid, notably the hidden word to the SW, but throughout the clues were pretty gentle, with only the Indian spinach in the wordplay at 3d and the odd reversed word at 29ac causing any real difficulty. In each case the answer was pretty apparent, so in they went with a shrug. You might have picked up on the anagrams in some of the answers, and the start of what looks like a Nina in the bottom row, all of which was apparently due to an old, abandoned grid fill based on anagrams followed by a re-write of the puzzle.

As well as being fairly gentle, this was thoroughly enjoyable too, with much to appreciate. A political slant to proceedings as expected for Knut, and so inevitably the COD goes to the well spotted and probably controversial 13ac – “E. Macron turned out to be a political failure (7)”.

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

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/19/independent-9678-by-knut/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A puzzle of two halves, with only three links between the left and right hand sides, the latter going in a shade more easily. In fact there were only two answers on the left that I got straight away – MALADY (nice to see the clue had been updated) and LUTETIUM. β€œWho’s ever heard of Lutetium?” do I hear you say?

Well, I have, but with a name like Borodin you might expect that.

Anyway, it all came together slowly, with 7ac/7dn being my last two in. Looking back over the completed grid there was plenty to like, such as CELIBATE, MANICURE, ASTUTE and the linking of HAYDN with SIKH in 13ac and 22dn. But my choice for CoD, because of its apt surface is 3dn: β€˜Help sought by narcissist leader in Trump, feckless individual I gathered (6,5)’.

Bert and Joyce were on duty to explain everything back in 2017; find them at http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/18/independent-9677-punk/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A fairly tricky offering today from Radian on the subject of 16ac. This was a perfect example though of a puzzle that was solvable without knowing that, and I for one didn’t find the theme to be of any help when filling the grid. Nice and chewy throughout, especially to the NW and SW corners, the wordplay all perfectly fair but needing a little teasing out to fully unpick. The answer for “Prince” at 12ac was one I suspect won’t have left me alone a little puzzled, and it appears from looking over on the other side that I wasn’t alone too in getting 13ac before the referenced 4d. Elsewhere the parsing for “Engineers in university” defeated me, but everything else was entered understood, if rather slowly.

COD? Lots to like, with “stay in less” from the wordplay for 25ac tickling me, but my nomination goes to 8d for the very nice piece of deception that was “water deity” – “US writer ignoring French water deity (4)”.

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

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/17/independent-9676-radian/

The latest in Serpent’s irregular series of mirror images continues, invariably a good excuse to whip out the drawing and colour materials. Double the fun, double the chance to cock-up the endgame.

Extra words this week in some across clues and most of the downs. Extra words I’m pretty good at spotting, even after having made a good dent in the remaining stock of Christmas alcohol the night before, fortuitously accompanied by the plentiful supplies of Christmas chocolate jamming the kitchen cupboards to soak up the liquid content. And, oh, copious quantities of coffee to sharpen the mind the next morning.

Mind duly sharpened I got up at an ungodly early hour, no doubt disturbed by the torrential rain and sound of the other half coming down with a chronic sinus infection, to fairly sprint through the day’s i cryptic and then Serpent’s grid. Extra words and all, though it would only be when tackling the endgame that a blunder on RAISER (or is it, I still can’t parse it), would become apparent, in that elusive final hunt for SYMMETRIC LETTER PAIRS.

Because yes, gentle reader, that was the message revealed courtesy of the down clues, though it would only be later that evening that I would think to do the obvious with the repeated letters that seemed to be the only thing in common between them.

I had, however, spotted the artist, the name of the painting resulting from the extra words in the across clues, and duly entered them into the grid.

Duly armed with a copy of the painting to hand, behold. Some would argue that my COW’S SKULL looks more like a giraffe, and that I’ve taken some liberties with the requisite RED, WHITE and BLUE colours required, but, well, such are my artistic skills and such was the closest match I could manage with the crayons to hand.

I do like a nice bit of colouring, accompanied by a thoroughly pleasant grid fill… As if the Inquisitor was a crossword puzzle, after all. πŸ˜‰

20220109_132317~2

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

It is very rare indeed that I don’t enjoy the crossword; very rare that there are enough quibbles or queries to eclipse the enjoyment got from other clues. I do these wonderful puzzles for fun, and usually any disgruntlement is more than outweighed by the smiles raised. Otherwise I’d stop doing them.

But today, I’m afraid I didn’t get on at all with this one. Part of that is the grid, effectively giving us four mini-puzzles. Mainly, however, it was that I just couldn’t get into this rarely-seen setter’s mind, and I struggled with too many clues. I have no objection to using dictionaries or e-help. I often do, sometimes to check on a rare meaning, and sometimes because a word is completely new to me. Today I had to scour various lists looking for inspiration or the hint of a suggestion of a possibility. Some clues went in readily, to be sure, but other were reluctant to reveal their delights. These included (but were not confined to): WATER RAT, SPOONERISM, CUT OUT, ESCHEW.

If you are reading, Silvanus, I’m sorry, but it didn’t work for me. I do hope other solvers had a better experience. Say so, if you did, because I feel bad for our setter.

There were indeed clues to enjoy. I got a penny-drop moment from WILLIAMS, and indeed SPOONERISM (my last one in). Clue of the day goes to the delightful and simple19d: “Position of authority is postponed no longer? (6)”.

You may be glad of the following link: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/16/independent-9675silvanus/

Difficulty rating (out of 5) ⭐️⭐️

Although a bit trickier than that in places.

Hypnos has given us a pleasant solve today with some nicely cryptic definitions and bits of misdirection.

A few were bunged in and then parsed laboriously afterwards – like the subtractive anagram for STEELY DAN, and I hadn’t realised that Oliver Hardy also did silent movies, but generally speaking things went in with more amusement than puzzlement this time.

COD could have been the dinky clue for AMRITSAR, but this one has two lots of misdirection:

27a A lot trained after time with aid for drivers – like the AA (8)

And here’s the original blog, which also appeared on a Sunday and, unusually for an App-only puzzle, from just 4 years ago, and well before Andrew Marr left his job at the Beeb.

Independent on Sunday 1444 Hypnos

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Did you spot the Nina? I went looking about half way through – initially for a theme but then the hidden message on the left became obvious. And why not, it all adds to the fun, and certainly helped with filling in the right hand side.

Lots to enjoy today in a fairly typical sort of crossword from the i – not as difficult as this setter can be, but not one of his easiest either. Tees isn’t strictly Ximenean, so we do have some little bits of verbiage here and there like ‘taken by’ in 11a FELONY or ‘needs’ in 16a BABYSITTER, or indeed ‘twenty’ to give XTEN in 8d. Those things are sometimes there to help the surface reading but can make unpicking the cryptic reading harder. I liked all the clues though, and inventive things like that middle bit of EXTENDS do give a lovely penny-drop moment when (or should I say β€˜if’!) you work out what’s going on. However I did fail to understand the ‘One spell for’ bit in the clue for 13a TYRO (it means one way of spelling Tyro/ Tiro) and bunged in a couple from definition alone without fully parsing, like OUTLANDISH and METHUSELAH. Never mind, it all got filled in without too much difficulty. I’ve given in to peer pressure and reclassified this as a 3* puzzle – never let it be said that idothei doesn’t listen πŸ™‚

Lots of clues to enjoy today, including the aforementioned 8d, but I’m plumping for this simple yet perfect example of a cryptic clue:

5a Show less restraint in puzzle (8)

Here’s the original blog as we swing back into 2017 in our trawl through the archives:

Independent 9693/ Tees

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I completed this in about two- or three-star time. I’ve bumped the rating up to four stars on account of some pretty ingenious word-play – and because of one obscure word.

First the obscurity. VAPOURWARE was completely unknown to me. I’m reasonably techno-competent (for a man of my age and education) but I’d never heard of this. Nor had the Younger Person I spoke to. It didn’t show up in the electronic word-finder I resorted to. It is buried deep within my Chambers dictionary, but was only discovered by a laborious process of working through the alphabet once all the crossing letters were in. When an obscure word has no initial crossing letter and very common crossing letters, finding it can be a trial. But in the dictionary it is, and the definition and word-play are precise, so there we are.

Other than that, this was a coruscating crossword: a delight to solve, and provoking great admiration for the setter’s skill and creativity in devising word-play. Particularly noteworthy are the well-constructed anagrams, which are impressive and not at the expense of the surface readings. The ingenuity of, for example, MIDDLE OF THE ROAD is brilliant.

Not so much a theme, there is a gateway clue which was necessary to make sense of about a quarter of the clues. I guessed what the word meant fairly early, but the actual entry RETROSPECT was one of my last ones in, as I needed all the crossing letters to get it.

My clue of the day is 3d. I got the answer from the definition, enumeration and initial L, and then I got the word-play, which was both clever and funny. “If so, Ely is black capital of Europe! (6)”.

Independent 9,695 / Daedalus