Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Was I alone in assuming that our theme was something to do with 1ac 4ac? It wasn’t until I popped over to Fifteensquared that it became clear that it is actually based around a quote from 10ac 11ac, part of which is quoted in a work by 3d. As I have only the vaguest knowledge of all, this totally passed me by.

As it was I enjoyed a puzzle of middling difficulty, despite Hob’s reputation for being one of the i‘s more difficult setters, albeit with a number unparsed. There’s a slightly odd word at 12ac, but the rest of the vocabulary was pretty commonplace, which meant such niceties as parsing could be skipped where necessary. Which is an insult to the setter, as this was evidently a finely crafted puzzle, but that’s the way I roll. I’ve given 3 stars for difficulty based on this, but this was solved comfortably much quicker than that, and thoroughly enjoyed.

COD? I’ll go with 10ac – “One of the Bard’s works TV screens, showing before noon (6)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from an apt May Day in 2018:


Ah, that Spot, and thus CAVE CANEM – BEWARE OF THE DOG to the likes of you and me. Unfortunately for those allergic to things gimmicky, those will have been few of the real words that you would find in the finished grid, a few lonely entries in the SW being the only other examples I can find without my glasses.

Because, yes, this week we have that enemy of the Chambers Word Wizard, letters dropped before entry of answers into the grid. Good luck trying to pattern match this lot. It only took a couple of clues to work out too that it would be all examples of each letter that would be dropped.

The resulting solve would prove to be appropriately mind-bending. SDEGN might have been the clear result of wordplay down in the far SW corner, but it would require a few trips to the BRB to find the definition. And as for BARB, with the missing Q. I bet I wasn’t alone in failing to work out for an age where the latter should go.

As ever the endgame came to the rescue when faced with a few entries at the close that either I couldn’t parse, or enter altogether. A FREQUENT INSCRIPTION ON ROMAN THRESHOLDS being a likely looking interpretation of the ditched letters. Perhaps you got them all easily, but then again you probably weren’t drifting off to sleep in the unexpected sunshine following a week with too much work and too little sleep.

Perhaps worth mentioning is that I solved the clue presented in the Give Me a Clue column alongside the puzzle without much too ado. ALTHOUGH that probably means that it was an easy one, if indeed a beauty.

And so done, with a wry smile at the ancient, and yet thoroughly modern Roman warning to would-be trespassers. As if to prove that nothing changes. I bet they were complaining about complicated preambles back then too.


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

Last week’s run of largely challenging crosswords seems to be continuing into this week. This one was very tough, I thought, although it was thoroughly engrossing, and it kept me deeply engaged throughout the length of my solve.

In addition to the ‘crypticness’ of the clues, so to speak, the specialist vocabulary of the themed entries contributed to the difficulty of this fine puzzle. As well as needing a word-finder to discover entries, I had a Wikipedia page open on account of my ignorance of diacritical marks and linguistic terminology. Although I twigged the theme quite early, it wasn’t much help with some of the terms, which were new to me.

Only one was I unable to parse at the end – ITALICS. There is an explanation given on Fifteensquared, but I’m not entirely convinced by it. Likewise the “sound” in the clue for STATION puzzled me, if only a little.

My favourite clue today was 20d, my last in. The helpful crossing letters are what gave it to me, but the clue itself was an amusing one: “Mark at bottom of letter: “Edward has to wear black” (7)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/08/independent-9849-by-radian/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

A fun puzzle this Sunday from Alchemi that was based on variations of 6, whether that be the number, or the answer itself. My first hint at what 6 might mean in some cases was at the solver-friendly 12ac, at which point many of the other themed clues fell. While a lot of the grid was a pretty easy-going solve, a few tougher entries held out at the close – notably the plant at 1ac, the “foot”, and the card game. A good start to what looks like another fine day here in Wales.

COD? While much of the misdirection based around 6 amused throughout, I particularly liked 1d – “Apparently tolerates soldiers’ senselessness (6)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from March 2018:


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

It’s been a challenging week in the i for most solvers, and this one won’t have provided any let-up I suspect, being as hard as any I can remember from Phi.

It seems as if, rather than going for theme or Nina, Phi has opted to include some of what he calls ‘interesting’ words in the grid. Hence perhaps STEGANOGRAPHY, NATATORIA, possibly ABSIT OMEN (where I entered ‘abset omni’, ho-hum), then there are some lovely words like MURMURATION, MIASMA (despite the meaning), GNOMIC, and possibly EUCALYPTI. Don’t know; perhaps it’s nothing.

There are six longish anagrams; as usual Phi reserved his best surface readings for those clues. Elsewhere the emphasis is rather on solid cryptic grammar with occasional flashes of innovation. I appreciated the device ‘missing out on repeat’ to indicate changing ‘tasty’ to ‘tasy’ in 7d FANTASY, plus a lovely bit of repetition of ‘rope’ in 8d RECORD. However my runner-up for CoD goes to 11a READY and my winner (largely for avoiding any reference to starlings) is this one:

13d Greek character engaged in lifting drink supply leads to sotto voce comments (11)

Here are the answers from John’s blog in 2018:


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Just the sort of crossword I like. It offered plenty of challenge (a little more than I expected from this setter) but I never felt I was drowning, so to speak, and so there were lots of penny-drop moments as I worked my way through.

I completed this in just a little over my typical time, and was tempted to rate it at three-star, purely in terms of time taken. However, I bumped it up a bit to take account of the fact that I needed some help where my general knowledge was lacking. These were the Greek musician and PLAYAS. This was my last in, and I had to trust the (clear) word-play to work out what I needed to check in the dictionary. The other one which I spent a disproportionate amount of time on was SEEPAGE, where nothing came to mind and I had to resort to crosswordsolver, but that was just my failing, as the clue is fine and the entry is far from obscure.

Lots of ticks and smiles in my margin. I loved OFFCUT and MAGICALLY. TEA BREAKS was very neat, I thought. Clue of the Day for me, though is the delightful homophone (yes, I know, I know) at 3d: “A period of time off to watch Ms Rantzen broadcast (6)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/02/independent-9844-eccles/

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

Well, it’s an IoS reprint, but based on the comments from back in the day I’m guessing I won’t have been alone in finding this to be on the tough side. No complaints though, because this was a thoroughly engaging, enjoyable puzzle. Highlights here outside of the COD would include “Animal with others” which raised a great big smile. Loads went in unparsed, notably our staple crossword actress, and elsewhere HONEY for “angel” and POT for “sink” raised eyebrows, but all are quite correct. We seem to have a few children’s TV characters dotted about, but if there is a theme it’s one that’s passed everyone by.

COD? For me it’s got to be 12d – “Put out about an agent causing disorder, spy screened (6,5)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from April 2018:


Difficulty rating (out of 5): 🌟🌟

There can’t be many more Dac puzzles left in the archive so I feel privileged to be blogging another of them. This one, as always, was a joy to solve; a few moments thought required in places though, so maybe rating two stars rather than one.

Among the nice touches were the extra layer of meaning in 10ac – β€˜tarps’ in themselves being waterproof – and β€˜sty’ as the farm building rather than the more readily thought of β€˜barn’. I had a little trouble with 16ac, trying to put β€˜ants’ (= soldiers) into an anagram of β€˜Iran’; that was my fault for not realising that, given Dac’s attention to detail, the initial A in the clue was part of the wordplay and not just padding.

Editorially, maybe there was an opportunity missed to update a clue – residents of 19ac might be a bit miffed to see their city described as a town; I think in fact it had already acquired city status when the puzzle first appeared in 2018.

It’s always difficult to pick a CoD in a Dac puzzle. I liked 2dn for its simplicity, 20dn and 21dn for their surfaces but, for the penny-drop moment when I got it, I’ll go for 25ac: β€˜Close to range in centre of Finisterre (7)’.

All in all a 27ac puzzle to put one in a good 1ac for the day.

For the original blog and comments go to http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/04/25/independent-9838-dac/

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

Our theme this Tuesday is roles played by 27/4. Now, I’ve seen a couple of the films referenced, but had forgotten who played the parts in question, so that it would only be on referencing Fifteensquared that all became clear. This is a Thursday reprint, and it’s Hob, so it’s very much on the tough side. Loads went in not at all understood – you needed a knowledge of obscure Scottish resorts to parse 17ac, to be very much in tune with Hob’s sense of humour to follow 24ac, know who Tom Hank’s son was to understand 14ac, and possibly to know a bit about Les Mis to enter 6/13 with any confidence. In other words, I’m not entirely convinced this puzzle didn’t cross the line into unfairness, and we were without the prior knowledge Independent solvers would have had, on a Thursday, that something pretty tough would be on offer.

Hob as ever is inventive though, so besides the general struggle through the grid there was plenty to keep the solver entertained, and to be fair there were a fair few accessible clues to get things going.

COD? 22ac is certainly worthy of mention, with my pick going to 5d – “Hob’s drug-free, right? Fabulous (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from March 2018:


Eurovision weekend, which means a cut in the available solving time in order to partake of the annual endurance test, buoyed up by copious buffet food and no doubt a couple of drinks as a general coping strategy. The lack therefore of clue numbers said to me that this would be no Picnic, and possibly one of those extended weekend solves I would therefore struggle for time with.

Well, no. A thankfully erroneous scan of the grid led me to believe that there were two 10 letter entries to the north, and two to the south, with crossing seven letter answers. Yes, I know now there was another – thematic, as it turns out – in the centre, but I missed that. Luckily, as it allowed me to start lobbing in entries to both the top and bottom of the grid, with about only a third of the clues cold-solved.

OK, I made a dog’s breakfast of it first time around, but that’s why I use a pencil, and the erroneous letters were erased with no resulting damage to the newspaper. Whether it would have withstood repeated blows is another matter altogether which thankfully I did not need to test, the other entries falling into place now there were some handy checking letters without too much ado, and much pleasure to be gained from the noodling about the grid.

Having both IOTA and LOTA was a little sneaky, I grant you, and I can assure you that I fell straight into that trap.

As I was squinting against the unexpectedly strong sunlight, this being one of those more frequent outdoor solves now that the weather is being a little kinder to us, I feel that I may claim a handicap. It might also explain my inability to work out until the close why BARRIE might be a “Pan maker”. Doh.

What looked increasingly like TUFFET to the south caused rather a lot of anguish, as it didn’t seem to fit with the wordplay of any likely looking entries. Until that is it became equally clear that it was one of our two thematic entries, with MISS MUFFET duly sitting above.

Getting the required instruction from the extra letters needed a little more squinting, and not just because I was at first missing a few, but also because we had to arrange them in “normal clue order”. I will admit to running my finger across each letter in the grid to get the required.


Well, we already knew that MISS MUFFET was going to leg it, the resulting words rather satisfyingly being real ones too. I almost forgot to sit the SPIDER down beside her, and when I did had a moment of panic regarding DWINES, but lo, there it is in the BRB.

And done. Well, that was fun, and funny. Not just in the grid-fill, which had smiles aplenty, but also in the amusing endgame. More like this one, please!