Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳⏳

Once you have done a few puzzles by Serpent you know that more often than not he likes to include a gimmick of some sort. Today, seeing the setter’s name and a grid with lots of unchecked letters in the perimeter, I was instantly alert for something – and I was not disappointed. It did, however, take a fair while before the nina revealed itself in its fulness. I’ve also learnt that Serpent likes to do something with the blocks of blacked-out squares in the grid. And so today we have a hidden message in the perimeter and an appropriate H right at the heart of the grid. Serpent is usually fairly challenging, but the rewards and satisfaction on completion are worth the time and effort. This was difficult in places, but Serpent has offered harder puzzles than this one.

As usual, the cluing is a delight. The surface readings are impeccable, always plausible, usually with an element of misdirection, and highly polished. Consider, for example the triple-definition RENDER; the surface reading, while linking three separate components, reads as smoothly and plausibly as you like. That’s not my Clue of the Day, though. That goes to 5d, which is delightfully and impeccably constructed, and with that careful attention to surface reading already noted: ” Its broadcast leads to chuckles of mirth (6)”.

It’s also worth noting that despite the constraints of the grid and the nina, there is no truly obscure vocabulary. TOPIs are often worn in Crosswordland, even if they have fallen out of favour elsewhere. And likewise, slightly old-fashioned but far from obscure words, like ENRAPT, enjoy a longer life in Crosswordland than here.

All the answers and explanations can be found here: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/01/independent-9949-by-serpent/


Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳

An interesting and enjoyable puzzle from Tees this Thursday. A nice mix of easyish clues and a few that were a little knotty, which all in all was pitched at just the right level for me. I can’t say that I parsed everything while solving, but there again I didn’t always need to, 3ac being a good example where the answer was forthcoming, but the wordplay suitably teasing given the setter’s name. No real obscurities in the grid, despite more than one answer looking at first like it might be, which often isn’t the case with Tees. A good, accessible puzzle.

COD? 6d raised a smile – “The Deep South? (9,5)”.

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


Difficulty rating (out of 5): ⌛ (but see below)

Thinking that in the idothei table of average difficulty this setter’s puzzles might usually rate 2⌛ or even 3⌛, I was going to write that this was on the easy side for an eXternal puzzle. But then I found the idothei table gives eXternal just the one ⌛. So I’m not sure now what to make of it; I rattled through it fairly quickly but there were a few clues calling for a bit of thought, or even second thoughts. On balance I think it probably lies somewhere between ⌛ and ⌛⌛.

It was a pleasant solving experience though, with nothing to scare the horses. Before I got 12ac I thought 5dn might be ‘hounded’ although the correct answer was clear enough from the clue. I was more familiar with ‘rancher’ than RANCHMAN at 24ac, although both are given in Chambers. For 25dn I originally had ‘hails’ as in ‘to hail/arise from’ but ‘ail’ for ‘trouble’ had already been used in 15ac and it was soon obvious that ‘rises’ was being used as a noun; and in the same clue H for ‘helipad’ (from the marking on the ground) was a neat touch. Intersecting with 25dn, LAIKA at 28ac may be remembered by older solvers as the name of the dog sent into orbit in the Russian space programme in 1957, but it is also the name of a breed of dog.

I liked the mental image conjured up by the surface of 13ac. Other likes were 17ac (a nice ‘Russian doll’ clue), 27ac and 23dn. My CoD award, though, goes to 21dn: ‘Serious as soldiers (7)’.

The original blog and a mere handful of comments can be found at https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/16/independent-9935-by-external-2/

Things we would learn this week:

  • That a practice many of us engaged in while still at school to get around the inconvenience of having to pay for phone calls to each other meant that we were PHREAKs.
  • That there is a host of exotic avifauna (being birds to the likes of you and me) down under. That lots have the letter K in them, and the rest either an X or an unlikely looking combination of vowels.
  • That when the preamble notes that an answer is in Collins, that it’s going to be really, really hard to find elsewhere.
  • And last, but not least, that we like puzzles where the setter has had the opportunity to use one of our favourite Star Wars characters as part of the wordplay.

Oh, and that as well as being fun, Inquisitors can occasionally be light and breezy solves too.

As the youngest two had chosen this morning to resume dance after a pandemic enforced break of two years, and this afternoon we were travelling to return the oldest to his university accommodation, the breezy side of things was just what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, I’m supposed to be blogging for Fifteensquared again next week with the looming possibility of one I’ll be unable to make head or tail of, or worse still parse, becoming more likely with each gentle week.

It does though give me lots of time to catch up on all the gardening two weeks of rain have delayed, by chance being the latest Bank Holiday weekend the powers that be have gifted to us this year.

And the puzzle, in addition to the above? Letters missing from answers (and wordplay too for that matter), isn’t as fearsome as it might first appear, especially when the definitions are clearly flagged and the setter is in a benevolent mood. And that said letters making up our unclued feathered friends is help in a big way when stuck on your LOI, the aforementioned (P)HREAK.

And so onward to the rest of a, hopefully, quiet Bank Holiday weekend.


Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳

Today’s theme is based on 6d’s. This being a subject with which I suspect many of us are unfamiliar, together with at least one other obscurity in the grid, might have turned this into quite the trial. But, well, it’s surprising what you do know, especially with very strong nudges from Punk’s as ever solver friendly wordplay. My LOI was one of these 6d’s – at 22d – but I had no doubt as to the answer, as was the case elsewhere in the grid. So if you were thinking of not giving this a try, I’d recommend you do, because what we have today is a surprisingly accessible puzzle, and, oh, one of the best too.

COD? It must be the aforementioned 22d – “Reported 4 6 (5)”.

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


Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳

I’m probably the last person who should be allowed to blog a puzzle from Hoskins. I love his sit-light-with-the-conventions, imaginative and creative approach to cluing, in which he often eschews the precise in favour of the allusive (at least twice the definition in the clue is “this”). I find I can tune I to his distinctive wavelength very easily, and his trademark hunour makes me warm to his style.

But I am acutely conscious that others do not agree with me. In the past some solvers have commented that they find his approach not merely puerile, but distinctly repulsive, and having no place in a serious newspaper. And even if you are ok with the setter’s artfully constructed persona, you may not so readily be able to tune in to Hoskins’s style. If so, you may have found this much harder than ⏳⏳⏳ – if you did not set the puzzle aside in disgust. Although in fairness, he has set much “worse” than this one.

So here we find all the usual Hoskins stuff, all in the usual Hoskins style. There is an obscurity in EKMAN, but it is clued in as friendly a way as possible. And perhaps there should have been an indication in TEMPTRESS that the word-play included some French.

There is no doubt in my mind about the Clue of the Day. The word-play is an anagram, clearly indicated. The definition is one of those “this” one’s. There is humour and concision. It could only be from Hoskins. Whether it is an &lit or not I will leave others to judge. Whether it is true or not I will leave others to judge. “No man is unfamiliar with this (7)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/08/independent-9955-by-hoskins/

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

The oddest of puzzles from Crosophile this Sunday. The top half of the grid was completed in something like 1 for difficulty, and at this point I felt comfortable that I would soon polish off the rest in no time at all. The bottom half though felt like it came from a different puzzle altogether, being mostly impenetrable, typified by ARUM for “lords and ladies”. Combined with an unflagged Americanism in the NW corner, it was at this point I’m afraid that I began to lose patience with the puzzle, and was just pleased to finish. Sorry Crosophile!

When solving I half thought at first that we were getting some sort of biblical theme, what with PROVERBS and WISDOM, but it turns out there’s a very well hidden Nina in the SW to NE diagonal that was timed for the Bank Holiday Monday this was originally published.

COD? I’ll go with 18d – “Potentially costlier place of retirement (8)”.

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


Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳

A thoroughly enjoyable second outing for Italicus – although I don’t remember his first, which doubtless appeared this summer when I was in hospital.
Starting at the top of the grid as is my wont, I hit the ground running this morning, but things got a bit trickier with some names like Shona in FASHIONABLE or Dorothy Lamour in CLAMOUR; then the homophone of ‘said use’ for SEDUCE was obviously a bit of a stretch, even for a champion of allowing latitude with such things like me! Still, there was plenty to like as I say; SACRIFICE was nicely put together, ABSOLVE brought a smile, the Spooner in 1a was a corker, but the CoD has to be:

19d Some Scouse git’s evidently up for a scrap (7)

And here’s the link to the original blog:


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

Welcome Dalibor! It’s good to come across a new setter in the i, and I hope that we will see more puzzles before too long. Maybe if I do a few more I might find it easier to tune in to his (?) wavelength, and so find them easier…

This was very tough, and it took me quite a long time. But it is to his credit that I never wanted to throw in the towel, and I enjoyed it throughout. Moreover, on completion, I had no parsing problems to solve; everything was neatly constructed. I even managed to sort out how TECHNO and THUNDERBIRD worked, and that “shy” can mean “unproductive”. A couple of other visits to the dictionary were needed, for the crossing GRAVAMEN and KENNET, but these were to check meaning rather than resolve word-play.

The crossword is full of “people” either in the clues or the entries, and having got the two French-born actresses, I did wonder whether there was something going on (it did seem unlikely that Ed Sheeran was mysteriously French, though). But apparently not, as the setter confirms in the comments on Fifteensquared. Less contemporary are Elizabeth Fry and Gordon Banks, but both continue, deservedly, to be remembered for their different achievements.

The surface readings are good, and there is some nice word-play to enjoy. I rather liked BANJOIST, but it was pipped to the post by 13ac for Clue of the Day, on account of the element of humour in the latter: “Free camping? Something Corbyn doesn’t like (7)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/29/independent-9973-sat-29-sep-2018-by-dalibor/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳⏳

An interesting challenge from Serpent this Thursday that felt a little knotty in places. Quite a few I failed to parse – notably 2d and 11ac in the half of the grid which gave the most difficulties. Thankfully we had a Nina in the top and bottom rows of the grid that would make all of those fiddly bits a sudden write-in when spotted. Your own personal difficulty level will depend I suspect on how quickly you made the leap from any bits identified, if at all.

COD? There was much to like today, so I suspect there will be lots of picks, with mine going to 6d – “What could drive legless scoundrel to break toilet locks? (10)”.

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