Between the musical aspect of the theme, the setter’s smartypants style and the Secretary of State for Transport on the wireless, there was much muttering and disgruntlement this morning. Well, I warmed to the crossword, at least, and surprisingly enough finished it off without recourse to assistance of any sort.

Really quite tricky, wasn’t it? There were a couple of instances of overreach in my opinion, notably 1d and 19ac, which is what I’ve come to expect from Hob, along with some real brilliance. So let’s not dwell on the iffy bits, and instead celebrate some of the crackers, like 4, 9, 12 and 17d. Happily there was no need to go looking for discographies – that would have put me well and truly out of sorts – but a bit of ornithology did come in handy. My COD is the cheekiest one of the lot, 13ac:

“Unconscious state, lacking heart (4)”

Plenty of praise for this puzzle from the cognoscenti over atĀ Fifteensquared when it first appeared in August 2014. Whilst I was there I noted with pleasure that the esteemed Maize has one in the Indy today: kept that quiet, didn’t you? šŸ˜‰

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Last time I blogged an Alchemi we had a visit from the setter, so Michael, if you’re passing – well done. I have a palm print on my forehead, no doubt as intended. Yes, 3d was my last one in, finally explaining what theĀ theme was about.

This puzzle was pretty much as expected: not too difficult with a gratifying variety of clue types and a generally jaunty feel. (Not to say racy, in the case of 10/29). Everything works like clockwork, although solvers who spotted the connection between the thematic items early may well have skipped the parsing of the longer entries. The consensus atĀ Fifteensquared in September 2014 was that this was a particularly enjoyable crossword, and I certainly concur.

Now then, clue of the day time. Plenty to choose from but two stand out, and it’s a coin toss. Nope, not 10/29 – step forward 14ac:

“Ha! Without current the race is off (8)”

A tricky chap to pin down, Crosophile, because his puzzles are so varied. This one was quite a treat: breezy, neither too taxing nor trivially simple, and my only gripe is that it was all over too quickly. There’s a ghostĀ theme which appears in some of the clues as well as solutions, but it doesn’t get in the way.

I’m a bit stuck for a COD this time, there being a handful of equally matched contenders. All four peripheral entries were pleasing, as were quite a few others, notably 2, 4, 11 and 26. Ever the controversialist I shall choose none of the above and instead plump for the curiously defined and semi-thematic 14d:

“Had rendezvous with adult north of town of St Paul – a pied-a-terre? (10)”

For solutions and the nuts and bolts stuff, plus a heady brew of pedantry, Roman numerals and a couple of jokes, here’s the Fifteensquared link.

For a while Cornick was mithering me to have a go at compiling, but he seems to have given me up for a lost cause now. Well, it may happen one day – anyway, today’sĀ theme by Hieroglyph is one I tinkered with for a while before rejecting it on the grounds that the puzzle would solve itself. Full marks to the setter for including all the worthwhile material and scattering it in a pleasing manner around the grid, but I wasn’t wrong, was I?

Short and sweet, therefore. The gateway clue, 1d, is smashing, and it’s a shame that experienced solvers will have seen the answer in a matter of milliseconds. At that point those with an eye on the clock will have picked off all the cross referenced solutions in short order, leaving half a crossword to finish off with plenty of checking letters in place. There’s a good deal to enjoy nevertheless, and Hieroglyph has a jaunty clue writing style. My only complaint is that rather nasty word at 5d, but it did make the relevant blog page a doddle to find in theĀ Fifteensquared database. The comments back in August 2014 pretty much mirror what I’ve said: tougher to set than to solve.

Runner-up for COD is 17ac, but I really like that 1d:

“Plausibly Scaramanga’s favourite author? (6)”

This puzzle first appeared on 28th August 2014, which happened to be 14/21’s 200th birthday. A belated many happy returns, then. TheĀ theme is a bit broader than that however, with plenty of allusions dotted about in clues and solutions.

Hob can be a very tricky setter, I think, but this crossword turned out to be anything but. 10ac got a grimace because it doesn’t belong in a daily puzzle; I am not pro 2d, and so that got another. 26 was new to me, but you live and learn; otherwise nothing much to remark upon, vocabulary-wise. Hob’s exuberant clue writing style was well to the fore – sometimes that can be distinctly wearing, but today it all felt like good fun, although 3d is a shade too puerile for my taste. 19 and 24 both made me smile, but I’m picking 6d as my COD because it’s a nice spot and amusingly phrased:

“Setter beset by Grandma’s unwholesome atmosphere (6)”

Solutions, parsing and discussion may all be found at Fifteensquared.

Oh dear. I fear that friend Topsy’s nose might be well and truly out of joint today, because Scorpion’s ass is pretty smart at the best of times and this puzzle is one of his toughest. A bit of a struggle, then, and it would have helped considerably had theĀ theme revealed itself earlier, but no such luck. In retrospect 28ac is one of the easier clues but it remained a mystery almost to the end, at which point there was a resounding “clang” as the penny dropped.

Clever stuff, eh? Too clever by a good 50% some might say, and indeed a couple of disgruntled solvers did exactly that in the comments on BertandJoyce’s July 2014 Fifteensquared blog. The observation about the grid at no. 3 is spot on – it’s a monstrosity, and in view of that I think Scorpion could have been much more generous in providing some gentle starters by way of encouragement. Anyway, mustn’t be a miserable Batarde. The setter is to be congratulated for shoe-horning in a full dozen words which may be prefixed by 28ac and for avoiding any obscure vocabulary. There’s a great deal of inspired wordplay, and the surfaces are for the most part notably smooth. COD? Too many candidates to list, so feel free to nominate your favourite – I’m going for 27ac:

“French woman keeps reading, for example, new series of kid’s books (2,3)”

A nicely turned out crossword as usual from Radian, with aĀ theme loosely based around 8ac. It’s perhaps a little tougher than one would normally expect from this setter, but in the right way with just the one entry which could reasonably be described as obscure at 2d. Mind you, that one keeps turning up: I’ve a feeling this is the third time in as many weeks.

Plenty of cross references today, and yes, one of them intersects with the gateway clue. Feel free to moan. Observant solvers – and we all know that’s not me – will have noticed that many of the solutions can be prefixed with half of 8ac, which is a pleasing device now that I’ve read theĀ July 2014 Fifteensquared blog entry by the ever-thorough Duncan. Never let it be said that Radian doesn’t go out of his way to add value. Ticks for 10, 12, 13, 17 and 26, and some others probably deserved them too, including the aforementioned 2d. An extra large, especially jaunty one marks the COD, 23ac:

Papers by top medical unit (if that’s the right name) (10)

An unfamiliar name today: oo-er. And look at all those across clues: eek! Best ignore them and look at the downs, and hey presto, before longĀ the meaning of all those Ps becomes apparent.

Mixed feelings about this one. On the credit side Hieroglyph has managed to fill all the across lights with thematic material which is satisfying, and for the most part he or she has kept the tone breezy and accessible. In the debit column – I am echoing what Duncan said in his July 2014Ā Fifteensquared blog here – 1, 2 and 16d are hard to forgive in a weekday crossword. Especially 2. Drawing a veil over those it’s not an especially difficult puzzle, and once the penny dropped about the theme it pretty much filled itself in.

Thin pickings for clue of the day. Regular visitors will understand my temptation to choose 17d just to give Sprouthater something to get his teeth into, but instead I’m going for the succinct and rather droll 4d:

“Communicate dog’s dinner-time (7)”

If anyone is interested in the Brendan puzzle mentioned in the comments at 15Ā², here you go.

It’s been a mere six weeks since Tees’ last Tuesday appearance (disguised as Hephaestos), and 7ac being my first one in I briefly wondered whether we’d be ploughing the same sort of high-falutin’ furrow. A certain amount of mithering has become the norm from those who do not share my enthusiasm for thematic puzzles, and there’ll probably be some adverse comment on the cross-linking, but it’s unlikely that any complaints will be forthcoming about theĀ theme being highbrow today.

I expect great things of Tees, and whilst this crossword is no disappointment he certainly didn’t present us with as formidable a challenge this time as he has in the past. “Breezy” is le mot juste, I think, with a wide variety of clue types none of which were too fiendish. Even the Spoonerism is decent, as such things go. Entertaining stuff, earning a creditable tally of ticks: particular favourites included 8, 13, 14 and 28. When it comes to the clue of the day 20/19 is sorely tempting given the theme, but the winner simply has to be 18ac:

“Narrow bit of fish? (7,5)”

For Gaufrid’s blog and lots of appreciative commentary, here’s the June 2014 Fifteensquared link.

I note that the former Foreign Secretary and alleged thinker pictured on the front page hasn’t made much progress with The Times crossword: let’s see if we can do better with today’s puzzle by Alchemi. Not a particularly stiff challenge on any level.

Bearing in mind that it’s Tuesday and the grid is distinctly Nina-friendly, experienced solvers with their wits about them will have tumbled to what’s going on as soon as 17ac went in. Regular readers will be unsurprised to hear that I didn’t notice until the very end, but anyway there it is: our gimmick du jour. Like AndyB says in comment no. 1 on the February 2014 Fifteensquared blog, I’m pretty sure this has come up before in much the same guise, but as Alchemi observes it’s a bit of a gimme for a setter.

An easygoing gentle sort of solving process today, with rather too many write-ins for my liking: exceptions to that general rule included 19, 25 and the rather odd 28. None of those strikes me as really worthy of the COD trophy, so instead I’m going for the one which made me chuckle, 7d:

“Metal group’s press people accepting help (4,6)”