Today’s theme will surprise nobody, so instead of a picture here’s some festive music instead.

It’s been a while since Quixote’s last appearance in the i, but we all know the formula: rock-solid clue writing in the traditional manner and a few peculiar words to liven things up, making for a speedy but satisfying solving experience. As usual with this setter I’m somewhat stumped for a COD, but let’s have one from the little cluster in the NE corner where I finished:

3ac: “Christian supplier of medieval weaponry (8)”

Back precisely four years to Duncan’s Fifteensquared blog.

The other day a gentleman of my acquaintance bade me “Saturnalian blessings”. Clearly word of last year’s Batarde Towers toga party has leaked out. Anyway, it’s a bit of a ticklish business knowing quite what to wish everybody at this time of year, what with seasonal jollifications taking many forms and other people electing to sit it out, so I hope you’ll take the following in the inclusive spirit intended. A Merry Christmas, one and all.

This crossword has been extensively edited, to its detriment. In its original form , where we now see “9 character” the wording was “Inhabitant of CA would say“, which at least provides a bit of food for thought, but as it stands this puzzle comes perilously close to insulting the intelligence. By my reckoning, which excludes Saturdays for the sake of convenience, this is the seventh elementary crossword on the trot and I am starting to get cheesed off.

Even with the clever “CA would say” business the gateway clue makes the theme as plain as a pikestaff, and since Hieroglyph has crammed in a lot of thematic material that’s half the puzzle solved straight off the bat. The workmanship, however, is as good as ever, although I heartily disliked 3d for reasons which ought to be obvious. The excellent 11ac shows how sophisticated this setter’s clue writing can be, but there is an even better COD candidate which is about as good as it gets:

17d: “Nick Cage can stir porridge inside big house in the States (6)”

Back to Christmas Eve 2014 (a thematically significant date) for the Fifteensquared write-up.

i Cryptic Crossword 2758 Hob

December 10, 2019

My initial thought on seeing Hob’s name next to the grid was that Topsy will be displeased; however on completion I think perhaps almost everyone will be pretty happy today. The rather curious grid contains a theme so big you can see it from space, and it’s made glaringly obvious by 10ac. Hardly my specialist subject, but as it turned out no references were required and everything was sort of familiar.  Done and dusted in about the same time as yesterday’s, surprisingly.

It might be said with some justice that 5d is an unnecessarily obscure word given that there are common alternatives for that space, but it’s a fine clue and picks up on a running pattern of numerical misdirection which pleased me a good deal. Never let it be said that this setter is shy about putting his cleverness on show. The “shining example” in 11ac still baffles me, unless it’s an idiom like “bright as a pin” I haven’t come across, but the required entry was perfectly clear and elsewhere everything parses to my complete satisfaction. John at Fifteensquared had all the explanations back in October 2015 if anything remains mysterious, and there are some amusing comments from curmudgeons. Standouts for me included 2, 5, 14, 20, 21, 25/28 and 30ac, the last being my choice for COD:

“Where reaction might occur when opening bars around 6 (2,5)”

You’ll have all identified the theme, and will know exactly what’s in store if you click this link. Very topical.

Somewhat to my surprise, it seems that I rather enjoyed this puzzle for all its smartypants tricksiness. The abundance of references to the short-fingered vulgarian’s tonsorial arrangements wore me down in the end. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a good deal of sighing and tutting, but variety is the s. of l. after all, and I think there’s room for some boundary-pushing knockabout stuff like this once in a while. Oddly enough, everything parses satisfactorily in my opinion if you make a few allowances. Only the currency is likely to be unfamiliar (although not to those of us who do far too many crosswords), but I bet many solvers will have been nonplussed by 1ac. All is explained by Bertandjoyce in the December 2015 Fifteensquared blog, with some contributions in the comments including one from Knut himself which throws light on the baffling 14/15ac. Tiddles, indeed.

I got off to a good start with 7/27, 9 and 10 falling straight away – by which time it was clear that this would be a Very Annoying Puzzle Indeed. However, it didn’t turn out that way, and after re-tuning to a new wavelength it was jolly good fun much of the time. Loathed 10 and 23d, but loved 7 and 25 amongst others. It will be interesting to hear other solvers’ favourites, but I’m going with 21d:

“Old printer driver’s support is about to offer patchy coverage (6)”

Today’s theme is weird words. Oh, all right then, it’s really all about 1 across, but it was the vocabulary that caught my attention. We have Ukrainian cash; one of those Irish names which sound nothing like they look; an antiquated spelling of a dairy product; everybody’s favourite port in New Zealand; a well-clued Arab; an unfamiliar gazelle; a shambolic national leader called Boris, and another one from Tanganyika. Also a dodgy rebel and a football manager. Phew.

None of this should mean that the puzzle is beyond the reach of a notional “average” solver, because Raich is not that kind of setter. Everything is spelt out, and it’s just a case of following the instructions – of course that’s the case for all cryptic crosswords, but Raich is exceptionally clear and never falls foul of Arachne’s Law. Easy clues for hard words, and vice versa. Consequently solving this one was a pleasure and an education. As noted above our old friend at 24d was unusually well done and I also particularly liked 14 and 23. The COD for me is 18ac, because this sort of thing doesn’t come along very often:

18ac: “Become more intense, hard – this clue has letter missing? (8)”

For solutions, commentary and everybody chipping in about 28ac, here’s John’s September 2015 Fifteensquared write-up.

When contemplating a Tuesday Scorpion it is helpful to bear in mind that this setter really doesn’t do things by halves. The theme is semi-ghostly one might say, but pretty hard to miss since it pervades all the across lights. I was determined not to avail myself of a list, but if required the exceedingly thorough beermagnet provides one in the September 2015 Fifteensquared blog.

I found this easy. Perhaps it’s a matter of having become attuned to Scorpion’s way of thinking. He does come with a bit of a reputation, but his puzzles are invariably fair and accessible given some lateral thinking. Today my knowledge of ladies’ lingerie and bygone golfers was deficient, so it’s just as well that the answers are spelt out – no complaints about obscurities here. Admittedly that old cleaner in 1d might have mystified younger solvers, not least because it’s still on sale, but it made me smile. Unsurprisingly there’s no shortage of COD candidates, so thumbs up for dozen which didn’t quite make it. As usual alternative nominations are welcomed, but my winner is 6d:

“Female politician and king visit lake, then another (6)”

i Cryptic Crossword 2734 Vigo

November 12, 2019

Vigo made her debut in the i a few Saturdays ago with an impeccably polished beginner-friendly crossword, and here we have another in the same vein. It always strikes me as an act of generosity when a setter presents us with something really clever without making it difficult to solve, and that’s certainly the case with this ghost-themed puzzle.

There are no wild flights of fancy here, and the cryptic vocabulary will all be quite familiar to experienced solvers. As with the previous Vigo the standard of the surface readings is noticeably high throughout, and there’s a droll feel to a number of clues … I do hope everyone had a smile at 11d, for instance. A couple of solutions are perhaps a little recondite: the dungeon was a write in for me but raised an eyebrow or two amongst the Fifteensquared chorus back in September 2015. Nobody mentioned 2d but that strikes me as a rummy old word, and there’s one for all the polo lovers amongst us, too. (My experience of the game is limited to searching for lost balls as a kid – apparently they’re plastic nowadays but they used to be made of wood).

I have no complaints about this enjoyable crossword except that it didn’t last very long. Favourites today include 13ac and the aforementioned 11d, but just for fun my COD is 12ac:

“Twisted fluid covered in jelly (5)”

Hob, so we’re back behind the bike sheds, eh? Well, no, not really – except for 24d it’s all quite decorous this time, but that doesn’t mean that I expect many people to pleased with this one, and there may well be some sympathy for the Tortoise today. My feelings are mixed. It’s very gratifying to get the better of a setter who is going all out to bamboozle, and indeed I did in the end, but good grief – surely this is way too much for a weekday?

It being Tuesday there is a theme, and a perversely unhelpful picture hint. Mostly we are dealing with one of my pet hates, whose dreary oeuvre litter the grid in the form of a Nina as well as entries. Harrumph. Having spent far longer than usual disentangling all the wordplay I am disinclined to comment in detail, except to observe that Hob has included some easy starters which is to his credit, but for the most part it’s highly obstructive stuff. It all seems to work, just about, so long as the solver has a headful of obscure trivia upon which to draw. Clue of the day? Mine is 17ac, but how about you?

“Sort of plane coming from down under, having ejected Unionist Paisley? (6)”

The crossword first appeared on a Bank Holiday Monday (which makes sense) in August 2015; and Eimi has helpfully edited 16d to make things easy for us. Poor old Pierre drew the short straw over at Fifteensquared, and made a splendid job of the blog, which explains nearly everything bar a bit of mopping up in the comments. Talking of which, there is a good deal of discussion about the merits of popular music from the 1970s. The majority opinion seems to be that there are none, to which I say “Captain Beefheart” and rest my case.

A trip down memory lane for today’s picture hint – I sort of miss him nowadays.

Some weeks ago I unwisely said that Radian’s puzzles on a Tuesday are generally an easy ride. This one … maybe not so much. For one thing the theme is rather nebulous and doesn’t offer a great deal of help, and generally speaking the clues do seem a notch or two more difficult than we’ve come to expect. Or maybe it’s just the on-again-off-again broadband issues which have been driving me to distraction. At any rate, a bit of a slog by my reckoning, with the right hand side and in particular the NE corner slowing things right down.

Once again there’s an American idiom to contend with at 21d, which never goes down terribly well here, but that aside I have no complaints and everything seems to work nicely. Worryingly my first in was the excellent long anagram across the middle, and progress was frankly pitiful until I got to the downs. Or Downs. Well constructed clues abound – 5, 9, 19 and 25 for instance – but for me there were only two which really jumped out. 21ac raised a smile, but my COD and last one in is 10ac:

“Hit, he departs, sulking (5)”

For explanations and analysis courtesy of Bertandjoyce, please click here for the August 2015 Fifteensquared write-up.

Oo er … the enfant terrible is back. One dreads to think what Hob’s idea of a “therapeutic release” might be, and there are private parts and a stripper called Lulu. Of course the puzzle turned out to be clean as a whistle, not to mention scrupulously fair and of exceptional quality. He gets better with every appearance in the i.

Hob sometimes comes across as a precocious fifth-former, but today’s theme suggests that he’s a bit older than that – at any rate there was nothing unfamiliar to wonder about. However, both 26 in its religious sense and 28 were unknowns for me, but so clearly clued that there was no need to check. It’s a reasonably challenging crossword without being daft about it, and pitched just right for a blog day as far as I’m concerned. As usual there were some smiles and chuckles along the way, and the tick count is downright impressive. I shall not bore you by reeling off my favourites – please nominate your own – and instead cut straight to my COD, which may as well be 5d:

“Sort of builder’s bum primarily seen in women only, extremely firm on top (6)”

Back to the late 1980s – whoops, August 2015 – for Simon Harding’s Fifteensquared blog entry. In case anyone is wondering about the picture link, searching for “Clanadonia” will explain all, and is recommended.