For his theme, Radian has chosen an alleged genius remembered chiefly for his general racism, specific anti-Semitism, misogyny and a number of works referenced in both clues and solutions. For some reason he is held dear by much of the British public, but if you want something to get aerated about today that’s where I’d aim, rather than a couple of routine drug references and 4d. It was his hundredth birthday back in September 2016, by the way.

“Brompton!”, I hear you cry, and by golly, so ’tis. It was a bit north and south too, and in my case the former remained sparsely populated until after the latter was complete. 7, 8 and 13 staged a fierce resistance, and whilst I’m not bowled over by 8d, 7 is smashing and 12 is my COD runner-up. Whether the grid played a part is moot, but this felt quite challenging for a Radian: not especially suitable for inexperienced solvers or people who don’t want to knuckle down and do some concerted thinking. Everything parses to my satisfaction, but the definitions can be quite mischievous. If you want explanations, you can do no better than to consult Duncan at Fifteensquared.

Selecting a clue of the day from a Radian puzzle is usually troublesome, and it’s not as if the pickings are thin today. In addition to the aforementioned, 12, 20,23 and 24 all deserve a mention and no doubt others will have appealed. To my way of thinking there’s a stand-out winner just for once … well, I didn’t see that coming. 🙂

14ac: “It’s surprising you have to install Windows etc after crash (10)”

Thought I’d have to recuse myself and hand over to Charmaine this morning, but I’ve no recollection of ever having solved this puzzle before. No rules broken; happy to make myself available to the inquiry etc etc. It’s rather disappointing actually, with no heptuple pangram or peripheral Nina in Cornish … just a bunch of random words. Oh, all right then, there’s a theme, but an effete, elitist intellectual snob like me could hardly be expected to pick up on it. The explanation from the horse’s mouth as it were can be found in comment 13 on John’s Fifteensquared blog entry.

As it happens I did spot it, so there. Even managed to match up a few of the nicknames to the appropriate clubs, but clearly accounting for all of them is a job for an enthusiast. Suffice to say that an impressive percentage of the solutions are thematic, but it should be perfectly possible to enjoy the crossword unaware that there’s any jiggery pokery going on at all. This, of course, is as it should be when a ghost theme is properly implemented.

As usual the watchword with the clues is variety, and a good deal of inventiveness. 19d is perhaps rather well worn, but on the whole the feel is very fresh. The more lateral thinking required the greater the chance of those penny drop moments which make solving worthwhile, and sure enough there were quite a few smiles along the way today. One or two groans as well: yes, we are talking Puff the Magic Dragon. Dearie me. Because I am lazy I shall deprive readers of a long list my favourite clues: shout out yours, why don’t you? I am contractually obliged, however, to select a clue of the day, and since the puzzle is a celebration of a popular ball game it seems only right to go with 27ac:

“Midweek match time sees Ding become ‘born leader of snooker’ (9)”

The crossword originally appeared in March 2017, and I think I’m right in saying that there are a fair few further example’s of Cornick’s oeuvre for us to look forward to. Huzza!

There is something missing, isn’t there? Well, never fear: here you go. Is it just me, or has Hob changed drastically since his first appearances in the i, from a rowdy rapscallion with a penchant for lewdness and letting off stink bombs, to a virtuoso setter who manages to keep his baser instincts in check, mostly? Gone are the whoopee cushions and naughty postcards, although there are some Class A drugs in evidence (25ac). This bit of narcotic slang strikes me as a period piece, something you might find in Hammett or Chandler – perhaps that makes it less offensive? Discuss.

Duncan was on duty at Fifteensquared back in March 2017, which is both good and bad for me. Obviously his blog is top notch as usual, but he’s said everything I was going to, theme-wise. The gateway clue was a cracker, wasn’t it? Fortunately I’m the sort of person who sees “librarian” and thinks of 5/24, which gave the game away, enabling me to “solve” 20d answer first. I thought all the people in the crossword were especially nicely clued (10d might not feel well-served, though), not that there’s anything letting the side down. The molecular structure was new to me, but easily deduced, so no looking up required. I rather gave up on awarding ticks, there being so many worthy recipients, so please feel free to single out your favourites. Two clues – well, solutions really – tickled my fancy in particular today: 1ac, and my COD, 8d:

“Naïve optimist giving parrot stuffed naan (9)”

No sign of Topsy on the letters page. :-/

I had misgivings about this puzzle, which seemed to be full of perils and portents of doom. As it turns out Vigo had something more specific on her mind. This is well outside what I like to think of as my areas of competence, but if anyone picked up on the theme, well done, kid. 🙂

When Vigo’s crosswords started to appear I misjudged her badly, mistaking the clear and direct style for a lack of sophistication. To be fair, the first couple were remarkably straightforward, but it’s become clear that this is a setter who prioritises entertainment and has some neat tricks up her sleeve. Incongruous juxtapositions are a particular trademark, giving proceedings a sprinkling of surrealism. Anyway, pleased to set the record straight: my fault for not paying due attention to surface readings.

Today, then, we find the setter getting high on board a ship; dismemberment with inappropriate cutlery; deer without feet and spirits without heads, and so on. Also a word which only Vigo and Cornick can spell, put in for sheer devilment I imagine, unless there’s a Buffy connection. Oh yes, nearly forgot James Bond’s latest adventure and Spooner’s supper. All good knockabout fun, and if I single out 4ac, 17 and 18, that’s merely a personal choice. The COD, however, did seem to be jumping up and down insisting that I pick it:

3d: “Stockholders step back after French article (7)”

The original publication date was in March 2017, by which time the average number of comments at Fifteensquared had risen noticeably. They are worth perusing for a sighting of our own Cornick; Hoskins’ guide to the use of ellipsis, and a few handy mnemonics.

A Phi with a theme one would be hard pressed to miss. I rarely make reference to time considerations, but today I have to ask: is it just me? This was over in a trice, and really did consist of a series of read-and-writes, leaving me with precious little to say on the subject.

No legitimate complaints about this puzzle – feeling short changed is just my tough luck – but the truth of the matter is that my favourite crossword thing today was the concise homophone. In this one, 28ac was fairly natty and came in a close second behind my clue of the day, 7d:

“Boss has to lead, supported by a fool (3,6)”

Bertandjoyce were on blogging duty at Fifteensquared in March 2017, and did a sterling job as per.

A welcome appearance by Alchemi today, who seems long overdue. Of all the setters he’s the one who is most likely to put in an appearance here, so if you’re around, Michael, there’s a perch by the brazier and a beaker of Bovril waiting.

Readers who have been around for a while will be aware that today’s theme is guaranteed to go down well at Batarde Towers; real old timers might even recall the egregious pun which is highly likely to get another airing if the comments run true to form. Of course, the subject is another of those great Poets Laureate we never got, like Benjamin Zephaniah, John Cooper Clarke and Pam Ayres. Alchemi explains all in the first comment on the December 2016 Fifteensquared blog entry, and if anyone is unfamiliar with the great man’s oeuvre, I suggest they toddle off to Youtube and mug up.

I’m pleased to report that, quite apart from thematic considerations, this felt like something of a tour de force. There really is an awful lot of good entertaining stuff going on, and the breezy solving process was further enlivened by a few eyebrow raisers, penny-drop moments and wry chuckles. I’m pretty sure that 25ac is the first instance of Rickrolling I’ve seen in a crossword. In the interests of brevity, here are my edited highlights: 10, 13, 17, 22, and somehow the usual reservations didn’t seem to apply to 6d. Smashing. As for the COD, well this will surprise nobody:

20/19 “City where I’ve left carrot for a singer (4,7)”

¡Hola! Clearly Knut added a dash of rum to today’s crossword, which has a distinctly Caribbean flavour. So let’s clear up what 12ac’s about: it’s a grown-up rum and coke. ¡Salud!

This is one of those themed puzzles produced at short notice to mark a topical event, in this case the death of the elder 20d in November 2016. An impressive feat to have it ready for publication so quickly, given that there are so many deft touches. I particularly liked the cameo appearance by Señor Guevara, and the exploding cigar. The only thing which didn’t ring quite right to me was the cryptic definition at 7d, which I probably wouldn’t much like under any circumstances, let alone in what amounts to an obituary crossword. However, see comment 6 on the Fifteensquared blog.

Can anybody recall a previous occasion when our knowledge of Dutch was tested? Most unusual, and most gratifying to be able to kid myself that I “knew” the word in question, too. The German tabloid really was familiar though … there appears to be a law that no homophone shall pass unquibbled, but if you ask me that was a solid one. Three of the four-letter entries are old friends of the sort that turn up when the grid fill has become awkward, making me think that Knut might have had a bit of a struggle towards the end; but if that’s the case he did well, and only 26ac is uncommon. The clue is so good that it’s easily forgiven, but that’s a barred grid word, really.

All enjoyable stuff, and it would be nice to see Knut more often, please. Regulars here will know that I have a perverse fondness for Spoonerisms, so the COD won’t be a surprise:

1d/2: “Train robber’s income, according to Spooner, ‘a national humiliation’ (3,3,2,4)”

Following yesterday’s discussion of off-colour clues, who should turn up today but the Cheeky Chappie himself? Smut, stink bombs flying all over the place and wall-to-wall filth, then – that’s what we’re told to expect from Mr Halpern, although in truth I’ve seen very little evidence of it for a long time. Yes, we have the two 16s, but the discussion over at Fifteensquared was a good deal more laddish than the crossword if you ask me. Perhaps 10ac was a memo to self.

For today’s picture hint the temptation was to hunt down a big photo of Jeremy Clarkson, but that would have been unkind. The theme is of the sort that straddles the clues and solutions, and there is a distinct whiff of motor oil in the air. I like this approach because it gives the setter plenty of flexibility and scope for fun, whilst not reducing the solving process to one of ticking items off a list. Also, it should be perfectly possible – if unlikely – to polish off the puzzle without noticing any funny business.

Having coined the term I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this grid is a Brompton, and not very generously checked at that. This caused no problems whatsoever, and solving was pretty quick. One got the impression that Punk was in a generous frame of mind, and there were plenty of nice little toeholds to get proceedings under way with smooth progress and green lights all the way. Well, nearly … my last one in was 17d because obviously there are no cars with a double “a” in them, are there? Sigh. Anyway, that’s not my idea of a holiday destination. Lots of typically well turned out clues to choose from today, and rather than give you a string of numbers I’ll just cut to the chase and proclaim 18/4 my clue of the day: your mileage may vary.

“Wife greeting Sandy drunk in car – it’s the drink (6,3,4)”

Today’s theme will find favour with the mycologists amongst you, but your humble blogger is struggling somewhat to raise enthusiasm for the subject. Nothing better in a risotto, of course. Anyway, beneath the surface of this crossword puzzle there lurks a creeping, pervasive mycelium of 22d matter, and if you want to compare notes with the Fifteensquared foragers, please click here. Eileen’s link in comment 2 is well worth five minutes of your time.

It often falls to me to deal with Radian, and I have a great deal of respect for his diligent, solver friendly approach. This crossword is on the difficult side by his standards, which may be on account of rather ungenerous checking, especially of the across lights. That said, as usual there are no real hotspots and one gets the impression that he’s careful to provide a balanced puzzle with toeholds dotted around so you shouldn’t come to an impasse in one corner, say. We also have the customary wide assortment of cluing strategies, ranging from the very straightforward like 26 and 18 to the more tricksy, such as the subtractions at 4 and 8d. I imagine that all solvers will have made ready headway, but finishing off might have caused some head scratching.

Never an easy task, singling out a Radian clue of the day. Please feel free to chip in with your own. As far as I can see there’s only one potential controversy, so let’s try that:

2d: “Gutted co-op boss? He bounces back nearly (7)”

Well, this is an unusual situation. Back in November 2016 RatkojaRiku was on blogging duties at Fifteensquared, and actually missed a theme. A thumping great stonker of a theme in fact, leaving me somewhat perplexed and wondering whether I’m seeing things. Don’t think so: there are rather too many nicknames of kings, tsars and other big cheeses for it to be coincidence. Æthelstan the Unmetalled, for instance. What did pass me by was the bonus pangram, so factoring that in we can say once again that Scorpion gives excellent value.

Following on from yesterday’s discussion of crosswordese, we have one little example today: a Scottish chimney in 18d which will be familiar enough to old hands and barred grid wizards but very likely a complete mystery to normal people. I like this clue, which is jolly clever, but bunging in a dialect word backwards might be considered a bit of a hostile act. Scorpion doesn’t usually have recourse to this sort of thing, being perfectly capable of making a crossword blooming tricky without employing unusual vocabulary, and I tend to think that it’s a defect since there’s nothing else likely to send solvers scurrying to the dictionary. Never mind, though: I mostly bring this up to avoid looking too much like a Scorpion fanboy (yes, I totally am) and being too gushy.

Other matters arising … how’s your Danish geography? A bit of fancy French cooking; a river and an artist both cunningly disguised – yes, quite a bit of lateral thinking and careful unpicking to be done today, as is generally the case with this setter. I have no objections or quibbles, and managed to finish unaided. Alternative nominations for COD are invited, since there are plenty to choose from. I’ll point to 1, 2, 6, 18 and 20 before bowing to the inevitable and going, with apologies, for 19d:

“False celebrity with awful clothing (7)”