I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in my opinion Raich is like the final set of stairs to the roof of the Batarde Towers Belvedere.* He is not a setter known for devilish difficulty, but his puzzles are as polished as they come, and it’s an all-too-rare pleasure for one to come up on the Tuesday shift. Just as yesterday’s Peter was a fine introductory crossword, this one ought to appeal to those who do not generally speaking care for themes.

He is not playing to one of my strengths in this case, but 1ac spelt out the subject and the name did ring a bell. Anyone who has ever tinkered with setting crosswords will know that, as soon as you introduce a gimmick, the grid fill can get weird very quickly. Therefore, to shoehorn in a decent amount of thematic material without recourse to anything approaching obscurity is no mean feat, and yet I think we can safely say that there’s nothing here to frighten the 20 downs. Nor is there anything quibbleworthy to pick up on as far as I can see. Doubtless the ghost of Ximenes is smiling benevolently today, because every single clue works like an equation, leaving one in no doubt as to what has to go where. If you’re reading that and thinking “he’s trying to say politely that it was trivially straightforward”, well, yes – but it’s too early in the week for me to start moaning about that and not getting my thirteen bob’s worth. Excellent craftsmanship throughout, after all.

No list of preferred clues today because they’re all nicely made, but I shall slap the CoD rosette on 8d because, having consulted the dictionary, it taught me something. Besides, it’s a funny, unexpected word.

“Like famous Piper accepting good metal for provender (7)”

For John’s blog and some appreciative comments, please click here to be whisked back in time to November 2016. Isn’t Fifteensquared looking spruce and up to date all of a sudden, by the way?

* Top Flight. 🙂

Math, a relative newcomer to the i, had yet to make a strong impression on me, up until now, that is. However, it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a crossword as much as this one, so he’s now a Person of Interest. No doubt there’s a technical term for this sort of theme, where the subject is explicitly stated in the clues but hardly figures in the solutions (except for the sallow, rat-faced fellow at 25ac, the landlady at 8d, and the very arch oblique reference at 1d). At any rate, I can lay claim to some genuine expertise when it comes to the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, but beyond knowing the name of Scotland Yard’s finest the puzzle requires none. Humph.

Solving was a pleasure from start to finish, and whilst not quite a stroll in the park the terrain was pretty easy going. Strictly speaking, 20ac probably has no business appearing in a daily crossword, but it’s literally spelt out and therefore forgiveable. I disliked the computer in 10ac because trade names which have not become generic (Hoover, Xerox etc) always feel a bit iffy – good clue for all that, though. The same goes for 17ac, but it made me laugh so that’s just fine. Lots of ticks today, so this is where I abdicate responsibility and request nominations for the Clue of the Day. Honourable mentions go to 5,7 and 8d amongst others, but my selection is 4ac on grounds of rarity and polish.

“Extremists in sect resolve nothing through power (8)”

We’re now on to 2017: New Year’s Day in fact, which was a Sunday and it’s probably fair to say that this puzzle was a little tougher than usual for the IoS. On first publication there was an extra mystery, because Eimi attributed it to one Sherlock. For the Fifteensquared write-up and some chat, please click here.

Here we are again, then: locked down. No return to Mogwash being on the cards for the time being, Charmaine seems to be remarkably philosophical about the situation, and has resigned herself readily to eating me out of house and home. She’s busy today, but no doubt will pop up again before long.

Radian is first up in the Tuesday slot this year, with a nice historical theme in celebration of a 950th anniversary, the puzzle having first appeared in October 2016. Some will have liked the interlinked clues, others will not, and no doubt a few will protest that it’s all beastly unfair. I enjoy this sort of thing and didn’t have much trouble untangling the thematic stuff; that said my feeling was that this was towards the more difficult end of Radian’s usual range. Presumably 6ac won’t have caused any trouble being fresh in the mind, but 19d is an unexpected word craftily clued, which pleased me no end. 11ac is perhaps a bit recondite for those whose education didn’t include rote learning chunks of Coleridge, and again the clue is by no means a read and write. My last one in was the sneakily defined 23d. Fairly demanding all told.

Favourites included the aforementioned 11 and 19, but for COD I’m torn between 10 and 22ac. Both are pretty crafty, but I think we’ll have Joanna:

22ac: “Joanna, goody-goody, tucked into some milk (7)”

For solutions, parsings and appreciative comments, here’s the original Fifteensquared write-up.

Themes and Haikus

December 31, 2020

The point of this annual exercise has become obscure, to me at least, but as promised here is the list of Tuesday crossword themes for the past year. This time it’s incomplete, owing no doubt to an unfortunate episode of ischaemic addlement, so my apologies for that. Won’t happen again – lordy, I hope not anyway. As in previous years the main takeaways are that there’s loads of variety; low is far more common than high brow, and Radian is a real mainstay when it comes to thematic puzzles.

01 High Fidelity – Hob
02 Sharks – Crosophile
03 George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” – Hieroglyph
04 In Vino Veritas – Radian
05 James Bond – Scorpion
06 Insects – Hieroglyph
07 Astronomy – Alchemi
08 Alfred Hitchcock – Radian
09 Cops and robbers – Vigo
10 Climate change – Radian
11 Pace – Radian
12 [Seasonal Nina] Crosophile
13 Business and Pleasure – Radian
14 Earthquake drill – Phi
15 Towns on the river Severn – Phi
16 Massacre of Glencoe – Tees
17 Rain – Vigo
18 Edward Lear (in limerick form) – Morph
19 David Bowie – Knut
20 Franks – Alchemi
21 Ronnie Corbett – Eimi
22 England cricketers – Scorpion
23 Support – Hob
24 Modes of expression – Radian
25 Cilla Black – Raich
26 Composers – Hieroglyph
27 Indie record labels – Scorpion
28 Chess – Hieroglyph
29 Foxes – Hob
30 “On The Twentieth Century” (musical) – Phi
31 Prince (late musician) – Eimi
32 Victoria Wood – Lohengrin
33 “First Amongst Equals” – Radian
34 Erik Satie – Hob
35 Spandau Ballet – Anax
36 Money – Radian
37 Windows 10 Ringtones – Vigo
38 The Size of Wales – Scorpion
39 Novel Genres – Hob
40 1966 World Cup – Jambazi
41 Ray Henderson songs – Phi
42 Sunderland AFC – Hoskins
43 Sherlock Holmes – Radian
44 Fruit – Hieroglyph
45 The Old Woman Who Swallowed A … : Kairos
46 Advent – Hob
47 The Great Fire of London – Hob
48 Horses – Punk
49 Utopia – Radian
50 Scott Pilgrim – Math

And now for the Haiku Competition. I’ve been wrong footed, having forgotten that the sun sinks below the yardarm a lot earlier in Mogwash than it does at Batarde Towers, so there’s a chance that the cat is already out of the bag. Anyway, it will surprise nobody to find that our celebrity judge was none other than Scarlet Blue herself (cruelly omitted from the New Year’s Honours List once again), and to discover the result of her deliberations you can click here. The lucky winner should get in touch in the usual way (whatever that is), and we’ll see what’s to be done about this prize.

And finally, may I bid good riddance to 2020 and wish you all a vastly improved 2021?  Happy New Year, everybody.

i Cryptic Crossword 3086 Math

December 29, 2020

Yoohoo! It’s me again, and no longer self-insulating. I have the run of Batarde Towers and environs, but will be sticking with the Plague Turret as my operational base because … jacuzzi. Celebrated my freedom yesterday by taking myself off for a walk to Hurling Hill to have a look at the Trebuchet. It stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking Aunt Sally’s Cottage (in ruins): I always wanted to have a go but unfortunately all the ammo’s down there. As Aunt Scarlet says, it’s small wonder that the locals have been referring to the family as the Silly Batardes for generations.

And so to the crossword, and then we can do the fun bit. Math has presented us with a theme of Phi-ish obscurity, so that’s safely ignored, then. For details, you’ll find a link in the comments on the original Fifteensquared blog from October 2016 which may well be fascinating. Mr B says that fish boosts brain function, so perhaps all those codfanglers have done some good ‘cos I found this trivially straightforward; not unentertaining though, despite a few sigh inducing clichés. All told a bit heavy on anagrams and elementary wordplay, but I liked 5 and 13d and 22ac well enough. 8d is Clue Of the Day mostly on grounds of being one of those that you’d think would’ve been done before, but if so I can’t remember it:

“Drifting off, flat fish has raised tail section (9)”

Competition Time! There might even be an honest to goodness real-world prize, and a celebrity judge. All you have to do is comment in the form of a haiku (you can bang on prosaically afterwards of course). For the rules, see Google, or check out this little number:

Five, seven and five
Syllables; three lines and that’s
A haiku, innit?

The winner will be announced when Mr B finally gets around to posting his list of 2020 Tuesday themes, so probably New Year’s Eve. I’m expecting great things of you, folks.

Charmaine xx

As hinted last week I have a house guest and you have a guest blogger. Those of you who have put up with my witterings for a long time will perhaps remember my cousin Scarlet’s niece. Space does not permit me to explain what has transpired ‘twixt then and now, but it’s a tale of modern slavery, incarceration and malnutrition. For more details you’ll have to sift through Scarlet’s blog, and if cryptic is your thing you’ll just love Wonky Words, trust me. Anyway, I’ve bunged said cousin’s niece in the Plague Turret for the statutory period of quarantine, and with some misgivings handed the blog over to her. So, without further ado, it’s Charmaine.

Hellooo lovely crossword people! Remember me? Mr Bustard has asked me to do the honours today, but he reminded me that you’re a classy lot so I’d have to write it proper. “Fret not, aged relation” I said, “I’ll grammar it good, y’get me”? Tell you what, it’s well swish here at Batarde Towers, and the food is well lush. Not a codfangler in sight. What with me being in turpentine and all dinner is sent up by dumb waiter – his name is Scallion and he really isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, poor lad. Not like Mr Onions, who is now in Costa Rica, Interpol reckons. Whoops … I’m going off on a t. Onwards, to the puzzle.

This one comes from everybody’s favourite outsourcing company, Radian, and on this form I reckon they deserve one of those government PPE contracts. Clever stuff. There’s an air of idealistic unreality about it, and for a full explanation of the theme, solutions and just a measly three comments, you should have a look at this old blog by Bertandjoyce. What to say? I’m giving this a difficulty rating of medium-gnarly; there’s loads of variety, a comprehensive theme, no quibbles or grid oddities and yadda yadda yadda. It’s always the same with this setter, who is Mr Reliable. My margins are bristling with ticks, don’t know about yours. 1, 9, 14, 16 and 17 were all particularly wicked in my opinion, but what do you think? Come on folks, let’s show that Fifteensquared lot what a comments section should look like! There are two homophones today, and 13 is a right toe-curler. 23 however, is my clue of the day:

“Leaves end and start of hole, say (5,3)”

Okey dokey, that was fun. Next week it’ll be the annual theme report, something about siege engines, and a competition! Wot larks, eh? 🙂

i Cryptic Crossword 3075 Punk

December 15, 2020

Punk / Paul / John Halpern has been on the scene for a long time, and in fact this has been his silver jubilee year as far as published crosswords go. In celebration of this, here is the first clue from the first ever Paul, back in 1995:

“Name sewn into footballers’ underwear (8)”

A case of starting as you mean to go on, just like the first clue today. One has to admire his consistency. Of course he does come in for some flak for the schoolboy humour, but today’s puzzle is pretty mild. It does have a strong whiff of the stables about it though: whether that amounts to a theme is moot, but there’s plenty of horsing around.

So what did I like, and what did I not? Everything and nothing, respectively. A breezy sort of crossword, neither trivially straightforward nor annoyingly refractory, with plenty of variety and a few amusing surprises. Near enough ideal for my tastes, unless the object of the exercise is to kill either a lot of time, or very little of it. Since it’s panto season, I’ve decided that it’s time for some audience participation, and therefore in addition to your nominations for COD (I have far too many runners up to mention) I am soliciting equine puns, please. They don’t have to be any good, and chestnuts are welcome. Points are on offer, and what do points mean?

Drum roll …. the Clue of the Day is … 4d:

“Old war horse’s place to claim local prize (6)”

Here’s the Fifteensquared link for solutions and whatnot. The comments section is very sparse, but we can do better can’t we girls and boys? Oh, yes we can!

Another Tuesday; another Hob. Last week’s having been uncharacteristically gentle, it stood to reason that this one would be anything but, and despite a racing start so it proved. There’s a nicely executed theme and Nina to admire, and without the latter I suspect I’d have struggled to mop up the south east corner, especially the president’s birthplace. Well, plenty of water under the bridge since September 2016 when the puzzle first appeared – on a Monday, if you can believe it. Mind you, it did mark a significant 350th anniversary. Click here for an excellent, colour coded write-up by Flashling, in which the many subtleties of this crossword are teased out.

I seem to have used up a week’s worth of ticks today, and it would be tiresome to go through all the clues which caught my eye. 22d is worth a mention for what appears at first glance to be a blunder, but really isn’t, and there’s some cunning thematic material in 10 and the mind-boggling 14. Quite obscure, that one, but the Pye Corner business makes it entirely forgiveable. Gimmicks aside, Hob seems to have ticked off pretty much every common variety of wordplay plus a few rare ones, leaving me with a COD “shortlist” which isn’t. However, there can only be one, and for some reason it’s 21d which appealed in particular. It’s quintessentially Hobbish:

“Wise broadcast by satellite supporting local therapist (6)”

Talking of which, unless I’ve missed something it looks like we’re smut-free this time. This can only be a good thing since some solvers are genuinely put off by that sort of thing, and it seems to me that we’re now getting a more mature Hob in the i, whose work is truly top drawer and can be appreciated by everybody. Bravo.

Bah. Long term readers will recall my distress last year when my excellent newsagents, Mr and Mrs Pure Evil retired. It’s only happened again, hasn’t it, just when I’d found the perfect replacement? The search for the ideal paper shop resumes.

Now then, Hob, whom I described as an enfant terrible the other day. On today’s showing it’s more a matter of a teensy bit cheeky, which is all to the good, and he’s still a very clever boy. That there is an appropriate Nina will surprise nobody given that delightful grid, and solvers can amuse themselves by chopping the puzzle into quarters simply by deleting four cells. Whilst in theory this is rather a grave defect I have to admit that I’ve only just noticed it, so Hob must’ve got the balance about right.

Is it just me, or was this a bit of a breeze? Quite a few clues appear to have been written to amuse rather than to challenge – 3 and 23 for instance, and there are some very gentle little dollies just asking to be whacked over the pavilion for six, like 5 and 14. Yes, there are thorny bits, but there should be no shortage of crossers to help out towards the end. Two words stick out as being not of the common herd at 13 and 20, both of which may be deduced with confidence from the wordplay, but not necessarily with ease. Heartening to get a word from the world of mathematics for once, incidentally. It’s not really my world, but one often hears complaints that cryptic crosswords are weighted heavily towards the arts, and you don’t have to be C P Snow to see that there’s a good deal of truth in that.

Snark was in evidence amongst the commentariat at Fifteensquared exactly five years ago, along with nanoquibbles, follicular bifurcation and angel counting. Well, not all that much, but as noted on previous occasions it does seem a bit beside the point with compilers like Hob whose modus operandi is to stretch the rules in the interest of providing entertainment. I hope we can avoid a scholarly critique of the Franglais, at least, much as it might amuse the ghost of Miles Kington. My COD is not especially funny, but it’s a good example of Hob conjuring up something unusual instead of settling for an easily constructed clue.

15d: “Scented candle in this, as my old romantic affair starts over (8)”

Not one of those hitting the ground running days this time: my first one in was the funny tuber at 13ac. When that sort of thing turns up early on there’ll generally be more weirdness to follow, but no, not really. There’s 28ac, which really is a word but only if your dictionary is compiled on historical principles and takes up a couple of yards of shelf space, and that’s about it for eyebrow-raisers. In the end it wasn’t much of a struggle after all, and whilst I wouldn’t say it’s the most fun I’ve had hunched over a clipboard in an armchair for a month of Sundays, it was an entertaining enough puzzle and the theme is something a bit different.

Word association time. If I say “George”, what do you immediately think? “The Third”; “and Dragon”, “Formby” perhaps? Not 8d I’ll warrant, which might be a good thing, and at any rate it got a snort. Surfaces are by and large laudable, which partly excuses what to my mind was rather too generous a helping of anagrams. Mustn’t grumble though, and in truth there’s very little to complain of except for a slightly pedestrian feel. That might be just in contrast to yesterday’s. Does this mean that I’m stumped for a COD? Oh no: 18ac will do very nicely, thank you:

“Maybe picture how Tartar becomes sailor! (8,3)”

For once I have no objection to the exclamation mark. 3d was rather fun too, incidentally, especially given the theme. Bertandjoyce did the Fifteensquared blogging honours back in August 2016 so it’s a comprehensive job, and there’s an apology from Kairos. Should bally well think so too.