By my reckoning we can expect an editor’s special by Eimi twice a year on average, but he’s left it a bit late because this is his first appearance of 2019. It’s a pity we don’t see more of him, but of course he’s a busy man. Today’s example is characteristically perky, with some impish clue writing and a theme concerning 13acs.

Yesterday Cornick mused about Poins’ definition strategy, suspecting that he hunts out the most obscure ones from Chambers. So … anyone familiar with that little violin? This is surely pure devilment, and whilst I don’t mind the solver on the Clapham omnibus might be rather put out to find a fair bit of dictionary work in their weekday puzzle. 10 and 12ac, 19d and the spelling of 21ac all needed checking in my case, along with the mini-fiddle. Furthermore, 27ac is clearly archaic. For all that it’s not an especially difficult crossword, but it kept me amused and on my toes.

Special mentions today for 3, 4 and 14d, with the COD prize going to 11ac on account of the sheer cheek of it:

“One more American – him, obviously (7)”

This puzzle dates back to August 2015, when it appears that the Indy’s crossword website was a shambles. I have nothing whatever to say about that. Click here for the Fifteensquared blog.

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This is a reprinted Saturday prize puzzle from July 2015, so if it’s a little trickier than we’ve come to expect from Radian that’s understandable. There’s a theme and it’s near enough ubiquitous: well done if you spotted it because I did not. For an explanation along with all the solutions and parsings click here and you’ll be whisked away to Bertandjoyce’s impeccable Fifteensquared write-up.

In his blog Anax talks about the concept of balance in crosswords, by which he means the avoidance of hot spots where the solver can bogged down by intractable clues. Some setters are good at avoiding these situations, others less so, and ordinarily I’d say that Radian is amongst the best. However, the SW extremity caused me a good deal of trouble today, with 20, 22d and 24 all being pretty thorny. You’ll search the current edition of Chambers in vain for a proper explanation of 22d, which is why although I was reasonably sure of the required entry I cavilled for a long time before writing it in.

On the plus side there’s plenty of variety, a high standard of workmanship and one has to applaud the theme. The first three down clues all pleased me for various reasons, and of those 1d stands out as my clue of the day:

“Can Noel put up inspiring names for ex-Liverpool player? (4,6)”

A peculiar crossword with a humdinger of a phantom theme. Did you spot it? I noted a couple of the components but failed to excavate the majority of them until prompted to try harder by George’s comment on the July 2015 Fifteensquared blog. A top notch example of thematic grid filling in my opinion, which justifies the presence of a few rather uncommon entries.

As for the clues, that’s where the peculiarity comes in because they run the gamut between trivially straightforward and downright intractable. I do think that Hieroglyph might have taken it a bit easier with 10ac, for instance, which was my last one in after a good deal of mental contortionism. Some disciples of Ximenes will not be best pleased by 11ac and 14d; and the spelling of 6d is just asking for trouble. All the same, I’m inclined to be indulgent under the circumstances, and 14d made me smile – eventually. 15d and 29ac get an appreciative thumbs up and my clue of the day is 12ac:

“Writer cryptically using black and white characters (8)”

i Cryptic Crossword 2686 Punk

September 17, 2019

All hail the master. What struck me about this crossword with its extensive latent theme was that it’s not especially difficult but crammed with inventive and often humourous material. Punk always seems to give us exceptional entertainment value for our money.

This setter usually gets a bit of flak for ribaldry, but the thing is he does it so well. In this case he only strikes the one bum note, as it were, and I hardly think it’s going to frighten the horses. Everything works perfectly as far as I can see, and there’s a trio of clues (16, 17/24, and 21d) where the wordplay is so spot on that you’d think that they’d be canonical. If so I don’t recall seeing them before. Picking a clue of the day from this fine field of runners and riders is a bit pointless really, and alternative nominations are encouraged. 7/2 wins, but it was a multi-way photo finish:

“Riders admitting their typical stature is pants (6,6)”

The June 2015 Fifteensquared stewards’ enquiry was supplied by Flashling, who has completely ruined my fun by ticking off most of the puns I was hoping to inflict on you. Recommended!

i Cryptic Crossword 2680 Tees

September 10, 2019

There are times when coming up with a suitable picture link is tricky; others when it’s a no-brainer.

Tees enjoys a permanent place on my list of favoured compilers because his straight crosswords always provide a worthwhile challenge, but his appearances in the Tueday thematic slot are infrequent. When he does turn up on my watch we’re generally in for something a bit odd, and that’s certainly the case today. “Slightly quirky” according to Duncan in his June 2015 Fifteensquared blog entry; downright whimsical if you ask me.

So, how did everybody get on? I did pretty well with the first run through, and having 2, 20, 22 and 25 gave me enough to cotton on to the long entry. Not so much a case of solving the gateway clue as vaulting over the wall and opening it from the inside. 12 and 19 followed in short order, leaving a few intractable ones to mop up, viz 7, 8, 22 and 23. 8 strikes me as truly obscure unless you’re a botanist, but the others left me feeling rather dim for not spotting them before – which is as it should be. Thank you Tees: that was enjoyable and different. Honourable mentions for 17d and 21ac, and I’m going for 4d as my clue of the day:

“Instrument puts stateside force on northbound journey (6)”

Scorpion is on particularly slippery and venomous form today. Invariably this setter’s puzzles-with-extras are tours de force, and this one is no exception. Therefore, if you’re left thinking that the theme is a bit thin (as was I), keep looking.

On my subjective scale of difficulty this crossword scores a “cor blimey”, or about eight out of ten – high for Scorpion. It is very light on anagrams, as observed by RatkojaRiku in his December 2014 Fifteensquared write-up, and there’s precious little in the way of low hanging fruit for the plucking. Solving was quite a long winded business, but in the end everything works nicely given enough lateral thinking. I checked the chemist and the raspberry just to make sure, but there was no need for dictionary trawling or wordfinders – which is as it should be. This is one of those occasions when there are so many good clues to choose from that nominations of personal favourites are encouraged; I shall single out three for special praise – 19 and 24 down – although the definition of the former is a bit of a chestnut, admittedly – and 16ac which is my COD:

“Dead, lying in state, heading for burial quickly perhaps (6)”

I am at something of a loss today, because if there is a theme or Nina in this crossword it doesn’t amount to much. There seems to be a fair bit of weighing and measuring going on, but Radian seldom leaves us in any doubt. Comments invited. Nobody came up with anything very significant at Fifteensquared when the puzzle came out for the first time in June 2015.

Never mind: it’s a rare opportunity to enjoy Radian’s setting without having to worry about a load of jiggery-pokery. As usual it’s a very consistent puzzle with no especially intractable areas, good surfaces and plenty of variety. I’d call it medium-easy, and a good one for less experienced solvers: the only things which struck me as quibbleworthy were the enumeration of 2, the abbreviation in 19, and a homophone which received a “not really!” in the margin, at 27. Hence the “some might say”, no doubt. Appreciative ticks for both the long down lights and 9, but my COD is 6d which Bertandjoyce described as “surprisingly obvious”. Fair comment, but it’s an elegant piece of work.

“We might shed mass losing it (6)”

theme after my own heart today. Crosophile is not a fan apparently, but I most certainly am and therefore spotted it early on. Once 19ac was in it was either going to be that or Grange Hill. If it passed you by you’re in good company with Bertandjoyce, but the explanation can be found at comment no. 9 under the Fifteensquared write-up from April 2015.

In the past I have harrumphed at Crosophile for including some very obscure vocabulary, but the only word which might be considered recondite this time is 2d, and the clue is clear enough not to infringe Arachne’s Law. There are some tricky constructions though, so it’s a pretty worthwhile workout. My last one in was 14d, which is rather devilish. Plenty of variety, from the long anagram to the cleverly nested 1ac, and no shortage of ticks either. 5ac, 8, 13d and 14 all seem worthy of an honourable mention, with the aforementioned 1ac winning the COD trophy:

“Little creatures like snuggling mum and love to be back in the heart of it all (7)”

Donk last week and now Hob, so that’s the two enfants terrible of the i crossword accounted for in quick succession. There’s some puerile smut and smart alecky clue writing as we’ve come to expect, and a rather nice latent theme. Bertandjoyce’s April 2015 Fifteensquared blog entry and the comments will explain what’s going on if it’s not your thing – just for once I was in my element with this one and spotted what’s going on in the grid as well as in the clues.

All told, solving this puzzle was a lot of fun, and no outside assistance was required which is always a good thing. The folk-jazz band is something you’ll either know or you won’t, but nothing else strikes me as particularly out of the way. Much of the discussion on the other side concerns 8d and 16ac, neither of which bothers me much but it’ll be interesting to see what others think. Honourable mentions for 10, 6, 14, 16 and lil ol’ Rhode Island yet again. I’m tempted to pick 16ac as COD just for the sake of being controversial, but instead my choice is 3d:

“Put fork into fish sample (3,3)”

Having polished this off in short order (by Batarde standards, that is) I set down my pen with the strong feeling that a great deal had gone over my head. The nature of the theme is clear enough, but the grid contains some rather interesting and unusual words which have to be there for a reason, surely? If anybody else is wondering what’s going on with the town in Co. Tipperary, the cycling competition, the yachting class, the singing sisters and PT Barnum, Bertandjoyce’s Fifteensquared blog is recommended. Back in April 2015 this puzzle marked a significant anniversary.

Alchemi’s crosswords always have plenty of variety and entertainment value whilst remaining accessible, so the solving process was brisk and enjoyable. I was sidetracked briefly trying to come up with a four-letter descriptor of Boris and Nigel, but that’s my problem, not the setter’s. All is fair and above board as far as I can see, and the clue writing is of characteristically high quality throughout. My COD is the chucklesome 16d:

“It might be found on Highway 101 (4)”