Today’s crossword is from the big boss, and takes the form of a tribute to a famously genial gentleman who had died a couple of weeks before the original publication in April 2016.

Eimi’s style is quite distinctive, and there’s generally a bias towards entertainment rather than bamboozlement. It was quite a surprise, therefore, to find a wild goat and some Malay bread in there, both of which are pretty deplorable words, if straightforwardly clued. 7d is another oddity – anybody would think that the theme was forcing some strange vocabulary choices. At least the footballer turned out to be one of the half dozen or so I’m aware of, so that potential source of disgruntlement turned out to be okay after all. What really isn’t on is18ac – the subject of much discussion and a mea culpa from the setter at Fifteensquared. This should not have been re-published without correction.

Fortunately there were plenty of compensations, because the clues had all received an application of Eimi’s special polish. There are some lustrous surfaces indeed: 2, 16 and 25 for instance are all quite exemplary. Best of all in my opinion was 27ac, which is simplicity itself but also jolly clever:

“For every French artist, repeatedly taking in capitals of Nigeria and Ghana, that’s always attractive (9,6)”

We know by now what to expect from Alchemi: nicely polished crosswords with a good variety of clues, and a difficulty level sufficient to keep things interesting without risking a cerebral haemorrhage. Today’s themed puzzle answers that description to a T, and there’s a pleasing twist with some of the 22d appearing as wordplay rather than solutions.

Quibbles are rare with this setter, but here we go: the definition for 16ac is supported by Chambers of course, but ferrous metallurgists could be forgiven for losing their temper. Mind you, it’s come up before so forewarned is forearmed. Otherwise … nope, it all seems fine and dandy to me. We have a couple of odd words in the NE corner and a slightly dubious plural cheese, none of which bothered me much. Why is 17d hyphenated but not 27ac, you may well ask. Dunno. Anyway, on to the standouts. I liked 7, 15 and 29 in particular, but those theme-as-wordplay clues really tickled me. Plaudits therefore for 11, 19 and 28, of which the latter is my COD:

“Anger smelly one of the 22 (7)”

All good, inventive stuff, then. Here’s the April 2016 Fifteensquared blog, where blogger and commentariat were similarly impressed.

Hard to believe, but it’s been nearly four and a half years since the subject of today’s theme died, and Knut’s tribute appeared a week later. Let’s just say that this is not my specialist subject, and I confess to having been mystified by the hysterical weeping, wailing and hullabaloo at the time. This placed me at something of a disadvantage this morning, but I managed to dredge up the relevant not-so-general knowledge. I concur with Flashling’s opinion, expressed in his Fifteensquared write-up, that this puzzle isn’t really soluble without it.

Anyway, it’s a perky one, this – or infuriating according to your taste. The clues range from corny write-ins like 11ac to cor blimey: I was happy enough with 22ac, but 23d, anybody? Sheesh. The two thespians are reasonably famous / infamous, but you’d have to be of a certain age to remember the cabaret singer, surely? Interestingly (or not), 29d turns out to be a registered trademark, something of which I’d usually disapprove in a crossword, but the penny drop moment was rather satisfying. Is it a fair clue? Not so sure about that. There are quite a few more quibbles, but you get the idea: Knut is one of the exuberant setters. High points for me included the cellist, naughty Kate, and this one which is my COD:

31ac “Refugees embrace Sharon, returning after university (9)”

All told I did enjoy solving this puzzle, but chances are that mileages are going to vary considerably today.

To the other bloggers: are you block editor ready? I’m dreading it. 🙂

Once upon a time composing clues as a series of rhyming couplets was a popular gimmick, but it seems to have gone out of fashion. What we have today is an upgrade on that old idea, and may well be unprecedented – at any rate it’s a bravura display by Morph and deserves a standing ovation.

Of course, it’s all very well devising a fiendishly clever device linked to a theme, but if it requires a dodgy grid, excessive obscurity and wobbly clues the setter would rightly be accused of self indulgence. I hope there’ll be no bleating today, because Morph is not guilty on all charges – in fact the crossword is several notches easier than his usual standard. It always impresses me when a compiler is generous in this way. Putting this together must have involved a great deal of work … demolishing it didn’t take long.

No complaints at all from me. Unsurprisingly the across clues take some liberties with the usual forms but they’re all properly cryptic, work as they should, and there are some gems. The downs are unimpeachable. Singling out a clue of the day seems rather daft under the circumstances, so I shall simply pick a silly one:

16d: “Kebab may have this one dominating Middle East (7)”

Alternative nominations are encouraged as usual, as are any 27ac you might wish to share.

Rare unanimity at Fifteensquared exactly six years ago: please do visit and check out comment 7. Happy 208th birthday to the thematic gentleman.

What’s worse than raining cats and dogs? Hailing taxi cabs. Ahem. One generally makes an attempt to be a bit cryptic about the nature of the theme, but this crossword is so thoroughly saturated I think it’s safe to assume that everyone spotted it.

This is the second themed Vigo to (re)appear in the i, and once again you have to admire the way she’s combined an excellent grid fill and a smashing set of clues, without any sign of showing off for the sake of it. Seemingly entertainment value is the top priority for this setter, and we can all applaud that, can’t we? In terms of difficulty it’s pretty mild stuff, but the entertaining clue surfaces keep everything fresh. Solvers burdened with a delicate sensibility might be bothered by some of these, but I hope the naked milliner in a mudbath amused everybody? Vigo is one of the very select group of compilers who do surrealism well. Favourites? Quite a few, including the aforementioned milliner, the tenor fancier and the cobblers, but you all know where this is going, don’t you? Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the clue of the day competition is, of course, 10ac:

“Endless excrement and wee – start of glamorous job of being mother (7)”

RatkojaRiku’s February 2016 Fifteensquared write-up is here.

We haven’t seen nearly enough of Tees for my liking just lately, so his return is very welcome. Was it just me, or was this his gentlest puzzle ever? There’s a rather restrained theme, a not especially well known Californian city and a historical personage who doesn’t appear in my biographical encyclopedia, but it was all eminently solvable from the clues alone.

I can’t see anything to complain of at all, not that it’s likely with such a diligent setter, and there’s a good handful of noteworthy clues including 13 and 28ac and 7d – any of which would do nicely for a COD. 10ac wins by a nose:

“Brave daughter giving sportsman hug made advances (10)”

The December 2015 Fifteensquared blog entry was supplied by mc_rapper67, and jolly good it is too. Nice to see a splash of colour.

Today’s theme is words Americans can’t pronounce. No, sorry, that was gratuitous – it’s this, and full marks to Phi for geographical accuracy and symmetry. Sons and daughters of Albion won’t have had much trouble with those thematic entries, but poor Pierre did when the Fifteensquared blog fell to him back in December 2015.

The Big Red Book came out towards the end to check the alternative spelling of 7d, and to trawl for 4d. Really, that word has no business appearing in a British daily blocked puzzle, and it doesn’t help that when it appears as a headword, it’s a pineapple. That deserves a raspberry. However, everything else was pretty straightforward and enjoyable enough, by and large. I didn’t much care for the split entry at 8/24 (11/22 was rather natty, however); to my way of thinking 10 is closer to “a bit rubbish” than “dreadful”, but what the hey. Two clues caught my eye in particular, 14 and 23ac: the temptation is to award the COD trophy to the four letter one just to surprise everybody, but no, it’s 14:

“Nothing found in location of a dip or severe descent (6)”

Again? Sigh. In all fairness this struck me as one of the best Phis in yonks, and the nearest thing to a good, plain crossword I can remember from this setter. It’s not that, of course (click here for an explanation), but the theme didn’t get in the way at all and the feel was pleasantly light and breezy.

Initial reaction: “oh gawd – look at all those four letter words”. No need to worry though because none of them were Phi specials – in fact they were all pretty good. Solving was a matter of straight through in order with minimal backtracking, and my feeling was that this puzzle would have sat well on a Monday, the theme being so unobtrusive. As we have come to expect there were quite a few subtractions – a cluing tactic which can bog proceedings down when used to excess – but I suppose by now we’re used to that and nothing seemed too strained, although 1d did get a Paddington stare. Ordinarily use of American variants is a major bugbear of mine, but I’m not too bothered by 4d which pretty much spells the answer out. The three long anagrams are all quite nice, and provide a generous toehold for solvers wanting to get plenty of checkers in early on. Plaudits for 12 and 16ac; the clue of the day rosette goes to 14d:

“Trainer finally ready with the fluid – to do this? (9)”

Here’s the Fifteensquared write-up from February 2016 – congrats to Cookie for tumbling to the theme.

Today, as so often, I have the feeling that I’m missing something. Clearly there is a theme in this crossword referring to 17acs, but it also seems to involve work, so in my end-of-year round up this puzzle will be described as “Business and Pleasure”.

There are many things to distract us at the moment, and attempting to solve this crossword with the Today programme on in the background was probably a mistake. It was really quite tricky in my estimation, and certainly one of Radian’s tougher offerings. Everything appears to be fair enough though, and the only uncommon word is carefully spelt out for us at 20d. Some definitions are decidedly sneaky, however. Several commenters at Fifteensquared back in February 2016 came a cropper on 14ac: this, gentle reader, is why crosswords should be completed in ink. If you’re not sure, don’t write it in!

It seems to me that anybody who has ever attempted to write a clue would be pretty chuffed to have come up with 28ac, and by rights it ought to be the COD. It certainly deserves to be acknowledged, but it’s just pipped at the post by 9d:

“Feature of cryptic game? An ingenue tackles it (6,7)”.

A hard frost and bright sunshine this morning, an appropriate accompaniment to the unusual Nina in this crossword. I spotted the top and bottom rows of course, but would have remained mystified without Bertandjoyce’s help: click here for the February 2016 Fifteensquared write up.

When Crosophile’s puzzles started to appear in the i they were often a bit peculiar, with some abstruse vocabulary and clue constructions more suitable for a barred crossword. No such oddities here, and most solvers will have taken this one in their stride with no difficulty I should think. Lots of anagrams and simple cryptic grammar today, with no unfamiliar words … well, not quite. 14ac got a “bleugh” in the margin, and one can imagine it cropping up in third rate Victorian doggerel but not, one fervently hopes, in everyday parlance. The workmanship is just fine throughout, and there are a few eye-catchers: 10 and 27ac are pleasing for instance, and 18d is prime clue of the day material:

“A ‘new’ alternative that’s recycled, and not at all resounding (8)”

My best wishes to one and all of course, and if anybody is climbing the walls for want of collaborative fiction, there have been surprising developments at A Write Panic. Ms Scarlet tells me that she has “something silly” up her sleeve for today, so maybe worth a look.