When this puzzle first appeared in May 2016 it prompted a good deal of football related discussion over at Fifteensquared. Amusingly enough it turned out that everyone was on a wild goose chase, and that the Nina was merely concerned with stripes. No sport, then, and a pretty broad spread of vocabulary ought to make this quite a Topsy-friendly sort of crossword I’d like to think – but there’s the little matter of that single entendre at 20d. A real “steady on, old chap” sort of clue, but I must admit to having been amused by the cheek of it.

Lots of ticks in the margin, but they’re small, neat ones, signalling approval for nice workmanship rather than wild applause for cruciverbal pyrotechnics. This is no bad thing, and the standard is consistently high throughout making for a thoroughly enjoyable solving experience. 15 and 22 were familiar, but I suspect they would both be prime candidates for grumbling, were it not for the crystal clear constructions. A few shout outs: 10, 12, 14 and 28 all went down very nicely; clue of the day is the funniest – no, not that one, it’s 17ac.

“Permanently writes where Dorothy wasn’t any more (4)”

Firstly, our esteemed Saturday blogger Cornick, otherwise known as Maize, tells me that he has another puzzle in the Independent today. I haven’t looked at it yet, but his track record makes it a safe bet that solvers will be handsomely rewarded for seeking it out.

And so back to April 2016 and Phi. One generally tries to be all arch and cryptic when hinting at a theme, but in this case what’s the point? Congratulations to anyone who was familiar with it, but it seems to me that there’s a certain sort of person who enjoys such things and I ain’t one of them. According to the setter’s comment on the original Fifteensquared blog there are nine thematic entries, and I’m content to take his word for it.

No surprises here: lots of subtractions, a tendency towards excessive convolution, a spot of recondite vocabulary, and very little in the way of humour. It’s all fair and above board and no doubt nicely done by its own lights, but I was not especially entertained. Rather than reel off a list of particularly juicy clues – they’re mostly pretty good if you like the style – it’s straight to the COD, which I rather disliked. It is, however, rather noteworthy in an “oh, for goodness’ sake” sort of way, if you ignore the crosswordese:

11ac: “Prepared state feasts within reason? Not Feasible (9)”

A general theme with a specific Nina today. The latter is something of a hero: regularly the star of our local panto, he’s a genuine national treasure and one of the few entertainers of his generation never to have been of any interest to Operation Yewtree. As for the thematic stuff, there’s quite a lot of it one way and another. In my view Hob has served his customers well this time, giving good measure of entertainment without too much grandstanding.

That said, it wouldn’t be a Hob without some gratuitous and misjudged smut, so jolly well done for 1d, I don’t think. There really is no need, but you won’t get a reputation as an enfant terrible by using “turnip”, will you? Mind you, that’s about it this time (I’m far more indulgent of 8/11), so he seems to be heading in the right direction. By and large cluing is clever and a little on the loose side if the surface will benefit from it: see the hiddens at 1and 23d for instance. In my opinion this strategy pays off, and the puzzle as a whole felt pretty fair and well balanced to me. The grid does look like it’s going to divide up into a wide central band from SW to NE with a couple of little clusters loosely attached on either side, but this did not turn out to be inconvenient or an annoyance.

Quite a few ticks today. Hob has deployed some nice little touches, apparently just for the fun of it, which certainly added to the fun. For instance, I was amused by the combination of 12 and 13ac. It’s gratifying when my efforts to memorise the Teletubbies bear fruit, by the way … they take their place alongside the Muses, Furies, Harpies and so forth. Plaudits therefore for 24, as well as 7, 9, 21ac and several more, with 12ac as my COD because it’s a chestnut roasted to perfection:

“Keen to eat duck? Duck it is then! (5)”

Click here for the April 2016 Fifteensquared write up by John.

A modest, elegantly integrated theme; cross referencing of clues done well, and some interesting words all make for a congenial crossword today – tricky enough to satisfy but not so much that it will frustrate or annoy. Quite a treat all round, so jolly well done, Hieroglyph.

The theme isn’t explicitly stated, but it became clear straight away because anyone who solves regularly will smell a rat when “man” comes up. I’m a little surprised not to be able to recall this subject having been used before. All six relevant items turn up of course, plus a related term, and the abbreviations are put to good use as components. Some of the solutions are uncommon but not obscure words – no dictionary required this time – which adds to the entertainment, and there’s a wide variety of well-written clues with pleasing surfaces. My favourites included 16, 24 and 27ac, any of which would fit the bill for a COD on the average day, but since we don’t see this sort of thing very often the winner is 7d:

“Tumblers emptied, groggy men assess tequilas (8)”

Much talk of sausages in the comments on John’s February 2016 Fifteensquared blog, understandably.

Scorpion’s theme today won’t mean a lot to everybody, but I’ve a feeling that at least three quarters of the idothei blogging team will have been amused. It’s a ghostly one, and it wasn’t until the very end that all became clear. Any advance on eleven?

Scorpion seems to have acquired a reputation as something of a fiendish setter, but in my opinion his puzzles are simply fun. There’s always ample variety, a few unexpected touches and when there’s a theme it tends to be extensive, as is the case here. I was surprised to have quite such an easy ride with the first run through, leaving not a great deal of mopping up at the end, so this is probably one of his gentlest crosswords. As expected, nothing remained unresolved and there was a healthy sprinkling of ticks, largely on account of some nicely turned surfaces. I’ll single out 18ac and 27, but there’s plenty of entertainment to be found and it’s likely that everyone will have different favourites. My clue of the day is a homophone for once – only Spoonerisms are more likely to induce harrumphing, but I think this one is reasonably solid and the surface is glassy smooth:

17d: “Native American and Tibetan perhaps discussing the universe (8)”

This was originally a Saturday prize puzzle, which explains the paucity of comments on Beermagnet’s April 2016 Fifteensquared blog entry.

Cornick should be pleased, this being another example of his favourite form of themed crossword. The potential problem is that solving can become a process of ticking items off a list of candidates, but Hieroglyph has avoided the most obvious of the usual suspects. He’s done a good job: all across lights thematic and a very healthy tally of fourteen 1 downs (sixteen if you count three 17acs, seventeen if you count Burt 2d).

A fairly pleasant, undemanding solve for the most part, this puzzle was marred for me by rather too many clichés and familiar abbreviations. I wouldn’t go as far as Grant Baynham did in his comment on the April 2016 Fifteensquared blog, but he did have a point. That can hardly be blamed on the gimmick this time, and Hieroglyph generally produces reasonably challenging crosswords, so it must have been a conscious decision to go easy on the solver. Never mind. My favourite across clues were 14 and 28, but pickings are a bit scanty amongst the downs … 7 provoked a snort though, and today that’s enough to win the COD rosette:

“Radical Scandinavian (5)”

Raich is seldom seen on a Tuesday, so this is an unexpected pleasure. For my money he’s the top dog on Mondays, and one of the finest compilers of novice-friendly puzzles ever. This one felt straightforward to me, but the quality and polish left little to be desired.

The subject of the theme is not, I fear, my specialist subject, and the subtleties no doubt passed me by. Nice sentiment across the top, anyway. The only thing I didn’t much care for was 5d, on account of my aversion to company names in crosswords. What next … Serco? Spud-U-Like? All the rest was jolly good though: rather in the nature of a series of write-ins, but with uncommonly decent surfaces. The kind of convoluted sneakiness which tends grab my attention for COD selection purposes wasn’t much in evidence today, so I’m going for 28ac which is a concise, quirky clue for a word which doesn’t come up very often:

“”Unlikely local capital (7)”

Solutions, parsing and a sparse sprinkling of comments may be found by following this handy link to the March 2016 Fifteensquared blog entry.

Difficult to put one’s finger on a theme this time, but it seems to me that there’s something going on concerning modes of expression, clarity and its absence and so forth. A couple of years ago we had another Radian puzzle crammed with 1d, for which I supplied an embedded link to a statue of Cicero by way of a hint. Nothing suggests itself today.

Probably more than with any other setter, I know what to expect of Radian on a Tuesday: a well made, entertaining crossword with no worthwhile quibbles and of medium difficulty – and a struggle to find a clue of the day because there’ll be a few candidates. This is pretty much the case today. There’s the customary wide variety of clue types, with a few gentle ones to provide toeholds and some more gnarly examples to add a bit of spice to the end game. Three phrases of foreign origin would ordinarily ring alarm bells, but I think they’re all pretty current, aren’t they? The Hebrew letter ought to be familiar enough to all but the greenest solvers, but 5d is a bit of a classic device which will cause all manner of trouble if you haven’t seen it before. Thumbs up for that. Anyway, no complaints here on grounds of obscurity, but the definition of 4d is rather perplexing – as in “why did he do that”?

Prominent amongst the runners up today are 5, 12 and 20, but on this occasion there was a clear COD even if it was a write-in:

17d: “Old idiot grabs axes, 1 of 1 (8)”

Bertandjoyce were in the chair at Fifteensquared back in April 2016, so we have the usual unimpeachable colour-coded exegesis to consult.

The Cheeky Chappie is back, which will please some and annoy others, no doubt. In a way we have reached peak Hob this time, as he has taken a tired old crossword trope (32ac = 31d) and used it as an excuse to devise a puzzle with as many references to the latter as possible. Add a few assorted bottoms for good measure and the result is scintillatingly irreverent, or tiresomely puerile – take your pick.

It is, of course, very clever stuff, although Kathryn’s Dad was onto something in his comment on the original blog. I got pretty sick of all the 31d business, and as so often has been the case, wished that Hob would calm down, grow up and mellow out. As usual, everything works quite well although there are some severe stretches, as well as one or two flashes of brilliance. 8/24 prompted an “oh, surely not”, but sadly he really was referring to the punctuation Brownshirt, of whose existence we are all supposed to be aware, clearly. Harrumph. 11 and 35ac were pushing their luck too. On the credit side, quite a few good ‘uns, especially some well constructed hiddens. Easily my favourite clue today was 16ac:

“In C major, G string provides comforting 32 (6)”

Click here for chapter and verse on this lively March 2016 crossword, courtesy of Bertandjoyce.

It seems like ages since this setter’s last Tuesday appearance, but in fact it was only February. A welcome return, anyway. This was originally a Saturday prize puzzle and requires a bit of thought, but although it’s crammed to the gunwales with thematic material it ought to be perfectly possible to polish it off without even noticing. Which is nearly what I did, until 23ac prompted an “oh, hang on” moment about three quarters of the way through. It’s not a subject I’ve paid much attention to since the 1980s.

Quite challenging in my opinion, but everything works to my complete satisfaction. This does not mean that I think “job” is much of a definition for 1ac, say – but you have to make allowances. Furthermore, is 11ac a device? More likely a poorly paid underling with a knife, you’d think, but doubtless the Victorians came up with some sort of elaborate contrivance to do the job. As you see, quibbles are a bit thin on the ground today. Plenty of ticks though, and no easy task to pick just one clue of the day. Nominate your own – go on. My shortlist includes 13, 15, 16 and 21, but just to show that I do pay attention to surfaces sometimes my choice is 25ac:

“Sound of trotter caught short tucking into prunes (4-4)”

Back to March 2016, when Simon Harding was on duty at Fifteensquared and made a fine job of explaining everything.