I was pleased to see Jambazi’s name this morning as he hasn’t appeared since early last year, but as it turned out this puzzle may as well have been compiled with the specific intention of getting right up my nose. For those who don’t know, Jambazi is the alter ego of Tramp in the Guardian, that lawless bearpit where setters are encouraged to ignore all the crossword conventions and cut loose in “libertarian” fashion. Perhaps he forgot that this one was going in the Indy, because it doesn’t half take some liberties. Furthermore, there’s a theme, alas.

“Brilliant”, “tour de force”, “great effort” … click here for a load of gush at Fifteensquared. I’m sure it’s all warranted – no really. Apparently the setter managed to devise two extensively themed puzzles to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary in July 2016, and it would be churlish not to acknowledge that this is going it some. However, a martin ain’t a swallow, and a hero doesn’t have to be a victor unless Hector has been downgraded. Little things like this matter to pettifogging pedants like me, I’m afraid, and there are plenty more. Anybody care to explain to me what on earth is the point of 8ac, by the way? Apparently it’s “outstanding” and refers to a controversial incident in a game of Association football half a century ago – this excusing the absence of a definition. To which I say phooey. Oh, and we have some gratuitous micturition just to round things off. In fairness I have to say that I did finish the crossword unaided and everything turned out to be correct, so my moaning is perhaps more to do with the style than the substance.

I am contractually obliged to select a clue of the day. There is a good deal of cleverness going on, and I’m perfectly capable of appreciating the quality of 9 and 24ac, say. As ever, nominations are very welcome. However, the one which made me smile is a 16ac, but it’s been a while since it put in an appearance:

2d: “Saw state of unfinished cake? (7)”

Your blogger is feeling distinctly second hand this morning, and not having the sort of revitalising beaker on offer at the White House on tap, made rather heavy weather of the crossword. Nonetheless, at least I didn’t think that the theme was about cycling: one has to assume that Fifteensquared was gripped by Tour de France fever back in July 2016. Lots of Terpsichorean stuff, which made me wonder why Scorpion passed on “flamenco” for 5d. He does tend to keep thematic material to one set of clues or the other, so perhaps that’s it.

4d and 25ac are a bit surprising, the latter being well known enough to those of a certain age I suppose, but the former surely has to be the most glaring obscurity we’ve had for quite a while. And there’s the Bublé chap, who has appeared in a crossword before but is otherwise a complete mystery to me. Is he famous? Do tell. Anyway, I have no particular complaints and managed to finish the puzzle in a not completely unreasonable sort of time having enjoyed myself en route. There was much praise on the other side for 16d, probably from the people who were thinking Lance Armstrong, and 10, 16 and 23 among others seemed notably strong, but my favourite was the rather daft 13d:

“Vocal support for magician who performs in church hall? (9)”

A further 21ac in my evolving opinion of Hob. I am coming to the conclusion that, of all the current crop of setters, he’s the one who most resembles Araucaria. Not that there’s much similarity of style, mind, but when it comes to a blithe indifference towards “the rules”, he’s your chap. Sometimes this can irritate and occasionally offend, but it certainly spices the crossword week up when he appears.

There’s a good deal of material in this puzzle which could well be considered unfair, and those of a Ximinean cast of mind probably won’t be best pleased today. To take just the one example, 26ac could hardly be said to be a “style”, surely? Disgruntled solvers are encouraged to ventilate their pet peeves in the comments. There’s also a sprinkling of the sort of thing widely held to be unsuitable for the breakfast table. To get on with Hob you just have to put such considerations to one side, and having done so I must say that it’s all fair and above board by its own lights, and a pretty impressive thematic crossword all told, with a couple of cheeky twists at 12d and 25ac to keep us on our toes. As it turned out the solving process wasn’t especially long-winded; no external help was required, and there was only the one (gratuitously) obscure entry at 22d, for which Hob gets a Bronx cheer from me.

The Dynamic Duo, Bertandjoyce, fielded this one the first time around in July 2016, so the parsings, explanations and whatnot at Fifteensquared are everything you could hope for. Not much from the chorus, however … I wonder why?

What’s that? Clue of the Day? Well, take yer pick, really, but 7ac is rather swish:
“Knife from Switzerland, ultimately made in China (7)”

Bit of a bish today: there is a theme and rather an amusing one at that, but it’s utterly opaque owing to the omission of an essential part of six across clues. Specifically, 8, 9/24, 10, 21, 25 and 28ac should all end in “(about the size of 17)“. Fortunately Bertandjoyce’s June 2016 Fifteensquared write-up includes the original text, so you can work back from that, but really this crossword is unnecessarily baffling as printed.

However, it’s a Scorpion, and therefore a high quality production which can be enjoyed without having the foggiest what’s going on beyond a vague intuition that there’s something geographical afoot. Well, I thought so anyway. Pretty tricky, even by this setter’s standards, and my mind is still a little boggled by 28ac – “drawing” as a reversal indicator? It would have been nice if Scorpion had dropped in to explain his thinking on that one. And how about those bends in 22d? Obvious enough once the penny dropped … eventually. Of the many excellent clues I particularly liked 3, 13 and 27, but my COD is the gateway, 17ac:

“Cardigan’s found in this school, as reported (5)”

i Cryptic Crossword 3003 Vigo

September 22, 2020

Lucky me. Beyond the fact that it’s invariably thematic, the Tuesday crossword in the i is unpredictable, and there’s no knowing whether one will be faced with something fiendish or, as today, a congenial stroll over gentle terrain. This puzzle was a real pleasure, because it’s Vigo – and that means a highly polished production with a good deal of wit, designed to entertain rather than confound.

As for the theme, well I must admit that it didn’t exactly leap out. On the other hand the pangram did, which was just as well in view of my last one in, 9ac. Ordinarily American English doesn’t go down well with me, especially not when it comes to perfectly respectable verbs corrupted with a “z”, but this one is different. Perhaps Pierre wasn’t familiar with the usage across the pond, but the other definition felt pretty solid to me; ditto the retro fairy in 13ac. No complaints, then, and a few smiles along the way. I was struck, as in previous Vigo puzzles, by some particularly elegant bits of clue writing, for instance 2 and 4d, and 28ac. However, you all know what’s going to be the COD, don’t you?

1d: “Boxers possibly step and run about (10)”

Yes, I know, but a good laugh is a mighty good thing, as Herman Melville once said. Just in case anyone else is as theme-blind as me, all is explained by the setter in her comment on the June 2016 Fifteensquared blog.

After yesterday’s bravura display a crossword by Radian is going to look a bit tame. This is rather a pity, since there’s the usual generous entertainment value and an extensive theme to keep us happy, but I suppose Radian is a victim of his own consistency. If a themed puzzle of medium difficulty with plenty of variety and no iffy bits is the order of the day, he’s The Man.

The only obscurity I can see is the salmon in 20d, but it’ll be familiar enough to anyone who has been solving for a while. There are, however, some fairly tricky clue constructions which need picking apart with care, like 19 and 26ac, say. or 18d. The latter is a strong COD candidate, as is the chucklesome 9d, but 2d is striking enough to be the winner:

“Chap corners line in precious metals transport (7)”

Solutions, parsings and not nearly enough comment can be found at Fifteensquared, where it was Midsummer’s Day 2016 when the crossword was first published.

i Cryptic Crossword 2991 Anax

September 8, 2020

This sort of thing – which is to say cryptic crosswords aimed at people who are proficient at solving them – tends to be controversial, and perhaps there’ll be a weeping, wailing and hullaballo over on the other side again. For what it’s worth I’m happy, despite my blissful ignorance of the theme.

This seemed typical of the usual Anax experience: thin pickings at first during the retuning process, followed by a steady succession of realisations once you get on the setter’s wavelength. Fairly difficult, but there’s nothing that can’t be defeated if you stare at it for long enough. Which isn’t to say that there were no surprises, like the “living rock” and Charlie, both of which went in on the wordplay alone. Lots to like, especially 3, 14 and 22 in my opinion but readers are very welcome to nominate alternatives. The COD for me was the exceedingly Anaxy 4ac:

“Daggers are on bag-like thing, and before that I … (3,5)”

The crossword dates back to May 2015, when it went down pretty well with the folks at Fifteensquared.

i Cryptic Crossword 2985 Hob

September 1, 2020

Bonjour. Today’s puzzle is supplied by the enfant terrible of crossword compilation, Hob, whose name is a byword for unconscionable libertarianism and barely disguised filth – or at least that’s my usual caricature of his style. This one is elegant and sophisticated with a distinctly cosmopolitan flavour, and if there’s any ribaldry it’s certainly not going to cause spluttering over the breakfast table. How civilised!

The theme could hardly be more Continental, and left me wanting a croissant. Generally speaking I expect a bit of a struggle with Hob, but perhaps he’s becoming familiar by now – at any rate this one struck me as of middling difficulty at most, and solving was a relaxed and pleasant process, the generous helping of anagrams and a couple of chestnuts (2 and 24d, say) ensuring plenty of toeholds. I was particularly tickled by the inclusion of the Parisian venue (which turns out to have been a haunt of 6d, of course), nicely clued for those of us who had never heard of it. There don’t appear to be any loose ends at all to complain of, and all told it’s a thoroughly satisfying piece of work, thank you Hob. Oh, hang on – isn’t 13ac a comedienne, or am I being a dinosaur? No matter. No list of worthy clues this time because there are plenty, so straight to 5d, my COD:

“Horse has eaten nothing – surely eyes bulge initially, seeing this? (7)”

Here’s the link for John’s May 2016 Fifteensquared blog.

Had you asked me yesterday whether my knowledge of 1ac was sufficient to the task of finishing a themed crossword on the subject, I’d have said “probably not”. However, perhaps in part thanks to an Inquisitor along the same lines a couple of years ago, all the necessary knowledge turned out to be in place after all. This time the clicky-linky-hint takes the form of audio rather than a picture, and if you don’t follow it up you’ll be missing out.

Lohengrin doesn’t show up very often in the i, and going by this puzzle that’s a pity. Although this sort of theme requiring external knowledge runs the risk of causing annoyance, it certainly entertained me, and the tick tally was well above average. I didn’t really understand 20ac properly, but my answer seemed solid enough and the May 2016 Fifteensquared blog confirmed it. No other queries, and plenty of good ‘uns to applaud, especially 13ac and 2, 5 and 21d. My clue of the day is 15ac, despite the zoological inexactitude, chiefly because here, at last, is an ass that we can all get behind:

“Working in jumping event following horse show (2,4,2,2)”

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)”