Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

In any crossword, some clues will be solved principally from the definition, some start with inspiration from the word-play and some are spotted from the enumeration plus the crossing letters. There’s no right way or wrong way, in my book.

With this very challenging puzzle quite a lot went in on a hunch, followed by a lot of retrofitting to see if I could make sense of the rest of the clue. The long entry at 2, 1d went in very readily from the definition and the enumeration (although I did have to make a minor change from only to just) – but I could make very little sense of the wordplay. A similar story could be told of quite a few other clues. I’m sorry to say that this did not make for a very satisfying experience, as far as I am concerned, although I did relish the challenge, and I don’t like to be beaten… Although there were a small number of readily accessible clues which allowed a toe-hold to be found, I suspect not a few solvers will have thrown in the towel, to mix my metaphors.

With the exception of OPTIME, there were no other truly obscure words, although some required a bit of checking, WAUL, for example. And I was diverted onto the recipe pages in search of the name of a sauce.

Clue of the day for me had to be one I could actually solve and understand without aid, and which yet offered something to think about, and so 7d it is: “Description of centre for refreezing hydrocarbon (6)”.

Here’s the link. You mabe be glad of it. https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/06/23/independent-9889-by-wiglaf/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Another tour de force from a setter in full command of his craft. Bravo, Serpent!

This crossword has it all. It is a pangram. We have a nina in the top and bottom rows. There are some clues and entries lightly themed around science, connecting to the subject of the nina. And all done without having to resort to some unlikely entries to get everything to fit.

There is plenty of creativity to admire, today. There are amusing definitions, like that for OCTOPUS, for example. We have a subtle homophone in UPTAKE. There is cleverly hidden-in-plain-sight wordplay, such as in the clue for OXEN. And throughout the surface readings are never compromised. There is no obscure vocabulary in the entries; even the two or three components of the thematic clue are well known, even if the science referred to is not readily comprehensible itself. I needed a reference book only once, to check on the synonym for “udder” – something I did sort of know, deep down, strangely.

From among many contenders, my clue of the day is 1ac, if only for its keeping the art of crossword-cluing up-to-date: “What may help Kindle’s method of identifying date (6)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/11/independent-9852-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

All the trade-marks of a puzzle from Hoskins are on display in this enjoyable and entertaining puzzle. We have delightful and plausible surface readings – something I really appreciate in a cryptic clue. We have creativity and invention. We have humour. The latter is not quite as in-your-face as some other offerings we have had presented to us from this setter, but is distinctive enough for the persona of the setter to shine through.

This is not, perhaps, Hoskins at his best. I was a little disappointed with the double-definition for TRAIL, which seems just a tad pedestrian. And I did wonder whether anyone actually refers to the constellation Canis Major as anything other than that. But these are minor quibbles, included, I confess, to prove if only to myself that I am capable of writing something balanced about one of my favourite setters. Otherwise it would be a paean of praise.

From among many contenders, my favourite clue today has to be 11 across. We have a splendid surface reading. We have that creative way with a definition. We have that cheeky humour, with more than a little nod towards the identity-politics debate. “Romeo’s a bloke who prefers using female loos (6,3)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/13/independent-on-sunday-1472-hoskins/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

A nicely accessible puzzle from Poins comes to us this morning. Just as well, as my brain ceases to function once the temperature rises above a certain level. Any more challenging and it might have been just too much for me in this heat (and it’s still only mid-morning as I write this).

This was a pleasing and satisfying solve. I don’t think anyone will find anything to quibble over, as it all seems to parse perfectly, there’s no recondite vocabulary, and the only conceivable unknowns are the novelist and the composer – not that either of them are exactly unheard of, and certainly not in Crosswordland. Is the Labour leader of forty years ago forgotten about these days? Perhaps, but the crossing letters left little room for doubt.Even my nemeses (can one have more than one?) those four-letter entries with the initial letter not crossing, brought me no grief.

Clue of the Day for me is the rather neat 23 across, not least for its good surface reading: “Vigour and style exhibited by the French in Parisian houses (4)”.

Here’s the link should you be in need of it: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/06/03/independent-on-sunday-1475-by-poins/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

Of course, every difficulty rating is an averaging out. Some clues in any puzzle seem a doddle, with other clues in the same puzzle causing problems. Two stars for difficulty is, in this case, an averaging out of one-star for three-quarters of it, and three-star for the NW corner, which seemed to come from a different puzzle.

Most of it I positively rattled through, in true Monday fashion, thinking that I would finish it well before I finished my coffee. Then I came to the last few, mainly in the top left, which had me struggling, causing me to refill my mug before the crossword was done (an entirely normal occurrence, I hasten to add). I struggled to get OBLIGOR, and then to parse it when I did, although I eventually twigged that a big brother, for example, is a perfectly acceptable was of describing an older brother. The spelling of VITTLES I thought was just wrong, rather than a variant, but now I know. And the parsing of the crossing CHURCHILL and LECTERN caused my brow to furrow. “Chill” as “unfriendly” seemed not quite right, and the definition for LECTERN seemed barely cryptic. No-one over at Fifteensquared could shed any further light on it, so I wonder if any of our contributors here can see anything going on.

Elsewhere, the only potential obscurites I noted were “tod” from “fox” and the East German prison which is probably not as well known to Our Younger Solver as it is to those of us old enough to remember when it had a sole, notorious in-mate.

Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable puzzle to start the working week. I commend the setter for avoiding the sexist trope by defining DREAMBOAT in a neutral way. Clue of the Day, though, is the aforementioned 16ac, for its dood surface reading: “Old man in Sudan beaten up in prison (7)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/16/independent-9856-kairos/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Another very challenging puzzle, today, after our brief respite during the two or three days. Wiglaf is another setter I am less than familiar with, and that fact always adds to the challenge, at least for me, as I struggle to tune in. Even so, this took me a good while, more than my typical time, and I did need both dead-tree and electronic assistance, both for checking and for inspiration.

The word-play is impeccable – I had no unresolved queries on completion requiring my attention. Neither is there anything particularly convoluted about any of it, taken as a whole; there are (by my quick reckoning) eight straightforward charades, six insertions and four anagrams (in full or in part, including one of those reverse-anagram things). However there are a number of rather fiendish (that’s a compliment to the setter!) cryptic definitions, or perhaps whimsical definitions as parts of the word-play. Moreover, although none of the vocabulary can be said to be truly obscure, the solver needed to call upon a wide range of knowledge (as has been the case in quite a few puzzles, recently). This included, among other things, film directors and philosophers from fifty years ago, that e is a logarithmic base, a papal name, a kind of boat, Dickens’s pen-name, a collective noun and the capital of a state in south-eastern Europe, which, I sadly suspect we may become more familiar with in the course of events.

To my surprise, given the “sticklebrick” grid, there is no nina. It is, however, a pangram. This certainly helped with my last one in, BOZO. I dread entries like this: four letters, initial letter not crossing, and common letters in the ones that do cross. Realising it must be a pangram the need for a Z jogged my memory of the copy of Dickens’s Sketches by Boz on the dustier shelves of my bookcases.

There is a lot of wit and invention here, which to my mind makes for a great crossword. Honourable mentions go to HALF-INCH, RAVE, and CHARISMA. My favourite today, though is my last-but-one in, 7ac: “Arkwright’s evident lack of surprise (4)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/10/independent-9851-wiglaf/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A setter I am less than familiar with, I thought, on seeing Anglio’s name in the heading, and I wondered how quickly I would be able to tune into the required wavelength, and how well would I fare. And then a glance at the grid made me think that quite likely there would be something or other in the perimeter.

How wrong I was. There is no perimeter nina, but instead we have a pleasing little gimmick in which the two long entries crossing in the centre are clued in similar ways, again referencing centres or middles. I surprised myself by spotting the down one with only three crossing letters, one of them being the V, and then I took a gamble on the across one being something like it.

Elsewhere, this enjoyable crossword included some nice cryptic definitions, for STYLUS and METEOR, for example, and particularly for STAIRS. This sort of creativity and innovation is just what I find enjoyable in a crossword, and so this was a great solve for me. No unusual vocabulary is to be found, and the most recondite references were to a Scottish town and a composer – but neither of those were truly obscure. No reference books seemed necessary, and no trawling of lists or internet searches were called for. Perhaps only unfamiliarity with the setter made this seem somewhat hard in places.

My favourite clue today was the aforementioned 25ac: “Tardis, somehow leaving dimension, succeeded in being Dalek’s nemesis (6)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations, including a contribution fom our setter: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/12/30/independent-9739-anglio/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A pleasing and accessible crossword comes to us for the second day of the Platinum Jubilee festival bank holiday courtesy of Klingsor. Given that the i newspaper uses puzzles recycled from the Independent, and are generally taken from four years ago, there can be no topicality, of course. Those looking for some sort of Jubilee theme will be disappointed. But it made a very enjoyable start to my day, nevertheless.

This took me considerably less time than is typical for me, and on that basis I would have given it one star for difficulty. Neither did I come across any parsing difficulties. However, there were just a few clues which demanded more than the usual general knowledge, so I have bumped it up to two stars. As it happens, both AMBO and “kyrie” were familiar to me, but I acknowledge that this may not be the case for everyone. On the otherhand, the “Art” of ART DECO was someone I didn’t know, and that necessitated my first of two visits to the internet. The second was for AGAR AGAR. This was my last one in. The crossing letters didn’t seem too helpful, but I trusted the clear word-play and the internet confirmed the answer.

Among many impressive clues, my nomination action for Clue of the Day goes to the neatly done 22ac, with its good surface reading and clever anagram: “Composer marks Kirov’s OK year with new composition (6-8)”.

Here is the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/17/independent-9857-klingsor/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Last week’s run of largely challenging crosswords seems to be continuing into this week. This one was very tough, I thought, although it was thoroughly engrossing, and it kept me deeply engaged throughout the length of my solve.

In addition to the ‘crypticness’ of the clues, so to speak, the specialist vocabulary of the themed entries contributed to the difficulty of this fine puzzle. As well as needing a word-finder to discover entries, I had a Wikipedia page open on account of my ignorance of diacritical marks and linguistic terminology. Although I twigged the theme quite early, it wasn’t much help with some of the terms, which were new to me.

Only one was I unable to parse at the end – ITALICS. There is an explanation given on Fifteensquared, but I’m not entirely convinced by it. Likewise the “sound” in the clue for STATION puzzled me, if only a little.

My favourite clue today was 20d, my last in. The helpful crossing letters are what gave it to me, but the clue itself was an amusing one: “Mark at bottom of letter: “Edward has to wear black” (7)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/08/independent-9849-by-radian/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Just the sort of crossword I like. It offered plenty of challenge (a little more than I expected from this setter) but I never felt I was drowning, so to speak, and so there were lots of penny-drop moments as I worked my way through.

I completed this in just a little over my typical time, and was tempted to rate it at three-star, purely in terms of time taken. However, I bumped it up a bit to take account of the fact that I needed some help where my general knowledge was lacking. These were the Greek musician and PLAYAS. This was my last in, and I had to trust the (clear) word-play to work out what I needed to check in the dictionary. The other one which I spent a disproportionate amount of time on was SEEPAGE, where nothing came to mind and I had to resort to crosswordsolver, but that was just my failing, as the clue is fine and the entry is far from obscure.

Lots of ticks and smiles in my margin. I loved OFFCUT and MAGICALLY. TEA BREAKS was very neat, I thought. Clue of the Day for me, though is the delightful homophone (yes, I know, I know) at 3d: “A period of time off to watch Ms Rantzen broadcast (6)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/05/02/independent-9844-eccles/