My general knowledge would be much poorer without crosswords. From today’s I have learnt that a plait can be called a queue, and how to spell the name of that rather nice salad you sometimes get (I doubt I would have given it a double-B had I been asked). I did already know about the thing referred to in the laugh-out-loud clue for BUMBLING, although how I know is quite inexplicable to me.

This was a relatively gentle offering from Morph, which I solved in a little under my typical time. I don’t think there was anything in it which was unfair, or which required particularly specialist knowledge. I did check on both ATROPINE and INTUMESCE, but unnecessarily so, as it happens – a slight lack of confidence on my part. But in both cases the cluing was very clear so I really was checking, rather than searching.

I won’t nominate 2d as Clue of the Day, good as it was. Instead I shall go for the aforementioned 1ac: “Forbidden to put something smelly in the French Hotel salad (9)” for its amusing surface reading.

All the answers and explanations here:

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” exhorts Jesus his disciples, according to Matthew (10:16). Serpents are commonly used as a symbol for cunning, and usually not in a good way; they are presented as devious and even wicked – one has only to think of the serpent in Eden, tempting humans into disobedience. But, while there is little dove-like and gentle to this crossword, I do think Serpent’s wit and cunning is closer to wisdom than it is to slyness.

This was magnificent and a joy throughout. Though challenging, once I got onto Serpent’s wavelength, I was engrossed, and full of admiration for Serpent’s skill. A few days ago there was a little discussion about the tension between a strict application of the letter of the laws of crosswordland, and a more liberal interpretation of their spirit. Well, today one needed one’s wits about one, as the setter steered his way between the two. There was allusiveness and invention in spades: NEUTRON and the crossing TRUANT, being perhaps the best examples. There was clever misdirection, with “ship’s staff” in MASCOT and “doctor” in ANENOMETER – and especially so, I thought, with “dictator” in INTERNING. But throughout, the cluing, once unravelled, was impeccable – and so were the surface readings, every one.

And a pangram and not one but two ninas! I was looking out for a message in the top and bottom lights, and was very entertained when they turned out to be the same word. But, despite being familiar with one of the artist’s more celebrated works, I failed to spot the second nina until I went to the original blog on Fifteensquared from 2016. Quite often a nina or a pangram (nevermind both) force the setter into something awkward, but with the possible exception of 17d, this was not the case today. I have never heard of EXTRA JAM, and I really only got that one with the help of the nina and the hope of a pangram. My only other frown in my margin was caused by the cluing of “dove” by “American lunged”, which didn’t quite work for me.

There are so many surpassing clues that it is hard to pick out just one. In addition to the ones mentioned above, I did like other ESSENCE and QUEST. My nomination for Clue of the Day, however goes to 22ac: “Disheartened would-be sire that’s not covered dam (4)”.

This was a splendid puzzle. It was very challenging, and I did need some e-help to complete it. And it took me quite a while to tune in to the setter’s wavelength. But it was a delight throughout.

I think there was only one obscurity – the wine in TENT PEG; but since the entry was clearly defined and with very helpful crossing letters, it doesn’t seem problematic to me. I was puzzled by “plot” from “subject” in SPLOTCH. Again, it was clearly defined, and with helpful crossers, so seemed quite gettable, but I’m not sure that the plot of a novel, say, is the same as its subject. Only one clue seemed to me to be a little unfair, which was SHAPE UP. It is a great clue, but the absence of any indication that the homophone included some French meant that I was puzzled by which breed of dog was it whose pup was in the kennel. And as for the grid… Let’s just say I enjoyed both puzzles.

The surface readings were consistently good, with lots of misdirection. LINEAGE, ACRONYM and NOSTRUM were all very neat, but my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the brilliant 22a: “Open to discovery, island lay further west (11)”.

To the month of June 2016 for the answers and explanations:

i Cryptic Crossword 3000 Morph

September 18, 2020

Somewhere at the back of a drawer, I dare say, will be a fountain pen, unused for decades. No good for the crossword, of course, newsprint being so absorbent, but the use of one was compulsory at my school back in the 1970s. The appearance of CARTRIDGE, together with Hamlet, as an instance of a CIGAR, took me right back to that decade, when biros were anathematised by masters who smoked pipes, in a culture that encouraged smoking and promoted it with Bach.

This was a moderately challenging crossword, which was fairly clued throughout with lots to enjoy, including some imaginative definitions and smooth surface readings. I had no queries outstanding on completion, and needed the check only TURNSTONE, a bird I did not know of. My only quibble, a minor one, was the phrase GO TO GRASS, which did not seem quite right to me. “Put out to grass”, and “go to seed” maybe, but not this particular formulation.

Things I liked: the cluing of “we” by “first person in collective”; “tide” as a “marine force” and the great surface reading for THE CATS WHISKERS. But I have two contenders for the title of Clue of the Day. PHENOMENA was very clever, with a reversal posing as a homophone. But the winner has to be 1D. Once a few crossing letters went in, this was fairly readily solved from the definition, but it took me ages to see exactly how it worked, and what the imputation of potential illegality was all about. Very neat. “Rival bid in which location of tender seems illegal” (7-8).

To June 2016 for all the answers and explanations:

This crossword is quite a remarkable achievement. I don’t think I’ve come across Serpent before,but if this is representative of what is to come, then we shall have much to relish in future.

To be sure, this was fairly challenging, and it took me a little longer than usual to complete, but it was a joy throughout. A nice mix of clues, some readily solved, others requiring a good deal of head-scratching, this was a thoroughly engrossing puzzle. There was one clue that I couldn’t quite parse, which was RETALIATED, although the definition and crossing letters made clear what the answer ought to be. A couple of novelties took me by surprise: the use of “exuded” to mean “got rid of” in the clue for REEK, which certainly added to the surface reading, and which had me puzzled for a while, and “projected” as a homophone indicator in IDOL, which likewise had me going down the wrong road a little distance. But then I do tend to panic when I come across four-letter-entries-with-no-initial-crossing-letter…

That it might be a pangram was a suspicion from the very beginning for me, when my first two in, the crossing JUVENILE first, and then ZEAL revealed a J and a Z. This helped a good deal, particularly with QUADRANT, and my last one in, FILIGREE. I had also wondered about a nina, what with all those uncrossing lights in the perimeter. When I realised that the perimeter actually included each and every letter of the alphabet once and once only, I was filled with admiration.

Nomination for clue of the day goes to the aforementioned 4D: “Intricate pattern young woman said matches everything but the walls (8)”.

To the pivotal month of June, 2016 for all the answers and explanations:

i Cryptic Crossword 2988 Anax

September 4, 2020

Anax always challenges us, but sets clues that turn out to be fair – once you have unravelled them. And today there were a lot of clues that needed good deal of work from me, even after I had guessed at entries based on enumeration, perhaps a crossing letter or two, and a hunch that my interpretation of an imaginative definition might be right.

There were lots of clues where I chose to trust to judgement and leave the parsing until completion. These included: MUCH, PERSONA NON GRATA, CHRONICLE, CLOSETED, SWALLOWS. I sorted most of these in the end – but not CHRONICLE. This last I had no idea about, “chronic” for “naff” seeming strained, and the poem – though famous and a regular one in Crosswordland – eluded me, unsurprisingly, since it was an absence, a deletion from another word. Hmm…. Likewise TEAM PLAYER, though guessable from crossing letters, had an odd definition.

I got held up in the SE corner by entering “Othello” at 19d, on the flimsy grounds that I had an O from ROMAN ROAD, and that it was a Shakespearean tragedy. Somehow I forgot to consider the plays of Seneca. Only when SIGOURNEY WEAVER became apparent did I conclude I was wrong.

Anax has given us some delightfully imaginative definitions and my margins did have a lot of ticks in them by the end. I loved ROMAN ROAD, TOOTH FAIRY and DOWN IN THE MOUTH – but my nomination for clue of the day goes to 6d: “Runner received some flight details by phone (5,9)”.

Here’s the link to Gaufrid’s comprehensive explanation:

One of my favourite books when I was a child was Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes. And one of the joys of being a parent was reading it aloud some twenty-five or thirty years later. So I did know about the ERYMANTHIAN BOAR. But it was an age before I unravelled the anagram and worked out what was going on. The form of the clue was fairly straightforward and the anagram seemed pretty clear – but I needed a good fair few of the crossing letters before I got it. En route, I wondered if I was mistaken and, having got the O from GENIUS LOCI, perhaps the second word was “work” (I had not by that point solved RICE KRISPIES, so a K at the end seemed realistic). On solving PHILADELPHIA, the E made me wonder if it meant “polled” and was something derived from “electorally”.

This was the toughest challenge I have experienced in a long time, and I might have given up had I not been blogging. And I do hope it did not discourage less experienced solvers. I needed help – a lot of it – throughout my solve, and when all the answers were in I still had a number of clues unparsed, such as OPAL and TEAS. RING-FENCE in particular had me perplexed. It still does. I was relieved to find that the good folk on Fifteensquared had a similar experience. No-one got the nina. (Yes, I know, I didn’t think so either).

There was lots of imaginative defining such as “puffed up little things” and some fiendish word-play (of that which I could unravel) such as that in MADE and VIPERS, and apart from the aforementioned Labour of Heracles, one or two obscurities, like CZARDAS.

My nomination for clue of the day goes to 22d, which has ingenious word-play, an imaginative definition and an amusing surface reading: “Picked up a dear bachelor, camp at heart, swinging either way (5)”.

When is a theme not a theme? Working my way through this splendid offering from Tyrus it was hard not to notice a few references to the media in one form or another, some references direct, others more allusive. But the finished grid did not really seem to confirm that this crossword was truly themed. The Fifteensquared blog from May 2016 opined that the theme was pretty overt, but I wasn’t so sure.

This was a fairly tough one, and was a Saturday prize puzzle when it first came out. Strictly speaking I Did Not Finish this one, as there were a couple where I could not disentangle the intricately knotted word-play: ROTTEN ROW and PEERS. With the latter I was tempted by the sort-of theme to write in “press”; being a Radio 4 sort of person, the stars of breakfast television don’t spring to my mind readily, so even after I corrected it to PEERS for “fellows”, the allusion to a homophone was lost on me.

There was a nice variety of cluing and some imaginative definitions. I was particularly impressed by the four long anagrams. I nominate one of these, 10ac, as clue of the day; not only is it an impressive anagram, but also it’s an imaginative definition. And it made me laugh when I twigged it. “He’s indecent! Name unholy terror who’s stripped (6,3,6).

A new setter? S.park, on the evidence of this offering, will be a welcome addition to the i team of setters. Welcomed more by the experienced solvers, I venture, as this was set at the tougher end of the spectrum – I for one found this to be very challenging. Partly this was because of the grid, with its high proportion of words without a crossing initial letter. Partly, no doubt, because it took a while to acclimatise to an unfamiliar setter’s style. But also because the setter has used some very imaginitive definitions, such as “flight attendant”, “underworld figure” and “on radio set”.

I was expecting a nina, what with all those unchecked letters in the perimeter, and knew there was some sort of ghost-theme, the setter having warned us of one in the clue for 24d. No nina, but a double ghost-theme of “archers” and “The Archers”. Now, if the solver is familiar with the latter, it would have been a great help – but, with the probable exception of the aforementioned “on radio set”, all clues were answerable without any arcane knowledge. It was a help in getting CARTER, to be sure, but the cryptic-definition clue did not require one to know the chacterers of the world’s longest radio drama series.

I needed to consult Crosswordsolver to get BOWMANSHIP, with its clever misdirection. And my last one in was GOLD; for a long time I was misdirected into focusing on “The Archers” when I should just have been thinking about “archers”.

I was tempted to nominate LAST SUPPER as the clue of the day, but instead I suggest 19d, if only because of the mental image it conjured up for me: “Bald Simpsons men carrying lard (7)”.

To May 2016 for the answers and explanations:

“Online crossword from now on”. Well, I do hope not. I was obliged to use the online version during the dark days of deepest lock-down, and I much prefer the dead-tree version. Indeed, the demise of the Independent (which I had taken from day one) as an actual paper newspaper was one reason for moving to the i.

But such is the hidden message in the perimeter, and it was certainly the case back in April 2016, when this was first published; you can read BertandJoyce’s comprehensive explanations of the answers by clicking here.

In fact the nina was not much help. As it happens, I was most in need of additional help on the right-hand side and in the bottom half, and that part of the nina was no more obvious than the clues I was struggling with. I found this one to be very tough. I got there in the end, but with a little electronic help, and in well over my typical time. The grid, which essentially gave four barely-intersecting mini-crosswords, didn’t help.

Particular quibbles? “AUT” for former teachers? Never head of it, and I was for years a branch secretary of another union for teachers. OSTREA? I love oysters, and the homophone is entertaining, but, no, that was unknown to me, too. “In” to clue “because of ” in HARBIN? Seemed unlikely.

I made one mistake, which held me up for a while. I guessed “orange” for 24a when I had the G from FOREIGN. But it was just a guess as I had no idea which mythological monster I was supposed to be decapitating. Never heard of the Windigo, either.

Still, many clues were a delight. I was taken with the neatness of 4d (although I wonder whether De La Mare’s poetry is sufficiently widely-read for the Younger Solver to recognise the name). My nomination for Clue of the Day, however, goes to the very clever indeed 13a: “Anonymous mover and shaker lets ego trip run wild (11)”.