Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Phi sets good, solid cryptic crosswords. He can infuriate sometimes with themes so ghostly that the very best of mediums would struggle to give them voice. But if you switch off to the ghost themes and consider them as straightforward puzzles, then you can rely on Phi.

As it happens, there is no theme to this crossword. And it is a good, solid cryptic. There is no contentious word-play, and just one potential obscurity, which is PITOT TUBE. I for one had not come across this before, but it was clearly clued with helpful crossing letters (the only question was whether it would be”pitot” or “potit”).

I think this was a good choice of crossword to follow yesterday’s perhaps too challenging one. Among many pleasing clues, my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 14d, with its humorous surface reading: ” Concern about deity’s lumbering steed (9)”.

Here’s the link to Fifteensquared for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/20/independent-9679-phi/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

After the tribulations of last week, in which we were treated to a concentration of very challenging crosswords and, moreover, were affronted with the confounding of our expectations of accessible puzzles on Mondays and Wednesdays, it was reassuring to have a pleasantly gentle start to the week. That’s if there’s anyone left solving after such a week as that. πŸ™‚

This enjoyable and satisfying puzzle was just right for a Monday. There are no obscure words, with the possible exceptions of the crossing PIED and SKIPJACK, both of which provoked a quick check in the dictionary. Only one clue caused me some head-scratching, which was INDICES, my last one in. Once the crossing letters were in the entry was clear, and I got the word-play. It was the definition which bemused me.

My Clue of the Day goes to 14ac, which was pleasing in the simplicity of its construction, and which offers an excellent surface reading: “Writer drinks fruit smoothie at last (11)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/22/independent-on-sunday-1443-by-peter/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

In a different week this fine puzzle might have stood out as reasonably challenging; given the two toughies were were treated to on Monday and Wednesday, its accessibility seems more to the fore. Serpent is an accomplished setter, and I think this crossword balances accessibility with challenge rather well.

In particular, consider the anagrams. There are seven of them, a full quarter of the total. These, in my experience at least, help to open up a puzzle somewhat. But how impressive they are! ALPHANUMERIC and SHIVER MY TIMBERS are superb. And never at the cost of plausible surface readings, so important in making a clue satisfying.

In fairness, I ought to admit that I wasn’t overly happy with EASY CHAIR. I could see what was going on, just about, but it didn’t quite work for me. Neither could I get the word-play in HEAD. On the other hand, the triple definition CASE and the reverse-anagram of CRIED OUT were worthy contenders for the prize for Clue of the Day, but they were beaten by 24ac: “One rivalling Greek character spelt out for the audience afterwards (8)”.

It being from Serpent, I was expecting some gimmick or other. I thought there might be a theme on faries in the lights, having got FAIRY LIGHT very early on, and having read 1ac. I was wrong and failed to spot the actual gimmick of there being an H in all the Downs (complemented by the four big Hs in the grid). Bravo, Serpent!

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/14/independent-9648-by-serpent/

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

It is very rare indeed that I don’t enjoy the crossword; very rare that there are enough quibbles or queries to eclipse the enjoyment got from other clues. I do these wonderful puzzles for fun, and usually any disgruntlement is more than outweighed by the smiles raised. Otherwise I’d stop doing them.

But today, I’m afraid I didn’t get on at all with this one. Part of that is the grid, effectively giving us four mini-puzzles. Mainly, however, it was that I just couldn’t get into this rarely-seen setter’s mind, and I struggled with too many clues. I have no objection to using dictionaries or e-help. I often do, sometimes to check on a rare meaning, and sometimes because a word is completely new to me. Today I had to scour various lists looking for inspiration or the hint of a suggestion of a possibility. Some clues went in readily, to be sure, but other were reluctant to reveal their delights. These included (but were not confined to): WATER RAT, SPOONERISM, CUT OUT, ESCHEW.

If you are reading, Silvanus, I’m sorry, but it didn’t work for me. I do hope other solvers had a better experience. Say so, if you did, because I feel bad for our setter.

There were indeed clues to enjoy. I got a penny-drop moment from WILLIAMS, and indeed SPOONERISM (my last one in). Clue of the day goes to the delightful and simple19d: “Position of authority is postponed no longer? (6)”.

You may be glad of the following link: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/16/independent-9675silvanus/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

I completed this in about two- or three-star time. I’ve bumped the rating up to four stars on account of some pretty ingenious word-play – and because of one obscure word.

First the obscurity. VAPOURWARE was completely unknown to me. I’m reasonably techno-competent (for a man of my age and education) but I’d never heard of this. Nor had the Younger Person I spoke to. It didn’t show up in the electronic word-finder I resorted to. It is buried deep within my Chambers dictionary, but was only discovered by a laborious process of working through the alphabet once all the crossing letters were in. When an obscure word has no initial crossing letter and very common crossing letters, finding it can be a trial. But in the dictionary it is, and the definition and word-play are precise, so there we are.

Other than that, this was a coruscating crossword: a delight to solve, and provoking great admiration for the setter’s skill and creativity in devising word-play. Particularly noteworthy are the well-constructed anagrams, which are impressive and not at the expense of the surface readings. The ingenuity of, for example, MIDDLE OF THE ROAD is brilliant.

Not so much a theme, there is a gateway clue which was necessary to make sense of about a quarter of the clues. I guessed what the word meant fairly early, but the actual entry RETROSPECT was one of my last ones in, as I needed all the crossing letters to get it.

My clue of the day is 3d. I got the answer from the definition, enumeration and initial L, and then I got the word-play, which was both clever and funny. “If so, Ely is black capital of Europe! (6)”.

Independent 9,695 / Daedalus

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

An enjoyable and accessible start to the working week. This will not have held up many solvers for too long. Just right for Plough Monday, at the start of the first full working week after the festivities.

Just a couple of things needed checking online: an unfamiliar bird, and a less well-known Spanish name. Both were very clearly clued, though, with helpful crossing letters, so it was really a question of checking my guesses rather than consulting lists.

Only one bit of parsing eluded me, which was PUGILISTS. It was another entry with useful crossing letters and a straightforward definition, but the word-play eluded me, largely because I never thought of IS for “terrorists”. I mistakenly fell for the misdirection in 17ac, and overconfidenty entered “Go to sea” and had to correct it when the anagram for EARDROP failed to yield. For a moment or two, as well, I failed to notice the old trick of “es” from “French art” in REDESIGN. These, I think, push this otherwise very accessible puzzle up into two-star territory.

Clue of the day goes to the humorous and nicely done hidden inclusion in 2d: “Johnson’s laughter seen partly as an attack (9)”.

Here’s the link for the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/10/23/independent-9681-by-alchemi/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A challenging puzzle today from the ever-impressive Serpent. This one took me a good deal longer than my typical time, but was truly engrossing while my coffee went cold. Twice.

Almost a Did Not Finish for me. I’d got all of the entries in to my satisfaction, with words that were consonant with the definitions in the clues, but several bits of word-play proved resistant to my attempts to untangle them. I almost gave up, but after setting it aside for half an hour and having one final look before starting this blog, everything seemed so obvious and I wondered why I had been struggling. The clues in question were those for COD LIVER OIL (where Oliver Twist eluded me) and the crossing NONSTOP and ADORN.

Great surface readings combined with devious cluing made this a delight to solve. Consider, for example, the hidden inclusion in SURFEIT, or the “&lit” quality of STAMPEDES. (A more accomplished blogger will no doubt correct my description of “&lit” as a clue where the surface reading as a whole provides the definition, with the word-play conveyed in the usual way within it). Clue of the day, however has to go to the incredible 14/19/5d/26d. So sharp of Serpent to spot the four component three-letter words from the full 7,5. “One couldn’t appreciate wife when time at home got hard following gossip (7,5)”.

Here’s the link to the puzzle’s first appearance in January 2018 with all the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/01/06/independent-9745-serpent/

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

How does one rate a crossword for difficulty? Quite often I have found my own rating of a puzzle considerably at variance with that of ther contributors to idothei. Regularly I end up wondering how other people seemed to have sailed through something that felt to me like wading through treacle. Much less often I wonder what other solvers found so challenging.

When rating, I tend to take three things into account, generally. Principally, and rather obviously, the time taken is a key consideration. In addition to that, however, if I have had to resort to, first the dictionary or thesaurus, or second the internet (whether lists or to look something up) because the definition is cleverly opaque, then that will cause me to raise the difficulty rating, even if I have finished it within my usual time. Third, if there are obscurities aplenty, even if easily spotted in an online list, that could cause an extra star to be added.

Today’s fun and enjoyable offering from Nitsy I solved in about one- or two-star time. But I needed recourse to aids because of some obscurities: RIBALD from “mean” and INSTINCT from “charged”. Both of these were readily “solved” from the word-play and the crossing letters, but they required research for confirmation. Additionally, and rather unusually, I used a word finder to look for a ten-letter word “extra…..”. I got EXTRA from the definition and the crossing letters, but struggled to see what word I was supposed to be halving.

I found lots to enjoy today, and I like learning new stuff from crosswords, which I did. My favourite clue was 11d: “Girl’s set to be let down (12)”.

Here’s the link for the entries and the parsings: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/01/07/independent-on-sunday-1454-by-nitsy/

Regular readers of idothei will be aware that some cryptics in the i are themed. Below is a list of the themes of crosswords throughout the past year. I won’t claim that the list is definitive, as it is perfectly possible that I have missed something. Of the 315 puzzles 103 have been themed, so about two each week – Tuesdays, typically, and often on Saturdays, and some occasioned by high days and holidays. Although there may be someone who has eschewed a themed crossword all year, I think that all the i setters appear on this list. Phi, unsurprisingly, is a prolific theme-setter.

There is a great variety of themes, from things as light-hearted as Pokemon to such serious subjects as the art of Hieronymus Bosch. Whilst books and great composers are generously although not disproportionately present, the range of themes gives the lie to the accusation made in some quarters that solving cryptic crosswords always demands a knowledge of high culture.

Themes usually occur across the entries, but sometimes the clues themselves can be themed. Sometimes there is one “gateway” clue which links all the others. Some of them are what we call ghost-themes; that is to say that you cannot tell in advance by reading the clues that there is a theme at all, and it only emerges on completion (if you notice it, that is). I have indicated these with a (G).

5th January Radian Battle of Hastings

9th January Phi Music of John Pickard (G)

11th January Hoskins Wainwright albums (G)

12th January Math Sherlock Holmes

16th January Phi Composers (G)

19th January Raich Sam Cook songs

26th January Eimi Pokemon (G)

2nd February Scorpion Brief Encounter

6th February Phi Sweeny Todd (G)

9th February Hieroglyph Tube stations (G)

16th February Scorpion Epithets for kings (G)

23rd February Radian Mushrooms (G)

2nd March Punk Cars

5th March Hob Bohemian Rhapsody (G)

6th March Phi Classic cars (G)

9th March Knut Cuba

13th March Morph Zero (G)

16th March Alchemi Ian Dury (G)

20th March Phi Much Ado…

23rd March Phi Gilbert and Sullivan (G)

30th March Vigo Buffy the Vampire Slayer (G)

6th April Hob Hull

13th April Maize Football teams (G)

17th April Phi Marches (G)

20th April Radian Roald Dahl (G)

22nd April Alchemi Characters

24th April Phi Mahler (G)

27th April Phi The Tempest (G)

30th April Rodriguez Insects

4th May Radian Archaeology (G)

5th May Math Films

11th May Phi Thunderbirds (G)

12th May Punk Mike Leigh

15th May Crosophile Buster Keaton (G)

18th May Radian Trees

22nd May Phi The Gondoliers (G)

24th May Hoskins Bob Dylan (G)

25th May Scorpion Cocktails (G)

28th May Punk Cities

29th May Serpent Numbers

5th June Phi Chopin (G)

8th June Punk Richard Adams / Douglas Adams

11th June Scorpion 1966 winning team (G)?

12th June Alchemi Roy Harper albums (G)

19th June Crosophile “Turning the tables”

22nd June Maize The Choir Invisible (G)

25th June Monk Trump’s White House (G)

29th June Vigo Wacky Races (G)

3rd July Phi Musical Instruments (G)

6thn July Hoskins The Third Man (G)

8th July Morph Temperature (G)

10th July Gila California

13th July Hob Anthony Burgess (G)

15th July Knut Punishment (G)

22nd July Nestor Fruit (G)

23rd July Punk Olympians

24th July Vigo Veronica Mars (G)

27th July Knut Glaciation

3rd August Radian The Spectrum / Rainbow (G)

10th August Morph Graham Greene

21st August Phi Shakespeare’s Ages of Man (G)

24th August Alchemi Cream (band) (G)

28th August Crosophile Drinks (G)

31st August Radian Map-reading (G)

2nd September Serpent Collective nouns (G)

3rd September Tyrus Solecisms (G)

4th September Phi Films (G)

7th September Hoskins Birds (G)

25th September Maize Great women (G)

28th September Serpent Writers (G)

1st October Hoskins Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles (G)

2nd October Phi Mastermind (G)

5th October Radian Crime and Punishment (G)

7th October Alchemi “Not found”

9th October Morph Seven Deadly Sins (G)

12th October Tees Billy Bunter

14th October Serpent Red things (G)

16th October Phi Peter Grimes (G)

19th October Radian Jane Austen (G)

22nd October Phi Colin Dexter (G)

23rd October Serpent Green things (G)

26th October Hob Photography

29th October Monk A wedding (G)

30th October Phi Thomas Pynchon (G)

2nd November Hob Marc Bolan (G)

5th November Phi Lindisfarne (music) (G)

6th November Serpent Pub names (G)

9th November Knut Golf (G)

16th November Radian Constable(s) (G)

23rd November Morph The rainbow (G)

27th November Phi Rotherweird (G)

30th November Scorpion Trains (G)

4th December Gila Music / singers

7th December Tees Political factions

14th December Hoskins Clothes (G)

18th December Phi Hieronymus Bosch (G)

21st December Alchemi Led Zeppelin (G)

23rd December Morph People who died (in 2017) (G)

24th December Phi Dickens’ Christmas stories (G)

26th December Eimi Dickens’ Christmas stories

27th December Hoskins The festive season

28th December Knut Blue things (G)

30th December Serpent Money (G)

31st December Phi Rembrandt (G)

i Cryptic Crossword 3400 Phi

December 31, 2021

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

There’s no theme today – or if there is, no-one, not even the setter himself, has yet pointed it out. But a seasonal quality is given by the linking of two entries by the one clue to give us WATCH NIGHT, as the transition from the old year to the new is known in certain circles.

*Edit: I am grateful to Cornick for drawing my attention to the theme, and that it was identified by a commenter on Fifteensquared.

This was a relatively accessible puzzle, with little in the way of intractable parsing. There is one entry requiring a knowledge of Greek mythology, the story of ACTAEON, a hunter who was eaten by his own hounds. There is a reference to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, although the entry SUSANNA is a sufficiently common name for the anagram to have been unraveled, even without the helpful crossing letters. Is EULER obscure? Perhaps. The only other bit of obscurity was the use of “plaint” for objection. PLAIN TEXT was my last one in.

My favourite clue today is 20ac: “Refusal to involve East German? Discrimination (9)”.

So, a relatively low-key ending to our year of crosswords. Let’s hope that 2022 brings us not only a wealth of cruciverbal delight, but quite simply a better year all round. Happy New Year, everone!

Here’s the link to the answers and explanations: http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/09/29/independent-9661-phi/