How strange was that? I got off to a flying start with this one, with five across entries going in almost without my having to think about them: BRUNEI (there aren’t that many six-letter countries starting with B and ending in EI), NEUTRINO (pretty obviously an anagram of sorts), the chestnuts BRIE and BANANA, and the straightforward charade TURN INTO. Naturally I wondered if we were going to get a fairly accessible puzzle with Bs on the left and Os on the right, and perhaps the whiff of a theme…

How wrong I was. My next in, PATIENCE disabused me of the B & O idea, although it was another read-the-clue-and-write-the-answer double definition. But then I struggled and struggled. I got there in the end, in considerably longer than my typical time, and even parsed everything, albeit with help from lists and the internet. But it was certainly hard work.

Did I enjoy it? Not really. In the end there were too many clues with obscurites or with too tightly-knotted word-play. How did the definition of WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA work? DJEMBE? NANDOO? How many of us know that Muswell Hill is in N10? And “place [bet]” for “ante”? Where did the Z come from in ENBLAZON? And what happened to the “n” in INDIA[N] INK? There were other, lesser question-marks, and perhaps other solvers had different experiences. It is rare for me not to get satisfaction from completing a tough puzzle, but I didn’t today.

My nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the simple, but rather neat 6d: “Circus attraction in London aching to travel north (4)”.

All the answers and explanations can be found by clicking here.

This crossword is constructed around something I’ve not seen done before – or, more precisely, not done so impressively before: a chain of eight answers, each one an anagram of the previous clue, plus one additional letter, taking us from RIM to the ten-letter IMPERSONAL. This is no small achievement. Donk deserves high praise for it.

To be sure, on my first read-through I was irritated by what I took to be just a high proportion of clues which were cross-referenced. Accordingly, the first part of my solve was largely confined to the left-hand side, which was more-or-less free of the interconnections. Only when I came to solve IMPERSONAL in the LHS, and ended up working backwards all the way to RIM did I realise what a tour-de-force Donk had created.

Moreover, there are some very nice cryptic or whimsical definitions, like “face employee” for MINER and “one lacking depth” for CYCLOPS.

There is one genuine obscurity: EXAUGURAL. This was very neatly and precisely clued, the crossing letters offered substantial reassurance and the possibility of there being an opposite for “inaugural” seemed reasonable, with this being the logical way to construct it. But I did have to go to my ancestral Shorter Oxford to find it (yes, I know I could have googled it, but in my hierarchy of what help to seek, googling comes as the last resort).

I would like to nominate, if I could, the chain-of-eight as the clue of the day. But I don’t think I can, so instead I offer 5d: “Short rotation works for one struggling with depth (7)”.

Click here for the answers and explanations.

I’ve got used to Friday bringing me a fairly tough crossword to blog, so today’s offering from Eccles came as rather a surprise, and a pleasant and enjoyable one, too. Eccles is a newish, and very welcome addition to the stable.

I don’t think there is anything here to hold up the experienced solver. Indeed, this was accessible enough for most solvers to complete without too much trouble. There are no obscure words. All of the word-play is transparent. There are no hidden traps to fall into. There is a little bit of an American flavour to the puzzle: “mom” from “mother”, a position in baseball (or so I believe), and the unusual HIGH-STRUNG, overtly labelled as an Americanism, rather than “highly strung”, which I think is more usual this side of the Atlantic.

Only one clue had me puzzling over the word-play, which was DESPOT. It made me laugh when I spotted it, and so did the mental image evoked by the surface reading of GO BANANAS. My nomination for Clue of the Day, however, goes to 5d, with something that I’m surprised not to have seen before: “Choice at election time that gives a chance to experiment (10)”.

Click here for a link to the answers and explanations.

A very happy new year, one and all! May 2021 be a good year for us all.

We start the new year, perhaps surprisingly, with an unthemed and nina-less puzzle from the master of hidden ninas and recondite ghost-themes. Phi himself comments on the Fifteensquared blog from 2016, and confirms, by not saying anything, that there is no theme or hidden message. (He does let us know that a technological issue prevented him from doing the puzzle as he intended.)

This was a relatively straightforward puzzle, which took me around about my typical time to complete, and without the need to resort to electronic aids. I did have to look up “olid” in STOLID and also E CONTRA, but only after I had entered them from the crossing letters, etc. I also looked up QUEENSTOWN on Google maps to check that there was one in New Zealand. To my relief, there was. This last had me struggling for a while until I remembered that in Crosswordland, as on the chequered board, men can be queens and queens can be men.

One clue only garnered a frown in my margin: LIFEBELT, which could just as fittingly have been “lifevest”, and perhaps even something else as well. It was a little too loosely clued to rule out the ambiguity. Otherwise, this was a good, satisfying (if a little work-a-day) crossword. A bit of an odd one to solve, though, with the unusual grid giving us two half-crosswords, linked only by the slenderest of threads.

Clue of the day? The aforementioned QUEENSTOWN gets my nomination, for its pleasing cryptic-definition appearance: “Men sadly won’t appear in New Zealand resort (10)”.

Greetings to you all this Boxing Day! Many of us have now moved into higher tiers and find ourselves living with greater restrictions. But there are no restrictions on imagination and creativity in Crosswordland, where we can take an occasional refuge from the travails of this present age. A happy 2nd day of Christmas, everyone.

I wondered what to expect this morning. Something challenging to fill up a bank holiday? Something with a theme, perhaps including flesh and wine and pine logs? A nina in which the Good King’s name featured? We got none of these, just a good, old-fashioned, fairly accessible, straightforward cryptic. And jolly good it was too. No obscurities, no queries or quibbles eliciting notes in my margin. Quite a bit of humour, and a pleasing puzzle to solve.

There was a bit of a flatulence theme to a few of the clues, which may not be entirely inappropriate for a season of indulgence. Not too offensive or too school-boyish, I believe, just enough to raise a smile, perhaps. I wondered, on reading the clue for BLUE TIT, who had been the setter’s inspiration back in 2016 when this first appeared, but it would appear from Pierre’s original blog that the subject was the same person back then. I note that the clue has been mildly modified, though.

Joint runners-up for the award of Clue of the Day are RED-CARPET and MELANCHOLIC, both of which made me laugh. The winner, however, is the very neat 4d: “An order ignored by some musicians who played on? (7,4)”.

i Cryptic Crossword 3078 Hob

December 18, 2020

What’s not to like about this puzzle?

Well, quite a bit, I imagine, for many solvers. The grid, to start with, which effectively creates two half-crosswords. Then there’s the cross-referencing and the interconnecting clues, so you struggle to solve one unless you’ve solved the other. Surface readings which suffer as a result of the cross-referencing. A theme which deceives, being really two themes, unconnected except by a pun, which misleads the solvers who think they know what they are doing only to end up confused again, until they twig what’s  going on. Some dubious vocabulary (ARGUFIED?) and obscure references to Irish folk-music, unknown to me, at least, and 1970s, albeit iconic, alternative comedy.

I loved it. I suspect this will be a ‘marmite’ crossword which one either loves or hates, and I loved it. Hob is a very inventive setter who is prepared to push at the boundaries of the form. I loved being caught out by the punning theme and then seeing the light. I loved having to cross-refer to different clues to sort things out. And all clues were perfectly constructed, so that although it seemed challenging, I actually had it solved in about my typical time, and with no queries as to the parsing. The internet was consulted only to understand AFTERTASTE and to remind myself about the Gumbys. Great stuff, and a very rewarding solve.

Clue of the day? My nomination goes to 10ac, if only because it could have been clued so differently: “One 24 is the 1, perhaps (6)”. I think this encapsulates very nicely the essence of this cleverly constructed crossword.

To December, 2016 for the answers and explanations:

Theme: a series of crossword answers where a connection is clearly indicated in the clues, often by repeated reference to one particular clue.

Ghost-theme: a series of answers which are connected to each other but where no indication of the connection is given in the clues.

Nina: a hidden word or phrase, usually (but not exclusively) in the uncrossed lights in the perimeter.

Today we had a nina which made even me look for a ghost-theme. And the ghost-theme, easily spotted, referred not just back to the nina but to, er, ghosts! Amusingly self-referential in the most delightful way! Great stuff!

To be sure this was challenging, despite there being a few write-ins to get the solver going. It took me considerably longer than my typical time. But so rewarding. Not one for beginners, I concede, but one which gives the more experienced something to work on.

I thought WARDROBE was a touch unfair. As it happens, the monikers used by bishops are not unfamiliar to me, but I dare say I am in a tiny minority. And it was unfortunate that two somewhat obscure words crossed with each other – GRACKLE and KEHUA. I think that in mitigation the former was very straightforwardly clued, and once in, it added a helpful K which aided in the solving of the latter. These two, plus DUPPY, were words I needed e-confirmation of. The “off” in the clue for SINE CURVE had me puzzled for a good while, until I realised it was a connecter between definition and word-play. Otherwise there was a pleasing variety of clue-types, with nice surface readings, giving lots of penny-drop moments in the solving.

Clue of the Day? I liked the homophone in SACKS, and CONFLUENT was very cleverly done. However, my nomination goes to 17ac: “Opening 24 hours of hostilities as described by Oxford historian (7)”. This had me puzzled until I had all the crossing letters in, when I remembered the story of the gentleman in question admonishing a student for hissing his mystery lectures, indicating that don’s area of specialism.

I am full of admiration for Serpent. I am full of admiration, too, for mc_rapper67, over at Fifteensquared, whose blog with everything you need to know makes me feel utterly inadequate.

What’s not to like about this gem of a puzzle from Rodriguez today? Perfectly constructed clues meant that there wasn’t a single question-mark in my margin at the end for me to ponder over. And every clue had a good surface reading, each one a plausible English sentence.

And a theme to boot. Getting LOAN WORD early on certainly helped a little, but pleasingly it was not at all necessary to solve that one before being able to crack any of the others, as each one was self-contained. Neither were any of the borrowings particularly obscure. Perhaps AUTO-DA-FE and ANGSTROM were a little niche, but both had helpful crossing letters so were not ungettable. The one answer that might have been problematic was IBIDEM, which is also a touch obscure and with not much help from the crossers. From among the Downs, perhaps CINEASTE and ALEATORY might not be on the tip of every solver’s tongue, but they were clearly clued. These are but minor points in an excellent and rewarding puzzle. Even my particular bête noir (see what I did there?), the four-letter-entry-with-no-initial-crossing-letter failed to disturb me today. For that alone, I am grateful.

With so many finely constructed clues it’s had to pick a winner, but the one that made me laugh out loud was, appropriately, 25ac: “French department – a king from the east’s got it! (6)”.

All the answers and explanations can be found in the excellent and comprehensive blog from Bertandjoyce at Fifteensquared.

We don’t get many puzzles from Wiglaf, but when we do they are a treat. This one certainly was. Of medium difficulty, I venture, with a good fair mix of clues.

On my first read-through, I was a little alarmed by the six-word, thirty-letter anagram down the middle, especially as there was no room for any “and” or “the” or “of/in/on the”, to help break up the anagram, given the enumeration. But surmising that the numbers referred to at the beginning of the clue would give the author, I tried them and instantly got DICK. A couple of minutes later and I had the two other parts of the author’s name and the title of the book in place. And that opened up the grid very nicely.

I struggled to parse GLISSADES, and had to resort to the thesaurus to get “glades” and the internet to remind myself of ISS. That seemed all a bit obscure. “Cross” as an anagram indicator in DEODORANT seemed questionable, but it was such a good clue that it was easily indulged. “Blue” (rather than blow/blew) to mean SQUANDER is new to me, and isn’t in my (admittedly ancient) Shorter Oxford. These are, however, but minor quibbles.

Clue of the day? I did like TITANIC and especially the aforementioned DEODORANT. But I can’t resist proposing 15ac: “A plonker taken in by David Icke (4)”.

Click here for all the answers and explanations.

What makes a crossword great?

1. It starts with the grid; nicely interconnecting (I dislike it when I seem to do two half-crosswords, or worse, four mini-crosswords), suitably dense with a good proportion of crossing letters, and a good mix of longer and shorter entries.

2. Clues should have good surface readings, and be plausible English sentences. A bit of humour never goes amiss.

3. There should be the right level of challenge. This will naturally vary from solver to solver, according to experience, but no-one wants thirty impenetrable clues, and neither would anyone want them all to be read-the-clue-and-write-the-answer exercises.

4. Solving should include a number of penny-drop moments, when bewilderment gives way to a glimpse of a possibility, which in turn yields to a moment of enlightenment when you come to admire the ingenuity of the clue.

5. Completion should result in a sense of satisfaction, not merely a feeling that “I’m glad that’s over”.

6. It’s a bonus if I am caused to extend my knowledge by having to look something up – perhaps a Byzantine official’s head-dress or a rare South American plant.

This crossword was almost perfect. I didn’t have to look anything up, but apart from that it would be hard to beat. It is an exemplar of the art of the cryptic crossword at its best. I have so many ticks in my margin that it really is hard to pick a clue of the day. From among at least ten contenders I offer 7d: “Take care of section wherein lies bottomless, bottomless pit (7)”.

All the answers and explanations can be found here: