Morph has given us a relatively gentle puzzle with which to while away a little time this Friday morning. I don’t think there is anything controversial, or anything tightly convoluted enough to hold up even improving solvers, never mind the more experienced amongst us. For myself, my first in was the second clue I read, AKIN, followed by IDIOM, after which I worked more or less systematically clockwise round to the NW corner, each clue yielding fairly readily in its turn. Only with the final few clues, in the NW bit, did I find I needed to chew things over a little more, my last in being EVENS.

There was plenty of inventiveness and creativity on display, and it was never at the expense of the fine surface readings throughout the crossword. In particular, the clues winning ticks and smiles in my margin were: KNAVERY, with its neat double meaning of “state”, ROBIN HOOD, EXCRETE, the nicely-done hidden inclusion of SALAD HERB, the novel clueing of “us” by “Biden’s nation” in ONUS, and YAWN. But to my mind there is only one possible clue of the day, which is the excellent 1d: “Fail to consider what Little Red Riding Hood’ll do with wolf and bear (4,3,7)”.

To March 2017 for this crossword’s first outing, and all the answers and explanations:

I thought it my duty as your blogger to at least try to find a Phi-theme in our puzzle today. You may have noticed from my previous contributions that my enjoyment of this setter’s puzzles was greatly enhanced when I decided to stop looking for themes, so recondite did they usually prove to be.

Well, I had a go, but it seems that there isn’t one today. Or at least not one that either I or RatkojaRiku in his 2017 Fifteensquared blog was able to spot. Phi himself often puts in an appearance there to enlighten us, but this time he hasn’t, so in the absence of any other evidence, I conclude that theme there is none.

This puzzle was long on anagrams and short on clues. We had only 24 entries, which is unusually few, and most of the answers were long, the four shortest having five letters. There were five (nearly a quarter of the total) full or partial anagrams, three of them of 14 or 15 letters. Perhaps these will have helped some solvers open up their grids. I don’t think any of the word-play or defining is contentious, although I would quibble at RABBI being defined as “priest”. GRAYBEARD and PALEONTOLOGIST will no doubt irritate some of us (myself included) for being Americanisms in their spellings. The latter was one of those strange clues where one is never quite sure where the definition ends and the word-play begins, or vice-versa.

Clue of the day? I rather liked the witty word-play in TRENCHANT, but my nomination today goes to the delightfully whimsical 11ac: “The flower of the dairy tournament (9)”.

When I was getting into solving cryptic crosswords many years ago – and indeed for quite some time subsequently, when I might optimistically have described myself as an improver – I was always glad to see anagrams. They were often the only bits of word-play I could spot fairly readily, and they provided an accessible route into a puzzle. And I could usually unravel them – even in the late Twentieth Century before online aids became available. (I’m less keen on them these days, now that I consider myself to have more crosswords behind me than ahead of me.)

We had lots of anagrams today for our colder-than-hoped-for Good Friday bank holiday crossword. I think that this made the puzzle much more easily solvable than Punk often is, and I for one finished it in very short order. All done with Punk’s characteristic humour, which I enjoyed, but which I acknowledge is a matter of taste.

I don’t think there are any obscurities today. “Coleopteran” might have required a visit to the dictionary, although there was never much doubt about the answer once one had worked at it a bit. Its a splendid clue for its surface reading, conjuring up as it does a very vivid picture. I am tempted to nominate it as my clue of the day, but knowing that Punk’s scatological humour is like Marmite (if you’ll excuse the comparison), I shall opt instead for 5d: “Brush surface of French Soup (3,4)”.

Click here for all the answers and explanations, from the puzzles first outing in March 2017.

Not the excruciating challenge that some of us may have been hoping for, or fearing, after a run of relatively accessible crosswords this week, today’s offering from Hoskins is an enjoyable and accessible solve which, by me at least, was completed in rather less than my typical time.

Hokins’s clues have delightful surface readings, for example “A bishop taking crack? Pardon!”, or “A shade rude, like Prince Philip, earlier on?”, both of which are perfectly plausible English – and which are put together with a lightness of touch and humour which is enviable. I don’t think there is anything controversial in today’s word-play or definitions. Perhaps “grunt” for GI is a bit obscure, but, lo and behold, there it is in the dictionary – and with “facilities” forming the other half of the word-play and a definition of “frozen house” I doubt whether many solvers hesitated much over either entry or what to check in the dictionary. Likewise DOP was new to me, but about as obviously clued as possible. Other queries? Well, referring to nuts as fruit is deceptive, and I do wonder how much time must elapse before references to a Prime Minister of yore need to be prefaced with an “ex-” or “former”.

We have two bits of characteristic naughtiness in the nicely constructed RELATED and the very daring and close-to-the-bone RAISE HELL. No problem for me, but then again I am not solving in the company of my elderly maiden aunts. Or bachelor uncles.

I thought that the clue for NIT was cleverly done, but my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to 14d, if only for its delightful way of removing an O from a word: “A wee yen to nurse unloved boy in a bad way (9)”.

Click here for the answers and explanations, and for a little bit more from our talented setter himself.

This was a delight to solve. It’s a reprint of a Sunday prize crossword, but it seemed to me to be a little more challenging than those usually are. That’s not to say it was for experienced solvers only – I for one completed it without needing to resort to aids, electronic or dead-tree, albeit in a little over my typical time. There were no obscurities to be discovered or requiring a check, and the word-play is impeccable. My only trip to the interenet was to refresh my memory of the horse-meat scandal of some years ago.

What I liked in particular was the creativity and originality for us to savour, for example dogfight to indicate a sky-scrap, and line manager for angler. And throughout, the surface readings were splendidly realistic.

The ones I liked best were WALLIAMS, MARINER and SUEDE. I was tempted to nominate FACTORIES as clue of the day, but perhaps that is a little unfair, on the whole, in view of the fact that I’m grateful to have had my first jab, so my nomination goes to 8d, for its smooth surface reading, and for the mental image it evokes: “Sex brought about visible inflammation and fatigue (9)”.

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

A gentle and accessible Sunday reprint awaited us this morning, giving us the kind of pleasant and enjoyable solve which is all over a little too soon.

Thats not to say the puzzle was completely straightforward. The parsing of the crossing ADONIS and DISORDER both had me scratching my head; “as” clued by “what”, and “did” by “prepared” both seemed a bit of a stretch, at least to me, and I was glad that the November 2016 blog confirmed that each was correct.

Elsewhere, although less puzzlingly, one needed a little knowledge of who took part in classical orgiastic cults, and that the erstwhile King Charles X of France had been at times an exile. But both were clearly clued, so I doubt they would have caused too much trouble. And is it fair, in view of the sensibilities of other setters, to clue “pun(k)” with “thug”? 🙂

The Clue of the Day award goes to the rather amusing 18ac. This had me stumped for a bit, until I realised what it was and laughed out loud: “In which you may recognise Pollock’s abusive language (12)”.

One can hardly open one’s newspaper these days without being treated to so many column inches about certain members of the House of Windsor. But I didn’t expect the crossword to be royal-themed as well, solving as I did 9ac in short order and noting “prince”, “princess” and references back to QUEEN throughout the cluing.

But I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t that QUEEN at all, but another one altogether, and the theme turned out to be one of those rare gems, a true masterpiece of its genre which is also deservedly popular. I can’t imagine anyone needs the themed entries pointing out. It certainly meant I didn’t need to consult any lists or wikipedia for entries such as SCARAMOUCHE. And I wonder if other solvers have the same ear-worm that I do…

This was great fun, and not at all the stinker that some were expecting (or fearing). And so very good, as well, with plenty of imaginative cluing throughout, which garnered lots of ticks and double-ticks in my margin, for example AQUA, BOHEMIAN, PETRUSHKA and BIOLOGIST.  DIDO was clever. But my nomination for Clue of the Day goes to the very neat 1ac, with its brilliant definition and subtle anagram: “24? Barely old enough, perhaps, for this (7)”.

The puzzle had a slightly high-brow feel to it, for some reason, in part because of references to opera and ballet, and an old master, linking us to yesterday’s Rodriguez, where one of his works featured. Obscurities? Italian ordinary-days, maybe, and late-mediaeval heresies, perhaps. But both had helpful crossing letters, so by no means unfair. My last in was PLURALS, where I’m afraid I did work my way through the alphabet when everything else was in.

All the answers and explanation can be found here:

It’s been a good week for crosswords – especially if you like a challenge. And if you like a challenge, this was certainly one to get your teeth into. I would rate it as tough.

But only tough while you’re doing it, if you see what I mean. Each clue that I struggled with seemed obvious after it was solved. And that’s the mark of a tough-but-satisfying crossword, in my book.

Since I was blogging I was particularly alert to the possibility of a nina, and I wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t see the connection between top and bottom, and I wondered if the ninas signified a theme. But no. No theme and no connection, other than enumeration.

Some clues seemed particularly chewy, and I struggled to unravel the word-play for CYBERTERRORISM and ACUTE ANGLE. As for SUE – did anyone manage to parse it? I dare say this clue could provoke controversy. You can read what the setter has to say about it in the original Fifteensquared blog.

So many good clues to short-list: STRANGEWAYS, SCRAP IRON and ENGLISH CHANNEL were all impressive. But my Clue of the Day nomination goes to the marvellous 21ac: “Poles bound by Latin and English instructions to seize reptile (6,5)”.

Of the newer setters, Serpent is now a firm favourite for me, and I take a real pleasure in solving his crosswords. They are beautifully crafted, where fine surface readings combine with impeccable word-play, neither compromising the other.

Previous offerings have included self-referential ninas, and looking at the grid I expected something similar today. I patted myself on the back for my prescience when I got a P,E,N in one corner – and then getting an E,N,T in another seemed to confirm it, leaving me wondering how he was going to fill the gaps between them. Just goes to show how wrong I can be.

Serpent was kind to us today with a puzzle gentler than previous offerings. In particular, there were some simple clues to get us going in the top left. But these were balanced by plenty of chewier ones: DEBRIS and EUPHORIA had me struggling over the word-play for some time, before it rewardingly yielded.

Thats not to say the crossword is without flaw. ITAL seems very obscure, at least to me, never having come across it in the rather limited and provincial circles I move in (or used to move in, at any rate). Only that there were only a very limited number of options available when the crossers and nina were in place made it solvable. But even then the clue was very neat, in terms of its construction. CENOTE was another unknown, but rather more plausible. These two were the only ones where I needed to resort to the Internet – well, for those, and to look at pictures of HAWKSBILL TURTLEs, one of the joys of a crossword being these little opportunities to discover something new.

Clue of the Day to me has to be 2d, a delightful clue, with a great surface reading and neat word-play: “Essentially they vacuously cheek live routines (8)”.

To December 2016 for the answers and explanations:

i Cryptic Crossword 3125 Phi

February 12, 2021

Regular visitors to idothei may have become familiar with discussions about the accessibility (or otherwise) of Phi’s ghost-themes. Some of you may have noticed my comments in which I have said that I no longer look for them, which has had a liberating effect, allowing me to enjoy Phi’s offerings as simple straightforward cryptics.

Today, blogging a Phi puzzle (I wonder who Cornick will have to grapple with tomorrow), I thought I ought to at least try to spot what our setter had hidden away for us to find. I spotted some first names, but could not deduce anything from them. I entered some unlikely pairs of words into Google (SERBIAN STEVEDORE, FEARSOME ABSENCE) but after a few minutes of this I had got nowhere. I looked for ACRONYMs in the uncrossing lights, again to no avail, apart from P.O.S. I came to the conclusion that Phi’s arcane theme had eluded me once more – only to turn to the original blog to find that our setter had commented to confirm,that there was, in fact, no hidden theme.

So, just a nice enjoyable and fairly accessible puzzle today. No question marks in my margins, nothing requiring a dictionary or Google. No contentious word-play or obscure definition. And the only thing that might have eluded the Younger Solver was the old-fashioned size of paper – but even that is memorable on account of its quirkiness. So full marks to Phi today for a good crossword.

Clue of the day? With a tip of the hat towards his colleagues Jonofwales, Batarde and Cornick, Saboteur offers 8d: “Handle lightly used, turning up amongst these many buildings (6)”.