Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟

A Saturday reprint courtesy of Serpent eases us towards the end of another week. A fairly breezy offering I thought, with a foothold gained in the SE corner and steady progress made to then finish to the NE with 12ac. Of note were not only a triple definition but a quadruple one too, and a combination of a hidden word and nicely done surface reading at 26ac. Thoroughly enjoyable, with just the right mix of accessible clues and ones to get you thinking a little more, and smiles throughout.

COD? I’ll go with 14d – “Teasing dog in run is one way to lose digits (8)”.

To May 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


Enter Artix, seeking to outdo last week’s Phi on the preamble front. Thankfully, for the solving bit all we had to worry about was one clash and initial letters from extra words in 11 clues. I say “only”, but today’s grid was the closest I’ve come to being nowhere near to completion since Harribob’s magnum opus at Christmas where I finished with a quite spectacularly blank grid and none solved. This wasn’t quite that, but for a long time all I had was about six or seven entered.

I will admit to realising, some time in, that I’d misread the preamble. Yes, you too spent a long time assuming that you were looking for extra letters from clues and not words. All of a sudden those I had solved, such as SELAH, that had left me floundering in the parsing department (what’s new I hear you say) made a lot more sense.

Completion was still pretty much a brute force approach, based on checking letters, bits of wordplay, and a lot of time scouring the BRB for likely looking candidates, because loads went in with little understanding of what was going on.

Which did leave me concerned regarding the clash, but thankfully COMPORT and DEFECTIVE were two I was pretty confident about.

What I was less confident about were the letters from extra words I had, but thankfully NO 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY was as clear as day, and McCall Smith looked like a pretty fair bet for the rest.

I’ve read a couple of the books, and seen bits of the TV series, so the rest was less of a mystery. Extra letters (assuming I’ve got the symmetry bit right) added to give MMA RAMOTSWE and JLB MATEKONI.

All that stuff then about blacking out a line, highlighting, and erasing non-thematic letters was always likely to lead to the Botswana flag. Thankfully I have a wide range of highlighters to hand.

Most difficult one in a long time? Either that or the rigours of Friday night have got the better of me again. Most likely a heady mix of the two. But it all fell together rather neatly, so no complaints here, and compliments to all concerned.


i Cryptic Crossword 3308 Punk

September 14, 2021

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Even theme-blind solvers such as myself will have been hard pushed to miss today’s theme, which is on the subject of a game about which I know little. Which is ironic, because next week a work jolly sees me spending a day in a corporate suite at Lords watching a match, if it doesn’t rain that is. There’ll be a buffet and drinks either way.

I digress. About average difficulty today, with a trap I won’t have been alone in falling into at 24ac, SEISMOMETER being a little too tempting. This left me at the close with nothing realistic that could fit 16d, and thus some last minute second thoughts. If cricket was more your thing I suspect you may have jumped the right way first time. Loads to like, with 16/6 and 8d garnering ticks here, and lots of smiles along the way as expected with this setter.

COD? I especially liked 14d – “Century? English forcing one out for starters (10)”.

To July 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


i Cryptic Crossword 3304 Monk

September 9, 2021

Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟🌟

A Saturday reprint from Monk today which means on both counts that you’re to expect something a little testing, though not overly so I thought, this being on the gentle side for Monk, with lots of easier ones to give you a toe-hold in the grid, and a few definitions that will have jumped out. There are words (and a band in the bottom row) that involve three letter repetitions, that helped no end with the film star to the NW and to the SW with 22ac and 24ac where I was struggling at the close. Things to like in particular were the misdirection regarding the Grieg opera and the anagram at 9d, with lots elsewhere worthy of praise. Monk and the i crossword at their best?

COD? 19d I thought was very nicely done – “Last exposure and future picture do this (6)”.

To July 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


Inquisitor 1714 Clouds by Phi

September 7, 2021

Prize for the most opaque preamble of the year will I suspect (hope) go to Phi, because after several read-throughs of today’s I was only a little wiser. Letters absent from the wordplay of some clues, thematic clues elsewhere where, suspiciously, word counts and lengths refer to grid entries. I’ve been at this game long enough for that statement to ring alarm bells.

When confused my policy is to jump right in and get on with it, which often bears fruit, but would only do so slowly this time despite TROIC right in at the start. What swiftly became obvious elsewhere was that the crossing letters in several answers seemed to bear little relation to the accompanying wordplay. Almost as if those were the thematic answers we were looking for.

Now, I’d already thought that all that stuff about numbers associated with the answers in different ways might be something to do with atomic numbers, so when it became clear that nothing but BEEHIVE would fit 14d, and that it also happened to be a nebula (clouds, see), I chanced upon a list of such things by somebody I’d not heard of called MESSIER, whose name looked suspiciously like the letters absent from wordplay in a number of clues.

Bingo. The Beehive Cluster is Messier 44, and RUTHENIUM which fits some of the wordplay in the clue is atomic number 44 too. At which point ORION and ANDROMEDA swiftly fell, and with it much of the top half of the grid.

The bottom half? After a false start looking at a contemporary rival of Messier’s, a little more googling found the CALDWELL list, the name again suspiciously similar to other emerging absent letters.

Which also cleared up the mystery of the clues for nebulae that crossed both halves, as they were evidently supplying wordplay for elements with atomic numbers that matched those in both lists, there being a Southern Beehive cluster too for example .

And the one normal one that was wrongly positioned? Well, the CRAB nebula is Messier 1, and therefore in the wrong place among the Caldwell lot.

And there we have it, not as impenetrable as it first looked. Unexpectedly therefore we have the rest of the Bank Holiday free for, well, more puzzles, it being a lovely quiet one here. 


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟

Singers of the feathered kind are mostly definitely part of our theme today, though I wasn’t sure if the human ones down in the SW corner were deliberately chosen too. Which is all pretty academic, as I suspect many solvers won’t have noticed in what was a pretty bright, breezy puzzle that was over in no time at all with no hold-ups of note. Some of Hoskins’ trademark references seem to have been reined in a little this time round, which will please some and disappoint others I’m sure. Lots to enjoy, good, solid clues throughout, lots of smiles, so I’m hoping this will be a bit of a crowd-pleaser in the midst of what has been a pretty tough set of puzzles of late.

COD? Just because the definition made me smile (and in spite of my statement above), 2d – “English people occupied by old lady gas? (9)”.

To July 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

A lightly themed puzzle eases us towards the end of the week, based around 17ac. I suspect though that I wasn’t alone in finding that most of the themed entries were a bit of mystery and thus no help with the solving process. There was nothing mysterious about the wordplay though, so I expect that most will have found this to have been a fairly steady, enjoyable and pain free solve. My only question mark at the close was regarding the definition at 20ac, it being seemingly quite outlandish, but evidently correct. Lots to appreciate too, outside of the COD ticks beside 12ac, 14ac, 23ac and 2d. Yes, it was that sort of puzzle.

To the COD then, with my nomination going to 21d – “Witness observed pivotal childhood experience (6)”.

To May 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


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

Our Tuesday theme this week is on the subject of map-reading, and for once it’s one that I spotted. I would like to say that it’s because my powers of observation are improving, but I suspect it’s more likely because I had plenty of time to mull over the grid and spot some pretty blatant references. At this point I was then on the lookout for further thematic entries, which certainly helped, but unfortunately less so in the NW corner where I struggled at the close. On looking back nothing was unfair, so no complaints here over having to spend a little time on some pretty neat wordplay followed by lots of – “of course” – moments. At the close only a few went in not fully understood, all of them thematic entries I’d spotted, so I’d have to say that Radian made me work hard today.

COD? With lots to pick from, I’ll go with 7d – “Line with a pole at each end led outing astray (9)”.

To May 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:


I’m guessing we all sat down this week in the sure and certain knowledge that given two identical grids to fill in, that we would get them the wrong round. And so it was that, despite having decided – not this time – and resolutely pencilled in answers beside the clues in the vain hope that an inkling might emerge, when I eventually did decide – bugger it – and started lobbing the things in realising that any completion would be a long way off otherwise, jotted in TWENTY TWENTY (vision) across the top of the grid, and then worked out that the only alternative letters that would fit for the earlier situation were PATTER PITTER, it became clear that yes, yet again, I’d jumped the wrong way.

Which is what scissors and sellotape are made for. So out with both, a handy cut and paste, PITTER PATTER jotted below the grid, and bob’s your uncle.

Which makes it sound like the rest was a doddle, but mashed together clues really aren’t my strong point. Though once I’d got into the swing of spotting the extra letters joining them, I will admit that progress was more akin to a steady stroll than a crawl.


Now that the rain has gone, which it never really did for much of Saturday in this neck of the woods, but we can’t blame Jaques for that.

I would mention the clues I ended up guessing, those I couldn’t parse fully, and so on, but I can’t read my own writing, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Or, alternatively, look for errors in the grid, because I’m convinced there may be some.

My own writing was what did cause issues at the close, have jotted the hidden NODDLE into the grid as NOODLE, which made sorting out ADDER somewhat more painful than it needed to be. How I laughed when I realised my foolish error.

Done. Another one that fell together quite nicely in between various trips out into the steady rain that assailed us. And Sunday, when I wrote this? Sunday the sun did come out.


Difficulty rating (out of five): 🌟🌟🌟

Phi’s got the Inquisitor spot this week, so we have a themed puzzle from Crosophile for our weekend cryptic. I’m famously bad at spotting themes, but this was one that was hard to miss, with a range of entries from the familiar (9ac and 14d), to the downright obscure (16d). In common with many solvers back in the day I struggled at the close to parse 7d, though by that point it could be little else, but suspect that I was the only person to think first artist, and then turtle before eventually finding the Raphael I was actually looking for. Lots of ambition shown in the clues I thought making this is a worthy Saturday puzzle, though for me Anax still holds the prize for puzzle of the week (and an arguably better choice for the weekend, but I think that the editor likes to offer up something a bit lighter on a Saturday).

COD? It won’t have gone down well with all I suspect, but the image and totally unexpected answer appealed to me. It was also the only answer I had to check in the dictionary. Yes, it’s 20d – “Men with guts in a bad way and dribbles between legs (7)”.

So to June 2017 for all the answers and parsing of the clues: