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

The oddest of puzzles from Crosophile this Sunday. The top half of the grid was completed in something like 1 for difficulty, and at this point I felt comfortable that I would soon polish off the rest in no time at all. The bottom half though felt like it came from a different puzzle altogether, being mostly impenetrable, typified by ARUM for “lords and ladies”. Combined with an unflagged Americanism in the NW corner, it was at this point I’m afraid that I began to lose patience with the puzzle, and was just pleased to finish. Sorry Crosophile!

When solving I half thought at first that we were getting some sort of biblical theme, what with PROVERBS and WISDOM, but it turns out there’s a very well hidden Nina in the SW to NE diagonal that was timed for the Bank Holiday Monday this was originally published.

COD? I’ll go with 18d – “Potentially costlier place of retirement (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/27/independent-9944-crosophile/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳⏳

An interesting challenge from Serpent this Thursday that felt a little knotty in places. Quite a few I failed to parse – notably 2d and 11ac in the half of the grid which gave the most difficulties. Thankfully we had a Nina in the top and bottom rows of the grid that would make all of those fiddly bits a sudden write-in when spotted. Your own personal difficulty level will depend I suspect on how quickly you made the leap from any bits identified, if at all.

COD? There was much to like today, so I suspect there will be lots of picks, with mine going to 6d – “What could drive legless scoundrel to break toilet locks? (10)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from September 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/13/independent-9959-serpent/

Inquisitor 1768 MD by Penumbra

September 20, 2022

An unusually bulky i Weekend would greet us this Saturday morning. It must have been a quiet news day, though, because most appears to have been devoted to one story.

The constant alerts from the BBC News app had given fair warning.

The latest news: The Queen is dead.

Newsflash: The Queen is still dead.

Latest: Nope, still no sign of a recovery.

So that the Inquisitor would come as more of a relief than it usually does, there being nothing on the telly.

It would be safe to say that the general feeling in the country was somewhere near the bottom of today’s grid – DEPRESSION, WOE, with only the odd few expressing feelings of JOY or EXULTATION, and then not publicly.

Because, yes, our misprints this week were to read FRAME OF MIND. MD you see, which was really rather neat.

Almost as neat as the revelation that we might be over THE MOON, or under A CLOUD. I’d like to say I spotted both quicker than I did.

Less neat was the DEPRESSION and WOE that would descend as I spent a good couple of days while steadfastly avoiding the “news” looking for three letters to change to reveal the origin of the “ideal MD”.

Sunday evening I threw caution to the wind and looked in the preamble for clues. Clues which it revealed could be found (fittingly enough) in the clued entries. HOPE I’d already spotted, but look, there’s OPTIMISM too.

Could the origin be a RAY of HOPE? Maybe, and it does have being appropriately placed between the two extremes going for it, though colour me uncertain bordering on severely doubtful. PREM fits, and ANYS is a name I don’t think I knew, but I haven’t got anything better so here goes for nothing.

And the Queen? The Queen Is (still) Dead.

20220911_202037~2

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳

A debut puzzle from Wire all those years ago in the Independent, and today in the i too I believe. An enjoyable outing – very much on the easy side, but a puzzle doesn’t have to be difficult to be good, and this was top notch stuff. There’s a theme, flagged by Toad, Mole, etc, that I sort of half glimpsed while solving, but never really fully untangled. A good puzzle to get us all back into the swing of things after the long weekend.

COD? I’ll go with 28ac – “Small step led three oddly to discover compound (9)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from September 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/09/11/independent-9957-wire/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳

An enjoyable, not too difficult puzzle from Alchemi today. We have a couple of suits, and interestingly a few answers that are anagrams of each other, but it appears there’s nothing going on in the grid apart from the obvious. Only the one clue – 1d – which would cause any issues, but as 1ac could be little else, neither, could, well, 1d either. Only the one difficult bit of vocabulary down in the SW corner, and clues that were always a pleasure to solve, all in all being a good way to start the day while stuck in a hotel room many miles from home.

Regarding the debate on cathedrals and cities on the other side – towns can indeed have cathedrals, though the number is gradually getting whittled away.

Lastly, very belated best wishes to Alchemi!

COD? Let’s go with 8d – “Stress-reduction gadget boy’s reward for getting upset (5,5)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/20/independent-9938-by-alchemi/

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

A Saturday reprint from Hob today, that had a vague theme based around architecture according to the comments on the other side. You will gather that this is something I totally failed to ascertain. As tough (I hope) as they get – I’ve solved more accessible Inquisitors – and sometimes unfair (I’m looking at you, 18ac). Loads I failed to parse at all on solving, having made sufficient inroads into the grid to get some checking letters and start looking for definitions, where I could spot them.

Unsuited for a weekday, I’d say, and more of a chore than a pleasure to solve, but your mileage may as ever vary of course.

COD? For better or for worse, that would be 15ac – “Initially thrilled by His Excellency’s firm, large erection (3,5)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/25/independent-9943-by-hob-sat-25-august-2018/

After the travails of last weekend’s offering, thankfully something that looks like it’s a little more tractable. One that is likely to give the poor blogger less headaches, and more time to enjoy… The steady rain which marks the return to school and a descent into Autumn proper. As I’ve finally put my back out trying to get the garden in order for the winter, a break of several months will be appreciated. Unless there is painting and other “indoor jobs” lined up to fill the interim.

Coding. Proper encryption stuff. Not the sort of stuff that gets you noticed by GCHQ, but as the whole grid has to be done this is serious business. Serious enough that my first thought on reading the preamble was – bugger it, I’m not going to erase the lot and fill in the grid again, but call on the services of the humble spreadsheet to sort it out and hope I can work out how to screenshot the thing.

Thus you will be relieved this week to not have to decipher my untidy scrawl, but browse through not one, but two grids in clear text where it will be all to easy to spot the inevitable errors.

But the grid fill. We had redundant words in a handful of clues that were going to offer up the key for the encryption bit, and a handful too of unclued entries. So far so IQ.

And so I proceeded, feeling slightly the worse for wear, Saturday morning to complete the SW and NE corners of the grid. Two things became clear:

  • Phi was being gentle with the poor solver.
  • The unclued entries were in text that would only be readable following the final encoding stage.

Which was fine and dandy until I got rather stuck on the rest of the puzzle, and couldn’t complete the latter to get some desperately needed checking letters.

No matter, I thought, I’ve got sufficient (five to be exact) of the redundant words to pluck first and last letters from the same, generating the two words that will make up the key.

Except that the first two redundant words were QUICKSAND and VOW, which don’t lead readily to any words I know.

A closer stare later (and probably because I spend a lot of time staring at a keyboard), QWERT(Y) jumped out, and from the other letters DVORA(K), which is apparently an alternative keyboard layout as well as being the name of pretty famous composer, though I wouldn’t think of that at the time being pretty slow on the uptake when it comes to such leaps of logic.

Line up the letters from each keyboard layout then, in order, one above the other, to give the key. And start coding some of the unclued entries.

At which point a Google search based on likely looking letters between the ones I had revealed that they’re all works by… Yes, you guessed it, Dvořák. Pretty neat, eh?

So all that was left was to complete the grid fill, having re-coded the unclued entries, giving the grid below.

Initial Grid

And then code the lot, with copious thanks to Google Sheets and the VLookup function.

Final Grid

Now, I did like that. At this point I would sometimes point you to Fifteensquared for a more expert view on the puzzle, but they’ve got a new guy on this week and I’m not sure he knows what he’s doing.

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

The run of difficult Sunday puzzles continues with a Thursday Independent reprint from Anglio. I started off quickly enough in the NE corner, but soon slowed down to a crawl, with answers dotted about the grid. Lots went in unparsed, as the wordplay while fair was often quite fiendish (OB for “he died” right at the start being a good example where I could see the answer but not immediately how it was put together). There was only the one obscurity, down in the SE corner, the difficulty being in the cryptic, making this a good puzzle to sit down and get your teeth into of a Sunday morning, afternoon, and perhaps evening too. 😉

COD? I’ll go with 21ac – “EU citizen having right to enter Ulster? (5)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/09/independent-9929-anglio/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳

A quite delightful offering from Phi brings us towards the end of the working week. I say delightful, because the theme (which few will have missed I suspect) was one which was right up my street, and even more so for at least one regular contributor to the comments. Spotting it early helped with the LHS which was a definite step up in difficulty from the other half of the grid, with the parsing and odd enumeration of 12d causing a few issues, and needless to say 3d. I can see that Phi’s used the latter in several puzzles over the years, but the play is and will probably remain a mystery to me.

Loads of thematic material filling the grid today, to the extent that I spent much time anticipating and feeling slightly disappointed that a few personal favourites were missing. A challenge for a future Maize grid fill perhaps?

COD? I’ll go with 18ac – “Time to keep quiet, beset by further financial burden (8)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/10/independent-9930-by-phi/

Difficulty rating (out of five): ⏳⏳⏳⏳

Our theme for the day is strongly hinted at in 1ac, and a certain song by The Jacksons. I will freely admit to failing to spot it, but well done if you did.

An odd solve overall – I started at a rate of knots, but then lost my way somewhat, never quite feeling that I was on the same wavelength as Knut. The NE corner in particular held out for a long time, with 6d striking me as being a little unfair, referring as it does to a TV play from 1971 I’m assuming most solvers will be blissfully unaware of. This, combined with a bit of Russian I didn’t know left me stumped for a while. We’re also required to know the first name of an obscure Belgian politician, and make a bit of a leap of faith regarding a Tory MP I can’t bring myself to type the name of. 🙂 I’ve therefore gone with quite a high difficulty rating, given this sting in the tail.

Where I didn’t flounder I enjoyed the puzzle though, so if you got on better you may have had a less frustrating experience.

COD? I’ll go with 1ac – “Reckless gamble a feature of theme, when it comes to pointing the finger? (3,5,4)”.

All the answers and parsing of the clues can be found in Fifteensquared’s blog from August 2018:

https://www.fifteensquared.net/2018/08/28/independent-9945-by-knut/