First thoughts on solving today’s offering from Morph revolved round wondering how amused Topsy would be as there’s a definite thread running through the clues and answers… Second was what a good puzzle this is, one that I wouldn’t have minded spending much more time over, such was the goodness on offer. As it was I finished somewhat under par for the i, appropriately enough on 9/24 where Morph seems to have said – to hell with it, let’s go for broke.

Unknowns for me at 17d and 20d, but nothing that wasn’t gettable from the wordplay. Elsewhere 19d was obvious enough, but the parsing less so. Some nice contemporary references were on offer throughout, notably at 21d and 25ac, which can only be a good thing when trying to attract new, younger solvers.

All of which shouldn’t have taken you too long overall, leaving plenty of time to solve today’s Independent puzzle by our erstwhile Saturday blogger. It’ll be a good one.

COD? Loads to choose from, as this really was a smorgasbord of delights, with my nomination going to 17d – “Sleeper comedian ends in orgasmatron getting fired up (5-3)”.

To August 2015 and a post which Pierre seems to have produced at short notice, and commendably so:

Time being short today, I was glad to find not only that Dac is occupying his customary slot in the i, but also that this was towards the easier end of the spectrum. I’m afraid that this has been one of those days where I didn’t have time to do the puzzle justice, lobbing answers in on definitions, checking letters here and there, and basically getting away with it. No real unknowns beyond the Yorkshire location I sort of knew, and the DJ whose first name I’d forgotten, but the wordplay sorted both out very nicely thank you. 🙂 Finish time comfortably under par for the i, and now I’m afraid I must dash…

But not before nominating my COD, which goes to 18d – “Energy needed after three lessons in school? I’ll supply fruit (4,4)”.

To August 2015, when this was something of a landmark puzzle:

I’m not wont to spot themes, but spot one I did today, albeit almost at the close on finally solving 1ac. We have several of the beasts dotted round the grid, some more familiar than others, but this was a puzzle that was perfectly accessible and solvable even if you didn’t spot what was going on. Which is exactly how it should be, of course. Thoroughly enjoyable throughout, and finished comfortably under par for the i, this made a nice change from Tuesday themed puzzles that tend I find to be rather challenging since Virgilius moved onto pastures new.

On solving I failed miserably to parse 1ac, but elsewhere everything went in pretty much understood, with only the one odd word at 25ac which couldn’t have been more fairly clued. There’s a typo at 26d, not that I noticed until I saw it flagged up over on the other side…

COD? 13ac raised a smile, and 19d was very nicely done, with my nomination going to 14ac – “Good stargazing needed for making of stargazey pie, etc?”.

To October 2015:

So Ifor time, and no highlighting or cycling this week. With the holidays drawing to a close and the slight alarm at having to go back to work rising from a whisper to a dull ache without a drop of alcohol to blame, does this mean a gentle easing back into things? Well, not really, because the across clues are each three rolled into one. Azed does this sort of thing now and then, and each time he does I fail miserably.

Fail miserably I duly did glancing through the acrosses, and resigned to my fate staggered onto the downs, not having read the preamble properly sort of assuming they were the same. Which they weren’t. And they were also a lot more tractable, falling without recourse to crossing letters in many cases, in particular the NW corner which was a bit of a confidence boost.

The across clues. With the help given by the downs they also proved to be a lot more solvable. The letters to be removed from each before entry? D’s. And, oh, one T from each as well, though that took me a while to notice. You can tell I wasn’t on particularly sparkling form. DDT, a particularly nasty chemical stuff I’m led to believe.

Almost forgot, six downs contained an extra word. Take their position in the clue, find the corresponding letter in the answer, to spell… SPRING, though not without first adding “inside” erroneously from 6d to the list, missing “business”, and coming up with something rather less coherent altogether.

It’s supposed to be the second word of a title. One’s not leaping out. Let’s, as suggested, look at the unchecked initial letters in the downs. CARSON.

A nifty Google of Carson, DDT and Spring gives… Rachel Carson, and the book is Silent Spring, which is apparently responsible for DDT getting banned. Thus our adjustments to the across answers.

Which all hangs together rather neatly, actually, so thanks Ifor for an enjoyable challenge.

Word of the week: It’s got to be SLEIPNIR, which isn’t in Chambers, and is, well, just look for yourself.

Clue not understood of the week (and there is always at least one): 29d, which presumably can only be one thing, but colour me bemused.

Clue of the week: 4d was a very nice spot, wasn’t it?

Lunchtime having evaporated in a haze of work meetings, and thus an early morning solve being in order, I was first of all:

  1. A bit concerned that if I remembered rightly Nitsy could sometimes be on the tricky side.
  2. Then relieved that this was evidently not at all on the tricky side.
  3. 16d on trying to persuade the oldest to get out of bed and out of the 3ac in time for his driving lesson.

Happy Monday, Jon.

The only hold ups were 18d where I initially lobbed in another bird starting PEA, and, yes, 9d at the close which seemed to come from a different puzzle altogether. One where you most definitely needed to trust the wordplay and hopefully had a dictionary to hand.

So on with the day, a thoroughly good start to it having been supplied courtesy of Nitsy. A suitably gentle introduction to the working week.

COD? Lots to like, with the &lit at 22d in particular raising a smile – “Place in which you’ll see termination of Roman? (5)”.

To August 2015:

Last year Vigo ranked as being the easiest of the i‘s setters, but I found today’s offering surprisingly to be a little more of a challenge. There were plenty of easy clues to get you started, but a couple of the shorter answers – in particular 8ac and 10ac – took a while to fall, and elsewhere the puzzle felt generally knotty. At the close I finished just over par for the i, so this is far from being a monster of a puzzle, just not what I expected at the start. As I’m struggling with sleep deprivation though as the week progresses, it’s possible that your mileage may vary, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable crossword nevertheless.

On solving I wondered what Topsy would make of 11ac, and if Sprouthater’s solving what he made of 3d. 🙂

COD? Lots to like today, in particular 6d and 2d, with my nomination going to the aforementioned 8ac – “Skin and cook frozen duck (4)” which looks so simple in retrospect, but caused no end of difficulty.

To August 2015:

Week in and week out we get a quality offering from Dac, but for me this was him at his best. Fabulous clues, always clear wordplay, no reliance on trickery, no obscurities beyond 17d which is as gettable as you’d like, an object lesson all in all in how it should be done.

The parsing of 10ac I was a little unsure about, but the good folk on Fifteensquared agreed with my vague musings. 16ac was perhaps a little trickier to parse, but the checking letters in the second half of the answer were enough of a nudge in the right direction, and the whole then fell with a smile.

Beyond that there is a little to say, but in a good way. Loads of ticks beside my COD nomination, in particular 14ac, 1d and 26ac, which goes to the aforementioned 16ac – “Oh! Is that how the compiler views these sweets? (4,6)”.

First in the first one I looked at, being 25d, last in 21d which did give me a little pause for thought at the close, finish time the fastest this year.

Over to the end of December 2015 for all the answers and parsing of the clues:

Hob’s back, and with a vengeance it seems as this was really rather difficult. Our theme revealed itself quickly enough, and in retrospect I should have guessed some of the thematic answers much sooner than I did, but thanks to the sheer fiendishness of Hob’s clue-writing and ability to hide definitions this took me about twice my average time for the i.

Things I didn’t like would have to include 12ac which is a bit too clever for its own good, and some wordplay that strikes me as being overly obscure. Throughout there was much I didn’t understand on solving, being relieved to be honest just to get some answers in the grid.

Things I did like? There’s no lack of invention on show, with wordplay that is often very deftly put together.

As an overall summary I’ll offer my comment jotted beside 22d on getting the answer and looking back at the wordplay – “Yikes”.

COD? I’ll go with 18d – “Bit of bromide taken by randy model railway man (6)”.

To December 2015 when solvers would have had rather more time on their hands:

The last Inquisitor of 2019 comes courtesy of perhaps the most fiendish of Inquisitor setters, but also twofold winner of the best of award, so evidently we’re in for something good.

Something that good, and that fearsome that our editor saw fit to send out a message telling us that the endgame was quite something, but also to:

The endgame does indeed look worthy of the reminder with lots of cycling of rows and columns, the sort of thing Harribobs has had us do previously with diagonals if I remember rightly. The rest is a handful of normal clues, a handful without definition identifying a number of “tourists”, the rest to be cycled on entry. It all looks so straightforward when you put it like that.

FOI then UTIS. It needs cycling, so let’s lob in SUIT as obviously the cycling will produce real words.

Nul points, no they don’t, which swiftly becomes clear with others that no matter how much you frantically cycle them won’t produce anything approaching a real word.

So the grid fill turns into a matter of getting the normal clues in place as anchors, and fitting the cycled ones round them. This surprisingly turns out to be not as fearsome as it first appeared. Luckily as we have the in laws down, and solving time is at a premium.

Highlights? It was good to see RC for peacekeepers rather than the rather more mundane UN, and MARRAM is a thing of beauty.

Ah yes, the tourists. The first was evidently an anagram of “Quiet lan”, but no anagram solver I could find was going to sort that one out. It’s ANQUETIL, a cyclist as suspected pretty much from the start, as are the other three in the grid – CONTADOR, the extremely unlikely looking MERCKX and NIBALI.

Guess how much I know about the sport?

Luckily Google knows rather more. So that when it came to cycling the rows, the fact that GIMONDI and HINAULT would appear in the left hand column was pretty odds on. Both having done rather well in the Tour de France I gather, a sporting event I find – to be quite frank – rather bemusing. My brother-in-law’s a big fan, but he’s busy DIYing in their new house, so probably best left to it.

Thankfully this cycling lark is turning out to be quite un-fearsome, if a little nervy given the potential to destroy that carefully filled grid.

Luckily we live in a civilised age and have something called the spreadsheet which you would swear was designed for exactly this sort of thing. Thankfully a nifty cut and paste also brings over any cell shading. Phew.

Cycling of the columns proves to be equally, sort of alright. Revealing the TOUR down to the south, and two other races to the north and east – the GIRO D’ITALIA and VUELTA A ESPANE – apparently the big three of the sport. Who knew?

And look, there are three more cyclists – FROOME, who even I’ve heard of, THOMAS and S YATES. All three Brits it seems.

So shading with “last year’s colours”. The observant among you will note that the grid below is of a slightly more professional aspect than the one I’m wont to post. That’s because I cocked up the printed copy, missing one clear square when transcribing to the aforementioned spreadsheet, and also jumping to the conclusion that the shading should be that for Team Sky, which seemed to be blue.

In the depths of the night I wondered at the plural “colours”, and also why the shape (shirt?) Thomas appears in is yellow. Is it because Tour winners wear a yellow jersey, which even an ignoramus like me couldn’t fail to be aware of? Yes it is. And do the other two events also have winning jerseys with different colours? Yep, red and a rather fetching shade of pink respectively.

Match last year’s winners with the colour jersey, and shade?

I think so.

Phew. Done and dusted, and hopefully right this time. Harribobs with an early shot at next year’s best of? I think so, because that all hung together rather nicely, didn’t it? Now pass me some of the Scotch that’s cluttering up the cupboard, the New Year approaches.

So back to work day for a lot of us, with the accompanying shock to the system and general not-used-to-getting-up-at-this-ungodly-hourishness. So I was glad that Pierre noted in his Fifteensquared blog that this was “[a] curious mixture of the easy stuff we hope for in a Monday Indy and four or five clues that it took me forever to get”, because I thought I was just slipping. In particular the capital which I should have remembered, but couldn’t, together with an odd nautical term, a bit of German and fairly obscure accompanying synonym, plus 12d which has what is perilously close to an indirect anagram. Elsewhere there were plenty of easy clues to get the grid all but filled, and overall this was pretty enjoyable, so a satisfying start to the week, albeit one that took considerably longer than expected.

COD? I don’t usually go for cryptic definitions, but I did like 15d – “One content with Continent?”.

To July 2015 where the correct parsing for 22ac is actually given in the comments: