With this sort of grid – known as a (1,1) grid because that’s where the first black square appears (as opposed to (2,2), (1,2), (2,1) or combinations of those) – you could lay good money on Phi having secreted a secret message or theme in the puzzle. Maybe a Nina around the perimeter or an abstruse theme of New Zealand crime fiction?  But nothing was there.  No pangram, hidden message in the clues, repeated double letters in the answers, no lipograms or hidden words spanning the gaps in the grid.  Nada, zilch, zip.

And that’s pretty much all I have to say about a puzzle which, as I write this, has slipped quietly from memory already.  I notice, upon retrieving my i from the fire-lighting pile, that ‘Banditti’ at 10a is a new word, and now I come to think of it 25a ‘Crystal Set’ caused me to pause, but otherwise everything was presumably satisfactory.  Four clues have ticks by them, one of which coincides with a favourite of RatkojaRiku’s blog of the puzzle from 2013 (click here to see it), so that can be the COD:

9d Explain how lighter citizens of ancient city will have to conserve energy (5,3,5)



Saturday 31st March 2018

With Phi doing the Good Friday puzzle, Klingsor stepped into the Saturday slot last weekend with a typically polished and artful crossword, in which you can be absolutely confident that all the i’s will be dotted and the t’s crossed – trust the setter and even the most intricate of constructions will reveal itself. One thing I’ve noticed he does particularly well is assembling anagram fodder from bits and bobs for a plausible surface – for example 1a had SCATT[y] E[nglish] LADY RUINS – all perfectly fair, but the anagram indicator might have been scatty, ruins or, as it happened, exciting. Loads of variety in the clues and all solvable without recourse to dictionaries which, as Batarde would say, is usually a good sign.

My COD goes to another of those clever anagram clues, and done very differently to the hackneyed treatment the answer normally gets:

21d Amazed Nigel Short cracked Azed barred puzzle? (6)

All the solutions from April 2014 can be found here.

By the way – apologies for my lack of contributions to daily discussions – currently in a part of Scotland where the closest newsagent is a 45 min round trip.

Saturday 24th March 2018

In which 15a – One-eyed – was the gateway clue to a group of famous one-eyed figures. Xenekis, Stainer, Cyclops, Tenniel and Thurber.  Which is all quite nifty, but completely went over my head, alas; having Cyclops and One-eyed in the same puzzle didn’t jump out at me, and I’m unfamiliar with the physiognomies of the other gentlemen.

I did notice some other things though:  26d Dry – the phrase is ‘on’ not ‘off’ the wagon. 4d Sis – Girl’s name not implicated in crimes – cropped up again in yesterday’s Phi as ‘Girl’s nameless crimes’. 12d Tricyclists – not wheeled vehicles, obviously.

Why do these things happen with Phi and not other setters?  Well, we could speculate that a) He’s a Titan amongst setters who is trusted by the editor and doesn’t get the scrutiny afforded to a novice b) He’s good enough to feel, maybe, that he doesn’t need to get a mate to do a test solve c) He’s extraordinarily prolific and d) He’s only human after all.

So a few unusual glyphs in my margin from last Saturday, but also some ticks, with the COD going to the afore-mentioned gateway clue:

15a With limited vision, you’ll be absorbed by love and desire (3-4)

More discussion can be seen over at Fifteensquared.

Saturday 17th March 2018

Which I found a fair deal trickier than did the good people of Fifteensquared here.  The consensus back in 2013 was that this was easier than usual for Phi, whereas I thought he’d cranked the level of difficulty up a few notches… Maybe it was because I was solving somewhat surreptitiously whilst standing amongst the mums and dads on the touchline, watching the youngest play American Football. O joy of joys.

Tricky words early on included Coati-mundi, Confrere and Drogheda, whilst at the end Tele-ad took me an age to spot, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to put the unfamiliar ‘Shark’s Manners’ in any more than the faintest of biro.

Runner up for COD was 8d, and the gold medal goes to the following:

13/22a Old North American concealed heavyweight round object, without hope of success (2,1,6,2,7)


P.S. Using my alternative monicker of Maize, I have a puzzle in today’s Independent on line.  Click here to save yourself having to wait four-and-a-half years for it to appear in the i – inshallah.

Saturday 3rd March 2018

I enjoyed last weekend’s Phi very much indeed. It’s hard to tell how much these things are subjective, but it seemed to have a freshness about it that was Phi at his best.

True, there was a heavy reliance on anagrams and deletions, plus a smattering of those ‘words previously unknown’, but the theme of fairies in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was nice and accessible for a theatre bod like me (although DB will have doubtless hated it!) and the surface readings were beautifully done.

Plenty of options for COD, with many of those 8 anagrams being strong candidates, but I’m plumping for the delicious wordplay in the following:

12d   Apple? Host’s very interested in a piece (8,3)

Cllick here to go back to the balmy days of August 2013 for all the answers and parsings.

Saturday 24th February 2018

It’s probably invidious to do so, but with nothing much to say about last week’s Prize puzzle, I’m going to compare Phi with the only other once-a-week setter, Dac.

They’re not a million miles apart really, but Phi on a non-themed, non-Nina day is clearly a measure harder. He uses more obscurities – words like Lar as a deity in 12a, or 11a Beaumur would be surprising indeed on a Wednesday, but are common enough on a Saturday. Whilst Dac is rightly celebrated for his smoothness of surfaces and seemingly effortless wordplay – he’s been called ‘the best pound-for-pound setter out there’ (or something like that) – we can all look to Phi to give us something a bit more challenging to get our teeth into at the weekend – a wide general knowledge goes a long way and there’s a good measure of the unexpected to boot.

COD was my last one in:

15a Dead ringer initially seen in ring of shadows (9)


Update. I’ve just read the 2013 blog on Fifteensquared here and discovered there is indeed a Nina. Frankly I despair, and I’m afraid Phi and I will have to agree to differ as to whether Ninas are there for the setter’s amusement or the solvers’.

Saturday 17th February 2018

Last weekend’s Phi had something of the feel of a barred puzzle, I thought. Not so much the wordplay elements, which were straightforward enough (deletions and anagrams abounding as per), but rather the solutions – especially those animals – which presumably took up residence in some of the remoter corners of Noah’s Ark. At any rate I don’t remember the Sumpter, Green-drake, Alevin or Sterlet in any of the illustrations from my Children’s Bible.

Leaving aside all that, and the description of Noah as an ‘historic’ sailor (hmm), I found this to be a very enjoyable ruse indeed. The animals did indeed come in two by two, paired and orderly with Noah/S’ark to hold them in place. Lovely. And no shame in using dictionaries last week –  this was a fun challenge and just right for a Saturday.

Precious few ticks mind you – the theme was the real winner here – so I’ll give the COD to the following:

1d Stay in endlessly violent Eastern state capital (5,5)

All the answers, a different leader of the UN in 18d, and some input from the setter can be found here.

Saturday 10th February 2018

Ondine, Le Gibet and Scarbo are the three movements of Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’ – based on Bertrands poems of the same name. And looky looky there they all are, in rows 1, 5 and 15, with the composer in the middle of the grid…  I’m expecting the girls from Little Mix this week.

All that explains why Phi chose the decidedly obscure Iseabail to fill the grid for 4d – not my cup of tea that – but otherwise I liked this puzzle very much indeed – lots of ticks and even a couple of doubles.

The theatrical ‘lawyer’ and ‘waiter’ will have divided opinions, but get a thumbs up from me, however my pick of the bunch was the following:

11a Feet on pitches holding rugby back – incomplete team? (8)

Saturday morning and the Fifteensquared link has re-appeared – I pass on Gaufrid’s apologies that the comments have mysteriously vanished into the ether somehow. Apart from one posted just now by me, that is.


Saturday 3rd February 2018

Back onto Nina + theme territory last with Phi last Saturday.

[Tom] Stoppard in the top unches and five of his plays: Arcadia, Jumpers, Travesties, Dirty Linen, and [The Coast of] Utopia dotted around the grid. Well, theatre is one of my interests and I spotted 4 out of 5 of those – pretty late mind you, so no real help was provided for the last few tricky clues. My last one in took me an age – ‘I Puritani’ clued by a girl who might have been Lisa, Gina, Mira, Nina, Tina or, as it happened, Rita.

Plenty of good clues, and for the Clue of the Day it would be churlish not to concur with the one Phi himself says was his favourite in the comments over at Fifteensquared:

11a Accountant backed funding to secure right rural paradise (7)

Saturday 24th January 2018

Which I found up at the top end of the Phi scale of difficulty, but the good people of Fifteensquared here seemed to have struggled with a good deal less.

There were 10 ticks in my margin last Saturday, which is a decent haul by any standards, so plenty to enjoy, but also some real toughies in there, I thought.

28a gave us an Amazonian fish which everyone’s heard about – it’s the one reputed to swim up your stream of urine if you go for a wee in a river – but surely nobody will have known its name (at least until now) and its clue was difficult, to say the least. Then 4d gave us a medical condition unknown to me with wordplay including lisp defined as ‘speak obscurely’…hmm. Pudding was rice in 5d – is that allowed? And the town of Nome was a pretty obscure way to clue the Italian city in the wordplay of 10a.

Never mind, on the plus side were some delicious bits of wordplay: Ex TB in Nest for 6d, CBE in Math for 29a, and a delightful clue for my last one in Iodine at 7d. However my COD award goes to the super-smooth 24a:

Factory profit cut back a small amount (9)

And to find out what links those particular Italian cities click here.