Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

Very much a graded crossword I thought; some very easy ones, a majority that were perfectly tractable with thought, and a few which were more challenging at the end. I dare say these will have varied from solver to solver, but for me putting ‘olio’ into 8d NEROLI OIL was tricky, as was the neighbouring 4a ABSIT OMEN; sometimes things seem very straightforward in retrospect, but during the solve you need all the crossing letters to believe such an unlikely sequence of letters could be right. It also took me a while to remember what a vigneron is at 13d, with my LOIs being 16a NUANCE then 20a SELFIE. So some 1*, some 2*, some 3* = average difficulty as above – feel free to disagree!

The clues I enjoyed most were 11a NOD, 12a OPERATIONAL, 18a THANKFUL, 21a MIDDLE-EARTH, and 2d SLANDER. But I’m contractually obliged to pick one out as a favourite, so let’s go with this one:

5d 24 hours for one to grasp German conjunction (6)

My only very minor quibble was the repetition of the same anagram indicator ‘at sea’ in 4a and 8d. My guess is that Phi might have changed one of them if he’d noticed, but does it really matter? Surely not.

For all the answers, parsings, and a comment from the setter (which I shall respectfully ignore), please click the following link:

Independent 9,577 by Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

A game of two halves for your blogger this morning. The LHS went in as readily as if I was giving viewers of ‘Cracking the Cryptic’ a live-time video solve on YouTube; the RHS would have had them switching to PewDiePie.

1* and 3* averages out at 2*, the same as yesterday’s Klingsor. Are we at idothei inconsistent? Forgive us, this star rating thing is new…

So this was Gila’s tenth blocked puzzle for the Independent stable, I think – most of which have been in the supposedly easier Sunday slot. However he also does Inquisitor puzzles, and you could see a few tricks in today’s clues that would be more familiar in that barred world than this perhaps. Tesla means T, there’s a restaurant called Noma in Copenhagen, doughnut can be spelled donut without being indicated as American, the buttocks can be called ‘prat’, dodgy = sus, and an every other letter selection can be indicated by ‘often’. So not all plain-sailing by any means.

We had a few bottom related clues which I know some solvers might find amusing – Bottom! Ho-ho!

Actually the surface reading for one of those was excellent – the clue for PRATTLE at 5d; other superior surfaces were those for 13a SMOOTHIE, 14a TESTES, and 26a SNAFU, while 6d ORBITAL provided a good example of a clue which although it suffered from questionable etymological crossover, was able to be rescued by an amusing surface.

Here’s my CoD though, which had me kicking myself when the penny dropped:

20a Sci-fi film about small green animals (4,4)

Back to 2017 and the Fifteensquared blog:

IndependentonSunday1428Gila

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

After a week with two 5* puzzles – without even including the Serpent on Thursday – it feels quite reassuring to get back to Phi on a weekend, and this one was bang down the middle of his particular fairway. We had a theme which with CASABLANCA at 1a and CHINATOWN at 1d you hardly needed to be a film buff to notice – if you bothered looking that is. Given that there must be thousands of titles to choose from, I did wonder if there might be some extra connection between the seven I spotted, and there is – sort of. But it’s not that they share a director, or that they’re all Oscar winners for cinematography or anything, rather is it their symmetrical positioning in the grid, which means MATADOR must be a film title too, though not one I’d heard of.

The two new terms for me were RE-EDIFY and MODERN LATIN, although I guess HYMENEAN isn’t exactly everyday usage for most of us. And then for some reason I was unsure how to spell VINAIGRETTE, which is daft because I know how to spell vinegar in French better than in English. The clues from Phi were mostly pretty straightforward. TIN ‘T’ at 28a is a device Phi uses a lot, and having a hefty 10 deletions is also characteristic of this setter. My only unparsed clue was the ‘bra in’ at 3d which Phi wanted us to imagine as a text message, despite it’s not including any texting language. Oh well, Duncan realised on the other side, so perhaps that’s just me.

Favourite clue? Well I liked the ones for CABARET, SPARTACUS, and CHINATOWN very much, but my pick today goes to one from the (relatively) tricky NE corner:

11a Recalled me being like a Romantic poet (with a twist) in the early stages (9)

Click below for a link to the original blog from 2017 with all the answers:

fifteensquared.independent.puzzle-phi

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

Phi was on good form today I thought, with a theme occupying seven of the entries which, if you didn’t spot it, you might like to go looking for now – it is gettable this time.

At the outset the grid looked like it might very likely have something going on, but I only lasted about 2 seconds scanning the completed crossword before giving up the search; past failures having battered me into abject defeatism.  Never mind, Fifteensquared told me it’s the ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech from Jaques in As You Like It. Very nice.

Solving progressed steadily this morning, despite being slightly the worse for wear after a heavy night on the sauce, the answers revealing themselves from top to bottom as is my usual practice. The intersecting 23d GRIN and 25a TERRITORY were my last ones in, but with hindsight they maybe shouldn’t have taken such a very long time to crack as they did. Along the way there were some real treats which included an apposite anagram for 9a GATECRASH, nice surface readings in 11a INFANT and even better at 14a SUBTROPIC , a great penny-drop with 21d ASLANT and this, my nomination for Clue of the Day:

13d Important broadcaster’s run ending in despair after “Farewell and thank you” (5,4)

Just a couple of rarities: PANTALOON rather than the more familiar Pantalone at 15d; PARAMECIA rather than the more familiar Paramecium at 8d. But that could just be me. And I was a little surprised to see that 1a BOONDOCKS wasn’t indicated as being American  – apparently it’s US WWII military slang from the Tagalog for mountain, bundog.

Click on the link below for all the answers and explanations:

Independent 9,541 / Phi

Difficulty rating (out of five):  🌟🌟

This was Beet’s one and only crossword for the Independent. More’s the pity because she’s extremely good. If you want to see more of her, you could always go to Big Dave’s ‘Rookie Corner‘ or ‘Not The Saturday Prize puzzle’ (you might need to scroll through the lists) where she cut her teeth, but regrettably as soon as she reached the Independent she seems to have thrown in the setting towel to concentrate on her career – as a lawyer, if memory serves.

I thought this was a real treat. First of all the entries in the grid were the sort of words we all like to be reminded of – Smorgasbord, Pompadour, Portmanteau, Diphthong, that sort of thing – not obscure at all, but rather what my son’s primary school teacher used to call ‘expensive words’ (I remember she banned the use of ‘said’ or ‘nice’). Then the grid shape was user friendly with plenty of starter letters given by other words. The surface readings were brilliant – especially those for EXTEMPORE, EXECRABLE, OPIUM, TABOO, AISLE, POMPADOUR and RUMP of course; then finally there were some really clever bits of misdirection and crypticness going on: 1a GRI[n]D; the nifty constructions of 11a PORTMAN/TE/AU and also 8d JUST /SO S/TORIES; well lots of them really. Even the ordinary clues like 2d RUPEE or 26a HEAT WAVE were still very good.

My CoD award goes to a clue which admittedly only works if you have a smattering of familiarity with the relevant Greek legend:

14a  Competition winner awarded an Apple iPad or the alternative (9)

Upon completion I wasn’t entirely sure that 17d was just a straight cryptic without anything else going on, but looking at Fifteensquared I presume it must be, even if Pierre’s blog seems to indicate otherwise (I think). I also failed to pick up the reference to Adrian Mole measuring his ‘THING’ at 18a – although I can well believe it’s famous beyond the confines of the books.

Here’s the link back to the puzzle’s first appearance with fully 46 comments.

http://www.fifteensquared.net/2017/05/22/independent-9549beet/

This will undoubtedly have proved a welcome relief for any solvers who’ve been feeling uncomfortable with the challenging puzzles of late, but if you enjoy them chewy – as I especially do at the weekend – then it might have been over a bit too quickly.

All was pleasant and correct – I wasn’t really sure what was intended by 14a HAPPY AS A SANDBOY, so that was got on definition alone; my parsing of 17d YARDSTICK was different to both the versions offered on Fifteensquared; isn’t it Measure = Yard + work = stick, as in to function successfully? And the only real obscurity was my last-one-in, the philosopher EPICTETUS, got by dint of scouring ‘E’ in the index of my only philosophy book. Mind you, a lot of his Stoical ideas seem pretty sound today, as capitalism arguably faces an existential crisis, e.g. ‘Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants’.

Anyhow, back to the clues, and my favourites included the intricately put-together 3a PECCADILLO, 12a ELSEWHERE, and the clever use of air and N(itrogen) in 22d CAIRN. This one pips them all though, and is my Clue Of the Day:

24a Make Parisian perhaps strangely iffy about separation, abandoning women (9)

Finally, here’s the link for all the answers and parsings on a Friday in 2017:

Independent 9511 / Phi

A terrific crossword from Dutch I thought – quite a bit easier than the last few days, but packed with clever ideas to sustain the interest. Loads of candidates for Clue of the Day – the first four across clues were all entertaining, I loved the Keeps till/ KEEP STILL gag at 17d, 4d PLOUGHMEN and 7d HARD TIMES were both outstanding, but my nomination goes to this one with its smooth surface containing a three-part charade:

15d Poser with Spanish and German liquor (9)

The grid convinced me there had to be a hidden theme somewhere but no, this was the exception to prove the rule, because Dutch had re-used a grid from an earlier themed crossword – for reasons he explains in the comments below Duncan’s 2017 blog. Click this link for that and all the answers:

Independent 9545 / Dutch

A rare instance of an un-themed crossword from me – no Nina or gimmick either this time. When filling the grid I can remember simply looking for a collection of nice, accessible or interesting words to fit around a couple of entries used to seed the puzzle – in this case they were 1/9a COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE and 11d UNFATHOMABLE. If you don’t know the former it’s terrific fun to do – you don a half mask, learn some characteristics of your stock character and improvise around a series of lazzi (situations). The joy is that each of us seems to have one of the stock characters inside us, so simply tap into that and go with the flow. Scaramouche, Harlequin, Punch, the Inamorati, Pierrot, and several other archetypes have been super-important in the development of European theatre.

However my CoD nomination goes to the other seed clue, which made it into the puzzle as something along the lines of Thoma[s] inside ‘Un fable’ but with which I became dissatisfied so changed it into an anagram. When setting I sometimes think of anagrams as being a bit of a cop out, but this one provided some fortuitously misleading deception.

11d An album of The Kinks that’s impossible to get (12)

Here’s the link to the Fifteensquared 2017 blog, and a time when Jeremy Hunt was still the Health Secretary:

2017/05/04/independent-9534-by-maize

Vigo appeared in Alan Connor’s ‘Meet the Setter’ series last month, and comes across as being every bit as pleasant as one might hope. Click here to read the article. In it she says she thinks that when solvers see her name on a puzzle they might think “Maybe I’ll finish this one” or “this will be quick”, depending on how experienced they are… Today’s fitted that bill nicely. Just right for the Monday when it first appeared perhaps, but personally it was maybe a bit too ‘read & write’ for a wet weekend with time on my hands. Not the setter’s fault of course.

Clues from Vigo will always be impeccably turned out with plausible surfaces, there was also a good variety of devices used, with VERONICA (hello Veronica!) being the sole complete anagram. Nothing particularly outstanding I thought, but this neat example of Vigo’s work gets my Clue Of the Day nomination:

3d Embarrass oddly deficient god (4)

The answer is also the surname of one Veronica Mars who you will all know as the eponymous heroine of the American teen noir mystery drama television series created by screenwriter Rob Thomas. No? Me neither. In the comments on Fifteensquared Vigo hopes that didn’t detract from the fun. Well why should it? Only that the grid, with its 36 clues did rather scream that there was a theme somewhere, so it’s a little disappointing to not be able to discover it. In her comment she also explains all the themed entries if you’re interested.

For answers, parsings and comments from 2017 click below.

Independent 9,471 by Vigo

After a mixed bag of puzzles in the i this week, normal service has been resumed with Phi on a Saturday. There wasn’t a theme exactly, more of what I believe they call an ‘Easter Egg’ in gaming circles – a little something to go looking for by way of a bonus once you’ve finished. If you didn’t notice it, you might like to go and have a look at your grid now, it’s not too hard to spot…

There. BarTER/ TERabyte in row 1 etc. Quite nice that. And if I’d spotted it sooner it might have helped me with my LOI 12a where I had I_E_R_A_E_ and couldn’t see past ‘Inebriated’. I did wonder if that was another clerical error with the wrong clue written (it has happened in the app before) but a list of ships soon put me right. Level 2 cheating that 🙂

So what about the clues? Well pretty standard Phi material – 6 or 7 anagrams including one for an unknown-to-me American author DREISER, a very nice cryptic definition for DUST BATH – dry cleaning indeed! – and a few other nifty bits of lateral thinking.

Completed in less than average time for the i, my pick for Clue Of the Day is this one:

24a Place with lots of phones but only one line, it seems (4,5)

Full parsings with all the answers can be found from the ever-reliable BertandJoyce by clicking here:

Independent 9475 / Phi