Saturday 2nd February 2019

Hands up who spotted the Nina?

Well I spent a good couple of minutes looking at the end of last Saturday’s crossword, and completely failed to notice the procession of CA through the across solutions – CAttle, sCAmpi, voCAls, outCAsts, deliCAte then, niftily, sceniC, AgoraphobiA, Coward, ACt of God, lACtific, reACts, lunACy, maniAC. Remarkable that, and a good example for the uninitiated of what a Nina is as opposed to a theme.

Over at Fifteensquared here, Phi declares ‘it’s just something I put in to get over the ever-recurring dread of having to fill a new grid’. Well, maybe, but it must be fun to compose too.

Another remarkable thing was the complete absence of anagrams. Again, hands up if you can remember ever seeing that in an i crossword before?

I didn’t find the clues as difficult as Phi can be though. My last two in were the long entries at 8d and 11a, which were both a little tricky, but generally there were no complaints.

Indeed, some goodies in there, amongst which my pick for COD goes to the following:

5d Second son emerging from nearest cupboard (6)


Saturday 26th January 2019

No getting away from the do-it-yourself-special Clue of the Day last Saturday:

4d/26a  2 22 6 13D could be over-familiar (4-6-4-3)

Of course the convention on idothei is that we bloggers leave the COD hanging there, tantalising you to try and solve it perhaps – but without all the crossing letters you’d have if you were solving it for real.  Unfair I know.  But not as unfair as what I’ve just done, which is to present you with, well, gobbledygook.  So here it is again, in translation, by dint of substituting the answers to those four clues:

Stones equal source opera house could be over-familiar

Any clearer? Have a look over on Fifteensquared here and you can see how that led to ‘Hail-fellow-well-met’.  Nice that.

18a with its ‘total failure of energy’ also gets an honourable mention, in a pleasingly high quality set of clues. Thanks due to Phi, then, and also to my better half for her knowledge of slinky Chinese outfits.


Saturday 19th January 2019

An impressively well disguised theme last weekend – the novels of Louis de Bernieres: NOTWITHSTANDING (9a), BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS (22d, 2d, 23a) and CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN (27a, 17d, 6d). What made it so well hidden was the lack of the usual tells that a theme was there, like short lights, negative checking or lots of obscurities.  Nice grid filling indeed.

But then again it was Phi, so maybe ‘Corelli’ alone should have been enough to send me looking for the obvious novel; I just thought it was Phi doing his classical composer thing again, so didn’t twig.

Good clues and an enjoyable solve with just one query on the &Lit anagram at 13a. I can’t help thinking ‘pearl’d’ is a typo – don’t they mean ‘pear’ld’?

COD?  3d Stature’s something like A1? (6)

All the answers from 2014 in Duncan Shiell’s blog here.

Saturday 10th January 2019

Hmm, let’s think… Gödel, Escher, Lincoln, Bach, May, Eli, Liszt… Can you spot a connection?

I couldn’t. But Google can, and readily threw up another item from the Paul Henderson bookshelf, the Pulitzer prize winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter.  With that discovered, Eternal, Golden, and Braid were also obviously part of the theme. Full marks if you can see how Soft and Hatred are too.

I haven’t read the book but I have vaguely heard of it and it certainly sounds interesting – apparently it’s a novel about the origins of consciousness in the human brain, and it’s also laced with puzzles and wordplay.  I’ll put it on my Christmas wish list then.

I enjoyed the clues – even if 13 deletions in the wordplay probably does represent an over-reliance on that particular technique – and overall this one wasn’t one of Phi’s trickiest puzzles. Some at Fifteensquared (click here for the answers) were unfamiliar with 11a; they’re lucky to have escaped a long car journey complete with various Cornick relatives blaring out the choral round version of ‘Dona nobis pacem’ at full volume.

My pick of the clues was the following:

18d Uproar about extra building cut down for factory (7)

Even the Nina-blind among us might have realised something was going on in the peripheral unches last weekend: Wah-wah, Tartar, Tsetse and Atlatl – that last one a sort of native North American spear.

Was that gag worth having the obscurities Petechia, Saithe and Agacante? I’d say not, because the fun of solving a clue is the penny-drop moment when you get it – that little rush of endorphins without having to go to the gym – which is denied the solver by having to look something up in the dictionary.  Others’ opinions may differ!

We’ve had a splendid last 5 days of puzzles, and in truth I liked all those weekday offerings a bit better, but enough moaning already…. this was generally a very good crossword, and still a level above what you’d get in most national newspapers, so thank you Phi. And here’s an example to prove it:

COD 24d Rake path, removing last of grit (4)

Back to 2014 for all the answers and a divided set of comments from the usual suspects.

Saturday 29th December 2018

Looking back at this puzzle from last Saturday (I seldom write these blogs until the last minute), I see there were fully 11 ticks in my margin, just 2 question marks (Nilometer, Motmot), one ‘iffy’ glyph (22a), and one unsmiley face (the ambiguity of 16a Clinch/clench, although I guessed right).  In my book, as a critical so-and-so, that equates to a setter on good form.

For a COD I was very taken with the lovely &Lit of 8d Nightshirt, but the following takes it by a nose, despite Phi having used ‘rugby posts’ a couple of times before – well, why not?

4d Rugby embittered about its goal posts in busy period (4,4)

Back to the tag end of 2013 here for all the answers. If you spotted the ghost theme of a book called ‘Luminaries’ by a New Zealand author called ‘Catton’ (combine the first word of the first 2 clues) and several of its characters – Moody, Wells, Carter, Frost, Long and Clinch – then bravo to you.  As usual I’m left with the feeling of victory having been unfairly snatched away.

Saturday 22nd December 2018

Did you spot the ghost theme? Despite being sure there must be one I didn’t, but according to the original blog from 2014 here, it seems we should have been looking more closely at the entries ‘SMELLs a rat’, ‘acquired TASTE’, ‘TOUCHstone’, ‘HEARINGs’, and ‘SIGHTs’… Ah, so that’s what was going on.

So a pretty regular and enjoyable offering from Phi – ‘Lob’ as a clumsy person was new to me, though ‘Drab’ as a prostitute rang a bell, and it was nice to be reminded of Crosophile’s clever Quincunx themed puzzle from a year or two back by 16d; there are some words you only ever meet in crosswords, it seems.

My COD nomination goes to the following:

3d Assigned a time and attempted to get round objection (10)

Saturday 15th December 2018

Which featured Master of the Horse, On the Spur of the Moment, and Hammer of the Scots; with at least the first two pretty much handed to the solver on a plate.

So if they represented the starting point of my solve, it finished with a collection of fiendish clues for unknown words: ‘Sixteenmo’ crossed with ‘Stenosed’ and there was also ‘ELO Rating’; the first was an anagram which could have been Sixemento or any number of other variations of the given letters as far as I was concerned, while the other two (especially 27a) were, how shall I put it, just very hard.

You could be forgiven for thinking I’m a bit obsessed with the subject of obscurities appearing in puzzles and the truth is I do have mixed feelings about them.  On the one hand they undoubtedly provide solvers with one of the sweetest things about crosswords – the learning of new words, but on the other hand they often stop us completing a puzzle unaided, and I sometimes get a sneaking feeling that they only come about as a consequence of a setter giving up a bit during a tricky grid-fill.  Don’t know… maybe there’s a sort of Goldilocks zone, with words that ring a bell but are outside our active vocabulary.

Anyhow, here’s the COD:

18d/12a/25d Historic royal sledge seen at Aviemore (6,2,3,5)

Back to 2014 here for all the answers, but for 2018 do have a very Happy Christmas and, as well as the Guardian’s bank holiday puzzle, I’m looking forward to both JonofWales’ and Batarde’s annual reviews on idothei.

Saturday 8th December 2018

A cracking puzzle from Phi last weekend – compared to the previous two weeks there were triple the number of clues receiving ticks from the Cornick pen. Candidates for COD were 4a, which was very nicely put together, 18a with another great surface reading, 6d and 17d – both expertly done, but given my liking for a bit of novelty, I’ll nominate the following:

25d Pay attention to game after upset at the outset (5)

Upon completion I made a scan of the grid, as we all probably do at some point with a Phi puzzle, and for once the ghost theme fairly jumped off the page:  29a ‘Reference’ book publishers.  We had Chambers, Collins, and Oxford – all best known for their dictionaries of course, Brewer, as in the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Grove of the Dictionary of Music (amongst others), and Bradshaw, presumably there for their railway and travel guides (as used by Michael Portillo on the telly).

And all that was achieved without any obscurities apart, perhaps, from 11a Air cell and the one that was new to me 19a – apparently a Collins is a letter sent in thanks for hospitality, named after the character in Pride and Prejudice.

Click here to go back to 2014 for all the answers.

Saturday 1st December 2018

Looking at the original blog for this Phi puzzle on Fifteensquared, I’m struck once again by what nice people Bert & Joyce must be – reliably generous towards Phi, they are; never the grudging ‘it was all right I suppose’ tone in their review that I half expect.  Heigh-ho, maybe I should try to be more like them.

The puzzle was dominated by an unusual clue inviting us to see how RAT was a drunken version of TAR (sailor) and arrive ‘airily’ at ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’. I didn’t see that from reading the clue, alas – largely because I was fixated upon RAT being a reversal of TAR rather than seeing it as an anagram – so I just waited until I had enough crossers to guess a song title that fitted the enumeration.

I would forgive the everyday sexism at 9a because although Miriam was indeed a prophetess in her own right, defining her as ‘Prophet’s sister’ worked well with the surface reading of ‘sister and mother’.

The only other clue to receive much attention back in 2014 was the following – a good spot, I thought, and also my nomination  for Clue Of the Day:

12a Politician avoiding disgruntled sound, turning to cheer (6)