Saturday 3rd August 2019

Phi is a former ASTROPHYSICIST – hence also NOVA, ALPHA and EPSILON perhaps, with a fondness for classical music – PHILHARMONIC, O SOLE MIO, and also likes to throw in little-used words like PHILIPPIC, DIGLYPHS, OENOPHIL (not oenophile) or PSEPHOLOGIST (a word I only learnt with John Curtice coming to prominence in recent years). Also of note, if you’re interested in such stylistic things that is, was a pretty high count of 18 abbreviations and three foreign words (eine, trop, est) in the wordplay elements of the clues.

Which I had thought was all there was to this puzzle, but it turns out there’s actually a Nina of sorts with the digraph PH appearing fully 12 times in the gridfill; the setter’s real name is Paul Henderson, you see.  Apparently Phi tried for his trigraphic nom de plume to start with but it seems there aren’t many words which include all three letters.

So all pretty good stuff and solvable in about average time – just that Hampshire village and the bit of trickery at 26a ETHNIC causing me any real hold-ups.

Because I always like a compelling surface reading, here’s my nomination for Clue Of the Day:

17d Shifting rocks hitting children – horrified cry? (7)

And here’s the link to the Fifteensquared blog from 2015, where RatkojaRiku did spot the Nina.


A trip to the higher altitudes of Crosswordland from Tyrus today – wonderful setting for those who enjoy such rarefied air, but for the non-Sherpas among us it was tough going with precious little to get a grip on and plenty of slippery surfaces.

Slow to get a foothold, I pencilled in the first few (can you do that with a biro?), and frankly made pretty glacial progress for the whole journey. But I could see it was high quality stuff. Actually nothing much that was particularly obscure – just 20d Almeda really, where the wordplay was plain enough – but oh the deceptiveness! I eventually got to my last one, 3d, without realising that ‘Master plan are not’ means ‘take A from Master and make an anagram of what’s left’. Perhaps I should have kept struggling on a bit longer with that one…

As I say lots of high quality clues, some of which – like the homophone of ‘Adie vies’ at 18d – needed Duncan’s admirable blog at Fifteensquared to fully parse.

Bit of a six-way tie for top spot. I’ll go for the following, but feel free to mention your choice below:

19d What’s Thumper doing? Bambi’s outside swearing head off (7)



Saturday 27th July 2019

With Phi you normally get an end game, so what was going on last weekend? No obvious Nina, so it’s probably going to be a ghost theme… Ah-ha! Paranoid Android is there – a superb track from the seminal album ‘OK Computer’ by Radiohead. Excellent! Phi is venturing outside his comfort zone… But no, upon further Googling it turns out that the ghost theme is Douglas ADAMS and ‘MARVIN the PARANOID ANDROID’, which is much more the kind of thing we’re used to, although not really my cup of char-char, alas.

I can’t quite remember who among the regular bloggers and commenters is a HGTTG fan – if that’s you, then you may also have realised a quote from the aforementioned metal Mickey alluded to in the grid: “And then, of course, I’ve got this TERRIBLE PAIN in all the diodes down my left side.”  Arf.

And what about the clues? Well they were fine. Just a few minor bits of stylistic quibbling occurred to me while solving, but nothing worth mentioning here.

Of the seven clues I liked, the following paints a vivid picture:

18d Hurried round to one in flat, having deluded ideas (8)

For full details visit the Fifteensquared website from 2015 by clicking here.


Always a joy to see Punk’s name by a crossword, and he delivered once again today.

Some predictable smut – as Paul in the Graun he was the pioneer of such things – with two lots of underwear, a ‘farted’ and a penis, but somehow I don’t find it gratuitous with Mr Halpern, he’s just good at noticing what happens when you reverse the first 5 letters of SINE PROLE or take the ‘sigh’ out of FAR-SIGHTED. Fair enough, say I.

As to the solving experience, quite an encouraging first pass – possibly a third or so of the clues were towards the easier end for regular solvers of the i. Thereafter followed quite a few chuckles, with nothing desperately tricky until 3d SIMONY, which needed checking in the Big Red Book, and 8d RELATED which was my LOI; I kicked myself when I realised that ‘painted’ was a container indicator.

And as to the use of words like simony and ‘sine prole’, I’d say that they’re in that satisfying bracket of being outside most solvers’ active vocabulary (certainly outside mine), but dimly known nonetheless, so it’s nice to have them nudged back into familiarity. That Welsh lake in 4d fitted into the same category.

With an honourable mention for 21a, which I liked better than the Fifteensquared solvers back in 2015 it seems, here’s my nomination for COD:

15d Fellow taking in girl before start of lunch as cover for waiter (3,7)

Saturday 20th July 2019

There’s a higher than usual chance of your having noticed a theme last Saturday, with a pretty obvious sprinkling of animals across the grid: TIGER, SHARK, WOLF, SNAKE, BEETLE, FISH, and TURTLE[neck].  Extend the theme to the plant kingdom and you might have spotted LILY, ROSEMARY, MALLOW, and FLOWERS. Now broaden further to ‘nature’ and you could include VOLCANIC and COUNTRY.

So what’s the theme exactly? Well, according to Phi in the comments of the original Fifteensquared blog, it seems that a good deal of those could be linked with the first in the list (‘tiger lily’ did pop into my head among several other linking possibilities), and Chambers also reveals tiger beetle, tiger country, tiger fish, tiger flower, tiger shark, tiger snake and tiger wolf. However you could be forgiven for thinking it was a theme based around Lilies with Tiger lily, Lily beetle and Snake lily.

Just 3 ticks this time – but it still felt like solid work and a good set of clues from our antipodean contributor.

As to the COD, I loved the surface reading of 25a, the wordplay of 7d was cracking, but the following had a bit of both:

16d Plant came up, beginning to revive in spring month (8)

Saturday 13th July 2019

In the comments of the original Fifteensquared blog here, Phi tells us that this was his 200th crossword for the Independent – belated congratulations to him on that milestone – and also that his father used to tell a joke which presumably went something like ‘They call me Isaiah, ‘cos one eye’s higher than the other’.  If you already knew that particular rib-tickler, you may also have realised that the answer to the question posed in those asymmetric top & bottom unches WHICH PROPHET was that the eye on the right in 12a ALL MY EYE was higher than the eye on the left in 13a EYELINER. Quite beyond me though – even with the helpful hint from JonofWales last Saturday (I just thought those two EYES must be a homophone for the abbreviation for Isaiah).

As for the clues –  according to my marginalia 6 were tickworthy, which is about par for a Phi. For the COD I liked the Britten clue at 19a, but thinking of the golf lovers among us let’s go with what might prove to be a description of the back 9 at Portrush this afternoon:

10d Opening crucial stage of Open? (7)

Saturday 6th July 2019

A grid with peripheral unches from Phi means there’s a high probability of a Nina, but for me it took a while to spot because my first few answers fed into the Nina-free bottom row. What was waiting in store was the opening of Jaques’ monologue from As You Like It, ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE in the shape of a proscenium arch; and as if to point out the fact there was said theatrical feature as the answer to 12/24d. Nice. It may remind you of a different take on the same Seven Ages of Man speech given to us by Radian a year or so ago.

No other dramatic references apart from the somewhat unusual BUSKIN at 15a. That’s a word which appeared neither in Ancient Greece (its origins are French) nor in the modern study of it (Mrs C is a drama teacher) but does feature in certain literary works of a certain era I think, to describe Greek tragic theatre. I’d never met it.

Other entries of note were WAHINE at 1d, reminding us of Phi’s place of residence, and the use of CHARA, short for ‘charabanc’ in 8a. I did enjoy the La Mancha/ LA MANCHE clue very much, but my COD goes to the cheeky clue that drew some comment last weekend on these pages. Here it is again:

3d Produce new design for borders of speed-limit sign? (4)

And click here for all the answers with their parsings from the ever-reliable Bert and Joyce.

Saturday 29th June 2019

I was strongly minded to give last Saturday’s puzzle the thumbs-up, but when the 2015 Fifteensquared blog reappeared yesterday somebody pointed out in the comments that there’s a ghost theme centred on various facets of the film ‘Interstellar’ – which I’ve never seen. If you spotted that and thereby managed to finish the puzzle, bravo, but as I didn’t, I now feel disgruntled because I’ve failed.  I’ve failed to see something that, evidently, others did see.

Call me old-fashioned but I thought the point of a cryptic crossword puzzle was to appear to be completely baffling but then, upon careful thought and application, for the solver to experience a series of mini revelations as bamboozlement becomes clarity and all resolves itself, offering a warm glow of satisfaction and maybe even an existential feeling that life’s other problems could be solved too – if only we had forty-five minutes of peace, quiet, a cup of coffee, and our favourite ball-point pen.

So I’m sorry Phi, I don’t buy the ‘it’s just a way to fill the grid’ line. Or if it is, please find a different way. Ghost themes ARE part of the puzzle and should be solvable too.

Right, rant over! And apologies to regulars for repeating myself on the subject.

How about those clues? Six ticks, two unsmiley faces. Not too bad.

COD can’t go to the nifty A to L +L clue for Atoll because he used exactly the same clue last year, so it goes to the following:

20d Consumer continues picking up last three (3,4)

Saturday 22nd June 2019

I found everything thoroughly agreeable for the first ¾ last Saturday, but then that SE corner presented me with a few problems. The first was my fault – having spelled Colonel Bogey ‘Bogie’ I couldn’t get Pyramids across the bottom, then once I’d realised my mistake there was Giocoso intersecting Palooka, both unknowns, to cause some lengthy head-scratching at the very end.

On the other hand that quarter also included my favourite clue – and pretty much how I imagine Phi sees himself as a setter:

20d Mostly to tease, entrapping solver, is very pleasant (6)

For those who like marches (that won’t be me then) there was a ghost theme that was easy enough to spot but fiendish to see in its entirety. We had the aforementioned Colonel Bogey, Pomp and Circumstance, Turkish, Joyous, Homage, and Slave. I’ve never heard of those last four. In the comments section over at Fifteensquared in March (yes) 2015, one aficionado points out that there’s also a March of the Pyramids, which Phi hadn’t realised; so he got the last laugh on behalf of all us solvers. Thank you Cookie.

Saturday 15th June 2019

For me the best thing about last Saturday’s prize puzzle was the Nina gag. We had MAGRITTE – he of ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ fame – at 25a and a Nina in columns 1 and 15 which read NO NINA IS HERE. Ho-ho.

I hope you liked the clues, for me they were something of a disappointment. But maybe my frustration was simply caused by the difficulty being racked up a bit? I could only find it in myself to give a tick to three clues – 5d, 6d and the following, which gets the COD award:

2d Clarifies the history of some mountains? (8)

But frankly I didn’t have much fun with this crossword at all so, rather than go into a long list of gripes and niggles, I shall leave things there and point you towards Bert & Joyce’s ever-reliable blog from 2015.