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.


Saturday 20th December 2017

One of Phi’s best in weeks – I had 7 ticks plus 3 double ticks in the margins and just a bit of a pickle at the end on the intersection of Megohm and Sleigh bell which, in common with the blogger over at Fifteensquared here, I initially wanted to be Megoer and Alpine bell. One commenter there questioned the word Planetaria but I would trust Phi on that because he’s an astronomer.

Just pipping 16a and 20a, this week’s award for Clue Of the Day goes to… [drum roll]…

13d A fellow with various uses in secretarial post (10)

Is there a theme or Nina? Given that this is Phi and given that the grid does strongly suggest it, it’s probably worth looking.

The peripheral unches have Sam, Ham, Vam and Yam in, but I fail to see any significance in that… Wait a minute, Google points to Lam Vam Ram Yam Ham Om being ‘the sound of the chakras’, and there’s Om in column 13… and Lam on the diagonal coming from the NE!   Is that it?  Completely far-fetched and un-Phi-like of course but, with no enlightenment from the other channel, it’s the best I can come up with!

Saturday 13th December 2017

A mixed bag last week. Several lovely clues which definitely made the overall puzzle a good one, but also some very stretched synonyms, two distinctly bad clues (18a, 20a) which had everybody scratching their heads over at Fifteensquared here, and fully 13 deletions: Ditch, mostly, not initially, heading off, dismissed, removed cap, releasing, curtailed, shortened, most of, unopened, overlooks, avoiding – I told you he used them a lot!

About average difficulty & time for Phi – just ‘Dutch treat’ being a new bit of vocabulary here, although ‘Ami de cour’ will have been unfamiliar to many I suspect – and there was no theme or Nina. I really liked the &Lit all-in-one anagram for Athlete’s foot at 3d, but 8d appealed even more (even if it didn’t really need that QM).  Here it is again:

8d Drug proved fake, after lecturer injected, like some sort of pig? (3-7)



Saturday 6th December 2017

According to Phi’s comments on the Fifteensquared blog, there’s a ghost theme of New Zealand shipping forecast districts (he lives in New Zealand, don’t you know). It annoys me to discover that.  There I was perfectly happy with a successfully completed puzzle, and now I find out that I’ve actually failed to solve it fully.  Please stop doing this to us Phi.  Have a ghost theme by all means, but make it one that solvers are likely to find for themselves, without needing the setter to point it out afterwards. British shipping forecast areas – Yes; New Zealand shipping forecast areas – No.

Rant over… Let’s move on to the clues, a lot of which used deletion.

For those of you unfamiliar with Phi’s clueing style, whereas most setters will use a deletion perhaps once or twice per puzzle, Phi will sometimes use them seven or eight times and, given that they rank as one of the trickier devices on the Cornick scale of difficulty, that tends to rack up the overall solving time.

Specifically we had:   To gain knowledge of curtailed = LEAR(n);   A lot of noise obscuring first = (b)ABEL; When avoiding looking slimy = GRE(as)Y;   Endearment putting off Prince = (p)ETAL; Exited bypassing fort = LE(ft);  Tally – not all = T(all)Y; Most of region = REAL(m);   Back needing something scraped off = STER(n)

And if you’re interested in setting puzzles, here’s a website with very good lists of deletion indicators, anagram indicators and all the rest, but you won’t find half of the list above there, Phi reminds us that setting at its best involves a lot of originality.

Finally my COD goes to the beautifully assembled 20a, somewhat reminiscent of Morph yesterday, perhaps:

Royal partner about to be announced in sport (7)

First of all it should be said that 18 of the 52 puzzles – just over a third – had nothing going on at all, apart from maybe a sprinkling of fifteen-letter lights.

But more often than not there was something or other to look for apart from just solving the clues…

There were 6 Ninas

  • TOPAND… BOTTOM in the appropriate unches
  • CHARLES DICKENS also top and bottom unches (2012 having been his bicentenary)
  • PROSCENIUM as an arch shaped Nina
  • IT’S NOT IN THE PERIMETER forming an inner circuit
  • IT IS THE NINETEENTH OF APRIL as a Peripheral Nina
  • Puck’s words: LORD WHAT FOOLS THESE MORTALS BE as a peripheral Nina plus Helena & Hermia in the crossword lights and Demetrius and Lysander appearing as an acrostic in the clues.

There were 21 themes (including A Midsummer Night’s Dream above), 13 of which were literary, and the majority of which were impossible for me to spot, even though I always went looking for them:

  • Julian Barnes novels
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Gervase Fen detective stories by Edmund Crispin
  • Ghost story writer M R James and some of his themes
  • Medical-based novels of Oliver Sacks
  • Titles of Father Brown detective stories by G K Chesterton
  • 3 Salman Rushdie novels
  • The names of five authors
  • Reverends which appear in Charles Dickens novels
  • Characters from ‘The Tempest’
  • Titles of the five section of ‘The Wasteland’
  • Epic poems from different world cultures
  • Two Marx Brothers films
  • Songs of Flanders and Swann
  • Three 15-letter artist names
  • Star Trek captains’ names
  • Various types of cat
  • Words which go with ‘silver’
  • French words which are also English words with quite different meanings
  • The Fibonacci sequence of numbers – 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 hidden in the answers

In lastly we had the following 8 which defy categorisation:

  • All answers finishing with the same letter with which they started
  • A ‘daisy chain’ of paired lights split across consecutive rows
  • 4 long idiomatic phrases plus a sprinkling of neologisms
  • Two long anagrams split over two lights each
  • 4 15-letter lights plus SOP-HIS-TIC-ATE in the corners
  • The four F’s of our primitive urges – Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding and the other one – in a grid with four black F shapes
  • Just 24 lights plus longer clues ‘from different areas of culture’
  • Fewest number of lights in a puzzle (22)

And, for what it’s worth, my favourites were the Fibonacci one, the ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ one and the ‘Daisy chain’ one.


Saturday 30th December 2017

Phi was trying to construct a puzzle with as few lights as possible in the puzzle we saw last weekend. Just 22 was, I think, a record when he compiled this one for the Indy back in 2013, although he went on to manage an even more impressive 20 lights in March 2017.

Anyhow the clues were of the usual watertight construction. 5d ‘Double-chinned’ was creative and Phi predictably avoided the obvious anagram for ‘Cinerama’ at 15a. There were also a few new terms for me – Itch mite, Debatable land and Macaroon as a cake rather than a biscuit. That last had a good clue too, but my COD is going to the following:

18d One turning out, not getting first place? Yes and no (6)

Oh, and I wouldn’t recommend the long-winded comments about 6d attached to the original blog here; much better to peruse my overview of Phi’s puzzles from 2017, which I’ll post in a moment, and see how many you can remember.

Saturday 24th December 2017

I’ve been led to believe that a crossword is a battle of wits fought between setter and solver which the setter should always aim to lose graciously. I suspect most seasoned solvers will have managed to fill the puzzle in all right (even if a couple defied explanation as to the parsing) What I’m not sure about is whether having secret themes each week which are nigh on impossible to discover counts as losing graciously. What do you think?

Last week – Christmas Eve of course – we had a puzzle from December 2012 in which the name of the English writer of ghost stories, M R James, i.e. Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) appeared. No I didn’t spot it either.  Various stories by him apparently feature an ash tree, a rose garden and a doll’s house, and apparently ghost stories are topical for Christmas, Phi tells us.  All of that passed me by and frankly I’m a bit disappointed to discover I’ve missed something yet again.

The only two clues I couldn’t parse were 26a, ‘Midstream’ and 24/25d ‘Near East’ but otherwise a steady and enjoyable solve. For what it’s worth I agree with Graham Pellen in the final comment at Fifteensquared here, re the parsing of 10a, which was my last one in.

COD? I liked 9d very much, despite its causing some difficulty on the other side, but here’s my winner:

16d Cross in church having ornate ends (8)

Happy New Year.

Oh, that reminds me – I’ve got a puzzle in the Independent on line coming out on New Year’s Day. Call me a hypocrite if you will, but look for something extra once you’ve finished solving the clues!

Saturday 16th December 2017


George Arthur Barnes was an English racing motorcyclist and a pioneer aviator. He may well have enjoyed reading ‘Innisfree’ and ‘Talking It Over’ with his ‘Mama’. Well that’s the best I could do at the puzzle behind a puzzle which a habitual solver of Phi’s puzzles is implicitly invited to try and solve.

In fact ‘Arthur and George’ is a book by Julian Barnes (I might have got there if we’d had a Julian in the grid) and there was also ‘Porcupine’, ‘Talking It Over’, Flaubert’s ‘Parrot’, ‘Metroland’, and The Sense of an ‘Ending’. Congratulations to the bloggers over at Fifteensquared who spotted it – and to you if you did too. The only Barnes books I know are Flaubert’s Parrot and A History of the World in 10½ chapters, so I currently feel a bit of a Philistine.

Never mind, at least I can solve crosswords – and after a slow start this one picked up speed as the impenetrable became progressively more solvable, with plenty to savour along the way.

It’s hard to pick a COD because there are lots of ticks in my margin without any clear winners. Several nice pictures created in the surfaces though, amongst which was the following:

20a Farming monarch feeding last of waste to pig? (6)

Even if it didn’t really need that question mark on the end.