Saturday 5th October 2019

Ooh, a new setter – and a she setter at that. Anarche has company.

The answers fairly flew in for me – might have been my quickest solve of an i puzzle yet, and it reminded me more of a highly polished version of the Times 13×13 quick cryptic than what we’re used to on a Saturday. Good surface readings throughout, a nice balance of clues, but apart from a couple in the SW it was all over far too quickly for an experienced solver, I suspect.

So the editorial policy seems clear – hook the novice solvers at the weekend and provide the Inquisitor to satisfy the more experienced solvers. Fair enough!

Plenty of comments over at Fifteensquared to mark the occasion – some discussion as to whether ‘dance floor’ in 13a might have been better as ‘discotheque’, but for my money it would have been fine if the editor had left it as Vigo originally intended ‘dancefloor’ – I doubt anyone would have objected.

Vigo also tells us that her name is made up of the first two letters of her two names, Vicky Gould or whatever; this is what’s sometimes called ones rapper name. My first setting name was Nico, so it got me wondering if there are any other setters named this way… Oh, and I don’t think Vigo’s crosswords are going to stay this easy, some of her recent contributions to the Indy look decidedly fiendish.

As for COD nomination, I’ll go with the following:

6d Dog mangling Grannie’s slipper (15)

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Saturday 28th September 2019

Regulation stuff from Phi last Saturday, filled for the most part in the common room at Imperial College where the youngest Cornick has just embarked upon 4 years of Mathematics, Lord help him. Apparently he enjoys it. So an empty nest here in Cornwall with more time for crosswords – excellent!

The hidden theme was ‘Lines to a Don’ by Hillaire Belloc, addressed to a critic of G K Chesterton. If you know it, it’s the one that starts up ‘Remote and ineffectual Don/ That dared attack my Chesterton’. Various words in the finished grid come from the poem. And no, I didn’t work that out myself, nor did anyone at the 2015 blog here, but Phi tells us in the comments section at the end.  Still, I’ll award myself half a point for being certain there would prove to be a ghost theme and for guessing that it was probably something literary and rather niche. Once you see the poem, you can certainly appreciate why Phi would use it as grid fodder.

The NW corner contained the thorniest elements; RIENZI, BRUTISH, BLUFF and FURTIVE were my last four in, but unlike some on the other side I didn’t really have any niggles as such – apart from call = vocation in 14d perhaps.  Just 2 ticks though, with 27a being pipped by the following:

7d Conservative losing head about European currency? That’s normal (8)

And the real highlight for me was meeting the delightful word FAROUCHE for the first time at 5d – I’ve managed to sneak it into the conversation a good half a dozen times this week!

Saturday 21st September 2019

I found it a quite hard to get going with Phi’s challenge last weekend, and needed the long anagrams at 6d and 13d to do so. In fact all four of the long entries in the grid were anagrams, and a further three of the 10-letterers were too. With Phi creating about four cryptic crosswords a week, some at the Inquisitor level (I am in awe) it’s no surprise perhaps if he uses them a lot when you consider how easy it is to generate them online. Mind you, once you find out that CLYTEMNESTRA, say, is an anagram of ‘calmest entry’, you still have to write a coherent clue for it, and Phi does that in spades.

I’d say those anagrams numbered amongst the best clues, but just pipping them for my COD nomination was the following:

16a Prescribed way shows bouncer throwing out naval man (8)

Oh, and there was a ghost theme, based on the idea of misspelled swear words. Phi gives an explanation in the comments of Bert & Joyce’s 2015 blog here, but I must confess to having had a sense of humour by-pass when I read it just now.

Saturday 14th September 2019

Puzzles by Phi having neither theme nor Nina are becoming as rare as the proverbial poultry incisors, so by now I’m betting we all give at least a cursory glance to see if something’s going on; and that was all it took last week to see REALIO TRULIO in the left and right columns of the completed grid.

Put that into Google and you get The Tale of Custard the Dragon by Ogden Nash.  I’m slightly surprised that didn’t feature in my childhood along with Lear and Belloc really, as it’s perfectly pleasant – maybe my parents thought it was too American or something. If it did yours, then the words DRAGON, CUSTARD, BELINDA, PIRATE and KITTTEN will have doubtless jumped off the page.

The grid filled pretty readio steadio until the last four where I suddenly hit a brick wall and had to come back later for a second sitting. The tricky ones for me were 25a – a reversal of ‘I to R’ to give ROTI, KIT+TEN in 20d, 12a [he]AL(D)ERS and 19a LOOK HERE. And in 21a, [b]UN+ROLL I couldn’t picture how ‘without crust’ could mean remove one side of the word but not the other, but maybe that’s why the QM is there.

COD? Despite my finding it fiendish at the time, I reckon the following was the most remarkable clue of the day:

23a Word for Indian bread, 10 letters (entered in reverse) (4)

For all the answers there’s yet another fine blog from Duncan Shiell, who also spotted NASH as a Nina in the bottom row. Nice.

Saturday 7th September 2019

For students of the Epsom Derby 1800 – 1850 among you this will have been a delight.

Which subject happens to be particularly well-suited for a ghost theme – all ten winners from the period that appeared in the grid were clued by Phi without any reference to horse-racing at all.  I.e. TYRANT, WHALEBONE, PHANTOM, WHISKER, SAILOR, LAP-DOG, SPANIEL, BLOOMSBURY, CORONATION and COSSACK. Fine work that.

The near-obligatory obscurities that ensued included SLEEKIT and GREATS. Cornick Senior is wont to recite ‘To A Mouse’ upon the slightest provocation, so the former was more than familiar, but the latter is a bit of Oxford University slang, and no more known by me than yesterday’s printers’ nuts. I suppose Phi could have put Meerkat and Orgasm in those places instead, but maybe he considered those words a little low-brow.

I enjoyed the clueing, which was maybe slightly easier than average for both Phi and for the i, and especially the anagrammatical clues, which are always a strength with this setter.

Here’s my favourite from the runners and riders:

10a/26d How baleen may be represented? (9)

And here are all the solutions from the puzzle, which first appeared on Derby Day in 2015.

Saturday 31st August 2019

Thoroughly enjoyed last Saturday’s puzzle – one of the best Phi’s in years, in my opinion.  For one thing the ghost theme (for such it was) was easy to spot this time. My favourite musical WEST SIDE STORY down the centre of the grid with an additional ten thematic entries: JET, TONY, ACTION, TIGER and PAULINE on the left; SHARK, MARIA, ANITA, CHINO and ANXIOUS on the right – which is a super bit of grid filling by anybody’s standards (geddit). Phi gets extra credit for managing to keep things nice and ghosty  by clueing Maria as ‘seas’, Tony as ‘theatre award’ and Pauline as ‘regarding religious texts’. Only Anita was clued as ‘Girl’ but that was a cracking clue (’embraced by two Italians’) so more than forgivable.

And some of the clues were nicely innovative too; apart from the aforementioned 6d, I can’t remember seeing a partial reversal before – as in 18a where we were required to turn Raid into ARID. It’s always nice when your LOI leaves you in no doubt and admiring the setter rather than cursing them!

Just one obscurity – UKASES at 26a which is something to do with Tsarist law, but it did ring a vague bell from somewhere, probably another crossword tbh.

As for the COD, I am tempted by several, but in the end it was down to a choice between two elegantly simple anagrams; I’ll nominate this one:

16a Most perfectly formed – can you make me this please? (10)

And here’s the blog from 2015 with all the answers.

 

 

Saturday 24th August 2019

A fortnight before this puzzle appeared the i had given us a Phi puzzle with a Nina which read GAUFRID AT FIFTEENSQUARED, so might this have been another tribute to a blogger from the other side? And what’s that in the top row? DINGY JAIL HUSK… to represent DUN CAN SHIEL[l] (to shiel being to remove a husk) perhaps?  Of course!  Did you get it?

No? Me neither. Well, given that not even Duncan Shiell himself, who happened to be doing the original blog back in 2015, spotted it, maybe it’s only obvious if your name happens to be Phi – it wasn’t meant to be discovered in the way that Ninas usually are, by any solver of the crossword in general, but rather was it offered as a tribute to be seen post hoc by the readers of Fifteensquared in particular.  I really don’t think anyone else would do that…

As for the clues, apart from the unknown Landrace (a Danish breed of pig) and Moxie (American slang for something or other) – new words for more than just theartoffaithblog I suspect – there were some goodies. Three of the four long entries were top-notch full anagrams, if that’s your bag, but my favourite was this partial anagram:

21a Note iron amongst molten ditto – hot place (7)

Just one minor question – this is the second time in recent weeks that we’ve seen pitch = roll; can they be equivalent? As a sometime mariner, I always thought roll, pitch and yaw were the three different ways that a boat could move; is there some other context of which I should be made aware?

 

 

Saturday 17th August 2019

There are five extraterrestrial planets readily visible to the naked eye on a clear, moonless night: MERCURY, VENUS, MARS, JUPITER and SATURN, associated with, respectively, the MESSENGER god, LOVE, WAR[um], JOLLITY and OLD AGE. So a nifty bit of grid-filling by Phi then, with SUN[nily] thrown in for good measure.

Except that is for WARUM perhaps. As it happens it was fine for me because, like Phi apparently, I studied German at school; but surely the solver on the Clapham omnibus didn’t? Being German per se isn’t the problem – cripes, the odd word of Russian or Cornish will crop up from time to time in Crosswordland (da, emmet) but judging by the reaction the word garnered from idothei solvers last week or indeed on Fifteeensquared back in 2015, I’m not sure our setter had his finger fully on the solver’s pulse for that one.

No other complaints apart from the cheap jibe at Wings in the surface reading of 13d. Paul McCartney doesn’t deserve to be the butt of jokes in my opinion.

Otherwise a very enjoyable and smooth puzzle with plenty of good clues. COD goes to the following, which neatly sends us one way then the other:

11a Wings of destructive insect no longer seen (4)

I was also interested to read in Phi’s comment on the other side that he doesn’t like 3-letter grid entries. Indeed I have noticed how he often clues them very straightforwardly. For me the most successful handler of this problem (if such it is) is Monk, who seems to relish a 3-letterer and often turns one into a piece of innovation – like having hidden letters in a geometric progression or something.

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)