Saturday 7th December 2019

Phi gave us a ghost theme last weekend that was hopefully obvious to everyone – Pyramus & Thisbe as staged by the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No Nick Bottom (though I kept expecting him to turn up) but we did have the following: PYRAMUS, as played by the aforementioned weaver, THISBE as played by Flute, MOONSHINE played by STARVELING, the WALL by SNOUT, the LION by SNUG and then the prologue Peter QUINCE. I once saw a production of The Dream by the RSC where this play within a play was the highlight of the evening and had us rolling in the aisles, memorably with the physical comedy around “I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all!” – bawdy.

Those 9 mostly short theme words amounted to medium theme density I suppose, and given the (1,1) grid, I did wonder if our estimable grid-filler Phi had given us something extra – R-E-L-S-T-E along the Bottom might be a Flute, perhaps? But no, apparently not.

In truth I made slow progress with this one, particularly the NW corner with Isomeric and Nightpiece (a possible extra theme word?) , although the ghost theme was apparent from quite early on, and that certainly helped. Some of the clues were quite good, but for me it was that theme that was the most enjoyable thing in the puzzle by a margin. As RatkojaRiku says in the 2015 blog here, ‘the whole was greater than the sum of its parts’.

My COD is this one: 14d Expert is working with plastic to store energy (10)

Saturday 30th November 2019

As regulars at idothei will know, I am a massive fan of Klingsor’s puzzles, so it’s a real treat to have one of his on my Saturday blogging spot. And it was straight out of his top drawer too (mind you, they all are in my view).

His style is scrupulously fair – no abstruse vocabulary or specialist general knowledge, no stretched synonyms, instructions are given the right way round, link words are minimal and never in the wrong direction, grids always interlock nicely, cop-outs like girl’s names and obscure fish are practically never seen, clue types are varied, clue difficulty is fairly and consistently judged at a little harder than average for the i, there might be the occasional innovation but they are judiciously rare; oh and the surface readings are always a joy.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride! To my mind he’s the perfect template for any aspiring setter.

I had 9 ticked clues plus another 4 with double ticks: 14a, 5d, 13d, and the pick of the bunch was this one:

20a Continent, oddly not one seen in map collection (8)

I filled in the grid nice and steadily, with no questions about parsing until my LOI, 22d; I could see that ‘it’ meant sex and that we were supposed to insert A into BED, but I was really surprised to see that ‘bed’ has a nounal definition as sexual intercourse. ‘Let’s do some bed’; ‘it’s ages since I’ve had any bed’. Really? It’s there in Chambers so it must be, but how come I’ve only ever met it as a verb before, as in to bed someone? Oh well, live & learn, live and learn.

All the answers are to be found  by clicking here.

 

Saturday 23rd November 2019

If we are to believe what we read, today’s editorial should provide reassurance for us all. Following the alarming news of change of ownership to the Rothermeres (yes, as in the Daily M**l), the i will apparently retain its editorial independence and also its supply chain from the Independent; there’s also a promise to ‘invest in journalism’. Well, if the Mirror and the Express can share an owner, I suppose anything is possible.

As to last Saturday’s crossword, I thought Phi was on very good form indeed. In a parallel world we could imagine all double-word answers having a blank square between the two halves, like an em space, and that the two halves would be lined up in the same row or column. Which is exactly what Phi gave us last week with BATHING MACHINE, TURKISH DELIGHT, THERMAL PRINTER, and INERTIA SELLING. Extremely gruntling that.

No quibbles either – my LOI was 19a EASED which was maybe a little convoluted SE[t] inside [h]EAD, but perfectly parsable with a little thought in retrospect.

So all in all very happy to have Phi back in the Prize slot. Hope you enjoyed it too.

COD: 8d Cuts in energy repeated period of darkness (7)

And the answers can all be seen by clicking here.

Saturday 16th November 2019

Was eXternal always like this? We’ve had a couple of dozen of his puzzles by now I think, but whilst my early impressions were of a tricksy innovator, he seems to have been much easier recently, and last Saturday’s seemed about as soft-boiled as they get in the i, with 7½ anagrams (most of the longer clues) and a couple of hiddens to boot.

Looking back through the Fifteensquared archive I see that several of his crosswords appeared in the IOS slot, which normally indicates an easier type of puzzle of course, but that he has also produced quite a few Inquisitor puzzles, which JonofWales will confirm are decidedly fiendish. So I suppose we can safely conclude that he’s pitching things just as he intends to.

All that means this was a good one for beginners and improvers, but won’t have caused the old hands too much trouble, I suspect. Writing this a week after the event, I certainly can’t remember being held up at the end by anything – my LOI was 15d which seems to be as straightforward as all the rest really. Just one quibble-ish glyph for the supposed synonym skirt/ round, but four ticks, with my favourite being this hidden:

11a A bit of Latin or the astronomy course? (9)

And you can whisk yourself back to September 2015 for all the answers by clicking here.

Saturday 9th November 2019

Dac on a Saturday? After checking for plagues of frogs and that the earth was indeed still turning on its axis, my sense of security was quickly restored last weekend upon being reacquainted with Dac’s reassuringly reliable style. I suppose it might have been a bit easier than average for a Dac crossword, and in truth it wasn’t one of his outstanding puzzles, but that didn’t stop it still being very good indeed – frankly they always are.

It’s testament to his consistency that the commenters over on Fifteensquared  each picked a different clue as their favourite: RAPESEED with its anagram fodder & anagrind of deep-sea/ divers, OVERGROWN, ITALIANATE, DANTE, and DALEK (which will have doubtless been JonofWales’ favourite).

As for my choice, I probably did like the Rapeseed clue best, but just to be different I’m going to nominate the following for its surface (of course) and for its innovative use of ‘seconds’:

26a Consumed seconds of lean bacon before mid-morning (5)

 

Saturday 2nd November 2019

After what seems like years of uninterrupted Phi crosswords for the Saturday Prize Puzzle, the editor has been mixing it up a bit recently with Vigo, Punk, and now Monk appearing on alternate weekends. Is he trying to give people a taste for the weekday puzzles perhaps?

I thought this was a fine example of a solid British daily cryptic, which apart from the slightly racy 1d, might almost have been lifted off the back page of The Times, say, for which Monk also sets. For me it was a very evenly paced solve, perhaps a little easier than typical for Monk, about average for the i and mercifully free of question marks or dodgy glyphs in my margin at the end.

I suppose you could think of the 5 classic clue types as being anagrams, charades, reversals, homophones and container clues. Although homophones can give the biggest laughs (or groans), I have a fondness for the last of those, and Monk gave us fully 9; happy with that here. What he also included were a smattering of innovative devices – here we had an interesting pair of deletions at 15a Mephisto and 7d specified, the former of which then required the first letter moving ‘beginning to shift’ to get the answer. Complicates, yes, but also made perfectly clear.

However my COD goes to the following:

18d Clangers are so modern to reflect about repeated old lines (7)

Back in the original blog from 2015 sometime commenter at idoithei allan_c raises some legitimate criticisms, but they certainly didn’t spoil the puzzle for me.

Oh yes, and it turns out there does exist the tiniest of Ninas: points of the compass near the centre of the grid. Definitely not one anybody could be expected to find unaided.

Saturday 26th October 2019

Eight middle names of authors constituted a very well hidden ghost theme last weekend. Did you spot them? Nah, me neither. But here they are anyhow:

We had Philip KINDRED Dick,  Clive STAPLES Lewis, Edgar RICE Burroughs,  William BUTLER Yeats, William MAKEPEACE Thackeray, Hans CHRISTIAN Andersen,  Elwyn BROOKS White, and just one other, according to Phi in the comments at Fifteensquared, although I have no idea who he means. Candidates include IMAGO, DRYAD, BAPTISM, CRUCIBLE, SALT, and GENUS, roughly in that order of likelihood. ROAD and COQUETTE are too improbable, surely?

Pretty tricky towards the end, I thought, especially in the patch in the middle around 16d BOBOLINK, which was new to me, and complicated by it failing to occur to me that ‘a shocking noise’ might be ‘boo’, so I did need to dip into the handy list of bird names in Chambers Crossword Dictionary for that one.

I’m a bit stuck for a COD in a puzzle where the hidden theme was the star rather than the clues, so I’ll plump for the one that dtw42 mentioned last Saturday –  despite it clueing Pathé as being a news provider when they stopped doing so 50 years ago!

Here it is again:

6d News provider quite misrepresented Tchaikovsky symphony (10)

And so to Yokohama…

Saturday 19th October 2019

Any discussion of who might be Britain’s best crossword setter could mention any of several names I suppose, but would be very odd without including Punk, a.k.a. Paul in the Guardian. Often ribald and ever inventive, this was one of his relatively straightforward offerings, but it still had plenty of quality and provided a liberal sprinkling of ticks in my margin.

Unusually for a Saturday there were no obscure answers, and no theme either. Solving time maybe slightly under par for the i, whereas Punk would usually be somewhat over. Mind you, that’s solving time – one or two, like the COD for example, took a while for the penny to drop on the parsing.

Favourites included 2d BEST OW(A)L, which was extremely pleasing, there was a nifty DIY anagram for NEW ORLEANS and a lovely reversed hidden for OVERDO, plus a mention of ONAN (I still remember the Paul’s ONANIST/ ANISTON anagram) but the hallmarked Clue Of the Day has to be the homophone and double meaning in the following:

14d Pronouncement of papal edict that’s binding? (6,4)

Apart from that I haven’t much to say. ‘Putting’ in 20d made me raise an eyebrow at the time, but on reflection I think it works as a description of the process one does to build the elements on the wordplay, so fair enough.

Click here for the link to the summer of 2015 with all the parsing and more appreciative comments.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, a rugby match is starting.

Saturday 12th October 2019

Upon completion last Saturday I surmised that there had to be a connection between 6d THE SUN ALSO RISES and 4d ANTARCTIC CIRCLE – because the sun does indeed just rise on the Antarctic Circle on the winter solstice. Ice yacht, Heliotrope, Canis major, Granitic and Rock must also be connected somehow, surely? But no, Phi tells us in the comments over at Fifteensquared that there’s no theme here at all, loose or otherwise. Oh well.

But it was still a good crossword. It earned a very respectable half dozen ticks in my margin, with a double for my COD:

17a Arctic vessel circling island in the Channel Isles (3,5)

I rather liked the key idea in 4d, except for the superfluous word ‘reputation’ on the end, superfluity being a cardinal sin in crossword clues. Also provoking a quibble-mark was 26a Apotheothis – a beautiful word, a lovely construction, but with something of a gobbledygook surface reading. Still, maybe such things don’t really matter…

 

Referring back to the Vigo puzzle of the previous Saturday to this and the accompanying comments, Eccles writes to tell me that the female setters in the Indy stable also include Peter, who will be coming to the pages of the i some time next year.

 

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)