Saturday 4th August 2018

Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin and Perth – so the theme was clear as day last weekend (Phi lives in nearby New Zealand, by the way). When I saw Edinburgh and Ayr, I assumed that, like Perth, they must also be Australian towns, just ones I hadn’t heard of, and so it proves.  Doubtless Phi thought all that was a bit too obvious, so he threw in B R I S as the initial letters of the first four across clues, and B A N E as the initial letters of the last four down clues. Dang.

All pretty straightforward, I seem to remember, until the last 3 in the NW corner, which I couldn’t solve until I got to an atlas to confirm Armantieres, a small town near Lille which might just as well have started with ‘Ram’ or ‘Mar’ as far as I knew. 9a Ramie was new too.

What else?  I discovered I’ve been pronouncing Adelaide wrongly all these years – it is indeed a homophone of A-delayed (soft i, not a schwa)… so I’ll postpone my opinion piece on homophones. Or maybe not… Briefly, I’d say homophones needn’t be exact provided the vowel is of the same type – but it doesn’t necessarily matter whether syllables are stressed or unstressed.

Some enjoyable clues, amongst which my favourite was:

13d Tory politician cornered by silent performer in heated period (9)

And click here to be whisked back to 2014 and all the answers.


Saturday 28th July 2018

Phi is invariably excellent at producing long anagrams, and the two 15-letterers, along with a clutch of some other easier than average clues, got me off to a flier last Saturday.  Mind you, there were a few awkward customers in the SE corner at the end, including Bushido, which was new and needed double-checking in the dictionary. And the less said about 14a the better.

14 of the 28 answers started with B, but those who are familiar with Phi will realise that he tends to use a theme to help along with filling a grid, rather than necessarily to slavishly make all the words start with a B, say – although I bet he could have done so if he’d wanted to!

For the Clue of the Day, I would be happy with either of the aforementioned anagrams at 12a and 20a, but with the footie season kicking off today, let’s go with the following, which put a smile on my face:

17d Four or five in side holding it back before end of game (7)

For all the answers click here.

Saturday 21st July 2018

Everything about the grid seemed to point to there being a theme or a Nina last Saturday, but in the original blog here, Phi informs us there wasn’t.  Oh.

Just a pleasant crossword, solved in short order with friends in the sun in Derbyshire.  Enjoyable indeed, even if the general knowledge crossword is the one that really comes into its own for multiple heads being better than one.

Phi was pretty uncontroversial last weekend too – the estimable John reported nothing with which he is uncomfortable, and I’m inclined to agree with him… Well, almost; in 5d we had ‘friend sporting new’ to indicate BU(N)D, so ‘sporting’ was used as a containment indicator, whereas surely it means wearing, so shouldn’t the clue read ‘new sporting friend’ or at least be hyphenated in the same way as ‘man-eating lion’?  Views welcome, I’m likely to be wrong, as no-one mentioned it in 2014.

Clue of the Day?  The art of misdirection was exemplified by the following:

7d Big grey creature, one with power to move suddenly surrounded by worried mahouts (12)


Saturday 14th July 2018

Last weekend Phi cranked up the difficulty level a couple of notches.

Whilst the bottom half went in at a steady pace – helped by a few well-signalled anagrams – the top half had a mass of abstruse vocabulary intersecting itself.  New for me were Crab canon, Arch-foe (not in any dictionaries in my house), Neotic, Gie, Otiose, Clift (despite my being a geographer) and Wardress, whilst Ghillie took a bit of dredging up from the memory banks. So I made very slow progress towards the end, with Ghillie and Dress at 10a and 8d being my last ones in.

Having said all that, there was a lot to admire and I was thoroughly enjoying the puzzle right up until those last few which seemed, frankly, unnecessarily hard – almost as if they had drifted in by accident from the world of barred puzzles. Probably ideal, though, for Jon ‘The Inquisitor’ of Wales and for Batarde-of-the-large-vocabulary, although I’ll be surprised if the latter enjoyed 23d: ‘My bad’ – Eesh!

Anyhow, my favourite amongst many goodies on offer was the following:

5d Close agreement overturned – it’s the drink (8)

And if you go to the original 2014 blog (click here) you’ll discover that there’s a Nina which consists of words that have alphabetically consecutive triplets letters – like crAB Cannon, DEFer, GHIllie, caLMNess, aiRSTrip, moNOPlane, coSTUme, and soMNOlent.

Saturday 7th July 2018

For once I spotted a Phi Ghost Theme – hoorah!  Last Saturday we had both Laurel and Hardy plus their catchphrase ‘Another Fine Mess’. With that established, a quick look on Wikipedia revealed the following of their films: Scram!, Music Box, Busybodies, and On the Loose – oh and ‘Another Fine Mess’ turns out to have been a film title too. There may be more…

Clues were all pretty solvable – just ‘Blat’ for ‘columnist’s spot’ in 27a provoking a retrospective dictionary search and ‘Bo’ for ‘US guy’ in 17d causing a bit of nose-wrinkling.

I also noticed the average clue length was uncharacteristically long for Phi – personally I quite like that – and generally I found it a pleasant solve.

My COD nomination goes to the following:

4a Lots of money in production of game? (9)

And the 2014 blog with all the answers is here.

Saturday 30th June 2018

An enjoyable offering from Phi last Saturday – pretty much down the middle of his particular fairway. There was a small theme hinted at by ‘thermal printers’ across the middle of the puzzle; elsewhere were the CMYK printing colours: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK.  Not as hard to spot as some of Phi’s themes, but to be honest I didn’t go looking.  I only encountered one real obscurity whilst solving, the Hindi word ‘mela’ in 14d (ably discussed by Rishi in the comments of the 2014 blog here).  However, upon reading his words now, ‘Kumbh mela’ does indeed ring a bell.

As a lover of word trivia, there can only be one COD for me – 1d, which fell late, was a rare gem:

Almost capable of satisfying such an order? (10)

I wonder if anyone else can add to Pelham Barton’s list in the comments on the other side? Apart from ALMOST, he’s given us CHINTZ and BIOPSY… If we’re allowed to finish with an S then BEGINS and CHIMPS would also qualify, but are there any other 6-letter ‘alphabetic’ words?

Saturday 23rd June 2018

Duncan Shiell has written a very comprehensive blog for this puzzle (click here) to which I have little to add, really. Slightly surprised that he couldn’t quite see the parsing for 17a Apron Stage (Gaufrid has it right in the comments), and mighty impressed that he could parse 19a. The solution had to be Pang based on the definition, but the wordplay defeated me until JonofWales put me out of my misery by telling me on Facebook. Thanks Jon.

No Nina, plenty of deletions in the wordplay, a few obscurities for the answers – Godel’s Theorem, Netsuke and Revolving Credit – so nothing much out of the ordinary for Phi then. I made a note in my margin about ‘extroverted’ being used as an anagram indicator in 1a, coming as it did a day after we’d had ‘canned’ used by Anax. They keep you on your toes these setters.

No outstanding candidates for COD really, so I’ll plump for this one:

20d Very into paramour after couple beginning alienation (3,4)

Saturday 16th June 2018

In which I thought the clues had more than the usual brightness and sparkle about them.  So was that just me, influenced by the quirky grid perhaps?  Or maybe Phi himself, having boldly used reflective rather than rotational symmetry, felt peculiarly invigorated?  Well whatever the reason, the clues seemed to me to have a very welcome freshness, and I enjoyed myself.  More than half the clues received ticks in the margin, and my only slight grumbles were at the end with Eblis and Moue, although both were plain enough from the wordplay, thankfully.

My COD nomination goes to the following:

3d South American city, as far as we’re concerned, is wildly colourful (7)

And the 2014 blog is here.

Ah, it seems I need an update.  It turns out there’s a hidden Nina themed around St Valentine’s Day, when the puzzle first appeared.  Duncan, the original blogger didn’t spot it, but writes: ‘Well it didn’t take long before the experienced Nina spotters came along’. To be clear, those two who ‘spotted’ it were Phi himself and Gaufrid, who test solves the puzzles on behalf of the Independent’s editor; so I think we’ll call this another one that Phi has done for his own amusement.


Saturday 9th  June 2018

Bit trickier last weekend. Not to start with perhaps – 1a and 1d were pretty obvious – but a few archaisms here and there made it difficult to be sure if those answers were correct – I’m thinking of Pomfret, Redound, and Under the Rose.

Quite a few ticks here & there too though, as usual, with my favourite being the Russian doll style 6d:

One insisting church invests  in apiary, and then in fruit and dairy produce (9,6)

Which ends rather a brief blog really, considering I’ve had all week to come up with something interesting to say!

And for the 2014 blog click here.

Saturday 2nd June 2018

Which I tackled whilst waiting to meet the Indy setter Eccles at ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ – England’s oldest pub, they claim.  Maybe the Nottingham ale put me in a good mood, but I thought this was a splendid puzzle with Phi on top form.  Plenty of clues to savour, and Eccles turned up in time to help me with the last few – ‘Boondocks’ appears in more than one American song, apparently, whilst he also knew ‘Crosspatch’. Useful thing, a large vocabulary.

So quite a few candidates for COD; 5d, 16d and 21d were on the podium, but I liked the surface reading on this one:

8d  Dump a sailor at sea, nothing less, to secure first in contest – this one? (8,3)

No theme or Nina, so I imagine Phi just used the paired entries top & bottom to get him started this time; and for the 2014 blog click here.