Saturday 13th April 2019

All pretty straightforward last Saturday until I got to my LOI at 12a, where SLEEPY-HEAD fitted all the crossers and was a plausible answer for the definition ‘fool’ but made no sense with the wordplay. Fortunately though, there’s plenty of time for solving these weekend puzzles, so I double-checked with a wordsearch and discovered another option – SHEEP’S-HEAD. Lo and behold, one of its definitions is ‘dolt’. With ‘women’ equating to SHE SHE all suddenly made sense. Phew.

Little else to comment on really, so on this occasion I’m tempted to agree with John, the blogger from 2015 on Fifteenquared, who compared Phi to Dac for his straightforwardness and his surfaces.

Or maybe not, because in case you were wondering there was another ghost theme last week.  However, with the grid looking so normal it’s very well hidden – I certainly missed it – again!  13a/16a gives us  The BONE CLOCKS, the David Mitchell book (Phi is a  big fan – we had Cloud Atlas not so long ago), and elsewhere in the grid the titles of its six sections are referenced by: SPELL, PERFUME, WEDDING BASH, LONELY PLANET, HOROLOGIST and SHEEP’S-HEAD.

Oops, forgot to nominate a COD. I’ll happily concur with Batarde below that this is a worthy pick:

12a Fool women about recording with promotion (6-4)

And yes, we’ll all be looking forward to the new puzzle that’ll be posted here tomorrow…

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Saturday 6th April 2019

A quick start last Saturday, which slowed to a steady solve and didn’t need any checks with reference sources this time. Unless that is we include Cornick Senior, who shuffled into the room at precisely the moment I wondered out loud if there was a composer called Maleau for 17d. ‘Rameau’ he said, quick as a flash – not bad for 91.

The clues were pleasant and varied, with a smattering general knowledge required and some beautifully crafted &Lit style clues which, as well as being something Phi goes in for more than most, are often thought of as a kind of Holy Grail for setters. In case you’ve always been slightly puzzled as to just what exactly an &Lit [and literally] clue is, you can see four excellent examples by looking at 10a, 21a, 23d and 24d in the 2014 blog here.

However I’m giving my vote for COD to the Cornish themed and Semi&Lit(ish) following:

9d Tintagel, say, its exterior beset by some action (6)

Unsurprisingly for Phi there is also a ghost theme, based on composer MALCOLM ARNOLD, who amongst other things wrote the music for films such as TRAPEZE, The SOUND BARRIER, The INSPECTOR, CAPTAIN’S PARADISE, and the SAINT TRINIAN’S movies. Very nice.

Saturday 30th March 2019

I really enjoyed the whole solving experience last Saturday, with clues right in my Goldilocks zone of difficulty, plenty of invention, and some little discoveries to be made along the way.  It was just what a good crossword should be, in fact.

It also turns out that there’s some kind of ghost theme associated with the life and work of G K Chesterton – feel free to investigoogle if you so wish – but quite how one is supposed to work that out from little more than the fact that a recent Phi puzzle had Gilbert and Keith in it, beats me entirely. So entirely forgivable that the esteemed blogger Gaufrid and commenters missed that back in the 2014 blog here.

I do have a question about 24a though. MAURITANIA is the spelling of the modern African state, but the anagram fodder led to MAURETANIA which is an ancient Roman province, roughly where Morocco now is and equivalent to BRITANNIA, say. Can that be defined by ‘state’?  By the way, it was also the name of the sister ship of the doomed Cunard liner Lusitania, the sinking of which brought America into WWI; and when the Mauretania was scrapped in the 30s some of its green marble bathroom tiles went into the house of my childhood in  Portishead.

That little controversy+anecdote aside, I only had ticks in my margins, the largest of which went to the following:

28a Article in Madrid gallery – it recalled apparently irrational situations (9)

Saturday 23rd March 2019

No grumbles at all recorded in the margin of last Saturday’s puzzle from Phi – an impressive grid fill and a pleasant stroll through Crosswordland which was for the most part towards the easier end of both Phi’s and the i’s range of difficulty.

Four 15-letter entries in the across lights were punctured by the words STALACTITE coming down from the top and STALAGMITE coming up from the bottom. Very nice.

The clues were uncontroversial – except perhaps for a rather heavy reliance upon anagrams, all of which were pretty obviously flagged – lax, out, wrong, misjudged, getting busy, rocks, nasty, vaguely, and variety. One of my grumbles about yesterday’s Tyrus had been his use of ‘outcome’ as an anagram indicator, but Phi is a little kinder to his solvers.

I thought the vocabulary was pitched just right, with words like Trilithon and Hypnagogic being in that category of seeming familiar, but don’t ask me to give you a definition!

My last one in was also my favourite – even if it did take me ages to twig what was going on:

23a Soporific expression of sympathy finally put forward (5)

And all the answers from 2014 in the Independent can be found by clicking here.

Saturday 16th March 2019

I’m sure you all spotted that the grid last Saturday had top to bottom mirror symmetry rather than the usual rotational symmetry. Which was clearly flagged, of course, by the words TOP and BOTTOM appearing in the appropriate rows and also LEFT and RIGHT in the appropriate columns. What’s that you say? You put ‘Sleep like a Log’ in the top row and missed the Nina altogether?

Well actually the Log error was mine. Which meant I was unlikely to see the Nina, and I didn’t notice the symmetry thing either. Oh, I’ve heard the expression ‘sleep like a top’ but it just didn’t occur to me, and instead I got a mental image of those Canadian log spinners in Lake Winnipeg, or wherever they do it.

My only quibble came with the clue for 12a which I failed to parse; fortunately the Fifteenquared blog is now restored to enlighten me. It’s PENDING with the D moved to the front to give DPENING, but you have to spell out the D to get DEEPENING, that last step being unindicated. Brilliantly worked out by the affable and clever pair of Bert and Joyce, but dubious from Phi, I’d say.

On the other hand I liked 8a very much and 14a, 24a, 8d, 20d all got ticks. However my pick of the crop, largely because it made me feel all cultured and that, goes to the following:

19a End of sonnet material (5)

Coming back that error of LOG not TOP, I see on page 46 of today’s paper that yesterday’s answer to 20d was FLIGHT not ALIGHT. Hmm. Two grids to remind me of my shortcomings stacked next to today’s puzzle – I’d better go carefully!

And a reminder too that JonofWales will be posting the first ever puzzle on the idothei site tomorrow – Don’t miss it!

Saturday 9th March 2019

I was a little mystified by Phi’s Nina last Saturday.  The top and bottom unches contained (a) Little Priest, which Google tells me is a song from the musical version of Sweeney Todd, but in order to fully understand what was going on, one would have to know, or research, that the lyrics include Locksmith, Tinker, Butler, Potter and Tailor. The fact that Phi himself had to comment on Fifteensquared here to tell us says it all!

I found the solving process itself a little messy and unsatisfying, but as is often the case with Phi, it’s hard to be sure whether that’s a genuine criticism or just me not really giving it my best shot. Nothing terribly difficult, my LOI was Potter because I kept wanting the hero of the series to be Doctor (probably thinking of JonofWales there). I dare say the cluing of Krummhorn with the rock group Korn will have proved unpopular with some, but I vaguely knew both, so that  didn’t bother me too much. ‘From’ as a link word in 25a to indicate wordplay from answer did though – surely that’s the wrong way round? A few other minor quibbles, but maybe I just wasn’t in the mood!

Anyhow there were as ever some good clues to keep me interested, and my pick goes to the following:

2d One reveres union agreement subsequently (8)

Saturday 2nd March 2019

A puzzle of 5 distinct parts for me: First was the NW corner, over in a jiffy; next the SW, unusual vocabulary with Kharkiv and Kakapos but with super-clear wordplay; after that was the SE corner, pitched just right. Then the tricky fourth quarter in the NE, with some very intricate clues at 7d and 11a, and an unknown computer programme (well they nearly all are to me) at 13a.

And the fifth part was the Phi-bonus we’ve come to expect. In this instance we had 9 names on show: Gilbert, Keith, [Ross], Joanne, Kathleen, Alan, Alexander, David, and Herbert. Characters in a book perhaps? Or in a musical by 5d Jerome Kern? I simply put ‘Joanne Kathleen’ – the only two female names – into Google, and up popped J K Rowling. Of course! And the others? G K Chesterton, A A Milne and D H Lawrence. Bingo.

All duly educational then, and all thoroughly enjoyed – even that strange flightless parrot from Phi’s native New Zealand.

COD might have been the nifty clue at 24a with A Leander > Alexander, but here’s the one that gets my vote by a nose:

20a Not looking one’s best following half amount of sex (6)

Click here for the answers from 2014.

Saturday 23rd February 2019

Nice level of difficulty and of general knowledge last weekend, I found it all just about right and  a very pleasing solve. And there was a mini-theme too – with The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (the book I’m reading at the moment, I kid you not) appearing in the grid. All the answers from the puzzle’s first appearance can be found by clicking here.

However, I’ve been full of praise for Phi recently, so it’s probably time to balance that up with a bit of critical discussion:

I wonder how important you think the surface reading of a clue is?  It seems to me that some setters go to a lot of trouble to compose smooth sentences that resemble everyday speech – Dac is the master of this art of course, and he makes it look easy; and Phi can do it too, but I’d argue he doesn’t always. Last week I reckoned about two thirds of the clues were what my wife would call ‘crossword gobbledygook’ – she’s not a fan. Among others we had 28a ‘Be told to fill quantity of computer memory (mostly committed to memory)’ and 27a ‘Greek city recognises no women’s alarm-call’.  Eh? Yer what? Well if you think about them they do  end up making sense, but contrast those two with the immediacy of a clue like 20a ‘Insects circling head of horrible monster’. Much more pleasing, I’d say. What do you think?

Regarding the COD, I think we’ve seen something very similar to that clue for ‘Behemoth’ quite recently, so my nomination is going to the following – a clever pun and a surface that tells a bit of a story:

26a What mayoral candidate offers to do? One shouldn’t believe it (9)

By sheer coincidence Klingsor had given us the same idea the previous weekend back in 2014 with this: ‘Lying is what urban improver will try to do’. One commenter speculated about ‘morphic resonance’…

Saturday 16th February 2019

Judging by the extraordinary density of ticks in the margin of last weekend’s crossword, and the complete absence of question marks, unsmiley faces, and ‘not sure about that’ glyphs, it seems that this must have been Phi’s best crossword in ages – either that or else I’d been on the happy pills again.

The grid was an especially pleasing one – all entries were odd number of letters long, with ‘positive checking’ in every instance, and given the four long entries around the perimeter, it seemed pretty obvious there would be no need to go looking for either theme or Nina for once. Over at Fifteensquared here one commenter called it a vanilla crossword, which seems wrong to me – there was plenty of invention and chicanery on show I thought.

Hard to pick a COD though. I could go for the satisfying symmetry of ‘Deep space’ at 4d, but I think it’s a bit of a canonical clue, one which even I have met before somewhere; then again the 16a ‘Sylph’ was a perfect example of creating a smooth surface reading from unpromising letters… however, I do like a bit of innovation, so I’m plumping for the following:

20a Novel representation of wino? (5,2,4)

 

Saturday 9th February 2019

We all have blanks in our general knowledge – for me they include cat breeds, dog breeds, horse breeds, horse racing, operas and soap operas; don’t look to me in the pub quiz for any of those.   So no surprise that the mini-theme passed me by last weekend.

It turns out that Phi is something of an ailurophile, and that the 3 obvious United States which featured last week are the only 3 which have their own state cat: For Maryland it’s the calico, for Massachusetts it’s the tabby,  and the Maine coon even I can guess.  All of which passed me by of course. I did have a Siamese cat once mind you – one of two given to my twin sister & me for our 9th birthday in what I suppose was a bit of a wordplay joke by my parents…

Unfortunately my paper got accidentally abandoned in a car park in Plymouth shortly after completion last Saturday, so I have no record of any particular problems or comment-worthy issues whilst solving – apart from having to look up the aforementioned Maine coon, that is; otherwise it was all pretty par for the course I seem to remember. I also remember liking the following clue – a bit of a write-in, but nicely done:

Lots of people and children in US state, possibly this one? (13)

And all the answers from 2014 are here.