Saturday 6th October 2018

Phi puts ghost themes in his puzzles with considerable regularity, but if you’re one of the many solvers who has trouble spotting them, then a good tactic is to go in search of a Christian name. If you find one, search the grid for a surname that looks likely, and then Google the combination to discover an obscure antipodean writer and half a dozen of their novellas.

Or, in the case of last week’s puzzle where ‘Paul Klee’ was one of the answers, you could have gone straight to Wikipedia and scanned a list of his works, to discover ‘The Twittering Machine’ and a series of pictures with ‘Angel’ in the title. It’s pub quiz level general knowledge to know that he was part of the ‘Bauhaus’ school and you might have discovered – or known already perhaps – that he was the originator of the quote ‘Taking A Line For A Walk’ (you’d have done better than me with that one).

One great advantage of having a those words hidden in the grid, of course, is that it gives me something to write about – I might have struggled otherwise because this was a typical good, solid Phi puzzle, with clues ranging from the simple (22a) to the obscure (19d).

Eight ticks in my margin, which is about average, and the following was my pick for COD:

30a Former speed challenge needing most from new engine? (7)

Duncan Sheill did a comprehensive blog with all the answers back in 2014 (click here) and in the comments Phi tells us Klee also played the ‘Violin’.


Saturday 29th September 2018

Something a bit different last Saturday.  Alarms went off in my head when I read the end of 1d: [the first of 12 clues defined as if followed by their locations].  What! This is a daily cryptic, not the Inquisitor, I thought.

But I needn’t have worried, the ruse became clear soon enough – indeed it was the voice of the critic inside my head that helped me; 26d was ‘Decline rise of new routine (4) for which the wordplay clearly seemed to be a reversal of N+RUT. ‘But TURN doesn’t mean decline’, I thought, ‘that should be TURN DOWN’…   Then I got it.

After that things were pretty much plain sailing, with the 12 themed words being SLOW, FACE, SPLASH, WIND, SIMMER, WATER, EIDER, DRESSING, SETTLE, BACK, PIPE and the aforementioned TURN.

Opinions may well be divided between those who twigged what was going on and those who didn’t, but the regular commenters at Fifteensquared back in 2014 [click here] liked it very much (one even wrote a limerick in praise), and so did I.

COD: 22a Redeveloped for UK (not NI), it’s an aquatic plant (4-3)


Saturday 22nd September 2018

In which there was a ‘YUM’ hidden in the unchecked squares (unches) on each of the four sides and ‘Reluctant Cannibal’ hidden at 11a/ 18d.  Mean anything to you?  Well the latter is the title of this song by Flanders and Swann from 1956, which includes the line “a chorus of yums ran around the table”. Ho!

In fact F & S’s career overlapped with The Beatles and The Stones, but to me they seem to come from another age somehow – even if I do remember ‘I’m a G-nu’ from my childhood and I dare say we all know their song, ‘Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud’. Anyhow, Phi is clearly a fan.

As often happens when there’s a Nina, the difficulty was upped a few notches; I failed to parse 18a, didn’t know ‘bam’ was a hoax in 23a, didn’t know a maul was a hammer in 4d,  and in 10a we can all be forgiven for not seeing how ‘Stock’ defined ‘Grim’ – apparently it was a typo for ‘Stark’.  Why does that only ever happen with Phi?

For my COD, it’s got to be the following which had me trying to do something with Land’s End for longer than I care to admit:

6d. Western point of Cornwall not initially very good (6)

Click here to see the original blog by the 23a John.



Saturday 15th September 2018

Four long entries in the grid, four long anagrams in the clues.  Which is a good way to kick-start a puzzle if you’re solving or, for that matter, if you’re compiling.  Mind you, there’s always the danger of ending up with a word like ‘sawdusty’ in one of the corners – hmm.

I always admire Phi for his prolific output, but with that comes an almost inevitable ‘workaday’ feel to some of his puzzles, which is how this felt to me.  Reasonably straightforward by the standards of the i, which will have made it popular with many, but not as exciting or interesting as we’ve had over the last few days, I’d say.  Apparently there’s something going on to do with Isaac Azimov, but I didn’t actually take the time to find out what, sorry.

My COD goes to the following:

1d What horseman does in circling black Scottish region (8)

And the original 2014 blog with all the answers can be found by clicking here.


Saturday 8th September 2018

Do you remember the bit in Goldilocks and the Three Bears when she stumbles across a crossword puzzle on the kitchen table?  Well one third had too many long anagrams and went in too quickly to be savoured. Another third – big chunks of the NE and SE corners – was so unyielding she lost interest and turned to a wordfinder to help her finish (apparently Luigi intersected Amici and Imhotep was intersected by a fiendish clue for Apostolic. Hrrmph, she growled). But fortunately there were also some clues which were just right – even if they did only come in a baby-sized portion.

Goldilocks thought that her favourite was 14a; the bears came home, had a look, and said ‘No, that’s too blindingly obvious to be anyone’s COD’. ‘But look’, she said, ‘the surface reading is a sequence, which makes us think the real meaning must be a monastic order – but it’s really a double bluff! I’ve never see one of those before!’

So here it is again:

COD: 14a The sort of order in which you’ll find Matins, Vespers and Compline? (13)

Go to Fifteensquared here to find out how the bears reacted to someone else having done their crossword…

Saturday 1st September 2018

I’m not entirely sure why, but last Saturday’s Prize Puzzle took me about twice as long as a Phi crossword normally does. It took me far longer than it should have to see the anagram for Metabolic at 4a, and even longer to recall either Bluetooth or Quidnunc down the middle of the grid, whilst ‘Discommoded’ was a new word altogether for me.

But the really tricky bit was the NW corner where we had Qui Bono intersecting the Adirondacks, both of which only rang the most distant of bells and then only after they had been worked out from the deceptive wordplay – the latter being ‘Suggest more rides, heading off to take in hard [def.]’ to give ‘Add [h]acks’ around ‘iron’. Fair, yes, but one of the most intractable clues I can remember.

Never mind, it got finished eventually, and some of the clues were very fine… My favourite was the following:

21d Two points cropping up in actual murders (6)

Was there a Ghost theme?  Leo Rushmore perhaps?  Well yes there was, but you’ll have to click here to find out, it means diddly-squat to me, and I certainly didn’t spot it.

Saturday 25th August 2018

Phi was on good form again last Saturday; a nice variety of clue types and no complaints in them thar clues… Well, the surface readings may not be as consistently excellent as Dac or Klingsor, but the constructions are pretty nifty.

In common with Duncan Shiell, the blogger for the puzzle when it first appeared in the Indy in 2014, my last two in were the intersecting FERTILE and O’BRIEN – the latter being the antagonist of Winston Smith, he of Orwell’s ‘1984’.  Now if you’re a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll know that upon seeing an obvious surname like that in a Phi puzzle, all you have to do is look for a Christian name elsewhere in the grid, put the two together, research the resulting (doubtless obscure) author and find a list of clever links to an even more obscure book or set of books dotted around the grid. Splendid… Except that this time there was no Christian name, just FLAN at 4d, and the author this time was Flann O’Brien. Tricksy that.

If you want to find out about him and just what those links are, you’ll need to go back to that Fifteensquared blog (click here).

COD? Nice to see a new twist on the canonical Carp/enter clue at 28a, but I’ll pick the following:

24a   Heroin? I lead individual to get part of joint (7)

Saturday 18th August 2018

As a pretty reliable rule of thumb, if there are multiple long entries (5 in this instance) then there is unlikely to also be a Nina or theme – even if it is Phi setting the puzzle – so I didn’t go looking for any hidden shenanigans last weekend, and indeed there weren’t any.

Nevertheless, our regular Saturday setter was on top form – in my margin I had one Ha! (19a), one Ho! (1a), two double ticks and a generous sprinkling of singles.  One of those double tickers was the T Hanks idea at 10a, but having just learned in the Fifteensquared blog that it had already been done elsewhere (well, frankly we can all be pretty sure that Tom did something similar himself when he was a schoolboy), I’d like to award the COD to this commendably succinct anagrammatical &Lit:

5d Dandy vilenesses, possibly (5,6,5)

Saturday 11th August 2018

Plenty of enthusiastic response to this puzzle back in 2014 when it first came out; click here to get a plethora of owl related punning from the Fifteensquared crew.

I spotted the theme about three-quarters of the way through – Brown, Eagle, Long-eared, Barn, Burrowing, Tawny, Screech, Snowy – eight types of the afore-mentioned nocturnal flying beastie.

The solve itself was probably my quickest ever Phi – I never time myself (crossword solving and competition seem odd bed-fellows to me) but this might even have been my quickest solve in the i yet. In truth the experience was over so quickly I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have done with a decent tussle.  No complaints though, and I did have time to put 9 ticks in the margin – which is a pretty decent haul in my world. Favourite amongst those? Let’s go for this chap:

27a Astronomer’s endless success penning line on constellation (7)

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.